Thursday, April 2, 2015

Mark in Lyon, France!

Bonjour from Lyon, France!

The last three months have been quite a whirlwind, and I can safely say that I wouldn’t have it any other way. Lyon is an absolutely beautiful city; in fact, I think it’s France’s best-kept secret.  For starters, Lyonnais cuisine is arguably the most delectable in the world; and, personally, I can corroborate that assertion.  Of course, French food is not the only reason to stop by Lyon.  The city hosts a number of beautiful cathedrals, monuments, museums, parks, and a charming old town.  Of these attractions, I would definitely mark the Basilique de Fourvière at the top of the list.  This cathedral is undoubtedly the most popular destination in Lyon, and due to its geographic position on top of a hill overlooking the city, it can be seen from just about any street.

View of the Basilique de Fourviere in Lyon

These attractions, however, do not play that significant of a role in my day-to-day life.  Instead, I like to focus on embracing French culture and getting to know other international students in my program.  As some of you may know, there is a program at Lyon 3 University that caters to English-speaking students (the SELF program).  It is through this program that I am able to sharpen my French speaking skills, while simultaneously deepening my understanding of certain topics directly related to my major at UNCG.  For example, this semester I am taking multiple courses on the European Union and comparative law, which has given me a far greater understanding of European politics.

Aside from enjoying French bread and spending time with friends in Lyon, I have been very active in traveling around France.  Fortunately, Lyon is in an ideal situation in terms of travel—I am within hours of Paris, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain.  So, for the sake of this blog post, I will briefly describe some of my favorite trips since January. 

The first trip I embarked on was to Marseille, France’s second city.  Marseille is, in all honesty, a fairly sketchy and dirty city.  For instance, it’s quite easy to walk down the wrong street and end up in a rather bad part of town.  However, the old port, calanques, and Cathedrale de Notre-Dame de la Gare are absolutely beautiful.  For starters, taking the ferry out to some of the islands off of France’s coast is quite an experience.  First, you’ll get to see the island that inspired the Count of Monte Christo, and then you might even to get to catch a glimpse of the famed calanques.  Following our ferry trip, my group went up to the summit of Marseille where the cathedral is almost perfectly placed.  It is from this point that you will see not only a beautiful church, but also some of the best views in Europe.  The sprawling mountains bordering Marseille are unlike anything I had ever seen and contributed to the many picturesque views that seem to occur at nearly every angle.  Of course, nothing can compare to the views seen from this perch at sunset; there’s simply nothing greater than watching the sun disappear over the Mediterranean on a clear night.

In Marseille

The next trip that I would like to share with you took place in Annecy, France.  For those of you who don’t know, Annecy may be one of the most charming towns in all of Europe.  It is roughly two hours from Lyon and is located in the French Alps.  The day that I traveled to Annecy was like something out of a book.  In the morning, it was bright and sunny in order for the mountains to be seen over every building in town.  Then, in the afternoon, a steady snowfall took place and added a whole new level of charm to the town.  Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the stunningly clear glacial water in beautiful Lake Annecy that, as you might expect, borders the town.

In Annecy

As charming as Annecy is, though, it cannot begin to compare to Barcelona, Spain.  For my winter-break, I had the opportunity to spend a week in the Catalan capital and really get to know the food, culture, and scenery of Catalonia.  It goes without saying that Barcelona is gorgeous; the mountains, lush landscape, and gorgeous weather were a welcome comfort to say the least.  Furthermore, Gaudi’s insanely odd style of architecture adds a certain unique quality to the city.  This is perhaps no better exemplified than at the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that’s been under construction for well over a century and is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  The cathedral itself is visually powerful and awe-inspiring; it should also be noted that the Sagrada Familia would eventually be the tallest church in the world upon completion in 2026.  Moreover, the local cuisine was simply fantastic.  I can safely say that I have never eaten such great seafood in my life.  And, on the last day, I took a mini-excursion to neighboring Sitges.  This seaside town provided me with the most picturesque beach views imaginable and served as an excellent place to say goodbye to Spain.

Sitges, Spain

Of course, I know that a trip to Barcelona isn’t supposed to be the highlight of my studying in France.  So, I made sure that I went to Paris a few weeks later—coincidentally, I went during fashion week with a friend from UNCG.  And, I must say, Paris is amazing.  Despite the crowds, convoluted metro system, and high prices, Paris is simply as good as it gets.  Everything from the endless maze that is the Louvre to long walks along to Seine to the Champs Elysees is simply masterful.  Also, it’s hard to miss the prominent role that the French Revolution plays in the streets of Paris—it’s unmistakably the signature moment in Parisian history that continues to make an impact to this day.  Yet, the most magical part of my trip to Paris was making my way to the summit of the Eiffel tower on a clear night and being able to view the city in all its glory under the gaze of a full moon.  It was at this moment that I was able to realize the importance of the sites I had spent three days moving between, and how incredibly important they were to the history of the world.

Atop the Eiffel Tower

The final trip I would like to share with you took place a couple of weeks ago in Méribel, France.  It was at this time that I decided to join a few of my friends in crossing off an item on my bucket list: skiing in the Alps.  Of course, I had never skied before and had no idea what I was getting myself into.  For starters, Méribel had been the site of skiing competitions in the 1992 Winter Olympics, and on the day I was there it was playing host to 2015 Skiing World Cup.  So, obviously, I had the wonderful privilege of seeing world-class skiers, like Lindsey Vonn, fly down the slopes at incomprehensible speeds.  However, that was not the most memorable part of my trip.  The memorable portion, for me, involved constant wiping out and nursing aches and pains that I still feel while writing this essay.  But, it was worth it.  The views from on top of the mountains were simply stunning; the Alps are an incredible mountain range that somehow makes you feel insignificant and important simultaneously.  

In Meribel

Thank you for reading this blog post concerning my travels in Europe.  Sadly, I left out a few of my trips and cannot write about my future travels to the French Riviera and Italy, but you’re more than welcome to get in touch with me at any time.  I would like to leave you with this plea: study abroad is an excellent opportunity that provides a unique perspective regarding both travel and cultural assimilation.  Oh, and if you want to study in France, Lyon is the perfect place for you.

Mark Parent
Lyon 3
Lyon, France

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