There is only one other place I have visited where I can say I have truly completed a personal pilgrimage, and that it was exactly how I imagined, and was not disappointed, and that was Oxford.
Avignon is quite simply, everything I imagined from my studies, and more.
It is refined, it is old. It is, as James put it, Hogwarts to Santiago de Compostela’s Diagon Alley. And that’s not a bad analogy: the Camino de Santiago was the poor man’s pilgrimage. It was what you did if you couldn’t afford to make it to Rome or Jerusalem, and it has that brash, dark, gothic, rustic feeling to it – unpolished and rough. Avignon was one of the 3 real centres of theological learning (along with Rome and Paris), and for a good while, it was the seat of the Roman Catholic church. It is polished, pristine and white, surrounded by vineyards and the Rhône (as compared to the orange dust and dry landscape of north western Spain). It is mediaeval and the stuff tales of chivalry are made of (just don’t delve too deeply).
Our hotel is two minutes walk from the Palais des Papes in the old city, and it is simple, but lovely.
It is such a relief to be back in France, I cannot begin to articulate my happiness at being able to communicate and understand. Still. I think I will be signing up to Alliance Francais when I get home. Next time I’m here, I want to be as close to fluent as I can get.
Tomorrow I’m going to attempt to see if we can go horse riding at Saintes-Maries-de-le-mer in the Camargue. If I can wrangle it, words well not be able to contain my joy. Fingers crossed.