After many months of being completely distracted by… well, life, I’m finally going through my travel journals and converting scribbles into coherent stories that actually make sense to other humans. Seems that where I left off was my trip to France in the summer of 2016.
During my time abroad in Northern Ireland, I made friends with some German students as well as some French students. Two years on, some of my German friends decided we should road trip to France to meet up with our French friends. This is how I ended up in the back seat of a rather large rental vehicle surrounded by three German men and drinking a bit of wine to cope with the insanity of the situation.
It was a good thing that I drank early and slept well, because in the wee hours of the morning it fell to the American, the only one with significant experience on long-distance driving overnight, to take us the last couple of the hours to our destination. Turns out those years of driving between Missouri and Virginia in one straight shot really paid off!
Anyway, the three Musketeers and I arrived at the home of one of our friends somewhere between 4am and 5am. Our French friends kindly let us in and helped us get settled before we all passed out for a few hours. I probably should have drank more wine after that to help me sleep, because I only managed to sleep an additional two to three hours before I was up and running around. After everyone woke and had breakfast, we had our first adventure in the August sun of Southern France.
Avignon: A Pope’s Home Away from Rome
I was only just getting my whits about me when we pulled into a parking space in Avignon. We pasty white people slapped on some sun screen before heading into the heart of the town.
After a light lunch, we started exploring. The first place we stopped by was the Palais des Papes, or the Papal Palace. Construction of the palace began in 1252 CE, but it wasn’t until 1309 that it became the residence of the popes and seat of Western Christianity. Avignon remained the papal home until 1364.
The Papal Palace is actually quite a massive thing. We walked to the chapel entrance, and decided to go inside for a few minutes. I was so glad we did, as the August heat was getting to be quite intense around mid-day, and the chapel was incredibly cool and relaxing. Pro tip: Always go in the church if it’s summer and you’re in a hot place. The cool stones keep the heat out. And yes, it took me going to Southern France in August to figure this out!
After we left the chapel, we wandered the streets, stopped for ice cream which was very hard to order since I don’t speak a lick of French, and eventually meandered towards the river.
At the the Rhône, we found Pont Saint-Bénézet. This bridge was originally constructed in the late 1100s. The bridge was later destroyed in war, rebuilt, and destroyed some more when the floods came. Eventually they decided to give up on the bridge, so now only half a bridge stands across the river. Talk about infrastructure problems…
Now, this useless bit of stones serves as a tourist attraction for people like me and the Germans. I can only imagine how annoying it must be for the poor locals to have half a bridge that everyone who visits is so amazed by for some reason. After we walked around on the bridge, we decided to buy some groceries and call it a day.
Two French Villages: Roussillon & Gordes
Our next day’s adventure was to the village nearest to us: Roussillon. We walked through the fields of grape vines under the incredibly hot French summer sun before making the march up the hill into the village.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but the whole place seemed to me to be a quintessential French village of southern France. Stone shops and houses, grape vines growing on buildings, local artists, wine cellars, and of course, bakeries.
Although the village itself is cute, our first stop in the village was more… geological. Right at the edge of the village you can pay a small fee to enter onto the ochre trail. Ochre is an orange-ish pigment found in the clay deposits of the soil there. In the past, the village people made their living mining the pigment and processing it to be used in a variety of industries. Today, you can take a short walk through the mine area and feel like you’re on Mars.
After that we filled our water bottles and headed off to explore the village some more. We wandered through an antiquated cemetery, bought a bottle of local wine, watched an artist at work, and stole moments in the shade of the grape vines and sparse trees.
Later in the afternoon we ventured back to our little vacation home and took a nap to escape the summer heat. Very necessary.
We roused ourselves in the evening so that we could make it to another village in time for the sunset. Gordes is a quite popular village in the area, and with good reason. I have heard it argued that Gordes is one of the most beautiful places to visit in southern France. Sitting on a rocky outcrop facing the village is one of the best ways to enjoy the golden light of a sunset, and walking through the narrow cobble-stone streets is a bit like stepping into a French fairy-tale land.
Now that I’ve done a bit of research into the village, I see that there is quite a bit of history in the small place, although we mostly just enjoyed wandering around and made a quick stop into a historic-looking church.
If you’re in the area, I would definitely recommend stopping by here.