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Monday, January 15, 2018

Avignon

I Continue From Here 

Backpacking France & Spain: Day 4 (09-Dec-2017)

Les Plats Provençals

I woke up really early. Probably it was the jet lag. Instead of going back to bed, I got ready and decided to go on a early morning walk. It was a bit cold outside. I walked towards old town. At the place next to the Saint-Apollinaire Cathedral, a market was being set. Farmers were arranging their products. It was still dark, so I decided to walk into a café/Bar and have some much needed tea and croissant. The cafés are small and also serve alcohols in the evenings. The cramped little place was already crowded; a few men were chatting there and a few sat silently reading newspaper. It is interesting to notice that most of them were dressed in blazers and winter coats, even if they had stopped by to drink coffee. There were two young men who were drunk and kept speaking loudly and cracking jokes. One of them began snoring right there. Everybody watched them and smiled. He was then asked to sleep outside. I sat there and recorded the previous day’s events in my journal. 

I took a walk along the market. There were stalls of all kinds. Some sold vegetables and fruits, some cheese or meat, others cooked delicious food and rest sold artefacts. All together it was a lively atmosphere out there.





I headed back to the hotel and completed the sketch that I had began sketching the previous evening.



At 10:30 AM, I checked out and crossed the street to reach the railway station. I took the super fast TGV train to Avignon. It was amazing to ride in the high speed train that had minimal vibration. The train glided past the countryside.



Avignon is a commune about 120kms south of Valence. Just as I walked out of the train station, the fort walls welcomed me into the town.



My SFR sim card worked intermittently. When ever I switched to flight mode and back, it seemed to work for a while. My friend had suggested me to by Free SIM card but I had not found that in Lyon airport. I would advice you to not buy SFR. Anyways, I walked to my hostel which is on the main street, in a beautiful gothic styled building. The view from the third floor is amazing.




I left my bags at the reception and stepped out for lunch. I had seen this restaurant called Maison Nani on my way to the hostel and decided to go there. Even though I had no reservation, the servers were kind enough to find a place for me. I had only one vegetarian option in the menu - Assiette Végétarienne (Vegetarian dish provencal) that consisted of St Marcellin cheese roasted with honey, baked eggplant stuffed with vegetables, croquettes made of cauliflower and Quinoa salad. I tried some cider for drink. The food was extremely tasty.



After lunch, I marched towards Palais des papes, which is situated at the end of the main street in the town  It was here that the popes administered from in the 14th century. It is made of two Medieval gothic buildings and the prayer halls and other rooms are gigantic in size. I bought a ticket and took an audio guided tour. There were some art works in display as well. It is interesting to see how these ancient buildings also display some exhibits by famous artists. I shall let the pictures speak for themselves. Some old murals still remain and are well preserved.











I also walked to the Pont Saint-Bénézet. Its a medieval bridge built across river Rhône but only four arches remain as of today.




At the entrance of the Palais, the Christmas stalls were set. There were various shows put up for the families like a falcon and eagle show and a fencing by kids. All together it was a festive atmosphere like in all other cities that I had visited so far.




I tasted some delicious crêpes with caramel. Crêpes are pancakes served with plain sugar, Nutella or jams.



It was interesting to walk on the well lit streets filled with local musicians singing on the streets and kids enjoying the merry-go-round rides.




For dinner, I tried another restaurant at town centre - La Grille. I went with their formule and they had some interesting vegetarian options. However, since I eat egg an omelet for main course was the only option I could pick apart from the italian Ravioli. For starter, I had Terrine de courgettes (Zucchini) and Omellete Provençal for main course. Crème brûlée for dessert was yummy.




I returned back to the hostel and having nothing much to do, decided to retire for the day. The hostel scene in France does not seem to be very lively. I am not sure if it is because this is off season but there were fewer people and they kept to themselves. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Valence

I Continue From Here 

Backpacking France & Spain: Day 3 (08-Dec-2017)

Une Commune

I woke up pretty early and got ready to leave. It was time to say good bye to Lyon. At the reception, the breakfast was being set. Fresh croissant and baguettes were brought in. 


