Sea, Sand and Sun: Exploring Provence

An afternoon in Arles

On Friday after class, we took a bus to Arles, a small town to the south-west of Aix that is famous for its Roman ruins. We visited the 2000-year-old amphitheater, which is still in use for bull fighting and the “course Camarguaise,” a local tradition in which the participants try to grab ribbons from between the horns of a small bull which is never harmed. We also explored the crypts under the streets and saw the cafe where Van Gogh painted his famous “Cafe de Nuit.” Today marked one week already in France – time is flying!

Boat trip to l’Isle de Porquerolles

Saturday morning we took a bus to the port of Giens Presqu’Isle and then took the ferry to l’Isle de Porquerolles, a tiny island in the Mediterranean that is a protected wildlife area and reknowned as one of the most beatiful islands on the French coast. We rented bikes and explored the trails and beaches, which were absolutely breathtaking with pure white sand and perfectly clear blue water. We all ejoyed the warm water and noticed how easy it is to float in the sea since it is so high in salt! That night we had dinner in a nice restaurant in Hyeres, and students had a chance to check out the area where they will be in host families next week. 

Culture and history in Avignon

On Sunday we were up early again for a guided bus tour to Avignon, where we visited the Palais des Papes and the famous Pont d’Avignon (as in the song!). In addition to the historical monuments, we were also lucky to be there during the Theater Festival, the biggest and most famous of its kind in Europe. We enjoyed street theater, signer, dancers, and other performances as we explored the windy medieval streets of the old town.

Next we visited the Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct which is one of the largest and best-preserved Roamn monuments in Europe. We enjoyed the beautiful view as well as a refreshing swim in the river before heading home. Once back in Aix, students held an impromptu ping-pong tournament with other groups of students from all over the world!

A typical Aix day

Monday we were back to classes in the morning, and then had a siesta back at the dorms since it was too hot to go out in the afternoon. We then had a “chasse aux tresors” (scavenger hunt) in which teams searched for the answers to various historical and cultural questions around the town. Next we learned how to play petanque, a traditional provencal game similar to bocce. In the evening, we went and relaxed on a cafe terrasse together. It was a truly typical Provencal day!

A bientot!

– Erin Simmeth, U.S. chaperone, Aix-en-Provence

Last days in Aix and on to host families!

This will be a quick update, and sadly without pictures since my camera is not cooperating right now! On Friday, students finished up their classes with great praise from their teachers. Next, we attended a fencing lesson!  It was a fun and memorable way to wrap up our stay in Aix. We then shared a wonderful farewell dinner, our last as a full group, and then packed up for the next part of our trip!

Saturday morning we said goodbye to David and to our French chaperone Jeremy (for now, he will rejoin us for Paris) and took a bus to Hyeres, where we met with our host families and dispersed for the week. The town of Hyeres is a wonderful spot to spend a week of total immersion, with plenty of beaches, a medieval town center, and plenty of cultural activities. I will be checking in with everyone soon and will update with pictures as soon as possible! In the meantime, the students will be in total French immersion. What an experience!

A bientot!

– Erin Simmeth, U.S. chaperone, Aix-en-Provence

Our first week living in Aix-en-Provence

Language learning and fun activities in France!

We arrived in our program town of Aix-en-Provence on Saturday afternoon. After settling into the Lycee St. Eloi dorms, we explored the old town center and had a Welcome Dinner on the Cours Mirabeau to celebrate our arrival. On Sunday, we toured an olive press and tasted artisanal olive oil made from trees that are over 300 years old! After that, we visited le Chateau des Baux, a well-preserved medieval fortress on a rocky mountainside, where we watched a trebuchet being fired as well as a bear training demonstration.

We also saw the beautiful countryside of the Luberon Valley as well as the lavender fields in full bloom. All in all, it was a busy weekend of amazing sights!

Classes begin!

On Monday, classes started at the Institute for American Universities. Students broke out into groups depending on their language level and worked on improving their French skills. Later, they attended a seminar on French culture and mannerisms and then went to see a French movie. Between the intensive classes and cultural activities, students were already making progress in their French comprehension and conversation!

Meeting our Language Partners

Tuesday was Dina’s birthday, and we had a special picninc in the park to celebrate. It was also the first meeting with the Language Partners, French students who lead conversation groups in French and who give students a native’s experience of the city. Everyone had a great time, even though the groups were conducted solely in French!

Wednesday marked the beginning of “les soldes” in France, one of two major sales periods in which many items are placed on clearance. Needless to say, the afternoon was spent shopping, but we also enjoyed some culture at Le Pavillon Noir, the first building in France built solely for dance performances, where we got a special backstage tour. We ended the day by getting a drink on the terrasse in a cafe to celebrate our first week in France.

This weekend we are off to Arles and Avignon. Check back next week for more updates and photos!

A bientot!

– Erin Simmeth, U.S. chaperone, Aix-en-Provence

Our first day in France: Cassis

Aix-en-Provence group enjoys the coast

Bonjour! We all made it safely to France in the afternoon after a long day (or more!) of travel. The sights in Cassis were well worth the trip, though: the hotel was right on the water with a beautiful view of the cliffs and the bay. For dinner, we ate in a quaint local restaurant where the students ate typical local specialties such as tapenade, moules frites, and isle flottante. Our favorite delicacy, though; was probably still the “pommes frites”! After a short walk around the bay, we all collapsed for the night.

First day in Cassis

After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to explore. We took a boat tour of the amazing calanques, unique rock formations of bright white limestone all along the coast. Afterward, we got to relax at the beach under the sun. We are having perfect weather!

Then it was off to Aix-en-Provence, where the students are staying for the next two weeks. They met with their Language Partners tonight, and also got to meet some of the other students in the dormitories, who hail from all over the world!

Sunday was another day of exploration and culture, and classes started on Monday.

A bientot!

– Erin Simmeth, U.S. chaperone, Aix-en-Provence