Have you ever traveled to a new location and left a piece of yourself there? I feel exactly like way about the southern region of France. During my ten-day solo trip last year, I felt incredibly at home. I experienced a strong sense of familiarity with the area—almost as if I had previously lived there. Dj vu! Everywhere I visited, especially in the Provence region, there was a sense of familiarity.
It could be because their terroir is so similar to that of my hometown in the wine region of California, or that the language is the easiest for me to understand because I’ve studied it in school. Or maybe it’s due of my ancestry. When I was a young child, my French-speaking grandfather would sing me the sweetest French melodies.
I spent 10 days in the south of France last fall on my own, visiting the wine area of Bordeaux, vibrant Aix-en-Provence, charming beach Cassis, historic hilltop villages, and picturesque Nice and Monaco (which I have yet to write about). Today’s excursion, which I made while living in Aix-en-Provence, is to the charming city of Avignon.
I know enough French to order food or ask for directions, but because of the errors in my pronunciation, people can tell that I’m not native to the country. Despite this, I had an incredible time and discovered that most French people are really warm and welcoming. On one occasion, a very cranky old Frenchman on the train argued with me and insisted that I was seated on his seat (I wasn’t), but I was so kind as to shift over a row to appease him. (There are grumpy people in every community.) I’ve always had positive interactions with French people, save from that one incident.
There is no easier way to travel through France by train. You buy a ticket at a ticket machine or online in advance, and then you leave. I boarded a train from Aix-en-Provence to Avignon for this day trip, and I was there in under an hour.
When I travel, I prefer to dine on the street because it is less expensive and takes less time. I can then burn off my meal by walking a few kilometers around the town. While I was in France, I ate a lot of quiche because I couldn’t get enough.
An entire day can be spent exploring the historic walled city of Avignon because it is so walkable. You should see the prime attractions, which include the Palais des Popes (Popes Palace). It’s a gorgeous building, and if you go up the steps, you can overlook the Rhone River below and the city beyond.
My headquarters during my visit was the vibrant Aix-en-Provence, but on my long walk around the city, I saw that Avignon’s architecture was more subdued.
Occasionally, I would notice colorful accents on storefronts, signs, or shutters, but for the most part, the architecture has a wonderful, light clay tint.
Les Halles, one of Avignon’s busiest areas, was a highlight of my stroll. A stunning three story living wall of flora surrounds the façade of the building.
A massive market filled with fresh fruit, flowers, meats, and seafood can be found in Les Halles. The market is located inside, where locals shop. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could buy your meal here every night?
The groups of men playing cards inside Les Halles, a bar where they regularly congregated, fascinated me. It was obvious to me that they were enjoying their coffee and their game, so I had to stop and observe them for a while. How true it is that the simplest things in life—pleasure experienced in the company of good friends—bring happiness, not celebrity or fortune.
Like every French town, Avignon features a variety of stores and cafes where you can stop for a snack (hello, crepes!) or for lunch, supper, coffee, or a drink.
I spent the hour before my afternoon excursion to the Pont du Gard exploring the town and eating lunch at a cafe on the main street (quiche again!). He sat there observing a variety of people—some locals and some visitors—exploring this town with so much history.
That afternoon, I boarded a van with eight other travelers from around the globe, and an English-speaking tour guide took us around Arles before bringing us to the renowned Pont du Gard. The photo doesn’t do justice to the size and accessibility of this enormous Roman aqueduct from the first century.
There are lengthy stretches of stillness while you’re traveling alone, which gives you plenty of time for reflection. I distinctly recall telling myself that I could get used to living in the south of France, with its laid-back lifestyle and frequent trips to the market. During my travels in Europe, I’ve seen that most people live more modestly and simply than Americans do. Their vehicles are smaller, and many people don’t own cars at all; instead, they only use bicycles, scooters, or the efficiently run public transportation. They have much less material and living space than we do, and their residences are smaller as well. They enjoy their straightforward existence and frequently get together with pals at the neighborhood bar or cafe.
I envied them for being able to dwell in France for a considerable amount of time because of the beautiful flow of their life. Knowing there may be awkward moments during my residency, I want to immerse myself in a culture that is different from the one I currently live in. However, I also want to embrace the idea that once I step outside of my comfort zone, amazing things happen.
Have you ever experienced this? Where have you experienced such a sense of calm, happiness, and contentment that you imagined staying there for the rest of your life? How many of you have experienced this?
Where would you most like to reside? I would love to know.