Sur le Pont d’Avignon…

We took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Avignon – the city of the popes in Southern France. It was still early in the season, so although it was a bit chilly, we had the city to ourselves without all the other summer tourists.

The main attraction for us was, of course, the Avignon bridge – you know, from the song. But there were plenty of other great sights too, including the Palais des Papes, ramparts circling the medieval city, and some great museums and restaurants.

The Palais des papes is an ancient castle from the 1300s, where a series of popes held their seats after being chased out of Rome. It’s astonishingly large and basically falling apart after so many centuries of abuse and misuse – but that almost makes it more interesting, thinking about the extra years it spent in various forms, including army barracks. In fact, I just checked wikipedia, and it even says that the chateau has retained “a “work of destruction” aspect that French poets and writers have referred to over the centuries, with its powerful sense of beauty, simplicity, grandeur and immortality.” So there you go. Worth the visit.

So, then we made it to the Pont d’Avignon. Did you know that apparently they didn’t even dance or sing on the bridge? And if they did, it was under the bridge, not on the bridge? At least that’s what the bridge museum sign says. My entire childhood was ruined that day. But we broke this tradition and did both the hoe-down and a regular dance at the very edge of the bridge. Take that, history!

Sur le Pont d’Avignon
On y danse, On y danse
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
On y danse tous en rond

 

 

Just so you don’t think we spent the entire time looking at old buildings, here are some other (mis)adventures:

  • We desperately wanted to take the “little train” tour around the city, but when we arrived at the designated spot and time, no little train showed up. We were all disappointed (mostly me). So we walked up the big “Rocher des Doms” anyway, to see a bit more of the city in the meantime. We wandered around there while we enjoyed the view around the landscape and the kids had swordfights with some sticks, because you know, that’s why we spend money to go on vacation. By the time we were on our way back down, the train was there! We ran and ran down the hill, and we caught it! And then it took us… back up the Rocher des Doms. Yay.
  • Walking around town, we were all desperate for a snack. And by some miracle, there was a kiosk giving out free samples! Of chocolate bars, even better. The only catch? It was a slab of milk chocolate tucked into dry baguette, like a sandwich. It was so, so very dry. But it was free, so, Yay.
  • Another day, we spent the afternoon in the Petit Palais art gallery, with a collection of famous renaissance paintings. That was really exceptional, that is until the kids set off the art alarms too many times by crossing the wall sensor barriers. So we left rather quickly.
  • One evening we did our research and found a highly-rated restaurant nearby the hotel, so we headed over for dinner. Since it was the down season, we turned out to be the only patrons. The couple who ran the place were very friendly – some of the nicest people we’ve met on our travels. They gave us some great wine recommendations and cooked us regional specialties. They were even lovely with our kids, to the point of bantering with them like family friends. Such a nice dinner. That is, until the woman teased little J a bit about not getting her dessert because she didn’t clean her plate. So J threw a piece of bread at the woman. I swear to god, she just launched this bread crust across the table and smacked this poor lady right in the chest. It happened in slow motion, as I watched in equal parts horror, shame, and (no lies) a bit of pride, as this bread flew threw the air like in some food fight movie scene. I’ve never been so mortified in my life. J later said it was an accident, that she only meant to pretend to throw the bread, but I think that’s a bucket of lies. At least the lady was very kind about the whole thing and probably has kids of her own who sometimes throw bread at strangers. They still gave us some nice apératif drinks on the house, so that was a win I guess?

I think you should go. We recommend the chocolate sandwiches and bread crusts.

 

New Year’s in La Ville Lumière

New Year’s Eve isn’t all that exciting once you have kids – basically we stay in and I usually sleep through the ball drop every year. But it is fun that we have managed to start a new year in different time zones and places over the past few years: Jakarta, Sydney, Banff, Leuven and now Paris!

If you recall, BigB was pretty sick, but I managed to pack him into the car and drive us on to Paris. It’s only about a 5 hour drive from here, and the weather was in our favor. As usual, there was plenty of fog along the way so the views were not exceptional, but the sun came out a few times and gave us glimpses of some beautiful frosty landscapes.

