Shutter Island

Chateauneuf du Pape

Today is our only full day in Avignon. We booked a pretty cool-looking food and wine tour. The first half of the day is the food tour. We meet only footsteps from our hotel in front of the Tourist Building and are greeted by the cutest little French woman. Aurelie is so incredibly sweet, with a thick French accent but clearly speaks English incredibly well. If I could describe her in one word, it would be warm. So warm and inviting and great with people. Of the five tours we will go on during our Europe trip, Aurelie will hands down be my favorite guide. 

Once the entire group is gathered, she leads us to a courtyard, away from the noise of the street. This is where the introductions take place. Say our names, where we’re from, if we’ve ever been to Avignon, and what brings us here. There are eight of us total. At first I think, is this really necessary? But it actually ends up being a great way for us strangers to strike up conversations with each other. (On other tours, there are no introductions, so it can sometimes be weird walking with people and never talking to them.)

Steve and I are clearly the youngest people here. It’s two older couples and one pair of lady best friends who always travel together. It’s adorable. I love that we vacation like old people.

Aurelie starts us off with a little breakfast – croissants. She hands me the bag first. There doesn’t seem to be enough in there for everybody so I start to rip off a piece. Aurelie is talking to the group as she holds the bag for me and realizes what I’m doing. “Take the whole thing!” Oh! A whole one? “Yes, of course.” She has more parchment bags filled with delicious buttery croissants. I happily take a whole one.

We then walk the backstreets of Avignon. It’s beautiful and quaint and quiet – except for all the construction going on. Aurelie fills us in on the new government and how they’ve been making more roads for pedestrians. It’s pretty interesting and informative.

We stop in a chocolate shop, a coffee shop, and a wine shop. At each place, Aurelie has pleasantries with whomever is working there, then basically takes over the store for 15 minutes, gives us tastes and explains the culture of Avignon. We stop to sit outside at a cafe – La Pause Gormande, the oldest cafe in Avignon. Aurelie explains that the owner is 75 years old and is at the cafe every morning at 6am. “She says it’s what keeps her alive.”

The tour ends at Les Halles (a large covered market) with us all gathered around a table, sampling treats from the market. We taste olive oil, cheeses, rillete, and the reddest, juiciest strawberries I’ve ever had in my entire life. It’s a wonderful afternoon.

Now, we must be on our way to meet our wine guide. We say our goodbyes to Aurelie and our new friends on the tour. One of the couples is actually coming with us for the wine tour. Chuck and Sandy. It kind of feels like they are our designated parents for the day.

Romain is our tour guide. He’s a funny Frenchman. We pile into his van and he drives us to Chataeuneuf du Pape, a village in the Rhone Valley, just outside Avignon. Along the way, he asks us all about ourselves. He has a witty response to everything and I can’t stop laughing.

We’re picking up another couple to join us, but first we stop in front of the winery and Romain begins to educate us on Chateauneuf du Pape. I’m trying to pay attention to everything he’s saying, but it’s a little buggy out here, and one little buzzer in particular will not seem to leave Steve alone. He’s trying not to visibly freak out, but that’s exactly what he’s doing. Romain finally stops talking and just watches Steve. I can’t even breathe. The bug has landed on Steve’s shirt and he screams as he swats at it and runs away. I let them all know; Steve really hates bugs.

We pile back into the van and make our way up the very long driveway to a castle which is also a hotel – Le Château des Fines Roches. It’s so peaceful up here and the views are breathtaking. Romain retrieves the other couple joining us and it’s back into the van to head to some other incredibly beautiful building.

We walk around as Romain talks more about the history of blah blah blah. Chuck wants to know if we’re tasting wine here. “Oh no, we are not tasting any wine today. Just looking at the vines.”

I can’t get enough of Romain.

Steve and I have been walking all day. We had one bottle of water during the morning tour, but now I am parched. We’re not even drinking wine, but I really need some water.

When we finally do have some wine, I ask the lady doing our tasting if I can have a glass of water. She gives me a tiny cup of water half full. I throw it back in two gulps. I proceed to ask for water four more times. I wish she would just fill up the whole cup.

At our final stop – a family run vineyard – I ask Romain if I can have some water when we do the tasting and he says, of course. But once the tasting begins, I guess he forgets, so I ask him again. Could I please have some water?

“It’s not a water tour. It’s a wine tour.”

Ohhhh, Romain.

It’s been a long day of walking, food, sunshine, and wine. Steve and I are beat when we get back to the hotel.

Please let the air conditioner work.

Nope. Doesn’t work. I immediately go down to the lobby. Did I mention it’s a walk up? We’re on the fourth floor. I want to get this taken care of before we go out to dinner. Our girl from the night before is here. We try our best to communicate with each other. I tell her that I thought the guy fixed it this morning. She pulls the same move he pulled and seems to flip some kind of switch in the office. Tells me to try it again. If it doesn’t work, she’ll come up.

It doesn’t work. I call down to the lobby and she comes up. She tries to fix it, and by fix it, I mean turn it on, which we have already tried. It does not work. She is so sweet and innocent as she very genuinely looks at me and says, “I am sorry…. will that be OK?”

No, that will not be OK. I don’t understand. She’s trying to explain in English but she can’t find the words. “Can I try French?” Oui. 

The next minute is comical. It’s like she’s on fast forward as she so eloquently blends all of her words together and I am squinting, trying to just catch even a word I might understand. When she finishes, I smile. Repetez, s’il vous plait?

She laughs at this. This is not working. I can’t believe how exhausting this is.

We eventually go back down to the lobby. She says there is no other room except for the one above us but …. something. Steve realizes before me that she is saying the room is smaller than the one we are in right now. Oh! That’s totally fine. Yes. Please.

The three of us make our way back upstairs – this time to the fifth floor. The room is smaller, but who the heck cares? Unfortunately, the air conditioner doesn’t work here either. This is unreal. I guess there’s no point in changing rooms.

We give up and go back to our room. Almost as soon as we’re in there, we decide that you know what, we’d still rather be in that other room. Because if no one has been in there and no one has opened the windows, there will be no bugs.

So again, we walk back down the steps to the lobby. I almost feel bad that we’re still bothering her about this, but she is always kind and sweet. Now Steve and I pack everything and lug it up another flight of steps.

I’m dreading sleeping without the windows open – it’s going to be so stuffy and hot – but at least there won’t be bugs. And we’ll just get drunk at dinner so we can fall asleep easier. Great plan.

Dinner is wonderful. I’m in love with this adorable little town. The night air is marvelous,… and I do not want to sleep in the hotel room. But we have to. One more night. We leave in the morning.

It is not a fun night. I don’t hear any bugs, but I cannot stop scratching. I’m so itchy! Steve is, too. At one point, I turn on the light because I’m SURE I’m going to see one. But I don’t. I really want to open the windows. There’s two in this room, so if we opened them, I’m sure it would feel wonderful, but I don’t want to chance it. 

I really feel like I’m not going to get an ounce of sleep, when I finally drift off. When we wake, Steve and I waste no time getting our things together. We never saw a single bug, but it was still a restless night. Everything is almost packed and by the door. My suitcase is the last thing to go, and as I’m zipping it, I see one. He flies right by my hand.

I don’t immediately try to kill it, like I did the day before. Steve and I see it at the same time. I just stop and look up at him, completely disgusted. Let’s get the fuck out of here.

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