Friday, March 13, 2009


After my parents left I hopped on the TGV at a ridiculously early hour of the morning and headed down to the south. First stop: Avignon, with tiny little windy streets that are fun to explore:

Avignon is of course famous for its bridge, le Pont Saint Benezet, and even more famous for the song about the bridge: sur le pont d'Avignon l'on y danse, l'on y danse... The bridge itself actually collapsed during a flood back in the 17th century and is no longer terribly useful for more than attracting tourism. Still makes for a fun visit and a fun place to do a little dance in very high winds.

Avignon was so windy; the Mistral I guess? Very different from all of the weather patterns that I'm used to! And really great for my hair, let me tell you. That wind-swept pile of crap look is really in this year.

Avignon is also famous for the fact that it was the hometown of the Popes for nearly 100 years, leading to a major schism in the church during the period from 1378 to 1417 when there were actually two popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon. Avignon was the property of the Vatican from the mid 14th century until the French Revolution. If you look closely in the picture above of the bridge you can see a big sand colored tower (le Tour de Philippe le Bel). That was at one point the opposite side of the bridge and marked the beginning of France and the end of the Pope's possessions.

The popes came to Avignon because Rome was constantly under threat of attack and capture during the Middle Ages. Avignon was more secure, and to ensure their security the Popes built a "palace" that actually looks more like a fortress ready to repel a barbarian attack:

Not so pretty right? I had really been looking forward to visiting the Palais des Papes, and I wasn't disappointed about the hugeness of the building and the rooms (note: picture above is only about half of the palace, it was too big to get all of it in the picture!). Unfortunately it is quite bare on the inside, although there are very nice informative displays. You have to use your own imagination to see what it might have been like when the Popes lived there. After the Revolution it was used as both a military base and a prison, so some of the frescoes and woodwork and carvings are rather damaged, but there are still some beautiful parts, such as the two small chapels and the Pope's bedroom and antechamber (picture taken from the web), and the fact that the palace itself is built in ginormous dimensions is still very apparent, even without all the gold and tapestries and paintings and whatnot.

Of course I do not have my own pictures of the inside of the Palais because I'm apparently the only person who listens when they say not to take any pictures. Does the rest of the world not know that taking pictures with flash damages the painting?

I had plans to go see all kinds of things in Avignon but I soon realized that what I really needed to do was take it easy and rest to recharge myself for teaching. I felt like a chicken running around with its head cut off, just very unfocused and disorganized, so I spent the better part of one of my afternoons there reading in the Rocher des Doms park overlooking the city of Avignon.

I also did a lot of walking around the city just looking and exploring things, and came across this very interesting shop:

He's advertising it like he's proud of it or something!

I ate really well in Avignon. There was this great boulangerie right around the corner from my hotel with all kinds of different flavored breads (like orange chocolate!), so I would go and get a little baby baguette in the morning. I got regional cookie specialties from the market that were delish, too bad I can't get them up here! I'd bake them myself if I had an oven, but no such luck. The sun was warm and always shining, which was a major break with Picardie! Overall I enjoyed Avignon a lot and recommend it as a stop if you're travelling in the south, especially if you like cute towns and if learning something is an important component of your travels (yes, I am a nerd, I like to go places and learn things. If you don't like it, don't travel with me).


Monique said...

Oh man I loved it when I went there. At night all the shops light up at night and for some reason stayed open way past 11. That was pretty neat :) Felt like I was back in the US or somewhere that keeps normal hours!

Leah said...

I loved the 'non as well...your description really made me want to go back there again!

shannon said...

Love Avignon. The high wind is definitely the Mistral. Gotta love it. It's always the biggest fear of my host mom. She's always complaining when it starts up in the winter.

Ooh! Was the biscuit you ate a navette?? That's the one that's typical of Provence that I always ate. Those are so yummy! I'm pretty sure you can find them in Paris, at least. There's this chain Provencal sweet shop. They even had it in Madrid so I got to sample a yummy navette there! Oh how I missed them!

Oops. I probably should have warn you that the palace is quite bare.

P.S. I learned that the pope actually came to France because he was French and felt threatened by the Italians. Once he died, the Italians wanted an Italian pope again, the French wanted a French one, thus two popes. And at one point, there was even three! I forget where the third one was. England maybe???

au soleil levant said...

Monique and Leah - glad you guys liked Avignon as much as I did! I thought it was a really great town.

Shannon - I knew the Pope's Palace would be totally bare, but it's one thing to know it and another thing to walk through all of those enormous rooms that have been pretty damaged over the course of the years and have absolutely nothing in them.

I did have some navettes, I also had these little orange and lemon flavored cookies, these cinamon flavored things, and of course some calissons! I'll have to look for that shop next time I'm in Paris.

shannon said...

I'd be interested to hear what you thought of calissons. They're not for everyone, but I love them. And you had a little taste of Aix that way as most calissons (at least the real ones) come from there!

And I looked up that store for you. It's called La cure gourmande, and there is one in Paris:

Au Soleil Levant said...

Thanks for looking that up Shannon, I'll have to go there on Saturday!

I liked the calissons. I wouldn't want to eat a whole bunch at one sitting though. I actually hate nuts and hate marzipan, but I like frangipane and I liked the calissons. Go figure.