I left Lyon wet and still drizzling. Though the bus station was about 2kms from my hostel, I chose to walk. It was still dark outside. People covered in long winter coats and boots walked along the pavements towards their work. I had managed to find a cheap bus ticket for 4 Euros to Valence which is a small town, about 100kms from Lyon. I was advised by my friend that buses are always cheaper than trains. 

I was at Valence in 1.5 hours. Along the way, the landscape was picturesque. Dry fields spread on both sides of the road seemed to end at small villages with houses built of stones. Everything seemed neat and well arranged. 

My hotel in Valence was very close to the train station. The moment I got down the bus at Valence, I could feel this nice and friendly small town vibe in the atmosphere. I left my bags at the hotel, grabbed a tourist map and walked to explore the town. 

The town was preparing itself for Christmas. Small mobile wooden shops were placed at the town centre. These shops sold various items, from art work to cheese and other food items. 


The façades and windows of old buildings gave this town a very Medieval feel. 






Saint-Apollinaire Cathedral which is a Romanesque cathedral is an impressive structure at the old town.  I was the alone there. This town had absolutely no tourists/travelers except for me and that made me feel good.


Just outside the cathedral is the Pendentif, a building of renaissance inspiration perhaps built around 1548. 


Walking along the narrow streets of Vieux Valence with its ancient buildings was like a journey back in time. I let myself get lost in those streets and marched without any particular destination in mind.





I had my lunch at a small Boulangerie - Sandwich with grilled vegetables and Cannelé de Bordeaux (a chewy cake). It was a nice experience sitting there and observing old women walk in and while buying bread, chat a little with the shop keeper. 


After walking around the old town for a while, I chose to sit in a small café and sketch my impressionist inspired work representing the fête de la lumière that I had witnessed the previous day in Lyon. France had already begun to inspire the artist in me. I asked the lady at the café if she could suggest me something that is a specialty of Valence and she suggest I try Suisse- a type of biscuit. So, I sat there sketching for a long time and that for me was more relaxing and enjoyable than just rushing from one tourist attraction to another. At the café, I also observed the locals walk in for coffee and some snacks. While I was leaving, the server ensured to wish me a proper good bye. 




At night, the town that was well lit, seemed even more prettier. Families gathered along the town center to try the rides arranged for children and to explore the shops that sold varied products. What I liked the most about this place was that it had almost no other tourists or travellers. Hence, everything seemed pretty normal; as it happens everyday in a small town. As a traveler, I long for such observations and details.




Continued Here 

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Vieux Lyon

I Continue From Here 

Backpacking France & Spain: Day 2 (07-Dec-2017)


Fête de La Lumière

The city of Lyon did not see sunlight until 8:15 AM. The breakfast at SLO living was good. Croissant, Baguette, Pancakes, cereals and fruit. Of course, it came with a price of 5 Euros. After having my breakfast, I walked towards Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon). Two rivers pass through the city of Lyon - La Rhône and La Saône. The churches and buildings along the river banks formulated a formidable landscape like often captured in postcards. 



At one of the parks, I saw this mischief. A moustache was drawn on the face of the lady in the sculpture. That reminded me of Marcel Duchamp who recreated Mona Lisa painting with a moustache. Many such sign boards and walls in France seem to have such scribbles. Most of them are left as is. 


While I was planning to buy some food at a shop on the street, a boy (perhaps in his teens) approached me and requested me to buy him some food. He was well dressed and it took me a while to realise that he was actually asking me to buy him food. I asked him to choose what he wanted and he did. It was strange. I always think that its difficult to be poor in a developed country where the living expenses are high. More so, if you are an immigrant. 

I visited the impressive Cathédral Saint-Jean Baptiste. The cathedrals here are no less than a museum. Its magnificent architecture, humungous and beautiful paintings, creative mosaic work, soulful sculptures and colourful tinted glass are an impressive work of art. 





