Friday, August 26, 2016


For a whole month, I was given the opportunity by the Citadel to study abroad in Montpellier, France. A month was too short, though, because Montpellier was always something new to experience whether it historic sites, festivals, cuisine or sports. I also saw students from all corners of the world who gave me their different perspectives on the world.  I was never bored on my trip but I also learned more about French culture and language than I could have ever thought back in the US.  Before this trip, I knew the France like other nations was not monocultural and knew a fair amount of French history but that did not prepare me in any way for the level of depth I saw. In Occitania, I found blurred lines with Northern French, Occitan, Italian, Spanish, North African, West African and many other cultures all contributing to the identity of the region.These layers are the very same reason I consider Carcassonne my favorite site of the whole of the trip. From a small Roman fort its multiple owners such as Goths, Moors, and Frenchs, to name a few, built and added to complex until it became to what we see today.This is why I say any cadet that has the possibility of studying abroad in France should because all someone needs to do is gaze and talk and they will gain a desire to learn new cultures just as I did.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Road to Avignon and the End

For the last excursion, we went to Avignon which in my opinion was a fitting end to an excellent trip. When we arrived it was a hot day, easily reaching the high 80's but that did not take away from the splendor of the location. The first site was a quick glimpse of the Pont d'Avignon also known as the Pont Saint-Bénézet, an ancient Roman bridge well-known throughout all France as a children's song, Sur le Pont d'Avignon. However, we had to continue on as today was a short trip and there was plenty to see. We continued on to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms d'Avignon or Cathedral of Our Lady of Doms also known as Avignon Cathedral. Like many other cathedrals in Southern France had Romanesque and Gothic influences with a massive golden statue of the Virgin Mary at its peak. Afterwards, we headed to the apex of our trip, the Palais des Papes, the Papal Palace which was home to popes for most of the 14th century. On its exterior was an expanse of towers and gargoyles which were awesome in stature. In its interior, we as a group could not resist exploring with a various faded painting, sculptures and intimidating halls more akin to hangars. After an exhausting trip, we enjoyed sweets at a nearby ice cream shop before heading to Montpellier probably for the last time. In retrospect, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that opened my eyes and can do the same for whoever wishes to see the greater world. And I say thank you to all that made it possible.
Pont d'Avignon

Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms d'Avignon 

Interior of Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms d'Avignon 

Statue of Virgin Mary

Citadel Group walking down the streets of  Avignon

Picture behind the Pont d'Avignon and the Rhone river

Front of the Palais des Papes

Cour d'honneur

One of the many damaged murals within Palais des Papes

The Grand Chapel

One of many gargoyles on the exterior of the palace 

Two tombs of the Avignon papacy

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Great Cave

Once again,we had returned to Saint-Jean-de-Fos to visit  the cave named Grotte de la Clamouse.  The Citadel group entered the cool and damp cave for over an hour traveling nearly a kilometer into the cliff face. Even though this was the second crystal cave we had entered it was unique in that it had some mineral formations not seen at the Grotte des Demoiselles. These formations included small branches tubes of limestone stalactites and snowflake like growths of aragonite which we could be found throughout the cave.  The most spectacular part of the tour was a light show which took place in one of the main chambers of the cave which easily impressed everyone that saw the display. After exiting the cave we made a quick stop to the nearby Pont du Diable or the Bridge of the Devil which is an ancient Roman bridge in Saint-Jean-de-Fos.We were told that according to legend, the bridge was built by the Devil for a village and in return, the Devil would take the first soul that crosses the bridge but the village allowed a dog to cross first. Before leaving, we walked along the bridge and enjoyed the architecture and beautiful waters of Gardon river who was filled with canoes and swimmers.
Interior of Grotte de la Clamouse

