Tuesday, October 1, 2013


The wall that surrounds Avignon today was begun by Innocent IV in the mid 1300s, during the Hundred Years’ War. Intended to protect the city from the highway bandits and mercenaries that swarmed the Rhone valley, the city still faced challenges from within as a“band of rogues sowed terror, rendering the streets dangerous. The pope acted swiftly and inflexibly, ordering prompt justice. Drownings and hangings after cursory trials reestablished order in the city” at least temporarily http:/www.avignon-et-provence.com/avignon-tourism/monuments/remparts-avignon.htm#.Ukf2fEpvfWE  - the medieval response to gangs.
IMG_3539 IMG_3509 IMG_3932
Onto the present day.
Inside the wall, the roads are very, very narrow. The driving direction of the narrowest streets often seemed to be determined by whomever got there first. I’m sure there are lots of rules around how this is really decided, but as pedestrians we never figured them out.

A few roads have wee tiny walkways, but very tiny as you can see in the picture. Many have no walkway: the entrance to our apartment building for example, opened right onto the road (i.e., traffic) and if you weren’t careful when you stepped out the door, you’d be hit by a car.
Narrow Streets-FeetThe wall to our building
                                   ======= >

Where the curb ended and the road started                         ======= >

The plazas/squares are an entirely different experience - spacious, relaxing and as I’ve described previously, often entertaining in bizarre ways. On our second afternoon in Avignon, we found what soon became our favourite cafe and plaza. That day, as we were sipping coffee and eating pastries, the noise around us grew to the point that even we realized that something unusual was happening. We started to pay attention. Lo and behold, 3 big elephants walking in a line, came along the main street - in Avignon - along a street that was barely wide enough to accommodate them. And we didn’t even think to take a picture! 

The longer we stay somewhere, the more adept we become at figuring things out, but since this was only our second day there we couldn’t even begin to guess what was going on, so we just kept looking at each other, then back to the elephants. It was so unexpected. There was a vehicle behind them with someone filming, so we thought that maybe it was a movie, a  music video? We never figured it out. The elephants were moving slowly, lumbering along, and traffic was quickly piling up behind them, but there wasn’t much that could be done. With the street’s buildings practically hugging
IMG_4108the elephants there was no room for passing. At some point though, somewhere in the city, there was an emergency. And apparently the only police officer available to respond was way way down the road, trapped behind the elephants and line of cars. On goes the siren! Did I mention the streets are narrow here? There is no room for people to pull over for emergency vehicles, and no way anyone can pass another car without scraping something. There simply wasn’t any way for people to make room for him to pass. Still, he kept the siren on as the cruiser inched it’s way up the road along with all the other cars, behind the elephants.

It left me thinking though, about how it would be if we each had our own personal siren that we could chose to use maybe once or twice a year. It would serve no purpose other than to let people know that we’re HERE and that something really IMPORTANT / SIGNIFICANT is happening in our lives, right NOW, and we want them to notice.

The following day, we sat in the plaza and this time there was all sorts of noise from the opposite direction. Drumming, singing, dancing and then a bride and groom emerged from the City Hall. We lingered a little longer over our coffee, then wandered up to the city hall and there was second wedding happening!



And finally, a few pictures of the Rhone River and one of a bridge built by Gustave Eiffel that spans the River.
IMG_3958   IMG_3744


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Rosé and a mini Tour de France

Sunday morning - coffee, a late breakfast and a jaunt to the market, followed by a midday stop for a glass of rosé.

“Une rosé avec glass?” I heard the waiter ask.

I paused for a moment, considering how I felt about drinking rosé straight from a bottle. The waiter, clearly having encountered this issue before clarified that he was asking about “‘glace’ or in English, ‘ice’”.  Ah. Would I like ice in my rosé?

“No, no glace, svp”, I replied, another proud learning moment for me. A few minutes later, the rosé arrived, WITH ice. I couldn’t muster the vocabulary to decline it politely,and so said nothing and drank it. Very Canadian eh!


The cafe we see from our livingroom    

And here is our favourite place for a beer 20130914_112108
- afternoon -

- and evening -
We left the cafe after an hour of watching families and friends congregating at the tables, and  young children tearing about the square on bikes with no pedals (that’s the little ones), scooters, and regular bikes, doing flips and mid-air turns. No helmets, no shin pads. Collisions generally resulted in a race back to a table of grown-ups, a few tears, a sip of something that was usually bright blue or brilliant pink (I’m hopping candy floss or bubblegum flavoured syrup, not gin or grenadine) and then off they went, back to playing. 

Heading back to our apartment meant passing my favourite ice cream shop, and so another stop. I’m not even a fan of ice cream, it’s Daniel’s thing, but here I have discovered walnut ice cream and I could eat it every day. Continuing our meander home we came upon a mini tour de france on the main street. The bikes seemed less significant than the actual outfits. 

The main street, just inside the city walls
The bike race
The kids were dressed to the nines in cycling gear! Not wanting to stand out too much we took a lot of pictures, just like everyone else on the sidelines, but the event meant that the main street was closed and really our focus was on how we would get across the street to our favourite bakery. And it was hot today, with no cooling mistral winds, so Daniel was starting to smell a little (the market cheese purchases he was toting in a back-pack were warming up), so there was an emerging sense of urgency.

