In my head my French is great ...

Trip Start Sep 03, 2011
Trip End Jun 04, 2012

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Where I stayed
Presbytery, Pont Saint Esprit

Flag of France  , Languedoc-Roussillon,
Sunday, March 18, 2012

... then I open my mouth to speak and I sound like a bogan at the bus mall with food in my mouth. But I am trying. Actually everytime we go to Avignon we get to practice our French with the lady's voice that announces the next stop, like "prochain arret Gendamerie" or pronounced "pro chen arre shon da merry". Our French may get there thanks to the Avignon to Pont Saint Esprit bus service.

It has been nearly three weeks and the lapsed time since I last posted dictates that I need to share again. Just having a flat and basing ourselves in France feels very "chic"even though we are just in a small "provincial" (got that word from the opening song in the Disney movie "Beauty and the Beast") town in the South of France. I also think I have watched too many reality shows of Brits going to set up house and live on the continent ... I keep imagining us renovating some old French farmhouse, barn or utility building ....

Our money spent on Eurail passes requires us to travel to make the most of the cost, but to use on fast trains and on international trips we need need to book and pay booking  and nominal fees, usual story we have to spend money to save money, but it all works out. so we have been taking some smaller trips while we are here.

Avignon, known as the "City of Popes" has become our regular pit stop while we wait for buses and trains. In 1309 the French Pope Clement V was elected and because of pre-existing issues declined to go to Rome so he moved his court to the papal enclave of Avignon. 7 popes lived in Avignon until  1377 when  Gregory XI moved the papal court back to Rome, they took all the paintings, marble, everything stripped the palace and just left this huge stone building. So now it has been left with the title of City of Popes and a Grand empty old palace to add to its history. Avignon was originally settled by a Gallic tribe, then the Romans came through, the Goths, Franks, Saracens then it was taken, passed or traded to different Kings, Princes and kingdoms until the city was sold to Clement VI for 80,000 florins on 9 June 1348. It belonged to the Papacy until the French  Revolution where it became a part of France. They citizens of Avignon did try their hand at independence and a republic in the 1200s but the French King at the time came and crushed that movement, following the defeat, they were forced to pull down the ramparts and fill up the moat, the city wall still stands today. It is a wonderful city to roam through with the old part of the city within the city walls.
We have friends in Brisbane, Luc and Mary Dubreuil. Campbell was at Nundah State school with Xavier. Luc is from Lyon and he would talk about this ancient city with its old buildings and cobblestone streets, so as soon as I knew we were going to France I knew I wanted to see Lyon and I loved the way he would say the name "Lee yon".  So early one morning Hannah, Samuel and I  made our way up to Lyon. We couldn't get up on the fast train so we headed back to the normal station to catch the normal train. We got their shortly after 11.30am. It was a cool but beautiful day. With only the map I had loaded on my IPad we were after the old part of Lyon so headed to towards the Rhone river and hoped for the best. Bingo we were headed the right way, as we approached the river the buildings became older and the river offered spectacular views of city along the river and the old city up along the hills. We just caught the Monday market along the river as they were packing up but had a quick look. With the time we had left before we had to jump back on the train to catch the last bus to Pont Saint Esprit, we managed to find the Cathedrale St Jean and square, the ancient Roman ruins and roam the  cobblestone lanes and alleys of the old part of the city. We viewed from below the stunning Basilica on the hill and made plans to come back and climb up to see it.
We only got 3 hours in Paris so after consulting the map we decided that we would see the Eiffel tower and Notre Dame and enjoy the walk and take in Paris. Another surreal experience, just not believing we were in Paris walking along the Seine River. As we approached Notre Dame we noticed the padlocks on the bridge with the names of Lovers scratched onto the locks like in Montevideo. But to be at Notre Dame all you could think of was Quasi Modo, the gargoyles and the gypsies! From there we headed in the direction of the Eiffel Tower and we kept a look out for its distinctive sight. Just before the museum de Orsay Andrew noticed two dodgey guys to the rear of us, so he pulled back, next thing the police pull up and bale up the two guys. We figure we had been very lucky as we may have been their targets but we walked away just being a little more cautious. We stopped to get some baguettes so Hannah could take her authentic French shot with her French stick and little French mustache she made in front of the Eiffel Tower. But I tell you when we got to the corner and we could see the tower it was very exciting as it got closer and closer. Then when finally got there, goosebumps and the giggles, we were at the Eiffel Tower. We took our obligatory photos and then headed off to make our train home so we could make the last bus back to Pont Saint Esprit. We missed our 1507 train so we were told to jump on the next one at 1707 and that because we missed our train they should seat us. But we would still get back 5 minutes after the last bus left the station. One thing about traveling is the panicked problem solving when things go belly up,  it usually costs money! By the time we rolled in the bus had definitely gone, we still had 12 minutes before it left the last stop in Avignon ... Taxi, we will catch a taxi, no big taxis and there is 5 of us, so we will have to go in 2. So we race to Port D'Loulle and just make it with minutes to spare otherwise the final option was a hotel in Avignon. McGowns living on the edge! Phew, we made it home that night.

The days we are home in Pont Saint Esprit are pleasant and relaxing. It is a modest, gentle and adequate town with everything that we need. It is not too isolated and the 60km ride to Avignon only costs €1.50 and the villages or towns are only ever 2-10 kms apart. The weather has been pretty good with only a few windy days and the occasional cold days to complain about, and no rain! In our flat it is spacious and has heaters to keep us warm. Father Bertrand Daudade has been very friendly and helpful. He has offered to take us on a tour of the church bell tower, we just have to catch him to take him up on his offer.
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