Avignon, Grenoble, Lyon

October 20, 2007 - Grenoble, France

Who knew that just a few hours drive north could be so much colder!!


Using the rather patriotic excuse of going to vote in the Polish election as an excuse for a roadtrip, one of our friends from Nice invited us along to Grenoble/Lyon for the weekend. Of course, Joan and I jumped on the chance to see more or the country, especially the mountains where we’d never been before.


On the way, we took an unexpected detour to a small yet famous town to the north west of Nice called Avignon. A town that is obviously very steeped in history, Avignon is most famous for 2 things – the Palais des Papes where the Popes lived for much of the 14th century, and for the Pont d’Avignon.


Our first view of the city was while driving alongside the 14th Century Ramparts that encircle the city, interspersed with 39 towers and gateways. They are in fantastic condition, having been fully restored, and ensure you can imagine exactly how the city looked centuries ago. The biggest shock we were faced with when arriving in the city was the wind! Avignon is subject to violent winds, which we were most certainly not dressed for! In fact, a popular proverb is- Avenie ventosa, sine vento venenosa, cum vento fastidiosa (windy Avignon, pest-ridden when there is no wind, wind-pestered when there is). We wandered through one of themany gateways and entered the city, soon coming across the main square outside the Palais des Papes. The Palais dominated most of the sqaure, with its very gothic front and eye-catching spires. It actually looks more like a fortress than an palace, but considering what the town has been through over the course of its existace, this has probably ensured its survival in such good condition. Alongside the Palais was the cathedral, Notres Dame des Doms which is crowned by a guilded statue of the Virgin on one of the towers. We climbed up to the cathedral and were rewarded with a fantastic view. Not just of the square and the hills in the distance, but also of the group of french teenages practicing Tectonik dancing below. Joan and I are amazed at this new style of dancing, which is a kind of cross between body popping, break dancing and hip-hop, usually to techno music. We’ve seen groups of kids doing it all over Nice, and to get such a good view of them doing it here was fun.


We then went in search of the other sight, the bridge. There is a song in french called “Sur le pont d’Avignon” which describes folk dancing that normally took place under the bridge. The first thing that strike you about the bridge, is the rather obvious fact that that it doesn’t reach the other side of the river! It spans about two thirds of the Rhone river, then stops, never quite reaching Villeneuve-les-Avignon on the other side. Built in the 1100’s, it initially had 22 arches and spanned the whoel river, but frequent floods and natural disasters have destroyed all but the remaining 4 arches. The man who decided to build the bridge, following a ‘divine intervention from God’ telling him to do so, is buiried in the now disused chapel built on the bridge. We didn’t actually get to walk on the bridge, as to pay 4e to become even more windswept while not really going anywhere, seemed a bit silly ;)


Back in the car, we re-joined the motorway and drove the 2-3hrs more to Grenoble. The drive was nice and scenic, with mountains on both sides of the motorway. We arrived in Grenoble at night, and despite getting lost, we found Lukasz’s friend’s house quite quickly. We met his friend Anna and her boyfriend, and we all headed out in the the centre of Grenoble. Joan and I decided to have dinner while the others went to drink wine in a park (!). There seemed to be a central town square full of restaurants, that although were very touristy, were pefectly situated for the 2 starving tourists that we were. Joan ensured that she could get some ‘tradtional Grenoble’ food. After being fed, watered and warmed, we walked back out into the freezing night air and met the others in a bar to watch the Rugby Final – Good thing I kept my englishness quiet in the pub, as it seemed like everyone there was very happy with the result. Humpf. While the guys got increasingly drunk, Joan and I alternated between chatting in the bar, getting fresh air outside, and having a really rather welcome cup of coffee in a kebab shop down the road!


The following morning, while the guys were sleeping off their hangovers, Joan and I got up early and went out to do some sightseeing around Grenoble. We stumbled across some typically french, bustling markets and grabbed breakfast in a boulangerie, and a coffee in a café in order to defrost! The area of the town we were in had a distinctly ‘Old Town’ feel to it, with narrow cobbled streets and lots of small shops. We stood on one of the many bridges and discovered La Bastille, the fort on the top of the mountain that overlooks Grenoble. Looking down the river towards the mountains, we also saw Les Bulles, the egg-shapped cable cars that have ferried visitors up to La Bastille since te 1930’s. Amusingly though, they were painted with th IKEA logo to advertise the new store that has recently opened!


Our sightseeing trip had to be cut short by the need to continue the drive to Lyon. Walking back through the city in the daylight, its easy to see that Grenbole, if better looked after, could be a rather attractive city. Cobbled streets, a nice layout, lots of trees…The main let down is the fact that the buldings are filthy due to the high levels of pollution suffered by the town.


The drive to Lyon was short, only about an hr and a half, but being heavily stuffed with cold made it seem much longer! Because of the one-way system adopted by many streets in Lyon, it took us a while to actually find the Polish Embassy, but we did, and Lukasz went in and exercised his constitutional right. Soon after, we were met outside by Sergiu, an Amadeus stagiare who had since returned to Lyon to study for another semester. He took us into the city centre, where we saw the Opera Nationale de Lyon opera house and a pleasant square with fountains similar to place de gaulle in anitbes but on a much larger scale. A couple there were tango-ing for the public which was entertaining to watch. We also saw the 18th Century Town Hall, which like many famous structures in Lyon, was under restoration. We walked through someof the main shopping streets to Place Bellecour, considered the central point of the city. It consisted mainly of a park, but with a large statur of Louis XIV on a horse in the centre. It is also the largest clear space in Europe, with no green areas, trees or other ‘obstacles’. From here, we had a fantastic view Fourviere, known as ‘the hill that prays, which  plays host to the Notre-Dame de Fourviere, a basillica perched high up on a hill overlooking the city, and also the Tour Metallique de Fourviere alongside, a structure that bears a striking resemblence to the Eiffel Tower, built as a secular monument to counter balance the church. Had we had more time, we would have trekked up the hill to see it properly…next time! Instead, we went to a restaurant in Vieux Lyon for a 3 course dinner to prepare ourselves for not only the long drive home, but also the freezing walk back to the car! Lyon spans two rives, the Rhone and the Saone, and is split into 9arronissments similar to Paris. Having to walk for 30mins in the freezing cold while only covering a small proportion of the city, it is easy to see how this is the third biggest city in France! We left Lyon at around 8pm, later than planned, and prepared for the 5 ½ hr drive home. Turns out, that sticking to the motorway and having a Polish driver enables you to actually make the journey in just 4hrs!! Back in (warm) Nice just after midnight!


Avignon Ramparts
Le Pont d'Avignon
French kids doing Tectonik
Notre Dame des Doms
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