Friday, April 30:  Avignon

No rain when we woke, but there was a big downpour as we went out for breakfast. Drinks at the bar, then we tried yet another patisserie -- this one included seating. Back to the Internet cafe for an email exchange, then we departed for Avignon with a bit of faith that the weather would continue to clear.

Took local roads rather than the tollway, found the parking garage directly and parked the car. Walked no less than thirty meters out a ramp and to our surprise were right in the middle of the huge plaza in front of the Palace of the Popes. A series of French Popes made Avignon home for about one hundred years, all part of a crisis in leadership, both for the Church and the Empire. For a time there were two Popes and two Emperors (I think have all that right.) What I do know is that it was St. Catherine of Sienna who traveled to Avignon to personally convince the Pope to return to Rome. On Rick’s advice, we passed on paying the entrance fee to go inside.

Next stop was the Pont Avignon, of some fame because of some nursery rhyme I was never taught. A better excuse to view the bridge was that during the Middle Ages it was the only bridge to cross the Rhone River. Four of twenty-two arches survive and the bridge only spans half of the current channel. We passed on paying to walk on top of it.

We followed Rick’s walking tour, as the weather changed minute-by-minute. Coat, umbrella, sunglasses, and very nearly sunscreen, all came into play. Repeatedly. During one brief downpour, we decided maybe we should duck inside someplace for lunch. Of course, we were standing outside the fanciest hotel in town, with dinners costing 85 euro per person. However, the next square over had four choices and Rick steered us correctly to the best value of the bunch, Pause Gormaund. Robert enjoyed his ham and cheese omelet, and I had a plat du jour with a wide variety of items. David enjoyed a Croque Monsieur, while Pat had the salmon plat du jour. The cafe selection paid for another guidebook, I’d say.

We saw churches, medieval buildings that got wider as they got taller (as a consequence of a tax on ground-floor square footage), a synagogue done in a Greek style, and an urban canal fueled by a diversion from a river in order to power a still extant waterwheel. The return route was up the main drag of the old city, where Pat finally had to resort to the McDonald’s-has-the-cleanest-bathrooms-in-Europe ploy since the facilities at the public park repulsed even Robert.

Journals, homework, solitaire, war (the card game), and a last trip to the superb Internet cafe brought us to dinnertime. We abandoned the cafe-on-the-square scene, and owing to a big lunch, opted for a small simple place above the river with a view of the old city and the Roman Arch bridge. (Photo 79) (Photo 82) We had the outdoor terrace to ourselves and the weather was by now somewhat cooperative. Three pizzas, an omelet, a Heineken and a quarter-liter of house wine capped off a relaxing week. Hopefully, we’re all set for a mad dash through the rest of France and into London. I’m afraid our next respite will be Bath, or more likely, the Cotswolds.

Photo 80  Lake Como Panorama
Photo 81  Vaison-la-Romaine from Castle
Photo 82  Roman Bridge, Old City, Vaison-la-Romaine