We arrived at the adorable, tiny apartment we rented. It was probably the most parisian place ever, filled with weird knicknacks, old theatrical posters, a bathroom plastered with books and maps, a collection of VHS tapes from the 80s, and the tiniest kitchen I’ve ever seen (we couldn’t even figure out how to get the over door open because it kept getting stuck on the door frame beside it). So, basically, we loved it. It also had a huge balcony (it was the top floor of a large apt building) with views of the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre and across the city. Well, theoretically it did. Mostly we saw fog. And it was cold. We didn’t spend much time out there.

We arrived on NYE itself, so we grabbed a few groceries from the store and settled in for the night. A few bottles of wine and a viewing of “Conan the Barbarian” went down well. We brought some sparklers to light outside, but forgot a lighter, so we just looked at unlit sparklers for a while, and went to bed by probably 10 pm. Happy New Year!

We woke up the next year and headed out for the day. New Year’s day in Paris is celebrated quietly, but there was a parade happening in the Champs Elysées – so we checked that out. Their Christmas market was still going on, which meant we filled up on vin chaud and crepes, poked around at the shops, and saw some depressing animatronic “christmas” dinosaurs. The parade itself was a bit of a mess – it wasn’t well organised, just clumps of people crowding around a handful of marching bands from the US and some random other acts. The best part was probably the tiny firetruck blowing confetti at everyone. We followed it around for a while to get extra confetti. By the way, air-blasted confetti gets everywhere.

The next day we did a little walk around to see the Bastille (which was under construction, so instead we checked out the Starbucks next door), visit Notre Dame (where the kids were only interested in the spinning play structure at the playground), and exploring Saint-Germain (where our rain-soaked kids just cried until we fed them hamburgers and went home on the metro). So, we managed to see Starbucks, a few playgrounds, a hamburger joint and some metro stations. All in all, I guess it was a typical vacation for us!

We ended the trip with an evening of sparklers (we finally remembered to buy a lighter), watching “Peter Pan” in French on VHS (watching something on “tape” blew our kids’ minds), and a microwaved frozen pizza (recall the oven issue) – and we left town the next morning on our way to the Netherlands!

I left my heart in Strasbourg

We spent a fantastic long weekend in Strasbourg. What a charming little town! The cathedral is glorious, all the historical buildings are perfectly preserved, the food is delicious, and the city is so easy to navigate. I would go back in a heartbeat.

Being there in September, the weather was a bit chilly, and we had some rain. And then there was the time LittleB got run over by a bike. We were crossing the road and a cyclist went against the light and totally plowed him over. He was fine, just a bit beat up. She was roughed up as well, but I had a harder time feeling bad about it since she was the one in the wrong, even though she insisted he “appeared out of nowhere”. Anyway, no hard feelings, Strasbourg. We still love you.

Tuscany towns – cookies and more

The great thing about being in Tuscany turned out not to be just the heavyweights, Florence and Pisa, but the other wonderful little Tuscan towns around the area. We made it to two others that were perfectly charming and not as overwhelming – Lucca and Volterra.

Lucca is one of the best preserved medieval towns in the whole province. It managed to survive the centuries of war and destruction that most other areas suffered under, and as the regional capital for many decades, it has a lot of lovely buildings, churches, and piazzas to enjoy. It is also now known as the place where most European toilet paper is made – this was the most exciting thing for the kids, although we didn’t make to the TP factory… But we did eat lunch in an old Roman amphitheater, wandered the winding streets and fortified walls, and ate some disappointing gelato.

Volterra was my favorite. Although we arrived on a rainy mid-morning, we spent a few hours wandering this hilltop town boasting more ancient churches and adorable twisty alleys. It’s known, among other things, for its alabaster and some unique cookies called Ossi di Morto cookies (bones of the dead). They were surprisingly similar to the texture I would imagine dried up skeleton bones would actually have… After a delicious lunch at a cafe, it was time to go.

We also managed to fit in a day at the beach. The air and sand were hot, but the sea was cold, cold, cold. So, of course, only the Cayas were in there (well, B and the kids), and a random other kid from Northern England who was so happy to swim with someone else because his parents refused to go in. Soon we headed back up over the Alps, just in time for a last snowstorm of the season.