Avignon


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Europe » France » Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur » Avignon
August 2nd 2015
Published: May 30th 2017
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We had a big day yesterday so we sleep in. Breakfast is a bread stick and some croissants which are delivered to our room in a basket. We again feel very French. Based on last night's experience we have no right to feel this way. We can't even speak enough of the language to order food and drinks.

We decide that today we will go to Avignon. I decide to trust my sense of direction, so we don't turn on the GPS. After about five minutes of driving we turn into a side road and come to a dead end. We decide that maybe we should turn on the GPS after all. Almost straight away it tells us to turn left. We turn left, and immediately it tells us to turn around because we've gone the wrong way. That hammer that Issy mentioned yesterday would have come in handy about now. We eventually reach Avignon, despite the GPS.

We go through a gate in the old city wall and look for somewhere to park. This proves challenging. We drive down streets that seem to get narrower and narrower the further we go. We reach a fork. One of the two streets leading off the fork is scarcely wide enough for a bike. We take the other option which is still a very narrow cobbled street. A few metres along this street a shop owner kindly moves her sign board out of the way so we can get the car past. A bit further along we see a man sitting on a chair at a table at a street cafe. He looks very comfortable munching on a bread stick, drinking coffee and reading the paper. There's not enough room for us to get the car past unless he moves his chair. He looks annoyed, and reluctantly moves his chair. We inch forward down the street. About half a kilometre and twenty minutes later, the street becomes a dead end. We can't go forward and there isn’t enough room to turn around. I am not happy. We back up to a slightly wider section of the street. Issy gets out a directs me so that I don't run into anything, and after a fifteen point turn we find ourselves pointing back the way we came. We drive very slowly back down the street again. The man on the chair at the cafe sees us coming. He was just ordinarily annoyed before. Now he looks extremely annoyed. He very reluctantly moves his chair out of the way again so that we can get past. We eventually find our way out of this maze, and find a park outside the wall. Issy decides to make it a rule that we should never drive into any towns or villages that have walls around them. I think that this is a good rule. I decide that we will call this the Issy Rule.

We walk into the very attractive main square, which is called the Place de l'Horloge. It has lots of tall trees, and is completely surrounded by outdoor restaurants. It is very busy, and most of the restaurants seem to be full.

We go into the Pope's Palace, which we have read is the most famous building in Avignon. It was the papal residence for about 70 years during the fourteenth century, and nine popes lived there. The first of these moved here because of violent chaos in Rome at the time, and the last pope to live here was convinced to move back to Rome in the late fourteenth century. The Palace then fell into disrepair, and after the French Revolution it became a military barracks and then a prison. It has been almost continuously under restoration for the past 100 years. The Palace is very big and impressive. Some of the rooms are massive, and one of the larger courtyards is apparently used for concerts.

We have lunch at a small cafe at the top of one of the Palace towers. The staircase to the tower is short, but it is narrow and we need to duck to avoid bumping our heads. Issy says that she thinks it is too dangerous to be the entrance to a cafe. I'm glad she didn't see the stairs to some of the towers I climbed in Italy. She tells me that despite the short staircase she will let me count this as a tower that I have climbed. If this is right, then it also counts as the first tower that she has climbed. I am proud of her. Maybe she doesn't have such an aversion to towers after all. I have renewed hope that we will dine up the Eiffel Tower when we get to Paris. We order sandwiches. I assume that these will be the same lame thin bread sandwiches that we get at home. What we actually get are long fat crispy bread sticks packed with ham, cheese and salad. I decide that I like French sandwiches.

We move on to the Pont d'Avignon. This is also very famous, and I remember learning a song about it when I did French at school. This song is apparently a French icon, and it is playing in the background as we walk onto the bridge. The Pont was originally a bridge across the Rhone River, and was almost a kilometre long. Only about a quarter of it remains. It was built in the late twelfth century, and was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times until it was finally abandoned in the 17th century. It is also known as the Pont Saint Benezet. Benezet was a shepherd boy. Legend has it that Jesus appeared to him, and told him to build a bridge across the Rhone at Avignon. He told the townspeople about this, but they thought he was mad. He eventually convinced them that his claims were true when he was able to miraculously lift a huge stone that no one else had ever come close to being able to move. His remains are interred in a chapel on the remaining part of the bridge.

We walk back towards the car and stop at the Angladon Museum which houses a small private art collection in the former home of the original collection owners. It includes works by a number of famous artists including Van Gogh.

We walk back into Lourmarin village for dinner. On the way we pass a big field full of sunflowers. They look creepy. They are all facing in the same direction with their heads slightly bowed, and I think they're planning an ambush. I think I’ll have nightmares tonight about being attacked by an army of sunflowers.

After our problems with the language last night, we chose a different restaurant for dinner. We quickly realise that this is a mistake, and that we should have gone back to the restaurant we went to last night. This time the menu is all in French, the waitress doesn't speak any English, we've both left our phones at the guest house so we don't have any way of translating, and the waitress is grumpy. Issy sees pate on the menu. She says that this is the only thing we can understand on the menu that she wants. The waitress comes to take our order. Issy tries to order the pate by pointing to the item on the menu. The waitress says 'non, non, non', and a few other phrases that we don't understand, and we are left in no doubt that they have run out of pate. Issy says that in that case she won't have any food. She is not happy. I order a beer. The waitress repeats the word 'beer', and then brings me a glass of wine. Issy suggests that we try ordering beer by using a brand name rather than the word 'beer'. We see 'Stella Artois' written on a board in the restaurant, so I order this. The waitress repeats the 'non, non, non' words from before. They clearly don't have any Stella Artois either. I order something from the grill section of the menu. I have no idea what I've ordered. I think it might be lamb. It turns out to be very nice. I eventually get a beer of some sort. It's not bad either.

I am now dreading dinner tomorrow night, and the night after. Issy is not happy. She hasn't eaten. She tells me that she really thought I spoke French. I'm not sure why she thought that. I say ‘bonjour' occasionally at home, and maybe that's where she got the idea from. Now she knows that I very definitely can't speak French. She also knows that I don't understand French, or at least the French spoken to us by waitresses. She also knows that I can't translate the French on menus into English. I think that I have disappointed her. I also think that we must not forget to bring our phones to dinner tomorrow night.

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