gap of two years A great deal has happened. I got married for a start
so there will tend to be more "we"s and fewer "I's. (I
was advised by my railway training officer not to get married so that I
could devote all my energies to the railway - this was the beginning of
the end). I finished my training on the
railway and did a spell as Assistant Station Manager, Reading and then
down to Cardiff so we are living in a new rented house in Cwmbran. Pat
finished her teachers' training, taught for about a year at St. Birinus
school at Didcot and is now teaching at Abersychan - helps the money.
We have greatly enlarged our interests, particularly since, having our
own house, we now have a small collection of cacti and succulents as
well as an ever increasing collection of bottles filled with home-made
wine. Our range of photographic equipment is greatly extended and
Pat is beginning to take an active interest in my first 35mm
Voigtlander Vitoret camera. We have also become interested in birds and
bird watching. We have decided to make some entries in this diary
to record the more interesting events in our lives.
We spent most of August in Avignon with both sets of parents (Sybil and Bob Gillespie and Kit and Jim Churcher)
Tuesday 9 August
all met up at Victoria station and caught the 1530 boat train complete
with an old lady going to Athens and not certain how to get there, and
a small French boy who was going home. As soon as we started so
did the chatter and silly comments which persisted for the next few
"As I always say 'When in France do as Franco does'"
"Bring us a cup of tea in the morning Bob"
Boat trip, couchette reservations OK. Dad Churcher insisted on trying to take pictures of Paris at night.
Wednesday 10 August
awoke to a lovely blue sky, racing the cars along Route National 7
somewhere between Valence and Avignon. In spite of a check which
brought us to a stand at a level crossing, the electric locomotive
brought us into Avignon on time at 0634. We found that it wasn't
too far to the Hotel Central and, as it wasn't too hot, we walked
there. Very pleasant people at the hotel where we had an early
breakfast of rolls, butter and apricot jam and coffee or chocolate.
The jam came with real apricots if you were lucky or sneaky.
This was to become our standard Hotel Central breakfast, and very
good too especially because it was eaten in the open air.
We then had a walk around Avignon to the Parc Rocher des Doms which is very well looked after and with good views over:
The Pont St. Benezet
Villeneuve lez Avignon
Old Avignon town and suburbs
the Palais des Papes and Cathedrale de Notre Dame
are some pretty good shops and the Mums and Dads were quite surprised
to realize that the French were not all peasants. In fact the
standard of living is probably higher there - we didn't see much
Walking down to the river through the Allees des
Verduns we watched the locals playing petanque. We had a meal at
a workman's restaurant which was very good and quite cheap. It
was great fun and had a wonderful atmosphere (some would call it rowdy)
There were a lot of bicycles parked up against the wall outside - a
good sign. We will try to find something a little more chic in
future as Mums and Dads would prefer this.
There are a large
number of students, partly as a result of the Avignon festival and
partly because of Avignon's position as a natural route to the Midi and
the French coast. They are all impecunious, all try to earn money as
pavement artists (mort, ou est ta victoire?), none can draw and all
seem to hitch hike. As we walked around we were followed by four wasps
all telling the old family jokes in loud voices, sometimes to the
exclusion of realising what was going on around them. They said
that there were more dented cars here than in England and that the
French were worse drivers. I didn't think this was so - they just seem
to drive a little harder.
There were quite a few mosquitoes and mosquito netting was up against the bedroom windows.
Thursday 11 August
short excursion to the Rocher des Doms with its view over Villeneuve
lez Avignon whetted our interest in that place and so we bought a
picnic lunch in Avignon and walked across the modern road bridge over
the two branches of the Rhone and the Isle de Barthelasse. It was
only a short walk yet quite long enough in the fairly hot sun.
visitd the Tour Phillipe le Bel which was constructed to guard the Pont
St. Benezet. There is a very good view of the river and the Fort
St. Andre as well as the town of Avignon. The remains of the old
bridge could clearly be seen and the original course could be traced by the remains of one of the arches. We
were admiring the view when our visit was cut short by the custodian's
dinner time (1200). We came down and also had our lunch.
