I went over to Germany for a family wedding in July, and after that I met up with a friend and we headed to France for a bit of holiday goodness. We took the crowded but pleasant trains to Avignon, speeding through farming countryside, oddly with the occasional fighter jet swooping around in the distance.
The tall, round, friendly conductor with a beret punched our tickets with a maple-leaf shaped hole-punch, and after checking our passports let us off for not knowing that one must always validate the ticket on the platform before getting on. For the first of many times this trip I was very happy to have my friend mogest travelling with me – he speaks French well (and I speak none :)).
Avignon was nice, packed full of people because their big annual Avignon Festival was on, with lots of street performers, music gigs, and theatre groups performing around town.
Carousels are apparently a big thing in France – they're all over the place!
Aside from the enjoyable atmosphere and the arts festival, and some good food (if slow service), there's a big pope's palace – the town is nicknamed the ‘City of Popes’ after hosting a rival to the Pope in Rome – and the famous bridge (well, half a bridge) over the ‘Petit Rhône’ named in the song Sur le pont d'Avignon. I had never heard of this song but apparently children are supposed to have!
Half an hour away by bus or train is the nice little town of Orange, which has some very well-preserved Roman architecture. The big amphitheater is in great condition and still heavily used – the stage was set up for Tosca with an enormous painting running up the scaenae frons (the back wall of the stage).
It was very hot in exposed places in midsummer and there's no shade for the thousands of people who can be seated up the ranks of curved benches, so you wouldn't want to be there in the middle of the day for a performance!
After I went for a bit of scramble around while I tried to get up above the town for a view and a cache (failed to find), we had a well-deserved gelato and walked to the other end of town to have a look at the triumphal arch, which is also in good condition. I couldn't remember the name of all the bits of decoration that arches are supposed to have (some present, some missing) – my high school classics teacher, Mr Warburton, would be disappointed :).
After Avignon we hopped back on the train and went down to the southern coast.