14 January 7.30 am lying in bed
It is probably about time that I said something about our accommodation in Avignon. You may have noticed complete silence on this thus far. That was me adjusting a level or two after the charming places in Toulouse and Carcassonne. We are intra muros, just a 100 feet or so from the great wall that surrounds the ancient heart of Avignon. The wall looks magnificent from the outside but rather grungy from the inside. Having walked around it I reckon the less desirable parts are closer to the old walls, and Avignon improves as you get more central.
Dad was put off at the start by the entrance door. With flaky paint and rotting timbers it does look highly dubious to a door manufacturer.
The owner, Jim, is Dutch with a boxer called George – very large and wriggly, somewhat smelly to pat, seems friendly but when no one else was looking growled at me. Plus each time I go to the main house he goes off with his barking and charges over – like a large and terrifying Emma.
Jim seems particularly attuned to the cost of everything. He recommended about eight restaurants, giving us the cost of each, told us how to see the bridge without paying, and disapproved of bus tours as it was cheaper to use public transport. This parsimonious streak is reflected in the accommodation.
The building has been converted from an old factory, which might explain the damp smell each time we open the door. There are no sofas, only a table and very uncomfortable chairs. The kitchen is tiny and stingily fitted out – the corkscrew is so crappy that Dad couldn’t get the wine open and I had to take it over to Jim who had a much nicer corkscrew in his own house. He gave me a bottle topper for it and asked anxiously that I would bring it back. The beds are cheap pine, the curtains thin and ugly, the TV tiny, the wardrobes tall skinny and wobbly, and the doors are made from that awful pressed plastic!!
Astonishing I didn’t leave. My tolerance must have grown in inverse proportion to my carbs. I was so surprised I thought I must have overlooked something when I booked it and rechecked. But yes, it is an Alastair Sawday and has some great reviews there, and gets a great score on TripAdvisor with loads of compliments. Inexplicable.
It does have a nice little garden and pool, it is intra muros, yet very peaceful, it includes breakfast, and the shower is reasonable. Plus it is ground floor so no steps. And it has a bit more character than that awful soul-less place in Budapest I rejected after one night and dragged Josie and Gary away from the next day. But that character is mainly the old flaky entrance door.
Avignon on the other hand is charming to walk around, the restaurants have been fab (recommended by Jim), and yesterday we visited the Popes’ Palace, another Unesco World Heritage site.
This huge building, blocky looking yet graceful, was the home of nine popes including several from the Great Schism ie when the Catholics had two (and even three) popes scattered about Europe. Clearly god got confused about how many mouthpieces it needed – or maybe one was for talking out of it’s…
There was a great tablet/audio guide that used AR to, well, AR, and as you held it up you could see the room as it was in the 1300’s. Rich with colour and ornamentation the rooms looked incredible. Dad got a bit worked up as he is reading about the popes at the moment in a book on the Medici and is appalled at their corrupt behaviour. Luckily there were only three rooms with frescoes so he kept it under control.
After a coffee break we then went on to Pont d’Avignon (paying the entrance fee), the half finished bridge across the Rhone.
Another weird god story. This time St Benedict, a poor hermit, trotted into town and said god had texted him a message to say he must build a bridge across the Rhone. It was the day of a great fair and the town laughed a lot, and then the leader said if so then Benedict should first lift a mighty stone and put it into the water as the start of the foundations. St B managed to do this (with some angels helping), everyone was awed, stopped laughing, and started building a bridge – talk about how to kill a party.
Despite the god supported edict, this was not a great bridge. It was so narrow two people struggled to squeeze past each other, it kept getting swept away by the river, and, according to some reports was never truly finished. In the end they gave up and left it sticking half way out over the river. Now it is much wider and very pretty and easy to walk, but it goes nowhere. In any case its main purpose appears to have been collecting taxes from boats.
All in all one of god’s less successful enterprises.