Sur le Pont d’Avignon…

Avignon, FRANCE // Saturday March 26, 2011

Remember that song your French teacher taught you in Elementary School? It went a little like this:

“Sur le pont d’Avignon l’on y danse, l’on y danse
Sur le pont d’Avignon l’on y danse tout en rond”

Not ringing any bells? Surely you’ll remember after watching this video clip:

Flashback over yet? 😛

Wondering why I’m telling you about a French Children’s song? Well…  this is no ordinary bridge; after all, there is a reason why it is so popular, and last weekend, I set out to discover why!

Accompanying me on my journey was fellow language assistant, Corina. Like most of my outings in France, I took the train to Avignon – I should belong to a ‘Frequent Rail Miles Program’ with all the travelling I’ve been doing! 😛

We had planned to leave by 6:45 am; by 6:30 I was almost set, then, of all mornings for something to go wrong, I lost one of my earrings down the sink! – Plumber Amanda to the rescue!  I’m almost certain there is an actress by the name of Amanda Plummer – come to think of it, I think she may even be the daughter of the Christopher Plummer…okay, diversion over now… 😛 I got underneath the sink, applied the elbow grease, and unscrewed the P-trap. Dirty water gushed out and spilled into the large bowl I had placed under the pipes; at the bottom, my earring! I cleaned it up, put it in my ear, and was out the door. Even with my mishap, we left right on schedule.

The train ride to Avignon was approximately 4 hours long, and included a 40 min. stopover at Lyon’s Perrache train station.

Our train from Lyon to Avignon was about 20 minutes delayed, and with each announcement, the crowd waiting along the platform grew slightly more irritated. The train finally pulled into the station, and everyone rushed to the doors. Somehow I managed to be one of the first 20-or-so on the train, and quickly sat in the first seat I could find, reserving the one next to it for Corina. About 10 minutes into the trip, Corina realized that we were in fact sitting in first class – oops! 😳 Honestly, the only distinction between the 2 classes was the colour of the seat upholstery; the comfort level was the same.  Not wanting to be thrown off the train – I visualized 2 burly SNCF workers grabbing us by the nape of our necks and throwing us out the doors of the fast moving train – we decided to look for new seats. I spotted two in the same area: one was completely free, the other was occupied by a purse – the train was FULL and someone had the nerve to take up a seat with a purse?!? I’m sorry, but unless your purse paid 20 euros to sit there, it has got to move! And move it did – go me! 😎

It was smooth sailing… err… railing from then on. As the time began to wind down, I could hardly contain my excitement: this was my first trip to the South of France and I was looking forward to basking in the Mediterranean sun! Avignon did not disappoint; the weather was absolutely BEAUTIFUL! The sun was shining, and the air was warm and breezy; I could not have asked for better weather!

Apart from being the hometown of French fashion designer Christian Audigier of Ed Hardy fame, Avignon is famous for 2 landmarks: 1- the Pont d’Avignon, and 2- the Palais des Papes

  • The Palais des Papes – In 1309, Pope Clement V moved the papal court from Rome to Avignon. A total of 7 Popes lived in Avignon during a 94 year period. The large Palace dominates the heart of Avignon and the nearby Place du Palais was bustling that Saturday afternoon with café-goers, street dancers, and families, all out enjoying the beautiful weather!

  • The Pont d’Avignon Pont Saint-Bénezet – The history of the construction of the bridge is a rather interesting tale. The idea to construct the bridge belonged to Saint Bénezet, a local shepherd who claimed to have been commanded by angels to build the bridge. Ridiculed by others, he proved this divine inspiration by lifting a rock and throwing it into the river. The large rock became the bridge’s foundation, and 22 arches grew from there. Today, due to extensive flooding in the 17th century, only 4 of the original arches remain. Also intact, the Chapelle Saint-Nicolas, a small chapel in between the 2nd and 3rd arches where Bénezet’s body is interred.

Now for some myth busting: Despite the lyrics being “sur le pont d’Avigon l’on y danse” (On the bridge of Avignon we dance), the bridge is in fact too narrow for dancing, and dancing was done under the bridge (where the bridge crossed over an island). The original lyrics to the song support this: “sous le pont d’Avignon l’on y danse” (Under the bridge of Avignon we dance).

After touring the Pope’s Palace and the Bridge of Avignon, Corina and I walked around the streets of Avignon. We strolled through the Rocher des Doms, a large park that sits atop a hill and looks down on the Rhône river and the Pont d’Avignon. From there, we located the pedestrian only walking zone; these streets are lined with clothing shops, souvenir stores, boutiques selling Provençal products (like lavender), restaurants and cafés.

I mentioned in an earlier entry how I discovered “Amanda” water at a grocery store, and how there is a street in Mâcon named ‘rue du 19 mars’ (my birthday) well, France’s love for me does not end there: In Avignon, there is a bus route named “Amandier”. I feel slightly special 😛

Before catching our train back to Mâcon, Corina and I stopped at a bakery and bought a fresh baguette sandwich and a pain au chocolat for dinner… yum!

Another weekend over, and only a handful left in France… what to do and where to go next?!


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