Big 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
We 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 days.
"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
We 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
There 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 poverty.
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
Our 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.
We 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.
After 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.
We 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.
Our second 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
We 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
Had a short walk around this morning paast 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 byJoseph 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
We 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 witnesses.
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.
On 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 growing wild.
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
Not 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 inrteresting exhibits were the Roman mosaics which were quite good although heavily restored.
Tuesday 15 August
Today 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 pretty high.
We had dinner in the square.
Wednesday 16 August
Today 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 refectory either.
We 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.
The liqueur, 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.
At 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 ruiins 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.)