Well it took me long enough! But the second part of my south of France… was Provence.
The two walls part, referring to both Carcassonne (see previous post) and Avignon, which I made my home base in Provence for 4 days. Famous for its bridge (“le pont d’Avignon”… like in the song), which really has only gone halfway across the water since a storm in the 1600’s, and its one-time home of the Popes (which is where that tricky Pope situation came about where there were 2 at once… it got figured out. Mostly).
Day 1: I ended up on the same train as American Will, and we decide to taxi it over to the (same) hostel once more, but not before collecting another backpacker, Jorgen from Norway. I arrived later in the day and relaxed on the balcony of my hostel-in-a-campsite overlooking the Rhone River before making my way into town for some much needed Internet, and a dinner (pizza… French style – including an egg that was apparently just cracked on top of the hot pizza, raw) on a lovely square – I later discovered it was Place D’Horloge, the central Place (square) of the city.
Day 2: After changing rooms, which my hostel made me do every morning I stayed here (punishment for not booking in advance or something? Either way, it was bizarre), I decided to “do” Avignon. This consisted of wandering mostly. I checked out the Palais des Papes (Pope’s Palace) and the Petit Palais (you can get this one), as well as a lot of lovely little squares… before taking a mini train up to a hilltop garden (in my defence, I was still protecting my delicate ankle and didn’t want to walk up). Awesome views over the city, especially of the famous Bridge – Pont Saint Benezet.
Next up I walked on the bit of remaining ramparts of the old wall towards the bridge itself. *Insert thrilling music here*. I did the whole audioguide tour, which included the story of St Benezet who lifted a giant block to start the bridge (way too giant for any person to lift), as well as a mini museum dedicated to the “Sur le Pont D’Avignon, On y danse, tous le ronde” song. Interesting fact: The song was bastardized a bit… no one danced ON the bridge – “sur” (it was risky! some people even died crossing it when it was all wintery), they danced UNDER the bridge – “sous” (pronounced pretty much the same in French.) There was a little dance hall on the island under the bridge (which stretched a long way inland) at the turn of the 20th Century.
And then… I continued to wander, check out the Provencal shops, and maybe even eat. Including some ice cream.
That evening I met the roommates in my new room – 2 girls from Hamilton! Or, rather, Waterdown and Carlisle. Which are now included in the GHA, as I may as well call it. So we had a nice long chat, and had dinner in the hostel restaurant, joined again by Jorgen!
Day 3: Today was Aix-en-Provence. I had fallen in love with the city BEFORE going there, through a book called Ysabel (urban fantasy by Guy Gavriel Kay – who had planned to write an “other world” fantasy a la Lord of the Rings, but ended up setting it in Aix – say it like “X” – because he himself fell in love with the city). Because of that, I allotted maybe a bit too much time to a city with very few actual touristy places – it was the city of Cezanne as well, but not too much was there about that other than his studio (which I didn’t do). I did do Cathedral Saint Sauveur, which was very interesting. It was built over a period of hundreds and hundreds of years, all at different stages! So the central section is Gothic, one side is Baroque, other bits are Neo-Gothic, there’s a baptistry from the 6th century, and it’s built on Roman ruins. Very hodgepodge, but to great effect.
I also ate some crepes, did some wandering… that sort of thing. I found the shops all a little too high end, and not so delightfully Provencal. Later on in the trip, I would talk to some French people in Paris who would complain about Aix, with a nose in the air gesture. And that’s exactly the problem I had with it: the beautiful city of fountains and Cezanne was simply too snooty for my tastes!
Day 4: Today was Arles day, and boy am I glad I didn’t skip my third “A” city in Provence. I started up at the market (every Wednesday and Saturday), and the fruits & veggies, nuts, meats & cheeses, and other food areas had such a delightful atmosphere that it took me a long time to get through. The flea market-y place was a bit tacky, but I managed to get some new undies out of a bin at a cheap price.
Afterwards I picked up a little guide of the sites of Arles at the Tourist Information. Arles’ biggest site it its Roman Amphitheatre, but I had just been at the Colosseum a week or so before. The neat thing is that they still do bullfights in this Amphitheatre – mostly Provencal style rather than Spanish style, where the bulls don’t get killed – the “fighters” just have to get a ribbon off one of their horns. I also heard about one in the summer called “taureau piscine” (“bull pool”), where the bull apparently ends up in a swimming pool. I can’t understand the logistics, but I’d like to. Other Roman bits and pieces are scattered through the city, including a theatre (also still in use for performances!).
The real reason I picked up the flyer though was to find the Van Gogh “easels”. Van Gogh lived in Arles through many of the last years of his life (it was also where he was committed to an asylum), and did many of his paintings there. The lovely city of Arles has set up about 6 “easels” which show a painting by Van Gogh in the place it is of! It was very neat to see a painting that Van Gogh did in the 1880’s and then look up, and see nearly the same view over a hundred years later.
I was overall the most impressed with Arles than any of my other Provencal cities. Next time for Provence (you know, some day), it will be by car! Many of the smaller towns are very difficult to reach by public transportation.