Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sur Le Pont d'Avignon, we dance, we dance!

We go to Avignon fairly often and as we get there, we see Saint-Bénézet Bridge, also known as the Avignon Bridge, off to the right side of the road. If you don't know, Saint-Bénézet Bridge is a famous medieval bridge that spans the Rhone River between Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.

Although we have seen and shot pictures of the Avignon Bridge quite a few times, we had never walked the bridge, or more accurately what remains of the bridge. So a few weeks back, we did just that. Before, all we knew was that the Bridge inspired the song "Sur le Pont d'Avignon" a French song about the Avignon Bridge that dates back to the 15th century.

The bridge was constructed between 1177 and 1185 with 22 arches and was 980 yards long. It was destroyed by Louis VIII of France during the siege of Avignon in 1226. It was rebuilt beginning in 1234. The bridge was only 16 feet wide, including the parapets at the sides. The arches were liable to collapse when the river flooded.

The bridge fell into disrepair during the 17th century. By 1644 the bridge was missing four arches and finally a catastrophic flood in 1669 swept away much of the structure. Since then, the surviving arches have successively collapsed or been demolished and only four arches remain.

As you can see below, the piers have cutwaters that are pointed in both the upstream and the downstream direction. These reduce the scour around the piers caused by rapidly moving water, one of the main threats to the stability of stone bridges.

Saint-Bénézet Bridge From the South

The bridge was very important strategically when it was first built because it was the only fixed crossing of the Rhone River between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. It was also the only river crossing between the Comtat Venaissin, an enclave around Avignon controlled by the Pope, and France proper under the authority of the kings of France.

As such, it was closely guarded on both sides of the river. On the Avignon side, the bridge passed through a large gatehouse erected in the 14th century (with major modifications in the 15th century), passing through and over the city wall and exiting via a ramp (now destroyed) which led into the city.

Gatehouse on the Avignon Side of the Avignon Bridge

The right bank, which was controlled by Kingdom of France, was overlooked by the fortress of Philippe-le-Bel Tower which was built at the beginning of the 14th century. It is named after the French king Philippe-le-Bel (Philip IV "the Fair") who was responsible for its construction.

Philippe-le-Bel Tower

The View From the End of the Avignon Bridge to Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral

The View Up the Rhone River to the North

Saint Nicholas Chapel sits on a platform on the upstream side of the second pier (between the second and third arches). The chapel has undergone a number of reconstructions and restorations. It is now divided into two floors, each with a nave and an apse. The upper floor is on a level with the platform of the bridge and reduces the width of the walkway to about 6 feet.

The Upper Level of Saint Nicholas Chapel

Shirley Pauses for a Picture from the Lower Level of Saint Nicolas Chapel

The lower level of Saint Nicholas Chapel is accessed by a set of steps that descend from the bridge. The lower level chapel with its apse decorated with five arches dates from the second half of the 12th century.

Lower Level Chapel of Saint Nicholas Chapel

The North Side of Saint Nicholas Chapel with Philippe-le-Bel Tower in the Distance

Visit to the bridge finished, we headed back into Avignon by way of the Porte du Rhone ("Rhone Gate").

Porte du Rhone With Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral in the Distance

The defensive walls of Avignon are among the best and most complete set of city walls in France. They are a UNESCO world heritage site. The population having spread outside the walls, Pope Innocent VI began in 1355 to construct new defensive walls which would enclose the new settlements. These are the present day walls. They were protected and restored in the nineteenth century.

Some of the Defensive Walls of Avignon

We walked along the defensive wall until we got to Place Crillon, seen below, then back to Place du Palais where the Pope's Palace and Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral can be found.

