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Don't bother paying admission to walk on the bridge unless you want to dance on it as in the famous 15th-century children's song: "On the bridge of Avignon, everyone is dancing." You'll be able to see it well from the river bank. This was the only bridge across the lower Rhône River when built, connecting the kingdoms of France and Germany, and thereby turning Avignon into an important trading center.
The Old Town: Enter the Porte du Rhône gate through the town wall, then turn right at Rue Grande Fusterie, dotted with picturesque 15th-century houses. At the end, turn right, then left to Place Crillon, site of Hotel d'Europe, where you might consider staying. This is four-star deluxe but has some moderately priced rooms, especially in the off-season. Avignon makes an excellent home base for visiting the Provençal region, with many fine hotels in all price ranges.
Stroll one block over to Rue Joseph Vernet, perhaps the prettiest street in town, lined with shops, galleries and restaurants. Detour a few blocks up and down Rue St. Agricol, which offers a similar environment of pleasant shops and leads to the main square of town, Place de l'Horloge.
At the information office, pick up a free "Welcome to Avignon" brochure listing major sites and containing a useful map. The tourist bureau placed colored arrows on the sidewalks coordinated with the map to help keep you on track. Also available at the office are train and bus schedules, along with information about packaged day-trips.
Continue strolling along Rue de la République, the town center's busiest street, extending from the train station nearly to the Pope's Palace in a straight mile-long line. There are restaurants and fast-food choices along this broad artery, but wait until you get back to the main square, Place de l'Horloge, before deciding where to dine.
Place de l'Horloge: This popular square has many cafes all around it and a mix of restaurants that range in quality from simple bistro to fine dining. Several lovely streets branch out from this main square, but by now it is probably time to pick an appealing spot for dinner and save further walking for tomorrow. Of course, there are other dining places in town a bit less tourist-oriented than those in this main square, but locals eat here, too, and the advantage of dining in Place de l'Horloge at a choice outdoor table is the delightful ambience -- lots of people walking by, beautiful buildings all around and a lovely, tree-shaded park environment throughout the square.
Start with a cup of coffee in the main square, Place de l'Horloge, enjoying the Town Hall's neoclassical façade and colorful swirl of the Carousel, with dozens of people ambling by. Walk to the south end of the square and turn east into the pedestrian-only neighborhood for exploring. At first this shopping zone will seem vast and disorienting, but this is a good orientation for serious browsing later in the day.
Find your way to Rue des Marchands and then past the Synagogue to Place Pie, a large, tree-lined square surrounded by quaint buildings and cafes. Pass through the indoor food market, Les Halles, emerging on the south end at Rue Bonneterie, which turns into the picturesque Rue des Teinturiers, the "street of the tinters." Several ancient water wheels along this cobbled lane are still turning, pushed along by a quaint little tree-lined canal. The wheels once provided power for textile manufacturing and dyeing. Now this is a trendy street, with cafes, boutiques and a small theater, a mere 10-minute walk from the town center. Return at twilight, when the street takes on a different atmosphere.
Stroll back on the Rue des Lices, feeling free to wander left or right as the spirit strikes. A few blocks north are two important churches worth visiting: St. Didier, one of the largest Gothic churches in Provence, and the mid-14th-century St. Pierre. This will take you back to the main Place de l'Horloge and put you in prime position for lunch, followed by shopping or a couple of museum visits.
Paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries are on display at another excellent, small museum, Le Musée Angladon, with masterpieces by Degas, Manet, Sisley, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso and Modigliani, among others. This former private Angladon family mansion also exhibits furnishings, drawings and several period rooms upstairs, including an artist's studio, a Chinese room and a Renaissance room. It is located just behind the archaeology museum at 5 Rue Laboureur.
These main museums should be enough for most visitors and could keep you busy most of the afternoon, leading right into the cocktail hour. Another dozen smaller museums, archives, libraries and historic homes are open to the public, so one could actually spend another full day in pursuit of culture.
Two worthwhile experiences are a visit to the ancient Roman aqueduct, Pont du Gard, and a side trip to the small city of Nimes, with its Roman sights and a pretty town center.
