Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Posts Tagged ‘Chapel for St Béneze’

The Palace of the Popes, Avignon, 13.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 17, 2006

We got up early to visit the Palace of the Popes. The Lonely Planet is rather dismissive of this 14th century headquarters of the Catholic Church after the papacy was moved from Rome to France, but we loved it. It’s a monumental fortress, with a museum inside, full of most interesting displays and fabulous old frescoes. I’d never seen such things before, and one set of them were in extraordinarily vibrant colours – after all this time! There were tombs of assorted popes to mull over, and some magnificent tapestries – my favourite was the pope stopping Attila the Hun at the Gates of Jerusalem. It was woven in strong reds instead of the usual blues and greens that you see in the chateaux of the Loire Valley.
There were small chapels for the pope’s private prayer, and a lovely room full of hunting scenes, and a couple of large halls for papal audiences. Looking out from a tower window, we couldn’t resist making a ‘papal blessing’ to the crowd below, and got a laugh from a couple of tourists who obviously shared our irreverent sense of humour.
We don’t buy many souvenirs, but here we bought a tapestry cushion cover, a tray, a cicada magnet (which we have since mislaid) and of course the guide book. My best purchase of the day, however, was a pair of shoes. My stout German black leather walking shoes suddenly developed cracks in the heels, and Avignon’s shoemender couldn’t (or wouldn’t) repair them, so I went shopping. She didn’t speak any English except for shoe sizes, but Australian shoe sizes are neither European, English nor American, so we had to sort this out with my inadequate French. I managed to explain about my ankle brace on the cobblestones and the need for the extra height at the back of the heel, and eventually, for a mere 115 euros, she found a much more stylish replacement which will do nicely for day and night in most places.
After this triumph we had a light lunch at Chez Pivard, washed down with some Bretagne cider, and then set off for the famous Pont d’Avignon. Legend has it that it was built by a shepherd, Bénezet, who, in about 1185 saw a vision and, effortlessly moving a large rock, managed to convince the people to help build it. Originally it had 22 arches but the Rhone is a wild river in flood and the bridge had to be rebuilt more than once. Now it only has four arches and doesn’t go right to the other side of the river, much less to the tower on the other bank as once it did.
Naturally we walked across it anyway, humming ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon’ en route, and checked out the Chapel for St Bénezet – where miracles are known to have happened. It’s dedicated to the patron of bargemen, the Virgin. (Quite why she is their patron is not clear.) It was beautiful in the sunshine, strolling across the cobbles among lovers arm-in-arm, and looking along the heavily wooded banks at the barges and skiffs making their way down the river. Some German tourists kindly took this photo of us, a nice memento of a lovely day.
We headed back into town on one of those little tourist trains. It was a little rough over the cobblestones, but rather fun, and definitely the only way to see the view from the ramparts and the top of the rock where Avignon was founded. The train threads its way through some incredibly narrow streets where we saw a ‘florid’ 14th century Gothic church whose bells we had heard a little earlier, and a library from the same period. We checked out some 18th century mansions in need of a bit of paint, and a street called ‘Rue de Mud’ because it used to get flooded. Along the most narrow street, carved out of the rock below the Palace of the Popes, we could touch the walls on either side!
At night we had one of the most memorable meals of our trip at La Moutardier Restaurant in the Place du Palais. We sat in a corner lit by candlelight with a view of the Palace of the Popes out of the window, listening to a CD of Bireli Lagrene playing in the style of Django Reinhardt. We had appetisers of tapenades black and green, and champagne, and then I cast my principles aside and tried the fois gras. Now I know why the French love it. It was served with a vanilla & cinnamon flavoured pear, and Tim had a brochette of prawns with rosemary and tomato in tandoori sauce on little rice cakes. With his tuna, and my veal and ceps we had a Cote du Hermitage, not AOC, but very nice all the same. It was such a lovely atmosphere and a perfect way to end our stay in this delightful town.
Next, off to Milan!

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