Friday, January 28, 2011

Day 74: "What is Meditation?"

Before reading this article, take a few seconds for yourself. Separate yourself from your thoughts, the past, the future. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe. Counting in your head – breathe in for three seconds. Pause for three seconds. Breathe out for three seconds. Pause for three seconds. Ah, the present.

This dude meditated for too long.
I do not remember when my fascination with meditation began. About a year ago I saw an poster for free meditation classes in New York City offered by the Sri Chinmoy Centre. I only attended one out of the three classes but it fueled my interest in meditation and changed my life. In the following months, my meditations fluctuated; during some periods I would meditate daily, others I wouldn't meditate for weeks. Recently, the constant motion of traveling ignited a compulsion to meditate. Having found a home inside of myself, I've been meditating almost every day for the past four months. During this time, my interest in meditation has grown, now I'm beginning to seek people who can help me further my meditations.

CouchSurfing has an advanced search feature that allows users to find others with similar interests. Staying with Zoë in Montpellier made me realize how living with a likeminded individual can improve specific aspects of my life. When I sent couch requests looking for a host in Toulouse, I searched for 'meditation' and one dude popped up. In total I sent out ten requests. Nine to others and one to the meditation dude, Aras. Sure enough, Aras was the only one that accepted.

Staying with Aras has been a blessing. He has shown me an open heartedness, the likes of which I've never experienced before. He always knows what I need. From feeding me when I arrived, to nourishing me daily with his universal wisdom. His words come to me like rain to the desert, filling me with a substance that I have not experienced before. He has been meditating for a long time but during the past five years he has made meditation a fundamental force in his life. It is clear from his presence, words, and actions that he has achieved a great source of clarity. Through our long conversations over meals, I have realized much. I would like to share some of what I am absorbing.

A flower I found in the Japanese Garden of Toulouse.

Before I serve you a ladle full of my brain stew, I'd like to take a moment and explain something to you and myself. Many aspects of life are impossible to convey with language. I am just beginning to consciously accept this (and it's rather liberating). It is possible for me to talk to you about what Aras has told me because I have received this information in the form of language. It is important to realize that these concepts are the seeds of the plant and no one can describe how the plant grows.

Next to his couch (my bed) Aras keeps a small stack of pink papers. Every one has the same question scribbled on the front "Tell me << what is meditation? >>" My initial mental struggle over this question made me nervous when Aras asked me to take one of these papers before our first meditation. 

The big question...

On the back of each slip are three seemingly random nouns "dog... sea... coffee," next to each there is a box to write in. The top of the paper says "Describe these things in one word." I had no idea what to write. Was this some sort of trick? A puzzle? I jotted down the first words that came to mind and handed him the paper. He took it, put it in his lap, looked at it, and sat in silence. I wanted desperately to be right – for him to accept me. This was a stressful silence.

After what seemed like an hour, he opened his eyes, looked at me, and said "Please read the front of the paper." The question I had dreaded. After meditating for four months I felt distressed that I couldn't answer "What is meditation?" I read those words to him with a knot in my throat. He sat silently. Waiting. Scrambling for an answer, I replied "Meditation is clearing the mind in order to listen to the heart." Silence. Silence. Silence. Silence. Silence. "That is not meditation."

We meditated together. I released my anxiety into the void. I felt calm. But... "what is meditation?!"

What is meditation? We repeated this exercise two more times. After I handed him the paper I had written on the second time, I knew the answer. The following day, the third paper I handed him had no writing. I will never forget that night. "Meditation is."

"You must sit like you're waiting for nothing, like an idiot." -Aras

Many people think there are two types of knowledge; the known and unknown. In reality, there are three; the known, the unknown, and the unknowable. Meditation is the latter. Accepting this will take me a long time but I feel like I am helplessly being pulled by a fishing line that is hooked deep inside of my body. I cannot resist. The definition of meditation and its benefits are separate yet bound together. Meditation is unknowable but its benefits are visible.

