Three weeks of staying near Avignon and we haven’t left yet. In all honesty, we didn’t get to properly visit Avignon for almost a week after arriving. We spent the first five days trying to find businesses to help us with various problems including my bike, our car and our water pump. More on that later.
We are staying on the western border of Provence which stretches east to Italy and includes many well-known southern France locations such as Marseille, Cannes and Nice. We will be staying in Provence for the next two weeks and then returning to Canada on November 23. We look forward to continuing to explore the region when we return next March.
I must admit that when I think of Avignon, the first thing that I think about is the children’s nursery rhyme “Sur le pont d’Avignon”. I only remember the first two lines, but the tune is certainly still in my head. If you don’t remember the tune you can go onto YouTube which has various version of the song.
|Sur le pont d’Avignon |
L’on y danse, l’on y danse
Sur le pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse tous en rond
|On the bridge in Avignon |
They are dancing there, They are dancing there
On the bridge in Avignon
They all dance in circles there
The song is about dancing on the bridge in Avignon. The bridge is actually called Le Pont Saint-Bénézet and people did not dance on it. The nursery rhyme first appeared in an operetta in 1853. The actual bridge was first built around 1180 and is basically famous for falling down. According to the internet the bridge was first destroyed in 1220 during the Crusades. The bridge was then rebuilt, this time in stone with 22 spanning arches. But then it fell down again. Next it was the flood surges of the River Rhône which did the damage. The bridge was repaired and rebuilt at various stages, but then in the middle of the 17th century the good people of Avignon got fed up with paying the taxes to maintain it, so the bridge was abandoned. You can see that today the bridge doesn’t reach the far shore.
The first thing that you notice about Avignon when you get close to the town is the large, continuous 4.6 km wall that still surrounds the old town today. Of the original 14th century 12 towers in the wall, seven still remain. Avignon is known as the Papal City. Due to the political conditions in Rome in the early 1300s the pope moved the papal capital to Avignon. Avignon was the seat of power for only 70 years and in that time 7 popes resided here. It sounds like the lifetime of a pope wasn’t great in those days. These 70 years were the basis for the phenomenal history and architecture that today make up the centre of Avignon.
Mike and I toured the Pope’s Palace (Palais des Papes), the biggest Gothic palace in Europe and right in the centre of Avignon. The wealth of the church is just unbelievable.
Mike and I took a few tours around Avignon. The first tour was a sightseeing bus around the outsides of the city. This probably wasn’t worth the money. Then we took what they call the Le Petit Tourist Train through the centre of the city where the large bus couldn’t fit. The tram only just made it down the streets. It was actually quite comical. The people walking on streets that are intended to be pedestrian only had to try and squish themselves into doorways or any opening so that the train could get past. Although the petit train was only about 1 ½ meters wide, it took up the entire width of the street. We have taken these petit trains or trams in other cities. I am not sure if we will do it again if we have other alternatives. These trams give the non French speaking people earphones. The tour is given in French over the loudspeakers in every compartment. This means that you can hear the French while you are trying to listen to the English on your earphone. You end up having to turn the volume up so loud to cancel out the French speakers that you give yourself a headache. Mike actually wore two headsets to increase his volume. In another city on one of these trams, the conductor actually had the speakers turned off in our compartment which was great but that was the only time this has happened. We toured Avignon on a Monday, off-season and the train was full. I can’t imagine what it would be like in July.
What I enjoyed much more was when we returned on another day and wandered around with our own comfortable headsets listening to a self-guided audio tour of the city.
Over the course of the three weeks we have visited a lot of lovely towns in the area. This article was originally called “Avignon and Much More” except that the “Much More” really was much more in terms of writing and reading so I decided to put the other towns into a separate article probably within the week. I will finish this one with the interesting town of Aramon which is where we are actually staying and I will give you an update of all the disasters that were in process at the end of the last article.
We are staying in a small automated camping place. It is one of the low cost ones that has no washrooms or showers but has electricity, fresh water and facilities for waste water disposal, which is everything that Mike and I need. Like many of these locations we are literally right in town. We are beside the tennis courts and it is a two or three minute walk to get inside the walls of the historic centre of Aramon. We are near the Rhône River, about 12 km south of Avignon right on the “Via Rhône” cycle path that goes past the two cities. There is room for 22 campers here. Normally there are about 5 or 6 overnight and only a couple during the daytime. One Friday night the campground was completely full. Saturday morning Mike and I were discussing why we had so many other campers. Many of them started leaving quite early. No-one seemed to speak English so I wandered around with Google Translate open on my phone and tried asking some of the campers why everyone was here. I really wanted to know if there was a major event nearby that Mike and I might be missing. The responses I got were “nice sunshine” and “near Avignon”. Both of these were true but they had been true all week. We have no idea why one night went from five campers to 20 and then right back down to five or less.
The first night we were here I saw something strange at the tennis courts and went over to watch. A group of men had a football (soccer ball) on the tennis courts and they were using football moves to get the ball over the net i.e. using their feet, their head, but no hands. It was quite interesting to watch. When the ball was dropped the other team started it going again. It looked like very good practice and good fun at the same time.
It is getting cooler now and it is dark by 6pm. This means that we don’t get much of an opportunity to say hi to our neighbours. We also don’t get a chance to find out if any of them speak English well. The other morning we met a couple from Norway who had arrived late the night before and were just leaving. They seemed very nice and spoke great English. I would love to have had them over to visit for an evening.
