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

My favourite place

Especially during the ongoing heatwave, one place I really look forward to visiting is an ice rink in Streatham.

Jimmy, who organises ice hockey practices, kindly invites me to his scrimmages when ice time are available, and yesterday was one of those weekend days.

Before setting off to the ice rink, Hubbie and I decided to have brunch at Ozone Coffee Roasters…

We found no customary queue at this popular eatery and a smiley staff ushered us to a table in the basement…

For my pre-scrimmage food, I opted for gluten-free pancake with smoked pear custard, hazelnut meringue & rhubarb ambrosia. I also ordered extra strips of crispy bacons…

The pancake was divine! It was fluffy and the topping was delicious.

Envious Bella, staring at my pancake…

Sorry, Bay Bay!

After the brunch, I headed to the ice arena with my friend who wanted to watch me playing hockey.

What a bliss! It’s so cool and comfortable on ice!!

Unfortunately, there weren’t enough players to play a proper scrimmage and Jimmy set up a few drills for us and it was fun.

Only one goalie turned up but he was a really good one – very mobile and aggressive with his stick! One of the drills was we, forward players, were to receive a pass from the defencemen standing by the blue line and to shoot at the goal. My turn came so I sprinted out, received a pass and I was about to shoot. However, before I knew it, a huge wall in the shape of a hockey goalie was right in front of me and I had no choice but simply crashing into him. Because I was such a light-weight midget with less than 95lb, I ended up flying away like a deflected bullet while he stood still, like a bloody bank vault wall! How embarrassing…

Another thing I kept on doing during the drills was losing my footing every time I tried to do tight turning.

What are wrong with my skates today?

I took my gloves off and ran my finger on the blades after skating to the end of a queue. The edges of the top halves were noticeably dull and it was clear that they needed sharpening.

After the drills, we did a 3 on 3 scrimmage using the half length of the rink. Despite my skates skidding on the surface instead of biting into it, I somehow managed to stay on my feet and enjoyed the game enormously.

‘Wow, it’s so hot and sticky!’, my friend and I moaned when we walked out of the arena.

Then, we drove by my place first to pick up Hubbie and Bella, and then drove to my friend’s to rink up with her husband.

My dinner at Andi’s on Church Street, Stoke Newington…

Pulled pork bao! A post-scrimmage protein fix.

It is a shame that I can’t come to a Monday’s practice because my skates are left in the skate shop and they won’t be ready before Thursday. Oh well, I shall work on my shooting at home then…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Poisoned by ESH?

I am gutted this morning. Do you know why? Because I am not well enough to attend the anti Trump march in Central London this afternoon.

Did Emperor Small Hand, aka Donald Trump, tampered my Victoria sponge at Albion on Boundary Street? Or all those BBQ chicken wings and nachos I grazed during the England’s 123 minutes nail-biter did the damage already to my normally clean-eating digestive system and the cake was the last nail on the coffin? Oh, I still feel my stomach being not very happy as I recall what I had during the past 36 hours.

Come to think of it, the cream tasted a bit off…

I was dying for cake and latte then so I cleaned the plate pretty quickly.

I haven’t been giving up about joining the march yet. If my condition improves during the next few hours, I will make my way to Piccadilly Circus.

It’s gonna be a spectacle!

I am raising my fist to the giant Trump with a nappy in the sky!!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Tourist trap @ Avignon

Yes, we were conned and we had learnt our lesson, “Never never eat anything near tourist spots!” How we managed to make such a basic mistake? Well, let me explain…

Our first afternoon in Avignon was very summery – hot and humid. ‘Mum, do you fancy ice cold beer?’

Around Place de l’Horloge, there were many cafes and restaurants which offered alfresco dining. May be we can have beer and dinner at one of them, we thought.

‘I fancy paella because I haven’t eaten rice for a while.’, mum pointed at one of the eateries which was displaying a large menu with photographs. As soon as we stopped in front of the menu, a middle aged man with an apron around his hip appeared and started chatting in English. ‘Two of you? For dinner? Ok, ok, sit here. What do you wanna drink?’ He ushered us to one of the tables and handed us laminated menu.

While we contemplated what to eat, our beers were brought to the table.

Cheers, mum!

What the he** is that?, you may ask. Apparently, this was my seafood “noodle” paella. The noodle turned out to be just broken up spaghetti and apart from single very limp mussel and a couple of squid rings, the dish was devoid of any “seafood”. I was disgusted because it was nothing like the image on their menu.

Mum’s seafood paella did marginally better by sporting slightly more fillings. Still, it tasted mediocre and could hardly justify the price of €15.

Probably, the “noodle” paella was the worst food I had ever tasted in my life – too greasy and too salty. I ended up leaving more than half of the wretched crusty spaghetti on the plate.

Then, the guy reappeared and he had the cheek to ask me if I liked the dish. I replied, ‘Pas du tout.’, giving the thumbs down.

He shrugged his shoulders and cleared our table. Allez, M.Thickskin, I silently swore to his back. What a tourist trap!

In front of the city hall, two guys were busking…

We would have enjoyed their performance more if our meal wasn’t a rip-off and the guy wasn’t so cocky! Mum and I left the place, feeling very very annoyed.

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Enchanté, Monsieur Trenet!

After the break we continued on A61 then changed on to A9 at Narbonne. It was around noon when we saw a sign for l’aire de Narbonne-Vinassan and decided to pull in for a quick lunch.

As we alighted from the car, we were greeted by a strange sight…

What the heck?!

A huge bronze head with a manic grin was looking down on us from the top of a small hill…

I had no idea what the sculpture was for and uploaded this image to my Instagram, asking about the meaning of it. Later days, thanks to one of my Facebook friends, the mystery was solved.

Enchanté, Monsieur Charles Trenet!

He was a French singer and songwriter who was born in Nabonne in 1913. He had many hits throughout his long career and the most famous song must be this…

“La Mer”, what a lovely song.

However, I still don’t understand why his statue was so bizarre though. A gigantic head sticking out from the mound, what was it all about? I showed the picture to Hubbie but he shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Well, that’s French for you.’ What do you mean? I still don’t get it!, I persisted as he walked toward a kitchen to make himself a cup of tea.

Anyway, mum and I shared spaghetti carbonara and mozzarella and tomato salad…

The kitchen seemed to specialised in Italian and they offered various pizzas as well as pasta and lasagna.

Oh if only Bella were with us…

I missed you very much, Bay-Bay!

Ok, on y va a Avignon!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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