Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Medieval Magic

We were all down in the lobby ready to go this morning, but the cab didn't show.  Thank heavens the concierge/desk attendant at our little hotel was quick on his feet.  He managed to flag down the one free cab in the vicinity (I didn't realize fashion week started two days ago in Paris) and put us in, just 15 minutes behind schedule.  Fortunately we had built in some extra time to get to Gare de Lyon, the train station from which our train to Avignon was leaving.  I just love the look of European train stations, don't you?

Our trip was uneventful and we arrived in Avignon a little ahead of schedule.  I had reserved a car for us, but I have to confess that my stick-shift driving skills are rusty.  Everyone on the streets seemed to recognize a relative newbie at the wheel because no one crashed into me the ____ times I stalled.  I'm so glad I only have the manual for today; tomorrow we can swap it for an automatic.  (I was much better by the end of the day and watched/avoided others as they stalled, but I don't see any reason to push my luck.)

We dropped off our bags at our hotel (a small B&B that's the former home of the artist, Henri de Pontmartin) then drove back to the city center.  The streets of Avignon are narrow and parking is very limited, so we made use of the free parking (on an island) and rode into town on the shuttle bus.  From Crillon Square --  a charming place to have lunch, we discovered -- we walked to the Palais de Papes (The Popes' Palace).  For about a century, the papal center was in Avignon and the popes lived in the Palais when in they were in town.

The Palais looks every inch how you would imagine a medieval fortress would look.  There are thick stone walls and arrow slits, but there are also lovely rooms for papal entertaining.  We weren't allowed to take pictures in some of the rooms where the painting was delicate -- somehow these lovely rooms had survived the palais' time as a barracks. But fortunately (or is it unfortunately?) there still lots to take pictures of.

Here's one of the inner courtyards that once also served as a garden.

This was the banquet hall and the conclave.  The original ceiling was replaced by this one in the late 1400s.  They had a brief video showing how the room and its decorations were rearranged depending on the room's use.  In the video they had a recreation of the painted ceiling and walls that was gorgeous -- red and gold on the walls, and navy and gold on the ceilings -- that is based on artifacts and materials found elsewhere in the palais.

The kitchens were close to the conclave.  There was an 18meter chimney!  Did you know that the meat carver was the only other person to be able to use a knife, aside from the pope?

We climbed to the top of one of the palace ramparts and got great views of gargoyles, roofs, and the city in the distance.

From the Palais de Papes we went to Cathedral Notre-Dame des Dom next door.  There wasn't a lot of light inside; the next picture makes the interior look a bit sinister.

But it was actually quite beautiful; look at the interior of the cupola that you see slightly illuminated in the first picture.

We tried to be respectful of the devotions that were going on while we were in the church.  The singing was just beautiful.

From the church we walked to Pont d'Avignon, also known as Saint Benezet.  The bridge was built in the late 1100s and was in use until a portion of the bridge was swept away by flood waters in 1668.  We couldn't get a great view of the bridge itself -- it was rush hour and there were too many cars and tourists about -- but we did get a great view looking back at the city from the farthest edge of the bridge.

After dinner in the square in front of the opera/theater house, we managed to safely navigate our way back to our hotel.   If it goes smoothly and quickly with the rental car swap, we're planning to go to Nimes to see the Roman amphitheater.

1 comment:

Natalya Aikens said...

love french train stations! hope you took more pix!
can't wait for the next installment...