Please? I finally understand why you and Papa are obsessed with this region of France. Why couldn’t we have just lived there? It is so much cooler (and prettier) than Westchester! But I guess if you’re from NY, you’re too cool to live anywhere else. You’re allowed to have a country house somewhere but you aren’t actually allowed to live there full time. But we weren’t even cool enough for that since we never actually had a country house either. Instead we got stuck with a boat and a 1988 Toyota Carolla with no airbags and a radio that needed to be physically pounded to control the volume. Oh Craparola! May you rest in peace.

So yeah I just came back from Provence last night and had a great time. I finally got my first taste of summer since it was pretty hot all 3 days of the trip. And had to break out the sunscreen and the flip flops. When I came home last night with all my junk after getting off the metro, I could have sworn people kept staring at my feet. I guess wearing flip flops in France is still considered weird if you aren’t at the beach. Well I don’t really care, I’m not giving up the flip flops so the French will just have to deal with it.

Earlier this week, my friend Kathryn and I decided to bike along the Canal du Midi, a canal that runs through most of Toulouse. I forget where it starts and where it ends but it goes beyond Toulouse. Last Monday Kathryn borrowed her host brother’s bike and she rented me a Velo Toulouse. If you don’t know what Velo Toulouse is, basically they are like bike taxis. Toulouse has built these little bicycle stands all over the city and to rent one, you put in your French bank card and it is charged to your card depending on how long you use the bike (I had already closed my account at the bank so I couldn’t use my American credit cards). A lot of cities in France have started using this bicycle system, including Paris and Montpellier. I also saw some in Barcelona. I’m not sure if any American cities have copied this idea, but they really should. It is a great way to reduce carbon emissions!

The Canal du Midi is a 240 km (150 mi) long canal in Southern France (French: le Midi). The canal connects the Garonne River to the Étang de Thau on the Mediterranean and along with the Canal de Garonne forms the Canal des Deux Mers joining the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The canal runs from the city of Toulouse down to the Mediterranean port of Sète—which was founded to serve as the eastern terminus of the canal.

And I just learned thanks to Wiki that this canal did not exist before the 17th century! Apparently it was built to avoid the long voyage around Spain and to avoid those annoying pirates. Well you learn something new every day!

So anyways we biked along the Canal starting at the Dickinson center and biked well out of Toulouse, hitting farmland and countryside. The canal is very pretty during the spring since the trees are in full bloom and there are plenty of joggers, bikers, and people walking along the canal on the bike paths. People also “backpack” the canal and bike the whole thing, stopping to camp at night right along it during the summer. Unfortunately, some of those people are actually homeless and camp under bridges to hide from the elements.

We stopped a lot to take pictures and eventually turned around to go back to the Dickinson Center to give the Velo Toulouse back. I quickly found out Velo Toulouse bikes are not the most comfortable bikes in the world. They aren’t meant to be used for extended periods of times, they are just meant to get you from point A to point B within Toulouse and that’s it. They also aren’t the most stable bikes either. The first bike we took out actually had a deflated back tire and I didn’t realize it until a fellow biker noticed and told me to switch my bike. We hadn’t gone very far then so we luckily were able to switch the bike and enjoy the ride.

Of course, the bike ride wouldn’t be complete without some sketch on the opposite side of the canal whistling to get our attention. As I looked over to my left, there was some country bumpkin/farmer dude grinning with his pants around his ankles. Yeah, I don’t really get it either… I didn’t understand why he would be peeing in such plain sight of the bike path and we didn’t stop to try to figure out what the heck was going on. I have a pretty good idea of what he was actually doing and this experience echoes a very traumatizing episode that I witnessed on a train in Paris back in elementary school. Well don’t worry Mom, I was on a bike and going pretty fast so I didn’t really get the chance to linger and get grossed out! Kathryn and I actually thought it was funny since it was another “Only in France…” kind of moment. I also saw a water snake at one of the stops we made to take pictures which surprised me since I didn’t know there was actual wildlife swimming around in the canal.

We also went to Les Abattoirs, the contemporary art museum in the St Cyprien neighborhood of Toulouse on the other side of the Garonne. I forgot what the building used to be but now it’s a museum. As usual, I don’t really get contemporary art but some exhibits were cooler than others. One exhibit featured a room full of chalk drawings of outlines of African animals with words written in the outlined bodies. I actually didn’t know it was chalk and touched the surface of one drawing only to be reprimanded by a guard. But yeah some of the stuff was just a lot of WTF?

And ok now on to Provence!

