Paris and Beyond: An Exploration of All Things French

This June, several students, along with faculty members Andrea Villagran and Julia Auster-Hogan, set off to explore the many glorious sights of France. They began in Paris, then continued their study of the French language in classes taught at a local school in a village outside of Marseille.

Their days were long, but the students packed in many noteworthy French experiences, from visiting lush fields of lavender in Provence to making the requisite stop at the tour Eiffel, pausing only for an ocean swim or to sample the local cuisine. Their adventures were recorded in the trip blog and in the many photos that can be seen in the SmugMug photo gallery

Upon arrival, the students encountered an unexpected delay with their hotel rooms, but that did not prevent them from taking in the great and famous sights that are quintessentially Parisian. On the first night, after a full day of walking, the students got to rest their feet as they enjoyed a river tour. A blog post describes the special evening in Paris: “After dinner, we took taxis to the Seine where we caught a Bateau Mouche. From the boat, students saw the many bridges connecting l’Île de la Cité, l’Île Saint Louis, and the rest of the city. On the banks of the rivers, we also saw the beautiful monuments with the sun setting over Paris in the background. We sailed by Notre Dame, the Musée d’Orsay, the Palais du Louvre, the Conciergerie, and once more the Eiffel Tower. We were even lucky enough to be on the boat when the Eiffel Tower was illuminated on the hour.” 

Soon, the Parisian adventure gave way to classroom learning. Though sad to leave Paris, the students were excited as they ventured to Marseille, where they reunited with the group of French exchange students who visited Rivers in the spring. They were greeted warmly and eagerly settled into their host homes. 

Life in Provence soon revealed its differences from Paris. Students were given a tour of Aix-en-Provence by a former exchange host parent, Claudine, as detailed in one of the blog posts: “It was Tuesday, so the market on the Cours Mirabeau was open, and we got to see all the vendors selling their various goods. We stopped to buy the herb of the region: lavender! And the lovely man was so happy to have so many customers he threw in one sachet for free! From the market we went farther into the winding streets of the city toward the fruit and vegetable market and the Hôtel de Ville. There, Claudine pointed out the Salle des Mariages (where one can get married), and if you look down to the cobblestones in the courtyard you can see confetti from weddings before. Next, we walked to the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur. Inside you can see the remnants of the Roman structure and even the basin where baptisms were held.”

The next day, the students ventured to the coast. After waking early, they took a bus and a shuttle to the harbor in Cassis, where they boarded a boat that took them on a tour of the local sights. From the blog: “We passed a World War II bunker, we were told to be on the lookout for sunfish and dolphins, and we saw many tourists taking advantage of the beautiful waters. The boat made a brief stop at each of the little bends in the coastline, and farther out we even saw some beautiful rock formations like a natural archway, a tiny gap called ‘The Needle,’ and two large mounds in the water called ‘The Camel Brothers,’ because they resemble the animals resting in the water.” 

In Marseilles, students learned about the rich history that the city holds. They rode the “Petit Train” past the ocean, through the city, and up to Notre Dame de la Garde. This basilica is the highest point in the city, from which you can see many beautiful monuments and boulevards. Afterwards, there was just enough time to stop for ice cream. At one point, the students even got an unexpected lesson in the importance of being a careful traveler when they witnessed an incident of pickpocketing. 

Outside of Marseilles, students visited Les Baux de Provence, said to be one of the most beautiful villages in France. There, they went to the Carrières de Lumières, an exhibition space hosting an eclectic show based on Vincent van Gogh’s work and life. The former quarry projected images of van Gogh’s work set to various classical and rock songs; students marveled at the space and were immersed in the artist’s most famous paintings, seeing the work from a completely new perspective. 

On their final excursion to Roussillon et Gordes, students were able to gain further new perspectives. In Roussillon, they sampled exotic ice cream flavors, such as lavender and violet, and later, in Gordes, they took another ice cream break. Cucumber, raspberry, grapefruit, and mango sorbet were the preferred flavors on that hot afternoon. 

The trip ended with a celebration of the start of summer in the town of Aix, where Fête de la Musique—the festival of music, celebrated throughout France on the summer solstice—was going to be in full force. The city streets were closed and single artists and groups settled in different corners of the city and played their music. The main street was closed off and had a stage with various rock bands playing. As a blog entry put it: “There was something for everyone to enjoy, and families, friends, and visitors alike took part in this beautiful celebration.” It was a fitting ending to a fun and educational sojourn in France. 

—Joelle Mentis '18