Shortly after I arrived in Montpellier, I realized I needed to plan trips for the month of March because there wasn’t a break from school during March. By doing that, I hoped that it would make the time go faster, and it would make sure that March wasn’t dragging on…
I pretty much occupied all of my free time by going somewhere this month. My first trip was an excursion to Carcassonne. Carcassonne is a medieval fortified city in the south west of France. Many movies, such as Robin Hood with Kevin Costner, include scenes that were filmed at Carcassonne. It is also the largest fortified city in Europe that still exists today. This city was interesting to me because there was also a city outside of the walls, but as soon as you entered the fortified part of the city, you felt completely different. The city was beautiful, and while walking along the ramparts, you could see the Pyrenees in the distance. That was the first time I had seen the Pyrenees, and I was mesmerized by them. We just don’t have mountains like that on the east coast in the States! I also met some people on this trip from Switzerland, Germany, and Australia.
The next trip that I made was to Brussels, Belgium. I’ve heard from many people that there is not much to do there, and that I should go to Bruges instead, but honestly, I was content in Brussels for the weekend. I could definitely notice a huge difference in the look of the city between Montpellier and Brussels (southern vs. northern Europe). Brussels was dark with cobblestone streets and barren trees, and Montpellier is sunny, with medium shaded stone, and palm trees. The first night in Brussels, I realized that Belgium does not have any open container laws. People were sitting in a circle with their friends on the ground in the Grande Place, just drinking and having a good time. The next day I tried the standard Belgian snacks: frites, waffles, and chocolate. All three were amazingly good! I saw Mannequin Pis, which was highly anticlimactic but worth seeing. He has over 900 outfits that they constantly change. The day that I saw him, he was wearing a neon yellow suit. Later, I went to Atomium which was built for the Universal Exposition in the 1950s in Brussels. Basically, it is this giant molecule sticking up in the air. Inside there are exhibitions and a light show. It was the most psychedelic thing I’ve ever seen, and in the 1950s they probably just thought it was futuristic.
After visiting Belgium, I went on an shorter excursion to Arles, France. Arles is situated in Provence just next to Langedoc-Rousillon where Montpellier is. I wanted to go to Arles because my French teacher in high school always talked about it. It is the sister city of York, PA where I live. Also Van Gogh lived in Arles in his later years, so I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about. Arles is one of many Roman cities in southern France with it’s coliseum, amphitheater, Roman baths, etc. I really enjoyed seeing those places along with the Rhone River, the cathedral, the café in one of Van Gogh’s paintings, and the hospital where Van Gogh ended up after he cut his ear off! I found it interesting that they still use the coliseum in Arles. Coming up there is a huge bull fighting festival in the coliseum, and there are many concerts held there. The Romans probably never would have guessed that!
The next stop was Rome. (I went from one coliseum to another). I took a long weekend to go to Rome with another LVC student who is in Perugia this semester. I had a great time in Rome. It was not much different than Montpellier, minus the speaking Italian part, because they are both Mediterranean cities. I found that Italian resembled Spanish more than French, even though French people have told me that they can understand when someone speaks Italian, but not when someone speaks Spanish. The weather was great the first day in Rome, so I took advantage of it. I saw the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, and much more that I probably didn’t even realize was significant. The next day, I went to the Vatican and did a guided tour. I’m not Catholic, so I mainly went for the art. We had a great tour guide who was born and raised in Rome and who was an art historian (so I really lucked out with that). She had an enormous vocabulary, and I was very impressed! I was in awe at all of the detail and precision of the artwork in the Vatican. Michelangelo and Raphael were truly two gifted artists! I saw my favorite painting thus far at the Vatican, The School of Athens. After visiting the Vatican, I took advantage of the famous gelato in Italy. We went to a gelato shop that had over 150 flavors to choose from!! Needless to say, at the end of this trip, I was exhausted. I think I’m still trying to recover.
At this point, I am over half way through my study abroad trip, and I definitely think the trips that I planned helped me reach the half way point with ease. I’m glad I thought of that right away, so March for me was not boring or slow! This weekend, I am going to the caves of Roquefort where they make Roquefort cheese (bleu cheese with the veins in it). I’m excited to learn about how they make it and the effects that the caves have on the cheese.