Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November 5: Walking in Avignon

For the next two days, I woke alone in the giant bed in our giant room and contemplated cloudy weather. I didn't care; in fact, I preferred it because I wouldn't have to wear sunglasses. And I didn't mind being alone, although it would have been nice to explore the town with my husband.

It can be nice to be alone during breakfast, with no one watching in amazement as you copiously butter your already-buttery croissant. And for my first breakfast in Avignon, I had the whole breakfast room and the buffet to myself.

I guess I was expected to be attending the forum — I encountered no other solitary spouses — but I had no interest in sitting in a lecture hall listening to simultaneous translations of media- and techno-speak. Not when there was a medieval French walled city beckoning me. I'm deeply underemployed, despite being both skilled and experienced. No one hires people my age. Unless there's something magical that can make me younger, I feel I'm under no obligation to suffer for imaginary future career opportunities.

So I had a few croissants instead. It's important to try every kind on the buffet table, so you know which are the best when you go for seconds. The buffet was magnificent. There was every kind of fresh fruit, from figs and currants to pineapple and tiny strawberries. There were different brands of the excellent yogurt they have in Europe, with interesting fruit flavors (pear! apple!) and just enough sweetener to make it delicious. (You can approximate it at home with plain yogurt, honey, and fruit, but it's never the same.) There was granola with chocolate chunks. There were many kinds of baguettes, rolls, ripe cheeses, and meats. There would have been eggs and bacon and sausages, had I wanted any. There was fresh-squeezed orange juice, and I ordered a pot of Ceylon tea. There was wonderful apricot jam at my table, and decadently large packets of sweet butter, in gold foil. After the strange gourmet dinner we'd had the night before, I was famished.

There are similar buffets in hotels across America and Europe, but all this tasted French.

I ate well, but discreetly, making a few quiet trips back to the buffet until I was fortified to explore Avignon. See, my first pass doesn't look so outrageous:

But that was just the beginning. Eventually I was full enough to venture outside. (Still, when my husband called in the late afternoon to see where I was, it was fun to tell him, "I'm just finishing breakfast!" He knows me all too well.)

Here's the courtyard of our hotel. It was warm enough to sit and read, or have a drink, or just listen to the fountain and the birds:

I couldn't find a useful guidebook in English for Avignon, so all I had was a map from the hotel. So I wandered, and managed to find many of the major points of interest over the next two days. I walked 11 or 12 miles each day, and I was glad to be able to switch between my three pairs of low-heeled boots in the middle of each day.

Here are some of my favorite scenes from Avignon:

A house near the Place du Palais.

 Stone walls along the ramparts en route to the Palais.

Restored section of the Palais.

 Above the city walls. The Rhône and the famous Pont d'Avignon — the St. Benezet bridge. 

A neighboring town in morning fog.

Interior of the Cathedral Notre-Dame des Doms.

An irresistible candy store in the town.

Their many flavors of caramels are excellent!

Two Winnie the Poohs dine beneath the Virgin. It's France.

"Ne pas toucher le chien, merci!"

What lies behind these doorways? Beautiful courtyards, perhaps....

Sur la Pont d'Avgnon, where I performed the five ballet foot positions in lieu of dancing.

View of the Palais des Papes from the bridge.

Let's live here!

Another door with wonderful carving and hardware.

Carousel in the main square, the Place de L'Horloge. There's a famous
clock tower there, too, but I didn't figure that out. (No guidebook!) But 
It can't be better than the one in Prague. 

Doors of the Church of St. Pierre. They were reciting the rosary inside.
 I used to be able to say it in French, but no more.

One of many "places" with tables, trees, and cafés.

I met three cats in Avignon. Here's one.

A mossy wall. Some walls were carved from the rocks.

A little autumn color.

Lunch was a chevre crèpe and various eclairs. In the evening, we had a private tour of the Palais des Papes with an enthusiastic guide who marched us everywhere except to the kitchens, which I'd been curious to see. I couldn't get over the fact that most of this enormous gothic castle — plus 20 cardinals' residences and many other impressive buildings — had been constructed within 30 years. It was an unusual situation where money, materials, and workmen (who came from all over Europe) were all plentiful. We met the "palace cat" at the end of the trip, a friendly tabby who seemed delighted to have found some humans — the palace is vast.

We were supposed to attend another gourmet dinner party for forum participants but we decided we were too hungry. Tonight, we would eat food. Our Palais guide directed us to a trio of Provençal restaurants on the rue Racine, and we chose Le Brigadier du Theatre, with its cozy red, candlelit interior. We enjoyed our soupe pistou, puréed vegetables with dollops of pungent red pesto. My husband had beef, and I had a tian, a bubbling casserole with eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, and three cheeses, which I hope to recreate at home.

Dessert was a few Pierre Herme macaroons, a welcoming gift we'd found in our room. Then to bed, to  lie awake with jet lag, planning the strategy for my last day in Avignon. 

1 comment:

  1. I read your reflections on Avignon this morning. Our daughter has remained in contact with a lovely Russian student who lived with us in 2008. They plan to meet in Paris after college graduation, so I especially enjoyed your photographs and musings. I don't understand the compulsion to mar statues, buildings, etc. with graffiti. I don't know why, but I was surprised to see it there. The carousel reminded me of a scene from "The Last Time I Saw Paris" with Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson. Your description of the fussy, gourmet meal was amusing; no wonder you appreciated the tian! I shall comply with my eager little border collie as he assumes command of our walk today, in honor of your many miles in boots. You are a gifted travel essayist.


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