Trip Report - 3 - Weeks - Solo to France

Oct 28th, 2003, 11:54 AM
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Arrived in Avignon in a train station that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. Very space age. Got a taxi right away. The driver did not speak english, but gave a guided tour into town, pointing out all the important sites, the walls surrounding the city, the various Ports, the Centrale train station, the tourist office.

Well, so.. my hotel. The Hotel Blauvac. It's very old, on a quiet street just one street over from the main street and very close to the main square, Place Horloge. My room was a far cry from Lyon. It was very quaint, but very small and very dark. Also no elevator, but at least it was on the first floor. My window faced another bldg. across a tiny walkway between buildings and the window only opened about 6". I just could not imagine staying in this room for 5 days! so I asked if I could be moved to a bigger, brighter room. He assured me that he would move me at the first opportunity (2 days later). I also noticed a very strong odor, like the worst bathroom deodorant you've ever smelled, coming from the bathroom, actually coming from this contraption on the wall that had the words RENTOKIL on it. This thing seemed to turn on and off with a clicking noise. Could this be a bug killer? Oh no. I found if I closed the bathroom door it was better. I was worried that the smell would permeate my clothes, which I refused to take out of my suitcase. But then I was worried if I closed the door, that giant bugs would be coming out of the woodwork. I also found I had to use a clothes pin (yes folks, I am prepared), to close the curtains so the people in the next building would not see me in my underwear, or worse.

I decided to take a walk and check out Avignon. Seemed a little dirty to me, lots of dog poop. I had lunch on the Place Horloge a tartine w/eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, olives and cheese. Very good. I walked up to the tourist office and made reservations for a Lieutard bus tour to St. Remy for the Wed. a.m. market and got a bus schedule and a map. I bought some wine, cheese, olives and chocolate for my room and decided to try to find an Internet Cafe, which I found, but in the process got horribly and hopelessly lost. I actually started to feel a little panicky as I had no idea what direction I was even going in. I could have walked miles from where I thought I was going. I must have looked lost because a sweet little old guy stopped me and asked, in french, where I wanted to go. I told him and he pointed and did little walky fingers in the direction I should go. I did eventually find my way back to the main street, but it was a little scary. I was a little hesitant from then on about walking those little windy back streets. I had dinner that night at probably a very touristy place, but I was too tired to go searching for anything else. Actually it was quite good, fish soup with garlic/mayo croutons, grilled steak with haricot verte and a decadent chocolate ice cream. Pre-fix menu, 16E. not bad.

I made an executive decision the next morning (good thing about traveling alone, no one argues with you)to not go to Isle Sur la Sorgue. I found myself getting a little stressed about the bus schedule and how and when I would get back, etc. I also was tired, the RENTOKIL kept clicking all night and I had dreams of giant bugs. Anway, I decided I'm on vacation, I don't have to do everything on my list and instead decided to have a leisurely Sunday in Avignon. The desk guy told me about a "hole" in the wall, which put me right by where the boat cruises departed from and I then strolled along the river to the Pont Saint Bernezit. Paid 3E to walk out on it - save your 3E. The wind had started to blow and it was getting rather cold I then walked over the Papal Palace, which was very interesting with a good audio guide. When I came out, it was really blowing and had started to rain. I stopped for lunch at Le Jaqemart on Place de l' Horloge and had a galette w/salmon and lemon cream sauce - very good 8.40 E. After a little nap and some reading, I bundled up and headed out for a walk and maybe some dinner. Well... EVERYTHING was closed up tight. It's a good thing I had some bread, cheese and olives left in my room. About this time I decided that I was not too crazy about Avignon. It was really dirty, garbage all over the streets, lots of dog poop everywhere and it just did not have a friendly feel to it. The cold didn't help.

Barb is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 01:49 PM
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Very much enjoying your report, Barb. How did you book the Hotel St. Jacques in Paris...I can't find a web site for them.

It sounds like my kind of place. Thanks for any help, and I'm looking forward to the rest of your report.
Jim_Tardio is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 02:35 PM
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Jim: The Hotel St. Jacques is at I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Avignon contin.

