For our last full day in France, we decided to do a daytrip to the town of Avignon. At this point in the trip, we had moved to an airport hotel since there were no vacancies in the city that weekend. To get to Avignon, we needed to take the airport shuttle bus (le Navette) downtown to St. Charles Station and then take a train to Avignon. We bought roundtrip tickets for the regional TER train.
Central Avignon consists of a quaint village with narrow streets, shops, restaurants, and small hotels. One of the major draws of the town is the Popes’ Palace (Palais des Papes). Before the Vatican became the home of popes, this large impressive medieval fortress in Avignon was the home of popes from the 1300’s to the 1600’s. My wife and I spent 1.5 hours doing an audio tour of the palace. Most of the rooms are empty. The audio wand commentary told about what used to take place in the rooms: receptions, accounting, meditation, dining, etc.. We learned about the business of running the Catholic Church and Europe in those days. Back then, the pope was more powerful than rulers of nations.
The other major draw in Avignon is the Bridge of Avignon (Pont d’Avignon) - also known as the Saint Benezet Bridge. Built in the 12th century, the bridge is probably best known for the nursery rhyme that was written about it. Our admission ticket package for the Popes’ Palace also included an audio tour of this famous bridge. I was a little surprised there was an audio tour. I was under the impression we’d walk on the bridge and maybe snap a few pictures to say we were there. The audio tour tells about the bridge’s legendary beginning, its history, the bell tower, the chapels below, and its destruction. There were originally 22 arches of the bridge spanning the Rhone River but today only a fraction remain. The bridge stops abruptly about half way across the river.
My wife and I finished off our lovely day in Avignon with a seafood dinner at one of the city’s quaint restaurants and then walked to the train station for our trip back to Marseille. This time, we were on an ICTER train. I thought maybe this was a step below the TER that brought us to Avignon. The seats were not as nice and there was no fancy marquee indicating the upcoming station stops. Boy was I wrong! This ICTER train crept out of the station and then took off like lightning. We rocketed along the tracks with the only sound being the occasional quick swish as we passed structures situated near the tracks. This ICTER train completed the trip back to Marseille in only an hour, whereas it had taken us two hours to get to Avignon from Marseille on the TER. What was even more fascinating to me was that the ICTER is not even France’s high speed line (the TGV). The TGV makes the trip between in Marseille and Avignon in about 30 minutes!