As our short time in France is already coming to a close, we spend our last full day exploring the diverse and multifaceted history of the country through its many bridges.
Beginning with an impressive display of the Roman occupation of the Gaul Peninsula, we have the morning to experience the Pont du Gard. Built to carry water from the spring in Uzes, France to the village of Nimes, France, this incredible architectural feat is the jewel strung on the necklace of the Gardon River in Provence. As the students explored the site they could see graffiti from the 1st century AD along side etchings in the stone of people ever since. Walking across the aqueduct provided views to the north and the south of the Gardon, and also was a great way to see how the history and impact of the Roman world transcended the various cultures of Western Europe and connected them all under its occupation, much like this river connects villages and the bridge time together.
From the far past we travel about 1100 years into the future to again are met with another famous bridge, Le Pont du Avignon. Avignon is an incredible medieval city, which during the 13th and 14th centuries was home to the Papal Palace, moved from Rome during the times of the early crusades. Here students could witness the Catholic Church in some of its earliest stages, which starkly contrast the more elaborate baroque works of the later centuries to come. It is here we feel the simplicity and peace that Avignon is, and how this palace created growth and protection for the city of Avignon. After moving through the palace at our own pace, we were given the opportunity to absorb Avignon individually.
Many experience France through the cuisine. Long lunches, multiple courses, le plat du jour. Others took to the streets where a local and famous theatre festival was filling Avignon with energy and surprise. Many actors and actresses were doing mini performances to entice the visitors of the city to come and experience their art. Watching these street performers felt like we were again in Avignon in 1400, where troubadours and actors were singing the stories and telling fables of the victories of Charlemagne and El Cid.
We were also able to make our way back to the bus by moving through the actual walls of the city, where students were sharing their knowledge of how guards defended the walls during the Middle Ages.
We finally conclude our time in France again tracing the coastline of the Mediterranean to Nice. Fast forward to the mid 19th century where this place really exploded and became fashionable as the Queen of England at the time, Queen Victoria, came to Nice and southern France to vacation during the cooler months. Very soon after the aristocracy would follow, making Nice the posh place to vacation, and thus it remains today. Rocky beaches, clear blue waters, breathtaking views of homes carved out of the sides of cliffs, Nice is reminiscent of the California coastline, and the main drag through the city, Le Promenade Anglais, like Rodeo Drive. Most of the students soaked up Nice by soaking up the sun at the beach. Others chose to meander through the historic portion of the city and check out the side markets (and grab some gelato or crêpe with nutella).
France has been easy. There is something relaxing about the French countryside and something inclusive about its feel. As so much time divides us from our past, it is here in France that we can find the bridges that again connect us. From Roman to Medieval to Victorian to contemporary, there is something for everyone to relate with in Southern France. As are the words of Edith Piaf, en France, “la vie en rose”, and here we could really experience what those words mean. Now fair warning- Italy, here we come!