our food we walked through the town, past the hospice - musee, the
cloister and the church to Place Jean Jaures. From there we took
the Montee du Fort past well kept houses with lots of cacti, cats and
children to the Fort St. Andree. The entrance is set between two well
preserved towers. The notice said that it wasn't open until 1500 but
there were people inside and the custodian was obviously doing
business. We went in and asked him and he said it wasn't open
according to the notice but he was there and it was open! This
was our first encounter with the personality of the people from the
area - very pleasant, very friendly, happy go lucky and anxious to
please. The fort was interesting, very well preserved. Of special
note was the view from the entrance tower towards Mont Ventoux (we
resolved there and then to visit it) and the small 11th century Norman chapel of Notre Dame de Belvezet.
left the fort dying of thirst which was quenched in the Place Jean
Jaures. We all had citron presses and were served by a woman with
a Carcassonne accent and garlic breath. She was hard to
understand. Prices are lower than in Avignon.
experience of local temperament was when a man stopped his Citroen in
the middle of the street and went into a cafe for a drink and a chat.
His car was blocking the road and a big lorry caused a hold up.
The lorry driver didn't lose his temper but just waited patiently
until the man came back. The jam was cleared with lots of smiles
and grins. An old man walked across the square with a very small
puppy which was obviously going to be well trained and loved.
Three very old men, all with berets, staggered down the street to
a bar. They seemed to be supporting each other.
Friday 11 August
visited the Palais des Papes today. It was very interesting and well
worthwhile. There was a guided tour and, although there was a lot
of people, the guide was very good. He spoke sufficiently clearly
that I could understand him. We entered by the Guard Room then
went through the Cour d'Honneur which was being used as a theatre
during the festival. We then saw the Salle des Festins and the Kitchen
with its wonderful view over Avignon and a very tall chimney. The Salle
des Festins has four very good tapestries by Gobelin. The colours
were very vivid. Leading off the Salle des Festins is the Tour
St. Jean with the Chapelle St. Martial and the frescos of the saint's
life by Giovannetti. The frescoes have not been touched yet are
in excellent condition - the blues are especially vivid. We
passed through the Tour de la garde Robe with its frescoes to the Salle
de la Grande Audience with its vaulted roof and good echoes. All
in all a very good visit. In spite of the warm weather one of the
visitors was wearing a thick long sleeved pullover.
We lazed around in the afternoon and had a look in the shops.
Saturday 12 August
a short walk around this morning past the market and down the rue des
Teinturiers. This is shabby and very much a back street yet there
are several waterwheels, two of which still work although they don't
drive anything. Some of the wooden blades have become broken or
are missing with the result that the wheel stops and starts irregularly.
The Musee Calvert has
an interesting collection. There are some early paintings from
the Avignon school two of which were in glowing colours, not the normal
dull, faded colours. There were exhibitions of works by Joseph Vernet
(born in Avignon 1714-1789) with pictures of early Avignon showing the
Pont St. Benezet before most of it fell down. There is Calvet's
study with a telescope and a globe of the world. Up the staircase
with another Golelin tapestry there were more paintings. My
favourite was one by Breughel but there were also works by
Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Seurat, Vuillard, Vlaminck, Utrillo. Soutine,
Rouallt, Dufy and Daumier.
The musee garden was very pleasant
and cool in the late afternoon. There were some pea fowl who came
quickly for the biscuits which the Mums invariably carried. Dad
Gillespie managed to obtain some of the tail feathers by chasing the
peacocks over the lawn. They make a good deal of noise.
Sunday 13 August
went on a coach tour today as shown on the map above. The coach was
full and we were the only foreigners. Everyone was very jolly and
we had a great time. A large number were from Paris and, we presume,
the equivalent of French Cocknies.
The journey to Orange was
along the main road and there wasn't much of interest except that we
passed close to Chateauneuf du Pape. It is not particularly
imposing yet it produces good wine. At Orange we first had a look at
the Roman Arch. When we got back into the coach one man sat next
to the wrong woman which produced lots of ribald comments about wife
swapping. We then had a look at the Roman Theatre. It is a
very imposing structure that is still used for festivals. We also
visited a degustation actually inside the theatre in the caverns behind
the seats. Although my stomach was a bit upset I tried some Cotes
du Rhone served in a flat glass dish.
