04/21/2016 - 04/22/2016
There weren't any can't-miss markets on Thursday so we used the morning to explore our home base of Avignon, which we had neglected up to that point. Our first stop was Les Halles, the daily indoor market right next door to us. The offerings were very fresh and colorful, especially the seafood. We shared a seafood platter and local white wine at a tiny restaurant inside the market, complemented by roast beef and pasta we had bought at other stalls.
After a quick pass through the flea market outside, we wandered around the narrow roads and scenic squares of the old town, eventually finding ourselves at the massive Palais des Papes. We chose to continue exploring rather than tie ourselves up with a tour of the interior, and walked through the old city walls for a view of the famous Pont d'Avignon.
We retrieved the Iceberg and crossed the Rhône to Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and the Fort Saint-André. The hilltop fort and ancient abbey within contain beautiful gardens and boast magnificent views of Avignon.
One attraction in Provence that seemed to keep coming up in my research was Carrières de Lumières, an old quarry that has been converted into an underground multimedia exhibit displaying the work of famous artists. I wasn't sure what to expect, but given the buzz about the place it seemed worth the short trip to the tiny medieval town of Baux. Parking was unusually difficult, so we had to walk about a quarter mile along the roadside past some interesting rock formations to the quarry entrance.
Unfortunately, we found the show itself to be very disappointing. The chambers inside the quarry were impressively cavernous, but the large numbers of people inside made the atmosphere more like a train station. Projectors beamed Chagall onto the walls, with some crudely animated elements in the paintings. The same sequence of animations plays over and over again on the different walls while instrumental music tinkles in the background. We were bored after about five minutes, but stuck around for another ten so Cleo could run around and play with her shadow on the walls. Perhaps it's a pleasant experience for art devotees, but I had the feeling most people endorse it out of a sense of obligation, like the Louvre.
All was not lost in Baux, however, as there was still the town to explore. There was yet another steep ascent to the usual collection of touristy shops and restaurants that we bypassed to tour the Château des Baux at the top. We made an exception to our usual practice of not entering the sights, and it proved to be a good choice as the castle ruins were very scenic and the views over the countryside were spectacular. Another highlight of the Château are the functional medieval weapons, such as a trebuchet which was being demonstrated just as we arrived.
Our visit to Baux was cut short by rain and we plowed back to Avignon for a dinner that was mostly memorable for the two large dogs that had free rein in the tiny restaurant. Experienced scavengers, they made beelines for the kids and were rewarded with plenty of dropped food.
Friday morning it was time to say au revoir to Avignon. We had packed up the night before so as not to be late to the famous Friday market at Carpentras. Taking the shuttle bus to the free parking lot outside the walls with the three kids and all the bags was a little frenetic, but we pulled it off and soon we were cruising away from Avignon for the last time.
We had had some difficult parking jobs at the farmers markets, but nothing prepared us for Carpentras. Part of the problem was that I had run out of cellular data so that while I still had GPS, I didn't have any navigation. I was still able to locate the old town fairly easily, but all the parking on the nearest main street was filled. I turned down a side street and found myself forced into a series of right angle turns only to find myself at a dead end. There was a tiny cul-de-sac filled with parked cars and it took me about ten minutes to gingerly turn the Iceberg 180 degrees. On my very last reverse before freedom I heard the now-familiar crack of a brake light housing, this time on the other side. At least that meant there weren't any more brake lights to crack. I retraced our path as quickly as I could down the narrow streets, praying that I wouldn't come face to face with another car making the same mistake I had. Eventually we found a way back to the main street, but we had to drive another fifteen minutes before we eventually found a place to park far from the center.
The market lived up to its reputation, a sprawling and bustling display of local produce and crafts that took over two hours to negotiate. The older kids split a whole grilled rabbit while relaxing in the gondola. Mei Ling and I raised some eyebrows walking around the market eating green onions as if they were apples.
After the market, we had two more stops in the Luberon on the way to Aix-en-Provence. First came the tiny village of Bonnieux, which had its own Friday market that we arrived too late to visit. We still made the climb to the old church at the top of the town where we had some of the best views yet of the Luberon.
We drove southeast to Ansouis, another tiny medieval village that I had targeted mainly due to its proximity to the famous ice cream parlor L'Art Glacier. It was a short climb up empty streets to the Chateau, and we didn't linger since I wasn't sure the ice cream parlor would stay open as long as advertised. After a few wrong turns, we eventually found L'Art Glacier a couple of miles away. The enormous selection of unusual flavors and appealing outdoor setting left us happy we'd made the effort.
Less than an hour later, we found ourselves in one of our most anticipated stops of the road trip, Aix-en-Provence.