Light show within one of the chambers

Aragonite mineral formations

Pont du Diable

Dr. Strobbe with our tour guide

Picture of Gardon River from the Pont du Diable

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Red Sands

As our trip to France came to closer and closer to the end the last three days were devoted to visiting as much as possible. On Wednesday we traveled to Canyon du Diable or Canyon of the Devil which is a gorge located near Saint-Jean-de-Fos. The landscape is unique in that the area is surrounded by deep red and brittle rock with streams and trees running at the base of the canyon walls. It reminds me more of Arizona than France and shows the distinctness of Herault. Upon arrival, we hiked the canyon in nearly 90-degree weather and passed the time by guessing celebrities.After reaching the deepest part of the canyon we returned to the bus and found a lake near the canyon. The lake, known as Lac du Salagou also had red sand and the water while cool was filled with plants and algae which was less than enjoyable. After a good 30 minutes of swimming, we returned to the bus and proceeded back to Montpellier.
Cadets Valentine and Smolenski with Dr.Strobbe and our tour guide Jeremy 

View of Canyon du Diable

Cadets Cooper and Parada posting with Big Red and French flag

Local house near the canyon

The shore of  Lac du Salagou

Saturday, July 2, 2016


As we headed into the last week of our trip the locations we ventured to became more remarkable and the medieval fortress of Carcassonne was no different. In the past, it was a Roman colonia that protected the roads between Spain and Italy but it was later expanded by a number of factions such as the Visigoths, Moors, Cathars, and French. As our group approached the behemoth, I was awestruck by its steep walls as it rose from the hilltop and our group did not fail to take a number of group photos because of it. Once we had entered the city it was full of shops and restaurants like any tourist attraction and I enjoyed some free time with my classmate see breath-taking views of the countryside. Eventually, we were able to see the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire, another gothic-roman cathedral which like the others did not fail to impress. Before leaving we went to the main manor of the fort which was never touched by a sieging force, which is easy to see how with its impressive walls and towers engineered to withstand repeated onslaught. This could be my own military basis but I found the trip to Carcassonne as the most interesting excursion we had.
Exterior of Carcassonne

Exterior of  Basilica of Saint-Nazaire

Front gates of manor

Roman portion of wall

Cadet Lanetti looking out to the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire
The Citadel group on the bridge to Carcassonne

Close view of Roman tower

Main hall of Basilica of Saint-Nazaire

Citadel cadets taking picture with Spanish football fans

Sculpture of medieval knight

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard from a distance

To conclude the third week, we went to a World Heritage site the known as Pont du Gard.  Once we arrived after a lengthy van ride through the countryside, began the trip by ascending a set of stairs to the top of the aqueduct. Once we reach the top we were informed  that the aqueduct was built nearly 2,000 years ago and that it was built to send water from the north into Nime which still exists today. It was wisely built with a mixture of limestone, granite, and brick  which allowed to economical and safe from erosion.What I most admired about the Roman engineering was the near perfect curve that was carved near the entrance to the aqueduct which is amazing considering this was well before industrial tools. After observing its top we were able to climb a vantage point and see the horizon of Provence. There my classmate, Chad Williams launched a drone and used it to get amazing pictures of the Pont du Gard and the Gardon river that runs underneath it. Afterwards, I went with my roommate, James Snyder eating crepes and taking pictures of the olive trees while my classmates swam underneath in the river. Just like the previous trips, I left satisfied knowing that I had grown as a person from a once in a lifetime experience.

Pont du Gard from hillside
Pont du Gard from the stairs
Classmates swimming in the River Gardon

One of several old olive trees near the Pont du Gard
Classmates at the top of the Pont du Gard

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Riding in the Countryside

On the third week of our trip, we were greeted with an unexpected surprise from our Professor, Mm. Strobbe. She had organized a trip in which we went to a small ranch near Le Grau-du-Roi, which provided horseback riding. When we arrived the group was quickly impressed with the beauty of the horses as the majority were pure white Camargue which are locate to the region.  Only three cadets had previous experience with horse riding so the rest of us got trail horses which were fairly limited in their movement. The route we took was a lush stretch of woodland with a lake on its side. Personally, I found it memorizing being able to pass through meadows and blue waters on a gorgeous animal, it gave a real sense of antiquity and a strong connection to Occitania. We finished the trip with a gallop along a stretch of dirt road and we said goodbye as they were put in their stables.
First time riding  a horse
Front of the caravan
Riding through a nearby lake

Classmates waiting to begin the trek