Head straight to the train station and leave Avignon for Nimes before breakfast. An early start is needed because the last convenient bus returns to Avignon by 2 p.m. Trains leave Avignon at 6:38 and 7:26 a.m., taking 40 minutes to put you into the heart of Nimes before the shops have opened, when the town is quiet and peaceful. Nimes makes a nice two- or three-hour diversion and leaves you in good position to catch the bus to Pont du Gard.
Exit the Nimes train station and walk a few blocks along Avenue Feucheres to a shady park, and just beyond to the town's star attraction and the world's best-preserved ancient Roman amphitheater, Les Arenes. The arena is similar in age and appearance to Rome's Colosseum but only half the size, seating 24,000 people. It is still home to a variety of entertainment, including concerts and the French version of bullfighting, in which bulls are not killed while chasing would-be matadors out of the ring.
A lovely pedestrian zone of shops and cafes extends beyond the right side of the arena, with the main lane of Rue de l'Aspic running 10 blocks through its center. Most shops open at 10 a.m. Check them out on your way back to the station later; for now stroll six blocks on Rue de l'Aspic and turn left on Rue General Perrier to Maison Carrée or the "square house," France's best-preserved Roman temple.
Across the street from Maison Carrée, you will notice a striking modern building designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster. Crafted in steel and glass in a pleasing rectangular shape, it complements the ancient temple architecture and houses the Museum of Contemporary Art, one of several major modern structures built in Nimes during the 1990s by its progressive mayor, Jean Bousquet.
Walk along scenic Quai de la Fontaine next to a beautiful, tree-lined canal that comes from the Jardin de la Fontaine a few blocks away. This pleasant section of town was where the local water source sprang from the ground in Roman times, but as the settlement grew, the water supply became inadequate and needed to be supplemented by a major aqueduct system, including the Pont du Gard.
By now you will have likely worked up an appetite that could be satisfied at the breakfast buffet in one of Nimes' nicest hotels, the four-star Imperator Concorde near the Jardin de la Fontaine. Afterward, walk back to Maison Carrée, then continue east a few blocks along the pedestrian Rue de l'Horloge toward more landmarks: the scenic Place Aux Herbs square, setting for the 11th-century Cathedral Notre-Dame with its Romanesque frieze across the façade, and two blocks northeast, the Porte d'Augustus, a small triumphal arch built in 15 B.C., honoring Emperor Augustus.
History buffs might take time for the Musée Archéologique, two blocks south of the arch, but others might choose to return to the heart of the pedestrian zone via Rue de l'Aspic. En route, have a look at the pretty square, Place du Marché, with its crocodile fountain symbolizing Egyptian victories of ancient Roman soldiers who retired in the area. Buses depart from the open lot behind the train station to take you to Pont du Gard.
Pont du Gard is part of an ancient, 26-mile water channel built mostly on or under the ground to carry water to Nimes. The Romans built this bridge about 2,000 years ago to maintain an even flow of water, with just a slight change in level, dropping only about an inch every 300 feet. This engineering feat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Three levels of arches hold up the water channel that runs across the top. The tallest arches Roman engineers ever built are on the bottom.
Their buildings relied heavily on the arch, for many interior spaces were variations of this critical feature: large rooms were often made with barrel-vaulted ceilings, a series of arches connected together, and an arch could also be spun around on its axis to form a dome, another important Roman innovation.
Coming all this way to Pont du Gard, you want to enjoy the various vistas for a complete appreciation. The paved path from the visitor center affords some decent views, but don't settle for this. Stroll across the bridge, then up a well-marked hillside path to gain access to the aqueduct's upper level, where you can walk through the canal itself. It is partly open and partly covered, forming a dark tunnel that tall folks will need to stoop to get through. Here you acquire firsthand respect for the amazing engineering skill that created this marvel.
Exiting the aqueduct channel, walk back downslope, then along the stream on the sunny side of the structure a few hundred yards to get the best view looking back. On calm days you'll get a mirror reflection of the bridge in the river's smooth surface.
Keep one eye on the clock, for you need to catch the bus to Avignon, leaving the same traffic circle at 1:22 p.m. and arriving in Avignon at 2 p.m. If you miss it, you'll have to wait for another bus at 6:45 p.m., reasonable only if you spent more time in Nimes earlier in the day. Otherwise, it will be nice to be back in Avignon by midafternoon to catch up on sights you might have missed, do more shopping or take a nap to recover from these three intensive days.