During the holidays (Toussaint) last week, as well as Barcelona which I blogged about here, I also had stops in Aix, Marseille and Avignon before my return to Perpignan.
I took a 5-hour train straight from Barcelona to Aix-en-Provence, however, this soon changed into an 8-hour journey because we had a delay in Béziers for over two and a half hours! Luckily there was a plug-socket next to me and I could enjoy listening to music and reading a large chunk of Le Comte de Monte-Cristo. I arrived in Aix after midnight, very exhausted.
Visiting Provence was a dream come true because I have heard so much about this beautiful region, but I also got to catch-up with my coursemates Floorke and Holly from Sheffield in Aix where they are studying this semester, and André who was an old housemate of mine here in Perpignan, who has relocated to Avignon.
Aix, is a popular tourist desination and this is reflected by it’s high prices. It’s such a great place to walk around, wih its rustic cobbled streets and interesting shops, and of course, the fountains that are found everywhere. Floorke showed me around the town, the university where she is studying and we also saw Samba a new French film I had been hoping to see, definitely recommend it!
On my second day in Provence, Floorke and I visited Marseille, which is only 40 minutes away by bus from Aix-en-Provence. It is such a strange and exciting city, although I can’t see myself living there or wanting to walk around on my own. It’s one of the major gateways to France due to having a large port with connections to Corsica, Tunisia and Algeria and being close to the Italian border. Walking around the city, I hardly heard any French being spoken, but instead a great mix of languages from around the Mediterranean.
Marseille is such a big city, and so we were not able to explore all of its touristic delights in one day; for example, we didn’t get to visit the Notre–Dame de la Garde cathedral which is one of Marseille’s well-known symbols, located on the highest point in Marseille. However, everywhere we went, we could see it in the distance.
The Vieux Port (Old Port) is one of the major tourist spots in Marseille, and there are some lovely walks you can do along the promonade.
We hoped to make our way to something called the Maritime Station which was a bit of a walk away because we were hoping to catch a boat to the Château d’If. The walk to get there was very picturesque however we were told we were in the completely wrong location and the ferry station was in fact in the Vieux Port, where we had just been. However, the walk there wasn’t completely wasted because we also stumbled across the impressive Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille.
After a slight detour to the cathedral, we made our way back to the Vieux Port to catch the ferry to the Château d’If. I particuarly wanted to go here because it is one of the main locations, as well as Marseille itself, in the book of The Count of Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, which as I said earlier, I am currently reading. As a kid, I fell in love with the film and I had always hoped to read the book sometime in my life, but now that I study French and have the ability to read it in the original text, makes it even better.
The ferry boat from the Vieux Port takes around 20 minutes and costs €9 for an aller-retour (return ticket) with free entry into the Château for European citizens under 26. It’s a great opportunity as well to take a boat just for the incredible view of Marseille from the sea. I was not in Marseille after-dark, but I am sure that it would be an incredible view when the city is all lit up.
The Château d’If itself is interesting to walk around, and there is a guide who talks for 15 minutes when you first arrive who sets the scene of what happened there and a little bit of how it came to be so famous, mostly thanks to Dumas’ fiction novel. It’s definitely worth the visit if you find yourself in Marseille.
In the evening after going for Japanese food, we met up wth Holly and went to an irish Bar to catch up to round off an amazing day.
The next day, I had to catch a train to Avignon very early in the morning, however it turned out to be a bus and then a train, which resulted in me running around Aix between the bus and trains stations. Avignon is not far at all from Aix, and I arrived there at 10:30am. I had until 4:30pm to see as much of Avignon as I could before getting a 3-hour train back to Perpignan.
Avignon is a wonderful place: very historic, beautiful buildings such as the Palais des Papes, parks, the original remparts (city-walls) and of course, the famous Pont d’Avignon! 6-hours was sufficient to see the bare-minimum of Avignon, but there was still so much to see, such as the Palais des Papes, which I didn’t enter. Beautiful places, take me back to Provence!
The highlight for me in Avignon was definitely the Pont d’Avignon. Although I had heard so much about this famous bridge, I soon found out that I hardly knew anything about it! Entry is 4€ for students but this also includes an audio-guide. I really recommend you pick one of these up because it gives so much information about the past, present and future of this bridge. How it came to become a bridge that goes no where, the origins of the famous song ‘Sur Le Pont d’Avignon’ and also, I found that there are in fact two chapels on the bridge that you can visit. Yep, this bridge not only intended to serve as a gateway from A to B across the river, but also as a place of religious significance which makes it quite unique.
Another interesting thing I learnt in Avignon was the story behind the Palais des Papes which I admittedly had never heard of before. The Palais des Papes was once served as a fortress and a palace, and remains to be one of the largest gothic constructions of its kind within Europe. The ‘papal residence’ was in fact the seat of Western Christianity during the medieval period, not in fact Rome. I find this fascinating because this seriously put Avignon on the map in the 14th century, however most people nowadays mostly associate this city with the Pont d’Avignon. Unfortunately I did not have enough time to visit the interior as that itself could possibly take an entire day. However if I find myself in Avignon again this will definitely be on the list of places I need to go.
I hope this blog post has shown just how much of an amazing time I had during Toussaint in Aix, Marseille and Avignon. All three are beautiful places, each with their own individual charm and identity. I enjoyed them all the more as I got to spend time with friends who I haven’t been able to see in a matter of months as well. I feel so privileged to live in the south of France and for all these incredible places to be just a few hours away from me on the train.
The first semester of my Year Abroad here will soon be coming to a close in a matter of weeks, as I will finally pack up to leave on the 19th December to catch my flight back to the UK. Although I miss home (The Wirral) greatly, Perpignan has become a third home for me after Sheffield (my university city). This is where, over the past few months I have made friends and memories that have made an impact on my life. Looking back at all the photos of the things we have done, I’d like to think that so far I have really made the most of my time here, and it is a fact that there has not been one weekend where I haven’t taken the opportunity to explore a new place of interest.
Yesterday I went on a day-trip to Montpellier with a group of friends from Perpignan and met up again with Anna and Nakashi who came from Nîmes for the day which was lovely. This time next weekend I will be back in Barcelona to see James, who I haven’t seen since before I went to Israel in August. Somehow I need to start revision as well, as all my exams in Perpignan will be in the final week of December before the Christmas holidays!
Bonne semaine 🙂