Friday, 2 August 2013

Avignon, Pont du Gard, and a Miserable Day in Arles

I did promise my mother I would finish posting the highlights of our France trip.  For the last few days, we were based in the old town of Avignon, where popes (and then anti-popes) set up shop for about a hundred years in the 14th century (Rome was thought to be too dangerous).  The entire old city is surrounded by an intact medieval city wall and is very walkable, with quirky little side streets and squares.  We also liked Avignon because we could hop on the TGV to go back to Paris, or go by train or bus to other places in Provence.

 Here is the Papal Palace by sunset, on the gloriously warm day of our arrival in Avignon.

The next day, it had become quite a bit cooler and rainier, alas.  We took a very inexpensive bus up to the Pont du Gard, exclaiming over all the vineyards we passed and all the lovely hills.  Provence felt much more sun-baked and Italian than we were expecting.  This is the river itself, with great hills on either side for scampering up and down and taking in the view.

The famous bridge with the aqueduct just running along the very top (after the sun had come back out).  The museum here had a really fascinating exhibition on the engineering and administration that went into building this aqueduct in the 1st century AD to supply water to nearby NĂ®mes.  This is the second-tallest Roman ruin after the Coliseum and it was something to behold in person.

The next day, we took an ill-fated day trip to Arles.  Sigh.  The forecast for our visit to France promised us temperatures of 25 degrees each day we were in Provence.  Alas, on this day, it poured rain and was windy and was about 8 (EIGHT) degrees!  Since we had stupidly not brought our umbrellas with us and had only light jackets, we ended up rather soggy and sad.

 Here is Arles' Roman arena - still in use for rodeo-style events, with metal risers built over the old stone seating.  I couldn't decide if I was really pleased the arena was still being used for something like its original purpose or slightly sad that it wasn't being carefully preserved as a Roman ruin.  The tower you see towards the back is a medieval construction and at one point in the Middle Ages, an entire settlement was set up inside the arena.

We came to this church because the always-helpful Rick Steves promised it had one of the most beautiful and elaborate entrances of any Romanesque church.  The church wasn't open when we happened by.  We considered waiting awhile so we could see the inside, but we were soaked by this point and decided to cut short our visit to Arles.  We dashed through the pouring rain to catch an earlier train, took a wrong turn, missed the train, and then ended up on a bus back to Avignon.  I suspect we need to go back to Arles some day when the weather's nicer.