Sunday, 25 May 2014

Days 424 to 428: Avignon

Often your enjoyment of a place is determined by your accommodation. In Avignon, we stayed at a Formule 1 hotel.

Formule 1 seems to be somewhat of an institution within budget travel in France. A chain hotel spread across the country, they are significantly cheaper than most other options, but of course these savings come at a cost. There's no central location, no ensuite bathroom, no air-conditioning, no rooftop pool, no executive lounge, no bar, and not even a receptionist half the time. There are aeroplane style toilets, location in a remote industrial area, and vending machines selling coke and chocolate. I rather liked it to be honest.

Thus, while my first brief trip to Avignon during the annual arts festival brings back memories of roasting temperatures and thick crowds, this trip evokes the car park of the massive Carrefour and the (very handy) self-service launderette nearby. To get into town, we had to get the number 10 bus, although this bus stopped at 7.50pm, so to get back to the hotel any later we had to take the train to the TGV station, fortunately just 15 minutes walk away. However, miss that final train (10.45pm) and... walk? We only put it to the test one evening, after watching the Champions League final in an Irish Bar. The game went on into extra-time, and the Irish Bar, to our absolute horror, turned off the commentary and started blasting routine pop music. To our even greater astonishment, the crowd watching the game didn't seem to care. We asked the guy next to us why on earth they'd do a such a thing: "C'est normale", he replied. Thank God I won't be in France during the World Cup.

Anyway, it was probably about 11.30pm when the game finished and we wandered to the train station, in the faint hope of getting a train. Nope, not till 6am, the board said. A taxi then, we reckoned, as we watched a woman get inside one. A few moments went by, and the taxi driver leaned out and asked us "Do you want a taxi? I'm the last one!" With his existing passenger kindly allowing us to join her, it transpired he was the only taxi driver working on a Saturday night in Avignon, and this was his last run. The rest, he said, were all out drinking. "C'est normale", he said, their Saturday nights were precious to them. We were extremely lucky to have caught the very last taxi of the evening. Avignon is a strange place sometimes.

It's also a very pretty place. Our reason for visiting was of course the Papal Palace, and the Pont du Gard, which is wedged midway between Avignon and Nimes, but Avignon has plenty of charm to occupy a gentle day or two. Surrounded by 4.3 kilometres of city walls, it's full of little streets and cafe-filled squares that modern-day medieval Europe excels in. After the Papal Palace, it touts some crappy half-assed bridge as its greatest asset, but I've never heard a single person say anything good about it. See what you think.

Otherwise, much of Avignon was spent recuperating. My body needed some mending after being subjected to the Millau half-marathon, and Danielle was in a state of recovery after her weekend at home, focussed upon what appeared to be a pretty raucous hen party. Formule 1 and forays to Carrefour served us well. Who needs the Hilton anyway?

1 comment:

  1. I have just looked up the bridge on the internet and its most interesting aspect is that it started collapsing arch by arch, until they rebuilt the arches, after which some more arches fell down, were rebuilt, then fell down again (this was over a period of a couple of centuries). Then people gave up and decided that really they'd wanted a pier all along anyway.


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