Thursday I got up ridiculously early to take the metro to the train station. From there we took the train to Arles, switching in Nimes. Our hotel was in Arles so we slept both nights there. Arles is famous for its Roman amphitheater, its antique theater, and the fact that Vincent Van Gogh lived there for a little over a year. Our hotel was right next to the large amphitheater and I have to say it was a very cute hotel.

I forgot what we did for lunch but we met up as a group for the guided tour of Arles. We started in the open air antique Roman theater where I believe they still put on plays during the summer months. We then went to the Roman amphitheater and sat there as the guide explained to us all about the bullfighting that occurs there during the summer. They have Provence style bullfights in which the bull’s life is spared and traditional Spanish corridas in which the bull is killed. The Roman ruins were impressive as usual but I have seen so many now that it all looks the same. I’m not trying to sound like a snob but I really have gotten my fair share of Roman culture between Spain, France, and Italy.

Our guide then took us to the top of a tower in the amphitheater where we could get a better view of Arles and the Rhone, the river the city was built right next to. After snapping some pictures of the Arles skyline, we were taken to one of the main squares with a lot of cafes where Van Gogh famously painted one of them. I’m sure most of you have seen this painting, the cafe is now called Cafe Van Gogh and has been restored to what it originally looked like in the painting:

I didn’t actually get coffee there but I did take a picture.

As we walked through the narrow streets of Arles, I kept taking pictures of the buildings because the shutters are painted in all kinds of colors. This is something I’m going to miss-shutters that are actually shutters and not meant for decorative purposes (like the ones on my house back in the US).

Anyways, we then stopped by some courtyard place called Foundation Van Gogh. I think Van Gogh painted the courtyard and therefore it has been preserved to look like the way it did in the painting. The city is famous thanks to Van Gogh’s 200+ paintings he made during his stay in Arles. It is funny though because as our guide explained to us, Van Gogh was not famous while he was alive. He only sold one painting during his career and his style of painting wasn’t appreciated at the time. It is also in Arles where the famous cutting of his ear off episode took place but nobody knows how or why it happened. We know Van Gogh got into an argument with Paul Gauguin, another French artist, and that afterwards he was sick. Well anyways, it was clear the guy wasn’t right in the head.

Afterwards we had some free time. Kathryn and I walked along the banks of the Rhone which wasn’t as pretty as the banks in Toulouse. We briefly sat on the water’s edge and I dipped my toes in. We then walked along a path and admired the houses bordering the river. We eventually went back to the hotel where I took a shower and Kathryn headed back out to a Roman burial ground. We all later met up at a restaurant on the other side of the Rhone which was actually a hotel as well. For dinner, we had eggplant with vegetables, pork and potatoes, and pear and vanilla ice cream for dessert. I’m sorry to say I didn’t care much for the eggplant.

For more info about Arle’s history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arles

After a very restful night, we met at the train station the next day to take a short train ride to Avignon. Most of you probably know the child’s song about the people dancing on the Avignon bridge: Sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse, on y danse! Sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse tout en rond! Besides the bridge, it is also famous for the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) where 9 popes lived during the fourteenth century. It is one of the few cities in France to have preserved all of the fortifications and ramparts which encloses the city. It is located on the banks of the Rhone, just like Arles.

When we got there, we had some free time to kill. I immediately wanted to go to the bridge. I hadn’t sung about that damn bridge throughout my childhood for nothing! Kathryn and I and 2 other Dickinsonians, Eric and Emma, headed to the bridge. Turns out you have to pay to go on it but I didn’t really care. Kathryn and I both skipped in circles while singing the song and we both filmed it so expect to see those videos on Facebook sometime soon. I can now say I actually danced on the bridge and have managed to fulfill one of my lifelong goals.

The bridge doesn’t actually connect the banks of the Rhone anymore. It kept having to be rebuilt due to flooding so eventually the Avignon populace threw in the towel since the bridge’s upkeep was obviously costing them way too much. Only a short section of the original bridge remains so I can understand why we were the only people from our group who actually went on the bridge. A short section of the bridge you need to pay to get on? Yeah I suppose it was a tourist trap but I didn’t really care.

However I wasn’t one of the lame people who decided to go SHOPPING instead of walking around Avignon. I was seriously frustrated with the group this trip. And where did they go shopping? H&M of course… look guys, we have H&M in the US too! It’s not like you can’t get cheap clothing there as well! I honestly think these people don’t realize how freaking lucky they are to be in Provence, in FRANCE of all places. They will NEVER be able to visit France like this again, all carefree without any responsibilities. And they decide to waste their time by shopping for clothes. It should be some kind of rule to ban people from clothes shopping during trips.

