Spring Break 2014 – A rest day in France

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Monday, 19-May-2014

Location: Cassis and the Provence region in general, also Avignon!

 

My second full day in France, it rained.

 

I woke up being a little surprised – We had spent a lot of time planning climbing the previous night, but I couldn’t hear anyone else around the house getting ready… as I left the room, everyone was sitting on the couch looking a bit dejected.  The rain pattering against the bay window told me why.

So, instead of heading directly to the climbing, we took a light breakfast at the house and then all rain-geared-up, and jumped in the car to look at Lilac fields.

 

The first stop?  The Abbaye Notre-Dame de Senanque, a small Cistercian abbey that’s known as one of the best examples of it’s style of architecture.

On the way over, we stopped in the small fortified town of Gordes first, to grab ourselves a bit of lunch and exploring before we subjected ourselves to the silence and reverence of walking through a working abbey…

  • Gordes is an old city… it was founded far before Roman times, but the majority of the architecture still shows the Roman influences – it’s tight up on a hill, full of narrow streets, winding staircases, and fortified walls.  Some of these walls even have cacti growing up around them… though whether that was a defensive measure or simply nature reclaiming it’s own I couldn’t tell.
  • Walking around the city was beautiful – we did stop into the castle / Chateau quickly, but it was honestly a bit of a let down.  It had some history, but not really all that much.  I found the real joy in just wandering around town, looking at all the little doorways, small corners, and little streets.
  • Lunch!  Always a good thing to have when it’s lunch time, and we had ours on one of the mid-layer walls, overlooking the fields and a whole bunch of cacti.  Panninis were the word of the day, from a little shop in what looked like an old wine cellar.  So good, though it did remind me how little French I understand, when I had to ask Daniel how to find the bathroom :/  Slowly but surely, I’m picking up what I need to know…

 

After exploring Gordes we made our move on the abbey – there was some debate about walking over to it, instead of driving, but time constraints kept us in the car.  Hindsight showed that to be a very good decision, as the road down to the abbey was rather terrifying to drive down… though the trips to Luminy and Morgieu would show us just how bad French roads can actually get…

  • The Abbey is Catholic… though you’d never guess from looking at it.  Ornamentation is strictly forbidden here – the only “pretty” things here was a statue of Mary & Jesus, a small demon-face to remind the abbot about the stakes of his work, and the cross itself.  Beds were far too luxurious for these monks, as was finished walls – the dormitory simply had straw mats and rough, unfinished stone walls.
  • The tour was conducted solely in French… very interesting for Daniel, but not so much for me.  I admit that I may have gotten a little bit bored while listening to our guide discuss the intricacies of the courtyard and the numerology inherent in the number of arches, but it was still quite a relaxing time, and a good chance to take many interesting pictures.
  • The grounds were amazing!  The Lilac’s weren’t in bloom just yet, but the whole area was just… serene.  The monks definitely chose a good valley to build their abbey in all those years ago…

After the Abbey tour was done, and we successfully navigated our way back up the terrifying road out of the valley, Daniel turned the wheel toward the old city of Avignon, where we were planning on doing a bit of exploring, and a bit of dining… But the drive took a bit longer than anticipated.  You see, the GPS system that Daniel got for his iPad has a double-negative for the “do you want toll roads” setting.. it asks “would you not like to avoid toll roads?”, and we may have chosen the wrong option… which led us down a horrible series of tiny little back roads.  Somehow we survived though, and saw the walls of Avignon ahead of us…

  • We drive through a tunnel through a fortified wall, and park underneath a castle.  Dude.  USA?  This is why everyone thinks Europe is cooler than you.  Back in the States we have oil fields and McDonalds.  Can you feel the difference here?
  • The castle we parked under was called the Papal Palace… unique, because no popes ever lived here.  One’s buried here though, so it’s a very popular pilgrimage site I guess.
  • Pictures!  So many pictures!
  • Walking through French cities is a bit amazing – the buildings are these contrast of gigantic and imposing stone structures on the main boulevards, and then tiny little streets with tiny little houses and shops on the side streets.  I’m sure some cities in the US are the same way, but it’s just so… old, here.  People never spread out, and so much effort was put in to fit so many houses within the walls of the city…
  • We scouted a ton of places for dinner – starting on the main drag, then following a few small streets, before we finally settled in to eat at one of the earlier places that we saw.  As is traditional in this area, fish was a big part of the menu… so I ended up with Salmon again – not a bad thing at all.  A quick walk found us gelato, and a quick purchase found that I can almost order stuff in French!  If I watch three people do it first.  And memorize how much it costs, so I already know how to give him change…  aww.
  • So I never took French in school… but if I had, I guess I would have heard some poem / song about a bridge?  In Avignon?  Daniel and Erin took French in school, and they’d heard a song about a bridge in Avignon.  The song is about dancing, so… off we go to Dance!  Nope.  Bridge is closed for reconstruction.  So instead, we all dance UNDER the bridge!  Aww yeah Chili Peppers.

Thankfully, the drive back to the Villa was a lot less… adventurous… as the drive to Avignon.  We got the GPS working right (after a few miles…) and made a beeline on the main roads back.  Nice, simple, and efficient.

 

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