Bonjour!! I do apologize in advance, but this will be a rather long post to cover all the fabulous things I have managed to get myself into these past two weeks. Yes. TWO WEEKS ALREADY. It’s rather crazy. I feel like I’ve been here for months, but the time is flying by. It’s a rather odd feeling.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
The first few days of Early Start included, but not limited to: tours through the markets (picnic included afterwards in a park!), French movie watching (the Untouchables to be exact), a cooking class where we made squid with pasta in a cream and INK SAUCE. Yes. Squid ink. It was awesome and rather tasty.
Near the end of the week, we took a bus ride up to the famous Mt. Ste. Victoire (made so by Cezanne who painted it frequently.) It was so beautiful. The water was so SO blue. And herbs grow wild all over the mountain. We had yet another picnic on the mountain. I commend the bus driver, though, because the roads are rather narrow here and I thought at some points I would lose my life or my lunch on the side of the mountain when we were coming down. At the base of the mountain, we visited a small museum where apparently dinosaur eggs were discovered. Really neat, right? But, the donkeys surrounding the museum were cuter.
That Saturday, we boarded the bus for Marseille, the port city I flew into. Marseille is the oldest city in France, founded by the Greeks in 600 B.C. It is also the 2nd largest city in France, the first being Paris, of course. It has a melting pot of peoples from all over the world and of all religions. After walking around the port, we took a tram of sorts for a tour of the city. It was beautiful. The water is gorgeous and so are the buildings (like all the buildings in France.) Marseille-Provence has been named the European Capital of Culture for 2013, so there’s lots of sculptures and exhibitions throughout the region that I find myself in right now, which is super awesome. The tram took us all the way up to the Notre Dame de la Gare Cathedral, which was a beautiful church and had stunning views of the city. Although Marseille is pretty, it is known for its not so pretty side, which is some crime, and not such a good place to be at night by yourself. But, I do think it is a place I will visit again, just during the day!
Coming back from Marseille, we found ourselves hungry. So we roamed around Aix and picked a random cafe. Looking at the menu, we ordered what we thought was good… even though we had no idea what we were getting. What I though was to be a pasta in cheese sauce with salad, ended up being a WHOLE WHEEL of camembert cheese, warmed with caramelized onions on top, with a side salad, pieces of thin sliced meat, and fries tossed in thyme. I mean, with pieces of baguette, it was like the most awesome fondue ever. So good. I think my time here will be characterized by playing a sort of roulette with the menu, but hey, I haven’t had a bad experience yet!
The second week, we started classes. The first day was purely orientation for the other 100 students who just arrived, and was long and boring. But, Tuesday, I met most of my professors. Margaux, who was in charge of the Early Start program, is my French professor for both of my french classes, and she. is. so. cool. She loves teaching about culture, especially the younger culture, and what’s hip in France. So naturally, she teaches my French culture class, where we learn about different regions of France through their foods, music, festivals, etc. The class is awesome. She already told us we are going to a Marseille football match! You know, the best French soccer team… and pretty sure the one they sent to the Olympics. No big deal. And the grammar class she teaches is cool, too. She uses interesting subjects to instill the grammar rules. She is also very expressive and writes new vocabulary or verbs that we probably don’t know on the board when she uses them in class. I can go on for days on how awesome she is.
But, my other professors are also really neat. My art history class, the professor has two Ph.D.’s in art history and archaeology. So we have 2 field trips where we get to go to digs! So sick. And the material is really interesting. The class is about the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean, so we are learning about all of Egypt, Mesopotamia, the South of France and some of Spain.
Taking classes like this one makes you realize how OLD Europe is. I don’t think, as an American, coming from such a young country, that I think about that reality. But being here, living in a 17th century apartment (yeah, ridiculous, I know) and learning that Marseille, just 30 minutes away, was founded in 600 BC!! So many people have lived and walked right where I am living and walking. It’s crazy to think about.
But, back to my classes. My last class is my photography class. My teacher kind of reminds me of Twiggy, but that’s not really important. But, I’m super excited about this class, because I get to break in my SLR I got for Christmas! I’ve already been obsessively reading the HUGE manual, but this class will teach me how to use the functions I am learning about. And at the end, we have a gallery for all of IAU to see our work! So prepare yourselves for lots of fantastic pictures via Facebook (because this site won’t support the huge file from my camera, I already tried!)
So. The best is for last. After a great week of classes, exploring Aix, enjoying coffees and hot wine with friends in the afternoons, we had a field trip to Nice and Monaco. Yes. We stayed on the French Riviera.
Catching the bus Saturday morning, we made it to Nice. Although it was gloomy, the water was breath taking. Now I know why it’s called “Cote d’Azur.” The water is a sapphire blue in parts, and turquoise in others. It was so ridiculously pretty and clear. After grabbing lunch avec mes amies, we meandered through the market and then toured a contemporary art museum. Afterwards, we headed towards a hostel a few minutes outside of Monaco. After getting all dolled up and having dinner and chatting with other students, we got on the bus to head to the Monte Carlo Casino. Yes. Where 007 was. Yes. It is real. And it was magnificent. I confess to touching a few Ferraris and Porsches when I passed them (Ooops.. but not really.. the car alarm didn’t go off, so we’re good.) So, I enjoyed my glass of over priced wine and sat down in front of slot machine for the only reason.. that I could brag and say I drank and gambled at the Monte Carlo casino. Moving up in the world guys.. except I lost 5 euro.. but that’s besides the point.
After the casino and a good night’s rest, we explored the rest of Monaco the next day. I drooled over the beautiful yachts and sailboats that maybe I’ll have if I win the lottery some day… one can only dream. We saw the changing of the guards at the royal palace. Basically, everything was gorgeous. Like, there were marble sidewalks and not a cigarette butt or piece of trash to be found anywhere in the city. For lunch, we found the market (finally after trekking all over Monaco), where we bought a baguette, cheese, apples, pears, blueberries, and cherry tomatoes for our picnic we enjoyed beside the water. Content is the most applicable word to describe that wonderful setting.
But, we had to leave. Before getting back to Aix though, we stopped by Fragonard, a parfumerie. We learned about the process of making perfume and of course, purchased some at the end of the tour. It was really interesting to see how “the noses” create perfume!
Overall, these first two weeks have been awesome, with all the trips and learning new things, seeing new places, meeting new people, trying new things. Everything a study abroad experience should be, and more than I ever envisioned myself doing. Even though missing loved ones does gets me down from time to time, I am so thankful for being here. I mean, come on, I’M IN FRANCE. For the first time in my life, I am in a setting where I can take the time to enjoy everything.. like coffee in the afternoon with friends, or the sun rise and shadows on the beautiful buildings I am surrounded by on my way to school, the smell of fresh bread or produce wafting in the streets, or conversing over dinner (barely with me, but I’m getting better). In the States, everyone is rushing or not paying attention to what is around them. Friends go to movies or maybe go shopping to spend time together. But here, you talk for hours with your friends at a coffee shop or a park. You invest your time into people and things that are truly important to you. And I appreciate that so much already.
That’s all for now. I’m sure I’ll have an awesome week of classes, and this weekend, we are going to the Alps with tons of French students to ski.. again, no big deal.. (I’ll let you know if I survive.)