Not wanting to get into a parking nightmare, we came into Avignon on the bus. Our first glimpse of the city was those walls that seem to go for miles – with flower beds at their base and a clear blue sky above setting off all that honey coloured stone.
The largest city near Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Avignon has a very eventful past, yet still feels abuzz – with young people, (no doubt a lot to do with the university.) As well as lots of visitors, commerce, musicians (really good ones) in the squares – it has three major UNESCO World Heritage historical sites. The staff at the Office de Tourismé (choose the English flag) were great. Young, fresh faced, and very friendly, they spoke English very well. Then we were off to board the little train from Place de Palaises to get our bearings.
Ooops… We had the usual headsets and language choice, but simultaneously, a loud French narration was broadcast over speakers in each car! So we couldn’t hear the English narration properly. Plus the narrator’s very heavy accent and constant references to north, south, east and west instead of left and right and ahead or behind made everything very confusing for total stranger to the city! So we saw lots of things, but had no idea what they were, or where we were… So we started again, using the brochures and maps, literally from Square 1 of the city…
The Angladon Musée is a modern art gallery housed in a private mansion containing paintings, sculptures and objets d’art by lots of big names – Henri, Vincent, Paul, Pablo, and lots more. They’re part of a collection by Jacques Doucet. His family designed Haute Couture, though he saw the business more as a means to finance his love and collection of art. He knew the artists personally, buying and commissioning works from them, and at times receiving gifts from them. The collection of photos of the artists interacting with him and each other were really interesting as well. His business took a downturn and he had to sell many works, but still left a treasure trove when he died. The eventual recipient of these works, with his wife – both artists, decided to make these treasures available to the public, so made a section of the their home made into a gallery. This kind of private benefaction seems not uncommon here in France and without it many wonderful works just woudln’t be available for mere mortals to enjoy. On the top floor, they have some of their own work and studio on view, which was a lovely surprise… Both use colour masterfully though have their own themes and unique styles of course.
Le Pont Saint-Bénezet Grandad used to sing Sur le pont, d’Avignon…, so of course we learned to sing it with him. So of course I wanted to dance on the bridge when I had the chance! (Grandad had learnt this and others here in France serving with the 13th Australian Light Horse Regiment in WWI. But that’s another story, maybe later…)
Another World Heritage site, the bridge is attached to the ramparts of the walled city spanning out across the Rhone… but the part that once reached the other side is no longer there… It used to be an area of massive flooding so in fact there have been various versions of the bridge. This one has been this one being preserved in its current state, so other more recent bridges built further up and down the river are what traffic use now.
As part of the expo attached to the bridge, there were pictures of all the World Heritage Bridges, and we were proud to see Sydney Harbour up there in its rightful place. (Mind you, we also thought France a little greedy with three!!) The story of St Bénezet, the shepherd who told the church fathers that God had told him to build the bridge, and the stories of the chapels on the bridge are as interesting as the history of the bridge. It is so often the context that makes meaning for us. Also interesting is the fact that the song isn’t actually that old, and that it originally was Sous le pont… because people danced under the bridge, not on it. This makes so much sense if you’ve ever tried to dance on cobblestones! I suspect the sheer number of foreign tourists singing ‘sur le pont…’ has made the locals give up in the end, let the tourists have it their way, and just charge them for copies of the song on everything that can be printed!
I tried to dance on the bridge but my feet hurt too much on the cobblestones. (I was wearing very light sandals and have since sensibly gone and bought new ones that can cope much better with such terrain!) Tina of course was more practical in the shoe department, and probably fitter by the time we made it to the bridge in the afternoon, so she danced for us both… And for you too, because I could still snap with my camera.
Another travel tip – take some gel inserts for shoes with you. Wonderful. (The inventor should be ‘sainted’ immediately.)
Heather and Tina