Friday in Avignon
Caroline, who has a Fitbit, calculated that we walked over 6 miles a day for our 6 days in northern France- and a number of those miles were uphill or up many steep steps- all in high temperatures and high humidity. No wonder we’re pooped!
This morning five of us took a shuttle to the De Gaulle airport, where we were to get the train to Avignon. Thanks to help from a lovely young woman who told us she transports kittens to different places around the world (?), my heavy suitcase got on the shuttle and so did I. Unfortunately, I was right where the shuttle doors closed inward and pinched my behind every time…
Road Scholar did well by us on the train because they put us in first class on a bullet train that went an average of 120 miles per hour (and 180 miles per hour at its fastest)- so it only took 3 ½ hours to get from Paris to Avignon.
We had to pile into two different taxis to get all of us and our luggage to our hotel, which is right across from the Medieval stone ramparts that surround the city center. The hotel is very nice. We expect good things, such as: room to move, a comfortable chair, toilet seats…
Since we arrived before our rooms were ready, we left our luggage with the front desk and went to find a place to eat. The city is ancient and every few corners there is a very old statue of Mary and child up on a cornice of a building. Many of the roads we walked on were very narrow, although cars and motorcycles careen past at what seems to be dangerous speeds.
We found the outdoor café and had terrines, which in my case was a thick piece of toasted bread (longer than the width of the large plate) covered with a chicken salad with large lumps of chicken, lots of corn and other vegetables. It was delicious! I also ordered lemonade which, as was the case in Bayeux, really lemon-flavored sparkling water. I think I’ve learned not to order it again…
When we got up to pay the bill, I realized that we had been sitting next to an ancient church and that there was an ornate fountain right behind us. For some reason, there was also a bicycle with colorfully knitted handlebars, wheel covers, brakes, seat, etc. How often have you seen a knitted bicycle? Yes, me neither.
We walked through the streets, surprised to find that almost all of the stores were closed (for two hour lunches!) It was even hotter and more humid here in the south of France, which I suppose was to be expected. After trucking around, going into different shops as they opened, and finally getting some excellent sorbet and ice cream.
When we got back to the hotel, I learned that I had a roommate. I wasn’t thrilled, especially when I got to the room and saw that it had two twin beds that were pushed together! I pushed them apart to the extent I could (about 10 inches). I also despaired that the shower and sink were completely open to the room (the toilet has its own small room with a door that doesn’t really close). I finally discovered that what looked like two walls were heavy doors that could be closed to seal off the bathroom. Ah, at least some privacy!
I’ve gotten to know Mary (from Colorado) over the past few hours and she is an absolute stitch. I’ve tried to help her with her Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime phone, with Sprint. She hasn’t been able to text her son, even though the Sprint folks told her she had international access.
We tried following directions online, but her phone lacked a vital button. I thought about taking out her battery to see if the phone would reset, but can’t figure out how to take the protective cover that the phone seems to be glued to. The young man at the front desk spent some time trying to problem solve, to no avail.
There are 23 people in our group, again mostly women with a few scattered husbands. We have retired educators, two retired nurses, two retired attorneys, a retired psychologist, etc.
Dominique, our guide, is a tiny vivacious French woman who is at least 10+ years older than Caroline (who will be 30 in November) and has a strong accent when she speaks English. She is not as fluent as Caroline, who studied in England. However, she really impressed me with her organization. She had a map posted so we could see our routes. She went over the entire itinerary. She had arranged for there to be nibbles, water and wine, which was a very nice touch and greatly appreciated by all.
She also told us the magic words to use so that French people warmed up to us rather than fulfilling the snooty stereotype. The words? “Bon jour!” She said to say it as you enter a store even if the shopkeeper is talking with someone else. Who knew? She also gave us a few more French phrases, such as:” s’il vous plait,” “au revoir,” and told us how to say “merci” correctly. She also told us that leaving a 10% tip is expected, which I certainly wish Caroline had told us last week. However, the tip should not go on a credit card because then the restaurant owner gets the money.
She warned us to put all of our valuables into our room safe, including our passport and all but one of our credit cards because the areas we would be visiting were rife with pickpockets. Duly noted and action taken. Since we share the safe, Mary and I had to agree on a code we would both remember- so I suggested 9916 for today’s date. If I forget, please remind me!
Two funny things tonight. First, I asked Roberta to pass the butter and first she tried to hand me the salt and pepper, then the wine, then the water bottle, then the bread… I have gotten the distinct impression that she doesn’t hear very well.
Second, Mary told me that she wanted to plot our trip on a map, so she bought a map of France. Then, because it was too big, she cut the top half of the map off. We spent about 15 minutes trying to find Avignon on the map, only for me to realize that it was on the part of the map that she cut off!
It will be interesting how well our group coalesces. I sat at a table with 10 people. Two women liberally shared their opinions about everything throughout the meal. Three women were unhappy with the leg of duck, which I must admit (given my first and only other experience with duck last week) was dry and not as tasty. I don’t recall any of the northern France group ever complaining about the food.
It will also be interesting to see how everyone handles the “moderately challenging” adventures in store for us. Several women are very large, others seem somewhat frail, and at least one person uses a cane.
Dominique was sensitive to people’s jet lag and our starting time tomorrow is 9:30 am! Our lunch will be after 2 pm, so I’m going to grab some fruit and croissants from breakfast to take with me.
Wonder of wonders, our starting time on Sunday will be 10:30 am! After that, we’ll be back to starting at 8 or 8:30 every morning.
Well, Mary has showered and is in bed, so it’s my turn.
On to a new southern France adventure!