Just after leaving Orange
we were traversing an S bend when a Citroen coming the other way, took
the bend too fast, swerved to avoid the coach and finished up in the
ditch, narrowly avoiding a concrete post. Luckily the driver was
alright although he didn't move for a minute or so. We then had
to wait while the police came. Two groups soon developed, the
coach driver and his followers and the car driver and one or two
We continued on about an hour late with a view of the
Dentelles de Montmiraille, jagged mountains, and soon arrived at
Rasteau. We then attended another degustation. We took a
look at the wine making equipment, vats etc and then tasted the wine
which is of a port type. The French members of the party enjoyed
themselved particularly well.
We had lunch at Vaison la
Romaine at an excellent restaurant recommended by the coach driver.
A good meal - the best we have had so far. After lunch we
took a look at the bull ring which was being set up for the holiday on
Tuesday. The ring seems to be set up in a manner similar to
circuses in England.
The journey up Mont Ventoux was very
pleasant, first through pine forest, then among rock strewn slopes.
The white slopes, which look like snow from a distance, are
cleared for skiing during the winter. We had a brief look at a
four denominational church for skiers and then a quick visit to the
cold and windy summit. There were excellent views towards the
Alps, on a clear day one can see Mont Blanc. The view
southwestwards was very hazy although we could just make out Carpentras.
the journey down we passed a plaque to Tommy Simpson, the cyclist who
collapsed and died on the ascent of Ventoux - a pretty gruelling climb.
We stopped half way down and Pat and I found lavender
There was not much of note at Carpentras although
there was a quite a bit of life with a good group in a cafe in the
centre. A very fine Roman archway was blocked by a car. Our
driver got out and moved it himself while the owner stood by watching.
There are many small villages set on hillsides, all presumably
producing wine. This is typical Clochemerle country. The
approach to Avignon was made into the setting sun which made the
Dentelles de Montmiraille even more impressive.
It was a very
good day. Everyone shook hands with the driver who proved to be a
very good guide - he was forever telling us something interesting over
the coach loudspeaker. He was to become quite familiar to us with
his maroon shirt, dark glasses and white drivers' coat which he would
take off when he became hot.
Monday 14 August
much of note today, Had lunch in the Rocher des Doms then Pat and
I went to the Musee Lapidaire d'Avignon. There was not a great
deal of interest although it did help to bring home the richness of the
area as far as the Romans were concerned. Perhaps the most
interesting exhibits were the Roman mosaics which were quite good
although heavily restored.
Tuesday 15 August
is a public holiday. After lunch in the Rocher des Doms we went
across the ferry to the Ile de la Barthelasse. The ferry works by
the current of the Rhone. A cable is strung across and the boat
is attaxhed to it by a cable on amoveable wheel. The boat can
thus move freely across the river attached to the cable.
Propulsion is by means of the rudder, according to how it is set,
it will force the boat in one direction or the other. A very
simple arrangement and quite inexpensive to operate. We spent
some time on the island, mostly paddling.
On the way back we saw
some water jousting. Two boats with paddlers have a man with a
spear standing on a platform in the stern. Each man has a square
board strapped to his chest which forms the target. The object,
of course, is to knock your opponent into the water. A man in a rowing
boat is around to pick up the losers. The sports take place in a
pool in the Rhone under the Pont St. Benezet, it must have been pretty
deep because there was a diving contest from the bridge itself which is
We had dinner in the square.
Wednesday 16 August
we went on coach trip to the Abbaye de St. Michele de Frigolet,
passing the Moulin de Daudet on the way. We were the only people
on the coach which had the same driver as on Sunday. The Abbaye
is placed on a hillside away from habitation in very poor limestone
country. The hillsides are covered in herbs. Every plant is
fragrant. Mum Churcher was quite content to sit in the herbs,
picking them and trying each one. We had a tour through the old
church and monastery, The church is quite ornate and contained some
very fine early wood carvings. We saw the 12th century cloister,
the women were not allowed in there. It has a fine garden with a
well. We saw a crib with figures carved from olive wood - quite
unusual and very well done. The women couldn't come into the
had a snack at the Abbaye. I had just remarked how peaceful it
was when a coach party from Lyon burst upon the place which was
transformed. There was a great horde in the little cafe drinking
coffee with the liqueur and shouting at the tops of their voices.
