Another work trip to Marseille meant another side trip to one of the nearby regions. Marseille isn’t my favorite city, to put it as kindly as possible. I re-read my first blog entry from Marseille and I seemed to like it a lot…but after two more trips there I’ve changed my views. Focusing on the positive, however, it’s nearby a lot of great places. My first work trip I saw the calanques in Cassis, the second trip I saw the coastline of the Riviera, and this trip I decided on Provence….though about a month too late for the lavender fields.
The trip to Avignon from Marseille seemed easy on paper, but the train drops you off at the TGV station, which is well outside town. After waiting 30 minutes for a taxi that never showed up (no taxis outside a train station? Only other place I’ve seen that is Mons!), the 5 minute train into town seemed like the better option. Avignon is another walled city….love those! I somehow couldn’t find my hotel, the signage for it was really poor, so after an hour of walking up and down the main street with my luggage – and sweating a river – I was finally able to check-in. I must say the hotel room was wonderful, cool wooden floors and air conditioning that made the room feel like the arctic.
The main sight to see in Avignon is the Palais des Papes, or Palace of the Popes. In the 14th century, the popes moved out of Rome to Avignon, due to some disagreement. There was even a time where there were two popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon! The palace was beautiful, both inside and outside, and there were some great views of the city from here.
I had mixed feelings…although most people remember recent popes like John Paul II fondly, the papal legacy isn’t that positive. At the time of the Avignon papacy, popes still abused power. In fact, one of the popes, Clement, ended up buying the city of Avignon…not exactly the humility you’d expect from a religious figure these days. One of the more interesting exhibits was a modern art display. I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be a sarcastic jab at the papal legacy – a room full of art depicting naked women. Great pictures for sure!
A bit outside the city (short bus ride) was the Pont du Gard, a 2,000 year old Roman bridge that served as an aqueduct. This was an incredible trip, I originally thought it would just be in and out, see the bridge, take some pictures, and head back, but they had a park surrounding it with a lot of hiking trails, so I was there for around 5 hours. I took so many pictures of the bridge, at every angle it seemed…it was just so majestic you couldn’t help it. I tried to get a picture with all three arches of the bridge in there, finally got a few once I made it to water level. There’s a quote about the Pont Du Gard by novelist Henry James, and I agree: “The hugeness, the solidity, the unexpectedness, the monumental rectitude of the whole thing leave you nothing to say – at the time – and make you stand gazing. You simply feel that it is noble and perfect, that it has the quality of greatness…”
The last night in Avignon I sampled the ‘student’ nightlife area, and immediately felt very old as 98% of the mob hanging outside the cafes was between the ages of 18 and 21. Like most other French cities I’ve been to, I found Avignon to be really nice….still looking for that one French city that absolutely blows me away. The only gripes I had are more about the whole south of France…it’s hard to find WiFi anywhere. A bartender at one of the pubs told me it’s because people come in, nurse one beer, and use WiFi for hours…not sure I agree with that logic, as I’ll just leave without buying anything and search for the one bar with WiFi. As I was searching for WiFi late my last night, I stopped into a pub to watch the end of one of my favorite movies, ‘The Professional’, though French language, of course. The next morning it was off to explore more of Provence!