The Mole Diaries: Avignon
Georgie is a University of Nottingham student, currently studying at the Université d'Avignon, having spent last semester studying at the Universitat de València. Here is her insider guide to living and studying in Avignon - university, nightlife, shopping, eating, accommodation, travel, phones, banking and language advice...
Avignon is a small city in the gorgeous region of Provence, in the south of France. Known for having been the home of the popes during the 14th century, the old town centre is surrounded by medieval ramparts, creating a strong distinction between intramuros and extramuros Avignon. You’ll find everything you need intramuros, including the university, in fact I’ve only been outside the walls a handful of times in two months of living here. Living in a small city that has more of a town feel has its advantages and disadvantages, it depends on what you like. It can feel a bit repetitive sometimes but it’s much easier to settle in and get to know people because everyone knows everyone, and for a small place there is a lot going on, especially for students. The fact that it’s not a major city is beneficial for your language because not as many people speak English and it’s easier to get to know locals. As you’d expect from the south of France, the weather here is amazing (no, seriously, I’ve been sunbathing since March) but beware le mistral, the wind that affects this part of the country, which can reach 100km/h!
1. The University
L’Université d’Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse puts on a welcome week for Erasmus students at the start of each semester which I thought was brilliant because it throws you all in together from the start and makes it so easy to make friends immediately. During the week there are induction meetings, presentations and soirées put together by the uni and they help you sort out most of your administration. There are optional French classes in the afternoons, which I didn’t find that useful but it’s good to refresh your memory if you haven’t written or spoken French for a while. The international office is comparatively well organised (but remember we’re talking about France here) which is a massive help when you first arrive. For a small faculty there are a lot of extra curricular things to get involved in, which is a perfect way to integrate with both the French students and the other Erasmus. In the welcome week we were given information on all the student-run associations: the Asso Échanges puts on loads of events and soirées (don’t miss their tandems linguistiques) and there’s a huge number of sports to try out as well as photography, music, theatre and a campus radio station which is always keen to get international students involved!
There are lots of students in Avignon so there’s a good number of bars and places to go out. As far as clubs go it has less to offer since it’s quite a small place, but if that’s what you’re looking for then Shelter is a safe bet, or Red Zone (not the best club ever but keep an open mind!). Delirium is a cool bar/music salon with a baroque kind of feel to it. Failing that, someone’s always having a house party and there’s usually something going on at the uni residence. For bars head to Place Pie - there you’ll find Red Sky, which is popular for Erasmus nights out, and Wall Street, a bar with a dance floor downstairs.
Tip – go to Wall Street on a Tuesday night and get free hotdogs with your drinks! Just off Place Pie is Pub Z, which is perfect if you prefer something a bit alternative.
3. Shopping and eating
La Rue de la République in the town centre is where you’ll find all the main shops, as far as chains go there’s H&M, Zara, Jennyfer, Sephora, Monoprix, Lush, Fnac, etc. The little side streets around la Rue de la République and la Place de l’Horloge have lots of little boutiques and some good friperies. As in most of France, nothing is open on Sundays, which goes for restaurants too. Living up to the French stereotype, Avignon is full of nice places to eat, but steer clear of the Place de l’Horloge since that’s where most of the tourists go so it’s quite overpriced and not that great. There are also loads of cute coffee shops, it feels like I go for coffee most days but I still haven’t tried them all! La Place des Corps Saints is lovely to go and sit outside in the sun – the Milkshop is a must and go to Ginette and Marcel for tartines!
Find a colocation with French students – this has been a saviour for my French while I’ve been here. La Garidelle is the uni residence, which is quite cheap and good fun but it’s mostly Erasmus students who live there and it’s a bit basic. There are lots of studios available too (search independently or try la Résidence Sainte Marthe) but I think the best option is sharing a house or flat, from a social point of view but also because if your housemates don’t speak English you’re forced to practise your language every day. Leboncoin.fr is a good website for accommodation and there are Erasmus groups on Facebook where people can post accommodation offers. When you first arrive book into a hostel for a few days, Pop Hostel is well located on la Rue de la République. Definitely try to live intra-muros – it’s so much more convenient to be closer to everything and makes getting home at night a lot easier.
Invest in a Carte Jeune 18-27 which gives you 50% off all train tickets for a year. It costs €50 but you’ll definitely get your money’s worth – Avignon is surrounded by beautiful Provençal towns like Nîmes and Arles that are well worth a visit, and it’s not far from bigger places like Montpellier, Marseille and even Nice. It’s also a great idea to buy a bicycle while you’re here (try leboncoin.fr for that too) because while Avignon is definitely small enough to walk everywhere having a bike makes getting around that bit easier, you can also make the most of the sunny weather here with a bike ride over to Villeneuve just across the river.
Make the most of Sundays for doing touristy things (le Palais des Papes (photo above by Henri Sivonen), le Pont d’Avignon, etc.) – they’re free on Sunday for residents of Avignon, just take proof that you live there, e.g. your housing contract.
For your phone contract buy a SIM card online from Free, it’s €2 a month for unlimited texts, 50MB internet and 2 hours’ calls. They sent my card in the post within a couple of days and I put it in a phone I’d brought with me.
Bank accounts are notoriously a bit of a nightmare to set up here but I didn’t have any problems at all with BNP Paribas, there are several branches intramuros and I just gave them my passport, housing contract and proof that I’m a student here. I had to wait two weeks for my debit card but then went and picked it up and everything was sorted.
Whether or not you’re speaking French at home, take every opportunity you can to practise. This goes for all of France really, but I’ve found that in Avignon it’s fairly easy. Go to extra lectures to practise your listening, be chatty with people in shops/bars (travelling in covoiturage (check out Bla Bla Car) is great for this because you’re stuck with them for several hours and have to make conversation, which will most likely be in French), join a sports team or association, and maybe look for a language exchange partner. Word Reference has saved my life many times here so it’s a good idea to download the app for your phone!