Here is part 2 of the long overdue update. It covers my short time in southern France, which served as a bridge between Spain and Italy.
My time in southern France marked something of a midway point on my trip, hence the name of this post. Both geographically and chronologically, it marks a good half-way point of this journey. I had about 2.5 days in southern France, which were spent in the towns of Avignon and Arles, and also with a trip over to Pont du Gard.
The town of Avignon is on the Rhone River, which in older times was known by the locals as the “angry river” because of its strong current, frequent floods and just general moodiness for a river. Avignon is also the windiest place I have ever been. On my first day there I experienced something akin to gale-force winds that just never stopped during the day. Avignon is famous for being the temporary residence of the Vatican when the pope moved there from Rome in the early 1300s. The papacy stayed in Avignon for a number of years, and something like eight or nine popes resided in Avignon until the papacy was brought back to Rome. As you can imagine, the pope moving into town turned Avignon from a backwater village into an important town. City walls, a palace for the pope and other buildings quickly sprung up. The other main thing Avignon is famous for is its broken bridge, which has actually been destroyed a number of times by the angry Rhone River, but the last time (1800s I think?) the residents just didn’t rebuild it. The bridge extends just over halfway out into the river, and there it just stops. One last thing I would like to say about Avignon is that it for some reason reminds me of Minas Tirith, (that’s right, I just made a LOTR reference) though I admit it’s a bit of a stretch. All in all, Avignon is a cool place, though you can see all of it in a day.
I also did a trip to the town Arles while I was in southern France. Arles is a former Roman town with a number of well preserved Roman structures, more so than most other places outside of Italy. I visited the town’s antiquities museum, which shows how Arles used to look as a Roman town, and then moved on the explore the town itself. The two big Roman sites people visit in Arles are the old arena and the theatre. The theatre is something of a stone graveyard, with blocks from the old structure scattered all over the place (locals cannibalized the place for stone after Rome collapsed) but the main part of it with the half circle theatre area is still intact and used for performances today. The arena is actually in very good condition, and still hosts events to this day. Interesting fact; during the middle ages the arena’s archways were bricked up and a few towers were added to the place to turn the arena into an enclosed village. These days the arena is back to its original look, but some of the towers are still there. While I was in Arles I was hoping to see a bull game, which is a non-violent version of a bull fight, but none were going on that day. In bull games, a group of guys have about 15 minutes to attempt to grab a ribbon that is attached to the bull’s horns. Only humans get harmed in bull games, so PETA need not complain. Before leaving Arles I also checked out the Baths of Constantine and the town cathedral. Like Avignon, Arles can be done in a single day.
On my last day in southern France I explored around Avignon a bit more, and it the afternoon I took a bus over to Pont du Gard, which is a well preserved Roman aqueduct that spans a river gorge. The aqueduct used to carry water to the town of Nimes, but these days just spends its time getting photographed by tourists like me. I wish I had more time there, but because I had missed an earlier bus to the site I only had a bit over an hour at Pont du Gard. While there I also befriended a pair of ladies who later took me out to a very nice dinner back in Avignon. You know who you are, so thank you, especially for the great advice you gave me that day.
So, half way done. In a few days I will try to post an update covering both Milan and Florence.