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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

July Trip
21/7 - Avignon

I had a wonderfully flaky pecan and some-sweet-filling-I-can't-identify pastry for breakfast, and one other. A mere train station bakery could produce such delicious food (I'd gotten breakfast from there the other day too) - who knows what the top joints could churn out?! If the so-called authentic French cafe bakery can make pastries like these, even I would gladly eat there! But then, who knows? Maybe the secret to such delectable pastries is... lard!!!

Me on SEP: But why do you want to go to France?
Someone: Because, oh my god, have you tried the pastries?

The bus driver who piloted the bus to the station was in shorts and some of the staff on the train track were in T-shirts.

Even the French train tickets which are not for specific seats have train times on them. Wth. So if you miss the train you presumably have to get a new ticket, even though the seats aren't linked to the ticket. Ridiculous. At least it's not as bad as Italy - you're unlikely to miss the trains due to their inefficiency.

Even the cheap French regional trains are air-conditioned. Yay.

Ironically, in Italy there were signs in English. In France there were none, even though the level of proficiency was generally higher.

In Avignon there was the 'Avignon Passion' pass, which you'd get stamped at the first attraction you went to and get discounts at others. This pass was free. Though the deal wasn't worth anything to me, since the discounted price equaled the student price at places where the latter was offered. The only must-sees there were the Popes' palace and the bridge; there were lots of museums, but I knew better than to visit them. Happily, the Popes' palace closed at 9pm and the last ticket was sold at 8 (an advantage of traveling in July). So I decided to go to see the stuff in Villeneuve, a village to the north, first.

Maybe the reason why France is the only country in the world where human photography is disallowed without the subjects' permission is that they look the best, at least in Europe. Supposedly Scandinavia is better, but I haven't been there, so.

I think I got cheated of €1 on the bus there (I gave €2,10 for a €1,10 ticket and the woman refused to give me change). Maybe the policy was not to give change for tickets bought on buses, but I had no way of knowing since I didn't speak French and no energy due to travel fatigue to gesture and yell frantically. I should just visit England more next time, then I won't have to lie back and think of England so much.

On French buses the sign which lights up when you press the button reads "Arret demande". How long winded. What's wrong with a simple "Stop"?

Villeneuve slope. Alright to walk up once, but not everyday.

View from the top of the slope

I visited this old French fort, which had an abbey within it.

Fort Saint André gatehouse ('Les tours jumelles'), Fort Saint André

Abbey gardens, pond

Chapel Sainte-Casamie (?), 11th century

Another part of the Abbey

I then visited the fort itself.

View inside

View of the town below. In the second, the Popes' palace is on the left.

Unfortunately I couldn't keep up my Paris pace in this weather, but I tried. Next I went to the Chartreuse of Val de Bénédiction (Carthusian monastery).

Monumental gateway

Monumental gateway from inside the monastery

Lilian Bougent, On/Off, 2001. I don't know wth this stupid light bulb above a switch was doing in the monastery. A sign read: "Please don't jump on the workart"

The monastery was very bare. I pitied the church - the decor did not survive the ravages of time.

Innocent VI's tomb

Small cloister

Flowers in green area beside La Bugade (Bugude?).

Private property in doorway adjoining cemetary cloister, fort walls in the background. Oddly there was no grass.

Chapel of the Dead. Monks' bodies would be put here for a night before they were burried. I don't know what the Morse code stones on the floor were. There were also pieces of paper on the wall with lines in French and an MP3 player for you to listen to mood music as you looked around the chapel, but it was spoilt. Bloody French.

Chapel with Giovanetti Frescoes, presumably what was referred to elsewhere as the only decorated place in the monastery.

Water reservoir in Cloister of St Jean

The monastery was opened for playwrights so they could get at it in restored monks' cells. Uhh.

Villeneuve alley, with fort walls in the background

I then took the bus back to Avignon (I don't think I got cheated this time).

Musee Lapidaire

I had a Coke with Lemon. I hadn't (and haven't) seen Coke with lemon anywhere else, only Coke Light with Lemon, which was a big shame.

Palais des Pepes

Due to the Avignon festival the Palace was open from 9am-9pm. However, in the big courtyard of the Palace (the Courtyard of Honour) there was a stage set upcovering the pre-Papacy remains: the John XXII audience building in the middle.

Even when the French know I don't speak French, they can transition to French in their next sentence. !@#$

Tresur bas
It used to hold treasure. Now it holds €0,01 and €0,02 cent coins.

The inside of the palace was very bare due to a 1413 fire devastating the decor, the French revolution and its being used as a barracks. So the inclusion of the audioguide in the price was welcome (not least because, surprise surprise, there was no information in English). Then again, I wonder how much it'd have been if it was separate. Bundling is such a smart strategy.

It was strange to see an almost totally bare palace. Why did they bother having a separate museum? To furnish the palace they should've put the artefacts in it, especially since they would be so much more meaningful in situ. Furthermore, this was not an open archaeological site where they'd be exposed to the elements. It was an intact building. I think they just wanted to squeeze more money out of visitors.

Cloisters of Benedict XII

Utter bullshit to justify their no photography policy. They claimed that the heat and number of visitors meant that, among other things, non-flash photography was not to be allowed anymore.
I had 2 suggestions for them: open the windows, especially during the summer months, or air-condition the building (or even install de-humidifiers, like all the other museums around Europe). The whole place was essentially sealed, with all the windows I could see being closed. The only way rooms were being ventilated was by doors opening to a passages overlooking courtyards. Probably they were too stingy to deploy enough manpower to open the windows.

There was a Chapelle Saint-Martial which had cost €400,000 to restore. The restoration had finished in April 2005 after 24 months, but for some reason it was closed to the public. This considering that it looks like the most beautiful room of the complex. Wth.

Kitchen tower, with the top tapering to a hole in the tower.

The Pope's chamber were probably the most complete in the complex, with an original 14th century floor. Unfortunately attendants kept hovering here.

A copy of Portement de Croix, 1478 (a large relief) was in the palace, for some reason. This sort of scene is usually a painting. This was a relief carved very deeply, almost a sculptural group.
SPQR peancot? (?)

Chapel. Costumes used in the Avignon festival were exhibited here, so I maneuvred so one exhibit blocked the attendant's view. Heh.

Roof of palace, near their cafe terrasse. The building at the back is Notre dame des dons.

Their cafe terrasse only served beer with lunch. Maybe they didn't want tourists to get drunk on an empty stomach.

Sculpture in front of Notre dame des dons

Magna Porta. Entrance to the chapel, decorated with scenes of the last judgment. The only intact doorway in the palace.

Exiting the palace brought me through a wine tasting room where wine was to be had for €5 a taste. I hope that got you more than a tasting portion. They also sold a pack of 54 bottles of wine, all in aromatherapy sizes (25ml) for €275. They claimed it was the same price as if you'd gotten it in the cellar (€5,80 for 3x5cl) but I didn't believe them.

The souvenir shop sold wooden crossbows which really worked: you could wind the string back and pull the trigger. Though they came sans bolts, so maybe they wouldn't have worked if you tried to fire one.

There was a guestbook at the exit of the palace, so I spent 3x the space allocated for 1 person letting them know in no uncertain terms how I felt and telling them exactly how to solve their conservation problems instead of trying to boost postcard sales. I even left my email address, but maybe their English wasn't good enough, since I haven't gotten a reply yet.

I wonder how a Croque Madame is different from a Croque Monsieur.

Travel tips:

- Ask around for advice, especially from previous travelers. That there was a night train from Avignon to Reims was told to me by someone, and someone suggested I not go to Orleans but instead Reims.
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