Monday morning I took the bus up to Villenueve. It was a very short ride just over the bridge. It is so quaint, quiet and beautiful there. No tourists, and just not many people in general. I walked up a steep, rather primitive path to St. Andre Abby, which was unfortunately closed on Mondays. I continued up the path to the top of the hill where the views were just awesome. I then just explored the old town and came upon a really lovely little hotel, Hotel de l' Atelier, 5 Rue de la Foire. It was so charming, little sitting areas, a little garden, very cozy and the rates were extremely good. A superior double was only 78 E in hi season and 70 in low season. I was shown one of the rooms, which overlooked the little garden, very nice.

I had a lunch of omelet, bread and a glass of wine at a cafe just around the corner from this hotel. I really enjoyed this place. Everyone knew each other here, some even brought their little dogs in. It was warm and so inviting. I could have spent hours there, just soaking up the atmosphere. Took the bus back to Avignon and decided to take the 1 hr. river cruise. In my opinion, it was really a waste of money as there was really not much to see. When I returned to my hotel, I was told I could move to a bigger room the next day for 10 E. more. I was happy to pay it.

I had dinner that night at D'Ici et Ailleurs, which was just around the corner from my hotel. This was a really good find. The decor was down to earth elegance. The 1st course was a vegetable terrine, eggplant and zucchini, cool and delicious. I then had pork filet medallions in a delicate mushroom sauce, with tiny roasted potatoes and hazlenut ice cream for dessert. 30 E.

Tues a.m. I took an early bus to Arles. I met a very delightful couple from Glascow on the bus and we chummed around Arles together. Went to the Fondation Van Gogh, a small collection of his sketches, letters, and some prints and then just strolled through the streets, stopping for lunch at a sidewalk cafe. We then walked along the river back to the bus station. A really nice morning with great company. I really liked Arles. A very clean and lively little town. It just had a really good feel to it.

When I got back to the hotel I moved into my new room, what a difference a room makes. It was 3x the size of the small room, with high ceilings a large bathroom and no bug killer. The window was large and the room was bright. That evening I went to Mama Leone's for dinner. Very good pasta with garlic, oil, fresh tomatoes and basil. A nice fresh salad, bread and a very good small bottle of wine. 17 E. The owner, was this very frenetic woman who was just flying around the restaurant with a very solemn look on her face. Not the most relaxing place, which was too bad because it was so cozy (13 tables) and very atmospheric.

I was awaked at 3:30 a.m. by sounds of the people in the next room obviously having a very good time, if you know what I mean. This went on for a good 45 min. I was again awakened at 7:00 a.m. with an encore performance!! I had to turn the tv on to drown them out. I took the Lieutard bus to St. Remy for the Wed. a.m. market. What a fabulous little town and what a wonderful market. I was wishing I had a huge suitcase w/ someone to carry it for me. It had everything imaginable, clothing, jewelery, linens, ceramics, art, fruit, vegetables, cheeses, meats, olive oil, breads, just awesome. The only downside was the Mistral was really blowing and it was bitter cold. I will definitely come back and stay here. Went back to the hotel at noon to freshen up before my afternoon on Lieutard to the Luberon and guess what, my neighbors were at it again. I wondered if they had even left their room. I was hoping they would be worn out by that evening.

I had a really great afternoon. I visted Gordes and Roussillon. Gordes is a small hilltop town that was very beautiful and much smaller than I thought it would be. Again, not many people there. The views of the countryside below were so lovely - took tons of photos here. Rousillon is also a hilltop village built on red clay cliffs. Wonderful little town that was pretty much closed up while I was there, with the exception of a few nice little galleries and shops. The bus trip through the Luberon was so relaxing and enjoyable, I would highly recommend it. Very picturesque with little stone farmhouses, grapevines and lots of material for future paintings.
Got back to Avignon about 7:30 p.m. and just bought a quiche, grapes and a bottle of wine and had dinner in my room. I packed up my suitcase and turned in early - leaving tomorrow a.m. for my last train trip - to Nice.

