Today is Sunday, French family day, and all the restaurants on my street are closed. I’m planning on an early night to catch up. However this morning the street cleaners are out before the sun comes out and the church bells start about 7am and are off and on until 9. I know the locals can tune them out but there’s no going back to sleep for me.
I left the house about 9:30 after some early morning writing, email, tidying up the apartment and throwing in a load of laundry. The washing machine is super small but very efficient. I hang the clothes on a rack and they’re dry in about 8 hours (overnight or by the time I come home at the end of the day depending on when I hang them) the air is dry here. It’s amazing how little you need when you have a washing machine handy.
I mapped out my trip before leaving so I knew the basic roads and direction to Isle sur la Sorge. I found Blanche safe and sound, no scratches or bruises in the free parking lot.
I’m going east today, where Uzes was west, so I’m not sure of which road to take out of town. Quickly I discover the signs aren’t as clear as they are to Uzes, but I find my way out of Avignon and arrive in Isle de la Sorgue without too much trouble at about 10:45. I have no idea where to park but as I enter the city I see a parking sign and turn, within seconds its clear, the lot is tiny and there’s a car ahead of me speaking to someone coming out of the lot making the universal gesture for – don’t bother, it’s full. The guy in front of me continues down the road and looks like he knows where he’s going so I follow, park behind him on a side street, then follow him right to the town center and market. Voila!
The market is mobbed! Wall to wall people, locals, tourists, tour groups, you name it. I’ve already explained my aversion to crowds in the Versailles blog and again I get that “get me out of here” feeling. I force myself to make the loop then head out along the river Sorgue, which is beautiful and the reason the town is visited by tourists. BTW – the market has much the same goods as Uzes, food looks wonderful but everything else, clothes, jewelry, etc is not quite as good quality as Uzes.
I can tell that normally the little cafes and restaurants along the river, water wheels from the old woolen mills, small bridges, and charming antique shops would make the town charming. A little light bulb goes off and I realize its a mistake to come to these towns on market days because the whole feeling of the town changes. I’m very glad I went to the Uzes market but I don’t need anymore markets!
I strolled around the non market area and actually came across a park by the river where there was a separate health related, very mellow, market going on. Lots of spas and massage therapists represented, natural medicine products, healing with herbs, stones, scents, and at the end there were several booths for Tahitian products and jewelry. At first they seemed so out of place with their colorful costumes But I remembered that Tahiti is part of French Polynesia which is an overseas collectivity of the France Republic just like St Barth. They are there in their polynesian garb but speaking French. I can’t understand what the signs are saying about the products or services but its peaceful and there aren’t people bumping into me.
After a quick cafe creme I’m heading back to the car. I’ve decided to go to Gordes. I saw a sign on my way to Isle sur la Sorge and know its not a Gordes market day. In hindsight I should have looked at my map of France before leaving – don’t you love hindsight! The detail on the map is non existent but I could have at least seen the general location. All my feeling good about French road signs and my sense of direction go out the window. On the way back I see no signs for Gordes and I’m almost back to Avignon before I pull over and look at the map and see I’m going in the wrong direction. I’m learning all kinds of good things today, like don’t take off blindly and expect to find your way.
Eventually I’m headed in the right direction and start seeing signs for Gordes. The road is gradually climbing and I know Gordes is a hill town. The climb is gradual (I have nightmares of my manual shift on a narrow, steep hill) passing more orchards and fields, its a beautiful part of France. Just at the beginning of town I spot a parking lot with a full sign, however just as I’m coming to it the barrier is removed and I zip in, someone has left and there’s a space. Four euro for as long as I want! There’s a bit of a walk up but to the town square but the scenery from up here is lovely.
There are few people, no tour buses, and its charming.
This is where I’m glad I put on my walking sandals with the thick sole and took off the ballet flats before I left! This is what you’re walking on – uneven stones on a hill – you need good thick soles and traction.
It’s now 2pm and I haven’t eaten – I picture a covered, quiet, restaurant with a fresh salad, so I walk a little out of the main square up a side street and find the perfect fit. Table for one and a glass of chilled rose and salad ordered I start talking to the couple at the next table. It started by asking him what the WIFI network for the restaurant is because I heard them ask the waiter. Then the girlfriend picked up on the conversation by asking me where I’m from. We ended up talking for the rest of the meal and they asked for a contact because they are coming to Avignon later in the week and perhaps we can have dinner. Perfect!
Juan is a Mexican computer programmer living in Amsterdam and Tal is from Amsterdam and they’ve been together for 8 years. Juan lived in Boston for awhile setting up the Blue Cross Blue Shield computer system. After that he started working for another company which ultimately sent him to Europe and eventually to Amsterdam.
Clearly in love with Tal, this is where he wants to stay and he’s learning Dutch. We talked about politics, food, transportation (biking is big in the Netherlands, cars are hugely expensive to own in Amsterdam) It was a great meal with a really nice and interesting couple. I hope we’re able to get together in Avignon.
I wandered all over Gordes for the next hour and a half then back to the car to find my way home. There are signs back to Avignon however coming from this direction I have to go through more of the town to get to my parking area and its rush hour.
More white knuckle and I make a wrong turn and end up back on the road to Nimes and Uzes and have to drive until there’s a roundabout to return. At least I know how to get to the parking from here. It’s difficult maneuvering around a new city but once you get the hang of it its fine and you feel accomplished.
Blanche is safely parked in a nice wide space – all ready for me tomorrow. One more chore is finding a baguette, its Sunday and nothing is open until I go to the section of the city where there is a tiny Moslem convenience store open and they still have baguette available. Not very hungry from a late lunch so a sandwich and bed early is the plan.
1. When you’re traveling alone and eating out try to find a table beside someone who looks like they might speak English then after a few minutes ask a question or make a comment and see if they are open to a conversation. It never hurts to ask and you’re leaving it up to them to either pick up the conversation or not. Most people are curious and social – and besides they’ve been traveling with their companion and are likely looking for more topics of conversation.
2. Before you leave in the morning plan out your day (including location and direction – if you have a good local map or GPS all the better. It’s great to be spontaneous and wander off the path if something looks interesting but you’d better know your way back. Next time I’ll print out maps of each area (I didn’t pack the big France map book I own but in hind site could have chucked some clothes and added it and been better off – live and learn)
3. There are comfortable shoes out there without looking like a dork. Find them! Good thick soles, good support, and traction.
4. When traveling solo ask strangers to take your picture (just chose a person who won’t run off with your camera!) I don’t think of this enough and have few pictures of myself in these
5. I originally chose Avignon because I thought it would have good public transportation to the surrounding towns but when I did more research I realized I’d be a slave to the transportation timetables and would end up seeing a lot less. I but the bullet and reserved a car. I was very nervous about driving, especially a manual shift car by myself in an unfamiliar area but did it and feel good about that. If it ended up being impossible I could have returned the car and chalked it up a lesson learned but its okay. Do I wish I had a car and driver to chauffeur me around – hell yes! But alas….
PLEASE PARDON THE TYPOS. I’M WRITING THESE POSTS QUICKLY SO I CAN GET ON THE ROAD AND I PLAN TO EDIT THEM LATER.