To be honest, I planned it all out better, I swear! I was supposed to arrive before 8, while it was still a bit light out. But instead, my TGV train was delayed by an hour an a half, forcing me to make my way blindly through the Avignon streets to my hostel. At first, I was unaware of what was happening, sitting blissfully ignorant on the stagnant train when suddenly, 95% of the passengers groaned and stumbled back onto the platform after hearing a muffled announcement on the intercom.
Feigning a higher level of French comprehension, I also got off the train with my best what-the-hell face DESPITE having no idea what had been said—my French is mediocre at best in face-to-face conversations. I just assumed that both trains heading to Avignon were canceled.
10 minutes after exiting the train, it leaves the station. At the same time, a horrible thought occurred to me: what if it was still going to Avignon? Had I just missed my train?! There was only one way to clear this up and suddenly, being laughed at for my poor grammar and pronunciation seemed a lot better than being stranded in an unknown town.
So, I turned to the woman who’d been standing next to me ever since the beginning—the same woman who had watched me nod and pretend to understand—and asked her what exactly was happening. “Uh… pardon… je ne peux pas bien comprendre, mais… qu’est-ce que se passe?” to which she responded that the train only goes direct to 4 stops, one of which was Avignon. People have always told me that herd mentality was bad, but I never knew it could’ve resulted in homelessness.
Apparently no one was heading to Avignon because I had an entire train section to myself. In other circumstances, I would’ve been paranoid out of my mind and seeing little grudge girls everywhere. But I was too tired to care. Bring it on, Ring Girl, I won’t put up too much of a fight.
Two hours later, after many mini panics that I’d gotten on the wrong train, that I missed my stop, etc, I exited the Avignon Centre station with a bit of trepidation; it was completely dark out and I don’t have the best of night vision. Where was 4G when I needed it? That’s what I get, I tell myself, for skimping on the smart phone. Sure, I saved 60€ by getting a Samsung flip phone, but was 60€ really worth these ulcers—or, possibly death by wandering? My tombstone will be a damn Garmin sponsor.
Thankfully, my hostel—Pop’Hostel—was right on the main street of Avignon. The directions on their website read “From Avignon Centre station: walk straight. You’re there!” Always skeptical at how “easy” directions are, I was delightfully surprised when really, all I had to do was walk straight, pass a block of hobos and questionable people who happened all to be men wearing hoodies—it’s times like these that I question the choices I’ve made in life—, and there it was!
Avignon was actually breathtaking at night, a fact I was able to acknowledge once within the safe confines of the hostel. I should probably consider that a sign that I was not meant for the brave life, but when have I listened?
Avignon is much more historical and medieval than Grenoble. The doorway in the wall surrounding Avignon made it feel as if I was about to enter the grounds of a castle. That night, I fell asleep quickly despite the girl hacking up 10 different lungs the bunk over.
I’m not going to say that I was completely ready for adventure the next day, given that my 9:30 alarm was still too early. However, I forced myself to get out and explore the town. That’s not to say that I wasn’t excited to finally explore more of France, it’s just that I like to do so in a state where I’m not yearning for my bed for the majority of the day.
After scarfing down a necessary pain au chocolat, I walked purposefully towards Palais des Papes—priority #1 on my short list of Avignon must-dos.
Surrounding the Palace was a bunch of other small sights, but most importantly for me, the Jardin des Doms, which I heard was THE tallest point of Avignon and THE sight to see. Having never turned down an overhead view of a city, I couldn’t wait to see this one.
To get up to the Jardin, there are two different ways of tackling the climb. One is a ramp, easily reached near the entrance of the museum. Another one, in the back, is an endless climb of stairs. This is also where you’d find Cinema Utopia, for those who are looking for it.
It was breathtaking up there; the garden allowed a 360 view of the quaint city. A picnic up here would be really romantic (I said to myself). Despite being up there around 10:30 – 11:00 AM, there was a tinge of residual sunrise orange. I tried getting a picture with it, but color is a fickle celebrity. I lingered here for a while, allowing myself to feel the quiet satisfaction of traveling, of having survived the journey to another destination in the world. Whatever I felt in Avignon was doubled by my visit to Marseille, but that comes later.
I was hungry after the short jaunt up to the gardens and stopped to have lunch at another bakery further down the street from my hostel. Between the two boulangeries, I realized that Avignon was firstly a tourist town. The employees all switched quickly into English when they heard my accent, but I stuck with my feeble French guns.
I feasted in the main courtyard, a place perfect for fellow-tourist watching. There were a lot of American tourists, with whom I would’ve struck up some conversation had they not all been around 70 years old.
After getting lost, passing Les Halles, and finding myself on the opposite side of town about to exit the protective walls, yet again sweating panic beads because I realized I really have no sense of direction, I returned to the hostel feeling a little guilty. I mean, who chooses to spend time in a hostel rather than use all of their time exploring a new city? This girl.
The point of a trip is to explore a new place in the manner of eating a delicate, decadent dessert. You breathe it in, take small bites to make it last longer, eat slowly to distinguish the minute flavors, savoring the experience with all five senses. Spending time in the hostel is a bit like not finishing your small, valuable gift; it seems completely idiotic and wasteful at first until you realize that the more you try to force it down, the more the good memory starts to deteriorate into that of merely a tolerable one. The sweetness becomes a bit overwhelming and, halfway through dessert you promised yourself you would savor forever, you find yourself wondering when it would end. I didn’t want that to happen while traveling.
Long story short, I refused to let myself feel guilty during any part of my trip, even if that meant allowing myself some down time in the hostel to nap and catch up on the web. It also included the small fortune I dropped for the truly decadent dinner I treated myself to Friday night at Fou de Fafa.
Goat’s cheese croustillant with apple and caramelized walnuts
Banoffe pie with banana, caramel, and whipped cream
What I really liked about Avignon is the feeling it gives off: you can take your sweet time here in Avignon; it has a relaxed vibe and with the limited amount of historical monuments to see, it makes it perfect for a slow, enjoyable day trip. There is little to no night life, unless you count the teens hanging outside the McDonalds—the people you want to see the least when caving to an American stereotype.
You can, of course, spend multiple days here exploring the smaller streets, catching a few films in their multiple cute cinemas, and getting to know the town a little, but I found Avignon best served as a day trip. After all, what separates French cities for me is the historical monuments and the vibe of the city; everything else other than that and you’re wandering into local territory, which is fine, but it’s less interesting unless you have enough time to meet people, which I did (and who I will later introduce in a new series).
Linking up with Bonnie today