For the past two weeks I have been on vacation from school. La Toussaint (All Saints Day) is an officially recognized holiday in France, therefore, I get two weeks of paid vacation. Last year during this vacation I headed to Prague. This year, I was torn between going somewhere and staying in Tours to save money for bigger trips in the future. In the end, I ended up with a compromise. I stayed in Tours for the first week and worked my freelance job. The second week I went on a road trip with one of my friends.
While it was nice to be in Tours for part of the vacation, by the end of the first week I was becoming quite restless at the possibility of having to stay for a second week. Luckily, I have a friend living in Tours who also had the second week of my vacation off. We decided we wanted to head to a region of France neither of us had visited. After much discussion, I realized that I have seen a considerable amount of France (as pointed out by my friend).
In the end, we decided on visiting three regions: Auvergne, Languedoc Roussillon, and Provence. A few days before our vacation we made the necessary hotel reservations, rented a car, and began looking at the different things to do in each of these regions. This was one of the most sporadic road trips I have ever taken, and in the end it worked out, even if it was a bit stressful at the beginning. (I like planning and think that it is a very important stage of every vacation.)
Our first destination was Clérmont-Ferrand, in Auvergne. What makes this city so well known is the chain of dormant volcanoes nearby. The city also used rock made from volcanic ash to construct many of its buildings. The darkness if these stones gave the city a grim and almost dire feeling. While the architecture was interesting, I’m not sure this city would be on the top of my list of places to visit in France. It was nice to stop here, as it was the halfway point of our road trip.
One quality of this region that I was pleasantly surprised to find was that one of the regional specialities was actually vegetarian friendly! This never happens in France, so I am usually left eating omelettes and lettuce while travelling in France (and also when in my town). The regional speciality is called truffade. It was very similar to what we call scalloped potatoes in the states, but even cheesier. Apparently, this food is not traditionally vegetarian friendly, but has been made for vegetarians for many years.
After Clérmont-Ferrand we were off to Languedoc Roussillon, where we visited the cities of Nîmes and Arles. Our drive from Clérmont-Ferrand to Nîmes was one of the most beautiful and picturesque views of my life. We drove through the Cévennes. I imagine that the Cévennes are beautiful year round, but during the fall the beauty is taken to another level. The fall foliage extends as far as the eye can see, and for a brief moment, I felt like I was back in the midwest. Also, we arrived just as a light drizzle was ending, so there was a double rainbow. This had to be one of the top five most beautiful moments in my life.
After feeling like we had been transported to another planet, we eventually arrived in Nîmes. What makes this region so interesting is the presence of Roman ruins. Also, in Nîmes is the best preserved Roman ampitheatre in the world. Other than the ampitheatre and the maison carrée (which was closed for renovation), there really wasn’t much else to see in Nîmes. However, the highlight of this region for me was the proximity of the Pont du Gard. The Pont du Gard is one of the best preserved Roman aqueducts in the world. While I was less than impressed by the Arènes (ampitheatre) in Nîmes, the Pont du Gard definitely lived up to my expectations.
After spending one night in Nîmes, Scott and I were off to Arles. When one researches this region, Nîmes is much more popular than Arles. However, after visiting both, Scott and I are perplexed as to the reason. Arles is a much more interesting, active, and beautiful city. The whole time we were in Nîmes we felt like we were missing something. It was a very tranquil city–so much so that we had to spend almost an hour trying to find a restaurant. Arles also had many more Roman ruins. The ampitheatre, while not as well-preserved, seemed much more impressive. The other ruins were equally impressive–the theatre, the baths, the churches. We also visited a museum in this town to learn about the history of the region. The one thing I did not do that I would like to do is visit the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. Throughout the city there were posters for the Vincent Van Gogh walk, which explained Van Gogh’s paintings in front of or near where he painted or was inspired. We also visited les Alyscamps, a roman cemetery. In my opinion, visiting in the fall is the best time of year, as the leaves are changing and beginning to fall.
Our final destination was Aix-en-Provence. I spent a very short amount of time here this past summer, but immediately fell in love with the city. It was just as amazing as I remember it. Again, the one thing I wanted to do but didn’t have time for was to visit the Cézanne museum. These two museums alone are reason enough for a return trip with Jeannette in the future. We happened to be in this city for Halloween, a holiday which has become increasingly popular in recent years. Apparently, in Aix, it is common practice to wear your costumes all day and then board the mini choo (a train for tourists) and throw confetti while yelling. It was quite a strange sight to see.
In the end, we made it safely back to Tours. Being able to finally see the monuments and places I have been reading and learning about for the past 14 years was an experience for which I am extremely grateful. I’m not sure where my next adventure will take me, but I have a few ideas in the works.