A couple of years ago I first visited the beautiful French city of Avignon, in the south of the country. I wrote a couple of posts, although now I realize I should’ve shared more. I’ll get to that, don’t worry, but first I want to take a look back and compare it to a more recent trip back just a few weeks ago. I was in Avignon for the christening of several new Viking River Cruise longships, and took advantage of the many opportunities they provided to explore the city again. There were several special moments for me in this remarkable city and while some things didn’t change at all, the experience the second time was a much different one.
Time of year is everything when planning a trip. In 2012, I traveled to France in May when the days were warm and the sun nearly always shining. Along with the exuberant sunlight were tourists, lots of them, mostly flocking from the north of France, where the weather had yet to return to warm, comfortable levels. I was in Avignon only for a couple of days, a quick but important visit. It was important because I had wanted to visit Avignon for years, ever since I was 13 and first learned in French class the song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon.” Unlike most experiences we anticipate, this one exceeded my expectations and I now consider Avignon to be one of my favorite places anywhere in the world.
Approaching The Pope’s Palace
The first moment that defined my time in Avignon back in 2012 happened as I approached the famous Pope’s Palace and the square immediately in front. There’s a slight curve to the pedestrian way bordered by apartments, shops and restaurants. I stopped at the bend and took a few photos, in the process creating this, one of my favorite photos.
I love this photo because I captured a moment in life; people walking by, the waiter taking a smoke break, it just perfectly encapsulates the experience for me. So I went back to that spot a few weeks ago and replicated the angle, if not the attitude of the shot. It’s definitely a lot quieter in the second shot, but once again a local resident took center stage; this time a musician. He was quite good in fact and I gladly threw several Euro in his cap after I took the photo, thanking him for starring in my attempt at recreating a special travel moment.
The second moment that I enjoyed the first time was being caught in the hustle and bustle of the Place de l’Horloge, or the Clock Square. This massive square is a main reference point in the city and along every side are dozens of cafés, restaurants, shops and who knows what else. When I was there in May 2012, it was packed at all hours of the day with people enjoying life. Sipping wine at small outdoor cafes, people watching and basking in the sun. My March 2014 experience couldn’t have been more different. The drizzling rain may have kept some people at home and most times the square was entirely empty. Even at dinnertime those wonderful outdoor cafes were practically empty. I couldn’t believe the difference that only a couple of months can make and while I didn’t enjoy being there any less, it was a good lesson in the importance of timing your trip and vacation time just right.
The architectural feature that drew me to Avignon in the first place, the mighty Avignon Bridge. My first encounter with the bridge in 2012, I dutifully walked across it (well, as far as one can go) and like so many others I danced a little jig on top. This time though was different. Of course the bridge in no way changed, but I may have. I was content admiring it from a distance, seeing no need to cross it with the scant number of tourists who were out and about on an overcast March afternoon. I’m still a dork at heart though and so I did dance again, but this time under the bridge. You see, the original song wasn’t Dance on the Avignon Bridge, it was Dance Under the Avignon Bridge. An important distinction that seems to have been lost through mistranslations over the years. In medieval times bridges were home to a whole host of businesses set up underneath them, taking advantage of the steady traffic the crossings provided. So there I was, in an underpass doing a little dance as people walking their dogs gave me strange glances.
In all, my second trip to Avignon was just as good if not better than my first experience. I remembered the layout of the city, so getting around was much easier and I spent a little more time getting to know it as a city and not just a tourist destination. I stopped by cafes to grab sandwiches to go and just enjoyed the slower pace of life that southern France promises. That’s the best thing to do in the city after all, just sitting back and becoming a part of it.
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