The students will spend 12 days in Avignon, France studying the development of ancient, medieval and modern cities and learning about their role as political, economic and cultural centers. Some key themes explored will be the intersection of physical spaces and cultural values, the tension between individual and collective needs, and the often conflicting goals of different stakeholders, past, present, and future, in an urban community. We will “zoom in” on historical artifacts, monuments, and architecture to examine whose stories they tell and consider how present and future populations will continue to inscribe traces of their presence over their lifetimes. We will “zoom out” to examine how cities embrace their legacies, face their dysfunction, and strive to balance preservation with development.
The students will use the small medieval city of Avignon as one of the study models and also the larger city of Marseille. The students will meet with local entrepreneurs, city officials and urban designers and visit other urban areas and points of interest in the area to get a 360 view of the place and learn about the region and how it became what it is today.
Read the student reflections on their experience below, which will be updated throughout their trip.
January 21 – 22
Faculty Author: Ericka Alschuler
After about 18 hours of travel (through New York, Paris, and Marseille), we arrived at our hotel in Avignon early Sunday afternoon. It was not yet time to check into our rooms, so following a quick lunch of sandwiches (on baguettes, of course), croissants, chips, and fruit, about half the group hung out in the breakfast room – napping, playing cards, and just relaxing – while the other half explored our new city on foot – a great preview of our afternoon activity. We had about an hour and a half to freshen up in our cozy rooms before we headed out on a silent ramble through the walled city of Avignon, which is full of narrow cobblestone streets and open squares. The Atlas group leaders challenged us to refrain from talking and to just take in the city with all of our senses. We saw interesting architecture and graffiti, felt the Mistral wind (FREEZING!), smelled good food, and heard leaves beneath our feet and French being spoken everywhere. We warmed up during our orientation session at The Pipeline before we split into groups and headed out to dinner. Everyone was in their rooms by 9 pm, full of delicious food, exhausted from the long day, and excited to embark on a new adventure tomorrow. Stay tuned!
Student Author: Jenn Lin
After a good night’s rest, a few croissants, and lots of layers, we headed out for a long day of activities, good food, and tons of fun.
Following a brief walk in the picturesque town of Avignon, we reached our first stop, Le Palais des Papes (The Palace of the Popes). On the way, we stopped for plenty of pictures and a very well-fed cat. Lily and the cat quickly made friends.
Once we reached the Palace, we were met by our wonderful guide, Valérie. We learned all about the history of Le Palais des Papes and enjoyed beautiful art and architecture. After bracing the cold, windy weather all morning, we made a brief stop at the gift store and headed back to the hotel to layer up.
Our next stop was crêpes for lunch! I don’t know about everyone else, but eating crêpes in France was definitely a bucket list item for me!
In the afternoon, we met up with our brilliant and funny tour guide, Julien. He led us on a walking tour of Avignon, which he described as “the second Vatican”. The highlight of our tour was a game of “Spot the Virgin Mary Statues” and the panoramic view of the city from a beautiful little park. We also made a pit stop for “Navettes,” a traditional regional cookie. This was personally my favorite part of the trip!
After parting ways with Julien, we began our next activity (a “reverse scavenger hunt”). In groups of five (plus adult supervision, of course), we explored the city the way we wanted. We got to walk around freely using a paper map (I know! Crazy! Who uses those nowadays? Right?). Navigating to our dinner spot marked the end of our exploration.
For dinner, we had amazing food (as always) at a Moroccan restaurant. I had some of the best lamb ever, and lots of couscous!
After a mini check-in, we ended the night with delicious snacks that our teachers and guides were kind enough to get for us.
Student Author: Sophia Pidvysotski
With jetlag and excitement at hand, the group started off into the beautiful, ancient and Gothic city of Avignon, which is home to close to 100,000 inhabitants. We were joined by Julien – our tour guide, who showed us the architecture of Avignon, including churches, ramparts, and most importantly, the wall around the city that not only protected them from enemy attacks in the Middle Ages but also the wind.
