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

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

Laundrette @ Avignon

One of the problems everyone faces during a holiday, which lasts longer than a few days, has to be how to deal with your dirty laundry. Our trip was over 16 days and as the days went by, our worn clothings started to take up more space in our suitcases.

‘It would be great if there were any laundrette near by’, mum sighed as she went through her luggage. We were planning to stay in Avignon for three days, therefore, it would be ideal if we could sort out dirty washing during our stay.

At the hotel reception, I found a man on a ladder, trying to fix a light bulb above the entrance. ‘Bonjour!’, I greeted him not too loudly so he wouldn’t be startled. ‘Bonjour, madam!’, he smiled as he lowered himself down the steps.

Once he was behind the desk, I asked if there was any laundrette within a walking distance. ‘Oh yes, there is a one at the end of the street in front of the hotel!’ Oh cool!

‘Could you change this note to small change?’ I produced €5 from my pocket. As he was checking their till, another staff came out from the kitchen and told us that she had just used up all the small change they had in order to pay a delivery. ‘Désolé.’, they apologised.

Ok, I must do some small shopping with this note and get some coins. There was a gift shop on Cours Jean Jaurés and I ended up buying a small lavender soap in the shape of a cicada.

With a few euro coins in my pocket, I returned to the hotel. ‘L’opération a réussi?’, the staff on the ladder wanted to know and I gave him the big thumbs up.

At the end of the street, a laundrette awaits me!

The street in front of the hotel ended when it met Place des Corps Saints.

‘Oh bu**er! Why didn’t we come here for dinner yesterday?!’ The square was surrounded by lovely looking cafes and restaurants, and there were many tables under the shade which would have offered beautiful alfresco dining. I was gutted.

Anyway, I have a mission to complete.

Tadah!

There was no one when I walked in and I never used a laundrette in London so I had no idea how it worked…

It was a bit daunting.

Let’s study an instruction…

I forgot to take pictures but there was another machines, one took the payment and the other dispensed a laundry detergent.

In the end, everything was kind of self-explanatory – you put coins into the machine and it lit up the the options available according to the amount of the coins inserted. I chose mixed wash under 4kg and also bought detergent. As the coins fell through, a slot on the wall, a small opening a few feet away, spat out the detergent! Haha, what a fun. I would have loved to see the inside of the wall.

I made a bit of mess when I was putting the detergent in a tray. Well, it crumbled without warning!

The wash was to be ready in 35 minutes so I went back to my hotel and had another cup of coffee with mum.

Then, I had to go back to put the laundry in a tumble dryer.

 

On the door of the dryer, there was a message to the staffs and owners of the local eateries. It warned that some laundries with fat and oil still left on the fabrics may catch fire while being tumble-dried! Oh please be careful..,

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Avignon’s City Hall

After leaving Place de l’Horloge with a bad aftertaste, we decided to check out the city hall which stood at the opposition side from the restaurant. During the dinner, we noticed some people were walking in and out of the door and it was intriguing.

‘Hello, is anyone here?’

Strangely, we found the place deserted. There was an airport style metal detector and a long table but we saw no security staff. Where did they go? We were puzzled.

Oh well, let’s give the place the once over anyway, we started our tour.

In the middle of the open space, there was an installation with flowers, a sparkly globe and gravel. Is it an indoor garden?, I was not sure. How can I put it? The installation was kind of odd. It didn’t look like a temporary display but also not good enough to be a permanent one. How do you utilise entrance halls of public buildings? It would be as easy as one imagined, I thought.

On our way home, we came across a large Monoprix and mum found a very stylish top in teal blue. She was delighted with the top because she didn’t bring many short-sleeved tops.

Now, let’s go back and have some rest because we are gonna visit Palais des Papes tomorrow. How exciting!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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