A Modern Day Schism

Trip Start Nov 07, 2013
Trip End Dec 11, 2013

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What I did
Avignon, Les Baux, and Marseilles

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Well it was sunny today! Oh – but it was cold.   We got on our bus for our all day tour to Avignon and Baux de Provence.  Along the way to Avignon we learned the history of the area.  Now I will recount what I can but the problem was that I kept falling asleep in the bus so there may well be decades upon decades that I skip.  It is not because I have anything against those decades, I just needed to catch up with my sleep.  You will also note that at the end of the blog the Susans wrote their own blog because they decided to go somewhere else.  We have since resolved our schism and will write together again (If you don't already know the significance of this schism, read on).

I will not go into the history of the City of Marseilles, as the Susans talk about that sort of, but I will tell you a little bit about Provence:

I was founded by the Greeks.  The Greeks had some problems with the native Ligurians and the Greeks were not very good at being warriors.  Their solution was to get help from the Romans who moved in and defeated the Ligurians in 123 BC.  They named the area Provence Romana, which was later shorted to Provence.  The Romans occupied the area for600 years.   And here’s where I must have fallen asleep because my notes then skip to the modern era – do your own research if you want to know what happened to the Romans.  I assume the same stuff that happened to them everywhere. 

The area industrialized after World War I– there are lots of petroleum refineries here.The winds are known as the Mistral winds.  We all got Mistraled a lot on this voyage It was really cold.  You all know that lots of artist were either born in Provence or painted there.

So moving on to Avignon.  In the 13th century, there were lots of small wars in this area and the Popes lived like kings.  They were heavily involved in politics and had armies etc.  From time to time they had to flee Rome due to these wars.  They came to Avignon.  Then King Philip I of France decided there should be a French Pope and worked on influencing the cardinals to elect a French Pope.  He succeeded and the French Pope didn’t want to leave home and live in Rome, so he stayed in Avignon.  It was Pope Benedict I who decided to build a Pope’s Palace.  Then Clement VI added on to the palace in the mid-14th century.  Now this whole deal is really complicated and would take too long to tell here, besides I fell asleep during part of this also.  So trust me that there was intrigue and politics and shifting loyalties.  At some points in time during this perioed there were two Popes, hence the term "schism", which was what the Susans and Ken and Andrea had that day.  However, we still recognized each other, which is not something I can say about all of these Popes. Some of the Avignon Popes were recognized by Rome and some weren’t.  They were call the anti-popes.  However they did build one huge, fortress like palace. Apparently all of this schisiming ended when the French Revolution sent the Avignon Pope hightailing it back to Rome.

We got to Avignon and saw the famous Pont d’Avignon, which all of you who took French in high school are probably still able to sing about.  It was the only bridge to span the Rhone river, and connect Marseilles to the rest of France.  It has been destroyed and rebuilt many times.  The last time it was destroyed, they didn’t rebuild it, so it just spans half of the Rhone now.

We toured the Pope’s Palace and learned that it is build in many different styles.  The first Avignon Pope, Benedict, was formerly a Cistercian monk and he was very stern and no nonsense, so his part of the palace is very stern and no nonsense. It is built in the Romanesque style It even has a cloister, which most palaces do not have.  Pope Clement the VI apparently was a more relaxed and fun kind of guy and his portion of the palace is more opulent and built in the Gothic style.  We did note that the French Revolution destroyed a lot of the stuff in the palace, knocked heads off of statutes etc.

e then had some free time around Avignon and had a nice lunch at a café on the Rue du la Republic.

Then we got back on the bus and drove to an interesting town called Les Baux.  The drive from Avignon to Les Baux was incredibly beautiful.  We drove the back roads and saw vineyards and olive groves, We drove through Val de Provence which was also beautiful. It is the birthplace of Nostradamus and is where the hospital that Van Gogh was in is.  It is still in business.

Les Baux was an interesting town because it was a town that French protestants took refuge in after the mean old King destroyed their town.  It is perched on a mountain top and now contains many shops.  It has very narrow streets and the top level of the town is a ruined castle.   It contained a 13th century Romanesque church. The views from the village on the valley below were stunning.

fter a walk around Les Baux, we came back to the ship to learn that the Susans had once again lost at trivia and there was no bingo game.

And here is what the Susans did:

This is the Susans who went off on their own tour of Marseille City highlights.  Marseille is the second largest city in France founded by the Greeks in 600 BC.  We were amazed at the Old Port which held 3,000 boats and combined with the new port is the 5th largest port in the world. 

We drove past the oldest abbey in France and then saw the island that held the Count of Monte Cristo.  Our first real stop was at Notre Dame de la Garde where we were greeted by 127 steps to the door and then there were another 3,000,000 steps to the top.  (Yes Sue is exaggerating slightly).  It was an  unusual day in that it did not rain, however still cloudy and brisk.    An observation - way more Europeans smoke cigarettes than Americans. 

Marseille is the first city we have been in which was seriously touched by both World Wars I and II.  Throughout the tour our guide told many stories about how the wars had touched her family.  It is also evident in the architecture which is much newer than the other cities we have visited due to serious bombing in World War II.

Marseille is the home of bouillabaisse  which used to be the favorite dish of the poor and now is a luxury at 40 to 50 Euros for a bowl.  We passed on the experience and opted for jewelry instead.

Marseille was also the home of rope manufacturing for many years, as evidenced by the long streets and many old shops. 

Getting around in Marseille is daunting.  It makes San Francisco look positively flat and as all over Europe, everyone drives like a crazy person. 

It took us a while on the tour to understand that our tour guide's references to "Joanne of Hark" was really Joan of Arc. 

Just a side note which Andrea failed to include - we learned in Provence that the most expensive perfume uses sperm whale vomit as a fixative.  Sue was way more fascinated by this than anyone else.  Andrea adds:  This is called Ambergris.
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