May 15, 2014 – Pope day in Avignon

John has been calling this our Pope Day for so long that I can’t think of anything else to call it. We awake to the sounds of the mistral, the cold northwesterly wind that blows especially hard during the transition between seasons. This is our fourth day of it and I am ready for calmer weather. The wind has been blowing at around 20 mph with higher frequent gusts. Today on the bridge of Avignon it was hard to keep one’s balance.

But otherwise this is a great day. The palace that the French Popes built in Avignon is very interesting and the audio guide very informative. We find a parking garage under the Pope’s Palace and emerge to a striking view of the Palace. The Palace was built and remodeled over many centuries. In the end it was a barracks for soldiers.

The Pope's Palace in Avignon
The Pope’s Palace in Avignon

Pope Clement V was the first French pope. In order to insure continuity of French popes, Clement packed the cardinals who elect the pope with fellow Frenchmen. Thus, in the 14th century there was a line of nine French popes. Popes Benedict XII and Clement VI are responsible for the early construction of the Palace. Inside, we go through many plain looking rooms but then see the Chapel of St. John. Here are some frescoes from that room.
Jesus with Holy Spirit on his head in the form of a dove
Jesus with Holy Spirit on his head in the form of a dove

The head of John the Baptist that Herod gives to Salome
The head of John the Baptist that Herod gives to Salome

Jesus with the double edged sword from Revelations
Jesus with the double edged sword from Revelations

While I am writing this John is playing medieval music. It reminds me of the Grand Chapel of the Pope’s Palace where we learned that Pope Clement VI approved polyphonic music for use in the church.
Grand Chapel
Grand Chapel

Finally as we exit the Palace there is a tympanum with an exciting scene of damned souls being eaten by the Leviathan. It’s kind of hard to see but the Leviathan is on the right hand side with his mouth wide open. It reminds me of the final judgment tympanum at St. Lazarus in Autun that we saw earlier in the trip.
Leviathan eating the damned
Leviathan eating the damned

We have been sightseeing mightily for several hours and it is almost 2 PM. We must find a place for lunch. As we leave the Palace across the narrow alley of the tinsmiths, there is a hotel which has a menu posted outside. The menu looks pretty good so we decide to go in and then have the best meal of our trip so far.

The restaurant at La Mirande is a former Michelin star winner. We are swept into a lovely, quiet dining room. I am glad that John and I look presentable today. We chose a three course menu and then are blown away by how good the food is. It is beautiful and tastes wonderful. Every component has a purpose on the plate.

The service has been wonderful. Our waiter gives us extra wine, a rose from Cotes Ventoux. He jokes with us. Who said that the French are unfriendly and aloof. We have met nothing but warm, friendly people on our trip.

Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse, l’on y danse
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse tous en rond

Our last stop in Avignon is a walk on the bridge made famous in song. Both John and I know the song. I learned it in English in grammar school and he learned it in French in high school.

The bridge at Avignon
The bridge at Avignon

It is close to 4 PM when we finish touring the bridge. Unfortunately the last item on our list for the day, visiting wineries to taste Chateauneuf-du-Pape, will have to wait for another day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s