Note that the photos in the Gimlet Gallery are mostly different from the ones that are appearing in the blog posts, so be sure to look at both.
In the early hours of Monday morning our groggy group managed to arrive at the Gare de Lyon with plenty of time to board the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse).
Thing One kept his grandmother company, watched our luggage, and took photos of pigeons while I purchased p’tit déj for Thing One and myself, an accomplishment of which I was ridiculously proud.
Angelique admitted that getting our large group with our luggage on and off the TGV was one of the most stressful parts of the tour for her. We had arrived at the train station extra early so we could be the first passengers on the train (and have first choice of the luggage storage areas, which were not, as Angelique pointed out, designed with American-style, super-sized luggage in mind — “You Americans and your big suitcases!”). However, disembarking would be more challenging, as the TGV would stop for only three minutes at Avignon. Angelique instructed us to collect our luggage and begin congregating in front of the doors several minutes before the arrival time, so we could all file out as quickly and smoothly as possible.
The journey to Avignon would take about two and one-half hours. Not only was this a fast way to travel, it was very roomy and comfortable, too — much more so than the airplane. The second-class seating was arranged in groups of four facing each other across a fold-up table.
We were soon joined by a mother speaking American-accented English to her little boy who looked about Thing Two’s age. I showed them a photo of Thing Two from my phone, which broke the ice and we soon learned that the boys were the same age. Mom was originally from New York City, but fell in love with Paris as a college student and moved there, then later met and married a French man. The French schools had just started their spring break, so they were traveling to join Dad for a family vacation on the Riviera.
As we prepared to exit the train, a French woman positioned herself in a choice spot in front of the doors, blocking our path. Angelique politely asked her to move, explaining that our large group (which had departure priority) would need space to get off the train. Unfortunately the woman wasn’t about to give up the chance for a cigarette break and was very rude in her response. However, our group (and our baggage) were so large, and Angelique had effectively impressed upon everyone the importance of speed, that one lone rude passenger was no match for the tidal wave of teenagers that swept around her. The TGV also kindly gave us five minutes instead of three to disembark, so we were easily off the train and on our way.
It was a quick drive by motorcoach from the train station to the Papal Palace. On the way, we drove past the Pont Saint-Bénezet (better known as the Pont d’Avignon). This bridge was built between 1171-1185, and the shepherd who had the vision to build the bridge is interred in the tiny chapel.
Here’s another view of the bridge and the Pope’s Vineyard. While vines have been cultivated in and around Avignon since the 12th century, these particular vines were planted in 1997. The vines show the four main grape varieties of the Côtes du Rhône: Viognier and Grenache blanc (whites) and Syrah and Grenache rouge (reds).
On to the Papal Palace:
The Palais des Papes was constructed in two phases: construction began on the old palace in 1252; the newer (and much more extravagant) phase lasted from 1335-1364. Seven popes resided at the palace from 1309-1377.
When we arrived, we were not only struck by the massive size of the palace, but we were also nearly bowled over by the wind that roared through the trees and plazas and down the streets. A popular local proverb is “Avenie ventosa, sine vento venenosa, cum vento fastidiosa” which means “windy Avignon, pest-ridden when there is no wind, wind-pestered when there is.”
Still in a silly mood from the Blackadder references, we speculated that the birth of the Impressionist movement was due in some part to the artists’ supplies and canvases being blown about in the wind, smearing what were originally intended to be realistic paintings.
Our group had a few hours in Avignon to tour the palace grounds, eat lunch, and shop.
Angelique had recommended that we save room in our suitcases (and some of our budget) for shopping in the south of France, and Avignon didn’t disappoint. Not only were there more clothes and shoes to go along with the Paris purchases, Avignon introduced us to an abundance of lavender, olive oil, herbs, salts, soaps and creams, and linens (these were a great favorite among the adults). Between the heavenly scents, and the refuge from the relentless wind, it was difficult to leave the shops, but eventually we had to bid adieu to Avignon and move on to our next destinations: the Pont du Gard and Nîmes.
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Tags: france, provence