Dec 28 2008
Normally, I don’t like combining words into one cheesy, hard-to-read string, but it just worked so well…
We spent Noël (what Francophones call Christmas) and Chanukah (what Jews call Chanukah) in the Provence region of France with Seth’s parents. Logistics were rather harried, due to baggage delays combined with our inability to delay our travels because of the impending shut-down of Western Europe for Christmas. However, Provence was still beautiful. We were only there for 2 full days, and I would love to go back, as we just got a small taste. Fortunately, it is pretty close, so we might be able to go back and make it, say, to Marseille and to see the lavender fields in bloom.
We based ourselves in Avignon, in a lovely apartment we rented right in the middle of the walled part of the city, which gave us the opportunity to cook and hang out in a common space while everything else was shut down for the holiday. Check out the view from the the living room window:
We spent one of our days in Avignon, wandering the streets of the old city and visiting the enormous papal palace, where the pope was installed from 1309–1377 instead of in Rome. But then there was a great schism and the popes in Avignon became the anti-popes. Confusing, and I only remember a little bit from Modern European History in high school, so that’s all the history you get. The palace was huge, with big, cavernous rooms, as our guide book described them, “denuded.” Although it was at one time lavishly decorated, it’s mostly a series of big empty rooms nowadays. We also took a stroll along the famous Pont d’Avignon (I didn’t know it was famous, but apparently everyone should know about it because of a famous song). Avignon reminded me of Jerusalem, oddly enough, despite its staunchly Catholic history. I think it was the stone that it was all built out of which resembles Jerusalem stone as well as the old, windy streets where old and new meet with striking contrast. Avignon had amazing food, in particular, French bakeries, which are SO much better than Swiss bakeries, sadly. I was given a reusable, long, skinny baguette bag at one bakery—so exciting. We dined at numero 75 as well, which was tasty and beautiful, and they were happy (!) to make us vegetarian, three-course French meals. Below is a photo of the walled part of Avignon, taken from the rooftop of the Palais des Papes, followed by a picture of the city lit up for Christmas, taken just outside the walls looking in through a gate:
We did some Jewish tourism, too. There is a strong Jewish tradition in Provence, which includes two of the oldest, still open synagogues in France among other Jewish sites. We went to light candles and eat home-made donuts with the very friendly Jewish community of Avignon in their old, beautiful synagogue, which was a highlight of the trip. The second day in Provence, we visited the synaogue in the nearby city of Carpentras, which looked like a small baroque concert hall and has apparently allowed women to become Bat Mitzvah for several centuries, despite being a traditional syngagogue. This synagogue is one of the prime tourist destinations in Carpentras, which is suprising, as synagogues are not often popular destinations for non-Jews. But everyone knows about it, as evidenced by the fact that the woman who gave us keys to the Avignon apartment told us that Carpentras was only worth going to if we wanted to see the “Jewish Church” there. Here’s a photo Seth’s father took of us in front of the ark in Carpentras:
We also made it to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, a tourist/traditional Provençal village alongside a natural spring that feeds a rushing river. The spring and the old buildings were beatiful, but it was super-touristy, even without tourists there…too many postcard and souvenir shops. We then took the challenging drive to the Village de Bories, featuring awesome stone huts built without mortar. It doesn’t seem like anyone has expended much energy learning the history of these things, though (or maybe they just didn’t deem it necessary to tell visitors), and thus, we still don’t know why or when they were built and how people still lived in them until just over a century ago. Here’s Seth in a hut doorway:
Then we headed into nearby Gordes, a cliffside village reminding me of Tsfat but with Christmas lights instead of ultra-Orthodox Jews, for a brief night-time walk through the twisting streets surrounding the chateau.
Then we went back to Switzerland via a disastrous early-morning train ride for a delicious fondue dinner.
More photos are on my photostream.