On our second full day of touring Provence, we first stopped off briefly in Il Sur la Sorgue, a small town known for its antique market. Sadly, the market was not running that day. However, the center of the town is encircled by a series of canals so it’s a bit of an island. It used to have many water wheels. Now it has five or six.
Our next stop was to the walled city of Avignon, famous for the Babylonian captivity. I’ll admit that I had strong objections to going to Avignon. My memories of the town were terrible. I recall that it looked like a nondescript town in France with a strangely memorable car park. And there was a man urinating on a side street. So not exactly promising material.
However, I was pleasantly surprised. We first went to the Pope’s Palace of which I have no prior memory. It’s huge with cavernous rooms. There is not a lot of furniture or artifacts per se but I’m fond of seeing the actual building. No amount of reading ever does a place justice in my mind. We saw the giant dining hall that had caught fire once and was nicknamed “the Burnt room.” We saw beautifully frescoed and tiled rooms. One room had frescoes of hunting scenes. The little chapel on the ground floor is awash with lavish frescoes. Simply marvelous.
We wandered up to the tallest part of the Palace to get a wonderful view of the river and the rest of Avignon. There was a little café at the top with and two euro wine but only with food. (Tea was universally more expensive than wine!) It was extraordinarily pleasant to eat our baguettes sandwiches and drink our white wine in this little tower.
Then we dashed off to see the Pont St. Bénezet, a half-bridge over the Rhone river. I say half bridge because the bridge no longer crosses the river; it stops about ½ to 2/3 of the way across. We were surprised to find out from a local that the bridge was not damaged due to a battle or natural calamity. A decision was made not to keep the bridge up and so part of it disappeared due to neglect. Incredible. It’s quite lovely to walk out on its uneven surface and see the Rhone river at its finest. There is a decent view of the Pope’s Palace.
Our final stop of the day was the Pont du Gard, a three story Roman aqueduct. It’s a fairly incredible site to see this Roman construction rising out of the forest. During the summer, you can allegedly walk on top of it. During the winter time, you have to be satisfied with a little bridge that runs parallel to it. You can cross it and walk down to the river bank. You can see it perfectly reflected in the waters. It seemed like a place where people come to hike, picnic and generally enjoy nature. It’s nice to see that it was more than a tourist site. Sadly, the aqueduct itself bore the marks of carved graffiti from past centuries. But it’s a beautiful place nonetheless.
What a lovely trip to France!