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COLUMN: Journeying to the past in Avignon



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The sun sets at the Palais des Papes in the ancient city center of Avignon. Avignon is known historically as the medieval capital of the Christian church, but still stands almost 700 years later. Rachel Rosenstock Buy Photos

As another weekend in Aix-en-Provence, rolled around, another opportunity to travel this beautiful country came my way.

Last weekend, I enjoyed what the Mediterranean had to offer on the sun-soaked French Riviera. This weekend, I went to the other end of the spectrum and headed to Avignon to dive into French history.

During the 14th century, Avignon was the papal seat of the Catholic Church, and the Palais des Papes still stands in the center of the city nearly 700 years later.

We didn’t have to get to the city center to be overwhelmed with the history of Avignon — just a few feet away from our bus stop was the towering, ancient city wall still standing guard around the city.

We crossed underneath it and entered a world where, like much of Europe, everything is built on medieval structures with modern touches everywhere.

A McDonalds stands across from centuries-old hotels, and cafés line the street across from the Opéra d'Avignon.

We marched straight into the heart of ancient Avignon and soaked in the sight of the immense Palais des Papes, Petit Palais, Pont Saint-Bénézet and the beautiful banks of the Rhone River.

A tranquil garden with several huge viewing platforms gave us an almost 360-degree view of the city, the surrounding villages and the mountain ranges in the distance. Despite being in a city of less than 100,000 people, I got the feeling that we were in one of the hearts of southeastern France.

We took a break from the incredible medieval sights for the afternoon and headed to La Compagnie des Chats, a cat café just off the beaten path in Avignon.

This was the definition of a dream come true for my cat-loving heart, and the fact that we found it while in this incredible city made it that much sweeter.

After our coffee and cat break, we spent a while wandering around Musée Calvet, which had incredible collections by French artists such as Joseph Vernet, who was an Avignon native, as well as Dutch paintings, Egyptian artifacts and a sculpture hall.

The incredible highlight and end to our day trip to Avignon was Les Luminessences d’Avignon that night.

Inside the Palais, a visual history of the city and the Popes that lived there was projected on all four walls of the courtyard.

We sat on the floor and craned our necks in awe for 45 minutes as the castle was transformed into a living storybook.

The ground shook from the music, the narrator’s voice gave us chills and over and over we were stunned at the creativity and beauty of the art projected on the walls.

We walked out smiling and didn’t stop until we got on the train back home. I’m already secretly planning a way I can go back to Avignon just to see Les Luminessences again. That’s how good it was.

I went to bed bone-tired after exploring for more than 12 hours, but I was so happy I made such incredible memories after just one day in Avignon.

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