Aramon, where we are camped, is a medieval town with a current population of over 4,000. This has more than doubled since 1970 which is nice to see. The main church, St. Pancras, is from the 12th century. Built on the banks of the Rhône, Aramon was a prosperous village thanks to its port activity, particularly in the 17th century.
On November 11, Armistice Day, a fair was held in Aramon. Mike and I wandered in at lunch time and then returned at the end of the day when various musical groups were playing around town. In addition to a typical fair with food kiosks and an outdoor flea market, there was a lot of history on display. Many people where in historic attire. There were demonstrations of people making all sorts of things using historic methods. We watched someone make chain mail armour. I had never actually thought about anyone needing to link all the iron loops together. It is an obvious requirement, I just had never thought of the effort involved before. We watched a gentleman embossing leather. Some people were weaving, others were making dolls, pottery and leather pouches. We saw old weapons, bows and arrows and watched lavender oil being made/distilled. There was a lot of wooden games for children that adults enjoyed as well. All in all it was a fun day.
Mike hadn’t been very intrigued with this festival when I put it on our agenda. He did enjoy himself. Later this week there is a wine festival in Avignon on the occasion of the official release of the new Côtes-du-Rhône vintage. OK, I just wrote that and I wouldn’t know a Côtes-du-Rhône vintage from anything else. Nevertheless they are have wine tastings, music and a parade thrown in. I think it should be a fun evening. Mike disagrees but then he disagreed about the festival today as well. Hopefully we will get there.
I mentioned earlier that the food in France is a little more adventurous in their standard small restaurants than it is in Canada. Occasionally we run into food that my brain isn’t ready to accept, even though I know it is perfectly fine. In those cases Mike gets to eat a little extra. Yesterday I talked Mike into ordering duck’s hearts for lunch. I did have a bite and it tasted fine but I would have had a problem with having a bunch of hearts for my lunch.
All across Europe on weekdays they have the daily special or daily menu as they call it. It is always a good deal if you like the days selection(s). Earlier this week we shared a meal that came to 17€ or $23 Cdn. This includes everything, meal, tips, taxes. Our meal included an appetizer of an excellent chanterelle mushrooms quiche. The main course was duckling legs a l’orange. I could eat this because they looked like chicken legs that I am used to. We had a choice for desert and chose a layered meringue with a chocolate ice cream layer in the middle. All this for $23 Cdn. My glass of wine would have been $4-$5 Cdn and Mike had water. The menus, as they call them, are always a good price. Sometimes the price is so good that we don’t like to ask if we can share, even though that’s what we want to do. A 10€ or $13.50 total price for the menu main course is very common outside the major tourist centres.
We had been at this campsite for about 5 days before we ever got to visit Avignon properly. We drove past this entrance through the wall into the city many times hoping that we would get to visit sooner rather than later. We were driving around trying to find a welder, ebike repair people, Ford dealers, car repair shops, electronic shops (for our water pump switch) etc. Things have calmed down since then. I mentioned in our last posting that we had found a fancy car repair place to fix a broken spring on the front right wheel of the Lincoln. Originally they told us that work would take about two weeks including shipping time from the US which made it about November 9. Before we paid, the owner had adjusted that to November 15 because he didn’t work weekends. Six days later is more than a weekend. After we agreed he told us that the last person who ordered parts that were supposed to take two weeks, actually waited one month for the shipping. If that happens we will cross the parts in transit as we return to Canada. It is looking more and more likely that the car won’t be fixed this year. Since we have already paid for the parts and shipping we really hope the company is still in business next spring.
I mentioned that our water pump wasn’t working and that Mike had to sit outside and hold two wires together so that I could shower and wash my hair. Well he guessed that it was a tiny microswitch that was the problem. We ordered one and then needed to find somewhere to ship it to. Our first thought was the post office but it was closed for 5 days starting two days later. The cashier at the grocery store said that we could use their address and they were open every day. Eventually Mike and I decided that having a package addressed to Mike Jansen arriving at a grocery store might not be the best idea so we used the post office address and suffered for a week. The switch arrived the day the post office reopened and YEAH it was the problem and is now fixed. We were in the same grocery store yesterday and the cashier recognized us and asked if we had got the part for our RV, unbelievable.
We had major internet problems at our last campground that have gone away since we moved. As far as problems with the dryer and the fridge filter, well they will just have to stay problems and we will continue to work around them.
Most importantly my broken bicycle that needed welding, among other things, has been fixed. Mike was quite pleased with the result although I wasn’t expecting it to look quite so bad. Mike says it just needs paint. When Mike first picked up the bike at the welder’s he had a hard time getting it folded due to the new weld. The welder had a hammer and seriously said that he could adjust it with that. Mike quickly refused and said he would work on it at the camper. He didn’t need to, after a few folds it appears to work smoothly again. Shortly after getting the bike back we went for a ride and rode along a river that had the clearest reflection I think I have ever seen. It doesn’t show well in the picture below but we really couldn’t tell where the trees ended and the reflection started.
It is a very good job I didn’t tell you about all the interesting towns we have been visiting here. I think this is already the longest I have ever written. Congratulations and thanks to those who made it to the end.