"" Writer's Wanderings: France - Avignon

Saturday, November 28, 2009

France - Avignon


Avignon was our last stop on the Rhone River. We moored near the medieval bridge called Pont Benezet, said to be built by Saint Benezet who was a local shepherd boy commanded by angels to build a bridge across the river. The bridge suffered much damage over the years from flooding and age and now is only a tourist attraction.

The old town of Avignon is walled and quite impressive although it is said that the wall was really not much of a fortification. Inside the wall however was another discovery that added to my history lessons of the trip—the Papal Palace. There were actually seven popes that reigned from Avignon before Rome and the Vatican became the center of the Catholic Church.

The palace was huge. We wandered through the courtyard and looked up at the window from which the pope would address the crowd. The courtyard was much smaller than the piazza that today holds 500,000 or more in Rome where crowds gather to be blessed by the pope.

Some of the rooms still have the original frescos that graced the palace. One was in a little chapel where I snapped a picture without flash, thinking that was okay but found out later that all pictures of frescos were prohibited. Ooops. Still there are always those who take pictures even with a flash. (The flash of the cameras add to the deterioration of artwork from light). While I suspect the chapel frescos had been restored, there were frescos in the papal chamber or study that were original to the 14th century.

This era of papal rule was a time when there was much controversy, whispers of corruption, feuding cardinals and mistresses. Truly a place where you wish the walls could “talk” and let you in on all the stories. In the large dining hall, I imagined the gathering of cardinals as they strove to elect a new pope. It was cold. The few fireplaces in the room would not have been sufficient should the gathering be in the winter.

In later years, the palace was used as a place for troops and some of the cavernous rooms were actually divided into three floors. You can still see some of the remnants of the supports they used for the flooring. It is amazing that so much of this place survived all the changes.

The kitchen just off the dining hall was literally an enormous fire pit. A fire was built in the middle of the room for roasting the meal and the smoke rose through a chimney that rose a hundred feet or more above our heads. It had to be one hot smokin’ place to cook!

After fully exploring the palace, we walked around old town a bit. Some of the other places of interest included the opera and a covered market that was a large building with a fa├žade of live plants. Inside were booths with all sorts of fish, cheese, wine, candies and pastries.

Strolling back to the Viking Burgundy, I smelled a wood fire mixed with the sweet scent of roasted chestnuts. This second chance at sampling the wonderful treat was not going to pass me by. We stopped and since Bob doesn’t care for them, I got to enjoy the whole bag!

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