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

Pont d’Avignon

Well, finding the famous bridge turned out to be more difficult than we first thought. Where it stood was clearly visible from the roof top of Palais des Papes, however, getting there was not as straight forward as anyone would anticipate.

After we came out of the palace, we looked around and pondered how we could get to the bridge. An oblong square in front of the attraction was vast and there wasn’t any obvious signage which would show the way to our next destination.

I didn’t want mum to walk needlessly as her hip and knee were still troubling her. Hmmm, what should we do?

 

We walked to a building on the right in my video clip and asked a woman who was heading the same direction. ‘Excuses moi, madame. Oú est Le Pont d’Avignon?’ She answered that the building was nothing to do with the bridge and we would have to backtrack and to follow a small alley way which started from the west side of the square.

I must find the right path this time!, I looked around rather desperately as poor mum trailed behind me with her walking stick. ‘Is this the alley way the woman meant?’ My eyes caught a narrow side street which disappeared amongst the high stone walls. ‘I’m gonna check it out if you wait for me here.’ I left mum at the square and went off to investigate it. The street wound and met another street at the bottom of it. As I approached the junction, a woman came out of one of the doors along the alley way so I decided to ask her if this was the way to the bridge. She replied it was and explained how I should go on from there. ‘Merci beaucoup!’ I thanked her and trotted back to the square to fetch mum.

Once we turned right at the bottom of the alley way, we found lots of gift shops which were selling typical products of the Provence region, such as colourful printed fabrics, embroidered tea towels, soaps, etc…

There were also some decorative dolls with traditional costumes. I wasn’t sure what they were made from, timber or clay?

Cicadas! I didn’t see the actual insects perching on trees but saw them a lot at souvenir shops in the Provence.

The bridge was about 7 – 9 minutes walk from the square and the entrance to the bridge was manned by a few not so helpful staffs. We wanted to use a lift but they told us to use the stairs nearby. Are they bl**dy blind? She is using a walking stick!, I shook my head as we gingerly walked towards the stairs.

Le Pont d’Avignon is also known as Le Pont Saint-Bénézet…

The original bridge of timber, which connected Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, was constructed during the late 12th century. However, the bridge was destroyed 40 years later during the siege laid by Louis VIII of France. Apparently, the king found the structure as a threat because the Imperial force could invade France via the bridge.

Happy mum and the bridge…

From the beginning of the13th century, several attempts were made to build and to maintain a stone bridge over the Rhône which was consisted in 22 arches and 21 piers. Despite being made with stone, the bridge could not withstand the volume of the water when the river was flooded, and eventually it was left broken and abandoned during the 17th century.

The water was calm and looked even placid when we visited the river…

The only remnant of the stone bridge was the four arches and the gatehouse on the Avignon side of the river.

Facing towards the tip of the bridge…

And towards the gatehouse on the Avignon side…

‘Do you remember the song, mum?’ We hummed the tune of “On the Bridge of Avignon as we walked back.

Now, let’s find the Baladine!

We walked to Rue Corneille, the north end of Place de l’Horloge and waited for the mini bus.

Look, mum! Le Petit Train!

 

Music from the carousel in the square was a pleasant BGM until our favourite transport of Avignon arrived…

 

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

To Palais des Papes

Time flies, doesn’t it?! It’s almost the end of August and I didn’t realise that I was stalling my “mum and daughter road trip” chronicle for such a long time. During the unusually hot summer, I was putting it off because I was exhausted from the heat – so was Bella, by the way. She ended up having a heat related stomach upset and ended up receiving a (costly) medical attention! After the heat had gone, I increased the intensity of my daily exercise, and again, ended up feeling too exhausted from it. It came to a point that I started to have telltale signs of over exercising such as sleeplessness, lack of appetite and motivation, forgetfulness, etc, and I had to stop everything physical until I felt better. Now, I am my normal self again and full of energy. So there is no reason why I shouldn’t start my travelogue.

After hopping on a Baladine bus at La Place Saint-Didier, mum and I headed to Avignon’s most famous tourist, Palais des Papes.

The mini-bus passed the famous les Halles d’Avignon…

We caught a glimpse of the hanging Garden of the market. ‘Oh mum, we must return here tomorrow!’, I gushed as I craned my neck to get a better look of the building.

I can remember exactly where we alighted the bus but it must have been around Hôtel la Mirande…

We found ourselves facing a tall stone wall and a path which was only wide enough for one car. The people around us were following the path, therefore, we decided to do likewise.

The path was rather steep but soon, we reached to the end of it and found ourselves at the mouth of a cavernous square.

‘Let’s visit the palace before it gets busy, mum!’, I hurried mum towards the entrance of the palace which was located on top of the stone stairs.

Luckily, it was Friday and the queue at a ticket office was not long.

After purchasing our tickets, we picked up an interactive exhibition guide in the shape of an iPad each and started to follow the route.

Between 1309 and 1376, seven successive popes lived and reigned at Avignon which was then a part of the Holy Roman Empire.

The first pope who moved the court in Rome to the city was Clement V, the newly elected French pope, Clement V.

