or "Hot stone massages on the cheap"
Tuesday 24 May 2011 - Thursday 26 May 2011
Without spoiling the story, I can tell you that we entered Avignon, France the same way we left it: in a thirty minute long panic-driven speed-jog across the city, laden with heavy packs and improperly dressed for travel of this sort. That said, the two interior days of our time spent in Avignon were quite calm.
When we first arrived in Avignon, it was about 9 pm and about 90 degrees. Dressed in shorts and tank tops, we were all still dripping sweat. However, emerging from the train station, I had to suppress the urge to laugh. Right across from us stood a tall stone wall that appeared to wrap around the city in either direction, complete with towers and ramparts. After all the mimicries in America of such medieval architecture, it was hard to believe that this was the real thing. It seemed like an amusement park. Convincing myself of its validity, we soon realized that we had a good 45 minute walk ahead of us to our hostel that was located outside of town, across two wide rivers, and on top of a cliff overlooking Avignon proper. Yikes. And the hostel reception was closing in 30 minutes.
We flew. After getting lost a few times (but in the process, getting a wonderful view of the Rhone river at night!), we finally found our way up to the YMCA of Avignon. And found that it was closed. I was too tired to be upset, but Gerst and Nick loudly let it be known that they weren’t exactly… pleased. Several times. To anyone that might be in the surrounding two blocks. We sulked back toward the city centre intending to find a hostel, but were stopped by a strolling pair we had seen earlier: a girl about our age, and an older man. They laughed, and said they would show us how to get into the YMCA – no fear! It turned out that late-night reception was hidden away up a staircase and behind the pool. Yes, we had a pool. We ended up hanging out with these two as well as the guy that was running reception for the evening, and they offered to share their pizza and a bottle of wine with us. We gladly accepted!
It is always so interesting chatting with the other travelers and locals we encounter along the way. The girl, Laurence, was from Quebec, and traveling abroad on her own in France for a month or so. The older man, Patrick, was local and didn’t speak English very well. We didn’t understand much of what he said, even though he enthusiastically said quite a lot! He shared with us a lot of stories about the namesakes of various French towns and words. My favorite was the story of jeans. Nearby Avignon, there is a town called Nimes that is home to many very famous Roman architectural ruins. As the story goes, there was a man from Nimes that used a fabric for his workers’ trousers that was very sturdy and good for the job. He (along with Levy of the famous Levy-Strauss) took the fabric along with the blue dye that makes jeans so famous to the United States to start mass producing these trousers. But the original town still remains famous in the name: they were from Nimes or in French, “de Nimes” = denim. Denim!
On our first full day in Avignon, we just explored the town itself. There is a famous bridge that crosses the Rhone that was built in the 1300’s. Part of it was destroyed in the centuries since then, but the remaining portion still reaches out into the river.
We also checked out the Palais de Papes (Palace of the Popes) as well as various gardens, plazas, and fresh food markets across the city.
At the end of our long day, we got the most delicious fresh strawberries, cherries, and oranges from a street vendor and enjoyed a picnic alongside the Rhone (complete with French wine)!
On the recommendation of Laurence and Patrick, we set out on day two for “Pont du Gard” which is the site of a massive three-layer Roman aqueduct and bridge that spanned a great river about 30 minutes outside of Avignon. We took a bus to get there, and (in the oppressive 90+ degree heat) made a bee-line for the river. Above us stood this towering, beautifully arched construction over 1000 years old. And here we were, beaching and splashing around in the waters beneath it. It felt like sledding on the pyramids or playing soccer at Stonehenge or something. I just can’t get used to the fact that Europe is chockfull of all these historical antiquities, so people just relax around them. Why not do back flips off a bridge built by the Romans themselves?
We enjoyed a wonderful, hot, sunny day on the banks of the river. Mediterranean France is different and beautiful.
On the way back to Avignon, we missed our bus. Oops. So we waited around in more 90+ degree heat (which is MUCH less pleasant when you don’t have the respite offered by that beautiful clear blue river!) for an hour and a half. Fortunately, we spotted a woman selling cherries across the way, and got a big basket for 3 euro. And they were delicious! Fresh and juicy, they also offered us a good 45 minutes of entertainment with pit-spitting competitions (both for distance and for accuracy). I’m so glad we’re able to offer a good image of Americans during our time abroad.
Eventually, we made our way back to Avignon, and dined on a very satisfying 3 course meal – one of our first real meals of the trip! More on that later – our survival habits with regards to food are, to say the least, quite interesting.
And, as alluded to earlier, we woke up this morning to catch the train. It was a mad rush through the city, bags flying, sweat dripping. We ran through the doors just in time … only to find that the train was at a 30 minute delay. Ce la vie.
Onwards to Barcelona!