A 24 X 30 portrait of Jesus stares at me from the kitchen wall between two windows, and outside an old church faces our apartment. In the bedroom, a nun looks over us. And around the corner, the whole block is lined with sex shops.
Yep, we’re in France!
France Feldman style, anyway, where we never quite know what unique surprises await us with the apartments we rent. Inside, we are peaceful and safe. The rooms are bright and cheerful, the bed is comfortable, and we are locked up in three different places.
Whenever we arrive at a new place, I have to adjust. It takes me about a day or so as I let go of the previous experience (or home, if early in the trip). When I realized that this apartment is so bare-bones that I needed to buy toilet paper, I had a moment of asking myself, “What have we done? How are we going to stay here for two weeks?”
Well, it’s simple. We buy toilet paper (except it’s not toilet paper, it’s paper towels, and poor Henry has to go back to the store when we hit emergency levels). Then we get some sleep. The next day everything looks easier and more fun, and I’m ready to jump in. We figure out the shower–“C” is for chaud (hot), not cold. Oops.
Anyway, we are in the oldest part of Avignon, a town that is somewhat like old Paris but drearier, somewhat like Siena, Italy, but more cheerful, and that seems confused about what it wants to be. Old or modern? Charming or rundown? Even our proprietess reflected this confusion. On the phone, as we came closer to town, she seemed brusque to the point that I wanted to find somewhere, anywhere else to stay. When we met in person, though, we were instant friends, and she conveyed warmth and caring as she told us where we could eat good food for reasonable prices. She even told us which booths in the marketplace were the best.
Sunday morning, with no food in the apartment, we walked to said marketplace, Les Halles, one of the more famous markets in Europe. It has a permanent structure instead of being in the open air, and it is open six days a week. After some initial overwhelm that was cured by a yummy pain au chocolat, we made our rounds. Each vendor seemed helpful, cheerful, and even playful, and our purchases were all rewarded by some little extra treat that got slipped into our bags. The bread guy, for example, would cut hunks of bread off of loaves up to 18” in diameter and reveled in showing the customers the bottoms of each loaf so they could see and choose the one they liked the most. His extra little gift to us was a slice of brioche, sweet and fresh.
We came back with cheese, bread, yogurt, eggs, and plenty of produce. Then we finished at the supermarket, where a few simple purchases gave the apartment all the comforts of home. It may sound odd to some, but market shopping is an important part of the Provencal experience, and our first encounter was a pleasant one.
In the afternoon we hit the road and drove to Gordes, a village built on a rocky hillside. We took a long walk through the winding streets of town and got some great views not only of the town itself, but the vineyards and olive groves below, and the mountains in the distance.
From Gordes we found a Gothic-era abbey that we visited briefly, and then the village of Bories, which consists of restored stone houses that were used from the pre-Christian era to the 18th century. Each dwelling sat directly next door to a sheep or goat pen. Not sure I would like that much!
Since we had time, we then drove on to Rousillon—a place we will definitely return to. We had time just to wander around a bit before everything closed, and there’s a lot to see. The hillsides and soil of Rousillon are famous for its ochre pigments, and great Impressionist painters came to Rousillon to get just the right colors. The walls and shutters of the village buildings are painted in a wide variety of cheerful yellows, oranges, purples, and greens in addition to light and dark ochres. There’s a whole self-guided “ochre tour” of the area that we plan to take when we go back.
As we made the return trip to Avignon, we took some winding roads (a GPS is a great invention) and, as it turns out, ended up somewhere near Peter Mayle’s first Provence house. We didn’t see it but Henry looked up the info later. Apparently after A Year in Provence hit it big, complete strangers would come over and jump in Mayle’s pool or otherwise disturb his peace, thus eventually forcing him out. He’s a bit vague these days about where he is, or even if he is in Provence full-time.
Today we took a walking tour of Avignon that led us into a Gothic church, to the old Jewish quarter, and finally to the Pope’s Palace. We finished with an elegant lunch at one of the hotels. All the food has been great so far, even when it isn’t specifically French (I had sushi last night). I will rest, write, and do yoga while Henry works, and we shall eat in at the apartment tonight. Visit me on Facebook for all the latest pics!