Hamish and Jo’s Adventures in France Part 6: A fruitful February

Orange you glad our travel writers are doing just peachy?

Illustration by Siloam Yeung

By: Hamish Clinton and Jozsef Varga 

As it turns out, February on the French Riviera is pretty neat given that February is typically a boring filler month with dreary weather and only 28 days — bringing into question why we pay a full month’s rent…

Anyways, Hamish and Jozsef here, once again reporting live from the quaint town of Menton, France where the Science Po campus we attend is. Because of the French university schedule’s system, February marked our first full week of classes. Six classes to be exact, and no, we haven’t transferred to engineering. The two of us actually managed to rock a snazzy three-class course load just last semester, so some of you may be wondering what caused our seemingly uncharacteristic shift in lifestyles… the answer is transfer credits.

Transferring credits, as many of you likely already know, is a complicated business. The ETCS (European Credit Transfer System) is the credit system used in most of Europe. This, of course, is to make it easier to transfer credits between European countries. Unfortunately, it remains difficult to transfer them back to North America. One reason that this has been frustrating for us is that classes at our university are either 10 or five ECTS credits, which in turn convert respectively to five and . . . two SFU credits.

This means that with our goal of 12 SFU credits each semester, with only five ECTS courses being offered to exchange students this semester, we now need to take six courses. This spike in our course load is most notably leading to significant cutbacks in travel time (which, as we mentioned in the last article, isn’t that much of a problem due to our empty bank accounts a quick shout out to SFU and the OFFA/BAFF for their exchange bursaries which have kept us afloat).

In any case, now that we’re nearing the end of February, we actually are getting back into the swing of classes. This semester, we are taking three law classes, with focuses on jurisprudence, French constitutional law, and public international law. We are also taking a class called States and Societies in the Middle East, as well as one about political participation in Europe.

However, our strangest, most interesting class goes by the name “Design Impact” : a course we thought was strictly arts and crafts but has turned out to be about using “design” to create and organize effective humanitarian projects. Sadly, this is a brand new course, and our prof has yet to let us in on how she intends to grade us or what kind of assignments we might encounter (always fun).

While we’ve been busy at school, life in Menton and on the Côte d’Azur in general has been picking up. February, in case you didn’t know, is when lemons come into season here, and so all of the lemon and orange trees that line the streets of town have been getting progressively more colourful. The townspeople have been engaging in carnaval-esque festivities here every February since 1875 (in 1882, even Queen Victoria attended), and by 1928 the Carnaval of Nice had become incredibly famous. The local hoteliers proposed a festival that celebrated the fact that Menton was the primary exporter of lemons in all of Europe. This festival, in 1928, was the first edition of the Lemon Festival that has been occurring here ever since.

We have once again lucked out, because our house is across the street from the park where the majority of the decorations are. Part of the Lemon Festival is the creation of massive sculptures out of lemons and oranges, depicting scenes relating to each year’s specific theme. This year’s theme is “Fantastic Worlds,” and so, over the past several weeks, we have been witnessing the creation of gargantuan citrus sculptures depicting such things as witches flying around castle towers alongside various fantastical beasts such as dragons and griffins.

Besides the sculptures, there are six parades that happen throughout the three-week Lemon Festival, with truckloads of pastel-coloured confetti being thrown into the streets covering both the massive crowds of onlookers and the gigantic animatronic floats cutting through them. To top it off, the complementary light shows and fireworks happen a stone’s throw away from our apartment.

Less than an hour away, in nearby Nice, the citizens are also celebrating (evening parades seem to be spaced on opposite days to allow people to travel to both), but instead of lemons, they’ve got Carnaval! Carnaval undoubtedly has some of its roots in Catholic tradition, but we won’t dive into that, because frankly, nobody writing this article is that interested in that. What is important to note, is that the Carnaval de Nice was… kinda tame. It seemed that, perhaps partially due to the increasing need to securitize public events like this, there was much less of a party or celebratory atmosphere than could be expected from a Carnaval that has consistently ranked amongst the best of Europe. That is not, however, to say that the actual content of the parade wasn’t fantastic. There were enormous animatronic floats and people wearing giant costumes depicting caricatures of world politicians, including an animatronic Trump the size of a building, disguised as the clown from IT. There were also dancers and huge balloons that looked like dragons swooping down to eat the audience.

While we mentioned we have been doing less travelling, that is not to say we have been doing no travelling. In fact, we are writing this after spending five days in Andalucia, Spain during our reading week. Our original plan involved couchsurfing in Cinque Terre in Italy, and doing a lot of hiking, but unfortunately nobody responded to our couchsurfing requests, hostels became ridiculously expensive, and we accidentally left our tent (for camping, as a backup plan), on the train the same day that we bought it… So the day before we were supposed to go to Cinque Terre, we bought flights to Seville and booked a hostel in Cadiz, on the Atlantic Ocean. Neither of us knew that much about the region, so it was certainly an exciting trip, learning lots about the local culture and forcing us to learn some basic Spanish that we didn’t know two days prior.

When we arrived in Cadiz, it was quite windy, but we already knew we were in for a nice warm vacation. We spent the first two days wandering around Cadiz, hanging out at the beach and playing in the waves. We saw the old town and its two seaside castles, the beautiful Parque Genovés and its collection of tropical plants, and ate as many tapas as we could while lounging in sun-drenched patios.

We also learned about some of the city’s history. It’s the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Western Europe (having been settled some 3,000 years ago by the Phoenicians), it served as an important Spanish port during the Age of Exploration, and finally, it was the setting for the proclamation of the Spanish Constitution of 1812.

On another day, we checked out one of the nearby towns, Jerez de la Frontera. There, we saw two beautiful churches, and climbed one of their towers to get a better view of the city. Like many cities in Andalucia, the majority of the town was painted white, similar to a Greek town, but had distinctive yellow and orange accents and strikingly colourful patterned tiling throughout. We also caught a glimpse of a flamenco dancer doing a photoshoot in one of the town squares, her bright red dress contrasting beautifully with the white walls behind her.

Finally, on our last day in Spain, we took a rideshare to Seville, where we met up with two friends from our school in France. There, we went to the Cathedral of Seville, which is the main cathedral of the city, and the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Formerly a mosque constructed in the 12th century, the cathedral retained much of its Islamic influence after it was Christianized and rebuilt as a cathedral between the 13th and 16th centuries. The bell tower is the most obvious example of its retention of its Islamic characteristics, as they simply added the bells and the upper floors to the original minaret of the mosque.

Unfortunately, the end of our trip brought us back to Menton where our sizable pile of schoolwork was happy to bring us back to reality. In other words, playtime is over for now, but certainly not forever. We promise to get back to ignoring our schoolwork as soon as possible and can’t wait to share more stories from our time here in France.