Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Other Rome

After a lovely stay in Montpellier, I hopped a cheap Ouibus ride to Avignon.  The 1.15 hour ride only cost 5 euros, and the bus was comfy and had wifi.  The only drama was from a group of German students whose compatriot was running late to the bus.  His tram was moving painfully slowly and they were pleading with the driver to wait just a few more minutes.  The lucky fellow made it, probably thanks in part to having cute female friends.

The bus ride through the bucolic French countryside was a delight.  Fields of vineyards and rolling hills in the provincial Provence landscape.

We arrived just outside the walls of Avignon, and the bus dropped me off.  I hoofed my way in through the city walls into the quaint city of Avignon.  I found my hostel, a fun place called Pop' Hostel, which was funky, modern and affordable (17 euros a night for a hostel).  I dropped my stuff and I had a nice lunch on a crepe filled with Emmental (swiss) and tomato pesto for a reasonable 2.5 euros. After I went wandering through the narrow lanes of Avignon and through its quiet, closed Sunday alleys.

I woke up early the next morning and grabbed a delicious pain au chocolate and espresso at the bakery next door before heading on to see the main reason I had come to Avignon: the Palais des Papes (The Papal Palace).

 For any of you history buffs out there, Avignon played host to the Popes for some 70 years during the 14th century.  The Avignon Captivity was a period of time where the city was the center of the Roman Catholic world.  From 1309-1377, a total of 7 French popes ruled over the Catholic world from Avignon rather than Rome.  Then even better, after the papacy returned to Rome there was a schism and Avignon continued to crown popes.  For a period there were 2 popes, one in Avignon (an antipope) and one in Rome.  Fascinating stuff, I swear--go read some of the links here and you will see all sorts of drama and intrigue around the Game of Papal Thrones.

Anyway, I went to visit the Palais des Papes, the enormous Gothic fortress and palace that housed the Avignon papacy.  I did an audioguided tour of the giant place to get a better context to all the history that took place in the palace.  It was fascinating.  All sorts of tidbits of history about the construction of the immense palace, its daily working  and the goings-on in the Papal Palace.  I wandered through the arched Grand Chapel where the Popes used to worship, and the immense dining halls and kitchens, as well as the vaults where the riches of Christendom were stored.  There were some beautiful chapels in the palace, and some fascinating murals in the Pope's quarters.

As mentioned, the Palais des Papes was home to 7 French popes until 1377, and a few antipopes after. The city itself was under control of the Kingdom of Naples until Queen Giovanni was short on cash and sold it to the Papacy for 80,000 florins in 1348.  It remained under Papal control, with various legates living in the palace until the French Revolution, when it officially came under control of France.  After the French Revolution, the French turned it into an army barracks.

Now it the place is being restored, and is a UNESCO monument.

I made my way to the top of the Palace and stared out over the city and Rhone River flowing just beyond the city walls and ramparts.

After my tour through the palace, I made my way into the Place Pie to grab lunch.  I found a little bakery with immaculate pizza fresh out of the oven.  France gets underlooked for its pizza, but is actually a great pizza spot--which makes sense given its superb breads and stellar cheeses.

I futzed around a bit in the afternoon, doing a little work over a delicious brownie and cafe from the bakery next door.  I wandered a bit more through the city to the Rue des Teintures, a fascinating alley off a small river flowing through the city where dyers, washers and other used to work.  There were a number of bars and cafes along the small river, and I stopped to read with a demi-pinte under some autumn trees dropping dessicated leaves on me.

I spent the rest of the afternoon roaming around the Rhone, on the turgid river's banks.  I had a quiet night over a glass of red wine and Lord of the Rings as the rains slightly drizzled down.

Off to Aix!

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