During our last few days in France, we rented a car to explore some of the medieval hill towns in Provence. One of them was the city and chateau (castle) of Les Baux. We arrived there late in the afternoon and stayed late until sunset when the chateau is lit up by lights. We drove out to an olive orchard down below and got this amazing shot of Les Baux at night.
In case you don’t already know this little fact, they speak French in France. Not the kind of French that Pepe La Pew spoke on morning cartoons, but real French. The kind that is rather difficult to understand if you don’t know the language. And even if you do have a background in the French language, you will still struggle!
Kerri: Studied 4 years of French in high school and college. Visited France during high school and stayed with French families to help her learn French. Practiced French daily before leaving Portland using the Pimsleur language program.
Jason: One year of French in High School. Still suffering traumatic flashbacks to that event. Did not practice French before leaving and thought he would “wing it.”
Sydney: Knows how to order “pain au chocolat” and “croissants” in French.
Parlez Vous Francais?
We arrived in France 2 months ago. You would think that 2 months of being surrounded by a foreign language would help us learn French and we should be fluent, right? Wrong! The first thing we discovered when coming here was that the French they taught us in high school is not the French they speak in France. We had “assumed” that we knew how to read French, but we were wrong again! We have books that show us the spelling of French words and their English meaning, but we couldn’t pronounce them. We try, but the French people look at us confused. We pantomime and they understand and then correct our poor attempts at speaking their native language. We have even had locals give us impromptu language lessons on the street after hearing us mangle their beautiful, but confusing, language.
To be honest, I have been letting Kerri do most of the talking and she seems to really enjoy learning French again and taking an initiative in trying to communicate with the French people in their own language. Hardly anyone speaks English, so not knowing French can be a struggle.
The longer we are here the more I am starting to understand the language. I can’t speak it very well, but I am starting to piece together words and sounds and can now understand some of the conversations and can usually answer in a “oui” or “non” in reply.
In hindsight, I should have studied French more before leaving and continued to study during our stay here in France. Just being surrounded by a foreign language does not mean that you will quickly pick it up through osmosis. I had assumed I would, but it is happening at a much slower rate than I had hoped.
Tips for Learning French
During our 2-month stay in France I have discovered a few things that really help in learning the French language. Everyone learns differently, but this has been what works for me and I wish I had been using these methods before we came to France so that I could have been more fluent in the language.
- Buy a language program: The biggest struggle has been learning how to pronounce everything. French is not a language that you can easily just read and know how to pronounce it. Having a language program where you can hear how words and phrases are spoken can make a big difference and will lessen the frustration. We highly recommend Pimsleur French.
- Have an English/French dictionary AND phrase book with phonetic spellings: Once again, knowing how to pronounce the words and phrases is the hardest part of learning French. We purchased a small phrase book, but it is not enough. We really needed a full English/French dictionary to look up harder words.
- Watch TV and movies in French with French subtitles: I stumbled across this one accidentally. Television in France is in French, obviously. The options are listening to it in French, or listening to it in French with French subtitles. By listening to it in French with the French subtitles, you quickly learn how to pronounce the words you see on the screen. So, go rent a movie you know well, change the language to French with French subtitles and enjoy! This is surprisingly effective!
Since leaving the United States we have come to love the street markets. Not only is the food fresh, but the colors are a photographer’s dream come true. Enjoy these spices that we found in Arles, France.
Shhh….I have a secret to share; I have found a place where you can get drunk on amazing wine for cheap, and the food is so good that you are guaranteed to increase your pant size if you stay too long. What place in the world could be that good? Okay, I will confess, it’s the Provence Region of France.
Before we left on our around the world trip my husband, Jason, frequently talked about how cool it would be to buy fresh, local foods daily. Secretly, I did an eye roll and thought about how it sounded like drudgery. I use to hate going grocery shopping and viewed it as a chore. This chore occurred usually on Saturday or Sunday, depending on how busy our weekend was, and it became a race for me to get it done before my husband would venture out to shop. He would frequently come home with such “treats” as hotdogs or ravioli in the can. Travelling to France, and especially the Provence Region, has dramatically changed my feelings about shopping and food.
The food in the Provence Region is a fusion from Italy, France, Spain and North Africa that makes for an explosion of tastes. This fusion is most evident on market day, which occurs on Wednesday and Saturday in Arles. The market has everything from olives, sausages, breads, spices, to local artesian cheeses. I have so fallen in love with the food and the market that two times a week I listen to Jason reminding me about our budget and how we need to stick to the list. I give an airy reassurance that of course we will stick to the list. However, once I enter the market my resolve quickly evaporates. During the market, Jason frequently has to literally pull me away from the different sellers before I spend too much money. I have actually been guilty of blowing our daily budget on cheese alone. But it was really, really, really good cheese. Who could possibly pass that up?
