Ronny Flynn shares her train journey – A trip to Avignon, made easy by socialism.
Story and Pictures by Ronny Flynn.
January 15th, the region where we live in France, Languedoc Roussillon, introduced the ‘one euro’ train. Coming from England where annual rail fare increases frequently exceed the rate of inflation, this for me is unbelievably generous. You can travel anywhere in the region for just one euro per person per journey. Tickets must be purchased on-line and in advance, and go on sale exactly three weeks before the exact time of travel. This is not good news for people without internet or printing facilities, but we are lucky. This service complements the ‘one Euro’ bus that has operated in the region for several years, and is very well used.
When we board the train it is almost empty, and I wonder at the economics of running such a service. My husband points out that it is only in a capitalist system that profit drives all things, and that running a public service may be good reason in itself . We are so used to expensive and overcrowded trains which are often delayed, that I have forgotten there are other ways.
Armed with our one euro tickets and a bag full of food, we set off one sunny winter’s morning on a direct train to Avignon which would take three and a half hours, but has no catering facilities. The region boasts more than 300 days of sunshine a year, and we are able to take advantage of it. We travel past the snow-capped mountains of the Pyrenees, through acres of vineyards producing more wine that anywhere else in the world, past salt pans, lakes with feeding flamingos, ancient villages and farms.
The train rolls along parallel to the Canal du Midi and the Mediterranean coast. The number of right-wing Front National posters I see from the train disturbs me. There are visible minority ethnic populations in the region including many Muslims, and I hope they will be kept safe. After the recent Charlie Hebdo massacre by terrorists, the armed police presence has increased in the cities, and there is still a tendency to equate ‘Muslim’ with ‘terrorist’.
The weather forecast had predicted two days of heavy rain for our trip. Half way into the journey there is no sign of rain just sun, so we cross our fingers and enjoy the views. Forty minutes before we arrive the rain sets in, and was to stay with us until we were on our way home again.
In Avignon we had booked a night in a well-rated very central hotel for 55 euros. The two days of rain did not deter us from exploring Avignon by foot. It’s a small city and the main attractions are easy to reach. It’s fascinating and disturbing to see the opulence and bureaucracy of the Roman Catholic Church at the Palace of the Popes, part of the power struggle between Rome and France. The palace consumed much of the papacy budget during its construction, and a substantial percentage of the annual budget was spent keeping the Pope and the hundreds of staff housed and fed.
We visit the Angladon museum where the heirs of Jacques Doucet, Parisian couturier, collector and patron of the arts bequeathed a superb art collection in their private house to the nation. It is from this collection that after his death Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon was sold to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Jacques Doucet’s stunning collection of works by Van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne and others are lovely to see. The Picasso ‘guitar’ paintings on display are surprisingly small. Book reproductions don’t convey scale.
We search for vegetarian food for dinner that night, but are unwilling to pay ‘fine dining’ prices. By contrast, we find a vegetarian café where the owner throws together rice, vegetables and lentils in a soggy heap, and charges far too much for it. Serves us right.
The next morning in our central hotel we have a memorable breakfast that includes home-made yogurt, apricot and mint jam and plum clafoutis – a kind of solid custard cake, and the most perfect crispy and flaky croissants. We visit the famous ‘Pont d’Avignon’ in the pouring rain and have a late lunch of savoury buckwheat pancakes. The cafe owner spent time in York, England and has scones, jam and cream on the menu, which I have to try.
The return train was an older model and was dropping off commuters so it was more crowded. We nevertheless travelled back in comfort, grateful to the socialist regional council that has put people before profit. British public transport could learn a great deal from the one euro system!