Mackenzie and I had a great weekend in Avignon, France! (See Mackenzie’s blog at http://ofpancakesandcrepes.blogspot.fr/) Avignon is in the Provence region of France, and was the seat of the Avignon papacy and the antipopes during the Catholic schism. So there is a lot of history there, which was great for Mackenzie and me because we are both history buffs! (Mackenzie has taken it a bit further and is an actual History major.)
We arrived in Avignon at about 11:45am. Luckily, the “train normale” (not the super-fast TGV) arrives at the train station right in the center of town. For once, the cheaper option was also the most convenient! It was a very odd feeling to arrive in a town where we 1) didn’t know anyone, 2) didn’t really have any plan of what to do, and 3) didn’t really know what the best sites were! When we got off the train, we just kind of looked at each other for a moment, laughed at this strange new feeling, and then went straight to the Avignon tourism office to get a map and find a place to eat lunch.
After lunch, we went to the Musée Angladon, which is home to many 18th and 19th century works of art, including works by Picasso, Degas, and Van Gogh. The museum was in a former residence, and still displays the old furniture on the second floor. We met some Canadians and Brits at the museum. It was really surprising to hear so much English being spoken in Avignon! I heard more English than French being spoken, which was quite a change from Lyon. Luckily, most people would respond in French when we spoke to them in French. As the guy at the ticket counter for the museum said, if he sees students trying to speak French, he responds in French to help them learn. It was a much better attitude than most of the people I met in Paris the last time I was there!
After we left the museum, we decided to wander around Avignon a bit to see what else we could find to do. (We had decided to leave the Palais des Papes and the Pont d’Avignon for Saturday.) We stopped near the Hotel de Ville d’Avignon (Avignon’s City Hall), where an artist was selling beautiful watercolors of the Provence region. He was very friendly, and asked if we were Americans. He could tell from our accents, and we asked what the difference was between American and British accents in French. His response was that the British are very cultured and careful with their words while Americans “mangent des mots” (eat the words) and speak very fast.
We ended up near the Palais des Papes and climbed up to the top of a garden right next to it which was called the Jardin des Doms. It was really beautiful, with a small pond, several statues, and this cool (maybe natural?) rock formation with a fountain. We climbed to the top of the rock formation and had an amazing view of Avignon and the surrounding areas. It wasn’t as sunny as the weather forecast had promised, but it was still quite beautiful.
We walked down from the gardens via the old city ramparts (defensive walls), which are still standing all the way around Avignon. The great thing about a walled city is that it is very difficult to get lost! If you bump into a wall, you’ve gone too far. We walked down through an old tower (I really hate going down spiral staircases, but I made it) and then walked around to different stores.
In the early evening, we checked into our hostel, Pop’ Hostel, which was right in the center of Avignon. It was my first experience with hostels and I loved it! It was very clean and comfortable, and we met a lot of other travelers. They had a bar in the hostel where everyone hung out, and during happy hour we met another American, an Australian, and a German who were very nice, and we ended up going out to dinner with the American and the German women. The American, Macy, is also living in Lyon until November! It was definitely confirmed for us though that English is the real lingua franca – we always speak English with other exchange students and travelers, because just about everyone speaks English.
On Saturday, Mackenzie and I woke up very early to go to the markets in Avignon. The food market was quite disappointing compared to Lyon’s market, but the Marché des Fleurs (flower market) was nice. I imagine that it must be bigger in the summer months. I bought a small pot of “miel de lavande” (lavender honey) which is a really well-known Provençal product. I don’t usually like honey, but this was a very different taste. The woman who was selling the honey told me that I must come back to Provence in the summer months and go see the town where there are fields and fields of lavender. I wish I had an international driver’s license and was old enough to rent a car, because it would have been nice to see more of Provence!
After doing a bit of shopping, we went back to the hostel to check out, and then had lunch. Many thanks to Marie-Christine who recommended Restaurant New Ground in a comment on the blog! It was delicious. For only 11 euro, we each had a glass of wine, a delicious entrée with pasta, vegetables, and spiced/herbed chicken, and a surprisingly delicious coconut-cherry pie.
However, against the recommendation of Marie-Christine and my friend Alex, we did end up going to the Palais des Papes. They were right that the outside was the most impressive part! I was surprised how little there was inside the Palais. However, being history buffs, Mackenzie and I still really enjoyed it! The most interesting part for me was that none of the audio guides talked about the Catholic schism. The popes in Avignon were presented as the real popes, and the rival papacy in Rome was never mentioned.
After that, we went to the famous Pont d’Avignon (no, we did not dance on the Pont d’Avignon). It is actually called the Pont Saint-Bénezet. It was first built between 1117 and 1185, and it used to span the entire Rhône and had 21 arches. Now, only 4 arches remain.
After grabbing our luggage from the hostel, we had just enough time to walk back across the city and take the free “navette” (boat) across the river. We didn’t have enough time to explore the other side of the river and see the other old city, but it was still lovely, and the sun came out for a bit.
So that was my weekend in Avignon! I’m back in Lyon now until Thursday, when I leave for Nice with a group from Penn. We are renting an apartment for the weekend using AirBNB, which is even cheaper (and nicer!) than hostels! I hope everything is going well back in the States! À bientôt!