Saturday, June 16, 2012

Provence -- Avignon

Papal palace, Avignon, Provence, France
We left Paris for Provence traveling on the TGV (“bullet train”) going approximately 180 to 200 miles per hour.  Our ears popped from the speed but looking out the train window the scenery passed by more or less as it does in a car so it really didn’t seem like it was going that fast.  The train was wonderful, very comfortable.  Our guide, Angelique, said the train was the most stressful day for her because she had to make sure all 44 of  “you Americans and your big suitcases” got safely off the train in 3 minutes.  There was a slight hitch because one local passenger did not want to let the group get off first (as it turned out groups are supposed to have priority) and made rude remarks to Angelique who remained polite and calm and let the woman get off and take her 3 minute smoke break while the rest of us tried to keep focused on just getting off before the train started up for the next station.  Angelique confessed after we did get off that she had made friends with the conductor and he gave us a couple extra minutes—minutes we really did need as it turned out.

One of the first stops once we got to Avignon was to visit the Papal Palace pictured above.  Avignon is where the popes relocated temporarily from 1309 to 1377 when Italy was involved in wars.  It is where seven French popes ruled.  Built of stone it is really more like a fortress than a palace and took 18 years to build (1334-1352).  It is one of the major tourist attractions in Avignon and contrary to the way it appears in this picture there was a long line to get in.  My only complaint, and it is a minor one, about the trip as a whole, was that we had such little time to stroll through these interesting places.  Waiting in line to get in would mean less time inside so four of us opted for a second choice.  If one is willing to make the climb there is a smaller chapel above the palace that had far fewer tourists, admission was free, and it was truly lovely inside. 

The altar in the small papal chapel

Above the altar area is a dome where the sun shines in lighting the artwork
Some of the areas inside the chapel had signs asking visitors not to take pictures but this section looked like it was on display with special lights to make picture taking easier.  

Tower and statue

The view from the top of the hill near the chapel was beautiful.  As we looked up toward the palace we could see this gold statue.  Looking down we could see the pope’s vineyard, the red tile roofs and there was a small park up there too with a fountain, trees, shade and a place to get out of the ever-present strong Mistral winds.  

The pope’s vineyard
Fountain in the small park near the chapel


The city is walled; part of the old wall with crenelated mini towers can be seen in this photo, which also shows the crowded red tiled roofs on the buildings.

Near the Papal Palace walking toward the town


There were several interesting buildings in Avignon like this Theater.  In the shopping area the buildings had stores on the street level and what appeared to be apartments on the upper floors.  Almost all the buildings had balconies with ironwork that looked like lace or filigree.

Stores below, apartments above

It is hard to describe the wind.  It was constant, very strong, blowing over chairs and other objects, stirring up dust from the walkways and streets making our eyes tear up, turn red and sore.  The sun was shining but it was April and therefore cold.  The winds are usually not that cold but they don’t let up and people have been known to go crazy from it.  Our guide compared the winds in Provence to the Santa Ana winds in California. 

Mrs. Gimlet and I were not the only ones who slipped into stores and did a little shopping to get out of the wind--not as expensive as Paris and lots of beautiful things including elegant table linens for very reasonable prices.

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