Six Rockhurst students traveled to France Jan. 1-22 to study the language and take in some of the culture. They spent some of their time in Paris, where they visited the Louvre, and some of their time in Montpellier, a university town in the south of France. The group was accompanied by M. Kathleen Madigan, Ph.D., professor of classical and modern languages.
From left: Brian Meyer, Charly Ann Ryan, Krista Wardell, Casey Heupel, Jacquelene Lenie, Jill Cohen.
In addition to the Louvre museum, which holds one of the greatest art collections in the world, notably paintings of Delacroix, David; Géricault, etc., and of course the Mona Lisa), we visited the Musée Orsay, which holds many of the most important paintings of the impressionist and post-impressionist painters, such as Degas, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, etc.. These paintings are housed in an old train station, and after the newer trains became too long for the platforms, they converted it into an art gallery.
We took a TGV (fast and comfortable) train from Paris to Montpellier, and were greeted by our host families at the train station. The group is enjoying getting to know their families, practicing French, and the French suppers prepared at home for them. Charly Ann Ryan and Jill Cohen are staying at the home of Annie Bucaille. She drove them home that day, but normally they take the tram to school.
Christmas tree and decorations in one of the large department stores we visited, the Galeries Lafayette. You can take the elevator to the top of this store and walk out onto the terrace, for a great panoramic view of Paris (we did that). The big sales happen twice a year in France, in winter and summer, at set dates, though they are talking about changing this and having everyday sales. In any case, the big winter sales start today, so you know where we will be after class this afternoon!
Casey Heupel enjoyed mousse au chocolat (a traditional dessert made with chocolate and cream) in a restaurant in the Latin Quarter. In many restaurants you can order a three-course meal, with choices for each dish among several pre-selected ones, at a special price which is very good value. Casey and another chose this option at a restaurant called "Colbert", with onion soup and steak prepared in the French way. Délicieux!
We visited the historic Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, which looked particularly beautiful with the Christmas tree displayed in front of it during this season. Before this visit, we had gone nearby to the Latin Quarter for lunch, where the students of the Sorbonne (the University of Paris) are often to be found in the numerous cafés and bookstores.
Here is one of the lovely Christmas crèche scenes we saw in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, with traditional and modern (a slide show of photos projected onto the screen) elements.
From left to right: Charly Ann Ryan, Krista Wardell, Jill Cohen and Brian Meyer We visited the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre; it is on a hill and from there we had a great view of Paris at night.
After visiting the Sacred Heart Basilica in Paris, we went for dinner to a typical restaurant in Montmartre. We loved the food as well as the berets that the waiters wore, but what really made the atmosphere warm was the live, folksy music. Most of the others having dinner in the restaurant were French, and we clapped along with them to some tunes.
It was Brian's turn on this evening to go under the table to call the names in the order to be served for the Galette des Rois cake, so there can be no tricking about who gets the fève, or a representation of the Christ child, in his/her slice of cake. Whoever gets it is king or queen and wears a crown, like the kings at Epiphany. Brian was a very good sport!
On Sunday, we went on an excursion to three different towns in the south of France. At the Cap d'Agde, we took in the sea air and played a bit on the beach. This is a volcanic area, and we saw some of the dark stones on the beach and used in the Cathedral in the town of Agde.
Since we'd only had one course for lunch in Cap d'Agde, we thought it only fitting to stop for dessert in another town, Sète. We did some sampling and rated their tarte tatin, a caramelized apple dish, particularly winning.
Jacquelene Lenie also visited the town of Aix-en-Provence, where she was born. Her family went back to the US when she was two and a half years old. In Aix, she was able to get together with French friends of her parents, who showed her around the town of her roots! Her parents first met in France. Two students of the program director have married French men within recent years.
We also visited the town of Pézénas, where the famous playwright Molière was often to be found with his troupe when they were staying in the south of France. Our guide showed us the interior of the building and we talked about Molière's plays.