The wind was perhaps the city’s most prominent aspect; it is called the “Mistral Wind,” meaning the “Master Wind,” which is quite true since it has shaped the buildings and even the trees themselves. Inside the walls, we traversed through a maze of alleyways that led us from place to place, and the grand walls on either side protected us from the harsh winds of the Rhone River. Julien explained that Avignon was a center of religion and is often referred to as “the second Vatican” due to the 33 churches scattered throughout the city and the statues of the Virgin Mary and other prominent religious figures along almost every street.
After eating lunch which included one of the most beloved dishes of France, crepes, we headed towards the Palais de Pape, which was home to the Pope and his 500 workers. Inside there was clever architecture that not only protected the Pope from attacks, but also made the environment more livable such as gargoyle statues on the sides of the roof that poured rainwater in a huge hole in the ground to provide fresh water (since there are no springs in Avignon, acquiring water was quite difficult). Unfortunately, some of the art on the walls of the Palais was destroyed due to the French Revolution which occurred in the 18th century.
Finally, we walked to a wonderful Moroccan restaurant where we dined on warm tajin and delicious couscous. From the magnificent views and interesting history, the first day in France was a success.
Student Author: Lily
Bonsoir mes amis!
The day started off bright and early at 8 a.m. with Ethiopia’s wake-up knock. We came downstairs in our most fashionable French outfits before indulging in some delicious chocolate croissants and heading out for the day.
After a short walk, we met Charlie, a local artist and our guide through the streets of Avignon for the morning. We were tasked with drawing all of the lines and angles that we were able to see from different perspectives throughout the city and assured that by doing so, the buildings would draw themselves. In just a short hour and a half, we all progressed from questionable scribbles to impressive sketches that certainly captured our view.
We then proceeded to a restaurant in the center of town where we all enjoyed either delicious burgers, pasta, fish, or steak and a rich chocolate cake. In the restaurant, we met Olivier, a cartographer and geographer from Marseille. He introduced us to the urban design of his city, and we were able to observe and learn about the waterside ports, city center, and villages throughout. Tomorrow we’ll put this information into action as we travel through Marseille and one of its fishing villages.
We had an hour of free time to shop on the main strip, La République, before reconvening and heading out to dinner. Tonight, we were able to venture out to choose between a few restaurants in the square and enjoy some more delicious cuisine. A few friends and I had the chance to sip some chocolat chaud before meeting back up and heading back to the hotel.
Today was another great day in the books, and I can’t wait to see what adventures tomorrow will bring!
Student Authors: Katherine R. and Eh Wah
With less wind today, everyone was feeling grateful.
Finally able to walk through the streets of Avignon without being blown over, we started our day at Café St. Jean where we met a cartographer from Marseille named Olivier. He taught us all about the city’s history and “beautiful chaos” of the city, which we will visit a couple of times during our trip! He had us study maps of Marseille and think about why the city developed the way it did. We also had friendly conversation and even played a game similar to The West Wind Blows with him.
We then enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the Café before moving on to an art activity with Charli. The group walked to various locations scattered around Avignon and drew pictures in pencils and pens of walls, buildings, and skylines. Although it was challenging at first, people started to get the hang of it. It was a peaceful and interesting way to take in the city.
After we met Olivier and Charli, we were given free time to walk around a popular shopping strip, and for dinner, we were given money and were able to choose where we ate. Everyone broke into smaller groups, and ours went to the most amazing Thai street food place called Pitaya. The pad Thai was to die for.
Overall, it was a fantastic day, and we can’t wait for many more!
WE MISS YOU ALL ❤️
(WE CAN’T WAIT TO COME BACK TO THE STATES AS MUTANT CREATURES BECAUSE THE WIND HAS CHANGED OUR DNA)
Student Authors: Reese and Acadia
WHAT’S UP GANG? WELCOME BACK TO OUR LOVELY BLOG!!