Nice to be continued.
Barb is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 03:08 PM
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Thanks, Barb!! Great report!
I bought my ticket a week ago to go to Paris alone next April and your report is very encouraging!
anotherjudy is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 03:24 PM
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anotherjudy - I hope you enjoy traveling solo as much as I do. I met so many wonderful people along the way (didn't really get into that in my report), that I never really felt that alone. When you are solo, people are much more inclined to approach you. You must be willing to step outside of your comfort zone a little and take that first step in talking to people too. That is if that's what you want. There were times when I really did just want to be alone and I could do that. I did not feel that I got treated any differently in restaurants and actually in some, I thought I got treated special. The only negative is not being able to share expenses and therefor it can be more expensive to travel solo. Yes, there were times when I thought it would be nice to share a special moment, place or view with someone, but those times were fleeting and replaced with so many wonderful pat yourself on the back moments. You really do learn how strong and capable you really are. I hope you have a wonderful trip.
Barb is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 04:06 PM
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Thanks for the link to St. Jacques, Barb...I've bookmarked it.
Jim_Tardio is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 05:49 PM
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Fascinating report! A great read, Barb! Thanks so much!

Yes, a good hotel room has a tremendous influence on how one regards a particular city!


jason888 is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 06:31 PM
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Love the report, Barb. Way to charm the pants off Paris! And "Rentokil"? Eek! Can't wait for the next installment. Thanks!
Kay_M is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 07:45 PM
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Hi, Barb.
I have only spent one weekend on my own in Paris. And I really enjoyed it. I could set my own schedule/itenerary. I went to nice restaurants/bistros alone and didn't feel odd. So here I go for a week of it. Would love to hear from other "solos".
Thank you for the encouragement.
anotherjudy is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 08:30 PM
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What a fun report to read. Thanks, Barb.
Mary_Fran is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 07:59 AM
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Barb? I love this report! Beautifully written and dare I say it... you've got a spiritual side to you too! AND you've got moxy! I read where that in France, "women of a certain age" and attitude get called "une femme avec chien"... A woman with Dog. I read that that is a VERY respectable thing to be called!
But poor me, the Saint Jacques was all booked for the night I need a hotel next month! Pooh... I wanted to be like Audrey Hepburn and meet a Cary Grant type! HAHAHAHAHA... so? The Relais du Louvre looked nice too.
Oct 29th, 2003, 08:33 AM
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Barb: Loving your report!

We went to Paris and Provence last year and I am now enjoying wonderful memories through your facinating writing style! While you stayed in Avignon and did day trips to Arles and St. Remy, we stayed in Arles and did the opposite. Avignon was O.K., but I too loved Arles and St. Remy.

I am planning to go back to Paris for a week next spring, and there is a chance my travel partner may cancel, so I have given some thought (with much trepidation) to going solo. After reading of your wonderful adventures, I am beginning to think it is something I could do and really enjoy.

Looking forward to the rest of your report.
TravelerGina is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 09:10 AM
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Okay, here's the final installment - hope I'm not boring you and please forgive typos or spelling errors.

The train to Nice was packed and made many stops on the way to Nice. It did not have the usual luggage racks at the end of the car, but only the overhead bins and spaces between some seats, which was too small for my bag. So, I had to leave my bag between cars, but luckily my seat was at the end of the car so I could keep an eye on it and I got up and stood by it each time the train stopped. Luckily the man sitting across the aisle from me offered to lift my bag up to the overhead bin. I can't believe he did it as it was so heavy. It was a beautiful trip along the coast and I was so excited when I caught my first glimpse of the Med., palm trees, bright blue sky, pink and ochre buildings. I have never seen water that color before. When I arrived in Nice a very nice young girl who had been sitting across from me, w/o my even asking, took my suitcase from me and lifted it off the train onto the platform!!

