Some of the best village ramparts in France
After Chusclan aire we drove about 30kms in to Avignon to a campsite in the ACSI discount scheme. There are no suitable free aires in Avignon and if you are going to pay for overnights then I reckoned we might as well spend a few pounds more and have a proper campsite with electric hookup, a proper pitch and on onsite laundry. We arrived at 11:30am and booked in for three nights. This is our first proper break having moved on every day since leaving my sister more than two weeks ago. The campsite is a bit tired at the end of the season and will close fully next week but it has all we need and it is within walking distance of the old city. It was good to find that there are two other British vans here so we had a good natter! Tomorrow, Sunday, we will move on.
The weather has been really kind to us since we arrived here. No rain after the arrival day and some lovely sunshine and blue skies have let us enjoy Avignon at its best. We had a good rest on Thursday after we arrived as it was wet, we played cards, watched a DVD and not much else!
Friday morning the rain had gone and we were ready to visit the old city that was visible just across the river. It was a bit of a walk to the main road and over the main bridge. Lots of traffic. The city itself was very busy with tourists as there were two river cruise ships moored up and a number of coaches parked below the walls. As you go through the walls the city is all tiny roads and smaller alleyways but the shops are clearly aimed at the super wealthy international visitors that apparently come here since all the shops looked successful and there were few empty spaces.
Our plan today was to visit the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) which is Avignon’s major attraction. This huge, impressive palace was built in C14 as a Papal palace before the papacy was moved to Rome permanently. Avignon and the surrounding area remained Papal land until it was signed back to France in 1790. The palace was gutted and converted to a barracks in Revolution and later it became a prison. Reconstruction and restoration did not start until the twentieth century. The means it has much in common with the Abbey of Fontevraud that we visited last year which had a very similar history as a result of the Revolution and was similary stripped of much of its decoration and period detail.
Anyway we went in to get our tickets but had to get through airport style security with a metal detector scanner and everything! The tour is free flow but we each got a hi tech audio-visual guide in the form of a tablet and headphones. This clever think knew where we were all the time and provided audio in english as we went into each room, it also had sophisticated augmented reality displays for each room. We would walk into a new room that would be pretty bare and we could hold up the tablet and through that see the room as they think it would be! As we moved the tablet so the display changed to match the existing room but with all the walls painted and the furniture as it would be – really clever. Sadly photography in the main rooms was not permitted especially the few rooms that still have there C15 and C16 wall paintings that are pretty stunning so I only have few photos and those are of the empty, plain rooms.
We spent a couple of hours in the palace (including a toasted panini and coffee in the little cafe on the top of a tower!) and it was well worth it. A stunning place very well presented.
Next we decided to just have a wander around the little streets of the city and see if the back streets were as smart as the first streets we saw. We also needed bread and that actually proved a problem – this place is set up for tourists and thus there are many many places that will sell snacks or meals but very few shops that sell the sort of food you take away and cook later. The further we got from the main square and the from the river the less smart the roads became and there were a few more scruffy buildings. We eventually found a spar supermarket and bought a nice seedy loaf and almost immediately afterwards found a proper artisan bakery but we had our bread by then.
By the time we got back to Bertie we had logged over 4 miles walking (excluding the palace visit as I do not think the GPS worked properly in there) and our little feet were really tired!
The next day was a Saturday and that meant the little ferry was working and we could cross the river without having to walk all the way around by the road bridge. It was a nice little ferry (free too!) and was all electric. It glided easily across the Rhone despite the significant current and dropped us off by the steps up to the Roches des Doms park. Well actually by the steps that led up to the park which is quite high above the river. I did not count the steps but it was quite a climb. Super view when we got there though. We spent quite a while enjoying the little park and the views around the area and over the town. We tried to go on to the cathedral but found that was closed which seemed strange but even the little cathedral shop next door was closed 12 – 14:30 too so we guess the cathedral closes at lunch time too! We made do with the Petit Palais musuem of C13 -C15 French and Italian art although we only had 45 minutes there before they too closed for lunch at 1pm. After that another wander and another search for bread. I managed to find my way back to that artisan bakery (amusingly called Boulangerie Utopiste!) where bought a lovely big seedy loaf.
We arrived back at the ferry to find he too was having a lunch break until 2pm and we had to wait beside the very busy and very noisy road that runs around the outside of the city ramparts.
By the time we got back to Bertie we had logged another 3miles!
Tomorrow we move on and visit the Pont du Gard.