For the first time in several weeks, the weather forecast for the next section of the trip promised a positive (read: warmer / sunnier) change. Arrival in Avignon was the signal for Will to strip off down to his T-Shirt and stay in it, no matter how chilly it threatened to become. Happily it was warmer. From the start we enjoyed the sunbathed balcony. The bizarre collection of cats in the surrounding backyards onto which we looked, provided a bonus (and continuing) saga of stealth and counter attack that the kids embellished with enjoyment over the 3 days.
Avignon is a walled city of some history, much of it dating back to the Romans and the time when it was the seat of the Papacy in the 14th Century. Thus there is an old city (within the walls) and a new city (without the walls) and plenty of things to interest the 4wheatleys in the nearby surrounds.
All it took for this Wheatley to be satisfied, however, was a trip to the Pont Du Gard. After so many years teaching Year 6 about design and construction of bridges, I was thrilled to tick another off my list. The Roman Aqueduct across the Gardon River was looking its luminous best in the afternoon sunshine. It was built to carry water from a spring in Uzes to Nimes and was one of the few sections that was above ground. Constructed in the first Century AD, it is incredible to think that it survives, and as such, it was included on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1985. I loved it.
We walked along a track to obtain more panoramic views and the very act of bushwalking where there were some evergreen trees reminded everyone of home.
We followed up with a bit more of a Roman theme and checked out the Arena in Nimes. This amphitheatre was also built by the Romans and then fortified and used by every invading army since. Now it is home to rock concerts and a couple of bullfights (Can’t believe they still have them!) and provides a great backdrop to ferris wheel riders like us during Winter markets.
We tried to keep it a bit lazy in Avignon, as 3 of us have been staving off colds, but we did venture out one afternoon to explore the Palais de Papes for which Avignon is famous. Beautifully situated on the river within the wall are the remains of the Palace. Six Papal conclaves were held in Avignon and two of the Popes lived here in the 1300s. The building has been constructed and deconstructed over time. Nevertheless it remains a really important medieval Gothic building in Europe and has been protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Tour de France scenery loomed large in Avignon, with the ever present Mt Ventoux rising behind the Villeneuve across the lake. With a hire car, Spike saw the opportunity to drive in the tyre tracks of Cadel and the lads up the hill, so we set out for the mountain. Firstly I will disclose that I have found being a passenger on the wrong side of the road stressful. I also admit that it was my suggestion to check at Carpentras whether or not the road was open rather than plough on straight up. Let’s face it – winds are over 90km on 240 days of the year up there.
Unfortunately, the Office d’Tourisme was not quite where the Sat Nav thought it was, and tension mounted. What did stress me out completely however, was the insistence that we should perform a sharp 90 degree turn, (narrowly missing several poorly parked cars) to drive down the Rue de Observance, a 2 metre wide cobblestone path, flanked by 3 story buildings on either side, just because the phone suggested that this was the way to proceed! Turns out I wasn’t the only one. Will unceremoniously pointed out the barricade at the end of the dwindling 200m path and Spike was forced (steam coming out of the ears) to reverse up the tiny thoroughfare and begin again.
To cut a long story short, Spike did eventually find the information office and … the road to Mt Ventoux was closed.
We needed a plan to re-establish calm so… instead, we visited the wine region of Chateauneuf-de-Pape. Here the big feature seemed to be large stones in the soil which cover the roots of the vines and keep them nice and warm.
We ate a delicious lunch in the town, and Spike enjoyed a cellar door visit where he was able to discuss many a facet of French wine making and talk about Australia to a lovely English speaking winemaker. All this led to a much calmer journey home.
As our days drew to a close, the only thing left to do in Avignon was to wander across its own famous bridge – the one in the French children’s song.