Avignon Travel Blog

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Chartreuse near Avignon
Saturday, June 5, 2004

We got up early in order to clean up the car, but first we had to find our coffee. Up on the corner, at the bridge leading to Avignon, we found it. I still love these bar-tabacs. They are like a convenience store on steroids. They sell only stuff that you really need. In the morning, they sell really good, fresh espresso (or café au lait) and a good croissant if you are lucky. All day long, phone cards, tobacco productions, magazines, etc.are sold, in the afternoons and evening, beer and drinks. They are very working class places, no décor, just the necessary table and chairs, if they match, all the better, but certainly not essential.
Chartreuse near Avignon
Not a place to go on a date. But people stay and drink their coffee, almost always standing at the bar. Are they talking to the same guys they talked to last night over beers or is this a different clientele? They are talking. Creating the culture. You can't have a neighborhood if nobody talks to anyone.

These places are always small. And run by one person. And this seems to be a link between many of the places that we visited. They are small enough to be run by one person. Even at our first hotel, the woman who was running the bar checked us in, and the next day, got us our breakfast and later ran our credit card. She had someone cleaning rooms, but other than that, she ran the place. We ate in restaurants with sometimes just the owner out front and someone cooking in the back.

In restaurants this is possible because they work at a slower pace. Although we read that restaurants in France only took one reservation per table per night, we assumed that this only applied to some small percentage of high-end restaurants. Not so. Many restaurants open at eight or so and people wander in to take their tables and the meal begins. No lines waiting for table. No waiters dropping bills on your table before you ask for it and NEVER EVER any waiter asking you how your meal is. Before we figured this out we had someone make a reservation for us for a Sunday evening meal. Actually the patronne called the proprietor of our next place and she did it. We tried to find out for what time, but were unable to. People were just having difficulty understanding the question. Sort of like asking the color of their latest idea. Dinner reservations don't have the attribute of time.

After our morning coffee, we began "Operation Rental Car Return". It meant getting gas, visiting the Chartreuse, an old monastery that now houses a writers' artist colony, and getting the car to the rental company before noon when we assumed they would close.

Before I go on, I have to go into some detail about the "cells" that the monks lived in and now were inhabited by playwrights. They are easy to imagine by anyone who has been in a cheap hotel or seen any number of movies on the subject, but you would be wrong, at least about the ones at Chartreuse. The closest modern day analogy would be a town house. Each one has four rooms in two stories with a private walled garden. The garden is divided into three areas, one spiritual, one medicinal and one gastronomical.

There are rooms for physical labor, for study, to eat and to sleep. The bed is sort of a closet like affair that used with a curtain I am sure is quite snug. With the stone staircase to the second floor is a small sitting balcony. If you were practicing solitude, there was a mechanism near the door to get your food without human contact. All the rooms were large enough so that we didn't feel cramped and all had windows to make them feel light and airy.

In contrast, in another part of the monastery, there was a building where monks were kept in solitary confinement, I imagine for some spiritual transgression. Here the only view that perhaps eight rooms had was of the altar where a priest came to celebrate Mass, not the whole altar, just the priest's upper body and the host. This was accomplished by up to as many as three angled slots in adjacent floors, ceilings and walls. Some of them were designed to be used from a lying down position for members of the community who were ill.

Hotel Blauvac was charming and eccentric with all that implies, the wonderful desk help, the long stairs, the spiral staircase that confronted us immediately as we opened the door to our room. We never did get our suitcase out of the hallway. The bathroom is downstairs and the bedroom is up the spiral stairs with a window that looks down into what would be called an atrium but what is really a covered 16th century courtyard. This is room twelve. We recommend it, but not for everyone. You have to be not too large to pass each other in the hall and to get up and down the stairs and it was nice to have only one suitcase. A two star, a couple of minutes from everything.

Room twelve is the quiet one. If you read Internet travel sites, you will find a battle between the people who find this place peaceful and those who find it incredibly noisy. The peaceful side stayed in room twelve. Rick Steeves says to take earplugs so that you can stay in more interesting places and still get a nights sleep. We had them with us but never used them. Earplugs have also been suggested for camping out where you have protected yourself from mosquitos but are now being kept awake by their whine. Never tried that either.

We had dinner at L'epicerie. I liked it for its out-of-the-way-ness. It is in a small square with nothing else there. It might be better for lunch because the outside seating was bathed in the light of the flood that was lighting the facade of the church. We ate inside. I liked the energy. Dawn was less than happy with the place.

Visited the Petit Palais and saw a lot of medieval art. I also saw a Botticelli that just knocked me out. We went into a très chic café of a movie theater and saw people wearing clothes and accessories that cost more than my whole wardrobe. (Not hard). Maybe more than Dawn's and my wardrobe put together (Still not hard) Anyway, they all were trying to look like Hollywood actors and were doing a great job.

I was navigating us to a nice lunch spot when Dawn got us totally disoriented by asking to follow signs to dance studios, avant-garde theaters, even conferences. She is never satisfied just to tour but is always seeking to make contact with artists who are working today. Our luck had temporarily run out as every theater or group had just done or was about to do a performance. Also, it seemed that every movie theater in Southern France was just showing Harry Potter.

Sunday, June 6 Avignon

I don't know where we got the idea that we could take a bus to Gordes.

Moi. - Stephen

There were so many bus routes going east from Avignon to various towns that we had considered visiting that it seemed like we must be able to get to Gordes without a car. Moreover, it's one of the biggest tourist towns in the region. We had decided to start our hike there until we realized that there was no morning bus to the town  We had made a reservation by phone and e-mail from the States for our first night at a B&B near Murs, a smaller town about 10K from Gordes.  We wore a track in the pavement between the Hotel Blauvac and the phone booth at the Place de l'Horloge, making what seemed like a zillion phone calls in French trying to find a bus. We even tried to get a taxi from Avignon to Gordes (Mais, c'est trop loin! But it's too far!" she said). We decided we'd have to change our route. So I called Claude Pouget, le patron of Les Vergiers, to apologize for having to cancel our reservation because we didn't think we'd be able to get there. If the bus dropped us at Cavaillon, it just would have been too long a hike for the first day.

"Mais, il n'y a pas de problème," he said. "Of course you are coming here tomorrow. Just take the bus towards Apt, get off at Coustellets, and my friend from ABC Taxi will pick you up and take you wherever you want. I'll give you the taxi phone number, and you can call today and let him know what time the bus will arrive."

"Vraiment? (Really?), I say. "About how much would it cost from Coustellets to Gordes?"

"Probably fifteen Euros," Claude said.

Perfect. We were on, ready to start the hike as planned.

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Chartreuse near Avignon
Chartreuse near Avignon
Chartreuse near Avignon
Chartreuse near Avignon
Avignon Hotels & Accommodations review
We liked it quite a bit.  Get room 12 if you like quiet.  Check it out of the Internet.  They are friendly and some speak English.
photo by: LensTravels