Bon Voyage, EuroTrip 2017 (Paris in Springtime)

 

Paris. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again. This is my favorite place on earth. My trip ended where it began in this place that I love. My last few days comprised a trip to the Louvre, delicious noms, making sure I had everything I needed, and a reunion with my high school French teacher and color guard coach. During this time, I also day-tripped to Reims with my buddy, L. I walked along the Seine; ate chaussons aux pommes, confit de canard (a few times), steak frites; and purchased about 10 bags of carambars fruits to bring home (that disappeared way too quickly). IMG_2230

My first time in Paris was in January–it was cold, grey, and wet, but I loved it nonetheless. My second time in Paris was my study abroad from August to December. I enjoyed Paris in the summer and fall, and a brief hint of winter again. In 2017, it was my first time visiting Paris (and Europe in general) in the spring. And boy…She did not disappoint. My favorite place in the world put on a glorious spring show for my last days in Europe.

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I was glad to have this time in Paris. After my mom died the first few hours I was there in Fall 2016, I thought that the feelings I felt then would be my association with the city forever. And in some ways, it will. I will never be able to think of Paris without thinking of my mom–but if I hadn’t been on my way to Paris in 2016, I wouldn’t have seen my mom the day before she (suddenly) died. I thought about my mom a lot those last few days. Everywhere I looked were things that reminded me of her: the beautiful flowers, the advent of spring, meeting up with my high school teacher. All things that reminded me how complex grief can be. I think I love Paris more now because it will always remind me of my momma, two of my favorites that I love the most in the world.

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And with my last few days in Paris, EuroTrip 2017 came to a close. It was *such* a good trip. Though there were some negatives– rain, lack of internet, loneliness, sunburns, and sore feet–those have faded with time, I remember those less than the positives — the art! the cities! the sights! the weather! the flowers! the reunions! the food! Plus, I think I have a good handle on how to tackle some of those problems for future trips (read: in a few short weeks!). Ciao and au revoir to Eurotrip 2017!

Reims 2017

After my sejour in the South of France, I headed back up north to Paris to conclude my trip. I was ready, more than ready to go home, and regain some kind of routine. That’s the hardest part of travel for me, the lack of routine. My last major stop was Reims to see the incredible and grand Porte de Mars. I had previously been to Reims in 2004 when I first came to France, back when I had absolutely zero knowledge about art history. I was glad to return, especially because I got to do so with my art history BFF L (who has her own art historical allegiance to Reims.)

BUT FIRST! We followed the orders of one of our professors who told us to check out the Musée de la Reddition — the Museum of the Surrender where World War II officially ended on May 7, 1945 (though, May 8 is generally seen as the end of the war, as the Soviets gained control of Berlin). It was a small museum, with an engaging video intro (in which we hear Eisenhower attempt to speak French, poor fellow), lots of period artifacts, and the room itself preserved as it was in 1945. L and I both enjoyed stepping out of our usual historical purviews to something that feels so much more immediate. As Reims is close to the French/German border, played an important role in the movement of troops and supplies, particularly after the Allied arrival.

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L and I both enjoyed stepping out of our usual historical purviews to something that feels so much more immediate. As Reims is close to the French/German border, played an important role in the movement of troops and supplies, particularly after the Allied arrival.

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The Porte de Mars should have been right around the corner. Should have been. It was, but, perhaps owing to the presence of a large carnival (the likes of which I never considered existing in Europe), it took us a minute to realize that the giant grey, scaffolded thing was in fact the object of my fancy. Completely, entirely covered. I stuck my head as far as I could into the small gap only just visible in the photo. I couldn’t see much. Thus, the wind was out of my sails, and we had a much more open and free day in Reims.

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We made do! L was very patient with me; I only brought one pair of walking shoes with me, so my feet were like, DONE with Europe and all of the walking and our day in Reims was nearly 10 miles of walking. We ate, walked, and explored the city and what it had to offer (that was open!)

 

Arles

Though there are no extant arches in Arles, in antiquity there were several, and now it is home to one of the region’s largest archaeological museums. I took the train on a beautiful day, and walked to the museum, blissfully unaware that there was a free bus service that led from the train station to the museum. It was a longer yet beautiful walk alone the Rhône, unfortunately, my already sun sore skin was exposed even further and I could feel it get crispier and crispier. I felt like the dead little guy there in that waffenstücken.