On the first day of class at the Institute in Montpellier, students were placed in French courses at their level. In the afternoon, Thierry took us on an informative tour of Montpellier, a university town with a lot of history. Here we are across the street from the court building and near a plaque to François Mistral, a troubadour poet who wrote in the regional language of the south, l'occitain. Thierry studied occitain at the university and some of his family speaks it.
The southern town of Pézénas also has the culinary claim to fame of a wonderful kind of paté in a sugary pastry. We were offered some outside of a pastry shop, around which we quickly congregated.
Now for more on Montpellier, where we are staying until Saturday, January 19th. Then we head back to Paris for three more nights. Here you can see the main plaza in Montpellier at night, la Place de la Comédie. Straight ahead, you can see the Opera Building, which has a full schedule of symphony concerts, opera and other events throughout the year. On the opera, the lighted words, Bonnes Fêtes, means Happy Holidays! Europeans tend to put up Christmas decorations close to December 25th and leave them up longer, and we are happy to see them. This plaza is also near a shopping complex and the train station, and is always in motion!
Montpellier is a medieval city, and for centuries has been a major meeting point along the pilgrimage path to Santiago de Compostella, or in French, St. Jacques. These beautiful nails in the streets point out the path for pilgrims. Hospitality is still offered at various Churches and inns here to pilgrims.
This is a store window in the center of Montpellier; filled with santons, clay figures typical of the south originally imitating the saints and used in Church scenes. But with time, santons were also made and sold to represent the basic professions and everyday life, as you can see with the card players and artist.
At the Cap d'Agde, it was sunny and warm enough to eat outdoors near the sea. Some of us indulged in the fruits de mer; or shellfish, including mussels, oysters, and a local specialty, les bulots, that are in the form of a conch. But others opted for salmon or ratatouille.
Many store windows in France express the wonder of the season and make January fun. Here, a toy shop in Montpellier's center, where there are many medieval narrow, winding streets and high walls. This place is especially popular among children.
Here is a statue of the famous seventeenth-century comedian Molière, in the town in the south where he and his troupe sometimes stayed, Pézénas. He is the author of such plays as The Would Be Gentleman (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme), Tartuffe ( The Hypocrite), L'Avare (The Miser), L'école des Femmes (The School for Ladies), Le Misanthrope (The Misanthropist), etc.
Here is a panoramic overview of Sète, a major port town sometimes called the Venice of France, because of its canals and bridges.
We visited the Opéra Garnier in Paris, which also got into the Christmas spirit with it's own tree. Who knows if the Phantom of the Opera was lurking behind Jacqelene Lenie, Charly Ann Ryan and Krista Wardell?
This one is from Sunday's excursion to towns in the south of France. It was hard to leave Sète, at the end of our excursion, but this beautiful sunset was the perfect farewell gift. On the way home, our guide played the guitar and we sang along with popular songs. Included was "The Lion King", in French of course, which was good pronunciation practice.
The water castle stands above Montpellier and at the end of a beautiful, long aqueduct.
We did not go underwater diving yet! This is the aquarium in Montpellier, which just opened last December, and which is in a center with a skating rink, bowling center, movie theatre, planetarium, etc.
The is the entrance to the thirteenth century medical school in Montpellier, connected with the foundations of the city. It is one of the oldest medical schools in the world, and students still study here today. The famous doctor and writer Rabelais studied here.
The park is always full of life, with a market in the morning, restaurants and cafés, the Fabre art museum on one side, and the Joffre High School (lycée) in a grand old building on the other.
Beautiful lanterns line the many promenades in Montpellier, here captured against the plantain trees (plantanes) which are cut back and sculptured.
The transportation system is convenient in Montpellier, with the tram modernizing it and making it even more efficient.
Antigone is a modern housing complex in Montpellier with restaurants, an olympic size pool, an extensive library and abstract arches.
Palm trees can be found on the Rue Saint Guilhelm, the street where we go to school.
Le comptoir des fous is a French jazz band here playing at a small place called the Antirouille. Live music is easily found in Montpellier, a university town.
