Charlotte – Semester Exchange to Catholic University of Lyon, France
Semester 1, 2017
It’s true what people tell you about having so many opportunities to move around while on exchange, especially if you’re in Europe!
I have been based in Lyon for 3 months now and have been away somewhere on either a day trip or a few nights stay for 10 of the 14 weekends since I arrived!
My first destination, and one I have been back to 2 or 3 times since, is Paris. A quick and easy 2 hour train from Lyon. Obviously being a very busy, fast paced and international city there is a lot to see and do and one weekend is not at all enough. I caught up with friends and visited some cafes I’d noted down to try! There’s a café called Hardware Societe in Melbourne which opened a second venue of the same name in Paris just beside Sacre Coeur. It’s a fusion of French and Aussie breakfast/brunch and it’s fantastic! The best of both worlds. I also visited a park that I had never been to before in the 19th arrondisment, it was called le Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. It is beyond a park though in my opinion, absolutely jaw dropping and even nicer because it feels less touristy than central Paris locations.
During my time to Paris, I’ve also been able to spend afternoons in the sun on the classic little green chairs in the Tuileries Gardens, walked the Champs-Elysees a couple of times, passed by a protest in Place de la Republique and soaked up all the fresh, delicious and fragrant goodness at Marché Bastille on a Sunday morning! I am a lover of French markets and this is a big one in Paris. It has everything from fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, cheeses, eggs, 20 different kinds of marinated olives, the best cuts of meat and fish, big pans of boeuf bourguignon simmering away, crepes, flowers, nuts, jams, cooked chickens – just imagine!
Next, a very sweet, special little town called Annecy. Annecy is nicknamed the ‘Venice’ of France. It has no bad angles! It’s breathtaking all over, even covered in snow, as it was when we visited. I was there with a group of exchange girls on a Sunday, when in France everything is usually closed. Regardless the day was beautiful! We walked along the canals in the snow, looked across the lake to the mountains and explored the variety of expos in Chateau d’Annecy.
Another destination that I’ve been able to visit more than once since I’ve been here is Venice. I stayed with my relatives in between Venice and the town of Treviso. I was there when it was still winter, but it’s always enchanting. They have the most indulgent specialties called frittelle, they’re a sweet sphere-shaped doughnut and they are everywhere in Venice! All the narrow passageways and bridges connecting above the canals make it feels sort of like a maze, a very detailed, romantic one.
I was also in Venice for the last weekend of Carnevale at the end of February! Carnivale is the weeklong festival originating in Venice, which is why Venetian masks are so famous. Everybody dresses up as a traditional character or wears a mask. There was a parade and a competition for best costume in Piazza San Marco, and children throw confetti through the air and the streets in celebration. Everywhere we walked it was so colourful!
The town of Treviso is really great as well! It bears similarities to Venice in architecture but what I noticed the most about it are the arches. An archway fronts every single building. There’s a big weekend market, water running through the city, cobblestone streets and good Italian food.
Another destination I got to, making the most of the neighboring Alps region and the winter, was a day at the snow at Les Sept Laux. I took a bus with other exchange students from around Lyon and we made it to some amazing scenery. Grand mountains surrounded making you feel tiny! The sun was out though and there was fresh snow, very fun! We hired ski gear and rode the big chair lifts up to the hardest slopes without our skis just to look at the scenery. It was so breathtaking and so quiet up there! Frost coated trees and trickling creeks.
I was lucky enough to spend a weekend in Ireland as well with some close family friends. It is the place that reminded me most of Australia actually, the first English speaking country I had been in in over 2 months. I found that I actually missed hearing French in the background. It’s wonderfully green though, great food and the kindest people!
South of France
My most recent getaways have been in the south of France. I spent a weekend with friends in a country house for birthday celebrations about 30 minutes outside of Toulouse, it really is the most picturesque landscape ever. So many fields, little villages and single stone farmhouses, lots of colour and tranquility.
Lastly, I stayed with a friend’s family in an area called Ardèche, just near the town of Valence. The landscape in this area is really some of the most beautiful I’ve seen! We had lunch in a little village called Cliousclat, a sweet place where almost all the structures are made of stone and there is bright foliage creeping up the buildings and the edges of the village. It has an ‘untouched’ old charm. Nearby is a village called Mirmande, considered the most beautiful village in France! This one I find difficult to describe. It’s one of those places that make your eyes speechless. A perfect afternoon discovery perched up on a hill, taking everything in and finishing with a cool drink or a crepe under a blossom shaded terrace.