Avignon to Antibes- The Road Ill Traveled

After falling in love with Biarritz and Collioure, I think we weren’t sure what to do next. We wanted to go eventually to the alps, but not immediately, so we decided to go to Avignon because I’d heard it was beautiful. I mean, if a pope decided it was worth it to move his entire operation there back in the day it must be nice. We had planned to go first to Arles and camp there and visit the Roman ruins, but that required transferring in Avignon. When we finally got off our first train we decided to just camp across the Rhone in Avignon. It rained on us a lot that night.

Poor Avignon, if it wasn’t the next stop after epic Collioure, it might have been more that just a city with some really cool looking buildings. The palace of the pope looked awesome and imposing and the medieval buildings were marvelous, but we had just been on an outdoor extravaganza and I was underwhelmed. At least they had an H&M.
We tried to get ourselves in the mood for some sightseeing. I read up on Avignon’s history to try to get excited, but then when we went to the sights neither of us wanted to pay the entrance fees. After being gorged so heavily in Rome, Florence and Paris and then spending so little while camping in Biarritz and Collioure we just didn’t want to go back to regular tourism. So we snapped some pictures of the papal palace from outside and what remains of the once spectacular Roman bridge and splurged on a Rhone-side picnic lunch of chevre, oranges, fresh baguette and fischer amber ale (also had one of the best Kabab’s of our trip).

We bought our tickets for Toulon planning to leave early the next morning and camp again. I had hoped to camp in Cassis but there was only one campsite and they provided no WIFI or electricity and we were ill equipped for proper camping. So we decided to go to one in Le Pradet, outside of Toulon that looked okay.

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The next day we woke up, packed and headed out. I sighed sadly as we passed Cassis on the train, but thought “it’s fine, I’m sure our campsite will be great…” When we got off the train in Toulon it was a city. We tried to orient ourselves with no luck and finally spotted a McDonald’s and decided to abuse their WIFI again. They have consistently come through for us in our times of need. Once our route to the campsite was figured out we started walking…through the sketchiest stretch of city yet. It was a ghost town for one, with loitering youths and twenty somethings “mean-mugging” and every business that we walked by was open but had no more than one client that stared us down as we walked by. It was a little unsettling. We had a long walk, luckily the last third of it was on a bike path, not through the scary ghetto. Finally we climbed a hill to the address of our campsite to be un-welcomed by a large gate. There was a bell to ring reception and a number to call if they weren’t there…but we had no phone. We could hear children playing in the pool inside, see rows of happy cabins and in my tainted memory I smell barbecue too. We could hear the phone ringing in the reception area as we helplessly pressed the button outside the imposing gate.

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I’d had it. I was done with this town, I said “let’s go to the station”. Sean was more level headed and we walked to two other campsites in the area and tried them as well, but they only accepted people in RV’s (because that’s camping). Finally we were both done trying so we walked to the next town over, hoping the SNCF station was still open. We made it, and the lady working there was super nice. She talked to us about different places we could go, how long they would take, “how about Antibes” I’d say, “oh yeah, it’s nice there”. Finally that was the one, we bought our tickets, hopped on the train and were off.
When we got to Antibes there were people around and straight out of the station a young man asked if we needed help finding our way as we stood looking at the cryptic map in our guide book. “This is better, fuck Le Pradet” I said, then we found out it was a French holiday, it doesn’t matter which one, there are too many to keep track. So after wandering around for an hour figuring out where we were and looking for WIFI or a place to sleep we figured out that all the hotels were booked. Luckily the hoteliers at one of the places we were trying to stay called around for us, they called 3 different places with no luck but finally found a room for us right when we were losing all hope.

We ended up staying in the hotel for 2 nights because it was raining pretty hard in the mornings and evenings. It was a nice break after being in a tent for the last 2 weeks. On the third day the weather seemed like it was clearing up so we decided to go find the campsites down the road. Not finding out about the nicer sea-side road until later we marched down the equivalent to the 82nd ave. of Antibes (and did so numerous times back and forth). The Camp that we were going to look at was rated as a 3 star site with reviews like “Our family loves this place! we wish we could reserve our spot for the whole summer!” & “Greatest camping, so relaxing- waiting for the step father to return with the cold beer.” As we got close to the camp things just got kinda weird. I swear I could hear a sea lion or seal barking, there was “Antibes Land” just across the street with sketchy rides like “Adrenaline” stretching wires and poles high into the sky, and the very real concern that our “campsite” was really just a carnie-filled trailer park. When we first got to “Camping du Pylone” we noticed all the lovely self-decorated single-wide trailers, they really went out of their way to make their “porch” or “deck” areas really show off their personalities- going as far as to name them “Cabernet Rosé Manor” or “Chez Magestique”- We are talking about loads and loads of dolphin decorations. We were also, very clearly the only tent “Campers” in the whole place. After setting up in our awesome gravel “pitch” some kids walked by with their dad “Ohh look a tent!” one of the small children said in a cute english accent “It’s kinda small.” with the younger brother agreeing quickly after “Yeah, its kinda small.” Naomi often thought that we were getting bad looks from the higher class trailer elites in the park. “Don’t worry, its just like in the wild- they are probably more scared of you then you are of them.” I reassured her.
The first day or two was pretty bad in and around the camp.

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We wandered around on horribly small sidewalks through labyrinth like crosswalks (the french hate pedestrians) feeling like a Frogger reality show on busy roads into towns that had nothing to offer besides a Auchen “hyper” marché and a Subway (which we we’re eternally grateful for). It also had its highlights like drinking wine and beer in a gazebo during a lightning storm with just enough wifi signal to keep you hoping its going to work. We also walked around Antibes a bit more, swam a tiny bit and explored the nicer coast line. Actually by the last day or two we spent there we had figured it out enough that we had grown slightly fonder of the place, deciding that our previous thoughts of “damning it all to hell” were a bit hasty. Naomi-until we tried to walk to Juan Les Pins, because I decided it would be the ideal last stop on the Mediterranean. This trip resulted in blisters, cursing, hanger, resentment towards France…and we didn’t even make it to our destination. Rick Steve’s says “smart travelers take the bus”. Once again, we chose stubborn.

The morning we were supposed to depart on our train to Chamonix, Naomi got out the tent excited for her instant Mocha when I hear “shit, shit, shit!” I look up, train tickets in hand she continues “shit, shit, wait let me check… no, shit shit!” The train we both thought was leaving at noon, was actually leaving 10 minutes from now and there was no way we were going to make it (the guy who’d printed our tickets had also made us an itinerary, but it started with our first transfer, not our departure time). So without her coffee we packed up hoping we could catch another train and walked the couple of miles back to the station…

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