Trip Start Jan 03, 2009
Trip End Jun 18, 2009

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Flag of France  , Provence,
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hi everyone! I have two midterms this week, I know, crazy, but somehow I found the time to write a blog for you all about my wonderful weekend in Provence. The trip was organized by my study abroad program so I didn't have to worry about transportation, lodging or even figuring out where to go and what to see. In this way, it was really nice.

The night before we left we had a wine and cheese tasting in the new study abroad office which is no longer at my school but a few blocks from my apartment where I can talk to my adviser about anything or hang out, study or read all the travel books they have. I invited Ross to come to the wine tasting because he hadn't yet met Kristin, my adviser, and she's pretty much my hero. Kristin grew up in Germany while the wall was still up. She told me that she never expected to live or even visit any western European country when she was growing up. When she turned 18 and the wall had fallen, she moved to Cannes, France where she lived at the same school that Ross goes to right now, the College International de Cannes. There she took classes in French and also lived with a French family. Because she didn't know English, she got good at French really quick out of necessity of communication. Along with studying French, she learned English by just speaking with the people around her. She never took any formal English classes and when I speak to her, I often forget that she is not a native speaker. Her grammar is perfect and barely has an accent. I think it is so interesting that she rarely speaks in her native language on a daily basis. Even her husband is from Scotland and only speaks the German that she has taught him. They speak a combination of German, English and French to each other. He used to be the program director for Ross' study abroad program and Kristin also used to work at his school so our programs are actually pretty similar. This is why I find Kristin so interesting, not to mention how hard she works to keep everyone in my study abroad program happy including giving unlimited knowledge about traveling throughout Europe.

Anyways, we went to the wine and cheese tasting in the new office. It was pretty much a really nice apartment turned into an office and relaxing space for us students. We tasted five different types of wine from all around France and a few different cheeses. She taught us how to look, smell and taste the wine so that when we went to a real wine tasting in Provence, we would know a little about what we were talking about. Ross got to meet a few more of my friends and we had a nice time.

The next day, we woke up very early to get on the bus before 7am to head to Provence. After a two hour bus ride we arrived in Arles. This small town has a Roman history dating back 2000 years. There is a Roman theater and arena (amphitheater). We got a great tour by Janice form Maine. She told us all about the history of the town, especially when Vincent Van Gogh stayed there for a few years, the most productive period of his life, painting 300 paintings. Because no one in Arles really liked his paintings when he was there (because they thought he was crazy for cutting off his ear) they don't have any of his original paintings, but they do have the sites that he painted such as the hospital where he went after his cut off his ear and the yellow cafe with the starry background. We had lunch in Arles and then moved on to a small town thirty minutes away.

Les Baux de Provence is a small town where only 22 people live now. On top of a mountain, this town has a few tourist shops and an old medieval castle with great views. After Les Baux, we headed to Avignon where we would spend the night.

When we arrived in Avignon, most people took a nap while I went on a walk with Kristin and did a little shopping. We all met up for dinner at a small restaurant and had a planned meal of salad, chicken, gnocchi and pannacotta. It was very tasty and it was nice sitting with my friends and chatting. After dinner we went for a walk to the Pont d'Avignon. There is a famous song about this bridge, it goes: Sur la Pont d'Avignon, on y danse, on y danse. This means, on the Avignon bridge, we dance, we dance. We didn't actually dance on the bridge, but I thought it was pretty useless since it didn't even reach to the other side of the river.

The next day we woke up and had breakfast at the hotel and headed to the Palais des Papes. This is the most exciting part of Avignon. When Rome wasn't safe for the pope in the 14th century, he built this Gothic palace in Avignon where he would be safer. This place was huge. We couldn't take pictures inside but the dinner hall was probably a whole city block long. It was fun going to the terrace on the top of the palace and seeing the Rhone River and all of Avignon. After our tour was over I found a park at the top of a hill where I found good views and almost got blown off the top. There are winds in Provence called the Mistrals that come only for an odd number of days and obscure a normally beautiful sunny day with a cold, strong wind. I was just happy that the sun was out.

We left Avignon to see Ezes, a small medieval town that is normally very busy when it has their street market. Unfortunately, we were there on Sunday, so there wasn't much to do other than buy a crepe and relax in the town square.

Then we went to the Pont du Gard, which I remember from Evan's pictures when he went to France. This aqueduct brought water 30 miles with only a 40 foot grade difference. Does that make sense? Only this bridge is left of the aqueduct whose stones were put together without mortar and fit together nicely and sturdily. We admired the Pont du Gard while laying on rocks and sunbathing.

Finally, we went to Chateauneuf du Pape where we had a wine tasting of wines from the Provence region. I bought a couple bottles to bring home for some special people who I know really like wine.

I'm going to Paris this weekend with Ross! I'm incredibly excited and can't wait to tell you all about it.
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