Our last two days have been in Provence. Jill & I have been here on a previous trip in 2004. It is good to see some of the places that we remember from then as well seeing some new ones.
On Thursday, we had a long five hour drive to Avignon while coping with long queues of traffic on the motorway. Thursday also happened to be a public holiday to remember VE Day – the end of WW2 in Europe. It seemed that everyone in France was taking advantage of the nice weather and were in the same place as us, causing very long traffic jams.
Our first stop at Avignon was the imposing Palais de Pappes (Palace of the Pope). In the 1400’s there was a schism in the Catholic church and about six popes lived in Avignon at the time. I understand that another pope lived in Rome, but the church didn’t recognise either of them. The building is empty and consists of a series- of medieval halls and state rooms. It is a commonly used convention centre now.
After that, we passed the Pont d’Avignon as we crossed the Rhone River to see the garden of Saint Andre Abbey.The bridge used to 900 metres long, with 16 arches. It was built around 1280 and most of it was destroyed in a flood in 1660. It was the only way of crossing the Rhone for hundreds of miles, so I guess that the toll-master was able to name a pretty good price for crossing. We all remember learning, as children, the song about dancing on the Pont. I’m sure that my ability to speak french has not changed in any way since learning the words of the song.
The garden at the Abbey is owned privately by Mademoiselle Bacou. It rambles amongst the ruins of the abbey walls and old decayed buildings. After entering through a fortified gate, we found a formal rose garden. The remainder of the gardens consist of an attractive jumble of plants native to- this type of Mediterranean climate. These just seemed to drape themselves nicely over the limestone outcrops of the abbey ruins.
On Friday, we drove to Arles where we took a tour through the town and its Roman ruins including a virtually complete- amphitheatre that is now used s a bull fighting ring. On the way, we passed the little fortified village of aux de Provence, which we visited in 2004. It was here that our friend Mary lost her glasses down the toilet as she bent over to better position herself. We have had a few laughs at her expense.
Arles, of course, was a main centre where Van Gogh painted. Many of the buildings in his works still stand eg the hospital and a cafe, and it is very interesting to see them in real life. We had previously spent four or fived days in this nice little town.
We had lunch in the nearby ancient town of Aigues Mort which is a walled town of just five streets square. ?It is surrounded by its original walls and you can still walk around the ramparts. It was very popular as a tourist destination but it was very quaint. We had lunch in a restaurant and got a really good deal – Mussels and fries, followed by a desert fro just 9.50 Euros.
Back in Avignon for dinner, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner in an outdoor restaurant near the central market. One whole side of the market is covered with a vertical garden designed by Patrick Blanc. It covers an area of 30 metres by 10 metres and looks spectacular. I understand that he has also designed the gardens that I have seen at the Qantas Club international lounges in Melbourne and Sydney. What else should one do in France, but eat nice French food. We had a nice bottle of rose, followed by a glass of red that was as full and fruity as many Australian red wines.