From the moment I walked out of the Avignon train station, I was in love. I can’t exactly explain what about this city I love, it is a similar feeling to that of Marrakech. An energy, something ephemeral. A feeling that I could stay here, the feeling of falling in love at first sight, unexpected and exciting. It has been the most interesting part of my trip, this feeling in certain cities and not others. It really has felt like falling in love, there’s a chemistry that is either there or it isn’t. I can’t make myself love a city I don’t love. I can like it, appreciate it, enjoy spending time there. But with certain cities that’s a magic and connection that I can’t explain, it just happens and it can’t seem to be controlled or predicted. I am in love with Marrakech, Paris, Avignon, Nice, the entire North of Italy…I have a big heart, it can contain multitudes! (butchering my favourite Walt Whitman quote just a bit there…)
Back to Avignon – I wasn’t supposed to come to Provence, as I mentioned before my original plans had me heading north to Berlin and Hamburg for 10 days, then taking a night train from Munich to Viareggio for my Italian language classes. But after the warmth of Bordeaux and then returning for a few weeks to Weiden where it was snowing, I was definitely not into the idea of staying in the cold. I wanted warmth, sun and sea as soon as possible!!
So instead I planned this trip south, to the warmth of Provence and the Mediterranean. Loe mentioned Avignon, at which point the song became lodged in my head, and has yet to fully disappear. Because of this and the mention of canoeing in Roman viaducts, I decided to head for a couple of days to Avignon, on my way to Marseille, which then became Nice instead, because I wanted beaches more than organized crime…I’m sure Marseille is nice, but when I google-searched things to do in Marseille, most of the feedback was about not getting mugged, not going out at night, and warnings about the organized crime. It wasn’t feeling that inviting.
Not knowing what to expect from Avignon, and having limited time, I only gave myself two days in the city. The canoeing trip I wanted to do wasn’t available until June, so instead I booked a city and food walking tour where we learned about the history of Avignon, went to Les Halles (the local food market) and tasted some yummy Avignon delicacies. The most delicious thing was these little “quail eggs” which have no quail at all, but are fried balls of spinach, pork, liver and spices. Incredibly delicious. The other woman on the tour with me called them Popeye balls. I think that’s way better than the misnomer they currently have. Popeye balls would fly off the shelves, don’t you think? I was lucky, our tour group was only 3 of us (me and a married couple) so we had a much more tailored and specific tour.
I also spent one whole day doing my random wandering, getting lost, finding the best little restaurants and niches. Avignon is almost as fun to wander in as Paris, same medieval style alley ways and pedestrian zones and strange wonders. It has a small hill with amazing vistas of the Rhone and the fort village across the river. It has its famous bridge, which was a major crossing point of the Rhone, until Louis XIV decided it had been washed out by floods too many times and they could no longer afford to keep rebuilding it. It used to be a powerhouse of medieval Europe and was the “Vatican City” for the popes who were
stolen from Rome for 100 years. I had no idea anyone stole the popes…that seems like a bad idea in general. How did they not get struck by lightning? Getting back on course…I had so many favourite moments in my 2 full days in Avignon. Sitting in the Jardin des Doms, watching the children drive by in mini go-carts, listening to the musicians of Avignon: a man who played the guitar and sang beautifully in the garden, a trumpet player who serenaded us with “New York, New York”, or the accordionist playing “Kiss of Fire”. Avignon was alive with music for me.
Avignon is a fascinating city and a beautiful city. I have to go back, not the least for the wine, the food, the herbs, the lavender fields. I have yet to tour the Palais des Popes, or take the free boat shuttle over to the Isle de Barthelasse, largest river island in France, or walk on the Pont D’Avignon. The only thing I won’t do is dance on the bridge. Sorry, don’t ask me!
My last day in Avignon was meant to be a visit to the Isle de Barthelasse, but I was caught up instead in the little moments, the people I met, and an incredibly inspiring photo exhibition. I was having a profiterole and dark chocolate gelato dessert (heavenly) at a small artisanal gelato shop which was recommended to me, when the owner randomly came over and told me that I had to go to this exhibition being held in the old decommissioned church in the square nearby. She said it was called “Les Femmes Qui Luttes” (Women Who Fight). Of course this intrigued me. I could hear my mom’s voice “that’s right up our alley, Amanda!”
It was actually called “Les Femmes en Resistances” (Women in Resistance) and it was years of photographs and stories collected by Pierre-Yves Ginet, of women all over the world who were trying to change the world. These inspiring women were, against odds and in spite of personal safety, organizing, rallying, protesting, fighting and sharing their personal stories of horror, abuse, violence, rape, loss. Women from the Congo, Darfur, Afghanistan, Palestine, Israel, Morocco, Cambodia, Peru, Tibet…the list goes on. These women have seen and endured horrors. This exhibition gave them voices, faces, and a platform to show what they have done with their tragedies, how their strength and courage have carried them to help others. It was so incredibly inspiring and amazing, what all these women have done.
My last afternoon in Avignon was supposed to be spent on an island, instead I was in a sea of faces and examples of strength beyond the scope of my experience. I am grateful I was sent to the exhibition; what an unexpected blessing from such a wonderful city.