November 2 – 7
We left the Palace of the Popes and made our way, after a couple of stops to view places listed in the tour (Church of St. Pierre: The original walnut doors were carved in 1551, Place des Châtaignes: The cloister of St. Pierre, 15th-Century Building: With its original beamed eaves showing, and Synagogue: Jews first arrived in Avignon with the Diaspora in the first century), to Rue du Vieux Sextier, Avignon’s pedestrian only shopping street.
A few steps down the street is Patrick Mallard— the most venerable pastry shop in town. It’s one of two authorized to sell Avignon’s one-of-a-kind, thistle-shaped candy called Papalines d’Avignon (dark chocolate wrapped in pink-hued chocolate and filled with a liquor made from local plants). We bought a box of three to try them out and enjoyed the sharp liquid center, although as they were fairly expensive they would not have been a regular treat if we lived close by.
We continued down the street window shopping as we went to the big and boxy Market (Les Halles). In 1970, the town’s open-air market was replaced by this modern one whose exterior jungle-like hydroponic green wall reflects the changes of seasons and helps mitigate its otherwise stark exterior. This is a large place quite similar to any market one may have visited in the past with numerous stalls selling any imaginable food type.
We roamed the aisles and by now quite hungry, settled on a food stand specializing in chicken with a 5 Euro ‘Dish of the Day’ that would be prepared and served at the table of the bar next door.
We ordered one serving of the Pave de Poulet Marine (Marinated Chicken Filet) and one of the Saucisse aux Cepes (a brown-capped boletus mushroom), went next door, grabbed a table and ordered two glasses of champagne. Our food came soon thereafter and for that particular moment, it was one of the best meals we’d had on the trip.
The chicken was moist and flavorful but the unexpected surprise was the braised potatoes, redolent of butter, olive oil and spices, the perfect accompaniment to the meat, simply prepared, the quality and freshness of the ingredients at the center of the presentation.
The champagne quickly consumed, I ordered a beer to finish the meal and when done, the total tab was 20.50 euros.
Lunch completed, we rested a bit longer and then spent another hour or so completing the walking tour, visiting the Rue des Teinturiers (the Street of the Dyers; a tie-dyed, tree- and stream-lined lane, home to earthy cafés and galleries) and the Waterwheel (The Sorgue River, which hits the Rhône in Avignon, is broken into several canals in order to turn 23 such wheels, powering the town’s industries). We would learn much more about the Sorgue the next day when we relocated to our next town LʼIsle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Our very full day at an end, we hustled back to the train station in order to catch the train to Arles that would get us there in time to pick up our rental car at the local Hertz office. While waiting we split a sweet crepe and coffee from one of the food outlets at the station and then boarded for the short ride to Arles. We were relaxing in our seats on the train when a trio of French rail authorities came down the aisle and asked to see our tickets.
After scrutinizing them they asked our ages and that’s when we realized we’d been caught out, Joanna not being eligible for the senior rate. Technically I wasn’t either as, like in Spain, one needs to buy the discount pass in order to qualify for the rate. After a bit of discussion amongst themselves, they informed us that they wouldn’t ding me for the failure to secure the discount pass but would charge Joanna a 35 euro fine for our transgression. Ouch.
A bit chagrined but grateful that we got off as lightly as we did, we arrived in Arles and walked quickly to the Hertz office to pick up the car. Earlier in the day I’d glanced briefly at the operating hours for the office and thought that they would be open until 6pm. We arrived there at about 15 minutes past their Saturday closing time of 4pm and were equally dismayed to see that they would not be open the next day, Sunday. Damn that Jenny Manetta!!
The bottom line? I’d simply misread the operating hours and now we were in a pickle. Hopeful that we could work it out, we made our way back to the hotel and once there tried to use the in-room telephone to connect with the number listed on the door of the Hertz office, but to no avail. So, we turned my phone on and began what would be about a 45-minute process to get our mess straightened out.
This took a number of phone calls. The first was to the number listed on the after hours’ notice at the office, which turned out to be a regional Hertz customer service center. They advised I could go get a car at the airport in Nimes, which was not an option given the difficulty we would have had getting there. I asked if my reservation could be cancelled and was advised that they couldn’t process it but gave me a number for the English-speaking center that could, located somewhere we came to assume in England.
That call went well, with our reservation being cancelled without any penalty. My conversation with the agent led to our decision, one I could have made from the start, to rent a car from the TGV (France’s high-speed train service) outlet on the outskirts of Avignon. Open long hours seven days a week, it turned out to be the perfect option for our situation. I secured the rental which came out a bit cheaper than the original as the rental period was a day shorter and we began to relax for the first time since we saw the closed sign at the office in Arles.
We walked down to the market we’d been using, a Spar, to get some wine and food for breakfast, then being a bit hungry but not wanting to go all out for dinner given the great lunch we had earlier, stopped at a Subway and split a sandwich. We’d had one of those days you can experience while traveling, one part being one of the best of the trip, full of sightseeing and good food and then roadblocks to be overcome. Jenny Manetta had visited us twice and yet we’d managed to mitigate the damage. All in all, a good day on the road.
Patrick Mallard: https://www.petitfute.com/v33549-avignon-84000/c650-produits-gourmands-vins/c1107-pains-gateaux-chocolats-glaces/c671-patisserie/222106-patisserie-mallard-patissier-chocolatier-glacier.html
Papaline of Avignon: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papaline_d%27Avignon