Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Day-tripped today to Avignon, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Would've been nice to use this town instead of Orange as base of operations for day trips to neighboring UNESCO WHS Arles and Pont du Gard (it is bigger and has countless of pretty little shops and bakeries and parfumeries, etc.), but Orange is farther north, and therefore saves me about 30 kms on the way to Lyon. Commute to Avignon is only 20 mins by train though, so it is not too bad, so long as you keep your train schedules straight....

Anyway, Avignon is notorious because it was the Papal residence between the years of 1305 and 1378. This came about because back in the day, the Popes were rather assiduously engaged in the business of getting into lots of little religio-political skirmishes with the local Kings and Lords, so that they often had to run around moving and fleeing with the whole curia in-tow mostly between what are now Italian cities according to the whims of the "electioneering" weather of the moment. Back during the times of Pope Boniface VIII, in 1303, there was some rather convoluted disagreement with the King of France, and with the Knights Templar dissolved, and Italy in the midst of Ghibellines vs Guelfs (or also known before as Welfen vs Waiblingen, as they came originally from what is now Germany) civil war, it was time to pick up and move again. At that time the city of Avignon was owned by the count of Provence, Charles II of Anjou, who also happened to be the King of Naples and Sicily and therefore a vassal to the Pope. So he offered up the city as a haven and the Popes constructed a super-spiffy Papal Palace that eventually came to house no less than 9 Popes.

Anyway, intriguing digression: when I was walking down one of the main plazas I heard someone playing what appeared to be traditional French music (you know, the kind you always hear in movies played in an accordeon in the streets of Paris-type of music), but on careful listening revealed a harmonic progression strikingly similar to (or rather, reminiscent of, for it was not exactly the same) as Chopin's Etude #1, Op.10 (C major). Since Chopin resided in France for quite a while it made me rather wonder, which came first, the lady, or the tiger? (ha ha, weird Elisa joke on that last hyperlink, don't worry if it seems obscure)

But, guess what? My French is getting better! Proof of it was that at the Pont Saint-Benezet (site of famous children's folk song Sur le Pont d'Avignon) I was offered an audioguide....in French! And at my remonstrations (in horrible French!), the audioguide gentleman in charge asked "But why? your French sounds great to me!". Neat huh? Still, though I can easily catch over 95% of written French, it is much harder for me when it is spoken. They never pronounce the last few letters of each word, and it gets me all confused as to which of three or four or ten possibilities of words they could be, a nonexistent problem when the word is written. So...

Oh, by the way, another neat thing that Avignon has that Orange, being smaller, hasn't, is late-night internet access. Orange only has 1 internet place in the entire village and of course the owner takes full advantage of the monopoly, charging, at 3 Euros and 50 cents an hour, the highest rate I have encountered in Europe so far, and besides, he closes only at 10 p.m. But here, they're open 'till 2 a.m., and prices are much more decent, which is great. How do I know this? Because I was enjoying the city so much, that I forgot all about the last train back to Orange at 7:30 p.m., so I ended up stranded here. After a mad panic last-minute search for a hotel (there's a summer music festival starting tomorrow, which brings in lots of out-of-town visitors, and I only realized the last train was at 7:30 at around 9 p.m.), nothing much left to do other than wander about the streets that are still teeming with people late into the night. Pleasant city-town, Avignon.

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