04.01.2013 - 04.01.2013 12 °C
Yesterday, Abby reported that I came into her room telling her it was time to get moving because we had a lot to see and do. After a groggy response and some suggestions (yes it was very friendly) the kids decided to put our big sightseeing day off until today when we could get an earlier start! That meant a cheery good morning from me at 7:00 am. It seems the girls might want to be a bit more careful what they agree to.
Our first stop today was Avignon and the Palais des Papes and Pont d'Avignon (you know the tune). After my experience in Aix-en-Provence yesterday I had everything planned out with far more detail, including the location of parking garages. With Hannah as navigator I could not lose. Score one for the Canadians.
To tell you the truth, I was surprised the kids enjoyed this historic site so much since the Papal Palaces are bereft of furnishing and nearly all the frescoes are gone. There were some interesting commentaries about papal elections, treasure and intrigues that involved attempted poisonings that seemed to catch the kids’ imagination. For the entire 14th century the Papacy resided in Avignon and not Rome. To be accurate there was a time of the Great Schism when there were two Popes. It seems this is a small fact that the museum here glosses over.
After the Papal Palace we went to see Pont Saint-Bénezet which is more commonly known around the world as Pont d'Avignon-the bridge of the tune Sur la Pont d'Avignon. From what we learned, the song should sing "sous la pont,"since people never danced on the bridge but under it. There is a legend that St Benezet received a message from God that a bridge should be build across the River Rhone. The bridge was an incredible feat for the 13th century but God was probably not the engineer, it appears the builders bit off more than they could chew since the bridge has been washed our numerous times over the centuries and they finally just gave up on it a few hundred years ago, thus the bridge now only reaches half way across.
Our visit to the bridge was quite brief since an icy wind was blowing through Avignon and we Mediterranean converts can no longer take the cold. We retreated to our car and drove off to our next sight, the great Aqueduct of Pont du Gard. This was my favourite stop of the day. To see what the Romans could build 2000 years ago is just staggering. For the most part the Aqueduct looks newer than most buildings in Provence. The stonework is amazing and the mass and height of the structure dizzying. The aqueduct was built in 5 years by 500 workers. It was part of a 50 kilometer long water network for the city of Nimes. The entire water project took at least 15 years to complete. There is a museum next to the aqueduct that shows what the Romans new about water engineering. They were already making faucets and suction pumps out of lead that look as complex as something we would manufacture today.
After our first 45 minutes at the aqueduct the wind stopped completely and the clouds cleared totally and we were soon looking longingly at the water below the aqueduct as possible place for a dip. Oh we love the weather here. Just before we left we also came across a tree that was planted in 908. Nothing seems to be young in this region except maybe some of the people.
To keep our Roman theme going (Roman Catholic Church, Roman Aqueduct) we headed off for Nimes to see the best preserved Roman coliseum in the world. It was built only 80 years after the one in Rome and it is still used today but instead of gladiator spectacles they hold concerts and bull fights. Once again, the audio commentaries made the visit. We learned a lot about the Roman Empire and a great deal about the misconceptions of that are rampant about gladiator sport. It was a refereed sport in which the loser more than 90 percent of the time never lost their life or had life threatening injuries.
I would love to share a lot more about our day but is getting late and we are going to attempt Montagne Sainte Victoire tomorrow if the weather permits.
Before I sign off completely here is an updated map of our travels in Provence.