After accidentally sleeping a little too late, we all had a quick breakfast before walking to Les Halles market. We walked around a bit before meeting Johnathan, who told us about how local produce is sourced and sold in Avignon. He then led us back to his shop/stall in the market, where he let us try olives and goat cheeses while teaching about how they can be fermented/prepared. He then made us a lovely tapenade followed by a lovely lunch of “petits farcis” – red pepper, mushroom, and zucchini stuffed with ground pork. Along with this, we had potatoes, salad, pineapple juice, and apple juice (and water).
After lunch, we had about an hour and a half of free time to explore inside of the walls and shop, then headed back to the hotel to rest for an hour. Before we headed out to dinner, we had a mini-lesson with one of our local guides, Elsa, about the history of Avignon and its walls. We talked about how it has changed over the centuries and why heritage is important.
For dinner, we took the tram over to a mall called Cap Sud just outside the old walls of Avignon, where we had around two hours to explore and find ourselves dinner. After we ate, we caught the tram back to the walled city and arrived back to the hotel at 8:00 p.m. for an early night to get enough sleep before our trip to Marseille tomorrow.
Good night, you beautiful people (as Elsa always says), and we look forward to seeing you all in the next blog post ❤️
(P.S. HI FINN! HI MOM AND DAD – A.W.)
(P.P.S Duaa and I say hi we miss u Cate <33 and also hi dad I had a sandwich jambon today just for you <3333 – R.T.)
Student Author: EthiopiAset
Bonjour Miss Porter’s Community!
Today on this episode of MPS Tour de France, students such as myself went to the great city of Marseille! We started the day bright and early at 7:00 a.m.! Due to the early start, I took a little longer to get ready, giving me only ten minutes to eat breakfast. However, in those ten minutes, I was able to put away two buttery croissants and two sliced baguettes, so slay!
It was a cold, ten-minute walk to the train station, where we caught a six-minute train, then transferred to a high-speed train that took 40 minutes to get us to Marseille. When walking out of the train station, I was met with the beautiful sight of the Marseille skyline accompanied by the sun shining and blue sky. It was significantly warmer in Marseille than in Avignon, boosting my mood and my energy levels.
After touring Napoleon’s palace and the fishing docks, we had a lunch break for pizza! Yay! Or so it seemed…I made the grave mistake of getting a pizza with three cheeses. Three! Now, this might seem delicious, but after two pieces, my undiagnosed lactose intolerance was starting to rear its ugly head. By the fourth slice, I was severely bloated and starting to fall into a food coma. However, that food coma never came, because after lunch we walked through the city!
Walking through the city, we saw the diversity of the people there and learned about how their shared history was interwoven into the many pieces of graffiti seen around Marseille. After a very, very, verryyyyyyyy long hike up, down, and around the many corners of Marseille, we were given about 20 minutes of free time. During this time, my friends and I were racing against the clock to get fruit juices from a small shop across the courtyard from our meeting place. However, what my friends and I didn’t know is that the shopkeeper was on his own timetable, which was much slower, which required us to leave the shop to get back on time after we paid. Luckily, our path back to the train station passed the juice place, where we were able to recover our juices, which were very delicious.
The train ride back was about an hour and 20 minutes, during which all students, including myself, took the most BUSS nap of our lives. Dinner was a choose-your-own-adventure with lasagnas and pasta. And that was the day. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode of MPS Tour de France!
Gossip Girl (jk, it’s me, EthiopiAset)
Student Author: Addy Boyd
Hello everyone, today was quite the day, but we made it through. To start the day, we thankfully got a sleep-in to 7:05 wake-up call (LUCKY US). The first thing on our agenda after breakfast was a walk around the local food market in the city of Avignon.
Our friend Johnathan made some tasty food for a snack and lunch, then spent the rest of the day exploring the area. We had a pretty big break in the day but then went to the mall to do some shopping. Overall, it was a pretty restful day, but I made sure to capture some fun moments in our day! Hope you enjoy the pictures I took and bonne nuit!
