School Trip to the South of France

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Flag of France  , Provence,
Sunday, February 14, 2010

Our trip began on the 14th of February. We met up at 9:00 in the morning and started our journey down south by way of van.  In total, there were 9 of us: 5 students, our professor Caesar, his daughter and wife, and our chauffer.  That Sunday we drove to Avignon and visited a monastery called Chartreuse de Bonpas.  As strange as it sounds we also did some wine tasting while there because this monastery in particular, while it was actually a monastery and not just a museum sort of thing, used to make wine.  The day ended by having dinner at the hotel we were staying at.  It wasn't the most romantic Valentine’s Day, having to be on a "date" with such an interesting mix of people, but it was still a good day. 

            The next day, before leaving Avignon we visited the Palais des Papes, an enormous Gothic palace/fortress that was originally constructed during the Middles Ages and was continually being added onto by later popes.  It was a really amazing and enormous structure to walk around in and tour; there were so many secret rooms and passage-ways which was really cool, too.  After the tour we continued on our way to Le Lavandou, the town we would be staying at for the following 4 nights.  We finally got there at about 6 or 7 and automatically went to the beach to see the water and walk in the sand.  It wasn’t as warm in the town as we all had been hoping for but it was definitely very tropical looking; palm trees and cactuses were growing everywhere and they were plenty of brightly colored buildings. 

            On Day 3 we started the day by taking the van to a different beach to go see the designated vacation castle for all the presidents of France since Charles DeGaulle.  Of course we didn’t actually see it close up since it’s on its own little island but it was interesting.  We even saw a helicopter flying above it and I’m convinced it was Sarkozy, the current president of France.  Later in the day we toured a sort of botanical garden called Jardin des Méditerranées.  It was drizzling out so it wasn’t the greatest day to be walking around outside, but all the gardens were really beautiful.  Despite being winter, there were still spots of colorful flowers in the sea of green plants.  Particularly because of all the Mimosa trees that grow everywhere in this region of France.  The only kind of Mimosa I knew about before seeing these trees was the delicious orange juice and champagne cocktail the Spataro family enjoys every Christmas morning, but these trees were just as great, but in a different way.  Even though it was only about 55 degrees the trees still looked like they were in full bloom, just completely full of little orange-ish, yellow-ish flowers.   

            Day 4: Rain, rain, rain.  Despite the constant rain, our plans for the day didn’t change and we piled into the van and made a day-trip to St. Tropez- a popular summer vacation destination for celebrities and other wealthy people.  Unfortunately, it isn’t too lively in the month of February, especially when it’s raining.  A lot of the stores were closed, but it actually didn’t matter because no one was in the mood to walk around much because after about 10 minutes of standing outside we were all water-logged.  I did actually go into Dolce&Gabbana with 2 other girls from Knox for a laugh and just to check it out.  Of course we were completely out of place being there in our jeans and gym shoes, tracking water all over the place, but it was still fun to ogle at the 400 Euro sunglasses.  That day we ended up driving back to Le Lavandou earlier than expected because everyone was wet and thus grumpy.

            The last day of our trip was absolutely gorgeous.  Bright and early we took a boat to an island called Port-Cros where we stayed for the day.  The island was basically deserted because like most places in the south of France, it is only really lively in the summer.  Because there were no stores or activities going on, we took a 3 hour hike in which we saw a beautiful view of Mediterranean.  We saw the real reason why they call it the Côte D’Azur: the water was so blue!  Because the boat wasn’t coming for us until 5:00, we ate our lunch next to the sea and napped the afternoon away in the sun.  The day wasn’t extremely eventful but it was absolutely wonderful: sunshine and naps, what could be better? 

            I didn’t even mention all the delicious meals I had throughout the trip either!  I think I probably had about 200 Euros worth of meals in those 5 days.  Some of the highlights include: escargots, foie gras (which I didn’t like), crêpes, mussels, duck, cream puffs, beef bourguignon, and these little fish called “Jols” in French where you eat the whole fish, eyes and fins included!  I’m glad I got to try so many different typically French food…as strange as some of it was.

            During our last group dinner it was clear everyone was sad to be leaving, and so overall despite the rainy days we had, it was still a good time.  I was glad to get away for a bit and see more of France.  Plus during the down-time we had and while it was pouring outside I was even able to watch some of the Olympics on TV at the hotel—an unexpected bonus of the vacation!

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