July 4th: Today is the Fourth of July! Normally I would be counting down the minutes until sunset so I can set off fireworks, but I expect waiting another ten days to experience Bastille Day (“the French Fourth of July” as I have heard it called) will be well worth it.
Out of all the things that we did today – having our first lunch in town, seeing some of the local markets, breaking off into smaller groups to explore, even seeing the Tour de France – I think my favorite part was the photo scavenger hunt after dinner. The thirteen of us were split into three groups and sent off into the town to take pictures of various items on a list, having to use our speaking skills to ask for help and directions from Aix natives and tourists. Though we were all a bit insecure about conversing with the locals in our non-native tongue, we fared very well and were able to find everything on the list. Americans generally spread rumors about how rude French people can be to foreigners, but from my experiences throughout this day and night, I have found that every person I have talked to has been perfectly pleasant and willing to help with whatever I needed.
My first full day in Aix-en-Provence greatly exceeded my expectations and I can’t wait to see what is in store for the next few weeks!
July 5th: This morning, we took our oral placement tests and readied ourselves for our weekend excursion to the nearby port city of Marseille. Marseille has beautiful views of pale blue water and rustic buildings, both from sea level and from the city’s hills, which we hiked to.
Though the heat was strong and the path to the highest point of Marseille was steep, the whole group successfully arrived at the Basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde atop the hill. We all took the opportunity to explore the church and take some pictures from our vantage point before taking the bus back down to the bottom.
Back down in the main part of the city, we saw a talented group of street musicians. I love music featuring a brass section, so seeing and hearing these men was a fantastic addition to the already action-packed day.
It was late at night by the time we returned to the residence, but in my opinion, the day was well-spent, and now I can say that I have seen two of the best-known cities in France. Visiting Marseille gave me perspective on just how much history and cultural diversity there is in the South of France, and I am eager to explore all that the region has to offer.
July 6: Today, Saturday, marks the start of my first weekend in France! We were given 5 euros each and split into groups of four or five students to go to the local market and purchase food for the picnic we have planned in Le Parc Jourdain. My group pooled our money together and purchased a rotisserie chicken, some fruit, vegetables, cheese, and condiments. I love the fact that nearly every item in the market is available to take as a free sample upon request and that you can simply walk up to the vendor with the amount of money you are willing to spend and have them give you how much (by weight) you can afford. There are few set prices and all of the vendors are very friendly with the customers. I am sure that I will be returning to the local street markets to do more grocery shopping in the coming weeks.
Later, we walked to the park and found a large tree that provided enough shade for our entire group, and we ate our meal made from the groceries we bought earlier in the day. After having our leisurely lunch in the park, we took a short bus ride to the public pool. At the pool, all of the boys have to very short, spandex-like swimsuits (as is required by the pool rules regarding hygiene), but I had not had the time to attain one of my own, so I took to simply relaxing in the shade and chatting with some of the other members of the Abbey Road group who also prefered the shade to the intense heat and sunlight.
At night, after returning from the pool, we had a bit of free time to walk around Aix, and we happened to see “Les Vieux Volarts de Provence”, a sort of informal vintage car show. We returned to the residence to put up some small decorations around the cafeteria and taste some Aix specialty desserts.
Every day we learn something new about the local culture (the bathing suit protocol for example) through simply living and exploring in the wonderful city of Aix.