I’m a little behind on blogging. I’m back from my short Paris excursion, but still haven’t written about Avignon or the strike last week. I’m busily preparing for my Berlin trip next week and trying to learn a few German phrases.
Last Wednesday I went with Sarah, an English assistant working in Privas, to Avignon for the day. You might remember that I visited Avignon once before, but didn’t get to see much. This time we took the train in the morning and after getting a coffee, first went to les Palais des Papes, the former residence of the Pope in France. As I mentioned in my previous Avignon post, the Pope was in France for around 70 years due to a group of Cardinals who tried to take the authority from Rome. Well, that’s oversimplifying, but considering the actual audioguide tour of les Palais des Papes didn’t go into details, I’ll let you do your own research.
The audioguide was exceptionally boring, focusing mostly on the vaulted ceilings of every single room and other architectural details. Yes, the architecture is beautiful, stunning even. But isn’t what makes the building significant the history? There isn’t much inside of the building as all of the furniture and decorations are gone, leaving vast halls filled only with tiny space heaters and clusters of informational placards. It was good in a way, drawing attention to the gorgeous traces of frescoes and the overwhelming vastness of the place. And it is huge, a labyrinth of rooms. You’ll be walking down a narrow corridor that someone a little taller than me would have to stoop in and then suddenly you’re in a dining hall big enough to house a family of giraffes.
The palace was expanded several times under different popes, which is why it can be a little like the Winchester Mystery House. There weren’t too many visitors being that it was the middle of the week in off-season, so I can imagine the experience being different with a large crowd. Despite the cold, that is one advantage to being in France now. Even the most crowded tourist places have about half of the people they would in June. And scarves are my favorite accessory, so it all works in my favor. Although the wind can be a little much, as we found when we went back outside.
The top of the palace felt like there was an Arctic wind, but it was only the infamous Mistral. I noticed there were potted plants that had blown over in one of the courtyards and I wondered why they even bothered. Both times I’ve been to Avignon have felt like a windy Oklahoma City day. We had a little of an embarrassing time trying to find the palace’s exit, which was hidden behind some construction. After escaping, we had sandwiches at the Place de l’Horloge before going over to the other main Avignon destination: le Pont d’Avignon.
You probably know the song or at least the melody: “Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse, l’on y danse..” (On the bridge of Avignon, we dance there, we dance there…). The actual name of the bridge is the Pont St-Bénézet, named for a young shepherd called Bénézet who had a vision to build the bridge and the story goes that he convinced the locals by lifting a large rock by himself. Due to a flood in 1669, only 4 of the original 22 arches are left, but you can walk over all of them (or dance) and see the bridge’s chapel where Bénézet was buried. It was incredibly windy, but we made it to the end of the bridge and managed some dancing. A boring audioguide was also included in this tour, although it did have the song on it which was nice. There was a really bizarre part of the bridge’s small museum where you could remix the song and watch silhouettes of people dancing to a “hip” version of it.
We walked around the city a while before taking the train back to Valence. I was so glad I had gotten my hair cut to my shoulders the day before so the dense tangles I had to brush out from the wind were minimal.