We headed off to start our guidebook’s walking tour of the city, and that’s really the only thing we ended up have time or energy for that day. We really enjoy self-guided walking tours, as it helps us to get to get our bearings in the city and mentally map out the major landmarks. It also gives us plenty of opportunity to linger at the places we find most interesting and breeze by the things we don’t care as much about (or take detours for snacks/shopping/etc). It’s nice to be on our own pace and schedule and not have to be hurried along… or stalled looking at something that is not interesting to us. Unfortunately, sometimes that still happens when travel partners have different interests. . . or when they don’t communicate with each other.
Since our hotel was so close to the beautiful and magnificent Palace of the Popes, we skimmed past it, thinking we would drop in later when it wasn’t peak visiting hour, plus our guidebook suggested visiting the Petit Palais Museum first, as the Palace of the Popes had been emptied of all its art and furniture and the museum displayed much of the art that formerly resided in there. The palace was huge though, and I can only dream of the luxurious lives the French papacy enjoyed during its very brief existence. Seriously.
We headed off for what I assumed would be a quick run through the Petit Palais Museum. In comparison to the Palace of the Popes, this former cardinal’s palace was small, so I didn’t think it would take long to go through. HA! That was a joke. We spent WAY too much time in that museum (~3 hours) and left totally overwhelmed and with tired eyes. And to think that the museum held just a portion of the art that had once been in the Palace. Ironically, both of us had grown tired of looking at all the art but hadn’t communicated it to each other; we just assumed the other was enjoying their self and didn’t want to interrupt. A short visit would’ve been awesome – enough to show us the magnitude of the Palace in its former glory. Looking through as long as we did though, left us brain dead and exhausted – even my back and feet were sore. A museum like that would be best to visit in little chunks if you truly want to digest and study all the art. We tried to take it all in, but everything started to look the same near the end. As usual though, I did enjoy the architecture and details of the museum/former Cardinal’s palace.
Eyes still glazed over, we wandered back outside to begin the march up the hill, through the lush gardens, to the cliff that overlooks the Rhône River where the infamous Bridge of Avignon (Pont du Avignon/Pont St. Bénezet) remains. It was a lovely view.
On a side note, I can’t help but comment on how charming the city of Avignon is. It was very peaceful there, and I was amazed at how clean and well maintained everything was. It also seemed to be a little less touristy – not as many things catered towards travelers, perhaps because there are less things to see. The city seemed to be filled with small, independently owned shops, restaurants, and boutiques, as opposed to the tourist booths/stands that we would later seen in Arles (perhaps Arles was that way as a result of it being a cruise ship stop). Anyway, after taking in the view, we headed down the long, winding stairs to go explore the bridge. The temperature was lovely, and a cool breeze was rolling in from the river. I love the way air smells and feels coming in off a body of water. Mmm.