We had contracted with the cruise line to go to Avignon and Les Baux during our port stop in Marseilles. We really wanted to go to Les Baux because it was a pit stop on season 1 of The Amazing Race. So, as we did in Florence, our first step of the morning was to head to a tour bus. Our tour guide was pleasantly French, kind of geeky, and mildly cute. You could easily picture him as a muppet. He talked about the industry in Marseilles and a few of the sights we passed as we left the city. Marseilles seemed very industrial, though I’m sure there’s a downtown area that we never saw. Cruise ports tend to be on the industrial side of town.
It was quite a drive to our first stop, Avignon. Avignon is a little medieval city, walled, along the river. It is famous for two reasons: the Pont d’Avignon (a half-bridge across the river) and the Popes’ Palace. Our bus stopped just near the Pont d’Avignon, and we then walked through the city to the Popes’ Palace. I got in trouble during the walk for racing ahead. 🙁 I am not good at staying with a tour group. We arrived just before 9am, which is apparently very early, because nothing was open, including the Palace. (Hours of Operation! [horns of despair]) Our group lined up near the door to the Palace as other groups arrived.
Not to mix my pop culture references too much, but I couldn’t help singing “Here comes the baker with his tray like always…” as we walked through the village.
After a brief wait, we were admitted into the palace. This was basically the hiding place for the popes during the 14th and 15th century because of revolts in Italy. It eventually was the home of the anti-popes. It’s interesting, in part, because two different popes supervised its construction, and they had very different visions of how a pope should live. One of them, the earlier one, believed in starkness while the other wanted comfort and the trappings of wealth. So, there are two disparate halves of the palace. It’s also interesting because one half (the earlier one) was built when the church was afraid of invasion, so there’s battlements and such. The other half was during a time of peace, so it’s far less militaristic. Both halves were used as military encampments later on, though, with many of the great rooms divided into multiple floors for barracks.
I liked seeing the original, hand-painted tile work on display.
That’s our tour guide in the center of this picture.
This was a great opportunity for a dramatic art filter!
The popes’ rooms were beautifully painted and decorated, with giant murals on the walls, but photos weren’t allowed in there. I was able to take photos from the windows looking out to the courtyard.
After the palace, we had some free time in Avignon. While most of the cruisers beelined for shopping, DH and I went further uphill to a park that overlooks Avignon. (I’m a big fan of overlooks, in case you haven’t figured that out from us seeming to end up in one everywhere we go. I like being up high.)
From the overlook, we walked down a stone path and stairs along the city walls to the exit.
You could pay extra to go out onto the Pont d’Avignon, but we opted to take pictures from the shore. It was also a convenient place to wait for the tour group meet-up, which meant I took lots of pictures of DH standing around.
But, I totally forgot to get a picture of mini-Duffy. I had him with me, but I didn’t think about it until we were leaving. 🙁 Our bus went to Les Baux next, via a windy road into the mountains. Les Baux is apparently where Bauxite was first discovered. We desperately tried to find some Bauxite to take home as a souvenir (Deliver Bauxite to the US for 40M!), but no stores sold it, nor was it laying around.
Going into Les Baux and walking through the city was ALL uphill. Oh, but it did feature “auto-cleaning bathrooms”. They were really cool. It was this room, and you go in, lock the door, do your business, and then when you come out and close the door, it goes into wash mode. As best as we could tell, the whole place floods, gets sudsy, and then rinses. It means it is perpetually wet, but it’s also perpetually clean. (Towels and tissues are in a dispenser that is waterproof.) It was pretty awesome. Our tour guide told us about it specifically because he said some tourist, every time, holds the door open for some other tourist. The bathroom doesn’t know that someone has walked in, because it judges when to wash by the door opening and closing. So, it goes into wash mode with some poor person trapped inside who gets soaked. You have to close the door behind you so that the next person doesn’t get washed. 🙂
We found a sandwich shop with reasonable to-go prices for lunch. It took some work with my horribly rusty french to order a sandwich without cheese, but we figured it out. Then, we found a spot on some nearby stairs to sit and munch.
Touring the castle was expensive, and I had realized I needed to buy souvenirs for folks, so DH toured the castle (taking my camera with him) while I did some shopping. The castle had some spectacular views and also old timey weaponry. 🙂
Having checked in at the pit stop for this leg of our race, we walked back down the hill to our tour bus and napped all the way back to the ship. 🙂