Over breakfast one morning, I asked Aras "How do conscious efforts to better oneself fit into meditation?" Self improvement is something that I've had an increasing conscious interest in over the past two years. The techniques in books that I have read are based in values and discipline; I am mainly referring to Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Successful People." I was curious how to meld the openness of meditation and the rigidity of self improvement. Many times I have focused on building my self discipline with limited success.

Aras' house is beautifully decorated and is a great meditation environment.

"We have many different personalities in side of us," began Aras. "They are formed from the expectations of society and from the expectations of others. Their voices pull us in many directions. When we choose to listen to one, we have the others' telling us to do something else. Therefore every action that we make is not of free will. To make a conscious effort towards a goal is strenuous because we must resist the other voices. We have lost ourselves in the sea of society. When we choose to do something our being isn't in complete agreement because of this fragmentation." Suddenly the voice that says "It's ok, sleep in." At 7AM every morning made sense. Meditation allows us to bypass these voices by bypassing the brain hotel they live in. In the quietness of meditation one is enveloped in only their self and can find who they truly are. This process of self discovery and acceptance enriches our lives in a multitude of ways. One way is the ability to improve yourself without strenuous resistance. Another is the ability to live in the moment.

Living in the moment is forgetting about the past and the future, devoting all of your attention to right now. Now. Becoming completely immersed in a situation – living every second like there is no tomorrow. Planning is pointless for the future is unknowable. For me this is the most difficult state of mind to be in but also the most rewarding. My whole life I have been programmed to plan for the future and remember the past. School taught me exactly that; invest your time for the future and remember what you learned. Through traveling, I am learning a new mindset – the mindset of now.

I utilize this crystal's energy for meditation and Tarot reading.

By emptying myself I attempt to focus on the present. If I'm eating I chew slowly, focusing on every bite. If I am writing a blog entry, I write completely. For me this is so difficult because I'm constantly thinking of other things. The little voices inside of me say "go to the bathroom, eat a sandwich, go on Facebook, explore outside." I become constantly distracted and I have to force myself to focus on my breath, focus on what I'm doing. Come back to now.

Yesterday I was sitting on a bench in the Place du Capitole in Toulouse, reading The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. I had planned a meeting with someone but I hardly cared whether she showed up or not. I was completely fascinated with what I was reading, loving the sun shining on me, and watching people mill around the plaza. Living in the moment. Suddenly I saw the plaza as a metaphor for living life without expectations. The capitole plaza in Toulouse is a huge open space. Normally it is empty of any sort of organized event. Its openness allows it to be free to be whatever people wish to use it for at the moment. Whether it becomes a meeting spot for friends, a place for street performance, or a flea market. An empty field has limitless possibilities. Toulouse's plaza lives in the present. 

This incense is Shanthimalai nag champa from Gardens of the Ancients.

After living with Aras for a week I feel like my brain has exploded – he has literally 'blown my mind'. These concepts that I've described to you here are the seeds of the life that I want to live. Although they are new concepts to me, I feel as though I have not learned them, as much as they've been awakened inside of me. They are simple and natural. I find the more that I align myself with these fundamentals the more good comes my way. Living in the moment makes life stress free. There only is what is. I am struggling. I am determined to internalize these concepts and become more than a continually distracted, mentally fragmented sack of meat.

Au revoir!

PS: If you are interested in learning to meditate, the Chopra Center in California is holding a 21 day meditation challenge, over the internet, that's perfect for anyone who is interested in learning how to meditate. Aras and I are participating!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 72: Hitch Hiking to Toulouse

The open road!
Europe has a new roadside attraction – a fool on the side of the road with his thumb out, doing a dance. Let me tell you about my first hitch hiking experience.