Place Crillon

Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral

Pope's Palace

Oh yes, the chorus to the song that made the bridge famous goes like this:

Sur le Pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse, l'on y danse
Sur le Pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse tous en rond


On the bridge of Avignon
We all dance there, we all dance there
On the bridge of Avignon
We all dance there in a ri

Have a great week and very Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Market Day in Vaison-La-Romaine and Lunch at Le Bateleur Restaurant

In twelve days we will celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday replete with tradition and centered on family and a special meal to celebrate our blessings. As readers probably know, the traditional center piece of a Thanksgiving meal is turkey accompanied by a smorgasbord of salads, side dishes and desserts. This year we will be joined by cousins who recently moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Preparation for the Thanksgiving meal includes ordering the turkey, which I have not done yet, and several trips to the grocery store or if you are lucky, a visit to a local farmer's market for seasonal fruits and vegetables. If we were in Sablet for Thanksgiving, we would get most everything we need for our special meal at the Tuesday morning market in Vaison-la-Romaine.

Unfortunately, we don't have a farmer's market in Sonoma County that offers as wide an array of seafood, meat, cheese, fruits and vegetables, as we find at the Vaison-la-Romaine market. A highlight of our visits to Sablet are the weekly visits to this market and our visit last month was no exception.

Vaison-la-Romaine is a quick 6 mile trip from Sablet along a winding road and across the Ouvèze River. As I told you here, Vaison-la-Romaine is divided by the Ouvèze River into two parts; on the right bank is the ancient Roman colony and modern town and on the left bank is the old medieval town with the Castle of the Counts of Toulouse at the highest point, which can be seen from afar.

Castle of the Counts of Toulouse in Vaison-la-Romaine

The Vaison-la-Romaine market takes place in the center of the modern town. Like most towns, parking in Vaison on market day is not easy so we try to be there by 8:30 AM so we can park in the small lot near Notre-Dame de Nazareth Cathedral.

After we park, we walk along the north side of the Cathedral past a very large field of Roman ruins which border the path to the main market area. I am embarrassed to say we don't give any more thought to these ruins as we walk pass them then we do to walking past houses in our neighborhood.

What makes these Roman ruins unique is that they are streets with shops and houses, rather than individual ruins like the Arena in Nîmes or at the Pont du Gard, so you get a sense of the overall layout of the town.

The Roman ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine are spread over two sites; Puymin adjacent to the Office of Tourism with its Musée Théo Desplans (museum) and Théâtre Antique (Roman theater) built in the first century AD and La Villasse which we see on our walk up to the market.

These are ruins of shops along the central street of La Villasse. The Romans were very practical and built one street for chariots and a parallel footpath for pedestrians covered by a portico (many of the columns remain in place) to shelter the stalls and people from the sun and bad weather.

La Villasse Ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine

Provencal cooking uses a lot of garlic and there are tables piled high.

Strands of Fresh Garlic

Different honeys made from local flowers.

Lavender, Flower, Acacia, and Chestnut Honey

Most of the fish, meat, cheese, fruit and vegetable sellers set up their stands on Cours Taulignan or on one of the nearby cross streets.

Cours Taulignan in Vaison-la-Romaine

You will find several small tables set up with displays of locally made artisan cheese like shown below.

Freshly-made Artisan Cheeses

A variety of saucissons sec (dried sausages) are available from artisan producers.

Variety of Sausages

Even though it was October, we were able to find some very nice fresh, tasty tomatoes, that were the base for several salads during our sejour in Sablet.

Tomatoes from Provence

Walnuts

Patrons line up to place their order for freshly butchered meat and poultry.

Mobile Butcher Shop

We were thrilled to find the first Cèpe (Porcini) mushrooms of the season on display. There were also Girolle (a member of the Chanterelle family) mushrooms.

Cepes Mushrooms

There were multiple displays of fresh figs for sale. I love figs, love to have fig jam to put on top of cheese. Yum! Shirley not so much.

Fresh Figs

There are olive groves every where so it is not surprising that there are kitchen utensils and dishes made from olive wood for sale in the market.

Kitchen Utensils Made of Olive Wood

Fresh Vegetables

Nougat is a family of confectioneries made with sugar and/or honey, roasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and macadamia), whipped egg whites, and sometimes chopped candied fruit. The consistency of nougat can range from soft and chewy to hard and crunchy, and it is used in a variety of candy bars and chocolates.

There are three basic kinds of nougat. The first is brown nougat ( nougatine in French) which is made without egg whites and has a firmer, often crunchy texture. The second is the Viennese or German nougat which is essentially a chocolate and nut (usually hazelnut) praline. The third, and most common, is a white nougat from Montélimar, made with beaten egg whites and honey seen below.

