It's a three-hour train ride from Perpignan to Avignon, and a very pleasant one. Our train hugged the coast at the beginning, giving us one more view of the old fort and the flamingos and the breakers. We could see the Pyrenees in the distance, and traveled through many small villages, then through larger cities like Montpellier which has many high-rise buildings and industrial establishments. Carousel, Avignon
We reached our hotel around 12:30, but it has no restaurant. Since we have become addicted to French lunches, we dropped our suitcases and headed out to find a place to eat.
We stopped at the first likely-looking restaurant, where we were seated at a table whose thick linen cloth was topped by paper. The window table touched ours; it was occupied by two pleasant, well-dressed women; in fact our first impression of Avignon was that it has the best-dressed populace we've seen since Vienna.
The women showed us the box of salt from the region, which has large crystals and is sprinkled with one's fingers. They were amused by the server who carefully placed their knives and forks back on the table when clearing the salad plates -- these little economies, like the paper tablecloth, clearly lowered the restaurant in their eyes. One of the women is a desert-lover, having accompanied her husband on Paris-to-Dakar auto rallies; we agreed that deserts are hot and dry and still can have snow. Unfortunately our French conversations seldom advance beyond this level. Theater
On our other side was a reserved table of ten, probably an office luncheon. They had preordered their meal; the four of us watched as the wine was rejected. Wine, glasses and bottles and all were quickly replaced. It's always amazing to us when people send things back in a restaurant.
We had another great lunch; it turns out the restaurant we had chosen is listed in the Michelin Guide Rouge. Our acquaintances at the next table offered us a couple of more restaurant suggestions.
We spent the afternoon on our exploration walk. Bob bought a handsome Marseille casquette (a hat). We stocked up at the local grocery. Elsa checked out the bookstore which is supposed to sell English-language books (hope springs eternal).
One distinguishing feature of Avignon is the bridge over the Rhone that is the subject of the very well-known nineteenth century song; another is the fourteenth century fortified wall that surrounds it. Still another is that Avignon was the seat of nine popes from 1309 to 1417, who brought a lot of retainers and lucrative business to the city. It remained under control of the Hotel de Ville Church until the time of the French Revolution. It is now a provincial city of 100,000, whose architecture is more functional than beautiful. Its nineteenth century stone buildings are darkened and in need of repair like those in Bordeaux, and in general it is less attractive than many of the other cities of southern France we've visited.
Elsa's walk took her through cobbled streets, strangely deserted except for the occasional cat, a shutter closing, or the sound of school kids in the distance. The English bookstore, Shakespeare, turned out to be another used-book store (although it is recommended by the bartender at the Irish Pub.) When Elsa tried out her sentence "je suis une touriste americaine qui cherche les livres en anglais" the man at the desk sighed and said "you can say all of that in English if you like".
The stock was limited, though better than the used book store in Toulouse; Elsa bought some light reading and is eagerly waiting the time she can get back to the U.S. and one of the superstores like Barnes and Noble or Borders.