September 5th, 2013 – Sunny
AVIGNON, PALAIS DES PAPES
It was finally time to say goodbye to the city which captured our hearts from day 1 as we couldn’t believe that 7 days had passed already. Once again we took our time in the morning to enjoy our breakfasts and finished up packing our luggage (aka threw everything into our suitcases in under 30 seconds). Next destination: Avignon, Provence!
Our high speed train departed at “Gare de Lyon” station, and it was connected to the metro system which simplified our transfer. It was so easy and efficient the whole process took less than 30 minutes… at J’s insistence we left the apartment extra early so we had plenty of time to kill at the station. In fact we arrived at Gare de Lyon so early our train wasn’t even assigned a departure platform yet lol! (For some reason train departure boards in France often don’t indicate the departing platform until minutes before the train arrives… unlike air travel… I don’t know why)
This was our virgin voyage traveling on high speed rail and we had no idea what to expect. We bought our train tickets online exactly 90 days in advance for the best deal (feel free to ask me in the comments below for further details) and it only cost 25 euros per person. Our economy seats were comparable to business class seats on plane travel (I’ve never been on business class flights before but I would imagine that they were similar). The train departed on time and we knew we left Paris as the scenery drastically changed from the graffiti-infested inner city to gentle rolling hills.
The train cabin was surprisingly quiet considering we were traveling at 300 km/hr. I spent the next 2.5 hrs researching and booking our accommodation for the next 2 nights on my iPhone. Compared to Iceland France’s 3G coverage was inferior because mobile internet was intermittent at best (EDGE most of the way). We emerged from our TGV train refreshed (again J slept like a baby the entire way) and we had our “homelessness” situation rectified. Avignon TGV station was about a 10-minute bus ride from the city center (Gare d’Avignon-Center is for regional trains DO NOT CONFUSE THE TWO). We followed the line of passengers to the appropriate bus stop and the bus ride was simple/inexpensive. The bus dropped us off shortly after entering the city wall at the post office (final stop) and our hotel was only 150 meters away.
We wasted no time once we settled into our hotel room and found a local pub still opened for business for lunch (it was 3PM). As we walked down a main avenue toward Avignon’s main tourist attraction “Palais des Papes” we immediately recognized some differences between Paris and Avignon: Avignon was much more casual in terms of both dress codes and culture… and it was a lot more French as very few locals spoke English lol. The 20 minute walk towards our destination took us through countless open-air cafes and patisseries on ancient cobble-stone streets… until we reached a spacious square and behind it stood an imposing structure “Palais des Papes”.
For some odd reason we had a tough time locating the entrance to this UNESCO historic site. A one time fortress and palace, Palais des Papes served as the official residence of popes during the 14th century. Once inside we were self-guided through 2 or 3 pre-designed routes and we toured the basement treasury all the way up to the palace guard towers. Even though most rooms were vacant with very little furniture and/or relics, the audio guide did a fantastic job educating and recreating the palace’s ancient glory. (I highly recommend the audio guide for a few extra euros because without it the palace would be nothing but boring/giant empty rooms). Once near the top, this ancient catholic relic also provided a marvelous view of the old Avignon city as it basically dwarfed over this entire walled city.
Another 2.5 hours later we reemerged from the dim palace and the unrelentless sun had started to give way and transitioned to a warm loving glow. With only a couple hours of daylight left we hiked to the nearby “Rocher des Doms” suggested by other travelers on Tripadvisor”. The ancient winding streets of Avignon did their best to prevent us from reaching our destination, but at last we found ourselves admiring the surrounding scenery after only a few minor setbacks (damn you Avignon streets maze!). Rocher des Doms was a spacious park situated at the top of the cliffs above the river Rhone, where we enjoyed a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside of Rhone Valley. We basked in the warm setting sun of Provence until a couple of park officials notified us of park closure at 7PM.
Like a couple of well organized travelers we decided to stop for dinner at a highly rated restaurant called “La Fourchette” without a reservation. With our dumb luck and my limited charm I was able to secure a table at this packed establishment with a simple “comment ca va?”. J later told me that the lovely elder hostess (owner? mother of the owner?) told the wait staff to make room because it was “simply too cute” how I asked about how she was doing… hahaha. We retired for the night after having one of the most romantic meals of the trip.