Here are the doors we walk through daily to take classes at the Institute of European Studies. It is located on a pretty street with many specialty shops, such as cheese and chocolate.
Here is the Place Jean Jaurès, a plaza where all the café and restaurant seats are taken at noon on a sunny day.
We are still enjoying sampling the local cuisine, in which shellfish are popular.
This crepe restaurant in Montpellier is one of our favorite; you can get them for the main course (e.g. with ham or cheese) or as dessert (e.g. with chocolate).
We took the tram and the bus to the beach, about forty minutes away, and had a few adventures there in addition to hot chocolate.
The fountains here remind us of Kansas City.
We did it! Here we are with our certificates after completing our French classes at the Institute in Montpellier.
Don’t be jealous, but that’s us on the left having our graduation lunch outside in Montpellier after the last day of class on Friday, January 18th! For dessert, some had the Opéra, which we found out is a combination of mousse au chocolat and mousse au café with a cookie.
Back in Paris we stopped by the Pompidou Center, just down the street from the Town Hall, which is like an “inside out” building with escalators, air and water ducts and elevators on the outside. Inside is a “happening” exhibition space for modern artists, and outside, one often finds street performers.
We walked through the plaza where the most famous French Theatre is located, the Comédie Francaise, where the plays of Molière are still staged today. Upstairs, one can find the chair that he sat in at the time of the last play in which he acted.
We heard a lot about the famous seventeenth century playwright, director and actor Molière on this trip, so we looked for the medallion honoring him at the Comédie Française, established by Louis XIV in 1680.
We decided to get in the spotlight for a minute as the statues on the Buren columns at the Royal Palace courtyard. The Palais Royal now houses the Councils of State and the Ministry of Culture.
Just down the street from where we stayed in the Marais District of Paris is the Place des Vosges, where the famous author of Les Mis, Victor Hugo, once lived.
No college trip to Paris would be complete without visiting the Sorbonne, the university in Paris founded in the thirteenth century for theology students. While the building still holds some lectures and classes for foreign students in the summer, in 1969, the Sorbonne split into 13 separate universities.
The building presently housing the National Museum of the Middle Ages is a jewel in and of itself, a medieval mansion dating from 1485-98. Sometimes called the Cluny museum, its name comes from Pierre de Chalus, Abbot of Cluny, who first bought the ruins in 1330.
We came to admire the Jardins du Luxembourg, a garden where people come to read, sail boats in the pond or see the beautiful 19th century statues.
In the Luxembourg gardens also stands the palace which is currently where the French Senate meets. It was first built to remind Marie de’Médici, widow of Henry IV, of her home city of Florence, Italy, and was finished in 1631.
Looming up behind this shot from the Luxembourg gardens is the Panthéon, a monument holding the tombs of France’s great heroes and distinguished writers and scientists, including Voltaire, Rousseau, Zola and the ashes of Pierre and Marie Curie and Alexandre Dumas.
On our last day of class, we visited a Catholic middle school in Paris, one of the highlights of our visit to France.
Students asked Brian Meyer, who was prepared for their questions, what Americans do to protect the environment.
Jill Cohen told her group of students about Kansas City and the area in which we live.
Jacquelene Lenie is training at Rockhurst to become a teacher, so this visit to a French middle school was particularly interesting for her.
Charly Ann Ryan, who is a pre-medical student at Rockhurst, was impressed by the level of English these French eighth graders had mastered.
Krista Wardell, an English major, talked with students about a variety of topics. Krista would like to return to France asap. So would we!
We pushed all we could that last day in Paris, and when only the evening was left, we opted for dinner at a famous restaurant not far from the Bastille.
Of course, no slide show of our visit to France would be complete without documenting one more time that famous French cuisine. A picture is worth a thousand words, and almost as many euros.
We will miss our international friends, met in Montpellier, our French friends and families, and of course our own traveling group. But we will always have our souvenirs, French for memories, and while we work on reunions, we hope that you can go and experience France as well!
There is never enough time to see everything, which is why Paris keeps calling us back.