Avignon is a pale place. Pale skies, pale buildings. I think the paleness makes it more inviting, more calm.
Early in the morning, we hauled our dirty laundry to the laundromat in Places des Corps-Saints. I wanted to Airbnb the entire six week trip, and made sure that every so often we would stay in an Airbnb that had a washing machine. This one didn’t, but the laundromat was so close it might as well have been inside our little apartment. Very convenient.
When we entered the laundromat, there was a small, elderly woman sweeping. She spoke no English, but took it upon herself to explain the laundromat procedures to us. Thankfully, we understood most of what she was saying and got our laundry going–after F ran around the city getting change for the machines. While F was out getting change, the woman and I tried to speak a bit, but all that I took away from our conversation was that she only knew of Canada for its maple syrup and its terrible, terrible cold.
After we finished up with the laundry, we stopped by Milk Shop to pick up breakfast and headed over to the Place d’Horloge (the clock tower being largely out of sight). In the square are very old buildings and a beautiful opera house. We hadn’t planned to visit the opera house, but it turned out that Avignon was prepping for a music festival soon and all the major roads were being decorated and set up for some festivities we would unfortunately end up missing. So close!
We then meandered over to the Palais des Papes.
So much of the Palais has been stripped away over the past centuries that the place feels both spacious and skeletal.
No photos were permitted inside, so I can’t offer you a peek behind the walls. But to be honest, because of what the Palais had been through over the past six centuries, there isn’t much to see other than what’s left of the buildings’ architecture, as well as plaques with descriptions of what used to be and some artifacts that had been discovered during excavation. If you’re big on European & Christian history, however, you’ll definitely appreciate a visit.
One of the most memorable moments at the Palais was inside one of the massive halls that had once been used for special papal ceremonies. The cavernous, bare space was constructed and renovated with acoustics in mind. Just as we were about to leave, a tour guide at the other end of the hall began singing a piece from the ars nova style of medieval music to demonstrate the hall’s stunning acoustics. The sound that resonated throughout the hall sounded like the voice of a literal angel. F and I froze, standing transfixed until the song was over–along with every other visitor in the hall. It was mesmerising.
Afterward, we heard the guide cutely say to an inquisitive tourist, “Of course you can post to the YouTube! Maybe I will be discovered and become a star! Heh heh!”
City views from a turret.
Throughout the day we found it increasingly apparent that many of the tourists in Avignon were both elderly and largely French. There were other nationalities as well, some families with children, and several young adult couples like F and I, but for the most part, the dominant group in the Palais area were elderly tourist parties. Is Avignon a popular destination for higher age brackets, or was our observation only situationally accurate? Either way, it was nice not having shrieking children running around like in other popular destination cities.
We ducked into the nearby church after our self-guided tour of the Palais. This was mostly because it was cool inside.
Across from the Palais des Papes is the musée du Petite Palais, where medieval works from across Europe are displayed. We went in at around one in the afternoon, and it was almost completely empty save for an employee or two on each floor. Whenever we climbed to the next floor of the museum, the new floor’s attendant would put down the book they were reading and stand up, and follow us from room to room at a respectable distance. I thought it was great that they were able to read on the job; with only F and I on several of the floors, it’s nice that they had something to do to fill their time when there was no one to watch.
Some of the museum’s employees were very helpful, too, showing us which way to view paintings that told stories and were displayed in a particular chronological order.
Medieval artwork has never been a favourite of mine, but with the whole place to ourselves (save a few other visitors whom we saw intermittently), it felt like we had a private viewing of the works and we could take our time with different pieces that caught our eye without worrying about getting in someone else’s way. Lucky us!
Soon after, we headed back to Milk Shop (yes, again) for a late lunch.
Smoked salmon cream cheese bagel and a chili hot dog. My bagel was good but nothing beats Pacific smoked salmon… . F really enjoyed his cheese, jalapeno, chorizo, and pepper hot dog, and was for some reason particularly impressed with the bun.
Milk shop is also famous for their cheesecakes. F said it was much creamier than the cheesecakes he was used to. I can’t stand cheesecake but found this one preferable to others I’ve tried, perhaps because the cheese flavour wasn’t as strong.
After our late lunch we headed back to our Airbnb to rest. It had gotten incredibly hot out, so we hid away indoors and played Fire Emblem: Fates. F also headed over to the train station to get a ticket situation sorted out, and I did some Airbnb housekeeping online by finishing up reviews and contacting our next host.
In the evening, we set out again.
This time we walked over to the St. Benezet bridge.
The bridge is broken, and ends halfway across the Rhône. Apparently it was once miraculously long for a bridge of its time. Medieval technology and architecture didn’t normally permit the construction of bridges of this size and nature, and the St. Benezet (despite its architectural achievements) shows why. Only about 1/10th of the St. Benezet is now left standing, due to the strength of the river and other problems that wore the bridge down and made it too dangerous to maintain. So it was one of those, “well, we tried” medieval moments that left the French with one more way to shamelessly exploit its past for money.
I may have been a bit peeved that they charge for entry onto a broken bridge. But that’s just me.
Of course, the view was wonderful. There was a lovely breeze on the remains of the St. Benezet. I wouldn’t say it’s a must for those visiting Avignon–just look at the bridge from the side of the river and you get a similar experience, minus a large crowd of tourists. But I was happy to stand at the edge of the lookout point with F and enjoy our surroundings.
The other side of the river.
Before going onto the bridge, you’re encouraged to go underneath the entrypoint where a small museum dedicated to the archeological work on the bridge has been half-heartedly set up. The English translations weren’t fantastic, and I wished I could offer to fix the English copy for free. Maybe it wouldn’t bother many people, but I just couldn’t help feeling it would be so much nicer if the grammar and spelling were cleaned up. But anyway.
After getting our fill of the view of the city and the Rhône, we headed back to our neighbourhood for dinner.
Provence’s take on Coca-Cola? Slightly less carbonated and a bit heavier tasting than Coke. I liked it.
We chose to eat at Ginnette & Marcel, at the recommendation of the laundromat lady (she had said it was affordable but good). They specialize in tartines.
We both chose the pesto, tomato, and mozzarella tartine, which was more filling than we expected and tasty to boot. If you’re looking for a cheap meal in Avignon, Ginnette & Marcel is an ideal choice!
And dessert, of course. Dessert has been a staple this entire trip.
My congolaise, which was kind of like a large macaroon.
I picked the congolaise; a heaping ball of baked shredded coconut enjoyed with a scattering of jelly beans and several dollops of nutella. It was a very simple dessert but it’s hard to go wrong with coconut and nutella.
Tiramisu and jelly beans.
F got the tiramisu, which also came with jelly beans. The jelly beans felt really random but we supposed that they were just a ‘thing’ the bistro did with their desserts. Everyone gets jelly beans if they order dessert. Hoo-rah! (If you love jelly beans, anyway.)
After our meal we headed back to our Airbnb, where we got a good night’s rest before leaving for Milan the next day.
PS: Exploring France was one of my favourite parts of our six-week trip. It was very hard for us to say goodbye to all that we experienced, particularly in the South of France, and I can’t wait to go back one day. I am definitely making it happen.