Friday, October 12, 2012

Vive les Vacances en Provence,
Day One - Avignon

Ah, where to begin?
Photo credit: Patty
For starters, we arrived a day earlier than expected, taking a taxi at 10 pm from the train station to the Bagatelle campground, a stone's through across the Rhone River from Avignon. The warm breeze and the unmistakable lovely fragrance of these humongous trees with tawny-colored trunks—which I later discovered are Plane trees—populated the entire campground. They reminded me of sycamores while smelling a bit like eucalyptus.

We entered Avignon through the archway. That's Patty and Michele.
The next morning we packed up the tent and gear to check in early at the hostel (private room), also located within Bagatelle's grounds. This was our original reservation; a place to organize ourselves before setting off on the bikes. With the whole "bonus" day ahead of us, we set off on foot for the city.

The pastry to the right is a chocolate bun, less flaky than a croissant.
First up, a cafe au lait and chocolat pain (croissant). To clarify, what we consumed every day was espresso with steamed milk, not to be confused with the standard American cafe au lait, which is coffee with steamed milk. There's a big difference in flavor. Give me the French version any time.

That's my copy of Rough Guide's Provence guidebook. Patty and Michele brought along their newer versions. Despite the weight, we each carried our own book for the next ten days, just so we could read whenever we desired. It proved to be a smart move because we were forever referencing something.

Photo credit: Patty
For several hours, we walked the winding alleys, taking any street that looked interesting. Sometimes we dodged autos squeezing down narrow streets; others were more pedestrian friendly or even off-limits to vehicles; some required you pay special attention—I was constantly looking into the shops and not at the ground—or you might go flying over a knee-high cement post, like in the photo above. Yikes! Patty seemed more cognizant of the street dangers and kept Michele and I on our toes. Thank goodness.

I was in love with the bicycles, of course. Lots of older, well preserved specimens gave me pause. I drooled over Peugeots in all models and colors.

Right away, I spied a postal bike with graffiti-covered panniers. I've always considered these machines as works of art, admiring the rugged tubing, step-through ease, complete with sturdy front and rear racks.

We climbed stairs, leading to ramparts overlooking the Rhone towards Villeneuve de Avignon, sister city to the northwest.

The day was hot and dry, hovering at 30C, but breezy too. As a matter of fact, the forecast for the following week was hot in the daytime with temperatures around 15C at night, without a speck of rain. After coming from unstable weather in Zermatt, it seemed too good to be true.

Michele and Patty studying the guide book.
In Rocher Des Doms Park we took respite from the sun. I was enthralled with the Plane trees and as it turns out they would be constant companions for the whole trip.

Photo credit: Patty
Baguettes come in all shapes and sizes. We didn't really know what we were buying, but we couldn't go wrong. They are all freshly baked.

Admiring photos on Patty's phone.

From up high it's a unique vantage over Avignon's rooftops. We decided to investigate the church on the horizon.

Fascinating ironwork in Rocher Des Doms Park.

Michele and I are withering in the heat. Photo credit: Patty
Avignon is famous for a massive complex called the Palais des Papes, or the Popes' Palace. For a couple hundred years the Vatican wasn't the only place where the popes resided. We took the audio tour and spent considerable time inside and around this historical monument. It showcases the changes and additions made to the fortress, plus special concessions when the structure was utilized as barracks when the popes headed east.

Photo credit: Patty
Tired, we took a boat shuttle across the river and walked a short distance back to the hostel. Can't beat that view!

Interestingly, the campground/hostel has a pretty good restaurant. The dish on the right (mine) is bacon with warm goat cheese on crostini, floating on a bed of vegetables. We drizzled delicious olive oil on top of each of our salads. Eating on the terrace, we toasted to tomorrow's send off with a bottle of Swiss wine (had to finish what we lugged in our backpacks.) To the 50th birthday bike ride of Provence, here we come!

Day One - Avignon
Day Two - Fontaine de Vaucluse
Day Three - Gordes, Roussillon, and Oh, Those Hills
Day Four - Saignon, Ingenuity and the Descent into Aix en Provence
Day Five - Aix en Provence to Salon
Day Six - Adventures in Arles
Day Seven - Les Baux, St. Remy
Day Eight - Tarascon Castle
Day Nine - Chateauneuf du Pape and Avignon


  1. What a wonderful first day! I'm so glad you've taken lots of photos this time round.

    1. Yes. The wonderful world of digital photography has its advantages.

  2. What a great start. I've been googling all the destinations you mention to get a perspective of the locations. I love the pics of the French diet... as I sit here reading your post, sipping red wine, and nibbling on Notre Dame French Brie :) living vicariously :).

  3. Great post! The trip sounds great! This is the first time I have been able to post lately, some problems with your blog maybe? I had to use th anonymous format to get my post up at all.


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