KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
I kept thinking about all the great French films that we have seen over the years, many of them set in the south, particularly Provence. When we arrived at the train station in Montpelier to book a ticket east, I wanted to suggest to Anil that we go to Avignon, but it seemed to be a little out of the way. When Anil looked at me, after studying the map, and suggested we head to Avignon, I couldn’t have been happier.
It turns out that from Montpellier, you have to head a bit north in order to get around the delta of the Rhône. How bad is that, I didn’t even realize that we could be, ‘Côte du Rhône’ (beside the Rhône). We have always enjoyed wines from this region, and I didn’t study the map enough to know the river was even there until we started over a huge bridge on our way into Avignon. And I fancy myself a good geographer!
The startlingly beautiful walled city starts across the street from the train station. We entered through the Porte de la République. The hotel we were interested in was at the other end of the old centre, but we enjoyed every inch of the way. The buildings along our route all had high-end boutiques on their street level, but there were enough open-air cafés to hold our interest and whet our appetites. Our room was very small, but the location couldn’t be beat, breakfast was included, and it was clearly a family-run hotel, which made up for the shortage of space.
We were only staying for one night, so we set out immediately to see the famous ‘Pont d’Avignon’ from the French nursery rhyme. I’m sure I had heard the song before our children were little, but the song was on one of Raffi’s tapes, favourite music of both Adia and Raj when they were small. The bridge is outside the city walls, just a five-minute walk from our hotel. When we saw it for the first time, we were surprised that it didn’t reach completely across the river any longer.
We pulled out our copy of the Lonely Planet and sat in the sun to read about the history of Avignon once again. We read that the wooden bridge, built in 1185, once had 22 spans across the Rhône. It was repeatedly damaged before all but four of its spans were washed away in the 17th century. There was a fee to stand on the bridge, and dance as the nursery song suggests, if one is so inclined. We weren’t, so we simply too photos from the banks. At first I didn’t realize that we were standing on the banks of the mighty river, until later when we climbed to the top of the huge hill within the walls, and looked again from the viewpoint.
It was here we learned that the river silted up and there is now a huge island that splits the Rhône in two, the other arm can be see off in the distance. The landscape was breath taking. This was the view of Provence that we were hoping to enjoy, straight out of the movies.
That evening, and before catching the train the next afternoon, we walked through the small streets within the walls, and enjoyed the huge Palais des Papes, the massive fortified palace that was seat of the papal court during the 14th century. It’s reputed to be the largest Gothic palace in the world, but the rooms are empty so we decided not to pay the steep admission price to tour the inside. I would have loved to have more time, wouldn’t we all, to be able to go across the river to the 13th century town of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon for the best views of the walled city.
As our train pulled out of the station and into the countryside, we could see huge outcroppings of stone, ancient building materials for the fortified cities of long ago. We passed through Arles, Marseille, and Toulon on our way to Nice, on the Côte d’Azur (The French Riviera). We wanted to visit Cannes and Monaco, and had decided that Nice would be a nice jumping-off point for these fabled cities.