Thursday, November 3, 2016

Sur le pont d'Avignon

Last Saturday we went on our first sightseeing excursion together since arriving in France. As soon as I found out where we would be living, I was excited to explore the neighboring region of Provence- one of the most beautiful in France!

I chose Avignon, which is about 2 hours away, for our first destination. I've wanted to visit this city for a few years, so this trip was a check off my bucket list.

Avignon's claim to fame is the Palais des Papes, or Pope's Palace. Yes, some popes used to live in France. More on that later.

We took the scenic route instead of the highway for most of the way. I was in HEAVEN because I finally got to see some FALL!!!!!! Fall was just barely starting when we left the U.S. a month ago, so I was cheated out of seeing my favorite season. We basically still have summer weather on the Riviera and most of the trees here are palm trees (I know, poor us... we're going to the beach today), and there are no changing colors to speak of.

So imagine my happiness when we drove through miles and miles of tiny and cute Provence village with these straight rows of trees with beautiful colors. 

The happiness and joy was put on pause when the GPS took us inside the medieval walls of Avignon. We were driving on roads that are smaller than sidewalks in America. I was so stressed and I wasn't the one driving, so David must have been suffering even more. One time when we had to make a turn I had to get out and direct him how much he could back up. It was insane. It was also added stress because we have a rental car while ours is getting fixed and it's a stick shift... not what he's most comfortable driving and it makes things more complicated.

This was not the narrowest street we encountered.
It was a relief to finally find a parking garage and get out of that car alive. So thankful that us, the car, and no unsuspecting pedestrians or medieval architecture were harmed in the process. We ate lunch in this area before heading to the palais. Much more charming than the KFC that David had tried to get me to stop at on the outskirts of town ;)

It felt like the stress of getting there was worth it right away when we saw the impressive entrance. There's nothing like a medieval castle complete with turrets to make you feel like you're stepping into a fairy tale. I like Europe.

We learned some fun Catholic history throughout our tour. Pope Clement V moved to Avignon in 1309 because Rome was too full of violence and intrigue. The next several followed his lead. A new pope went back to Rome in 1377, but there were some arguments about that pope that resulted in a second pope being elected and staying in Avignon. The French king didn't want the pope party to leave France. Then, as an attempt to resolve the issue, a third pope was elected somewhere else in Italy haha.

From 1378-1417, 2 successive "fake" popes lived in Avignon. Eventually Rome won that argument, obviously. But Avignon had a pretty good run as the seat of the Catholic church. In all, 9 popes lived in this palace.

Inside of the palace:

A lot of the frescoes are worn away, but there are a few that are beautifully preserved!
A 3-D "Passion of the Christ"
The biggest surprise about the Palais des Papes was the amount of people there! I thought it would be pretty empty since late October is not peak tourist season. I was wrong! Apparently this is one of the top 10 most visited monuments in France.

Avignon's other claim to fame is a bridge, the Pont d'Avignon. It was built in the 1300s. Not all of it survived. It wasn't rebuilt after flooding sometime in the 1700s, so only 4 arches remain and the bridge doesn't actually go all the way across the Rhone river. The fun part is that it isn't free to walk out on the unfinished bridge. I guess if tourists like us are willing to pay 2.50 to walk on this thing, then it's their right to make money off of it.

The reason so many people have heard of this bridge is because of a famous children's song that is currently stuck in my head. It's about dancing on the bridge of Avignon, so naturally I had no choice but to do this.

It was a little fun to embarrass David by making him document that. The best part of the bridge was the view of the Palais des Papes (first picture above).

Despite the driving, it was a very enjoyable day! We had fun seeing something new together and being history nerds.

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