Les Halles of Avignon

On a double-sized bed in our small room at Avignon, mum was doing her post-breakfast ritual – emptying her small black crossbody bag and trying to find whatever the item she thought she had lost during a previous day. ‘Oh no! Where is it?! I thought it was in here! I am so sure of it!!’, she muttered as she pulled out the contents of her handbag. The sight always made me marvel how loaded it was. She managed to stuff the small bag with so many items! ‘Mum, why don’t you get a bigger/roomier bag? It will help you to organise better.’, I advised her even though I knew she would listen none of it because the bag was her favourite.

Oh mum, you have to wrap it up!

I grew a little impatient because we were leaving the city the next morning and apart from Palais des Papes and Pont d’Avignon, we hadn’t finished touring the place yet.

Put things back in the bag and let’s get ready, mum. No time to waste!

By hearing me urging her, she stopped the search with a big rueful sigh.

It was already 10:30 when we eventually hit the road and the first thing we saw was a police car on Cour Jean Jaurés, stopping all the traffic…

And ahead of the police car, crowds of people with placards walking away from us towards Place de l’Horloge.

Is it some sort of a protest march?

Later on, we found out that the protest we encountered was organised by far-left parties and unions and it was happening all over the country that day.

So where is our beloved and trusted La Baladine? We walked to a mini-bus terminal on Avenue du 7 e Génié and looked around. ‘Oh no! There is no bus service today?!’ It was because of the weekend street market nearby, the mini-buses weren’t operating that particular Saturday. I groaned as I read a notice stuck on the signpost. ‘Sorry mum, but we will have to walk to Les Halles.’

Having said that we discovered that the city was immensely pedestrian-friendly. Most of the backstreets were car-free and they were paved with colourful tiles instead of cobbled which was great for mum with dodgy knee and hip.

At La Place Saint-Didier, a craft and antique market was held. As we sauntered around the stalls, light rain came down and we opted to take a refuge in one of the cafes with large parasols.

No one said it would rain today!

We sipped coffee until the rain stopped.

Another brownie point the city merited was how compact the place itself was.

See? The old city within a city wall isn’t very large…

All the tourist attractions were situated within manageable walking distances.

After leisurely stroll, we arrived at Avignon’s famed food market just after 11AM…

A view of the covered food market from Place Pie…

A gigantic garden wall was a spectacular creation of the botanist, Patrick Blanc…

By the way, behind the lush vegetation, there was a multi-stories carpark for market visitors. How the French accommodate practicality and elegance, I couldn’t help being impressed!

Locals were purchasing bouquets from a flower stall by the main entrance…

Beautiful flowers, huh? Mum was busy taking pictures of them with her own iPod Touch.

Once inside, we found the market was lively but not too over crowded. I imagined that most of the shoppers must have finished their shopping for the weekend already as the time was almost midday…

Les Halles contained more 40 shops who sold all sorts of culinary specialities. There were so many things on offer and mum and I were simply mesmerised by the quantities and varieties.

The shop specialised in flavoured salts…

Those colourful mounds of sea salts were artfully blended with basil, tomato, chilli, onion, garlic, rosemary, charcoal, celery, etc. ‘I wish if I were more of a competent cook, mum!’ I couldn’t help uttering to mum who was standing next to me.

Spices, spices, spices…

Vegetables…

Potatoes…

Seafoods…

And olives…

There were also a various delicatessens which offered ready-made dishes…

And desserts!

If we were staying in a self-catering apartment at Avignon, we would have loved to buy bits and pieces for our table!

Now, this explains why there was a performance outside…

My apologies for filming the performance from a rather awkward angle. There were many spectators already and the spot was the only place I had an unblocked view.

Avignon was a very cultured city and it was well known for their art festivals. And during the week we were treated with a dance festival!

Ahhhh, Fruits Confits…

Don’t they look pretty?

These candied fruits were one of the best known confectionaries of the Provence. Each fruit was soaked in sugar syrup multiple times and the process was done very carefully in order to preserve the fruit’s original shape. Mum and I marvelled how good all of them looked.

‘Which one you fancy, mum?’, with our fingers in our mouth and our eyes as large as saucers, we pondered for a while. ‘How about these oranges? They are very good.’ A woman behind the counter pointed at the small oranges. ‘Ok, we will try one and also a strawberry because it looks very pretty.’

My advice to anyone thinking about visiting the market, will be “Go there with an empty stomach and try the eateries within Les Halles!” There were many cafes and snack bars which catered for the stall holders and the local shoppers and they looked really good. I wished if we were hungry and could try what they offered.

Let’s get something to nibble, like a brioche? We visited one of the many bakeries in the market and bought a brioche decorated with magenta coloured sugar…

It was very tasty.

After Les Halles, we decided to visit another well-known street of the city, Rue Joseph Vernet. If La Baladine was operational, it would have been better for us, especially for mum, because the street was a part of the mini-bus’s route. Still, Avignon’s city centre was compact and pedestrian-friendly, therefore, travelling on foot wasn’t that difficult.

‘Shall we try the fruits confits we bought in the market?’ I took out the bag from my bag and presented it to mum as we sauntered along Rue Corderie. The first one we tasted was a candied strawberry, and oh my, it was SWEET! In a way, it was too sweet for our liking. ‘Isn’t it like solid jam?’ We both agreed. Then, we shared the orange. It was again very sweet but also it had slight bitterness from the rind. ‘Hmmm, it’s like eating marmalade!’ Alas, candied fruits weren’t our cup of tea.

After reaching to Place de l’Horloge, we entered Rue Saint-Agricol and found a small crêperie. ‘Shall we have some Galette bretonne for lunch?’ Mum suggested.

The crêperie was manned by a woman and she was busy operating this ingenious pancake machine as well as serving customers. We marvelled her skill while we munched on our pancakes.

After filling our stomach, we started our stroll again. The street was rather quiet because it was Saturday…

Except the silence was broken by an emergency vehicle…

We arrived at Rue Joseph Vernet at last but found the street rather disappointing. Most of the shops which were open were well-know chain boutiques, such as Maje or Repetto, and more interesting looking antique shops were all shut for weekend.

Oh well, let’s go back to the hotel and start packing because we are leaving to Aix-en-Provence tomorrow…

Thank you, Avignon! We really enjoyed our stay in your pretty city…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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