Travelling in the 90s: Provence (in the steps of Madam, will you Talk?)

Flights have been booked today for my next overseas adventure — Huzzah! All will be revealed in time; but in the short term I’m going to focus on wrapping up the Travelling in the 90s series. There’s not too much more of my 20-something year old ramblings to go.

So today it’s back to 1994 France, when $4 coffees seemed like a king’s ransom and there was no such thing as a smart phone. Or maybe even the internet…

[Wednesday 9 February, 1994] Tuesday we left Paris and caught the train to Avignon. We were very fortunate to be on a TGV train which went extremely fast — to Avignon in less than four hours. We arrived mid-afternoon and trudged like laden pack-horses through the centre of town to the youth hostel via the tourist information centre.

Avignon is totally gorgeous. It’s walled all around and has lots of tiny cobbled streets with real “provincial” shops. (How else can I describe them?)

The hostel was not too far, although outside the walls and across the river Rhone. As we stomped across the bridge, the wind (Mistral) was rather vicious — but we prevailed, and caught a magnificent view of the “Pont d’Avignon” (Pont St Benezet) of the well-known song.

Avignon – Pont St Benezet and Palais des Papes

The hostel is right on the banks of the river, providing fantastic views of the bridge, the “Rocher des Dames” (hill), Notre des Dames (cathedral), and the Palais de Papes (Palace of the Popes). It’s rather basic, although reasonably new. The management crammed us into a tiny room with four Canadians, leaving the rest of the place (huge) empty! We were not particularly impressed. Nevertheless, it is a place to sleep, reasonably priced, and could be a lot worse (memories of Patras).

When we got to the hostel at around 3pm it was absolutely deserted, so we dumped our packs under some stairs, had a cup of coffee, and then set off the explore for a few hours.

Avignon - Palais des Papes
Avignon – Palais des Papes

We started walking along the river, and ended up visiting the Palais des Papes. This is an enormous building, totally unfurnished, except for a few frescoes and tapestries — but the architecture was fascinating. Besides, I rather enjoy a good echoing hall! And of halls there were heaps. What would a pope do with so many halls I wonder? I loved the place.

We then set off the find the gardens referred to in Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart, which I am currently reading. After a bit of perplexion, it turned out that these were in fact Rocher des Dames — a hill on top of which is a sort of park area. The wind was very wild up there.

We then wandered back to the hostel, passing underneath Pont St Benezet. We found our packs, booked a room (which turned out to have four sleeping Canadians in it) and then had more coffee — oh I love our travel kettle!

Today we went to Nimes (a la Madam, will you talk?) — 30 minutes on the train from Avignon. Nimes is lovely too — quite similar to Avignon but substantially larger.

We walked around — past the Roman amphitheatre and up towards the Temple of Diana, which is part of le Jardins de Fontaine. This consists of Roman style water pools and arches (and statues), behind which is a large hill covered with gardens. On the top is a tower from which the view is said to be superb. (We wouldn’t know, because we couldn’t enter it without breaking locks.)

Nimes - Temple of Diana
Nimes – Temple of Diana

The Temple of Diana proved difficult to find — probably because I was expecting something grand. So when we finally found the forlorn, lonely little ruin I was surprised. It consisted of nothing more than half an arched roof filled with vines and ivy-covered trees.

On our way back towards the station, we stopped at the amphitheatre. The view from the top tiers was pretty good — although the canvas canopy to protect bull-fighting spectators marred it a bit. The construction was very similar to the Roman Colosseum, although smaller I think, and in better repair.

We foolishly caught the bus back to Avignon which took 1.5 hours, and reminded me considerably of the Delphi-Patras bus ride, as it took us into every little nook and cranny of every village of the region. (Perhaps I’m exaggerating.) This evening we booked our tickets to Venice on the overnight train for tomorrow. Then we went out with the Canadian girls to the Koala Bar in Avignon — run by Australians, but full of Americans!

[Thursday 10 February, 1994] This morning we slept in. We got away about 11:30am and made for le gare, where we deposited our packs in a locker for the afternoon. We decided not to do too much, so had a quiet afternoon sampling chocolate crepes and sidewalk coffees.

Avignon has a square (no cars) with heaps of tables and chairs out in the sun. It was a beautiful day, with blue sky, few clouds and almost no wind. (That Mistral can be quite bitter.) So we indulged ourselves by using up all our spare French cash on yummy French food.

(The food in France seems to be markedly superior to anywhere. Chocolate crepes are simply to die for, and the BREAD… I have actually been looking forward every day to bread with ham or cheese and tomato for lunch. It’s delicious!)

The crepes were of course tres superbe, and the sidewalk coffee was bliss. Even though it cost about AU$4 it was divine.

Train station - writing postcards
Train station – writing postcards

We are now on the train to Nice, where we expect to arrive some time after 8pm. We’ll then have around 3 hours to kill before catching our overnight train to Venice…

… Well, we utilised the first 1.5 hours in Nice very well, but unfortunately the station lockers closed at 10pm so we had to go back. Very upsetting.

Somehow, by shear fluke, we managed to crash the Nice festival!

It was the first night apparently, beginning with an enormous procession of floats, bands, children in costume, clowns — all throwing confetti and making “music”. It looked as though the children were in school class groups, and had been labouring for weeks on their costumes. People were running up and down the street with cans of spray-streamers (and tried more than once to sell such cans to us). The atmosphere was amazing — so much music, light and colour. Everyone was dancing and laughing.

nice carnival
Nice – Festival!

The procession ended in a big square entirely outlined (and walled) in coloured lights, where scaffold-seating housed a large crowd. The whole thing was incredible. We hung around a while, soaking in atmosphere, but then our time ran out and we had to go back to the station to retrieve our packs. Right now we are sitting morosely in the station, waiting for the train to take us to Italy.

Only two weeks to go.

Next stop in 1994 is the amazing city of Venice, where we somehow (completely by accident) managed to crash the famous Carnivale. That’s something to look forward to.

Next stop for me in 2015 is… Mongolia! More details later. One thing I can promise is better photos.

5 thoughts on “Travelling in the 90s: Provence (in the steps of Madam, will you Talk?)

  1. Sounds like a pretty fantastic trip. It must be a neat experience to have a travel journal that you can look through years later and remember all the cool stuff you saw and did. I wish I’d thought to do that on my Norway trips.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Le Koala Bar the best day’s of my live in Avignon 1994 you say .. Phil a cockney and Patrick Irish guy behind the bar .. I think Rod (Dutch Aussi) was already gone back to asutralia.. but he started the Koala. and hardcore Dutch guys on the other sode of the bar .. yes lot of US students .. better any country in world students came to the Koala.

    God bless the beer (Wine, Whiskey .. well all we drunk ..)

    Liked by 1 person

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