Hitch hiking has always been a forbidden fruit for me. My parents warned me about picking up hitch hikers and told me to never hitch hike. "You never know what type of person you're going to meet," they said. They might stab you. While I wasn't afraid of getting stabbed, I was slightly nervous as I walked towards the highway. Little did I know, I was about to meet some beautiful people.

My hitch hiking career began with a severe lack of knowledge. After saying goodbye to Zoë I hopped on the tram, headed to what I thought was the right location. I knew that I needed to be by the highway to Toulouse and in a spot where a car could pull over.

Zoë still looks cute, even when she's tired and in a hurry.

As I began, I was feeling good. This was new and exciting. My nervousness mixed with my excitement as I repeated the French phrase Zoë patiently taught me. "E'st que vous allez a Toulouse?" Decked out in full traveler regalia, I danced on the side of the road.

Who wouldn't pick this up?

The universe rewarded my hour of dancing with two cars. Unfortunately they were both headed in the wrong direction. I found out that I was at the entrance to the highway that I needed, but the A9 headed North instead of South. Frack. Feeling discouraged and unsure of where to go I started the walk of shame, following the tram line back to the city center where I could take the train. I felt lame because I psyched myself up to hitch but without knowing how to get to the Southbound A9 my situation was hopeless. Walking along the tram line. I mentally consoled myself, "At least you got two cars to stop!" At that moment a miracle happened – I saw a sign for the A9 to Barcelona. Yee ha!

I followed the signs, walking down the road for about 45 minutes. When I tried hitch hiking by a bus stop and one of the drivers motioned for me to keep walking. So I headed towards a gas station which I thought might be a better place.

Resuming my hitch hiking shimmy, it wasn't long before I got my first ride. I was on my way. The intrepid traveler. Backpack hitching across Europe. I was doing this. Fun. Exciting. New. People. The Universe. France. Synch. He brought me to the Toulouse highway entrance.

People that stop for hitch hikers either genuinely want to help or skin you and stuff you in their trunk. Thankfully, everyone that I met while hitch hiking was friendly and helpful. All of the people that picked me up had hitched before so they wanted to help other hitchers. For example, this first dude I got in a car with gave me a big piece of paper so I could make a sign. Even the woman who dropped me off in the middle of the highway thought she was helping.

Having been deposited just passed the toll booth, I laughed to myself. This was an absurd situation. Cars slingshotted out of the toll booth like dragsters. I could feel the suction of huge transport trucks as they barreled down the road. I was standing on the side of a four lane highway where that woman dropped me. The chances of someone pulling over seemed slim. Holding my sign high and dancing I couldn't help but think, "I'm going to die here."

Hitch hiking is my new favorite way to get around.

I only waited a few minutes before a young, chain smoking manager of La Post, picked me up, and took me from Montpellier to Toulouse. He said he liked my hat. He runs a handful of post offices around Toulon and Marseille and is in charge of over 200 people. He was friendly and spoke enough English to have a great conversation. We chatted the whole time about ourselves, my travels, people, politics, the environment, differences between France and US, gun laws, language, hitch hiking, Sarkozy, French girls, music, work strikes – I even learned a bit more French. Our brains grooved as we rocketed down the highway towards Toulouse. We were there before I knew it; our two hour ride passed too quickly. Luckily his meeting had been delayed for an hour and a half. Bar!

One of the four bars we went to.

Actually, it was time to go to many bars. The next morning, my head asked me "why did you mix beer, rum, vodka, and pastis?" That's the kind of night we had. A good 'ol time. Two dudes hanging out, rambling on about this and that, pounding back the alcool. I called my CouchSurfing host to let him know that I would meet him in about an hour. That hour may have turned into three, but nonetheless, I got a ride to his apartment. Parting from my new friend was a bummer. He dropped me off and we went our separate ways. My way was a drunk climb over a fence to get into my host's apartment complex.