Here is some history about the bridge:
Avignon is commemorated by the French children’s song, “Sur le pont d’Avignon” (“On the bridge of Avignon”), which describes folk dancing. The bridge of the song is the Saint Bénézet bridge, over the Rhône River, of which only four arches (out of the initial 22) remain which start from the Avignon side of the river. In fact people would have danced beneath the bridge (sous le pont) where it crossed an island (Île de Barthelasse) on its way to Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. The bridge was initially built between 1171 and 1185, with an original length of some 900 m (2950 ft), but it suffered frequent collapses during floods and had to be reconstructed several times. Several arches were already missing (and spanned by wooden sections) before the remainder were destroyed in 1660.

The bridge’s construction was inspired by Saint Bénézet, a local shepherd boy who (according to tradition) was commanded by angels to build a bridge across the river. Although he was ridiculed at first, he dramatically “proved” his divine inspiration by miraculously lifting a huge block of stone. He won support for his project from wealthy sponsors who formed themselves into a Bridge Brotherhood to fund its construction. After his death, he was interred on the bridge itself, in a small chapel standing on one of the bridge’s surviving piers on the Avignon side.

People theorize people would have actually danced below the bridge on the island out in the middle of the Rhone which is still a popular park/leisure spot today. The bridge is narrow and not exactly cut out for a group of people dancing around in a circle.

After the bridge, we headed to the Musee Calvet. It had a bunch of paintings and sculptures and wasn’t exactly a museum to remember. Kathryn and I zipped past most of the stuff while Eric and Emma lingered. I’m not a huge fan of museums so I mostly went to feel cultured and came out feeling stupid and bored. But that was to be expected.

Kathryn and I grabbed some sandwiches at a boulangerie and then headed to the main square where the Palais des Papes was to eat our lunch and wait for the rest of the group for our tour. Eventually everybody showed up, including Avi and Vania with paper sailor hats, one of which was bestowed upon our tour guide.

We then began our tour of the gigantic gothic Palais des Papes. Since the palace was built to house the popes, it was all very grand and somber, a building fit for a pope at the time. Obviously Avignon in no way compares to Vatican City but for such a small village, to have this grand palace sitting in the middle of it is very impressive. If you’d like to read about the Avignon papacy, you can go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avignon

I wasn’t actually allowed to take pictures inside the palace but I took plenty of the main facade of the building and of the courtyards. In one courtyard, there was some kind of rose festival going on. We had about ten minutes to frolic among the roses and take pictures and smell them. Our guide explained to us about the different rooms and their uses and took us inside what used to be the pope’s office and bedroom. Now I can say I have been to all the official popes’ residences!

After the palace, we were briefly taken into the cathedral next door where most of the popes who ruled at Avignon had been interred. Their tombs are still there but most of their remains aren’t. During the French Revolution, people stormed the cathedral and threw the bones out into the Rhone. So that’s where they are now. If you’re really lucky, you might find some papal bones chilling on the bottom of the Rhone.

Our guide left us in the little park next to the cathedral (le rocher des Doms) with a view of the Rhone and the pont d’Avignon. After taking some pictures of the view, we had some more free time but I can’t remember what we did really. I do know we didn’t bother trying to visit some of the 30+ religious buildings in Avignon.

We headed back to Arles and after some downtime in the hotel, Kathryn and I and Emma and Eric went to some kind of Asian restaurant. The food was good and after dinner, we went to this little Spanish place and had some sangria. Some people got a little tipsy and that did not include me haha. And I am not just saying that for the sake of this blog, Mom, it’s the actual truth! I have learned that 2 glasses of sangria is enough for me!

We returned to the hotel and realized that our American compadres had actually stayed in the hotel to drink. Of course the rules stated explicitly we weren’t supposed to do this but I admit I had broken some of those rules in the past (mostly in Spain). After saying goodnight to E and E, Kathryn and I talked for a little while (since we shared a room during this trip) and we both almost peed our pants after I read aloud a love scene from the book I’m reading True Blue by Luanne Rice. Mom has read some of these books in the past and I’ve picked up the ones I’ve seen around our house and read them. I don’t know why I keep getting suckered into reading these corny books because the storyline is always so contrived and the characters are not very realistic. Neither is any of the plot or any of the writing style! But it does make some good trashy romance beach novel reading so I guess if you want that, run out the door and get a book by Luanne Rice.

The next morning, after breakfast, we headed to the Arles market. And let me tell you, the Arles market is one of the biggest open air markets in Provence and takes place every Wed. and Sat. mornings. I mostly went because Mom requested I buy her one of those provencal tablecloths. If you’ve ever eaten on my deck during the summer, you have definitely seen one of them at some point. And I want Mom to know I successfully bought her a tablecloth (sorry, just one) and bought Dad some herbes de Provence and a garlic grater. And I got La Queen a little something too and something for myself as well.

