Stephanie’s paternal grandmother and other extended family members live in Pertuis, a small town north of Aix-en-Provence. We rented a car in Arles for a day and started on our way east. Thankfully Stephanie drove (she has a French driver’s license), and I assisted with navigation.
Along the way we stopped in Baux-en-Provence, a historic and scenic mountain-top village. Pretty cool, eh?
The Mistral winds were still blowing on Thursday (March 23 in blogtime). And we were starting to get a little tired of traveling, especially being at odds with the weather.
In spite of the wind, we wandered around Arles looking at Roman and Medieval ruins, old fortifications, aqueducts, stone walls, arenas, colorfully painted provencal doors and shutters, and a French cemetery that looked a lot like the cemeteries in New Orleans. Here’s a view overlooking Arles’ red clay roof tiles.
I particularly liked this drain built right into the steps.
So why did we go all the way down to the south of France only to stop in Avignon? Good question. Actually I didn’t even quite know the answer until we got there, other than having heard from Stephanie that it was cute and old and a place she’s wanted to see. Good enough.
After we finished our pizza, I learned that the primary reason for going to Avignon is the Palais des Papes (palace of the popes, or Pope Castle 1309, as I liked to think of it).
It turns out in the 12th century, things were not to hot in Rome for the pope, so Pope Clement V decided to move the papacy (the center of all Christendom, as my audio tour device liked to call it), to Avignon, from March 9, 1309 till January 13, 1377. Seven popes resided there during that 68 year period. Who knew? So for a few hours Tuesday afternoon (March 20th) we walked around the palace, listening to audio excerpts from room to room.
We’d purchased TGV tickets to Avignon for 10am Tuesday morning, back when we were planning the trip, based on the assumption we’d have three solid days in Paris, not a day and a half. But our hotel only had rooms with twin beds available for the night, and purchasing new TGV tickets for the following day cost around 75€ each, compared to the 30 we’d already paid (and would be throwing away to leave later).
So… we decided to suck it up and get to the Gare de Lyon on Tuesday morning after a very short time in Paris. I was a little exhausted from being up early and out late the night before, so I dozed off shortly after the train reached top speed. Vacations are hard work!
Two and a half hours later we were in Avignon, with two minutes to get off the train and let the new passengers on. First thoughts: the soil beneath the grass was limestone white like in Texas. And it was very windy! We took a bus from the TGV Gare d’Avignon outside the city, to the historic city center, and quickly decided on a nearby hotel.
The rain we saw approaching from the Eiffel Tower continued on its way, so Stephanie and I did likewise, taking the Metro up to Montmartre, a northern neighborhood of Paris featured in Amélie and highly recommended by Stephanie’s sister. We got off the metro and walked to the base of the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur, and saw several hundred (more!) steps in front of us. Why not?