For the French, it is not about what is cheapest, but it is about the taste and quality. There is a sense of pride around the food. I love the fact that my daughter, who previously frequently refused to try new foods, since coming to France has been much more open. She has discovered that she loves all kinds of cheeses including moldy cheeses. According to her, the scarier the better. I have also challenged myself in being more open about trying new foods and found that I actually like green olives. Jason who has always been adventurous in his food selections has been enjoying the multitude of options. The other day, we were talking to our landlord and we mentioned how much we loved the food of Provence. He then proceeded to state, “Well it will probably be all down hill from here.” I keep on thinking I certainly hope not. I am just discovering how wonderful food can be.
In the US, a minority of people try to buy fresh, local, in-season foods, but it can be very difficult to do so and tends to be costly. Before we left for France, Sydney was interested in learning where food came from. We went to several local grocery stores and a farmer’s market. At the local grocery store, we found very few foods from the US. This was especially true for the vegetables and fruits. We saw tomatoes and mushrooms from Canada, grapes from Chili, avocados from Mexico and it when on and on and on. At the farmer’s market, we were able to find produce that was local but it was significantly more expensive.
In France the opposite it true. It is difficult to find food that is not from France. This is true across the board, from the food found at the grocery store, to the corner store, to the local market, one has to look hard to find food that is not produced in France. I love the fact that when I go to the market, I know that the vegetables have just been harvested and that I am buying directly from the local farmer. I can see the dirt under the seller’s fingernails and the pride in his produce. The prices at the market are very reasonable and can be even cheaper than what is found in the grocery store.
France unlike the US does not have mega grocery stores with Cosco size food portions. Since coming to France, I have not seen a grocery cart, as daily shopping is the norm. Since we have started to shop daily we have also noticed that we have minimal food waste. Prior to traveling, I would routinely buy the same foods over and over and frequently end up with 2 or 3 of the same thing in the refrigerator. The food would then end up rotting and I would throw it out. I am embarrassed to say that when we left Portland I threw out a large garbage can of food left over from our freezer and refrigerator. It made me sadly shake my head and think how wasteful I was. I am hoping that after we are done traveling, I will continue to be much more thoughtful about what I buy and how I consume food.
So, if you want to experience the most amazing foods at great prices, skip Paris and go directly to the Provence Region on the Cote D’Azur in Southern France. You will not be disappointed and may never leave.
All About The Roman Amphitheater (Arena) in Arles, France
The Roman Arena in Arles is over 2,000 years old. The Romans built the arena. Did you know that Arena in Latin means sand? You could fit 20,000 screaming fans in the arena. It would be really noisy and would be DEFINITELY crowded.
Have you ever wondered what the Roman Arena was used for? I will tell you. In Roman times, they had battles between gladiators. The gladiators fought each other and animals. They had sand to soak up the blood. I think it would be scary to watch gladiators fight. I would also be scared to be the gladiator fighting against animals and people.
The Arena is now used for bullfights. You must be very brave to fight bulls. You might call yourself “Daredevil.” The people that fight bulls are called matadors and razeteurs. In Provence, the razeteurs have to get a ribbon tucked between the bull’s horns before time is up. They have special hooks to grab the ribbon. When the bull chases the razeteurs they jump over the fence. If the bull is smart enough it will jump over the fence too. I think the razeteurs are awesome because they fight bulls and grab the ribbon REALLY fast! I even had my own bullfight. Mommy, Daddy, and I pretended to fight the bull. I was mostly the bull. I thought it was fun being the bull and watching Daddy jumping over the fence.
Video showing (kid friendly) bullfight in nearby Nimes:
In Medieval times the Arena was a fortress and had 206 apartments squished in there. The apartments must have been really small. There were also 2 churches and 4 watchtowers. They started pulling out the houses in 1830 to change it back to an arena. Here is a picture of the arena in medieval times.
Here are some facts about the Roman Arena:
- There are 120 arches in the Arena.
- There were a total of 4 towers but only 3 survived. You can still see the three watchtowers.
- You can still climb up one of watchtowers. It is REALLY windy at the top.
- You can still see a window from one of the churches built in one of the arches.
- You can still see Latin on the walls.
NOW YOU KNOW ALL ABOUT THE ARENA!