The monk behind the bar, although sweating profusely, and
incidentally wearing a white pinafore, just took it in his stride.
Every body was served but in his own time.
which is made quite close, is distilled from the herbs that grow on the
hillside. It is very good indeed. One can taste that it is
made from herbs and not flowers. They even sold liqueur flavoured ice
cream. Dad Gillespie sampled the ice cream. He remarked
that with all the noise in the shop it would be a pennance to work in
there. The people were very friendly. I started a
conversation with a man from the coach party together with three lads
who were interested to learn that I was English. They wanted to
know the English for gherkins!
The coach picked us up at 1430
and took is on to Les Baux de Provence. Les Baux, which derives
its name from bauxite (aluminium) a red ore which is mined nearby, is a
ruined town and fortress strategically placed on a sheer sided rock.
This is a big destination for tourists and the 97 inhabitants are
geared up to extract as much money as possible from the unsuspecting.
the entrance to the "modern" town one can obtain small telephone type
objects which give a running commentary - talking guides. At the
entrance to the ruins there is an interesting film strip show which
gives an account of the history of Les Baux. It seems the local
lord revolted and was beseiged. When the fortress eventually
succumbed it was ordered that it be completely razed to the ground -
and they made a very good job of it. There were good views
looking over the fertile valley and good examples of honeycomb
weathering could be seen.
On our return to Avignon we had dinner
at the Restaurant St. Didier which provided an excellent four course
meal with bread, wine and service included for 8 francs each. Dad
Churcher asked about Decouvert a la Provencal. He was told at great
length with Pat translating and then decided not to have it. This
amused the patronne greatly. Pat and I decided to try this
excellent dish and Dad eventually tried it - much to the patronne's
delight. We have decided to use this restaurant, it is in a back
street, not very touristy and very good value for money (although Dad Gillespie was violently sick afterwards.)
Thursday 17 August
went to La Fontaine de Vaucluse on the 10.15 bus (Cars Arnaud - blue
and red buses) via Chateauneuf de la Cordagne, Le Thon and Isle sur la
Sorgue. We walked up the river valley and had a picnic lunch at a cafe
by the water. the water was very clear and there were many ducks and
some fish. We were amazed at the picnic habits of the French. No
sandwiches here, more a full grown meal. We walked up to La Fontaine
looking at a spring in the river Sorgue. At this time of year La
Fontaine is a deep, rockbound pool, at the foot of a high steep cliff.
In springtime the water level rises and La Fontaine cascades down
into the river.
We walked back to the square where we had
a citron presse and then Pat, Dad Chrcher and I climbed up to the
chateau, a steep gruelling climb in the hot sun. We wondered how they
had built the place and how they managed to provision it.
It must have been difficult to get an animal up there.
The speleological museum was interesting and unusual - the collection of stalagmites and stalactites was particularly good.
After watching a wedding we had a look along the river where we watched a couple of kingfishers.
Friday 18 August
third coach trip today, again with the same driver. This time we
went south via Arles to the Carmargue. There were more people in the
coach today including one woman in a pink hat (chapeau rose). She took
hundreds of photos with great rapidity and with no particular subject
in mind. She was always last back to the coach and when the driver was
asking who was missing the answer was invariably "chapeau rose".
went first to the Etang de Vaccares where we saw some scoters and
egrets but no flamingoes. We also saw two rollers on the roadside. Many
of the fields had white deposits of salt.
