Avignon and the 11 hour train ride

So a couple of months ago, I had some expiring miles with Etihad and didn’t know what to do with them. I discovered that I could actually book a bunch of hotels with the miles that I had and thus, the search for an end of summer trip began.

I knew that I didn’t want to spend much as it was an unexpected trip, so when OUIGO suddenly announced a sale, I pounced. There were several places in the south on offer like Marseille, Montpellier, Bordeaux… but in the end I decided to go with Avignon just because I wanted it to be a chill long weekend (and also it was the one with the best schedule for my weekend).

And I mean I just wanted to go coz like everyone and their grandma has been to Avignon and I’ve never visited it!

So off we go!

Transportation: OUIGO

So like I mentioned, with the OUIGO tickets I scored from Lille Flandres to Avignon TGV, I only had to pay 64 euros for the tickets back and forth – which is an extremely good deal considering the distance.

From Avignon TGV, you still have to take another 10 minute TER train to Avignon center, but that costs like 1.60 euros and the trains are quite frequent.

TER to Avignon Center

Hotel: Autour de Petit Paradis

I loved loved the ambiance of this place. Quintissential south of france vibes. The lady at the reception was also super nice and took time to explain the city, what to do, where to walk around and where to have dinner.

P.S. The owners, much like almost every store owner or waiter in this city, speaks perfect English.

It’s not really in the center and there is around a 10 minute walk to the Palais des Papes, but it’s all still doable and the whole city is pretty much walkable anyway.

Getting your bearings

What I loved:

Braderie

I unexpectedly arrived at the tail end of a week-long braderie, which was terrible for my wallet because I didn’t plan to go shopping, but quite fun because – well duh, it’s shopping AND discounts. There’s also something about the style in the south, it’s really more bohemian and artistic so it was quite nice to browse through the stores and have a different feeling that going shopping in Belgium.

Braderie feels

Palais des Papes

I am not a big fan of museums or palace museums, especially not a combination of both. Loire Valley – I’m looking at you. BUT, I quite enjoyed Palais des Papes.

The entrance of Palais des Papes

Vibrations – Night illumination at the Palais des Papes courtyard

So when the lady at the hotel told me about it, I was like, yeah whatever if it’s paying I’m not going. But after dinner, I found myself still with energy and doing nothing seemed wasteful, so I went to get myself a ticket for the show. I bought the combination illumintation, entrance to the Palais for the daytime and entrance to the Pont d’Avignon coz it was only a few euros more expensive than just seeing the illumination.

So the illumination is basically wall projections on the 4 walls around the courtyard. It’s 30 minutes long and it’s actually quite spectacular. I do recommend it for anyone who can still catch it. I think it only lasts until the fall.

Tour of the Palais

Like any old palace that is now unused, the place is pretty much devoid of all the grandeur it once had and is now mostly composed of empty white rooms. However, one thing the Palais des Papes has going for it is that amazing piece of technological marvel that is their AV guide.

I’m calling it an AV guide because it’s a tablet which shows you videos and tells you stuff. It’s super cool because there’s some sort of GPS tracking on it that tells you automatically where you are or asks you to scan some code in the middle of the room to start telling you something and showing you videos. The best part of it is that it shows you through the tablet, a picture of how it could have looked like when the popes still used the palace.

Magical tablet

Anyway, I found that I quite enjoyed the tour just because the guide was interactive and I didn’t have to like scan 10,000 objects to get an idea of what I was looking at.

Pont d’Avignon (from the ile de la Barthelasse)

One of the most well-known pictures of Avignon is always the pont d’Avignon or as it is actually named Pont Saint-Bénézet . There’s even a children’s song about it but I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t know about this song until I went.

I mean honestly the thing is not that impressive. It’s broken halfway and it’s not really that interesting up close. If you go to the other side of the bridge though, to the ile de la Barthelasse, the view is super nice of the pont.

On the actual bridge
View from Ile de la Barthelasse

To go to other side, you can either take a quick ferry trip (which is completely free) or walk on a bridge (not the pont d’avignon one, another one that’s actually useful)

The ferry to the island

When I went to the Ile, it was a Sunday and there was a picnic event on the island. It was quite a nice time to see all the families gathered and chilling out in the grass in the perfect sunny but not too hot weather. There were some food stands as well that were set up so I ended up being able to chill out and have some pastries on the grass while admiring the pont across the river. European life! Lol

Sunday picnic
The ferry line and where you can get the great view

Rocher Des Doms

After the trip to Ile de la Barthelasse, right in front of the ferry station are stairs going up the Rocher Des Doms. It’s a park with great views of the city.

There’s a small cafe on top in case you need some energy after the climb.

Food at au jardin des carmes

Sadly I was only able to eat at one of the restaurants recommend to me, but damn, it was so good. One of the best meals I’ve had in some time.

The risotto (which visually looks terrible) is highly recommended!

What I didn’t like

My train ride home

So normally a train ride from Avignon to Lille takes 3 hrs and 50 something minutes.

My train ride home took me 11 hours.

The day was already off to a bad start coz I ended up having to run from the hotel to the Avignon center station. At the Avignon TGV station, I ended up having to cancel my pastry order at Starbucks because their card machine wouldn’t work and the only ATM machine in the vicinity also wasn’t working. I ended up seeing an Eric Kayser boulangerie so was able to buy something from there.

In any case I needn’t have hurried because our train never left Avignon until like 2 hours later. We left Avignon quite late, only to go BACK TO MARSEILLE – WHICH IS FURTHER SOUTH. There was apparently a problem with the head of the train on the north side and they tried to fix it for a while, but then decided it’s best just to return to Marseille and get a new head of the train there.

Our slightly defective train at the Marseille station

So off we went to Marseille – I’ve never been so I guess I can just finally say now I have??? After a coffee stop and paying 0.90(!!!!) cents for the toilet – coz at this point the toilet in the trains were godawful, we were given some “assistance” in the form of food. Which would later turn out to be a lifesaver for me when hunger finally struck.

0.90 euros for the bathroom

So 4 hours later from the original train departure, I was still in Marseille,  even further from where I started, when in fact I should have already been in Lille at this time.

Finally after an hour we left Marseille to head for Avignon, then Lyon. At this point there was ZERO announcement on when we would finally get to Lille. At Lyon, we stopped at Perrache, which was NOT a scheduled stop. A bunch of people boarded and since everyone was already sitting down, the rest of the people stood on the aisles. Chaos ensued. Nobody knew wtf was happening.

Finally we went to Lyon Part Dieu and deposited all the extra people there.

FINALLY FINALLY – as we left Lyon they finally announced the plan. Next stop was Paris, but everyone continuing on to Lille had to change trains in Marne La Vallee. YAY FUN.

We finally arrived in Paris at almost 9pm and hurriedly changed trains. I snagged myself a first class seat which in NO WAY makes up for the amazing train journey that I was experiencing. But hey I finally have an electric plug to charge my phone. Oh and they gave us this weak ass “assistance” of water, biscuits and weird vanilla juice.

“Dinner”

And so finally, we arrived in Lille, close to 10pm, 12 hours from the time I left Avignon.

The most amusing thing was I received a mail from Ouigo, 5 AND A HALF HOURS AFTER ESTIMATED ARRIVAL that our train was late.

In the end, I received back a coupon for the full amount of the train ticket I paid (which is not a lot to compensate for the 12 hour travel).

Like I would still take Ouigos even though their service can potentially suck… but hey I got fed, I got home so all is well with the world.

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