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  • Day3

    The City of the Popes

    August 23, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌙 22 °C

    After the gruelling flight from Melbourne, it was glorious to finally lie horizontal, even if it was only for a few short hours. The Ibis Budget Roissy is hardly a luxury hotel, but it certainly was a welcome refuge, albeit if only temporary.

    By 6 am I was wide awake and gazing out the window at the slowly lightening sky. It looked like we would be in for another warm and cloudless day in Paris and the advance weather forecasts were promising that it would only get hotter in the week ahead.
    The breakfast at the Ibis was surprisingly good for a budget hotel, but maybe that was because the price of the breakfast was almost as much as the price for the room. After savouring my first French baguettes of the trip I returned to the room to “pack” my bag. How could the contents have swollen so much since I left Melbourne ? That was a mystery I would have to solve some other time, I was happy to just cram everything back in, and then give thanks when the zipper finally closed.

    Our original plan was to catch the shuttle back to the airport, then catch another complex sequence of trains to get us to Gare de Lyon station in Paris. It not only sounded very complicated, it was also going to take nearly two hours and cost over 10 Euros per person. There had to be a better way, and there was. When I asked the concierge about the price of a personal mini bus to take us direct to the station, he replied that it would cost about 60 Euros. When we divided that cost between 5 people, it actually worked out cheaper than the horrible alternative.

    By 9 am we were all comfortably seated in the luxury mini bus and speeding our way towards central Paris. Not only was this the perfect means of travel, but it also meant that we arrived in plenty of time to sit outside the magnificent Gare de Lyon Station and enjoy a coffee while we watched the Parisians go about their business. We had about 90 minutes before we needed to board our train and somehow I managed to spend about half of that time looking for the toilets in the station. When I eventually found them I figured that I had walked about halfway back from Paris to the airport. The relief that I experienced at the end also cost me 90 cents.

    Unfortunately Gordon and Sue had made a “small error” in their hotel bookings and had managed to find themselves in the “wrong” Ibis hotel at the airport. Considering that there are Ibis hotels on just about every street corner, it is not too hard to get them mixed up. This also meant that they could not join us in the luxury mini bus and therefore had to take the longer and much more expensive train option instead. They finally arrived at the Gare de Lyon with only a few minutes to spare. In the meantime the rest of us had enjoyed a lovely time soaking up the atmosphere and savouring our coffees.

    The high speed train from Paris to Avignon takes a little over 3 hours and spends much of that time silently moving along at between 250 to 300 kph. We sat in the comfortable first class seats and watched the beautiful French countryside fly by outside the window.

    The train pulled into the impressive Avignon Centre Gare at around 3.30 pm. We stepped out of the air conditioned carriage into a blazing 34C. It was quite a contrast to the Melbourne winter we had left about 48 hours earlier. Fortunately I had skilfully booked another Ibis Hotel just next door to the station, so we only had a short walk to transport our luggage.

    It was only when we went to check in that we discovered that Gordon and Sue had once again somehow managed to book the “wrong” Ibis. That would not have been so bad if it had not been on the other side of the city. We last saw them forlornly dragging their bags out into the sun for the long walk to the “other Ibis”.

    Later in the afternoon our group met together for a walk through the lovely historic old city centre of Avignon. The history of this place is extraordinary and between 1309 and 1376 it was actually the seat of power for the entire Catholic Church. It is still referred to as the “City of the Popes” and the huge Palace of the Popes dominates the centre of the city.

    Maggie and I had briefly visited this city in an earlier trip, but had very little time to look around. We had enjoyed a delightful al fresco meal near the Hotel de Ville and looked for the same place to introduce it to the rest of the group. Once the sun had lowered in the sky, the temperature moderated and it was a perfect ending to another eventful day.

    Although the few hours of sleep I had enjoyed the previous evening had rejuvenated me a little, by this time my batteries were quickly starting to run down and I was glad to be able to return to our hotel for some more sleep. Tomorrow we will have more time to explore Avignon, before we head out of town to a small nearby village called Caumont Sur Durance. That will be our home for the next 7 days.
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