Student Author: Shreya
Think of a city. Envision streets, people, buildings, and food—whatever you see is probably nothing compared to the city of Marseille. Looking over the bluest waters you’ve ever seen (the Mediterranean Sea) and surrounded by lush green hills, you can’t help but wish you lived there. We woke up at the crack of dawn, also known as 7:00 a.m., to put on our fashionable French outfits and snacked on croissants with lavender honey before our train to the next train. The first train took only six minutes, after which it dropped us off at a station rumored to have the Holy Grail… Starbucks. After realizing not all of us would have time to stand in line and hassle the poor baristas, half of us started sprinting to Starbucks, and the other half decided to search for other sustenance.
Next, we boarded a high-speed train or the TGV. It took us twenty-six minutes to arrive at Marseille, during which many of us took a nice morning nap. Once we reached Marseille, it took us a minute to pick our jaws back up when we took in the sights of a city with an evidently interesting story. We walked through the city, noting the stark contrast between the bustling streets of Marseille versus the cozy lanes of Avignon. We took a walk up a hill, from where we had a view of the entire city, and there we listened to Olivier recount the history of Marseille, which he compared to the life of a Phoenix. Marseille experienced a period of drug dealing, heavy addiction, mafia control, corruption, and danger, and today we see the city that has “risen from the ashes” over the past twenty years.
For lunch, we had the esteemed Marseillaise pizza, which proved itself worthy of its reputation. After a heavy, sleep-inducing meal, we promenaded through a variety of diverse neighborhoods and took in all the cultural richness. With about 45 minutes of free time, we explored an artful sector of the city, where Lydia and Brooke played football (don’t think like an American) with a very talented little kid; it was the cutest thing ever. We then perused through streets of art, where murals filled every surface, and we even saw some painting in action. After that, we made our way back to the train station, where we took a different train for about an hour back to Avignon. We had a yummy, lowkey dinner, after which we came back to the hotel, and some of us made a quick snack run. I’m betting we’ll all fall asleep pretty soon.
Have a wonderful sleep, and count plenty of sheep! We miss you all ❤️
Student Authors: Karen and Mia
Both groups were together today!
“Hello, star shine, the Earth says hello!” Today, we started the morning with croissants and jam (strawberry, watermelon, and fig). After breakfast with both groups, we made our way to the bus and arrived at the entrance of the hiking trail.
Battling more wind, we trekked through a challenging but scenic six-kilometer hike led by Charli, our super artsy British tour guide. On the hike, we saw and walked on the Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct established in the first century.
Following our lunch, we went on a tour of Uzés, a quaint medieval city. We visited the cathedral with an impressive organ and toured the chateau of the Duke of Uzès. Some group members even climbed the tower’s 135 steep, narrow, and winding steps to the top for a picturesque view of the town and countryside.
Before we boarded the bus, we were given free time, and some of us visited a little bakery to buy some gateau. On the way back to the hotel, we were surprised with a stop at the Haribo store, where most of us bought our weight in gummies. To wrap up the day, we had a DIY dinner. Overall, today was a successful day in France.
Bonne nuit! See you tomorrow!
P.S. Thai food was bussin’.
P.P.S. We love you and miss you <3
January 28th & 29th
Student Authors: Duaa and Ashley
Hello everyone, yesterday we had an early start to head to the train station for a quick ride to Arles. There we visited the Luma tower which was inspired by the painting “Starry Night.” In the tower, we went down a bumpy slide and saw a wall made of salt that we all wanted to lick. We had a DIY lunch and had flatbread pizzas. Then we walked around the city and saw a cafe that Vincent Van Gogh used to go to. To end the day, we took the train back to Avignon and had a DIY dinner where we had amazing sushi.
Today WE SLEPT IN! We got to sleep until 9:00 a.m. and started the day with a map activity. We were tasked to draw what our hearts contained and a specific place in town that interested us. We had yet again another DIY lunch and got Mcdonald’s and went to the Edgars bakery. The cookies were magnifiques. Then we went to the laundromat and got to wash our clothes with fresh French detergent. For dinner, we went as a group to Vintage and got steaks, salmon, ravioli, and grilled cheese. For dessert, we got delicious chocolate cake, berry tiramisu, and exotic fruit which was très bien. We don’t want to leave the cuisine.
Have a great day!