Day 6: Medieval Times

 

Paris – Beaune – Beaujolais – Avignon

May 30, 2019

It was hard to say goodbye to Paris this morning, but we headed further south this morning toward Avignon. After one stop at a travel stop (I call it that because it’s more than an American “rest stop”), we made a lunch stop in Beaune. A small and quaint town quite close to the highway. Apparently it had its roots in medieval France, as it even had parts of the wall and gates to the city still standing. To me it seemed like a classic European town, as most of the streets were basically cobblestoned alleyways. There were many shops and restaurants within the area…more than I would have thought. One neat feature of some of the buildings here were the tiled roofs that almost look like a quilt…so much detail in them!

We grabbed a quick lunch at a local restaurant. Emily got a Margherita pizza, and I got Beef Carpaccio, which was essentially cured beef with a bit of an arugula salad, grape tomatoes, parmesan cheese bits, and a balsamic drizzle. It wasn’t exactly what I expected. I thought it would taste more like salami or pepperoni, but it was pretty bland, actually. It was also like eating raw beef, which is something I never do. Not a great lunch…I ate a little less than half, probably. Emily’s pizza on the other hand was great! And it was good too because we got a box for it and were able to have a snack on the bus! 

Food in beaune
Food in Beaune – Pizza and Beef Carpaccio

After some more driving, we stopped at Château de Corcelles, a castle located in the Beaujolais region surrounded by vineyards where they produce their own wine. It used to be a fortified house in the 11th century, and was rebuilt due to war in the 15th century. There are a total of 92 hectares (227 acres) of vineyards owned by the property. They use the facility most weekends in the warm season for weddings as well. We got a tour of the property and our guide showed us the old wine barrel rooms, what used to be the moat and drawbridge, the arrow/gun/cannon holes in the wall, the small chapel, the well, the kitchen, and the dungeon. The dungeon was a place where prisoners were literally “forgotten”. There was a small grate where people would drop supplies through and that was it. There was no light down there aside from what would come in from the tiny grate. The well was neat because we could barely see the water down there. Someone dropped a berry down the well and it seemed to take about a full second to hit the bottom. 

Château de Corcelles
Château de Corcelles (clockwise) – Emily outside the castle; the old drawbridge and moat (now filled in); the large wine barrels; the well; the grate to “the forgotten”; an archer’s arrow hole

We also had a wine tasting! They let us sample a white, a rose, and a red. The white was my favorite. One thing I learned was that the rose is really just a red grape but processed much faster, maybe 4 hours. This allows just a bit of red color to come from the skin of the grape, whereas a red may take 3 or 4 days to process, thus the dark red color. 

Wines produced by Château de Corcelles
The wines produced by Château de Corcelles

At the next travel stop, I got some euros from an ATM. Apparently they took 12% commission on the currency exchange which I thought was pretty high. I really had no idea what is standard, so I went ahead and made the transaction. We’ll see later if there are cheaper ATMs…

We arrived in Avignon around 7 PM…that means we have been on the road for almost 11 hours! Though not traveling the entire time, that’s a haul!  We dropped off our luggage at the hotel, which is quite nice. Apparently it’s a 3 star. We headed back to the bus to get a look at Pont D’Avignon, which is a bridge that extends from the walls of the city about ¾ of the way across the Rhône. I’m not entirely sure the significance of the structure, but it does have its own charm. The city of Avignon is a medieval city as well, built with a wall around it, which is a neat sight to see as well. It makes me wonder how long they held out before building things outside the wall (our hotel is just outside the wall).

The city wall of Avignon
The city wall of Avignon

Side story, when we were walking to get a group picture in front of Pont D’Avignon, we saw some smoke streaming across some lavender bushes. We heard some Australians behind us saying “Ooh what’s on the barbie?” and wondered where the smoke was coming from, since eventually we got a clear sight and didn’t see anyone cooking. Then I look up and see a French lady pouring a huge bottle of water on the bush…the bush was on fire!  30 seconds later we see a fire truck heading our way. We started pointing toward the bush (perhaps needlessly) to indicate that’s where the fire was, as it was mostly extinguished at this point. The fire fighters made sure of it though, and doused the whole bush with probably 20-30 gallons of water. What a sight we stumbled upon! We guessed that someone tossed a cigarette into the bushes and it was just enough to start a little fire.

group photo
Group photo in front of Pont d’Avignon

 

lavender fire
Yikes! Lavender fire!