Kathryn outdid me with the tablecloths and got 3 for 3 different female family members and also some ciccadas. Ciccadas are apparently some kind of Provence symbol as is lavender. There was lavender galore too! Anyways, the market is located along the two main avenues in Arles and it is definitely huge and very long. We didn’t actually have time to explore the whole market because we had gotten there a little later than planned and needed to return to the hotel to check out and collect our belongings. I was tempted to buy a Provencal skirt, sort of like the one Madre has. Buuuut I have to keep the weight limit in mind so I restrained myself. But yeah there were all sorts of things at the market ranging from tablecloths, food (including live chickens), clothing, bags, jewelry, kitchen wares etc. I know Mom would have loved it and she probably would have bought 10 tablecloth.

Kathryn and I also got some cherries for lunch later that day. They ended up not being great but whatever, I ate some fruit, ok Mom?

We sadly had to leave the market and went back to the hotel to check out and get all our stuff. We met at the bus stop and then took the bus stop to our final stop of the trip: Les Baux de Provence.

We weren’t originally supposed to go here, we were supposed to go to Nimes but due to some railway construction, we ended up going to Les Baux instead. It was about a 45 minute drive into the mountains. It was kind of scary right before we reached the village because the roads were so narrow and twisty and not built to accommodate a large tour bus. I am so glad we went to Les Baux though.

Les Baux-de-Provence is a commune in the Bouches-du-Rhône department in southern France, in the province of Provence. It has a spectacular position in the Alpilles mountains, set atop a rocky outcrop crowned with a ruined castle overlooking the plains to the south. Its names refers to its site — in Provençal, a baou is a rocky spur. The village gives its name to the aluminium ore Bauxite which was first discovered there in 1821 by geologist Pierre Berthier.

Indeed, the village is perched atop a sharp drop in the mountains. The entire village is pedestrian since the streets are way too narrow to let cars pass through.

Les Baux is now given over entirely to the tourist trade, relying on a reputation as one of the most picturesque villages in France. Its population of 22 in the old village is a fraction of its peak population of over 4,000, and many of its buildings (in particular the castle) are picturesque ruins. The surrounding dramatic rocks and cliffs are said to have inspired Dante Alighieri in his vivid descriptions of Purgatory in the Inferno.

In the Château des Baux demonstrations of huge catapults (the biggest Trebuchet in Europe, a Couillard also called biffa and a Bricole) are given every day from April to September.
Les Baux was the third pitstop on the US television show Amazing Race 1

I’m not surprised this little village is known as one of the most picturesque villages in France. The sign welcoming us to the village even boasted this. There were actually a lot of Americans around, besides our own group. It obviously doesn’t take very long to walk around the village so Kathryn and I found a place that sold sandwiches and sat down next to the chapel and church to eat them and the cherries. Turns out the mustard on the sandwiches was WAY too strong, to the point it filled up my eyes with tears and hurt my head. Oh well. The spectacular views of the mountains made up for my less than stellar lunch.

I made a friend with one of the local dogs too. He was just hanging out in the shade and I bent down to pet him before heading to the look out where we ate lunch. Well I forgot I was holding a sandwich. Obviously the dog wanted it and followed me and Kathryn to where we sat down, sitting down and watching me the way Milou does when he wants something I’m eating. I felt bad but I didn’t think the dog would like the ridiculously strong mustard. He ended up lying at my feet for a little bit and some tourists actually thought he belonged to me, asking if they could pet it. He eventually left but it was kind of funny the way he decided to lie down at my feet since Milou never does this with me.

After we visited the little church and chapel, Kathryn and I went up to the ruins of the castle with E and E.

Although already inhabited in the Bronze Age, Les Baux-de-Provence did not really start growing until the medieval period. Built in the 10th century, the fortress and the small town it protects were ruled by the lords of Baux for five hundred years, in the thick of the ceaseless conflicts that ravaged Provence.

But it was also at Les Baux that the most famous minstrels and troubadours of the day sang songs of courtly love to the maidens of the House of Les Baux.
In the 15th century, the lords of Baux were superseded by the barons of the Masons des Comtes de Provence. This was a golden age for the Château, before it came under the control of the kings of France.
From the 16th century on, family feuds and wars of religion brought on the decline of the town until the fortress was pulled down in 1633 on the orders of Louis XIII.