... although not quite as urgent as the poor guy we saw on our first night here:  having deposited what seemed to be his last bit of change into the one of the street-corner condom machines he was jumping up and down, in a very agitated and public display of frustration at the machine’s refusal to produce the merchandise. At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder what we would do if he asked us for some spare change.

<== Bike storage on the train


Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Papal Palace, The Bridge and City Rooftops


 The Papal Palace

The Papal Palace is the largest surviving Gothic Palace in Europe.

Built in the 14th century, nine consecutive popes resided here. It took only 20 years to build the original structure.

From 1378 on there were two popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon.  Although the last Avignon pope departed in 1403 the Church owned Avignon until the the French Revolution.


Different views of the Palace





                                                                    Seen from the Saint Benezet Bridge (Pont d’Avignon) 

IMG_3575The Papal Vineyard, Rhone River and Pont Saint Benezet (Pont d’Avignon) behind me

The Pont Saint Benezet

The 900m long bridge was built between 1177 (or 71*) and 1185 and was the only fixed structure crossing the Rhone. One side was controlled by the Church and the other by the French crown. In 1669 (or 68*) much of the bridge was swept away during flooding and it was not rebuilt.

*depends on from where I get my info

Avignon Rooftops



Monday, September 16, 2013

Open Doors / Heritage Days / des Journées européennes du patrimoine - Avignon

For two busy days, Sep 14-15, we joined crowds of people wandering the streets of Avignon, touring over 30 different sites that bring this city’s history to life, Avignon's Heritage Days.

A few nights before, we had found ourselves on Rue des Teinturiers, pondering huge water wheels along a pretty canal. On Heritage Day we discovered that the street name is from the guild of IMG_3654makers of cotton fabric prints known as ‘Indiennes”; the fabric designs are reminiscent of the brightly coloured  prints brought to Europe in the 17th century by the French East Indian Company.

“These cottons were so popular they posed a serious threat to the silk and cloth industry in France, causing Louis XIV to impose a ban on all manufacture, imports and sales of the cottons, and to seize all stock. This ban lasted for about 50 years until it was lifted in 1759 with the help of the influential Madame de Pompadour, mistress of king Louis XV. From then onwards the textile industry in France began to flourish.” http://www.french-country-dIMG_3646ecor-guide.com/french-country-fabrics.html 

By 1817 there were 23 water wheels along Rue de Teinturiers, producing the energy needed by the carders, spinners, dyers to print their fabric. 

This “feature” wasn’t actually a part of Heritage Days. We came across a sign with the history as we were walking to another site. That site was a church and what struck us most was not the building or its history but the fact that the parishioners were sharing their Sunday meal together in the outdoor courtyard. 

All day, as we wandered from one monument/ museum to another, we heard similar sounds – dishes clanging, people talking, furniture moving, laughter – the elements of my favourite Sunday hymn.

We’ve never done the Open Doors event in Ottawa, but we will in the future.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

I’m back …

Two years after I first started this blog, I’m making a second attempt. Once again we're travelling but this time when I return to Canada, maybe, just maybe, I'll keep blogging.

We’re in France. We arrived on a strike day, which presented a few challenges and some delays, but eventually we made our way from Marseille airport to Avignon 20130912_102611where we will stay for a little while. But let me back-track for a moment.

I’m a very compliant traveller: my leatherman tool, tweezers, scissors, liquids etc all go in my checked baggage. I don’t travel with aerosols, firearms or a surfboard (I saw the last two items posted as no-nos in a US airport recently). This trip my husband commented that given the multitude of cables in our carry-on – chargers for phones, computer, MP3, iPod, camera, kobo, kobo light – airport security concerns over tweezers seemed a little misplaced. Still, better safe than sorry, so if it’s something sharp, sprayable, spillable or flammable, it gets checked. I don’t surf or hunt.

Well, you can imagine our surprise when, after most people had boarded and were seated, some poor sod opened the overhead baggage and out fell a pair of hiking poles, pokey-end going right into the head of a lady seated below. The attendant, who continued to “entertain” us for the entire flight with her utter cluelessness, picked up the poles, commenting that she was very surprised hiking poles were allowed as carry on, and tucked them right back up into the same overhead compartment before sauntering off to get the lady an ice pack. A short time later my purse straps that were just barely showing from the under the seat in front of me, warranted special attention from her, because clearly they were a tripping hazard (to all those people trying to pass me sitting in the middle seat).  Thank goodness I didn’t have those tweezers with me. They would have been confiscated I`m sure.

Seven hours later we arrived, to a strike, but not a really bad one as some trains were running, so we were in luck.
Our first evening here, we headed out to the main outdoor plaza – chock-a-block full with restaurant patios and diners. Along with many others, we were sipping our drinks and pondering the menu while people-watching. The tiniest little dog, a cross between a shih tzu, yorkshire terrier, chihuahua and possibly a cricket, caught everyone’s attention with his antics. He pranced, he chased bits of paper, danced around people’s legs - and when he had everyone’s full attention, he dropped his haunches and pooped! Seriously, right there in the middle of the plaza, with probably a few hundred diners looking on, he'd trot along a few steps, then stop and poop again, and I swear he kept looking back, checking his audience's reaction. All of us, who just a few moments before had been totally enchanted by the happy puppy, suddenly didn’t know where to turn our gaze. He'd gone from being utterly charming to being "juvenile delinquent puppy".

Here are  pictures of the Pont d’Avignon (the Pont Saint Benezet); a view from the "dog plaza"; and, our feet on the Pont d’Avignon.