Southern France's Finest Destinations
I always knew that if I were to ever study abroad in Europe, I would inevitably spend some time roaming around and exploring the continent. However, what I never could have expected is that it would be this easy; just three weeks into my Toulouse LSA+, I've already traversed the South of France, visited three of the county's five biggest cities, and I have another whole nine days of vacation ahead of me. To put it concisely, it seems as though the program was designed for exploration; whereas I could have just been drilling grammar in Toulouse, I'm instead learning about the architectural history of ancient cathedrals, visiting a new city each weekend, and hearing accents from France's many distinct linguistic regions. The cultural education has so far been immense, and I think that's in large part due to my travels.
The first of my intra-national excursions was to France's largest Atlantic coastal city and arguably the world capital of wine: the unforgettable city of Bordeaux. After finding an Airbnb that could accommodate eight people—as we decided to go with our entire LSA group—we hopped on a cheap bus to the coast and started our voyage. We spent most of our time sightseeing, from historic churches to miles-long pedestrian marketplaces, not neglecting iconic landmarks like the Miroir d'eau and the renowned Citédu Vin. Personally, one of my favorite occurrences was grabbing seafood for lunch; between a plate of oysters, a pot of mussels, and never lacking a French baguette, I don't think I can quite remember having a superior meal. After walking around for the rest of the afternoon, eating probably too many famous canelés, and grabbing some groceries, we returned back to the house and made a dinner out of French appetizers to save our wallets. Altogether, the weekend was incredible; the city is markedly different in culture and construction from Toulouse, and so it was undoubtedly worth the trip.
With the next weekend came a voyage to Marseille, France's second-biggest city, which is situated on the Mediterranean coast of Provence. With just over half the group this time—the others had host-family plans and meet-ups with friends—we booked our train tickets and spent our Friday afternoons in transit. Marseille, again, has a much different character from either of the other cities I've experienced; it's sprawling, distinctly urban, and markedly maritime, being centered around its major central harbor. We spent the morning climbing up to see the hilltop cathedral Notre Dame de la Garde, and then the afternoon on a boat excursion to a small island off the coast. For dinner came even more seafood, and the next morning we visited the Museum of Mediterranean Civilizations before grabbing a ride on the seaside Ferris wheel. If anything, Marseille was incredibly distinctive, and culturally, it felt like a whole different country; if not just for the sake of broadening my cultural perspectives, I'm glad I was able to see it for the weekend.
The most exciting part of this all is that I have even more adventures to come, and I'll be sure to pin down some notes. Stay tuned!