Sunday, September 20, 2009

Day eleven Provence

It rained all night until the sun rose when it stopped and we managed to stay dry all day! For breakfast we went crazy at the bakery with three types of bread and some little choux buns glazed with sugar and little crispy bits of crunchy honeycomb.

Sitting by the banks of the Rhone.

An early start in the car took us to Avignon, one of the larger cities in Provence. The city centre still stands within ancient fortified walls. The city used to be known as the Pope's city and is centred around the Palais Des Papes and the cathedral supporting a giant gleaming gold statue of the Virgin Mary. The old city is very built up with thousands of apartments located above the ground level in nearly every building. The walled city only takes about 15 minutes to walk from one side to the other.

Atop the Cathedral Notre-Dame des Doms

The city is packed with boutiques and stores and swarming with trendies, fashionistas and posers strutting down the lanes and boulevards. It was today that we spent our first Euros on something other than food and drinks, Elysia picked up some bits and pieces ahead of the summer season back home.

One of the tiny streets lined with shops.

As well as thousands of locals, Avignon is a big centre for tourism. The town seemed packed with differing nationalities including gangs of middle aged Americans, many of whom were clutching various McDonalds products in their unmistakable packaging. Looking for a slice of home we speculated for a moment, but it did seem a shame to walk past hundreds of French cafes serving real food and coffee to get it.

Lunch was divided into three parts from three sides of the city. Firstly a ham baguette and a cheese tart from a little patisserie just off the main square. We then headed to Le Halles the local under-cover market (a bit like Victoria Market in Melbourne) where there was fish, meat and vegies as well as a huge selection of local olives. Tucked away in the furthest corner is a tiny oyster bar seating around 10 people, we stopped in for a plate of oysters (shucked to order) sitting on ice along with some freshly blanched shrimps and a little bowl of bulotes and mayonnaise to dip them in.

Les Halles.

The oysters were beautiful, fresh and salty. So good we had to have another half dozen. The prawns perfectly cooked and juicy. The bulotes (a kind of sea snail a bit like a whelk) were just boiled in their shells and served with a little bit of mayonnaise on the side. There was some rye bread and butter on the table when we arrived which was fresh and beautiful. The whelks were a real surprise very soft with a flavour a bit like abalone.

In Les Halles with the oysters, prawns and bulotes.

Les bulotes.

Les Halles in Avignon is an impressive building its exterior walls planted with hundreds of lush looking plants instead of bricks and mortar. Unfortunately when we arrived for oysters the other stalls were already packing up for the day. From there we headed across the walled city to a lane with the most exclusive boutiques and a large number of ice cream shops. We selected one that obviously made its own ice cream from the bank of industrial ice cream machines just behind the counter. The ice creams and sorbets all beautifully laid out behind thick frosty glass.

Elysia chose a raspberry a chocolate-hazelnut and a strange coffee/toffee flavoured ice cream (name escapes us). Iain: vanilla, pistachio and pamplemousse (or red grapefruit). The ice creams were made that day and perfectly textured, the sorbets refreshing and tasting only of fruit. We sat on the steps of a church with spectacular stained glass windows in the sunshine to eat our dessert watching people strut by with their little dogs and shopping bags.

Raspberry, choc-hazel and coffee/chicory ice creams

Pampelmousse, pistachio and vanilla ice creams.

We couldn't help but visit a tiny sweet shop it's windows stacked with nougat, toffee, caramel and boiled sweets. We bought lots!


Avignon is probably most famous for its partly-demolished medieval bridge with a children's nursery rhyme/song written about it, Sur le pont d'Avignon. The bridge juts out spectacularly from the city wall half way across the Rhone river. .... Why is it only half there?.... As we arrived there was an anti-nuclear protest with a massive banner attached to the ancient bridge. It didn't last long before it was pulled up by authorities.

The half finished Pont d'Avignon.

There are murals all over the city painted in old bricked up
windows of scenes from within the houses.

Once back home we began with dinner, the pigeons we bought yesterday paired with the rabbit loins and crowns. We braised some savoy cabbage and spec together with some white wine and a little of the rabbit braising juices from the night before.

The pigeon!

The dinner!

After dinner and cheese we headed up to the center of Caromb to see what was going on with the fete. The side shows were all lit up and blaring noise. A band was playing on a large stage - complete with go-go dancers.

Roulette wheel at the fete!

The Gee-Wizzer.

A lost puppy Elysia was taking advantage of.

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