It is hard to believe it is February... off season here. I suppose we should keep this a secret but... Avignon is beautiful this time of year. There is a bit of a chill in the air at night, but during the day the sun is warm and all around the flowers are beginning to bloom. Avignon at any time of the year is probably beautiful. A few steps from the train station, one enters the walled medieval city. Though the main promenade is busy with typical traffic and businesses, soon one reaches the main square which is surrounded by cafes and has the clock tower rising above it. Off of this wind narrow streets, some paved with newer stones denoting pedestrian shopping streets.
There is a market with a fascinating green wall which is filled with fresh gourmet foods, but there are also places to find cheap falafal sandwiches or Vietnamese food.
For our first evening we took a walk to the Pope's Palace, the huge fortress and cathedral structure that dominates the city, a striking mix of heavy, solid stone ramparts and ornate Gothic stonework and vaults. We also walked outside the walls to admire the truncated Pont d'Avignon, St. Benezet Bridge, which I and numerous other people used to sing about in preschool.
Our daytime wanderings took us to the bridge where we learned that its construction, according to legend, was due to God telling a shepherd to build a bridge. We also learned of its numerous destructions by fire, flood, and war along with its numerous rebuildings. Now it is a museum that stretches halfway out into the river. It makes a nice viewpoint and has a cute little chapel inside.
The Pope's Palace was a vast, chilly building which seemed rather empty stripped of the wealth which once resided there.
There were some remains of frescoes and other decorations, but after walking through the cold gray interior, coming out into the sun on the ramparts was a welcome change. We enjoyed the close-up view of some of the gargoyles and stone work.
In the evening we walked across a completed bridge to the island in the center of the Rhone where we got a stunning view of Avignon's medieval buildings lit up by lights and the full moon.
For our last day we visited Villeneuve les Avignon which was built across the Rhone from Avignon by cardinals who found Avignon too smelly to live in. It is a small town nestled beneath the hills.
Entering, we passed the Phillip Bell Tower which we had been able to see from Avignon. On top of one hill is an impressive fort. We walked up a narrow, winding street which brought us to the top of the hill.
There the limestone fort rose majestically from a field of yellow flowers. White petals swirled in the breeze from the surrounding almond trees. The inside was also full of flowers and trees. It was tranquil and quiet... probably the complete opposite of when it served as an army barracks. We visited the tiny chapel then climbed the spiral staircase to the towers and ramparts. The interior rooms had some interesting samples of medieval graffiti as well as some latrines: stone seats with a hole that let any waste tumble from the high bases of the turrets below... additional fortress defenses I guess.
We walked back down the hill to the Chartreuse Pontificale, originally a monastery but now a museum as well as a scriptwriters retreat, complete with theatre space. It seemed like we were the only tourists there and the couple scriptwriters we saw slipped quietly into their cells like the monks who lived there before them. This was a beautiful silent retreat with vaulted arches in the halls and a central garden. There was a little medicinal herb garden as well as a carpentry workshop. One chapel had some frescoes still, where the artist had experimented with showing space and perspective. I envied the script writers there who were able to work in such a contemplative place.
Once again I was relieved we were visiting off season and could wander the stone halls, cells and other rooms undisturbed by the echoes of voices.
In the summer the Chartreuse is part of the Avignon Festival providing workshops for developing plays as well as venue spaces.
Back in Avignon we did some busking and Avignon lived up to its name as a place that appreciates arts. A reporter took a photo of us for the local paper with a short article.