Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Alps, which flow into the Mediterranean Sea, lies Marseille. Colonized by the ancient Greeks – and still home to some Greek ruins – Marseille is now the second largest city in France, boasting both enthralling history and breathtaking views.
It is this city that I chose to visit during my first free weekend during this program. Along with five girlfriends I have made on this program, I stayed in a beautiful AirBnB right on the water’s edge in the La Plage area (literally translates to ‘the beach’). Not only is making new friends and solidifying old friendships one of the most rewarding parts of studying abroad but having a network of people to travel with does wonders in cutting costs! Before jumping to reserve a room in a hotel, consider splitting an AirBnB as both a more affordable and more practical way of living. If you are a solo traveler, hostels are great for a budget and make meeting new friends so much easier.
On FaceTime with my mom (hi mom!) earlier, she laughed when I said I traveled an hour and a half to the beach, because we are so close to Palavas-les-Flots, the beach town right next to Montpellier. And while she is technically right – we are very close to a beach – there is a huge difference between Languedoc beaches (the region Montpellier is in) and Provence beaches (where Marseille is). Palavas-les-Flots is a beach town, a small flat island attached to the mainland via a network of bridges similar to how the Jersey shore is set up, but of course on the crystal-clear waters of the Mediterranean. Contrastingly, Marseille is a city with an element of glamor, perhaps from the old stone buildings, or the huge yachts in the Old Ports. Or maybe from the dramatic mountains that jut right into the sea, beautifully framing every swim in the small inlet beaches. Having been to both within a one-week span, I can see the appeal of each, but my heart belongs to Marseille. Everywhere I turned I would gasp in appreciation of the beauty.
I spent most of my 48 hours in Marseille on the beach. As you may be aware, all beaches in France are topless. At first, the prospect of going topless made me uncomfortable – I didn’t want to draw attention to myself so crudely. But as the day progressed, I saw the only people even conscious of the topless women were my friends and me. By the next day, we confidently shed our tops and felt more French than ever, only my tan lines betraying my act. When in France, right?
On our second night, we cooked fresh prawn and octopus from the local fish market. We ate on our terrace overlooking the ocean, and the concept of terroir, what I have been learning about in class for weeks, finally made sense to me. For those of you who do not know, terroir is loosely translated to the “taste of place,” and is an ideal which the French hold very dear. Essentially, the French like to be able to taste where their food is from; cheeses and wines have region-specific flavors, cow cheese should taste of a cow, and goat cheese of a goat, etc. Well, as I sat there eating some of the freshest seafood I’ve ever tasted, the food I was eating tasted like the view I was enjoying and the concept of terroir finally clicked.
We could not stay away from the beach for long. After dinner and some dancing lessons, courtesy of the New Orleans’ students, we all flocked to the beach for a midnight swim. Floating on my back in the calm, warm Mediterranean waters, staring at the stars peeking from behind mountaintops, my life felt like a dream. In fact, this whole weekend I couldn’t stop saying how dreamlike it all was. I hope moments like this don’t stop once I leave France. This program has taught me that I need to indulge more in life’s smaller moments, because sometimes they turn out to be the most important.