Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Better late than never

...right? That's the theory, anyway.

Well, I'm back! I have SO much to talk about but I guess I'd better start from the beginning. I've broken it up into sections so if you don't really care about what I did this weekend, just skip down a bit.

~En Provence~

We arrived at the train station between 6:30 and 7am. Yikes, that was a little bit early. We had 2 people not make it, unfortunately, even though the train left almost an hour late. We are all so exhausted that we fell asleep once the train started moving and dozed pretty much the whole 2 1/2 hours. I adore the TGV (train de grand vitesse = really freakin' fast). One of the professors told me it goes almost 250mph. So yeah, we got pretty far in 2 1/2 hours. After we got of the train we switched to a bus and everyone fell asleep again. We were tired. We got off in some little town called Orange, I think. The whole weekend was so long and we spent so much time on the bus and visiting little towns that it all sort of blended together. We saw a mini Arc de Triomphe. That was kind of cool, but we were all sort of like, eh. We've seen the real one. Back on the bus, head to Arles. We visited a huge Roman theater that could hold several thousand people. It was pretty impressive, I have to say. We all got these little audioguide things so we could listen to a British woman with a soothing voice talk about the theatre. I abandoned her and wandered around taking pictures. I took almost an entire roll while we were there. You'll get to see some of the pictures eventually.

After that we went to the Pont du Gard. It was BEAUTIFUL there. The weather was gorgeous all weekend, but it was downright hot at the Pont. Of course, NONE of us had brought swimsuits. Gilles (I'll explain more about Gilles later, he might require another post all of his own) the history professor was mad at us because we didn't bring our suits. We asked our housing director why nobody had told us there would be a place to swim.

"Oh, the weather looking like it was going to be bad, so I didn't think you'd need them."

ARRRGHH. That was irritating. Most people waded in the river. All the boys (2 students, Gilles, and our director) actually went swimming. That was entertaining.

Ok, this is where I should explain about Gilles. He is of indeterminite age. We think he's in his 40s but it's kind of hard to tell. He is SO boring when he's trying to teach you something, but he is absolutely HILARIOUS when you're not in class. He is French - very French. He has no problem stripping down to his underwear and then changing into a bright red speedo not too far away from where our entire program is sitting. When asked about Gilles propensity for not wearing pants, our director shrugged and said very simply, "Il aime d'etre nu." (he likes to be nude)

But I digress. After basking in the sun by the side of the river, we all got back on the bus and headed back to the Abbey where we were going to be spending the next two nights. Yes, an Abbey, and there were monks there. Surprisingly enough, the rooms were really nice. Two to a room, a private bathroom and shower in each room, twin beds, and extra blankets and pillows. Not exactly luxurious, but if you had seen the hostel we stayed at in Normandy...let's just say we were overjoyed at the accommodations.  We ate dinner at the Abbey. We were rather frightened at the prospect of authentic French food, but it was actually pretty amazing. Per usual, we  ran through our repetoire of French drinking songs with Gilles. Sadly, I wasn't able to really enjoy it because I had had a headache for most of the day. Red wine isn't so good for headaches, so I just had water. French drinking songs are not so entertaining when you're sloshing around a glass of water. Shortly after dinner: blissful sleep. We'd been up for a heckuva long time.


Up early. Unnecessarily early. We were all ready for 7:30 but it turns out the Abbey doesn't start serving breakfast until 8. Man, if you want to piss off a crowd of college students, rob them of half an hour of sleep. If we hadn't been so tired we would've started a manif right there. That's probably why they keep us on such a tight schedule - we're more docile when we're overtired.

After breakfast we hopped back on the bus and went to Arles, another tiny town that looks just as fake as every other small town in the south of France. We visited another theater that was not nearly as impressive as the first and were then cut loose for a good part of the afternoon. There was an absolutely fabulous market going on while we were there. We wandered for so long, sampling the jams and other stuff that the vendors had out to entice you to buy stuff.  It would have worked if I hadn't been trying to save money. There was sooooo much cool stuff there,  I really wanted to buy presents for people. But alas, I am a poor college student. Anywhoo.

