Monday, October 21, 2013
2013 Europe Trip - Day 13: A Beautiful Day in Arles
New year, new travels. These stories are entries from my journal of my trip to Europe from June 8-24, 2013.
Friday was my only full day in Arles, and I made it count, learning about the town's history, seeing its sights, and meeting its people. I took a little longer than usual getting ready, taking advantage of the comfortable bed, privacy, and reliable WiFi—luxuries I hadn't had (all at once) in nearly a week. You don't take a trip to Europe for its comfortable beds and WiFi, though.
I started the day with sort of an administrative task: walking to the train station and buying a ticket to Figueres, Spain, for the next day. Alas, another short stay, but I had a hostel reservation in Barcelona for Saturday and Sunday nights that I intended to redeem.
After the bookkeeping, I kicked off a self-guided Van Gogh tour, created and narrated by (you guessed it) Rick Steves. I started at the Rhone, where he painted a "Starry Night" (not the "Starry Night"). Then back to the café from the previous night (not as cool during the day). Next was a park where he often painted, the Jardin d'Été (garden of summer). I took some extra time there and enjoyed the flowers, statues, and birds. It's easy to imagine Van Gogh finding inspiration there. Finally, I stopped at an old former hospital where he stayed and famously painted the courtyard. It was a really neat way to look at the city; kind of makes me wish I could paint.
After a lunch (outside, of course) of a panini (and probably a Fanta), I began the next tour: sort of a historical tour of Arles. It began at the Ancient History Museum. Set on the site of a Roman circus (chariot racecourse—you can still see some of the remains), the museum has lots of background info on the Roman history of Arles. It set me up well for visits to some of the sights later in the day. There were several school groups.
On the way back into the town, I stopped for coffee at a small café, which allowed me to sit outside, people-watch, and feel very "European." The cute girl working at the counter was a nice touch, too. Then it was on to Place du Forum, home of the Van Gogh café that you keep hearing me mention. There's also a statue of a famous author and lots of other cafés and restaurants. As the name implies, it was the site of a Roman forum back in the old days. Nowadays, it's kind of the center of town.
Next was the Place de la Republique, with its obelisk and city hall, and over to the adjacent St. Trophime church. It was built starting in the 12th century. Its outside was cool, but the inside was closed. I got to walk through the cloisters, though, and, well, it's definitely old. Not the most massive church, but it's full of detailed stone work. Apparently they used a lot of stone from the nearby Roman theater.
Speaking of the theater, it was my next stop. It was pretty impressive in size and stature, and they had some pretty good representations of how it used to look. It wasn't terribly intact, though, thanks to those church builders, probably.
The last stop on the Roman tour was the arena, or amphitheatre, as they call it there. It was probably the most impressive structure in Arles. It's relatively more intact than the Colosseum in Rome, and they still have events there (bullfight-type stuff). After Roman times, it actually became a fortified town of its own, with houses, churches, and a town square. There are a few watchtowers and walls remaining from those days.
The arena was the end of the tour, so I went back to the house and did some laundry. No expensive Luxembourgish laundromats this time. My clothes safely in the dryer, I went with Damien, my host, to meet some of his friends for drinks. There was a festival of music in town, anchored to the solstice weekend. Lots of bands (brass and other kinds) were wandering around town, striking up impromptu performances. I had a pastis—a typical anise-flavored drink of the area—perfect for the beginning of summer.
After a while, I went with Damien back to the Jardin d'Été to see his wife, Chloé, perform with a flamenco class. She was on percussion, but there were also guitarists, singers, and dancers. I also got to meet Damien's mom, who was super-friendly and shared her (very positive) thoughts about living in France after growing up in New Zealand. Then Damien and I went back to the Place du Forum to meet more friends for dinner. It was a super-festive atmosphere in the square, and his friends were very friendly, especially considering my novice French skills (they knew English pretty well).
I ended up semi-blindly ordering the Plat du Jour (I knew it was something with salmon) and getting a salmon tartare. I enjoy sushi, so no big deal, right? It was actually really good, with some lemony sauce and herbs. And there were au gratin potatoes, and, of course, more rosé. Delicious dinner on a warm French evening, surrounded by French people and music: hard to beat that. I capped off my last night in France with a few more drinks with Damien's friends.