Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Living Close to Avignon

Unless otherwise noted, all materials on this blog are (c) 2009 by Madeleine Vedel

My home, my much-loved and cozy place, is just 5 minutes from the walled city of Avignon. I live in the countryside of the island known as Ile de la Barthélasse. Busy here, and enjoying the calm, I confess that I don't go into town that often, but, there are definitely times when the urge hits for a lovely café in a café, a bit of people watching, or, to visit the chic boutiques for a bit of shopping.

Avignon is an easy town to navigate on foot, and, off season on bicycle. In warm weather, I do prefer to come by bike, but then I'm sure to take the smaller side roads, and to avoid the heavily trafficked pedestrian walks. Parking is a bit nightmarish if I choose to bring the car (when it's cold, raining or windy). I'll park right outside the Place de Crillon, or along the ramparts on the inside, or, if there's no other choice, on my side of the river and I'll just walk across the bridge to town.

When I bring friends to Avignon, we do a bit of a whirlwind tour. I will guide them to the Place de l'Horloge, the center of town where the town hall is, many a mediocre cafe, a decent and small cinema, and the perpetual merry-go-round. Then we wander past the street sellers of jewelry and very bright poppy and lavender laden paintings to the Palace of the Popes, and the huge square in front of it. If we are roaming during the month of July -- the month of the theatre festival--we will be accosted by actors in costume with flyers for their plays, or, we may stumble upon an outdoor presentation by a Japanese mime, or a theatre troup playing out scenes from Hôtel du Nord or another classic of the French cinéma répertoire.

If we've a couple of hours to spare, it is worth it to do the audio tour of the Pope's Palace. If you like history that is, and vast, enormous empty spaces. Can you fill your head with the hundreds of velvet clad bishops and church dignitaries, the many supplicants, the miles of tables, laden with food of the richest and most exotic? I love the descriptions in Terry Jones' The Lady and the Squire. Somehow, a former Monty Python just hits it right. The pope was here for nearly 100 years, running away from the Northern hordes who over-ran Rome, and briefly, being a bit more centralized to his vast domain. There is a wall of portraits of the popes, and the dates of their lives, and their reigns. I'm a bit surprised that in general, they were chosen old, and died relatively quickly. Those who lasted more than ten years in their seat were the rare exception.

Back out into the sunlight, out of the underground shop filled with cards, tapestries, local wines, pottery, etc., and around the curving stone path to the tiny square where the hotel/restaurant La Mirande is situated. Now, if a girl wants to feel chic, she goes here for afternoon tea with her girl friends. It's not cheap, but oh, the service is lovely and you do feel ever so elegant. It's rather Breakfast at Tiffany's for me. An exquisite hat and pumps would not be out of place. There is also a dark and brooding full bar where menfolk can smoke their cigars over a whiskey straight up. As you please.

If at the Mirande, don't hesitate to go down that tiny spiral staircase in the corner of the tea room. You'll be in the bowels of the building, but also, beside the fantastic cooking class room that they've installed, with the ancient wood burning stove, copper and pottery to die for, and a cozy and warm atmosphere. It's not too claustrophobic as there is a tiny garden beside that room, so windows let day light in and enliven the senses.

As I leave the hotel, I'll choose the street to the left of the Mirande (as you're looking at the Pope's palace), into a lovely square with cafés, restaurants, tiny shops, etc., There's a pleasant b&b down here as well. For me, it's now time to wander and discover. Eventually, I'll find my way over to Les Halles. Leo loves it here as there is a store called l'Oule (or something like that) that is very dungeons and dragonsish, with magic cards, pokemon cards, etc., This is his destination if and when I permit him to take his own bike (with a friend along) into town. I like the restaurant Françoise across from the Music Conservatory. Good soups, salads, chocolate brownie and tarts, coffee, tea (it's a tea salon), with a hot spot for my wifi. If guiding my friends further, I'll then drift down to the Rue des Teinturiers with its water wheels, theaters, tiny restaurants, and tempting Asian rug store.

As I've had to cope on my bureaucratic life here, I've become acquainted with the social security office, the health center, the family affairs' office, my lawyer's address, the Post Office, Leo's guitar teacher's string instrument repair shop, and more.

More fun is exploring the cinémas, the shops, the remarkably friendly cafés. I once forgot my computer in the café across from Monoprix on the main boulevard. I returned a couple of hours later, and the lady behind the bar was tending it safely for me. Ahhhh. I truly freaked out that I'd put my life in jeopardy. What would I do if I lost my Macbook? Too scary to contemplate.

As I return to a parked car, or bike back out of the city to my island, I'll window shop down the chic shopping street just beside the Place Crillon. Oh, here I get in trouble at shops like Cotelac or One Step. Funky, interesting, feminine, flowing clothes. Just the sort of thing to tempt me to pull out the plastic. But no, I'll wait for the sales in July. I'll be good, this time.

For wonderful photos of Avignon, please take a look at Nathalie's blog noted alongside, Avignon in Photos. She captures the quirks, the beauty, the light, the strange moments, in a marvelous way. My own shots don't compare. Speaking of Nathalie, she's recommended some restaurants for me to try... La Brocantine looks just lovely, tucked away down a teeny side street by the Place de Crillon. It's only open for lunch, with an ever changing menu. I can't wait!

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