From Arles, France With Love

Hi everyone,

This week, I continue my reminisce tour of travel and photos from a trip I took with The Youngest in September 2013. Here’s the story. In last week’s blog post, I mentioned The Youngest spent one year (2006-07) in Udine, Italy on a study aboard program. Here’s a link to the blog in case you missed it. One of her roommates during her stay in Udine was Irena from Serbia. Fast forward to 2013, Irena was getting married to an Italian fellow and The Youngest was invited to the wedding. My Traveling Partner though it would be a good idea if someone went with her. Since I was retired and had time on my hands, I was recruited and accepted. Not bad Dad duty!

The Youngest and I met at the Venice airport where we rented a car for the drive to the wedding. The wedding took place at the city hall in Verona, the romantic setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The reception was held at a restaurant overlooking nearby beautiful Lake Garda. We had a grand time, the food was fantastic, the wine plentiful and delicious, and the company extraordinary. A time to remember.

Prior to our trip, we decided to extend our stay by flying from Venice to Marseille, France. We pre-purchased a couple of tickets on Ryan Air, one of those discount airlines common in Europe. The ticket was €25 or about $34.00 and our one piece of checked luggage was the same price! After a 1.5 hour plane ride, we arrived in Marseille and boarded the train to Arles. Our AirBnb host met us at the train station for a ride into town where we would lodge for the next six days.

Arles (pronounced ar l, the s is silent) is a city of around 50,000 on the Rhone River near the Mediterranean Sea.

The history of Arles goes back to 800 BC when it is believed the first settlers arrived in the area and Arles became an important trading port. The Romans showed up in 123 BC taking over the city and constructed a canal directly to the Mediterranean. The city prospered as it was on the trading route between Italy and Spain. Emperorers often made Arles their headquarters for their military campaigns into northern Europe. While occupied by the Romans, aqueducts, churches, and amphitheaters were built, many of those structures still stand. The Romans were ousted in the 5th century AD after ruling for over 500 years.

Old Town

Another interesting fact about Arles is that Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch post-impressionist painter, spent nearly two years in Arles. During this time, he was said to produce around 300 paintings and drawings of the landscape and city. I stood in the spot where van Gogh viewed the countryside that inspired one of his many paintings. Here’s my feeble attempt to photograph the same scene.

Our lodging was a few blocks outside the attractive Old Town where the amphitheater and old church dominated the walled city. During our stay, there was a festival taking place. On the schedule of events were a couple of bullfights in the coliseum. We didn’t attend but one evening when we were walking around the Old Town, we heard the roar of the crowd. Bullfights were popular sport in Arles due to the strong Spanish influence in the Middle Ages.

Speaking of bullfights, during the festival we came upon what I would describe as junior bullfighting. It was fun to watch the young fellas try their hand fending off the bull. They were all boys or young men, girls and women are too smart to attempt this sport! 

Later that day, the main street just outside the Old Town was blocked off with panels on either side of the road. Horsemen would ride close together crowding three to five young bulls while, again boys and young men would attempt to catch their horns and stop the bull. Hmmmm, I wonder what they were thinking: The pretty girls, the wrath of their mother, or the puffed up pride of their fathers?

Here’s short video of the action.

 

Every afternoon, musical groups consisting mostly of brass, gave a performance on the steps of the amphitheater. Apparently, there was a competition for the best band. Hundreds watched as the groups performed.

While wandering around the amphitheater, we came across this artist. George was on a holiday from the United Kingdom, painting the scenes of the city. He was talkative, told us he likes Arles for it’s community of artists. We enjoyed meeting and chatting with him.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Arles is because they were having an internationally known festival of photography. Arles is also the location of the national school of photography in France. There were exhibits all over the city, some free, some requiring admission. We went to the main exhibit hall that was in an old warehouse. I enjoyed see some of the photography, I do have to say some the exhibit were really out there. At a couple, I thought to myself: “What in the h-e-double-toothpicks were they thinking?” Then again, they were juried into an international exhibit. I have never tried!

Arles is a market town. We enjoyed buying cheese, cured meats, and olives directly from the producers. There was also a flea market near the food market. I found a few souvenirs of my trip in that market. 

Pont du Gard

One day, we took a tour on a minibus to the countryside. We went to the Pont du Gard, the ancient aquaduct bridge built in the 1st century AD. It carried water over 30 miles to Nimes. It’s considered the tallest of the Roman aqueduct bridges and one of the best preserved. Nearby was an old house that appears to be occupied by a restaurant. After our stop at Port du Gard, we went to village on a high hill, built there to protect it from attacks.

Camargue

One morning, we boarded a local bus to the seaside resort village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. There we rented bicycles to ride the trail through the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue. The park is part of the Rhone River delta that terminates at the edge of the Mediterranean. It was a warm, sunny day. The trail was flat, the scenery was exquisite. Our destination was cafe located several miles down the path. By the time we reached the cafe, we were hot, tired, and out of water. We drank our fill of water and had a nice leisurely lunch before buying more water and heading back. It was an enjoyable day.

The Camargue is famous for it’s cattle that are used in bullfights. They are left to graze the Camargue and rounded up once a year. They are truly wild animals. The area is also the nesting site for flamingos, we saw quite a few on our journey.

I’ll end with a few scenes from our walks through the old town. I took a lot of my favorite photos in Arles, several that I’ve exhibited over the years, including the three below. 

I’d love to return to Arles with my Traveling Partner. I know she’d enjoy the sights and ambience of this old world city.

Until next week, happy travels!

Tom

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