We arrived in Metz at 06:15 and had half an hour to wait for the next train in the very impressively sculpted station. At 06:50 our TGV pulled away at high speed towards Paris. Laptop users on TGV get one dedicated seat with a power outlet situated next to the lavatory. We hove into Gare de l'Est at 08:19 and then descended into the Métro to get to Gare de Lyon via Bastille. (You all know of the English king who spent so much time on crusades in the Mediterranean he was known as Richard Gare de Lyon?)
At Gare de Lyon we tried to procure breakfast, but here, too, breakfast was all bread-based. A packet of crisps had to substitute. At 09:46 our next duplex TGV left the station. As we travelled southwards the flat landscape began to undulate, steadily gaining in amplitude until becoming proper mountains in Provence.
We arrived in Montélimar at 12:35 in pleasant sunshine. The plan was to visit Le palais de bonbons et du nougat.
Our first disappointment was that there was no luggage deposit at the station, so we would have to tug our bags along. The second was that there was no tourist information either, so we couldn’t find out how to get to the candy palace. (Note to self, always save the Google road map before leaving on travels.) But of course, we could just take a taxi. Of course, the taxi stand was empty. After a while a taxi turned up and dropped someone off at the station, so I politely inquired whether the taxi was available. Without actually answering this the driver firmly requested us to go the taxi stand. Then he drove away, never to return, still pointing us at the taxi stand. Neither did any of his colleagues seem to appreciate the vicinity of the railway station, as no taxis could be seen anywhere. After a bit of indecisive milling about we got the bright idea of going to the nearest hotel and ask for advice.
The receptionist explained that the museum actually was just ten minutes walk down the road. Excellent!
In fact it took closer to an hour. We had already given up and intended to ask for directions back to the town centre when we realised the building in front of us was the sought-after museum. The receptionist there was friendly greetings personified, took care of our bags and gave us each a fistfull of candy along with our tickets. And, the premises were air-conditioned, which by that time was a major blessing.
The museum was an interesting experience. As befits the international museum of sugar refineries we were introduced not only to the history of sugar ever since the Egyptians but also were cheerfully told of the vital function of sugar in our bodies, not only is sugar good, but it actually keeps you alive! There was some quite impressive sugar art as well as a wall of (French) nostalgia in the form of a history of candy brands and their advertising. I was quite surprised that many well-known brands are a hundred years old or more. Possibly the pièce de résistance was The World’s Largest Piece of Nougat, a block well over a cubic metre, weighing about 1300 kg. We thought it was a horrid waste of good candy.
The adjacent nougat factory seemed half-empty, possibly because we had arrived just during lunch. The candy store was on the other hand quite full of candy. Behind it was a little toy museum. I was quite taken by the (copy of) a 3500 year old Minoan toy horse with wheels so that it could be pulled along behind you. There would have been a little toddler long ago, trying to both walk forward and watch the little horse behind to make sure it came along. Oops! There he fell over!
We decided it was time to get back into town and get something to eat, so we returned to the entrance and asked the receptionist how to best get back. “Oh! You go out there and then turn left after the military surplus store and follow the little path to the other side and there is a bus stop there.” Honeybuns thought this sounded very dubious, but I am a trusting soul and led the way up the little path and shortly we did arrive at a bus stop and shortly thereafter the bus arrived too and took us straight back to the railway station.
Now, to get some food. By the park there was any number of eateries, so let’s just pick one that has good vegetarian options. We plopped down by a table and ordered food. Sorry, only bar, no food until 19h. Oh? We looked around and realised that none of the people sitting at the tables were actually eating anything, but were drinking beers and similar stuff. Bah! Let’s find a food store then. We walked on through the shopping district, lugging our bags. Eventually we did find a food store—which was closed on Mondays. In desperation we turned back towards to railway station when we happened upon Star Kebab which was open and did serve food and did serve a large selection of good and plentiful food. Forks up!
Happily refreshed we walked back to the station, where eventually we could catch the 17:45 to Avignon. Seemingly a simple local train, but a double-decker and with power outlets by all seats. I divided my time between letter-writing and watching the mountains grow ever craggier and the Rhône flowing by.
We were in Avignon an hour later. An historical town, but we barely had time to buy and write a couple of postcards and then catch the shuttle bus to the TGV station. (Our Interrail cards were not valid on the bus.)
We left the futuristic TGV station in Avignon at 19:59 and arrived in Aix-en-Provence just 20 minutes later where we were met by our friend Johan. We bundled into his car and drove through the Provence countryside to Rians, where he lives in a several-hundred-years-old house utterly bereft of straight lines, right angles and equal distances. After a light supper we fell asleep in this strange house in a strange country under a warm IKEA blanket.