Sunday, November 8, 2015

Avignon, France: 5 nights, September 25-30

Heading south to Avignon, France in the Provence region would be our first real long distance (3.5 hours) trip by train. It also was a new carrier. What a difference! We had gotten used to our Eurail first class tickets offering us free wifi, free coffee/tea/juice and rolls/croissants. Not on the French line. Nope, no wifi and no free food service. The seats were still nicer but that was about it. Regardless, it was a pleasant ride down to Avignon. Expectations!!

Upon arriving at the train station, we looked for the usual information booth but there was none. There was no way for us to know how best to get to our hotel. After checking the bus schedules posted at the bus stops, we were still clueless. So, for the first time, we opted for a taxi. $18US to go about 5 miles. 

Turns out that, as we found out later, there was a shuttle train between the station that was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel to the station that we needed to arrive and depart for only $1.80US. Part of the journey on living and learning. 

Avignon old town, where we were staying, is a completely walled in city. The roads are very narrow and many one way streets and alleys. Cars and buses are limited as to where they can go. Outside the old town area, it's more modern and the streets wider. And, the true "old historical" area is nothing more than pedestrian passage ways lined with shops and cafes. Quite charming!

Tom, Mike's cousin, had arrived the day before and was staying in the same apartment complex as we were. Our room was quite large with a galley kitchen and acceptable bathroom albeit stark in appointments. We thought it was good compared to our places everywhere else except Brussels, which was excellent!

The other benefit was that there was a laundry facility on site so we could do 2 loads after 2 weeks on the road. We had been washing our underwear, socks & spot washing in the sinks up to this point. Again, part of traveling light. 

We met up with Tom for dinner and went to the main town square and enjoyed the local color. Tom had rented a car for the next 2 days, so we retired fairly early in anticipation of getting an early start the next day.

It was not as easy getting the car as Tom had hoped, so we didn't get out of town until almost 11am. The plan was to head north to see the Chateaux de Papes, the antiquities in the town of l'Orange, and L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Once we quickly figured out the road numbering system, life became a little easier to navigate and stay on secondary country roads going through villages and towns rather than being on the main roadways.

Chateaux de Papes:

We ate at a US type 1950s diner complete with billiard room in l'Orange first. Quite comical considering where we were!  From here we walked into the heart of town to the Roman Theatre ruins. It's been restored and is used for concerts, operas, etc. A beautiful structure and quite amazing!

Roman Theatre:

Arch d'Triumph:


Our 2nd day with the car got off much quicker and we headed south to Arles, Pont de Van Gogh, and Pont de Gard. We stopped in a small village where we bought cheese, bread, salami and wine to have a picnic lunch somewhere on our way to Arles. We found a wonderful park by the art museum on our way into town and ate with the sun shining.

The town of Arles is quite charming and we actually met our first French expat while walking along the river. They, too, have a Roman theatre ruins with many charming streets to meander.

After a round about way, we found our way to Van Gogh’s draw bridge that he painted. A beautiful location out of town with houseboats on the river. Mike was delighted as he is a huge Van Gogh fan.

Our last stop of the day was the gorgeous and incredible Pont de Gard. This ancient Roman aquaduct is quite unbelievable!

As we had to have the car returned by 7pm, we headed back to Avignon way before we really wanted to. The night ended with dinner in a quaint bistro right around the corner from our hotel and bidding our farewells to Tom. It was fabulous to be able to spend so much quality time with him. Even as cousins, he and Mike had not had that much time together as adults as they are 13 years apart in age. We were so honored that he wanted to be with us. It sure enriched our lives, vacation and memories. 

We set off to see the town of Avignon! From 1309-1377 this was the Papal home and part of Roman rule before the French revolution when it became part of France. So the Palais des Papes is quite the experience to tour and is in the heart of town. We walked the gardens overlooking the River Rhone and enjoyed the beauty and vistas of this beautiful place.

Our final day in Avignon was spent by taking the local bus over the river to the town of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, quite the ancient city in and of itself. We hiked up the hill to get to the castle, Abbey, and gardens where we toured them. Beautiful, tranquil and serene.

 On our walk down into town, we followed the suggested route and came upon the most wonderful little bistro where we had lunch. A true French experience where we lingered for quite awhile savoring the moment.

Since was a delightful sunny afternoon, we caught the river tour boat and went for an hour's ride up and down the River Rhone.

A lovely evening afterwards. Enjoyed our last moments in France while having dinner on the square. This marked the halfway point in our adventure. So much we've done, so much left to be done. Feeling so very grateful that we could make this journey while being young and healthy enough to do it!

For those that would still like a few more photos:

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