We had coffee by the
side of the lake where we watched the wading birds and the many
dragonflies. We then went along by the lagoon past M. Richard;s
ranch where the fighting bulls are trained and on to Les Saintes Maries
de la Mer where we had a break. Pat and I had a look at the Musee de la
Carmargue which shows many of the fighting bulls and specimens of all
the birds found in the Carmargue. We had a drink and then watched a
heron fishing in the lagoon - he caught a fish, flew off and then
dropped it. Many of the houses have thatched roofs which are
rounded at the northern end to help resist the strong mistral which
blows from the north,
We had a very quick swim in the Mediterranean which was very good in spite of the current. Dad Churcher borrowed my trunks.
left Les Saintes Maries and continued on past lagoons with birds and
also many riders to the zoo. There were many examples of
birdlife, indeed they even had blackbirds and thrushes, but they
weren't housed very well. I was pleased to get out.
next stop was Aigues Mortes, a town with good walls that died because
the sea receded (we went over the Canal du Rhone at Sete). Not much of
interest although the atmosphere was quite gay - in spite of another
funeral. We bought some excellent grapes at 1f40 per kilo (say 11d per
pound) which was unbelieveably cheap.
On next to St. Giles via a
by road which was used quite a lot by coaches. The driver remarked that
if all the coaches that went that way stopped the inhabitants would not
have many grapes to sell. He stopped to pick some ears of rice for us
to see to the delight of chapeau rose. St. Giles had quite an
atmosphere about it partly because it was dirty, decrepid and poor and
partly because it was late evening and the sun illuminated everythig
with a golden glow. There was a church with a typical Carmarguais iron
steeple (of which we saw many during our holiday). The driver took us
to the Syndicat d'Initiative which retains its amazingly well preserved
roman facade. We visited the back of the church which was destroyed
apart from a spiral staircase. This staircase is quite famous amoung
stone masons in that it is difficult to see where the steps merge into
the ceiling. Outside, the ruins of the church have scattered around
roman relics - the guide said they just sprinkled them around to
decorate the place.
On our way back we passed a generating
station which also provides water for irrigation. We passed through
Tarascon with its cement and paper factories and Beaucaire with its
twin castles on either side of the river Rhone - fine reflections in
Saturday 19 August
Pat and I went to Pont du Gard. We caught the 7.32 train from Avignon
to Remoulin. The diesel railcar had to reverse out over the Rhone to
Villeneuve lez Avignon. It appears that the units do not work in
multiple because we had a slow journey to Villeneuve but were alright
travelling in the opposite direction. We were soon in conversation with
an old lady who turned out to be a nun who doesn't wear a habit. She
was nearly 80 but was still very active. She had been teaching near
Dieulefit but was going to set up a school to teach foreigners French.
She had come down on the express from Montelimar and was going to
visit her brother at Remoulin.
We walked down into the town and
had a cup of coffee. We both wanted black coffee and I asked
correctly but the waiter made doubly sure as he didn't trust my French!
We saw the coach driver. We then walked 4 km along the road to
Pont du Gard. This is a magnificent roman aqueduct with three levels of
arches. It was built to carry the water high over the Gard river. We
walked first over the road which was constructed at the first level at
a later date. We then walked through the woods to the top of the
aqueduct and walked over the top on the stone slabs that cover the
water channel. There is a good view - and a nasty drop - of
course there were no handrails. We came back through the water channel.
It is about two feet wide and I couldn't stand up most of the
way. We followed the course of the water way through a tunnel and for
some way through the undergrowth. We then came down, had a drink,
walked back over the aqueduct and found a pleasant shady spot by the
river where we saw a kingfisher. There was quite a large bird
sanctury where the birds have it easy as there were many nest boxes.
We had a bite to eat and a swim in the river. It is quite shallow
except where it has cut into the opposite bank. The water there is deep
and there is quite a current. We found lots of fish, some about 4
inches long had a nibble at my feet, some were very difficult to catch
and some burrowed in the mud and were quite difficult to see. I
managed to catch about a dozen of these with my hands. I made a sort of
trap with stones but couldn't shut off the entrance quickly enough to
capture any of the quicker fishes. There were lots of mosquitoes
in the woods. My fishing activities wer so absorbing that I managed to
sunburn my shoulders.
