16.9.96 (Mon)

I am now in the McDonald’s in Marseille train station waiting for the next TGV back to Avignon.

Here is what happened in the past three days.

From Milano, I took a train to Nice and then another to Marseille. The railway from Genova to Nice and even to Marseille runs along the coast. The sea, the beaches, the palm trees and the swimmers were just outside the window of the train. The train ran through many many tunnels on that sunny day. So during the train ride brightness alternated with darkness and the blue sky alternated with the blackout. It was quite funny.

When I arrived in Marseille it was already after 2 pm. I went to the hotel where I had reserved a room for one night. Since I was planning to stay for one more day, I asked the receptionist if I could have the room for one more night. She said I would have to move to another room. OK. I took it. Here comes the most stupid part: she asked me to pay in advance for the first night and I said why the trouble and paid for both nights. I already regretted it when I knew that I had to climb up to the 4th floor. And the room was run down and dirty. There was no what I call a toilet inside. And the slam of the door and the flush of water was clearly audible whenever anyone used the toilet next door.

The room was so awful that I thought about leaving immediately. Well I finally changed my plan and move my base to Avignon, where I found a much nicer hotel.

I did say that the price of that hotel in Marseille was suspiciously low.

Anyway, Marseille was always intended to be just a stopover after the long travel on train. And I did not see much there. The Vieux Port was quite pretty, the water shimmering below the bright blue sky and all. I took a bus up the hill to the Notre Dame de la Grande. The view up there was magnificent. Seeing the blue Mediterranean underneath and I knew why the area was called Cote d’Azur. But it was super windy up there.

The weather in Provence is good. Blue sky, no clouds, windy and dry.

So. I moved to Avignon the next day. I felt so much better there, partly because of the weather of course. This time I did not trust the guidebook. I walked along the main road and simply approached the hotels on the way. My hotel is right opposite the Tourist Office, centrally located and close to the station. It is quite up to my requirement. It takes FF260 per night.

Avignon is a comfortable place. There are not so many tourists that would make me feel uneasy. There are shops and department stores (even Galeries Lafayette) so when I am tired of sight-seeing I can go (window) shopping. And the weather is fine! It is such a small place. The old town is a completely walled city. It takes only about 15 minutes to walk through the spine of the old town from the station to the Pope’s Palace.

I visited the Pope’s Palace (joined an English guided tour), the Pont d’Avignon and they were about all. But on the whole I felt quite good.

It was festive in Avignon last weekend. There was a sort of cultural festival taking place on 14 and 15 of September and monuments were open to the public free of charge. On Saturday, the monuments I went to still charged an entry fee so they were not very crowded. But the place was more crowded when everywhere (even those in Nimes) was opened for free on Sunday.

Yes, I went to Nimes on Sunday. Having seen the amphitheatre in Verona, the one in Nimes did not appear to be as impressive as expected. And I did not bother to climb to the top (people did have to climb because there were no stairs). I visited almost every sight shown on the map but they were not very impressive either. But the weather was excellent. I had a self-service sit-down lunch in Nimes and it was good.

But I didn’t go to Pont du Gard. It would take too much effort and also too much time to go there.

And I think I have been hurt by the sun and dryness in Nimes and Avignon. My skin stings a little.

Today I went to Aix-en-Provence. It was not a very good trip. The railway connecting Aix and Marseille was out of service so I had to take the bus (FF25 per trip). The worst thing was that I didn’t know what had happened or was happening. There was no way of understanding what was being announced (if there were announcements). But it is like this in France.

There was little to see in Aix. And again I stumbled and fell on the uneven ground. Luckily, I was not really hurt this time. But I doubt if my camera still works because it hit the ground too when I fell.

Since I had to return to Marseille for the train back to Avignon, I thought: why not get back the novel I left in that run-down hotel. I phoned that hotel twice but the lady at the other end didn’t understand English. When I tried to go to the hotel, the metro line I took was somehow out of service. So I took another line to a nearby station and then walked. I wrote on a piece of paper the basic French words I knew to explain what I wanted (I definitely cannot speak French but in writing it is better) and successfully claimed back my book. Ha ha.

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