Lyon: We were in Lyon from the 22-24. It's the third largest city in France, but is still only 480,000 people, which is weird. Our hotel was on the Presqu'île, the peninsula inbetween the Saône and Rhône rivers. We were right by some nice shopping streets, Place Bellecour (a big square) and a short walk from Vieux Lyon, the pretty original medieval city. We weren't there for very long since we really only had one full day, but it was an excellent day, and we had beautiful weather. One victory in Lyon was the bagel shop we found! It was an American style place with special things imported from the US. I've missed bagels and cream cheese so much, so I got a toasted bagel sandwich with cream cheese. It was delicious. My friends were excited to be able to get Dr. Pepper, and they had other American pops like Mountain Dew too. Since Lyon is famous for its food, we had a Lyonnais dinner in the old part of town that night. Most of the specialties involve the innards of animals so I wasn't super adventurous, but got duck instead. I did get an amazing bowl of french onion soup, too.
My favorite part was after some window-shopping and ancient ruins when we climbed up to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière through a garden path going up the big hill. It was a bit of a struggle since I'm out of shape, but the Basilica was absolutely beautiful. It was different than the million other cathedrals I've seen this semester. There was a lower church and a more ornate upper one on top of it, both with beautiful mosaics. It reminded me of the mosaics and church I saw in Ravenna, Italy last May, especially with all the green and gold in the upper church.
Nice: Our longest stop of break was Nice, from the 24th-28th. Some thoughts. The water looked beautiful and the long stretches of pebble beaches and palm trees were certainly a nice break, but I don't think I would go back. It seemed like a dirty, packed city, and there are more peaceful warm places. I'm glad I went, but I just wouldn't do it again. Our hotel was surprisingly awesome though. It was in a pretty good spot, 10-15 minutes from the beach on foot, right by a grocery store, and it had an American-style shower!!! We were so thrilled. I miss normal, standing-up showers. Anyways, here are a few pictures from around the city. Again, the water looked fantastic but it was still freezing! I was a trooper and went in for a few minutes anyways. Also, there were cacti in addition to the palm trees, so I loved that
We spent a lot of our time wandering around Vieux Nice (again, the old part of the city) because it was cuter with small, twisty streets. There were a lot of olive oil and herb shops that smelled great, so we had fun shopping around. We spent one day going to a few of the free municipal museums...they were awful. The Contemporary Art Museum was fine, but nothing special. I, however, was super excited for the Natural History Museum. Even when they're small, they're always awesome. I just love them for some reason. Unfortunately, Nice's Natural History Museum was one room. Literally one tiny room, with a giant stuffed sea lion, 4 employees sitting around doing nothing, and a super super creepy fake person in a window. I was displeased. The saving grace of the day was when we walked (forever) to find the Marc Chagall Museum. We thought we would have to pay, but because we're EU students it was free, so that was a nice surprise! More money for all the ice cream we ate. This was a small, but nice museum and it was cool to see. Definitely the best museum.
A few of our friends from IES were in Nice at the same time as us (and we ran into another one at the Chagall museum with her parents!) so we went to the beach together one day. They also celebrated my birthday with me the night before I turned 21 at dinner! I had gone to this amazing place one of the first nights with the two girls I was travelling with. We had the best service we have had all semester, and we were especially happy because we managed to pick a restaurant that gave us a free kir (which is a drink for before dinner with white wine and usually blackcurrant liqueur). I had a gnocchi gratin, one friend had a steak, and my other friend had mussels (we traded bites and were all very happy). We loved this place and wanted to try the whole menu so we came back with the other girls for my birthday dinner! It was a success. I celebrated turning 21 French-style, with a bunch of wine for everyone. One of the girls got the rabbit dish of the day, which I had wanted to try before, so now I can say I've eaten rabbit.
Arles: Our last stop of the trip was Arles from the 28th-30th. Again, because of travelling we only had one full day, but it's a very small city (only about 50,000 people) so that was plenty to see everything we wanted. Once again, we lucked out and had an adorable hotel. The owner clearly loved speaking English with us even though we would try to speak in French so that was funny. Vacation was about 95% in English, so it's a miracle that I can still speak French for classes. I found a city pass for 7 euros that let us see one museum and four monuments so that was a perfect way to spend the day. We went for the Reattu Museum (the Arles one was closed until 2013 so that was out), the Roman Amphitheatre, the Roman Theatre, the cryptoporticus (basically old underground passageways), and the Church of St. Trophime and its cloisters. The museum was...interesting. It actually was, but it was just really bizarre too. It was a mix of old and modern art and was in a super old building. There were a bunch of Picasso sketches though, and those were my favorite part. It was raining at this point anyways, so the museum was a good hide-out. Speaking of art, we also saw the (now very touristy) cafe that Van Gogh painted in The Night Cafe. He lived in Arles a while so a lot of his paintings show the city.
As for the other monuments, the cryptoporticus was creepy, as expected. Just a ton of underground passageways that went on forever. Not somewhere you want to get lost. The ampitheatre/arena was interesting. Sadly, we missed the Easter bullfights by a few days. I totally would've gone. The arena is from around 90 AD., and there was graffiti chiseled into the walls from the 1800s which was bizarre to see. During the medieval era they built houses and a church inside of the arena and used it as a fortress, so I liked the sketches that showed that. On our last day in Arles, we were hanging out in the square by the church and town hall, and there were a bunch of people in old-timey clothes, as well as an impromptu ballet performance, so that was a nice end to the trip before our (way too long) 7 hours on the train home. Now I'm back in Nantes for my last 2 week of classes and finals before my mom gets here and we go to Paris for a week, and then I'll be home! I'm excited to get home and see everyone!
If you want to see the rest of my pictures from break, you can check out my facebook photo album here!