Saturday, July 21, 2012

24 Hours en Provence

When you are a kid you think a year is forever. The period of time between birthdays would go by excruciatingly slowly. School seemed to never end. The significance of “being old enough to...” was a concept that was always there. We were always keen to reach a new milestone and the patience required would seem to stretch the clock out even longer.

When we were first thinking of this trip the idea of going for a year took a firm hold early on. Unlike traveling 20 years ago, where contact from friends and family was occasional at best, the impact of leaving for a year didn’t seem too significant. It’s easy to keep in touch now if you want (and have a good wifi connection). It’s no big deal to leave.

It’s not until I had a chance to see a friendly face that I realized it is a big deal. it’s special when you have the opportunity to cross paths with an old friend in person, even if it’s just for a day. It makes you remember the incalculable value of that familiar interaction and connection, even if you are maybe not exactly the same person that you were when you last happened to see them in person.

A while back my friend Todd (yes - that Todd - the one who was responsible albeit from a great distance for a very rough morning in Cusco for many people. I still blame him) told me that he and his family would be Europe-bound for a few weeks this summer. We figured out that they would be in the Avignon area of France a few days after I hopefully survived those pesky bulls. Being the veteran rail user I planed my route and determined that I would make my way to Avignon on July 17th.

Aside from some last-minute adjustments brought on by the France railway not allowing you to print your tickets at home I was on my way. First from Barcelona to a small border town called Cerbere, where I then purchased my ticket to get me to Avignon.

It wasn’t until I got off the train in Avignon that I realized I felt a bit nervous. After all, I’m not quite the same. I now have not one but 2 tattoos (BTW - sorry to all the Aunts and Uncles who may now be dealing with the “I want a tattoo” discussions from my various nieces and nephews). What if our dynamic had changed?

It took all of a millisecond after seeing Todd, his wife Jen and their kids Will and Josie for that nervousness to vanish. Some hugs, hello’s, and an inspection of the tattoos were quickly completed, and we were off to explore Avignon.

We had the good fortune to be there in the midst of their annual theatre festival. Posters were everywhere. Street performers were abundant and the actors were all out promoting their shows. At dinner so many dropped by our cafe table to leave promotional material that after waving the first few off we just decided to relax and start a collection.

The Avignon town square
It was soon time to head out. They were staying a ways outside of Avignon in a rural Provence town called Menerbes. 

The hillside town of Menerbes
Unfortunately the only hotel I could arrange for was also outside Avignon, just nowhere close to where they were. Didn’t matter - we were off to find my hotel.

Once we got there I had a very unique thing happen. For one of the only times on this trip the hotel was not honoring my reservation. After finally finding the email and the response from them confirming my room, I asked the essential question...”Do you even have a room available tonight?” Unsurprising, and after an attempt by the hotel to lecture me and make me think the error was mine, the answer was “Non.”

Thankfully Todd was present for the entire debacle, and had rebuffed my statements that I would be fine and he should get the family back to Menerbes. He quickly stepped in and told me I was coming back with them, and they would make room.

Under the cover of darkness they snuck me in, and we all quickly settled in for the night. The morning featured some planning around how to not have me discovered (and risk additional payment). The kids even played their part by reconnoitering the pathway from the room to the parking lot, coming back with pictures and reports as to whether the coast was clear. Finally it was go time, and we wheeled out of the Menerbes in search of our destination for the morning, the small picturesque ochre-crusted town of Roussillon.

The local church
The local hiking trail 
Todd, Jen, Will and Josie
After a too short morning of sightseeing, coffee, ice cream, sandwiches and of course a pain au chocolate it was time to move on and bid Jen and the kids adieu. Todd very kindly took me back to the Avignon train station and then it was over. He was gone to an afternoon of being poolside with his family and I was on my way to Amsterdam with the feeling that I am very lucky to be able to have him as a friend (even if he did challenge me to tweet a haiku). 


  1. 1) Looking forward to the haiku.
    2) Don't worry about the tattoo envy - everyone thinks they're fakes!

  2. Bonjour Paul G. McMillan (the "G" stands for "Good thing the bulls didn't get you")

    On behalf of the entire Croll/Wright clan, I want to say how great it was to see you. It was a privilege to get the one-on-one time and hear the travel stories, before your return to Canada and getting swept back into daily life. Yes, the tattoos were very cool. When I first saw the photo of the back tattoo many months ago, I thought it might be either Photoshop or one of those temporary kid tattoos. Not the case!

    Thanks for:
    1. While at dinner in the hidden square in Avignon, you taught Josie and Will the game of secret photo taking with your camera. This lead to much fun in the days to come, including many pictures of ears and nostrils.
    2. Taking our trip-defining family photo in the lavender field.
    3. Your many engaging stories, which can't help but light the fire of wanderlust in those who hear them.
    4. Not snoring.

    A bientot!