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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

5 November 2012

Enforced Avignon

29th October 2012

We are now having a short break in the city of Avignon, circumstances having forced a bit of Provencal laissez-faire on us.

Yesterday after driving out of Aix towards the pretty villages of the Luberon I briefly wound down the driver’s side window and then found it wouldn’t wind up again. It went grunch part-way and stopped going up. Pulling over and fiddling with it, winding it up and down, only resulted in it getting stuck pretty much entirely open.

In the nearest town we spoke first to locals and then to our breakdown cover and had the situation very clearly confirmed: there were no mechanics open on Sunday, and although a breakdown vehicle could come and tow our car to a mechanic, no-one would be working on it until Monday. Well, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with how the thing drives so our breakdown cover was essentially useless.

The window won’t close. What a trivial problem! Except that of course we can’t leave the car anywhere, even for a couple of minutes. Bit of a problem on holiday. And the Mistral was still blowing full-force, making the signposts to Avignon wobble precariously, making the stately Provencal cypresses bend like cornstalks, and making a drive along the broad Luberon valley with the driver’s window entirely open a freezing and gusty experience. For forty minutes, to Avignon. We wobbled like icicles into a hotel that had a secure car park and hid piteously.

Today the car is at a mechanic. We hoped to resume our journey to the Luberon villages in the afternoon. But alas, the window has a broken part and it needs ordering from Audi, so nothing doing until tomorrow.

And thus we have explored Avignon. The Palais des Papes is an astonishing edifice, a truly enormous lump of stone that must have gob-smacked medieval travellers seeing it for the first time. It is clearly militaristic, and yet so much more squarely and finely wrought than a mere castle. You get the clear sense that the Popes most definitely felt themselves superior to any mere king or emperor. Near the palace is the Petit Palais, a handsome building full of unintentionally humourous religious art from the 14th and 15th century. Some of them really weren’t very good at faces. It’s not that funny though, only go if you’re a real medieval art buff.

Avignon itself is a handsome town of tangled streets with a huge wall surrounding it. Finding restaurants was a frustrating game, partly because we’re here on Sunday and Monday, partly because it doesn’t seem to have a useful cluster of them like Aix for example.

On the way back to our hotel after a dispiriting dinner an old lady walking her fluffy little dog in front of us took a nasty fall. We rushed to help her up, with much feeble French and little comprehension on either side.

She then latched onto my arm to be escorted home. It became immediately apparent from her muttering, her wobble and the occasional reek of fumes that she was stinking drunk. Mercifully we eventually reached our hotel where the receptionist might have been able to talk to the old maid, but she sloped off in embarrassment (clutching the wall for support) as soon as there was someone able to talk to her. Fun.


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