We woke up early to catch the train to Avignon. We repacked our backpacks and bid farewell to our little hotel and its sweet owners. The town was quiet and sleepy during the short walk to the train station, and the sun was shining gloriously and warmly, making it difficult to say goodbye to this lovely town; I kept telling myself that it was only au revoir, not adieu.
The first leg of the journey was a 30 minute ride to Narbonne, where we would then get on the train to Avignon. When our train pulled up, I was surprised to see that it was only 3 or 4 cars long. Then the doors opened and we boarded, I was even more surprised to find a completely jam packed train. There weren’t nearly enough seats for all the passengers, so people were sitting and lounging in the middle of the aisles. We couldn’t even make it to that section of the train, but we were able to find room in the front section of the car. There were many (8-12?) bicycles piled in the front section, so I found a place and precariously balanced/wedged myself between the bicycles and the door into the seated section. At one of the next stops, two more guys with bicycles managed to squeeze themselves into the train, only there was no room for their bicycles, so they were completely blocking the exit doors and had to unboard and reboard at every stop to let people out. I am glad it was a relatively short trip, as none of us were very comfortable, but I am also glad to have experienced one of the downsides to public transportation.
We found a comfortable seat on the train from Narbonne to Avignon. At one of the next stops, a French woman bordered and plopped her purse down on the table between our seats. She said a few things quickly in French while gesturing towards her purse and then walked off and disappeared in the back of her train. Jesse and I were able to put two and two together after recognizing a few words (toilette) and assumed she wanted us to watch her purse while she used the toilet. Yes. A complete stranger left her purse with us. The people of Provence were saturated with this kind of confidence in humanity. It was so different than what I experience in the USA, but it was a beautiful change. When she returned, she continued rambling to us in French until Jesse managed to say, “Je ne parle pas français.” She then switch languages and asked if we spoke English, saying that she said she spoke a little but not much (English was difficult to her). After our confirmation, she then launched into conversation with us, using all tenses and even a few idioms here and there. I was so impressed! At one point, I made the mistake of telling her that I spoke a little Spanish, and she then switched over to Spanish and asked if we could converse in Spanish instead because she knew it better. I had to, very shamefully, respond to her that I knew only a little bit of Spanish. Apparently she loves Latin based languages and knows Spanish and Italian very well, in addition to her “little bit” of English, German, and Portuguese. I was so jealous and also a bit ashamed! I had to remind myself that the USA is not very linguistically diverse. Yes, many languages are spoken here, but they are in hard-to-find small pockets. Additionally, our country is very large and we have to travel very far to get to linguistically alternate country, and even then the language is only Spanish (and French in Quebec). Europe has both the blessing and the curse of having many smaller countries that speak multiple different languages just a short train ride away. These more compact countries and close borders allow for a lot more interaction between people groups, and therefore a lot more opportunity to learn and practice new languages. Anyway, this lady was incredible sweet and helpful (she taught us a few French phrases) and we wished we could could have spent a few days with her; we were sad to see her get off at her stop.
We got to Avignon successfully (after Jesse confirmed it was the correct stop by pointing at the floor and asking the lady address from us “Avignon?” to which she responded, “Oui.”) and checked in at our hotel (a 10-15 minute walk) before venturing off to go find something consumable. After meandering around a bit, we settled on Ginette et Marcel: Bistrot à Tartines. Our waiter spoke just a little English, but we were able to stumble our way through ordering a 3-cheese pear tartine and beer (Jesse) and a salmon tartine and pastis for me. Yum. So delicious. Jesse loved the salty cheese combination of his tartine paired with the sweet flavor of pear. The horseradish sauce on mine was delicious and also refreshing. Pastis was something we had both wanted to try, and I rather enjoyed the licorice flavor of it. I wasn’t as overwhelming as I worried it might be. In fact, I find myself craving it sometimes (as well as the tartines – I need to make them at home).