Oh how the magnificent words of French singer Charles Trenet echo in my head: In Joy or in Pain, Sweet France! (Listen to the full song on YouTube.) We’ll start with the joy, and save the pain for last!
Throughout the semester Gonzaga-in-Florence sponsored several trips throughout Europe. We would be alerted by email in the “Daily Ciao” newsletter we get and would be able to sign up and submit payment right online. Included in the price would be round-trip transportation by bus, accommodation, and usually some extras like a group dinner. At the beginning of the semester I was hesitant to sign up since the destinations seemed too foreign to me: Budapest, Hungary; Innsbruck, Austria; among others. In retrospect, from talking to friends who did explore the outer-reaches of Europe, it’s the trips you would never think to go on that are really the best experiences. Just some food for thought when I plan my next trip abroad!
Fortunately, I did see the Southern France trip and was very interested, having taken French for over six years. I signed up for that and just this past weekend we took off in two coach buses on the seven-hour trek along the coast of Italy to the Côte d’Azur (the Azure Coast, known better as the French Riviera). On this map, you can see that Nice, our first stop, is not too far over the Franco-Italian boarder.
We arrived at night and checked into our hostel (which was very nice, and was rated the best in all of France several times in the past). The next morning David and I woke up earlier than everyone else because we had to go to the post office. We had brought all of our belongings from Florence in the suitcases we came in because we needed to ship them to my friend Morgan in Paris. Long story short, it would be easier and cheaper to do that than to carry them on vacation with us after school got out. Afterwards, we met up with the rest of our school, took the tram down to the ocean, and had free time to wander around for a while. The Promenade des Anglais is a magnificent stretch of pavement, kind of like a boardwalk, that extends all along the beach. There’s a path for bikes, as well as open space for joggers or those on rollerblades. We also found an amazing open-air market, where different vendors sold such things as fresh fruit, bread, meats, flowers, and all sorts of small trinkets.
At around noon those, including me, who planned to go white water rafting met up and took a bus ride to Breil-sur-Roya, France where, upon getting dropped off, we shimmied into wetsuits and reboarded the bus to go further up the river. The ride down was amazing! Though it wasn’t too difficult, the river provided enough rapids to make it a fun challenge. Surprisingly, the wetsuits kept us extremely warm; the only thing that got cold was our feet!
We got back later that day, explored more of Nice, and went to dinner together at La Pizza, which, not surprisingly, was an Italian-style pizzeria. It was still delicious though. I got a good night’s sleep, though, knowing that the next day would be a busier one. In the morning, as a group, we climbed a mountain right on the seaside that overlooked the entire city.
Later on, we took a bus to Cannes, another city on the French Riviera. This city had a more beach-y feel, with actual sand on the beaches as opposed to the hail-sized rocks in Nice. I explored some after tanning and swimming, finding the Musée de la Castre on the top of yet another mountain. My free admission (because of my student-status) got me into the museum and also allowed me to climb the tower that overlooked the whole city of Cannes. We returned to Nice later that night, had dinner at the hostel (which was surprisingly pretty good), and called it a night once again.
Sunday we all got up early to check out. We boarded the buses with all our stuff and said goodbye to France. Our trip wasn’t over, however. A mere half hour away, in the direction of home, was Monaco. Known for its casino and its lavish lifestyle, Monaco is a tiny principality (self-governed country) about the size of Lafayette’s College Hill in Easton, PA. We were given several hours of meandering time, but after walking around for a while, the city wasn’t what it was all cracked up to be, in my personal opinion anyway. We boarded the bus later on, just as it started getting windy, and continued on back to Florence.
This is where the douleur starts to set in. Later that night, and more so the next morning, the left side of my face began to hurt to the touch and there was a lot of pressure in my ear—much like the feeling you get as you’re landing in an airplane. I went to the doctor that my school brings in each day, and she referred me to a specialist because she was afraid of it getting worse; by now the pain had increased a lot. Though I’ve certainly picked up Italian since I’ve been here, medical terms like cough, infection, and medicine weren’t in my vocabulary, so Federica, one of the four student life staff from the school and a native Florentine, offered to take me.
The doctor’s visit was much the same as it would be in America, but what surprised me the most was the pharmacy! For the price of what a typical insurance co-payment would be, any Joe Schmo with a prescription can waltz right into a pharmacy and pick up medicine—no insurance card needed. I guess that’s European health care for you! For now I’m still recovering, but my rocky return doesn’t prevent me from asserting that my trip to Southern France was my favorite trip of all. (Sorry, Switzerland!)