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The Arles museum was one of the biggest of its type that I have seen in France. I could have spend much longer there. One of the most remarkable things they had in their collection was a riverboat that had been pulled from the Rhône in the past 20 years. Preserved using a process that replaced the water that had infused the wood with a preservative resin, the boat was HUGE. The picture here does not do it justice. Beyond the boat, the Arles museum had some canonical sculptures, sarcophagi, and mosaics.

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After my time at the museum was done, I was not looking forward to long walk back to the train station, when I happily learned that there was a shuttle. I got off the shuttle when my google maps told me I was getting close to the Arles amphitheatre, so I could do some walking around and exploring about the part of Arles I cared about, which was right next to the train station. I found a small bistro in which to eat where the motherly proprietor clucked over my ever-reddening sunburn and brought me a small cut of aloe to rub. I ate a giant omelet with some of the most delicious frites I’ve ever had.

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Arles was, in short, completely charming. It was sleepy in late March, perhaps a little too sleepy, but it like Avignon, pulled at my emotions and made me never want to leave. #Retirement goals.

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Site Archeologique de Glanum (St. Rémy de Provence)

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Glanum, and Saint Rémy, remains the most beautiful place I think I’ve ever been. There were a few monuments I wanted to see, largely the monuments belonging to the Julii family from the late Republic and early Empire.

I was not expecting to be so overcome with the beauty of the archaeological site. Provence was on full spring display–trees were in bloom, the sun was out– so much so I had to visit the pharmacy afterwards and get some medicine for my sunburn.

 

I wandered the site for a while, almost in a state of complete awe. It was just too beautiful. Continuously occupied since pre-Roman times, the site was abandoned at some point in the third or fourth century. I quickly learned why escargot became a French delicacy…snails were literally everywhere. At one point, it was unavoidable to actually step on them.

IMG_1817It was here at this site that I was just overcome by the combination of all of my favorite things. I was in France! There were arches! It was beautiful outside! There was an archaeological kitty that followed me around! I named her Octavia (the site had two portraits, one of Octavia and one of Livia. Since there’s already a cat important to me named Livia, this one was Octavia. Super friendly and attention seeking.

Just look how beautiful!

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Carpentras

The following day was Monday and I faced two problems. The first, is that I wasn’t feeling very well, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to do one of the bigger sites AND they weren’t open. So I decided that this was then the day that I should visit Carpentras, a smallish city with a minor arch I wanted to visit.

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The arch is fragmented, and immediately adjacent to the Cathèdrale de Saint Sufferin. A bishopric that dated to as early as the fourth century, though this church dates to the 15th, and underwent some editing during the Revolutionary period. The arch itself was fun, but one of those awful kind that I was not able to see, nor get close to, which is always a bummer.

It was another beautiful day in Provence–it was like it wanted to show me how beautiful (and warm!) it could be, rather than the rainy and wet welcome I received earlier.

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Carpentras itself was not a terribly remarkable town, but as usual, I enjoyed walking around and exploring it while searching out my arch. It was a beautiful train ride, as usual, and I had to take my obligatory train photo. It was another beautiful day in Provence–it was like it wanted to show me how beautiful (and warm!) it could be, rather than the rainy and wet welcome I received earlier.

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Orange

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My visit to Orange was the main reason I went to Provence. With the most famous example of an arch monument in France, it’s a must see for my work. Not only does Orange have an outstanding arch, but one of the oldest completely extant theater complexes in the west with a nearly fully preserved scaenae frons. The first few days I was in Provence it was pouring rain, so I wasn’t able to go to Orange until Sunday, and I had to go then, as it was closed on Monday and Tuesday (navigating opening days is the hardest bit about travel in Europe!) Being Sunday, the town itself was very quiet and sleepy, with not many restaurants open in which to prend un verre.

 

The theater was fantastic–I had it nearly all to myself so it was hard to imagine it teeming with theater-goers centuries ago (and kind of amazing to have it all to myself!) The exterior wall behind the stage front was once called, by one of the King Louis’s, “the greatest wall in France.”