Thank goodness, everything worked out. A perfect way to end a day that I will never forget. My host, Aras gave me a warm welcome around 22:30 with a bowl of grilled mushrooms in stroganoff sauce. I was way too drunk to dwell on my distaste for mushrooms but they were delicious. We chatted while I ate, but afterwards I crashed almost immediately. I had a long day. Once again, proving that investing my trust in the good graces of strangers always makes life interesting.

Au revoir!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Day 70: Be a Good Guest - Be a Good Human

With one or two exceptions, I haven't paid any money for housing in the past two months. When I was staying in hostels, the €15 a day room fee made up the majority of my expenses. In addition to its 'no charge' benefit, CouchSurfing has opened up a new world to me. Sleeping on the sofas of locals has taught me far more than the benefits of a full size bed. Through my many interactions with my hosts, I'm perfecting my skills as a guest – and as a human.

Uproot with style and grace.
CouchSurfing has enriched my traveling experience more than anything else on my trip. From the beginning my experiences with CouchSurfing have been positive and its long term benefits have far exceeded its initial advantages. Exchanging personalities, knowledge, and ideologies with someone who was raised in a different environment; finding widely varying points of view, but also discovering core similarities. Hanging out with locals and dissolving the barrier between tourist and local – completely different from staying in a hostel; when I stay with a local I'm immersed in their environment, in their house, surrounded by their possessions, enveloped in their life, language, and friends. Finally, CouchSurfing is free; it saves me ridiculous amounts of money, probably €500/mo. CS has given me more than experiences, it is teaching me how to be a good guest.

Travelers who wish to be good surfers have a lot of responsibility. Being a good guest is no easy task. Both flexibility and discipline are necessary. On one hand I have to be flexible, whether it's spontaneously going out to dance or leaving with my host because there are no spare keys. On the other hand, I have to be disciplined to keep my stuff neat, wake up on time, and attempt to get my blog posts out on time! Being a good guest is a juggling act.

The definition of a good guest is dependent upon the host. While every host would give a slightly different list of criteria, I've found there are a handful of fundamental characteristics that make a good guest. In a nutshell, a good guest will be minimally intrusive and maximally interesting.


Respecting my host and their space.

Prompt - My method of traveling is chaotic but I do my best to arrive when I say I will and call if I will be late.
Clean - I always keep my belongings neat and as unobtrusive as possible. I also wash dishes after every meal and even bathe myself on occasion.
Well Mannered - Having good manners shows people you respect them. Asking for stuff or saying "please" or "thank you" shows respect.
Thinking Ahead - By being ready when they're ready, thinking ahead allows me to tread lightly on my hosts' lives.
Selfless - I have to base my actions off my host's availabilities. For example, I don't have internet right now because my host is studying and I cannot interrupt her for her to help me get online.


Sharing what I have...

Cooking - My meal swap has been a huge hit. Cooking shows my appreciation, along with being an amazing gastronomic experience.
Food - I buy more food than I eat. Food is an easy way to make someone smile.
Skills - If someone is interested, I love to teach something I know. I've taught meditation, cooking, and tarot. No one has wanted to learn yo-yo yet.
Time - I'm spending more time off the computer and engaged with people. The time I spend talking with many of my hosts is my favorite experience in a town.


Being interesting by fully connecting with my host...

Reading Between the Lines - Picking up on what someone is saying without them saying it. I'm still learning how to do this.
Sharing Stories - Many hosts have traveled before so it's fun to talk to them about where they've been and what they've experienced, then relate to them and have some good laughs.
Talking About What They Like - Piggybacking your own interests and experiences inside of the vein of my host's interests – continuing and enriching the conversation
Listening More Than I Speak - Most people on CouchSurfing both like to talk a lot and have many interesting things to say. I like to use my stories and questions to keep them talking; that's when both of us have the most fun.
Exchanging Movies, Books, Music - I have learned about so many new movies, books, and bands throughout my trip. It's so fascinating to see people's different interests through the medias they choose and my pleasure to give what I have to offer.

