We started out in Avignon today. Having already spent two days here, it felt much more like returning to a familiar city than exploring something new, even though we began with the group guided tour. We had left the Pope’s Palace off our agenda before, because we knew that the ship’s tour included it. Having perhaps missed the day in Hebrew School at Beth El where they reviewed papal history, I must admit I was unaware that there were 7 popes in the 14th century who resided in Avignon due to instability in Italy (and of course I’m not counting the two schism popes that followed). The popes made their own new Vatican in Avignon. Not much besides the stone walls survives today, but an interesting bit of history. Perhaps even more interesting is that no pope has returned to Avignon in over 600 years. Our tour guide said she once asked the local bishop why the popes do not return. His answer was “It’s complicated.” We in the US are certainly not used to grudges and avoidance that lasts more than 600 years.
We stayed with the tour because it included the synagogue of Avignon, but after we simply walked by and were told “there’s the synagogue”, we decided to spend the rest of the time on our own. Ellen wanted to buy a signon figurine, and we decided to supplement the ship’s lunch with sandwiches.
In the afternoon, we had opted for the optional tour to Chateauneuf du Pape, the summer home of the pope and the home to some of Provence’s best wine country. We toured and tasted at Maison Bouachon, buying a bottle of red wine that we tasted. .Ellen and I aren’t wine people, so we enjoyed the tasting lesson provided by the winery. Just need to figure out now how you get wine back home. There must be a way to return from France with wine, right?
After the winery, we went to the ruins of the papal summer home. Nothing but ruins, destroyed through several ancient wars and a spiteful bombing by the Germans towards the end of World War II. We finished the day by walking through the village, home to almost nothing but wine stores. Go figure.