You know how you weren’t planning on doing something, and then you decide to, and you’re so glad that you did? Well, that’s how it’s been with the addition to my travels of both Barcelona and Provence — just fantastic.
I left Barcelona Tuesday morning and took the metro to the train station, which was easy enough, save for the heavy backpack (more on that later). I got to Avignon, France, in the Provence region, in the early afternoon and made my way to the apartment that I rented through Airbnb, where I met Anne, a lovely woman who was very kind and helpful in getting me settled. The apartment is in a building that dates back to the 18th century, with a cobblestone courtyard as you enter through a huge wooden door, and then walk a grand stone staircase to the third floor. Terracotta tile floors, wooden beam 20′ ceilings, and huge windows with interior wooden shutters that are about 12′ tall… all combined with an updated kitchenette and bathroom, and lovely decor. Anyone who knows my style would take one look at this place and know why I love it. Just beautiful. And so French — very stylish.
The first two days here were quite stormy, with a lot of rain that came down in force starting late Tuesday. I wandered around town a bit, and found myself in the heart of the main square for dinner, where I met a very nice and cheery couple from Britain, who also live half the time here in Avignon. They invited me over to their table at the end of my meal, and insisted on sharing some of their wine while we talked travel and adventures, of which they’ve had many. These are the moments that I love the most — unexpected discoveries and connections, with the places I’m visiting, with the people, and with the small details at any given moment on any given day.
Wednesday morning I hit an energy wall; I slept in a little, and got out for a late breakfast, and then just had trouble getting up enough energy for a day of sightseeing, especially since it was pouring rain. So I opted to do a load of laundry and wait it out, and as luck would have it, the clouds parted and the sun broke through late in the day, making for a lovely evening. I started with an afternoon visit to the Petit Palais Museum, which is full of religious art from the Church, most of which is medieval Italian paintings and sculptures. I then made my way to the park on the edge of the town that overlooks the river, and then down to the river to visit the Pont St. Benezet, which is the bridge of Avignon, only part of which still stands, going about half way across the Rhone River. After that I had just an hour to visit the Palace of the Popes, which was actually pretty cool to visit as it was getting dark, giving me a unique perspective on life here at that time. This was followed by a late dinner, complete with a chat noir (yes, really) who likes to visit this particular restaurant every night. I had originally wanted to also fit in a visit to nearby Arles and possibly Nimes, but my late start and lazy day cut those from the list.
Thursday was spend touring the Provence region with a local guide and some other tourists, visiting a lavender museum, where I learned about the very specific fine lavender grown here (not lavendine, which is what is grown most other places around the world), and the history of how the essential oil has been distilled over time. Perhaps very simple to some, but to be in the place where these famous products are made, and to learn about them, is quite interesting. We then visited several hilltop towns in the Luberon region of Provence, including Roussillon, Gourdes, and Les Baux, as well as driving through the Cote du Rhone region, and visiting the famous Pont du Gard aqueduct, which was built around 19 BC (yes, really) by the Romans. So incredible to see it still standing strong across the Gardon River. We wrapped up with a quick visit to the St. Remy area to see the place where Nostradamus was born, and where Van Gogh spent the end of his life. As with many of the artists that we now consider to be the great masters, he was not appreciated during his life as he has been since his death, and it was both sad, yet inspiring, to stand in the area that inspired some of his greatest work, including The Starry Night.
It’s my last night here in Provence, and I take the train tomorrow to Nice on the French Riviera. The forecast for the rest of my trip is looking sunny and warm, which is just one more blessing on this incredible journey. Loving it.
1. Photos to be uploaded soon
2. Ok, the backpack. It’s the classic story — I thought I packed light. Really. But, as the story goes, everyone wishes they had packed lighter, and that is certainly true. There are two small and one large packing cubes, two pair of sandals, and my toiletry bag in there, and it feels like I’m carrying a baby elephant. On the one hand, it’s so much quicker for getting from place to place, as I’m very mobile and not wheeling a bag behind me; on the other, it’s tiring to schlep that thing any amount of distance. So my next trip will be definitely be packing even lighter. Because holy farm animals, I need a massage.