In the middle of the each room, there was a sort of charging point for the interactive tablet.

You place the tablet over the screen which is mounted on the short plinth, voila!, the tablet is ready to show you the sceneries of the room in the 14th century!

There were some architectural models of the palace.

Some rooms were partly restored so the visitors could imagine how the life in the palace was like.

Once upon a time, the ceiling was richly decorated with beautiful fresco so the popes and his guests felt grand and cozy.

The room was divided with partitions constructed from pieces of timber and richly woven textile.

Large fire used to roar in the huge fire place.

Money and treasures which were donated by the kings and the pilgrims were kept in the basement of the palace. The door to the bookkeeper’s room looked formidable and made me imagine how the money and wealth was important to the popes…

After visiting the exhibition, we decided to have lunch at a café on the roof.

While we munched on panini, we could enjoy a bird’s eye view of the squares below from the windows of the eatery.

Now, we are visiting the famous Bridge of Avignon!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Lovely Baladine

After enjoying a bit of retail therapy at Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, we continued on Rue des Trois Faucons in s eastward direction. ‘We should hop on a Baladine if one comes along.’ I looked back towards Place des Corps Saints. The sun started to beat down brightly and I was worried if the walk was straining mum’s hip before our visit to Palais des Papes.

Baladine on the move…

 

Baladine was an electric-powered mini bus which went along a designated route every 15 minutes.

A green line with “BAL” was the route of Baladine. The bus would stop at any point as long as the destinations of the passengers were near the wriggly loop.

The size of the mini bus was small – 4 adults plus 2 children if they were toddlers.

Cars, except the ones with permit, were banned from the city centre in Avignon. While we were watching Baradine in action, we witnessed the drivers touching in & out of the streets which were equipped with automatic bollards. As the pass card was pressed to the reader on the column, the bollard lowered itself to the ground level so the bus could entered the street.

Come and enjoy the ride with us!

 

Isn’t Baladine lovely? For this, it costs only 0.60€. What a bargain!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

I am so glad that the boys who have been trapped in the cave in Thailand are finally being rescued. I do admire the courage of the rescuers and my heart aches every time I think about the navy diver who lost his life during the rescue operation. I sincerely pray for all the people – the boys, the coach and the rescuers, to come out of the cave without any injury.

If someone asked me which street I loved the most during our road trip, I would answer Rue des Trois Faucons without hesitation. Avignon was such a charming city with many pretty streets and squares. However, I would recommend it because the street was free from chain stores. All the shops lining the street were unique and original.

A vintage book shop which was specialised in art.

Librairie Paroles was another vintage book shop specialised in history and literature.

Mum and I loved this boutique, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the most. I visited there alone first and returned with mum later because the shop was so pretty. We bought from them mainly jewelries – she bought a beautiful silver necklace and I bought five dainty bracelets which I wore them all at once.

Ahhh, how I wished if they were in my neighbourhood in London! I would shop there every week…

After loading laundry at the laundrette, I strolled up Place des Corps Saints to investigate the street. Further up, the street became Rue des Trois Faucons and I started to see more shops. ‘Shouldn’t I buy a notebook for mum?’, I thought when I walked past Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Why a notebook?, you may ask.

Well, mum and I had a tiny discord that morning and the tiff was about her notebook.

One of my mum’s personal traits was being a bit disorganised and it sometimes drove me crazy. Perpetually, she was looking for something which she mislaid and it caused a mini havoc. ‘Oh no! I can’t find it!!’, was the dreaded cue for her messy search which involved turning a room upside down.

Ever since I was a teenager, I had been witnessing mum going around like a mini-tornado, flipping everything in her path upside down and inside out while moaning how she could lose the sight of it – spectacles, keys, a receipt, a handkerchief, etc.

So that morning, when she started to turn our room over because she couldn’t find her notebook, I became a bit fed up and complained, ‘How can you be so disorganised all the time?’

The corners of her mouth went downward and she looked miserable. Oh dear, I did it. The room was filled with air silently screaming “AWKWARD!” so I grabbed a paper bag with our dirty laundry and left her in the room with her missing notebook.

‘You know she was always like that and shouldn’t have been annoyed.’, I talked to myself as I pottered down the street.

‘Bonjour, madam.’, I greeted a woman behind the cashier as I entered the boutique. By the till, there was a pile of small notebooks and they were very pretty, black and white stripes with gold lettering embossed on their covers. This will do, I thought and bought it for mum.

When I returned to the room with the gift, she was sitting on a bed with bags which were emptied. ‘I think the notebook was gone. I am such a silly woman.’, she shrugged her shoulders and smiled. ‘Then, use this.’, I handed her a new notebook. ‘And you are not silly but a little careless sometimes.’

Mum’s face lit up like a 100w lightbulb and all the awkwardness we had between us early on flew out of the window and gone. Phew!

‘Once the laundry is sorted, we are going out, mum. Let’s tidy up! On the double!!’ Mum and I picked up bits and pieces which were sprinkled by Mum Tornado…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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