An old astronomical clock built in 1383 was destroyed in 1562. Another was built in 1661 and it exists till date at the cathedral. 


I climbed up the hill to reach La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière. From the hill one can get an excellent view of the city below.



Fête de la lumière that means, the festival of light is celebrated around the 8th of December every year to thank Mother Mary. In 1643, when Lyon was struck by plague, the municipal councillors promised to pay tribute to Mother Mary if the town was spared. Ever since, a solemn procession makes its way to the Basilica of Fourvière on the 8th of December to light candles and give offerings in the name of Mary. The exteriors of the church is amazingly detailed. Built in 1870, it is filled with marvels. Painted walls, tinted glass, ceramic work and many incredible pieces of art in display. I believe these pictures can speak for themselves. 









Having read a bit about the history of France, I was excited to see an ancient Galo-roman amphitheater on the hill as well. Music concerts are often held here and I could imagine how this ancient theatre could still function so effectively. 


As you walk along the old Lyon, you find several preserved old buildings. Some of them are renovated and protected for tourist viewing. 


Lyon is also the gastronomical capital of France and there are many top end Michelin star restaurants. But, there are also the famous lyonnaise Bouchons - Small family run restaurants that serve great local dishes. It was on my list of things to do and so, I walked into one of the Bouchons. Every restaurant in France displays their menu outside and if something interests you, you can walk in. I checked with the server if they had vegetarian and they did. She suggested me their Formule (A drink, starter, Main course and Dessert).  Formule's are usually cheaper than going with À la carte.  The bouchon itself was situated in an old alley, in an ancient building. 


Cervelle de canut - Soft white cheese with herbs and garlic. It was served with some tasty boiled potatoes and bread. 


I had Lasagne aux légume (Vegetarian Lasagna) for main course. Accompanied with vin rouge - Crozes-hermitage.


And Fresh cheese with strawberry sauce for dessert. Every dish was extremely delicious and well prepared. 


I loved my walk along the tiny streets of old Lyon. What was most impressive was that there were shops dedicated to a type of cuisine. I mean, there were Patisserie that mastered in pastries, Boulangerie that mastered in baking, Chocolaterie that made delicious chocolates of all kinds. For people here, food is a work of art. They referred to their products as Artisanal - A creation by a skilled craft worker (Artisan). However, it also pertains to high-quality products made in small quantities by hand or traditional methods. 


I bought some sweet dishes called Cannot & Quenelle that are the specialties of Lyon. They were as delicious as they look.  Almond seems to be a key ingredient in these desserts and it provides them a rich flavour like cashew nuts provide to some of the Indian sweets. 


I returned back to the hostel before stepping out again. I had to make reservations for the next day. My Indian credit card did not seem to work with Air BnB website. Hence, I had to rely on Hostel world for my trip. Air BnB could have been a bit cheaper. I did not find any hostels in Vienne, so I decided to head towards Valence, a commune (Small town) about 100kms south of Lyon. 

In the suburbs of Lyon, there is a good amount of Arab population, perhaps mostly from the Maghreb region. Some of them seem to have blended well with the French culture. I saw a wedding couple and their friends on a photoshoot at Place Bellecour. The group appeared to be Arab but were dressed very much in Western outfit.


The display of structures at Bellecour was very interesting and there was a very lively atmosphere around. 




At around 8 PM, I walked back to the St-Jean cathédral to watch the magnificent light and music show. I was totally impressed by the way everything was managed. There was additional security everywhere, bags were checked at key entry points and routes were made to guide the visitors methodically. There was a huge crowd but everyone maintained discipline and distance. The light show on the front wall of cathédral using its own architecture as base was very impressive. A similar event was once arranged by Alliance Française de Bangalore and French artists had come over to put up a similar show. This indeed was in a larger scale. I leave you with these images from the show that remained the highlight of the day. 





Continued Here