Monday, November 30, 2015

South of France Road Trip: Pont du Gard

Actual date of this event: 7 May

Although it is generally easy to get to most cities in Europe by train, there are a few spots that can only be accessed by vehicle. Our week in the South of France would not have been as wonderful as it was had we not rented a vehicle. It wasn't cheap, and I booked the vehicle months in advance to ensure we got an automatic transmission, but it was totally worth the cost! We set off around 9am to pick-up the vehicle and begin our itinerary (and sorta wing it a few times throughout the day). To Luke's disappoint, I forgot my drivers license at home in London, so he had to drive the entire day - what a wonderful husband he is! I am a top notch navigator though, so we made a good team. The first stop on our road trip was a short distance away from Avignon at Pont du Gard. Since we were arriving by vehicle we had to pay the 18EUR fee to enter and park (really quite ridiculous, but whatever) otherwise it would have been free.
What an impressive structure this was though. Wow! Okay, it may not look all that impressive in pictures, but this thing is OLD - like early 1st century old! And tall - like 50 meters (160 feet) tall! And built by the Romans - like the Colosseum - in fact, it is older than the Colosseum! The thing is still standing and is very well preserved, and that is why it is so impressive.

Pont du Gard is the highest of the aqueducts that crosses the Gardon River. There are two levels to visit, but only guided tours can access the upper level or the conduit, so we were unable to do that. There are several hiking trails surrounding the bridge as well, but we had so much more to do for the day that we could not explore for too long.

After about an hour at Pont du Gard, we hopped in the car for our next destination (the most exciting of destinations, might I add). We drove through the countryside where we passed vineyard after vineyard. We had driven in parts of Tuscany before, but this was a whole new level of wine country. I couldn't believe how many grapevines we were passing, and it made me so extremely happy... go figure! Luke kept yelling "camera!" as he spotted a gorgeous landscape with a cute village or town in the distance, but let's face it, taking photos in a moving car never works out well. I did my best though.

So where was Team Buisson headed next? I'll give you one clue...

The Pont du Gard is one of France's top five tourist attractions.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Avignon, France: Palais des Papes & Pont Saint-Bénézet

Actual date of this event: 6 May

Avignon's biggest attraction is the Palais des Papes (the Pope's Palace), which became the residence of the Popes in the early 14th century when Pope Clement V fled from Rome. Over the years, it went through several phases of reconstruction and expansion, and cost a great deal of the papacy's budget. The completed palace became an enormous 11,000 sq.m. (118,403 sq.ft.) building where seven successive popes lived. The Popes returned to Rome in 1377, and it has since been passed between the hands of several authorities. 

{Above: The top of  Avignon Cathedral's (Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms d'Avignon) bell tower.}

We took a walk through the palace, which definitely proved its size. It felt like we walked forever and ever, up and down stairs many times. The signs inside were all in French, but there were a few small papers with English translation. The rooftop terrace gave us great views of the square below and the city around us.

{Above: Fort Saint-André - who knew Luke had his own fort!?}
After we finished in the Palace, we headed over to the Pont Saint-Bénézet (also known as Pont d'Avignon). Originally built in the late 12th century, the bridge we see today was rebuilt in 1234. It had 22 arches that spanned over 900 meters (~0.5 miles) with a width of 4.9 meters (16 feet). The bridge was neglected for years, and in the 17th century a flood wiped away the majority of it. Today, only four arches still stand along with Saint Nicolas Chapel on the upstream side of the bridge.

{Above: View of the bridge from Rocher des Doms.}
In 1995, the Palais des Papes, Pont Saint-Bénézet, and Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms d'Avignon were jointly named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We did not get a chance to go into the Cathedral, but we did enjoy visiting the other two sites. 

More from the South of France: IntroNiceAntibesMonacoEze VillageAvignonPope's Palace & Pont d'AvignonPont du GardBuissonSt. RemyLes BauxArlesNîmes

Residents of Avignon can visit both the palace and bridge for free, but everyone else must pay 13.50EUR for entry.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Avignon, France

Actual date of this event: 6-9 May

Avignon was one of the places I was really looking forward to before embarking to the South of France for the week. I heard it was a dream, and pictures I saw of it looked gorgeous. It was a terrific base for our last three nights as we again traveled to other towns and villages each day. However, we spent our first day (Wednesday) in Avignon exploring as much as possible.

After a three hour train journey from Nice, which required a quick switch to get to the central station, we arrived to Avignon around 1:15pm. We immediately noticed the wall surrounding the city, huge gorgeous trees lining the main boulevard, and ... a bunch of old people... seriously, Luke and I seemed to be the youngest tourists in Avignon. After checking into our AirBnB, we decided to get the main attractions out of the way first - the Palais des Papes (Pope's Palace), where we purchased a combined ticket to also visit the Pont Saint-Bénézet (Pont d'Avignon)... more on both of those in this post. The weather was beautiful, so we enjoyed the rest of the day wandering the streets and sitting at cafes in various squares before heading to dinner at La Forchette (recommended by our AirBnB host).

On Thursday we drove around other parts of Provence, on Friday we visited Arles, and on Saturday we checked out Nimes. All to come in several more posts :-)
{above: Pont du Gard}
{above: Buisson}
{above: Arles}
We spent the evenings taking it easy as our week had been pretty busy. We found a great little bar (La Cave des pas Sages) next to the old watermills where locals hung out. We also hiked the stairs up to Rocher de Doms, a plateau that overlooks the Rhone River with a nice view back to the Palais des Papes. One thing we did not get to do was cross over the river to see the city from the other side, but I loved what we did as is.

As stated previously, Avignon was a great base for Provence, and I definitely would not have chosen to stay elsewhere. I was not as impressed with the city itself as I expected to be, but that whole week really spoiled us for travel. I did love the smell of lavender throughout the city, terrific temperatures and sun, the relaxing atmosphere, and most importantly, I learned that my absolute favorite wine is anything from the Côtes du Rhône region.

More from the South of France: IntroNiceAntibesMonacoEze VillageAvignonPope's Palace & Pont d'AvignonPont du GardBuissonSt. RemyLes BauxArlesNîmes

The Rhone River begins in the Swiss Alps and travels for 505 miles (813km) before it reaches the Mediterranean Sea. It has one of the strongest currents, traveling up to 6mph.

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