Mosaic / Special Topics / Study Abroad / April 20, 2011

Knox in Provence

Although France does not have an official religion, the times when it was Catholic are still remembered through some activities related to the State. One of these things is the spring vacation for students at public schools, which starts one week before Easter Sunday and ends one week after it. Since Catholic Easter is next Sunday, it means we’re on break! Classes were barely over last Friday when the Knox group hopped on a bus and headed towards the South of France.

Our first stop was the medieval city of Avignon. Did you know that this place was a papal residence for almost a century, more than any other location outside of Vatican? Neither did we, but the two guides we had for the four-hour tour around the Palais de papes (Palace of popes) made sure that we’d remember this for the rest of our lives. We visited the popes’ kitchen, closet and even bathroom. It was interesting, but we were excited to see something more characteristic of Provence, the main region of this part of the country. Thus we weren’t really sad when we left. We wanted to see something more specific to the South of France than the music boxes that imitated the sounds of the cicadas and the bags of lavender abounding at the shops around the palace. And we did, that same night.

Our next stop was the place where we spent the next three nights: the little town of Le Lavandou, a touristy town next to the Mediterranean. You could see the sea from the hotel’s restaurant. It was so relaxing to come back from each trip to a place like this.

On Sunday, we went to Saint-Tropez, a well-known resort where many French and foreign stars own vacation houses. Unfortunately we didn’t see George Clooney, but we did see many beautiful things. Among these were the old parts of the town, with houses from the 15th and 16th centuries with strong Italian architectural influences. It felt very much like where my parents live; water, palm trees and heat being part of both areas.

We spent Monday morning on an island. While most decided to lie on the beach, I went for a randonné (hike) through the forest. It was just a normal forest, with branches, moss, springs, lizards and insects, but it was such a fabulous experience. After all, how often do most of us have the occasion to spend time in such a place? It was great not seeing any human being for an hour or so in the middle of the nature.

The last place we visited in our trip was a Mediterranean plant garden. Its creator wanted to bring all the types of Mediterranean and subtropical landscapes together. He did a great job at it! He also wanted the visitors to feel like the plants had not been touched by man, thus they are not labeled (to find out their names you can look on the maps they give you or hire a guide). The most fantastic thing about this place was actually the part of the sea that you could see from the garden. The color of the water made me understand where the Côte d’Azur (literally Turquoise Coast) gets its name.

The only negative thing about this excursion was that I didn’t manage to achieve the goal I set for it: to see a field of lavender in bloom. It wasn’t the right time of the year. Well, I guess this means I have to go back one summer day…

Raluca Oprinca

Tags:  France off-campus study raluca oprinca study abroad

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