So good! The positive interaction between host and guest is at the core of CouchSurfing. The raw experience of existing inside of someone else's life helps me grow. Through putting others before myself I gain patience. Through keeping my belongings organized, I gain discipline. By logging off the computer and engaging in conversation, I gain empathy. Combining these secondary benefits with the primary benefits of a free place to stay with a local have made CS a traveling companion that I could not do without. The skills that I am learning to be a good guest will help me interact with people throughout my life.

Au revoir!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Day 65: Musical Montpellier

I hope y'all had a lovely weekend. My time in Montpellier has been overflowing with new experiences and new friends. The weather has been beautiful, like fall, with temperatures around 10ºC (50ºF). Experiencing Montpellier with such beautiful weather has been a treat, especially in contrast to sleeping in the snow.

There's something about the vibe in Montpellier which I enjoy very much. It's a clean city with a lot of youthful energy. People are friendly and it's small enough to be cozy and to bump into your friends, but big enough to be fresh and interesting. My host was telling me about the many concerts here and incentives for students to be active in the community.

In Montpellier I have met a handful of new CouchSurfers. My host, Ophélie is open minded, warm hearted. She welcomed me into her life by bringing me to a theater practice, introducing me to her wonderful friends, and teaching me how to cook classic French food. Staying at her place was a nice balance between relaxing and exciting. It was the first sofa that I slept on in weeks, I was elated to have a comfortable night's sleep. Her room mate, Emilie is charismatic and bubbly. The two of them are a ton of fun!

Their current theater production is based on lip syncing old songs.
Michel, the director shows these young guns what's up.
A cozy theater.

A few days ago, I went out exploring and music followed me throughout the city. The first place I went, the Saint Pierre Cathedral, had a music school next to it. I think that the funky tunes emanating from the building helped me absorb the beauty of the cathedral. In a park there was a hip lookin' dude jamming on the smallest saxophone I had ever seen. I also grooved to a guy playing the accordion, along with a few other people – musical Montpellier!

Saint Pierre Cathedral in Montpellier!
This guy was so funny with his cat.
Some random dog was barking his brain off at the cat.
The cat was not pleased!
An amazing sky right before sunset.
I found a toy shop with various French Tarot decks... neat!

While wandering Montpellier, carrying the English/French dictionary that I bought in Avignon has been enjoyable. I feel like I'm a secret agent, decoding important messages. OK, maybe I'm not that cool, but I am dramatically increasing my efforts to learn French. I've been able to get by with English without a problem (it's almost boring!). I should be taking advantage of this time abroad to become as fluent as I can. I've been reading Benny, the Irish Polyglot's blog Fluent In 3 Months to take advantage of his language hacking tips. The ability to communicate with locals on a familiar level is good motivation, especially because I just met a girl.

Speaking of locals, I also met this CS guru named Andrei who's the most active in the community out of anyone that I've seen. Before coming to Montpellier I sent him a couch request. On Thursday I headed over to his house for vegetarian sloppy joes. His table was full of other Couchsurfers and we hooked down joes and slung stories. Andrei and another girl were from the US so we had a special dessert. Root beer floats! Watching the Europeans' expressions as they timidly sipped the concoctions was priceless. Thankfully they didn't like them so I helped them out :).

It's like on Survivor where they pay $100 for a hamburger.
They smuggled the root beer all the way from New Jersey.
Always a fun time with the CouchSurfing community!

Andrei was planning a hitchhiking trip for the weekend to a cabin in the mountains, about five hours north of Montpellier. I unsuccessfully tried hitchhiking once, so I was excited to learn from experts. We talked about his experiences hitching. He's been doing it for years in many countries, through all times of day and night, in any sort of weather. We planned to start Saturday morning. I left his apartment root beer coma'd and more excited to hitch than ever!

Despite most of my Friday being eaten by a stubborn blog entry, in the afternoon Ophé asked if I wanted to go to a traditional French dance. How many ways could I say oui?

