I’ve now been in France for a little over two weeks, and I’m loving having my windows open to hear the musicians on the street play every evening – often accordions, which gives my home-cooked meals a bit more of a French flair. It’s been a busy week with classes kicking into gear and taking a couple of little trips as well.
Last Sunday, I went with my study abroad group on a trip to three little towns in Provence – L’Isle sur la Sourge, Roussillon, and Gordes. L’Isle sur la Sourge (“The island on the Sourge”) is known as the Venice of Provence for its little winding waterways, though actual road can get you most places. It’s also famous for its large market, particularly its antiques. And, being a little town with lots of rivers and market stalls, it’s very photogenic as well.
Roussillon and Gordes are both located in the Lubéron region of Provence (a region within a region because that’s not confusing at all). Known for hill towns, vineyards, and spectacular lighting, any town in the Lubéron is probably beautiful. Roussillon, however, has another draw – ocher. The red rocks of the city were mined for centuries for their color which was used for paint. The mining industry is now modernized, and the main business of the city is tourism. Visitors can buy their own local ocher paints or just hike through the rocks, which look a lot like Mars. My study abroad program also furnished a lunch for us at a fancy restaurant with a view of the red cliffs and deliciously fresh provençal foods and a very rich chocolate cake for dessert.
Gordes is one of the hill towns, and one of the biggest towns in the region. Backed up against the Vaucluse mountains, it commands a spectacular view of the Lubéron. Most spectacular to me, however, was a Romanesque, early Gothic church built around the 11th century. Though very plain on the outside, the interior has colorful paint all along the walls with framed paintings and carvings added in later centuries. It’s a distinct contrast to many of the Renaissance, Baroque, or even High Gothic churches in Europe because of the simpler design and bright colors. Exploring the city was a lot of fun, and I’m really glad I had a chance to go.
This week was also when classes really got underway. So far, I love all of them, even phonetics. My art history class is covering representations of the Mediterranean in modern art, which is a topic that actually has a lot more to it than one would expect. Our first assignment? Hike out of the city to see the view Cezanne painted over two dozen times. My other classes, besides phonetics, are focused on politics – French identity, the European Union, and the sub-group of politics that is very important to this region, Refugee Politics.
Finally, I spent today in Marseille, since it’s only a two euro trip for the whole day. The main attraction is, of course, the Vieux Port (Old port) where the Greeks first started to build their settlement around 600BC. This natural harbor is mostly home to the boats of locals these days as the bigger cruise and transport ships can’t really line up in it. At both ends though, there are forts. I started off my day on the western side with the Fort Saint-Jean, which was built in the Middle Ages and manned even through the Second World War. From the top of the fort, there is now a bridge connected to the Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée. The building has a really cool exterior with a pattern that reminded me of kelp. It made for some cool pictures walking from exhibit to exhibit and also is a neat way to let in natural lighting.
Before heading to the other side of the port, it was necessary to stop at a particular glacerie known for its “Black Vanilla” flavor. The color comes from vanilla pods – the thing the actual vanilla beans are inside. This also means it doesn’t taste exactly like regular vanilla but is instead very creamy. According to the guide book we looked at, it’s also bittersweet, but I just tasted sweet, and it was definitely worth the little detour we made to find it.
Next stop was the Musée Cantini, which is primarily art from the late 19th century. Thanks to the Journées du Patrimonie (Days of Heritage) all throughout Europe, nearly all museums are free. As a fan of Gustav Courbet, it was impressive to see some of his work in person right next to Degas and Cézanne. And finally, after a quick, cheap lunch, it was time for the beach. Back home now, I’m ready to eat dinner, do some homework, and go to bed. But I can’t wait for what’s going to happen next!