Three places in France that will surprise you

(Originally posted by Amanda Thompson, a CSU student currently studying at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy.  Visit her blog page at amandaelizabethblahg.wordpress.com)

The very first time I visited France was July 2014. I traveled through a tour group with my family, and the tour took us to Paris, France. Paris has always been a top destination on my travel bucket list. Indeed it is a very typical travel destination however, the stereotypical image of Paris always appealed to me. I loved the idea of a city so full of romance, class and midnight magic. I loved the picturesque image of strolling across the Pont des Arts, marveling at the scenery and taking in the moment as the light reflections project off the thousands of metal locks that contain a promise of a lifetime. However, after spending a couple of days in the supposedly romantic magical city, Paris did not fulfill my expectations. Perhaps my expectations were 70% based off pure fantasy and movie-like assumptions, but deep down I knew that there had to be a lot more to France in general than what I experienced in Paris.

Fast forward to October 2015 when four great friends hop on a bus headed to the French Riviera. I have to admit, the French Riviera was not on my travel bucket list and I originally had no desire to travel there this time around, but nevertheless I decided to go on the trip because I traveled with three of my closest friends here abroad. Needless to say, the company was the deciding factor. Fast forward again to the end of the trip, on the grueling bus ride back to Rome. The French Riviera in all its greatness and glory, definitely took me by surprise. From the gorgeous Exotic Gardens in Eze, to the crystal chandeliers and the red carpets where some of the greatest high rollers once stood in the Monte Carlo casino, the south of France was a place of beauty, wealth and tropics.

Nice, France.

  1. The entire city of Nice, France.

The panoramic view of Nice, France was one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. Orange roof top houses litter the entire city, ranging from big to small in size, but all with the same iconic orange roof. The houses are along the coast which is lined with lush green palm trees right next to the turquoise blue waters. Our first day in Nice was spent snorkeling in those turquoise blue waters. Snorkeling was both exhilarating, frightening, yet calming all at once. After the initial shock of diving into the freezing cold waters wore off, I began to adjust to the water’s temperature and dove under, excited to see what lay beneath the water. Colorful fish swam under my flippers and around the beautiful coral reefs. At one point, we even spotted an octopus ,hidden between two corals, which began to change colors as it sensed us swimming nearby.

Exotic Gardens, Eze

2. Exotic Gardens in Eze.

After what seemed like 200 stair steps later, we finally arrived at the top of the Exotic Gardens. Unlike your typical garden most likely featuring bushes of colorful roses and tulips, cacti of all shapes and sizes covered the Exotic Gardens. Maybe it was the fact that these cacti were 50 shades of beautiful green, some spotted with small pink flowers, some towering and tall and some short and stubby, but the gardens were portrayed almost tropical-like, despite all the cacti. At the top of the gardens, we came across a picture perfect area where you could look out and feast your eyes on a full panoramic view of Eze. It was that view that made the 200 stair step climb worth it. It was that view that made one secretly smile and feel absolutely breathless.

Monte Carlo Casino, Monte Carlo

3. Monte Carlo Casino in Monte Carlo.

Welcome to Monte Carlo, home of the rich and famous. Home of the high rollers, big spenders and classy party goers. Home of the 18,000 Euro jackets in Chanel and the 800 Euro leather shoes in Gucci. Monte Carlo is a place that forces one to physically stop and take everything in. From the many flashy Lamborghinis zooming around the casino, to the thumping music coming from the exclusive rooftop clubs, to the brightly lit store signs to only the most expensive clothes and shoes imaginable, Monte Carlo is the definition of glamour and wealth. Stepping into the Monte Carlo Casino itself felt as if I just stepped into a movie scene from James Bond. Huge sparkling crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling and the casino itself was full of slot machines, and Blackjack and Roulette tables in the back. Security guards patrolled every inch of the casino, including near the bar where one could purchase an 18 Euro glass of champagne.  Unfortunately, my luck at the casino ran out rather quickly, and I did not win the millions I needed to quit school and travel the world for life.

The Many Moods of Marseille

[Originally posted by Rachel Fountain, a Journalism and Media Communication Major. She is spending the Spring of 2015 in Aix-en-Provence, France. You can find her blog directly here.]

Since I first arrived in Aix I’ve been hearing things about Marseille, the loud and infamous city that lies only a 30 minute bus ride away. What’s interesting is I never heard the same things.

“…it’s always summer and always a party…it’s dirty and crowded…it’s sketchy and run by the mafia… it’s a culture hub…it’s a center of commerce…it’s most famous for it’s soap…it’s most famous for it’s soup…”

Anyways, there seemed to be no agreement on what Marseille was really about, and so last Saturday I finally went to go see it for myself!

My friends and I took an early bus, so we arrived around nine. As we walked down the stairs from the bus station and started wandering up a main street, Marseille first struck me as an art nouveau poster, mostly because of the crazy, swirly details on the stairs and the lampposts!

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The crew and I found our way to the Vieux Port (the old port) and we stopped by a tiny museum (called the Roman Docks Museum) that was full of ancient maritime artifacts. There, we got to know Marseille as the port city of antiquity.

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Continuing along the Vieux Port, we turned a corner and were stuck by the sight of a magnificent striped cathedral called Cathédrale de la Major.

The essence of this cathedral is easy to capture on the outside due to it’s bold exterior, but not so easy on the inside. The space is very open and smooth with beautiful mosaic floors, hanging flags and thick stripes of red, tan and sage-colored rock.

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Moving on, we turned right and headed up the Port Moderne (modern port) where we ran into a shopping mall that was indeed very modern! We went in looking for bathrooms and ended up working our way to the top where there was a huge terrace.

It was there that I got my first good look at the Mediterranean, which did give me dorky butterflies in my stomach, I’m not gonna lie. We all took a moment to gawk and take pictures.

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The group then split up. Half headed off to another cathedral on the hill and my half went to the MuCEM (Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée), a brand new museum that floats on the blue waters of the Med. Once there we visited the gallery of the Mediterranean and an exhibit on photographer Raymond Depardon.

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The photo exhibit was inspiring, and so we emerged from the MuCEM even more trigger-happy with our cameras than usual! We worked our way from the museum back to the Vieux Port, and we got so many unique photo opportunities I swear the city of Marseille was posing for us.

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As we backtracked, we realized that the once quiet Vieux Port from that morning was no more. People were everywhere! A bride and a groom were exiting a chapel, musicians were scattered along the dock, and some sort of dancing was going on that involved huge circles and flags…

(I must apologize for my videos, I’ve got no video editing software to speak of at the moment but that will hopefully change here very soon! As of now, this is all I’ve got!)

The streets were busy too; antique markets, dogs, traffic, beggars, everyone! We did stop into a church for a while, and it always strikes me how silent and somber churches can be in the midst of such noise.

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At the end of that day, Marseille undoubtedly left an impression…actually, about six of them. I was hoping to find a theme to Marseille, some common denominator or unifying characteristic that I could use to make sense of this city, but I had none.

If anything, Marseille taught me how difficult it is as a tourist to really understand a city and it’s culture. It’s frustrating, but I suppose I should be glad that one trip isn’t enough to understand a place. Otherwise, I’d have no reason to come back.

Until next time, Marseille!

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