Saturday, December 13, 2014

of the Testy Travelers

Train ride to Barcelona and Avignon

We rose this Friday morning slowly as we needed not be at the Nord (train station) until 12:30 or so.  We walked to the store to buy plastic and pack our lunches for the long train rides ahead.  The walk took us in a different direction than we normally used.  Rolls Royce and Jaguar are the first stores we see and the neighborhood changed quite suddenly to a more Coral Gables, Florida feel, rather than Valencia, Spain.  The well-dressed senior ladies were out and about, waiting for pastries and coffee at the small tables.  The neighborhood felt “older” as if south St. Petersburg, Florida met Coral Gables.  Wish we had discovered this before.  It was so pleasant and seemed to say, “good morning”.

The small Mercado, called Consum’ had enough for us to pack some Valencia tangerines Navidad candies, the left overs from the night before and two quart water bottles.  Valencia apparently has terrible water and even the locals don’t drink it.  Perhaps one more thing in common with South Florida?  The walk back was very pleasant and we finished packing.  After assessing our wares, we decided against a taxi and walked the 9 blocks with luggage in tow.  Charles, with the lightest load, bragged about how much he has learned about packing and traveling.  I thought he blended in the environment well, but Patrick said no, he looked like a tourist.

The Nord is a large impressive building that our hostess referred to as the pride of Valencia.  It was very busy, with travelers going to and fro.  I walked the shops and looked at the beautiful young women that staffed them.  Charles wanted to mail post cards, so we went on a trip to find stamps.  Turns out they sell stamps at tobacco stores so off across the street to the tobacco store we go.  We get the four stamps for the cards and pay 3.9 euros.  I realize that to mail the five the other day, I only paid 2 euros.  Which probably means, the ones that we bought stamps for yesterday will never reach their destination due to lack of postage.  Drats!  Getting the stamps is one thing, but mailing the cards is another.  No one knew where a box was to drop the cards in.  They kept telling us on the street, which one unknown or un cared.

The train came and we embarked on coach one and we were lucky to be in first class.  There is no free coffee like in California first class trains, but there is a nice seat.  Charles insisted on having the single seat by the window.  An hour into the ride, the lady behind him starts playing Christmas videos in English rather loudly.  Charles looks at us across the aisle with that, “what the heck” face.  The lady started the second one and Patrick and I could not help but bust out laughing!  Divine intervention in taking the lone window seat…  The lady stops the videos long enough to have a long conversation and then back to the videos she goes.  Patrick and I dry our eyes and try to concentrate on reading.

The trip is four hours or so, even on the fast train.  Spain is bigger than it looks on the map.  It appears smaller thank Georgia, but I am not so sure.  It may be closer to Texas in size.  Something to research next time I have internet or wifi.  Unfortunately, the trains do not offer it.  On the other hand, it makes one take more time in writing and the opportunity to review before hitting the forever “post” button.  Never a bad thing, especially if you are an FSU lecuturer with strong opinions.

The lay of the land is much the same as the ride from Madrid to Valencia, except the occasional water views.  Tall condos or apartments in short stretches and then orange groves and olive trees and fields of plowed ground with small adobe like buildings.  Many of the fields appear to have a block tower on them, which could be a water cistern of some kind.  They are tall, built of large blocks of sand colored stone and have a castle like top.  It could be fanticized to be left over castle parts, but there are too many for it to be true.

We travel up through the mountains so our ears are popping.  The elderly man in front of us is now playing his Mexico video of himself and his family for anyone willing to watch.  It would not be so bad, but they attached musak to is that is slightly better than a dental drill spinning noise.  But only slightly.  Thank goodness the third person tells him to turn off the sound.

There will be a change in Barcelona and then another four hour ride to Avignon.  I am looking forward to the change, though the weather will be much colder.  Patrick says he is through interpreting and now it is all me.  I laughed.  Me and my Pimsleur tapes will probably on get us to the train, to food and to drink.  But what else do we need?

We arrive at Avignon TGF in tired but reasonable shape.  Now, for the difficult part of navigating in a foreign language without a phone:  the phone allow for sms texting and wifi research on the fly.  The computer, not so much.  Moods grow testy as I try to identify our location relative to the apartment, contact the hostess and figure out the ride into town.  Patrick gets the internet to work and Dominique answers.  We finally understand her and head out to the taxi that Charles finds.  Dominique meets us in the dark in a narrow street very close to the Rhone.  We enter a gated courtyard and the find the dark door.  The code is something or another she says.  She knows the numbers, not the sequence.

She shows us the wifi and the hot water and off she goes.  Oh yes, and open a window and toss the keys in after you leave….

We find macaroni and have some herbs so we have the lovely meal of tea and macaroni, olive oil, basil, oregano, garlic and pepper.  No salt.  But it was enough to get the testy travelers to bed!

Next morning, Charles decided to head out for pastries and we waited for awhile.  After an hour, Patrick and I decided he wasn’t coming back and loaded up.  Just as we were leaving, Mr. no pastry shows up.  Hmmph!  He ate them all!  So Patrick and I insisted on going for a walk to get our pastry.  Charles tagged along.

But, one second out the door and the world of Avignon charm takes our attention.
Pastries and cafe located and consumed, we are off for the busy day.

We start out to go to Le Palais des Papes as recommended by the Madison County France Travel guide.  But before we can get there, we sneak up the back side of a tower on the Rhone.  The views are amazing.

View of the Rhone and Le Pont d"Avignon

The climb eventually ends up on the back side of Notre Dame.  We walk and walk on the parkway in the sky with the most beautiful vista we have seen so far.  And the light played perfectly for my lens.

And the Christmas market and vin chaud are calling me now, so more later on!