Diary of an Erasmus student
September marks the beginning of Kevin's year abroad. Here he pays a visit to see what France has instore for him.
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"The first view of my new potential home left me itching to get back and explore why Aix-en-Provence has captured so many hearts."
Kevin Galvin is planning on doing an Erasmus year abroad in France in September (depending on his exam results) He recently paid a visit to the area he wishes to stay in to check it out.
It’s now two days to the date that decides my future. The set of six numbers that are due to arrive at my doorstep in less than two weeks time is the last remaining hurdle from a year abroad, and after five days experiencing what this place has to offer, I know that anything else will be utterly heartbreaking.
It’s such a duplicitous place, sucking you in with its charm and high-temperatures, and then slapping you in the face with vast expense and people who are at best tepid towards visitors. Being here amongst the multi-million euro properties, trendy cobbled streets and stunning scenery I feel totally out of place, but yet determined to assume this lofty persona of a Provençale, even just on a temporary basis.
I look around at the golden brown tower blocks and leafy boulevards and feel nothing but envy for the otherworldly chic creatures behind their façade of designer sunglasses and indifference. They have it easy; natural bronze tans, the beach on their doorstep, Daddy’s wealth paying for their expensive pursuits, and a home that can be easily considered as one of the most beautiful on the continent.
The sun is beating down once again; the fifth day temperatures have broken 30 degrees since arriving on Thursday, and while I toil in the searing temperatures, trying to maintain some sense of dignity as the early symptoms of sunstroke hit me despite my factor 30 sun cream, others breeze past, oblivious to the heat which is making some of us wish we had brought more than a single bottle of water!
We should really be used to it at this stage; a six-hour drive from Carcassonne to our base Fréjus gave us an excellent sense of how different Provence is to any other region in France. Having passed through Montpellier and Nîmes, with their high-rise flats and commercial centres, we entered France’s third most important economic region, and as the Pyrenees made way for the Alps the barren landscape of Roussillon was replaced with leafy forests and quaint medieval towns.
We began to see more vintage cars, ‘belle filles’ and sweeping bays, and even from the relatively secluded location of the A6 autoroute, the first view of my new potential home left me itching to get back and explore why Aix-en-Provence has captured so many hearts.
Why did I choose France?
Therefore it’s pretty easy to answer the question why I chose Aix-en-Provence in the first place; one search of Google images was enough to turn the tide in my favour. Unlike the Northern cities, which bear more resemblance to Great Britain and Ireland, Aix is homage to the Mediterranean style of living, and a total departure from my home of twenty years.
Peter Mayale’s charming voyage through the region in his book ‘A Year In Provence’ further whet my appetite (quite literally in some cases) for the area, though in truth my mind had been made up before I had even gotten into second year. A further advantage (and potential pitfall) about going to Provence’s cultural capital is that l’Institut Science Politiques d’Aix-en-Provence is counted amongst an elite group of Grande Écoles, offering France’s best and brightest an opportunity to continue their advanced education away from the rest of the riff-raff.
Despite this prevalent superciliousness the trip here has been absolutely brilliant, both for my French (which in truth still needs a bit of work!) and my understanding of an unexpectedly complex region. From Nice’s chic to Aix’s splendour, and the incredible train journeys taken down the Riviera and around the bay to the legendary St. Tropez, I’ve seen only a smidgen of what Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur (PACA) has to offer.
If and when I get the all clear, and I’m finished my celebrations some time in mid-July, the summer will be entirely consistent of planning. While I have a good idea of how to get over there initially, there’s a seemingly endless shopping list of places I must visit, from the Gorges du Verdon in the north, to the aristocratic Monaco in the South-East, but all these things must be put on hold for…
Another. Two. Days....