That night, Ophé, Antione, and I piled into her old VW and putted to the town of Sommieres where the Trad'hivernales Bal was being held. It was another beautiful night and stars shone brightly in the sky.

The room was packed with happy and hungry people.

As soon as we arrived, the community atmosphere was apparent. The dance was free to get in and everyone brought food, like a giant potluck. There were cakes, soups, cheeses, I even had a piece of anchovy pizza.

The entertainment was rather strange.

The environment was energetic. The large room was packed with people and there were performers running throughout the crowd. Men danced on stilts to the sound of a folk band. Ophé's family was there and we all hung out and enjoyed the food and atmosphere. When the volunteers started clearing the tables the dance was about to start.

Are you ready to dance?!

Throughout the night many bands played. When one band finished, I would venture to the other venue to see what was going on, there was always music to dance to. It was fun for me to see old traditional instruments being played. I saw a crazy looking instrument called the hurdy gurdy in the Accademia gallery in Florence. At the bal I experienced the hurdy gurdy in action. All of the bands were phenominal. The music was not only traditionally French but European in general. All of it was super fun to dance to.

A fun band playing on the floor with people dancing all around.
I really dig traditional French music.
Apparently this guy used to be a punk singer.
The first time I've heard a hurdy gurdy. Similar to bagpipes.

Merci. Merci beaucoup!

For those of you lucky enough to experience my dancing, you can testify that I am the best dancer of all time. When I arrived I had no clue how to dance any of these dances. Thankfully the old ladies were eager to teach me. My favorite dances were the group dances because I got to dance with so many people. I kept imagining myself in an old village, dancing with the girls of the town. These dances were designed for introduction and interaction. One of the only dances that eluded my skills was the Mazurka. When this one came on, my dance partner did a weird little hop and gave me a look like "If you don't know how to do it already it's hopeless." The one that got away.

Antione, me, and my host, Ophé.
Maybe the girl I met is on the left :p

Everyone was smiling. The music, the atmosphere, the dancing all was perfect and it was reflected in people's faces. About half way through the night a girl came up to me and we started dancing. We hung out, talked, and danced for the rest of the night. Meow. I had such a good time that I got home at 4:30 AM. I needed to find a ride back to Montpellier but thankfully the first person that I asked was able to take me. Whew!

A bout of fireworks to cap off the night!

The next morning, I woke up magically at 9:30. Despite scrambling to pack my bag and meet up with Andrei and the gang, I missed out on the hitch hiking trip. I couldn't find the place where they were meeting up. Yesterday I realized that I was only one street away from the meeting spot. I enjoyed a delicious BBQ, nature walk, and ridiculous birthday party instead. Even without any of that, going to the dance was worth it. I had so much fun grooving to the traditional music and being among locals. Throughout my travels I want to learn more dances. When I get back to the States, who's going to dance with me?

Au revoir!

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Day 62: Aix-en Provence and Avignon

Towel. Sleeping bag. Shoes. Check. Food. Water. Computer. Check. Hurriedly cramming my stuff into my bag, I rushed to leave. Natasha was waiting. She was late for class and it was my fault. As consequence of a poor night's sleep, I didn't wake Natasha up or prepare to leave on time so now I had to scramble. Run out the door – down eleven flights. Exchanging goodbye cheek kisses on the train station's marble apron, I could tell she was slightly irritated – an unfitting end to an enjoyable CouchSurfing experience. C'est la vie!

Goodbye Natasha, thanks!

With no way to withdraw money I spent my last €5 no the bus to Aix-en Provence. I parted from Marseille slightly stressed about my low funds, but enthusiastic about seeing two new towns. By some miracle, Dad managed to finagle Western Union's website into working so I had money to pick up in Aix.

