As are many towns in Europe, Avignon is really two towns…..the old, walled section and a newer area outside the wall. The Christmas Market and our hotel were located in the old, walled section. We easily found our way to the “historique centre” and began our drive around the ramparts of the walled city looking for our entrance, the Porte de la Republique. The portes are the entrances to the city and entering through the wrong one can make it virtually impossible to find your way through town. We passed porte after porte without finding the one we needed so we made a u-turn and started circling back…..finally finding our porte (which was, no doubt, the one right after our u-turn). Our simple directions were to drive to the end of the Rue de la Republique, turn left, then left again and the hotel would be on the left.
These hotel-provided directions were perfect…..for two blocks…..until the street was barricaded. Craig parked the car and went over to ask the security guards how to get to our hotel. They looked at our reservation and opened the barricade! Woo Hoo!! We drove on in….barricade after barricade was lifted for us. We felt like royalty…..our coach? A little Volkswagen Polo.
With barricades removed, we easily found the hotel, checked in and were given yet another set of directions to a parking lot near the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes). After unloading the luggage, we drove through the narrow streets, out through the ramparts, back in through the next Porte, around a corner and into the underground parking garage.
We emerged in the shadow of the Palais des Papes. In the courtyard, there was a large sculpture of an elephant standing on its trunk (you see the most interesting juxtapositions of art and architecture in France). We took a picture then started toward the Palace. Neither of us realized there was a series of short steps leading down to the Palace. We both took one step too far. Craig was able to catch himself but I tumbled down. We both stayed motionless…..fearing the outcome. A waiter from a nearby café ran over to help. I wasn’t in any pain so I started to rise…..bruised and sore…..nothing broken but my favorite Kodak point-and-shoot camera. Whew! Dodged that bullet.
The afternoon was still young so we toured the Palais des Papes. From 1309 to 1403, Avignon was home to nine Popes. For most of this time, their home was the Palais des Papes…..a fortress, ever increasing in size, built to protect the pope and the church’s treasury. Craig enjoyed listening to the history of this formerly sacred site. I, on the other hand, now even more wary of stairs, spent my time looking for handicapped access. There was none, so I spent most of my time slowly, carefully and fearfully walking up and down ancient stairways…..looking forward to the end of the tour…..which, needless to say, was up a flight of stairs. No problem….going up is easier than going down. Up we walked….to a gift shop selling Chateauneuf de Pape wines, a robust red made from nearby vineyards. Our cellar is full so…..where’s the exit? I looked around until I spied it……a combination of new and old stairs leading down, down, down to another gift shop. Cripes…..does it ever end?
Slowly….one step at a time….I walked down this seemingly never-ending stairway…..with Craig a few steps ahead of me should he need to break my fall. Finally…..I stepped into the gift shop…..wanting to buy everything in sight to celebrate my freedom. But I showed restraint…..the Christmas Market was waiting.
Bonjour, Marché de Noël!