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The arch was, in short, amazing. The pictures I took that day are some of my favorites, as the sky was one of those beautiful early-spring days with large fluffy clouds. I was slightly concerned because there was some construction on the roundabout that surrounded the arch, and it was technically fenced off. I decided to consider that fence a suggestion and visit it anyway– and there was a hidden benefit of it being Sunday! There were no workers or construction folks working on the roundabout to get in my way. Or accuse me of trespassing.

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I love love love when I can pass through the arches bays. Sometimes they’re blocked off, which is understandable I suppose, but this trip I was fairly lucky and more arches were open than not. The contrast of the bright and the dark of the passageway are literally one of my favorite views.

Alps to Avignon – 2017

My journey from Susa to Avignon was the most eventful trip of the entire trip, and resulted in the very first BAD mood (not just cranky, but BAD). I was *very* excited about passing through the mountains and finally getting myself to the South of France. Turin, while I had enjoyed it, had been stressful (surprising lack of internet) and just stress of my own creating (I imagined my hotel had bedbugs. It did not.) I was ready to get to France, but also sad to be leaving Italy. I felt 100% more comfortable in the northern half of Italy than I had in Rome and Naples.

Leaving Turin that morning was a hassle. It was not a long walk to the train station, but it was pouring rain. I super dislike getting wet in clothing, plus the added difficulty of having glasses. Google also decided to be difficult, and told me to take turns down road that had tall fences that stopped pedestrians from crossing them. Finally arriving at the Porta Susa train station, I hurried in search of the standard train station bar to grab my last delightful Italian macchiato and cornetto con crema. The bar was completely overwhelmed by people, and the line went on and on and on and on. I hate lines, and I hate waiting and I wanted to find my platform instead of wait. So I had my very first vending machine coffee, but you’ll be pleased to note that Italian coffee vending machines are far superior to their counterparts in the US.

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I was training from Torino to Lyon, then Lyon to Avignon. I was scheduled about a 40 minute wait at the station in Lyon, which was a healthy wait for a train, plenty of time to find your platform (unless you’re at the Bologna train station, sheesh). From the get go though, the train was late, projected to arrive five minutes after my train to Avignon left. Enter super stressed out Charlotte for like the entire ride. I did enjoy the scenery, but nowhere near as much as I should have.

When I arrived in Lyon, I was the first person off the train, and like jumped off the train before it stopped moving. Amazingly, there was a train-man (what’s the technical name…brain fart) and he yelled at me “AVIGNON?!” and I screamed back, “OUI!” He hollered at me that the train was on Platform 8 and that I should go! So I went, and thankfully it was not far. Upon reaching Platform 8 there was another trainman who asked if I was the passenger from Turin to Avignon and I said yes, and the second my feet were on the train it began moving. I collapsed in my seat so happy to have made it with all of my stuff in tow.

It was raining in Avignon as well. I was staying in an hotel for one night before my airbnb was available (and I wish I had stayed there the entire time. It was affordable and the breakfast was delicious, and there were people that I could have said hi to every day instead of dwelling in my solitude. And the internet worked! But I didn’t know yet that this would be an issue, haha). A very sodden and travel-weary Charlotte made her way to the hotel.

Regardless of the bad weather and the rain, I was immediately charmed by Avignon, I adored it. After getting some dinner in my belly (because remember, I didn’t get lunch b/c of the train mishap, nor did I have breakfast b/c of the bar wait) the crankiness wore away. I was in Avignon, in the south of France, where I had always wanted to go. The internet worked at the hotel, and I was again reconnected with the the world. I called my dad and sister and enjoyed my kebab (probably my favorite travel food) and watched some crappy tv.

The next morning I awoke hoping to find sun, but was displeased. It was again pouring wet, but I wanted to explore. So I did after a charming house-made breakfast with homemade jam. I had fun eavesdropping on the other guests’ conversation and practicing my French. The innkeeper man said my comprehension was superb. I, since the weather was so gross, essentially had Avignon to myself. There’s something beautiful about a rainy city, so I tried to appreciate it for what it was, which was shockingly beautiful and perfect.

 

I met up with my AirBnB which was charming. It was a cute little apartment on the top floor of a 17th-century building. At first I was quite pleased, but by the end of the day, I was kind of frustrated, as the internet had completely stopped working. Curse of the internet. It started in Torino and followed me for the rest of the trip.

But! The sun returned by the end of the day, and, in retrospect, beautiful, beautiful Provence, with all of its blooms and bites, made up for the lack of interwebs.