We were in Barcelona and I was in love with the 20th century and truly insane designs of Gaudí. But there was something about the city that was a little too…new. It wasn’t like the rest of Europe, a million years old. Thankful, we were taking a direct flight to the antiquated architecture capitals of the world: Florence, Rome, Venice–in other words, Italy.
However, my brother, contrary as he always is, suggested to my mother that the three of us rent a car and drive along the coast of France to get to the gelato and gold markets of Florence. So without a single ounce of planning we boarded our Volkswagen and headed into France. What we found, the cities we discovered were perhaps better than any Rome or Florence–they were micro-Rome’s and micro-Florence’s.
And there were millions of them.
Every tiny city we stopped in had its very own centuries-old castle or cathedral or museum, like our first city Narbonne, which with a population of 50,000 had the 800-year-old Narbonne Cathedral (a French national monument). We stayed the night in Narbonne and I laughed out loud (well, not at the time) when our room had a bidet but no toilet. How french. At least our room had a view of the Cathedral. We sipped our morning cappuccinos next to its yellowing walls.
Our next stop was Béziers, France where we visited my favorite Béziers Cathedral. We met an old man who described his travels up and down France and gave us our next destinations: Uzès, Pont du Gard, and Avignon. We felt engulfed in a different world. It’s the feeling you see a little kids get when they step into Disneyland–hey, it’s the feeling I get when I step into Disneyland. Southern France is the Disneyland of coastal road trips.
Each of the destinations we stopped at, from the Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard to the gothic city of Avignon, had so much French and, annoyingly enough, Italian history. I distinctly remember us seeing a sign for a château that shined in the distance off the freeway, but driving by it because “we’ll be seeing enough of those.” And we did.
In our last stop, we drove the inch-wide streets of Avignon, literally scraping the mirrors of our rented car against its walls. We found the beautiful La Mirande hotel in Avignon. Although we didn’t get to stay there, it is my dream to come back to the boutique hotel.
Then we finally said ciao to Firenze!