Sylvia relishes French culture

Sylvia MS speaks of her recent adventures in France –

Bonjour! In 2016 I spent a month in France to work on my French. As a Canadian Servas host since 1996, I knew one of the best ways to brush up one’s language skills and immerse oneself in France’s rich cultural offerings, through staying with the locals. Before leaving Canada, I reached out to seven families, all of whom proved friendly and kind.

In Bordeaux, I was hosted by Virginie who took me around to see all the sites: gates that previously entered the city, churches, and a wine museum complete with wine tasting. Half of this ancient city is a UNESCO site, so there is lots to see! I then travelled east to Carcassonne, a hilltop town famous for its medieval citadel that has been used as a defensive stronghold for almost 2,000 years. With my hosts, I went to a guitar concert in a small nearby village and watched a game of petanque. I also experienced wonderful culinary delights such as “soupe de champagne,” where a bottle of champagne is poured over and mixed with lemon sherbet!

My next visit with Servas hosts was in the university city of Aix-en-Provence, the birthplace of Paul Cézanne. With my hosts we visited the Bimont Dam at the St. Victoire mountains, as well as locations where Cézanne painted. I then toured along the Rhône river to Avignon, the seat of Catholic popes from 1309-1377. While staying with France and Bruno, I visited the massive Popes’ Palace and nearby medieval bridge, Pont d’Avignon built between 1177-1185. Remember the song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon, L’on y danse, l’on y danse, sur le Pont d’Avignon, L’on y danse tout en rond”?

Next stop was Arles, a city on the Rhône in Provence, where I was hosted by Fatya. Once a provincial capital of ancient Rome, Arles has many historic remains including the Théâtre Antique and the Amphithéâtre where slaves, criminals, and wild animals met their dramatic demise before a jubilant 20,000-strong crowd during Roman gladiatorial displays. My hosts had guests over one night, and so I had five intensive hours to work on my French. The next day saw a potluck with 32 people – lots more practice! Lunch was followed by a visit to an organic farm and a tour through beautiful small villages of Provence.

My next Servas visit was with Dominique and Simon who took her to Nyons where we toured a lavender distillery. Then it was off to the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct that was an inexpensive way to supply water to homes, private baths, artisan and industrial workshops, public baths, pools, and of course the fountains of Nîmes. Along with these facilities, the Romans built an amphitheatre, which is now the best-preserved one in France.
My last tour was in Toulouse where I was hosted by Dominique and Jean-Louis. Toulouse is called the “pink city” because buildings are made of pink terracotta bricks. I visited the market and walked through the old part of town. At the end of her visit, Dominique made sure I got on the correct subway to the airport to return home. Mission accomplished – lots of time to learn and practice my French. Merci Servas!

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