Nougat Made in Montélimar

Jams and jellies of all kind.

Locally Made Jams and Jellies

You have to have spices for cooking. In Provence, spices are not sold in the market in little jars or packages. Buy only what you are going to use for a week or two as there is no reason to use stale spices since you don't have to buy a jar which might last 6 months or more.

Spice Vendor

Several butchers come to the market every week and display their cuts of meats and charcuterie. I have never seen anyone selling Cheval (horse) meat at the Vaison-la-Romaine market, although we do see it elsewhere.

Mobile Butcher Shop

Seller of Artisan Hams

Our favorite poissonier, fish seller. He also comes to Sablet and sets up his truck next to the little grocery store every Thursday morning.

Our Favorite Fish Seller

Artisan Sausages

Lots of vendors offer a variety of vegetables and salad greens like shown here.

Cauliflower

There is a huge variety of different shellfish on sale from the various fish sellers.

All Kinds of Shellfish

Several cheese vendors set up shop at the market every week. Full disclosure, I don't buy from any of them since I am partial to the cheese that Josiane Deal sells at her wonderful shop called Lou Canesteou just a few steps away on Rue Raspail off Place Montfort, the town's main square.

Mobile Cheese Shop

The best place in our opinion to get chocolate, macaroons, or beautiful tarts and cakes in the area is at the Peyrerol shop on Cours Henri Fabre in Vaison-la-Romaine. I bet you can't walk in and come out without buying something.

The Peyrerol Shop in Vaison-la-Romaine

A great gift to bring to friends and family from Provence is bars of he wonderful olive-oil based soap locally made in Nyons. They have a shop, seen below, on Grande Rue in Vaison-la-Romaine. Our favorite soap aromas are lavender and lemon. We leave bars of lavender soap for our guests who stay at our home in Sablet.

Savon (Soap) Shop

Tourist Shop Selling Brightly Colored Bags

Le Bateleur Restaurant is located at Place Théodore Aubanel near the Roman bridge in Vaison la Romaine's lower city and modern town. The restaurant is owned by Adriana, she takes care of the front of the house and her husband Nicolas Boffelli, the chef. Prior to taking over Le Bateleur Restaurant, Nicolas was the sous chef at the Michelin starred Le Grand Pré in Roaix.

Le Bateleur Restaurant

As soon as we were seated, a plate of foods to nibble was placed on the table along with an amuse bouche of Porcini mushroom soup. Shirley opted to get a glass of 2011 Domaine Charvin Rouge Vin de Pays and I chose a glass of 2013 Chateau de Coulerette Côtes de Provence Rosé. You know what they say, when in Provence.

Amuse Bouche of Cepes (Porcini) Soup

Shirley

Our lunch was served as follows. For me, I chose a starter of shrimps in orange vinaigrette with vegetables.

Shrimps in Orange Vinaigrette with Vegetables including Carrots, Green Onions, Tomatoes and Squash

Shirley selected the pan roasted Ligne with Butternut squash and curry sauce.

Pan Roasted Ligne with Butternut Squash and Curry Sauce

I chose the pan roasted Merlu fish with Parmesan risotto and tomato sauce.

Pan Roasted Merlu with Parmesan Risotto and Tomato Sauce

Our desserts were:

Caramel Apples, Lemon Curd and Sorbet

and:

Pistachio Cream, Poached Pears and Financier Cookies

This was a truly excellent meal. Up to when Nicolas and Adriana took over the restaurant, it had been owned by the chef who owns Le Mesclun in Seguret. We ate there several times while he owned the restaurant, but this was much more to our liking. If you have been to Le Bateleur before Nicolas and Adriana took over, you should return. It is a great place to go after a visit to the market.

Upper Medieval Town of Vaison-la-Romaine

Le Bateleur Restaurant
1 Place Théodore Aubanel
84110 Vaison La Romaine
Tel: 04 90 36 28 04
Website: www.restaurant-lebateleur.com

Have a great week.