I have to say, I was a little surprised at how big Nice was. Took a taxi to the hotel - Hotel Flots d'Azure, 101 Promenade des Anglais, The receptionist told me there was a problem with the shower in the room I had reserved and she was not sure how long it would be until it was fixed, but in the meantime they would put me in another room, which was up one more floor (no elevator) and no balcony. I was pretty upset. I had been so looking forward to sitting on my balcony. Well the room was very cute, a huge floor to ceiling french door type window, which opened onto the most fab view of the water. I thought this would not be bad until I could move into the room I had reserved. I didn't see the bathroom though and when I asked where it was, hoping it was not down the hall, she pointed to this closet! Yes, I opened the "closet" doors and there was a miniature bathroom, the sink was the size of a small bowl, when I sat on the toilet, which was flush against one wall, my knees stuck out into the room. Funny tho, the little tiny shower had a shower curtain, good drain, and lots of hot water. I took a picture of this set up because I thought no-one is going to believe this.

For the first time this trip, I decided to sign up for breakfast. 6.50 E. I thought it might be a good opportunity to talk to other guests and get some good info on stores, restaurants, etc. Ha, I only saw one other guest the 7 days I was there. I absolutely felt like I had that whole hotel to myself.

The receptionist told me it was a 20 min. walk along the Promenade to the main street, Ave., Jean Medicin. So, I shed all my heavy clothes, broke out a tank top, tied a cardigan around my shoulders and headed down the Promenade. After walking about 15 min. while taking in all the sights and sounds & nude sunbathers, I decided to stop and have lunch at @ Forum Plage (beach). I had a huge Salade Nicoise, bread and a small carafe of wine. I asked the waiter if I could move my table onto the the tiny pebble beach (a very Shirley Valentine moment). It was a strange little place, all locals there, playing some kind of card game. The waiters were so laid back and just kind of sat around. I was beginning to think seriously of renting one of their chaises 9.50 E. and an umbrella 4.50 E. and just hanging out there for a couple of days, lol.

I then walked leisurely up to Ave. de Verdum to Ave. Medicin to Blvd. Victor Hugo, doing a little window shopping along the way. I found a market (Casino) on Blvd. Gambetta and bought some staples as I had a little fridge in my room. wine, water, cheese, salami, olives, pate, almonds, grapes and a bagette. I had NO idea how far it was back to my hotel and by the time I got there and walked up the two flights to my room, I was exhausted and sweating. I then discovered that none of the lights in my room worked, except for the 25 watt bulb hanging from the ceiling and the 15 watt bulb in the closet/bathroom. Also, no remote for the tv, which only had 4 channels. I was tired and just decided to call it a day, dine on my balcony and just watch the sun set, ahhhh.
Barb is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 09:15 AM
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Woops, I meant dine while sitting by my window and watching the sun set.
Barb is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 09:32 AM
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Hi Barb,

What a great trip and trip report. I've not been to Lyon but I'm putting it on my list of places I want to go to.

Thanks for sharing.
adrienne is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 10:46 AM
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Nice continued:

After eating breakfast, ALONE, I walked to the tourist office, 20 min. and armed with maps, train/bus schedules, I did the Rick Steves walk through Old Nice. His directions were right on and easy to follow. I strolled through the street market which was very large and colorful. Wonderful flowers, veggies/fruit, marzipan fruit so amazing I had to take a picture of them. I found Theresa's "socca" stand (chickpea crepes), which was so good. I met a guy from Seattle there who told me there had been a bombing early that morning not far from there. They thought it was Corsican rebels, not terrorists. Luckily no one was killed, a few injuries and a lot of damage to the building that was bombed. The tiny sreets of "Vieux Nice" were just wonderful to explore. Lots of interesting shops and galleries. I found my way up to to Castle Hill. Views from there made the climb up so worth it. I awarded myself with a nice cold beer. It was very hot, what a contrast from Avignon. I walked down to Place Rossetti and had a chocolate/orange ice cream at Fennochio's - yum.

I then walked miles and finally found the Chagall Museum. Even tho I am not a huge Chagall fan, it was pretty awesome to be standing in front of one of his huge pieces, so it was certainly worth the walk. I had a glass of wine and olives at a sidewalk cafe and decided that after all my walking, I would have a really good dinner that night. There began the huge dilemma I had every day while in Nice. It was such a long walk back and forth to my hotel and I never did quite figure out the buses. By the time I got back to Nice after doing day trips, it was too early for dinner as most restaurants do not open until at least 7:00 p.m., so do I go back to hotel and then back to town for dinner and then walk back to my hotel after?