The walk back to Remoulin was in
very hot sun so that our citron presse was very welcome, if not
disastrous for me in that the sugar shaker top came off and deposited
half its contents as well as the top in my glass. (the cafe had to
go next door to the grocers for a couple of lemons). We had a little
time to spare and amused ourselves watching the air suspension of the
Citroens. They sag down a few seconds after it has been left.
walked along to the station and had about an hour to wait. It was full
of atmosphere, particularly in the warm rays of the evening sun. There
are two through roads and two bay lines, all with platforms, which are
controlled from a PLM signal frame situated in the main station
building. There was a clerk on duty who booked our tickets after
the usual wrangle about one card for two people, worked the telegraph
and signals, and when the train came, put on his cap and did some
portering. In the hour all we saw was one steam locomotive
travelling light towards Nimes and the shunting locomotive. The shunter
was very busy. He was trying to get his work done quickly in rder to
have a longer break with some friends who were waiting for him.
Our train was a through one to Mntelimar and we walked back to Avignon from Villeneuve lez Avignon.
Sunday 20 August
the train to Marseilles this morning. Didn't enjoy ourselves very
much, the people were not very friendly. This is quite a change
from other people we have met who are, on the whole, very pleasant and
friendly. We went down to the harbour where we had a meal and then up
to view the ships leaving both old and new harbours. Caught the earlier
train back to Avignon.
Monday 21 August
by train to Arles today. There is a very large wrought iron "mural" on
the up side platform. This depicts various scenes and activities
to be seen in the area and the Carmargue. We walked first of all to the
Roman amphitheatre which is quite interesting. There are two
flights of seats, the third has now disappeared. We saw the
remains of the bull fights which are frequently held there. We had a
picnic lunch in a very pleasant park and then Pat and I split off from
the others. We walked down past the canal and down to the Alyscamp.
This is a tree lined avenue with rows of Roman stone coffins down each
side. This was the Roman entrance to Arles and it was here that Romans
were buried. There is an old church at the end of the avenue. We were
amused at the custodian who sat on a stool with a card table with his
bits and pieces.
Back at the centre we had a drink while
watching a pavement artist who was very good. Much better than
the majority. We walked up the Rue General de Gaulle to a very
good exhibition (past the cafe where Van Gogh lived and painted) which
had prints, paintings and photographs, particularly prints from a
printer who had only recently died (neither Pat nor I can remember his
name). The building was one of the headquarters of the knights of the
Order of St. John. The painting we both remembered was of a man with an
arrow right through his chest and bleeding profusely.
Tuesday 22 August
and I took the day by ourselves and took the train to
Montpellier, we changed at Arles on the way there but caught a
through train back. Our first trip on arrival was to find the Esplanade
station of the Chemin de fer de l'Herault. We found it but had walked
around it before we realised what it was. It is very run down and
could do with a coat of paint and a good sweep out. In the
booking hall was a very imposing map of the former system - it is now
just the line to Palavas. There was a diesel railcar in the
platform in the morning but it was replaced in the afternoon by a new
diesel locomotive and train of four wheeled coaches. We also had a look
around the workshops, not a great deal to see. Everything, except
the locomotive, was in a very decrepit state - old locomotives, coaches
and diesel railcars (including articulated ones).
We then got
away from railways and had a look around this pleasant town which is
very modern with many big shops, better shopping centre than Avignon.
We found a pleasant park close to an impressive aqueduct.
Very chatty and friendly booking clerk at the station.
Wednesday 23 August
Our last day in Avignon. We paid our bill in the morning and left our cases in the hotel to be picked up later.
decided to spend the day at L'Isle sur la Sorgue, a village near La
Fontaine de Vaucluse (Mum and Dad Churcher stayed at Le Thor).
sur la Sorgue is a pleasant place but not a great deal of outstanding
interest. The most interesting feature is the large number of
waterwheels which are still operating. There is a church
with two clock faces, one showing the time and one showing the lunar
We came back to Avignon about 1530 and did some shopping.
While we were having a last look around a tremendous thunderstorm
developed and it poured for about 45 minutes, We had dinner and a
last drink at the street cafe and then took our cases down to the
railway station. We caught the train to Paris which has a through
couchette coach to Calais. the train was on time and our reservations
Thursday 24 August
all slept well. There was an unnecessarily long wait at Paris. The
channel crossing was uneventful apart from the slow clearance from the
Folkestone customs. Very overcast. Our train from Paddington was
delayed for almost an hour at Pilning with a locomotive failure.
What a way to end a wonderful holiday!