We then headed through the tiny streets of Avignon to see the Palais des Papes. The story behind this structure is that it used to be the home of the Pope, during the short time when the Pope wanted to live in France. However, this was very short lived and the Pope moved back to the Vatican.  This caused a lot of confusion because there was another Pope that was elected to live in this location, which meant there were 2 Popes, but eventually the one in France was officially not recognised. At that point, I’m not sure what happened to this building (see Q&A below). You can tell that it’s not super kept-up…there are plants growing out of cracks and stone that is cracked and chipped, but it’s a neat sight to see.

Palais des Papes
Palais des Papes

We then headed to our dinner which was provided by the tour. We had roasted chicken with a brown sauce along with potatoes au gratin and roasted vegetables. Emily thought the potatoes had a hint of nutmeg in them…they were probably the best part! Our appetizer was just a plain baguette, which was good, but they didn’t hand out any butter. That’s apparently common in France…no butter for the bread.  For dessert we got a dark chocolate mousse, which was so rich and delicious! We ended the evening by going back to the Pont D’Avignon and Palais des Papes to get another look, and finally by walking down Rue de la Republique, which was essentially the main street of the town. A TON of restaurants were open and had lots of seating in the main square, but after the restaurant area, most of the shops were closed, presumably because today is the Day of Ascension, which is a French national and Catholic holiday commemorating the Ascension of Jesus after his resurrection. The more you know!

Step metrics: 11,090 steps, 5 miles, 506 cal, 2h 2m time

 

Self Q&A

Q: What is the checkpoint that you have to drive through to get in and off the highway? 

A: Autoroutes (expressways, motorways) connect the major cities and regions in France, similar to the interstate highway system in the United States. Many autoroutes are operated by commercial companies. On most autoroutes, you take a ticket when you enter the highway, and pay the toll when you exit. The toll payment method preferred by the autoroute operating companies is télépéage, payment by electronic transponder, signaled by a ‘t’ logo over the toll gate. For this you need the transponder and a payment subscription account with the autoroute operating company—not practical unless you live in France or in a neighboring European country.

Télépéage logo

To go from Calais in the north to Marseilles in the south, it would cost about €194.09 ($218) to go the 10 hour journey. That averages out to be roughly €20 ($22.50) per hour on the autoroute.

 

Q: Did the valance curtain originate in Valance, France?

A: I haven’t been able to find an answer to this through my research.

 

Q: Is there a steady wind from the north on A7 about an hour north of Avignon? All of the trees seem to be growing slanted, and their leaves all facing one direction.

A: Maybe. On the wind turbine map, I there are no turbines around, but that doesn’t mean the wind isn’t constant through here.

 

Q: What do the blue flashing dots on the sidewalk in Avignon mean?

A: I couldn’t find any information on these!

 

Q: What is the significance of Pont d’Avignon?

A: Also known as Pont Saint-Bénézet, the bridge had great strategic importance as when it was first built, it was the only fixed river crossing between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. It was also the only river crossing between the Comtat Venaissin, an enclave controlled by the Pope, and France proper under the authority of the kings of France. As such, it was closely guarded on both sides of the river. A wooden bridge spanning the Rhône between Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and Avignon was built between 1177 and 1185. This early bridge was destroyed forty years later during the Albigensian Crusade when Louis VIII of France laid siege to Avignon. Beginning in 1234 the bridge was rebuilt with 22 stone arches. It was abandoned in the mid-17th century as the arches tended to collapse each time the Rhône flooded making it very expensive to maintain. Four arches and the gatehouse at the Avignon end of the bridge have survived. The Chapel of Saint Nicholas sits on the second pier of the bridge. It was constructed in the second half of the 12th century but has since been substantially altered. The western terminus, the Tour Philippe-le-Bel, is also preserved. The bridge is considered a landmark of the city. In 1995, the surviving arches of the bridge, together with the Palais des Papes and Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms were classified as a World Heritage Site.

 

Q: Is the Palais des Papes still used?

A: The Palais attracts around 650,000 visitors per year, putting it regularly in the top ten most visited attractions in France. It also houses a large convention centre and the archives of the département of Vaucluse (a département is an area which is part of a region, which is part of the nation as a whole), which include a research centre on the papacy of Avignon. The Palais also regularly serves as an exhibition centre. The courtyard of the Palais des Papes is a central performance location during the Festival d’Avignon, “In”, which held every year in July. It is also the site of many cultural and economic events (exhibitions, shows, conventions, etc.). The Palais is also home to the International Congress Centre which was established in 1976 and today hosts a large number of events annually. These include congresses, parliaments, symposia, reunions and other gatherings, with the largest room, the ‘Grande Audience’, able to hold up to 700 guests.

 

Fun Facts

  • Rosé wine is really from a red grape but processed much faster, maybe 4 hours. This allows just a bit of red color to come from the skin of the grape, whereas a red may take 3 or 4 days to process, thus the dark red color.

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