I did figure out #12 bus, which ran every 30 min to my stop and went to the train station. A few times I just walked, about 40 min.

That evening I had a really good pizza and salad at Tavern Messina on Ave. Messina, which is a pedestrian only street with restaurants and shops.

The local trains are very cheap and very easy to use. I did day trips by train to Cannes, Antibes, Monaco and Villefranche Sur Mar.

After two nights I was moved to the room with the balcony. It also had a large normal bathroom. The room was pink with a pink chenille bedspread, just like when I was a kid.

The street market at Cannes was great, got some good buys. I could have spent more time there, but had to get the train to Antibes. Loved Antibes with it's walled old town. Had a really good lunch at La Forge and visited the Picasso Museum. It was a pleasant surprise, the building and views from there were beautiful.

My impressions of Cannes, Antibes and Monaco/Monte Carlo, MONEY!! huge beautiful yachts, expensive cars, everyone in such good shape, lol. Old men, young women, no one is fat. Old guys on racing bikes, old ladies topless on the beach, everyone was living life with such gusto!

I spent a whole day in Villefranche Sur Mar, my absolute fav place. I would stay here next time and use it as my base. The little cobblestone streets wtih covered passages w/hardly anyone else there was so wonderful. I had lunch at Le Trastevere a harbor cafe. Calamari, octupus, large shrimp and very tiny little fish about the size of my little finger, but thinner. At first it was hard to eat something while it was looking at you, but they were so good, I got used to it. The little harbor just sparkled. It was a very relaxing day. I visited some nice galleries, especially Monique Bornstein, right above the harbor.

I also took the bus to St. Paul de Vence. I was warned this could be a real tourist trap, but I was very pleasantly surprised - not hordes of tourists, some great galleries, which as an artist I could really appreciate. I had lunch at a very charming little place with great views of the hills - La Petite Chapelle - warm goat cheese salade with a veal dish that was just scrumptious. 25E.

On my last night in France I sat on my balcony enjoying the last views of the Med as the sun set, savoring all the wonderful experiences I had enjoyed. My only slight disappointment is with the food and I think it was probably due to the fact that I was often not able to really understand the menu, so maybe I could have ordered better if I knew what it was.

So here are some thoughts and observations on France.

..France is "easier" than Italy, even tho Italy is my first love.

..Teenagers give up their seats on metro, buses, etc. to old people.

..Crossing most streets is not a suicidal experience and I did not have to hide behind one nun.

..Unless you go to very expensive restaurants, the food is good, but it's not Italy.

..Transportation is amazingly easy.

..More French people speak a little English, than English-speaking people speak French.

..You can dress anyway you want, Paris is the only place where I did see a few fashion patrols. I wouldn't wear white sneakers or wear a fanny pack tho.

..The French people are gracious, reserved, friendly, but a little conservative. I experienced no anti-American sentiment. Just dont' expect the waiters to introduce themselves and tell you what the special of the day is.

I hope my report will encourage other women thinking about going it solo to just do it. It's very easy and with some good pre-planning it is very empowering.

I met so many wonderful people along the way, sharing lunches, dinners, train and bus rides. I never felt lonely.

So... I'm planning my next great adventure - Paris, Lyon, Rome, Umbria???? mmmmm
Barb is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 03:21 PM
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fabulous report. you are a good writer.
yipper is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 03:34 PM
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Great read Barb. Thanks! I've always found France to be a great place to travel solo.

I loved Italy (culture, food, people, art etc.) But really got tired of the hassles related to being female. I'll stick to France if and when solo-ing.
klondike is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 03:55 PM
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Klondike - I have to agree, at least with regard to transportation. I found it much easier to get around in France than in Italy and the people in metro, bus and train stations were much friendlier and usually spoke a little english and went out of their way to try to help, like giving directions, or telling you what platform to go to. In Italy I got used to that shrug and raised eyebrows everytime I would ask a question from a ticket seller, or even info offices in stations. That said, I do love Italy and will not hesitate to go back.
Barb is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 04:59 PM
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What a great trip and great writing! I feel as if I experienced a little of this with you.Many more happy travels!!
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