Word of advice: don’t visit these ruins wearing flip flops. Some of the stairs to the look outs were in terrible shape, the middle of the stairs so sunken it was impossible to climb without grabbing on for dear life to the handrails. It was also very hot, the hottest of the 3 days of the entire trip. The ruins were cool I guess, but it was kind of a letdown to pay for them since they obviously haven’t been well preserved at all. They really should renovate some of the stairs because a lot of the stairways and passages are very unsafe and slippery.

We got to watch some catapult demonstrations as well. They have got these 3 catapults they launch projectile water balloons from. The first demonstration a bunch of women participated in the launch, including Emma. However I got bored and I was getting cranky because of the heat. So I wandered off to take pictures of the view and came back to find the men getting ready to launch a water balloon from the largest catapult. After much explanation and unnecessary suspense, they finally launched the water balloon. I have to say the splash was very big and very cool looking. However, the ropes attached to the catapult that allowed the device to launch the balloon in the first place were even more impressive. They flew back with such force and flung out so wide that if they had touched someone, they seriously could have injured that person. Emma was obviously very into this since she does 17th century reenacting. I might have appreciated it more if it weren’t for the muggy heat. This also means I won’t be able to wear my hair down until September and that I need to cut it. Which I’m doing this Thursday.
Oh I forgot to mention my friend the dog also followed us into the castle grounds. But he didn’t hang around me for much longer since I didn’t have anymore food!

After I got some ice cream (and tried lavender ice cream, that’s got an interesting flavor) and then we headed back into our bus. After reaching Montpellier where we took our train from, there was some confusion as to where the station actually was. But our bus driver got us there in time and after a fun train ride of playing one of those intellectual mind games, I was back in Toulouse.

And of course just like my parents, I want to move to Provence and open a bed and breakfast. I have been to the Cote d’Azure before and that region is very beautiful as well. But I guess I was younger and not as appreciative of that trip. La Queen and I kept throwing fits because Mom and Papa kept dragging us to all these little towns that all began to blend into each other. It was also the summer of the heat wave in France so the heat didn’t help things either. I remember we spent a day in the caves because it just got so hot, we needed someplace cool to hang out in (besides the pool in the house we were staying in). So I’m sorry Mom and Papa, I’m about as obsessed with Provence as you guys are now and want to live there as well.

So Host Papa is back in Cameroon and I have a week left here. I still have a paper to hand in and my stage presentation. We also have the final get together at the Dson Center this Tuesday. It’s ridiculous how fast this year went by. While it does seem like a distant memory, in other ways it does seem just like yesterday my parents dropped me off at Newark Airport where my mom and I tried to hold back tears. I remember feeling incredibly guilty for not looking back one last time after security and when I did, my parents were gone. And then making my way to my gate to awkwardly talk to the other Dsonian students waiting for our flight, I didn’t know many of the people before I left for Malaga.

AND speaking of Malaga, I’m heading there in exactly a week! AND I got confirmation La Queen is coming! Paqui was all “ooooh vale tres chicas, hasta domingo!” so it’s all set. So I get to show Kathryn and La Queen around Espana, my adoptive country, since neither of them have ever been there before. I think I might just have to marry a Spaniard (not Jaime though he is too lazy) so I can split my time between my two favorite countries (France and Spain, which works out perfectly since they are right next to each other).

So yeah that’s my update! I will be seeing some of you guys soon and just a word of advice: please don’t ask the dreaded question “So how was Europe?” because that is just so open ended and also incredibly annoying. Ask me SPECIFIC questions like “What was your favorite part about Malaga?” “What other places did you travel to?” “What do you think about the Spanish way of life?” “Was speaking a different language hard?” “How was your host family?” things like that. If you ask me “How was Europe?” I am seriously going to roll my eyes at you and tell you to go read my blog.

Oh another observation: I am noticing more and more of my aunts and uncles are joining Facebook. I don’t know if it’s because I always mention that I put my pictures on Facebook or if the adults are trying to catch on to the young people. I just want to let you all know you’re already kind of behind. The new thing now is Twitter and eventually it is going to replace Facebook, just like Fbook replaced Myspace. If you don’t know what Twitter is, basically it’s a social networking site limited to one thing: you respond to the question “what are you doing?” A lot of celebrities have gotten Twitter so you can “follow” people’s Tweets (that is what a Twitter status update is called). It’s basically like your status update on Facebook. Just thought I would give you all a head start with the Twitter thing. Personally I don’t have one because I find it kind of silly.

And there you go. Happy Memorial Day weekend and I will be seeing some of you soon enough.
I miss and love everyone one of you, family members and family friends included (along with my own friends). And a thanks to the random strangers who keep following this blog, you know who you are, because I don’t!😛

Love from a future Provence resident,
Amelie