When our free time was up we visited some church. Honestly, we've been to so many cathedrals and churches that I really can't keep them straight or remember specific details about any of them. So, forgive me for not giving more information about the church.

We drove through a wildlife preserve on our way to the next town. Did you know that there are flamingos in the south of France? Neither did I. Did you know that flamingos can fly? I didn't know that either. I did enjoy the wildlife preserve but it was a rather harrowing experience quand même. Gilles kept instructing the bus driver to pull over so we could look at herons and bulls and flamingos and cowboys. In the process I swear to god we almost tipped the bus over. He had her drive onto the shoulder of the road which was really just a glorified marsh right next to the water. SO scary. And then everybody was running to that side of the bus to look at stuff. Eeeeee I was nervous and somewhat relieved when we finally left.

After that it was off to La Camargue, a small town on the Golfe du Beauduc that reminded one of my friends of the Jersey shore. I wandered around and took some pictures, we got ice cream, and then sat on the beach for a while and watched as some very brave (or maybe dumb, sometimes it's hard to tell lol) people from our group went swimming. This was when Gilles was wandering around with no pants on. It was so bizarre. He got out of the water, wrapped a towel around himself, and changed under that. He put on his shirt and then his sweater (which thankfully was pretty long) and then went around and picked up the rest of his stuff WITHOUT PUTTING ON HIS PANTS. We were all sitting there  shielding our eyes but we couldn't help but look. One girl said that it was like driving by a car crash - you don't want to look and you know you're probably going to be scarred for life but you do it anyway.

It's always an adventure with Gilles.

When he'd finally put his pants back on, we got back on the bus and went to dinner. Again, a potentially scary dining experience that turned out really well. Wow,  our group got smashed. I wasn't drinking again, but man...all the other tables? Whew. Our table was pretty sober, but after dinner was over you could really see it in the other people.

When we finally got back to the Abbey most of us crashed, although I heard rumors of some people staying up til 3 and finishing off a bottle (if not more) of wine that they had bought earlier in the day.

Up bright and early again! Sunday was the day we visited the Baux de Provence, which are huge cliffs with a castle on top. I was pretty frightened being up there on these narrow, twisty road in a huge tour bus, especially since there were no guardrails. I missed a lot of the views on the way up because I refused to open my eyes. I have a thing about heights like that. One we got out of the bus and climbed to the top on foot, I was much better. It was so beautiful up there and amazingly enough the weather was STILL cooperating with us. We didn't spend too much time there because we were on a tight schedule and we had to get to Glanum. Isn't that the weirdest name? Doesn't really sound French to me. Anyway, we went there to visit an archeological site. I'm pretty certain it was a Roman city or temple or something like that, but don't quote me. That was pretty cool even though it wasn't terribly exciting. We were all getting pretty hungry and a little tired of all the history lectures, so I'm sure some of it was wasted on us.

When we were done there we headed to Avignon, which is not nearly as pretty as you'd think. Honestly, I didn't like it. Turns out my host mom hates Avignon. I guess I can see why, there wasn't a whole lot there except the Palais de Papes, and the town itself isn't very nice. I think the most entertaining part of the whole visit was lunch. I went to a restaurant with Emily and Leslie and me and Emily got crêpes for dessert. The menu said the ingredients were apples, ice cream, nuts, and something unknown to us in French or English. We shrugged and ordered it anyway.

Turns out the mystery ingredient is calvados. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

If not let me enlighten you. Calvados is a kind of alcohol that makes your crêpe taste like somebody has poured nailpolish remover into it. Ugh. It was all concentrated in the center of my crêpe so I didn't notice until the very end, thankfully. I would've been pissed off if I paid that much for a crêpe that tasted like nailpolish remover.

Did you know there's a room in the Palais des Papes that's called the Jesus Room?

That was the most interesting part of that visit.

After that we went to the train station and went home. It was a good weekend, but a long weekend. Kind of like this post. Bravo to you if you made it all the way through.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It's now or never!"

3:01 PM  

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