Tuesday 12 April 2016

Sur le Airbnb d'Avignon

Le Pont d'Avignon and the Rhone
I am becoming a huge fan of Airbnb.

Just a few years ago, if you'd wanted to stay in the centre of a medieval walled city such as Avignon, you'd have had to pay through the nose, either for a very poncey luxury hotel or a really quite basic business one. You'd only have a hotel room, so you'd have had to buy all your meals, and when you'd tired of walking around all day there would have been nowhere to sit and relax in your room.

But now, you can stay in a large, beautiful apartment, right in the centre of such as a city, with all mod cons and a comfortable bed, for less than a hundred pounds a night (with free parking nearby). You can pop out to the neighbourhood boulangerie in the morning to buy your baguettes, and keep a bottle of wine chilling in the fridge for when you fancy a 6pm aperitif. (What is more, your kids could be playing cards in a completely different room while you have this. ) If you are lucky, your apartment's owner will recommend you a nice local restaurant to boot. It's a win-win situation and the hotels must be seething.

Anyway that's enough about Airbnb (this is not a sponsored post) and here's something about Avignon. We drove there from the Alps, but it's a destination that you could easily get to from the UK, as there's a direct Eurostar train nowadays in the summer. The city is famous for two things: the Palais des Papes or Popes' Palace, where nine popes resided in the Middle Ages, and the Pont d'Avignon, a bridge made famous by the children's song.

Both are worth a visit: the medieval Bridge, although only a tiny segment remains, affords a very romantic view of the Rhone even though your visit may only take 10 minutes. But you can buy a combined ticket to see both this and the Popes' Palace, which is both an impressively huge building and a history lesson (I spent most of our visit trying to explain the Pope's role to the boys, and realising I really am hugely ignorant on the matter).

Above the Palace and Bridge is the very pretty Rocher des Doms park, where you can look out over the river, the surrounding rolling countryside with vineyards (Chateauneuf du Pape is nearby) and Provencal roofs of the beautiful old city. After that, you can have a drink and watch the world go by in the courtyard square below the Popes' Palace. Or you could visit the tiny Musee Angladon, which houses a collection of Impressionist paintings by the likes of Picasso, Degas, Manet and Sisley.

But what I enjoyed most about Avignon was walking around the old town, exploring its winding cobbled streets lined with cafes, restaurants and shops. I'm not a huge shopper but the shopping there was fabulous -- not just souvenirs like lavender, Provencal pottery and tablecloths but interesting fashion, unusual toiletries, trendy kitchen stores and more. Avignon is small, and immensely walkable -- but every time you venture out you'll find a new little corner to explore.

We ate two extremely good meals: one at Kote Kour, a trendy little tucked-away bistro near our apartment. Although we felt as if we (apart from the Littleboys) were the oldest people there, it had delicious and unusual food, and an off-menu chicken and chips for the boys.

At a slightly more pretentious restaurant, we struggled slightly when they didn't have their advertised kids' menu, but eventually the boys shared a steak and pronounced it delicious. And my asparagus, egg and hollandaise starter was one of the culinary highights of the whole trip.

So I would definitely recommend Avignon en famille, if you have a couple of days to spare or fancy a weekend trip. Just forget the hotels and check out Airbnb first.

Tuesday 5 April 2016


Exploring a national park on skis
I have never been so glad as I was to escape to the Alps this Easter.

Let me sum up the fortnight before we went.

1. First, the Doctor and I came down with awful colds. Well, possibly worse than a cold -- I was unable to do much for about three whole days, except blow my nose, take paracetamol and sweat profusely. I haven't felt so rough in years, and there WAS swine flu doing the rounds of the local schools, so I think that may have been it....

2. We had a terrible night during which we were both extremely hot and sweaty. During the course of said night, the Doctor managed to scratch an insect bite (I know - in March, in England?) and somehow infect it. Within two days, his entire leg was red and swollen around a horrible pussy mess. I drove him to A&E, who diagnosed an abscess and put him on intravenous antibiotics (luckily he didn't have to stay in).

3. The leg did not clear up quickly - it got worse, and he ended up having to have it drained. He had to have an MRI to check it hadn't penetrated the bone (luckily, not) and missed an entire week of work -- something I've never known him do, even when he had Lyme disease a few years ago. One doctor told him ominously that there was no way he would be able to ski - this was about a week before we were due to leave. Two days later, although it wasn't much better, another doctor thought ski-ing would be fine. However, this guy, naturally, was himself a keen skier, so we had to take that with a pinch of salt. I was left facing the possibility that I would have to drive all the way to the Alps myself, and ski with the boys on my own for two weeks - or, that we would have to cancel.

4. We decided to go anyway, and thought we would only ski for a week, then maybe to to Paris. Things were looking slightly more positive. Then, the day before we left, I was just getting the boys ready for school when, standing in our kitchen, I felt a drip on my head. There was water dripping through our ceiling from the floor above!

5. The Doctor managed to isolate the leak, but that meant we had no water in our bathroom - and the plumber couldn't come before we left for France.

6. Around the same time, we decided that one of our front car tyres was looking decidedly dodgy. On the morning we left, The Doctor took it to the garage to get it checked. Lucky he did, because apparently both front tyres had completely had it. Not ideal before a thousand-mile drive.

At this point, I was actually thinking it would be a miracle if we ever made it to France and we might as well abandon the whole trip.

However, we didn't. And, when we finally made it, it was a wonderful break, one of the best ski holidays we've had as a family. The snow was excellent, the weather beautiful. The Doctor found he WAS able to ski, despite the still oozing leg. The boys improved immeasurably, and were soon outpacing me. They could follow us everywhere, which meant we were able to make trips to other resorts en famille. One day we met friends, another we explored a national park on skis. We ate and drank far too well.

After 10 days skiing (which was plenty for everyone), we spent a couple of nights in Avignon, Provence (I'll write about that one separately.) Then we came home via a night in Champagne. Everything went smoothly - even passing through Eurotunnel on a busy weekend.

Who can say if the hellish fortnight preceeding the holiday made the fortnight away even better by way of relief. But, anyway, thank goodness for getting away.