Upon arriving in Aix-en Provence I had a small number of pesky problems to address. Fortunately, I have gotten rather efficient at orienting myself in new places. I've learned that whenever I get to a new town, follow signs to the town center, then follow signs for the tourism office. The staff in the tourism office is used to goons like me and are usually able to answer all of my questions and provide me with a map. Thankfully Aix was no different and soon I finished everything and picked up some cash.

Aix's main fountain in the town center.

It was a beautiful day to explore, the sun was warm shining and the sky was a clear blue. Wandering down a few streets I found a place to eat and go to the bathroom (oof!). Being a tad sick, a solid meal did wonders to make me feel better. During breakfast I read through the map the tourism office gave me and circled interesting sights.

I treated myself to a tuna sandwich and framoise (raspberry) tart.
This fountain was from a hot spring so the water was steamy.
A beautiful old courtyard.
Farmer's market!
Marseille made Aix look as shiny as Mr. Clean's forehead.
I saw this on a postcard so I recreated the photo. Voila!
No buildings like this in America.
Aix had a huge cathedral with a beautiful old set of organ pipes.
On the way to Cézanne's house.

The city was quaint and small. When I started walking around I was amazed at how small Aix is. It only takes about 15 minutes to walk across the entire town. I saw everything on my little map rather quickly. I was unaware that Aix is the hometown of Paul Cézanne. They're capitalizing all they can. Cézanne is immortalized by a bronze statue in the main square and his house has been converted into a museum.

Paul Cézanne – the master!
His house was surrounded by bushes. Birds enjoyed it.

Carrying my pack and being sick is a draining combination. Three hours in Aix-en Provence was enough for me so I made my way to the bus station. When I got to the station, it was 13:15 and I just missed the 1 o'clock bus to Avignon. The next bus was at 17:00, but I didn't care. I could use some down time. While waiting I read about acid gulping hippies, snoozed, and worked.

Night had fallen by the time I got to Avignon. Avignon's wall towered over me, lit up with lights it was beautiful. Entering the city was magnificent. I was greeted by two pools of water that shimmered with a cool blue light, like they contained pieces of the moon. As I walked down the main strip I wondered where I was going to spend the night.

Despite a scattershot of CouchSurfing requests, I couldn't find a place to stay. Earlier this morning, as I rushed out of Natasha's apartment, I quickly found a hostel which was right off of the main street. Upon finding the hostel, it looked more like a hotel. When I asked the man if they had rooms for €17 as advertised on HostelWorld, without a smile, he said "We're not in Morocco, rooms are €40." Luckily he was kind enough to refer me to an internet cafe where I found a camp ground just across the river. I bought a can of ravioli, bread, and chocolate pudding and went in search of the promised land. I found it without a problem, pitched my tent behind a bush, and that was that.

Avignon while crossing the bridge to my camp site.

The weather was so nice in Aix-en Provence that apparently the universe needed to balance itself out with some rain while I was in Avignon. My plans to wake up at 6 fizzled. I ended up leaving the camp ground at 10, thanks to a time spent writing a blog entry and a bout of rolling around. After 12 hours of sleep I emerged from my synthetic cocoon. I packed up my tent and strolled out of the camp ground, none the poorer.

Thankfully it was relatively warm.

Exploring Avignon in the rain was less than desirable but I made the most of it. Most of my day was taken up by publishing a blog entry, but I feel I got at least a small taste of Avignon.

Part of the city walls.
The French will grow grapes anywhere.
Ducks enjoying the rain.
Notre Dame des Doms
Who taught that elephant that trick?
Romantic little streets.
Rue de la Republique as I was leaving.
Bye bye Avignon!
Buh bye!

That night I caught the bus to Montpellier, where I met with my new lovely host, Ophé. She's great, but you will have to read my next post to hear me brag about her. Exploring two cities in two days was exhausting. I've enjoyed spending the past few days in Montpellier. Not having to carry my pack around is most excellent! For an update on Montpellier you'll have to tune in on Monday.

Au revoir!

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