Arles Street Market

post1aWe woke up feeling pretty post1crefreshed and had a slow morning taking our time packing since our train to Marseille didn’t depart until 2 in the afternoon. We finally remembered to get a few quick shots of our basic but comfortablepost1b room. We checked out with Eric, glad to see his bright smile and adorable voice, and left our bags with him to pick up later in the day.

post1eSince it was Wednesday morning, market day in Arles, we headed off to wander through, partly for the experience, and partly looking for souvenirs or tasty consumables to have later. There were loads and loads of beautiful fruits and vegetables, and huge variety of cheeses, spices, and olives, all open to the air. The seafood booth was probably one of favorites post1f(and the stinkiest), with whole fish sprawled out ice. I think there was swordfish and some sort of small looking shark, though I’m not sure if that’s actualy what it was.

There was a booth for everything! Several with multiple varieties of nougat, another with many different kinds of nuts, a watch booth, and jewelry booth, a booth with random junk, post1ga scarf booth, and sweater booth, a general clothing booth, an apron booth, a pottery booth, and olive wood booth… seriously, anything you can imagine, they probably had a booth for. It just kept going on for blocks and blocks and blocks. The streets were filled and we occasionally had to push our way through the dense masses of people when there was a particular popular/discounted booth. It was a pretty fun experience and it was nice to be surrounded by crowds of locals for once, rather than the crowds of tourists we had grown familiar with. Many of the “locals” were immigrants of all different ethnic origins, so that only added to the excitement and depth of the atmosphere.post1l

After wandering through for about an hour and a half, we trekked back to the booths that looked most appealing to us and bought our souvenirs. We settled on two aprons (olives on one and cicadas on the other) and two pouches of lavender from one booth, and small olive wood cutting board and risotto paddle from the olive wood booth. Those decisions were difficult, as I wanted everything, but alas, wood is heavy, large, and expensive.

post1dAfter heading to the ATM and Monoprix, we found we were a bit hungry since we had skipped breakfast, so we headed back the same café we had eaten lunch at yesterday. The same girl who took our order the day before took it again today. She was from Austria and was working in Arles over the summer to improve her French. We ordered gazpacho and post1jsandwiches again as well as bubbly water.  Prior to this trip, I never consumed or enjoyed carbonated water, but I found it refreshing on this trip. It somehow cleansed my palate better and seemed to quench my thirst moreso than regular water. We ate out on the patio and enjoyed a relaxing lunch while people watching and taking in the view of the city and its ancient monuments one last time. Then we headed back to the hotel to pick up our bags and head to the train station. We were glad to have given ourselves plenty of time to get there, as we got a little lost on the way. The map we were post1husing was a tad confusing, but thankfully we figure it out before we’d gone very far. The train station was quiet and we were easily able to find our seats on the post1ktrain. I had planned to journal on the train, but was too exhausted opted to people watch and enjoy the passing scenery. We could tell we were headed to a much different part of Provence, as there were several Arabic people an women with head coverings aboard the train. I was eager to get to the city and see its diversity myself.

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Eating in Arles

post2pWe had eaten a light lunch of gazpacho (for me) and sandwiches (for Jesse) at a small café earlier in the day, but found ourselves quite hungry now and thought it was late enough for dinner (it was about 6pm). We looked through our guide book and picked out one of the recommended places that looked good and headed off. Sadly, we found that it was closed, so we picked out another option from the book and trekked on. Again, we discovered the second post2roption was closed. Somewhat disheartened, we picked out a third and continued on, only discover, yet again, that it too was closed. Feeling upset, hungry, and emotional, we headed back towards the Arena to see what food was available. We spotted a small creperie by the Arena that was open and decided we’d just eat there. We just wanted to eat SOMETHING. Still not quite certain of restaurant customs in France, we awkwardly went inside and asked the employee if we could have a table for two. He responded, “that isn’t a problem,” in a somewhat irritated tone.

post3cSlightly humbled, we walked back out to the patio seating area and found a table. A few minutes later, a server came and brought us a menu to look through. When she came back, we were mostly ready to order and asked for two savory dishes – a pasta and a crepe. She gave us somewhat amused smile and the pointed to a blurb across the top of a menu page and then gestured towards a list. Confused, I tried again, only for the girl, with a slightly condescending expression this time, repeating the same action and then state that only these select items were available until dinner started. I was still confused and asked when dinner started so we could order the other post3jones, and point again to the menu, where in small print it was noted that dinner started at 19:00. It was about 18:15 at the moment. Feeling immensely small (and still hungry), we decided to leave until  dinner and come back later. We felt incredibly awkward and intimidated by the whole situation (the first humbling experience of the trip) and needed to escape to center ourselves. As we walked away, we wondered if this is how Americans with no cultural awareness feel while in Paris – a sense of stupidity and shame that make s you want to hide. I did not like it, but I was glad to have the experience. It is good to be reminded that I am an outsider with much to learn and it’s always nice to have a post3adifferent perspective. The entire situation could’ve been avoided too if I had read more carefully, so in this case it was definitely a case of stupid tourists, though for being a tourist destination, I was a little surprised at the response of the staff.  Everyone else we’d met on the trip had been incredibly helpful.

After making it back to the safety of the hotel room, we flipped through the guidebook again, this time with a new understanding that the restaurants weren’t closed for the day, post3bbut most likely closed until dinner hours of 19:00. We found few on on street that looked good, so at about 18:55, we headed out to go check them out and make our selection based on menu and atmosphere. We ended up opting for the one that looked a little less fancy, Restaurant Le Plaza, and since we were one of the first people there, we were able to get one of the few remaining unreserved tables outside.

Umm, let me just say that I am so glad that we didn’t eat at the crepe restaurant. The food here was amazing! I think it was my favorite meal of the entire trip. Everything was divine and post3emelted in my mouth. We order a menú again, wanting to get the full French cuisine experience. My appetizer was grilled peppers marinated in olive oil with sliced ham and Jesse got a eggplant caviar with Brousse cheese (a soft sheep’s cheese), and a tomato coulis. YUM. Mine was scrumptious, but Jesse’s was definitely the favorite. It tasted like the most perfect noodleless lasagna dish I’d ever tasted. The flavors melded together perfectly and I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s on my list of things to try to recreate once I can find the cheese.

post3dFor our main courses, I got a seared salmon with an amazing leek sauce and Jesse get a traditional bull-steak stew with red camargue rice, a rice that grows in the nearby wetlands of Arles and Provence.

Dinner was, not surprisingly, crème brûlée, the preferred choice over the dark chocolate dessert with a red fruit sauce.

post3hI absolutely love the French dining experience. i really enjoy the the waiters are attentive and helpful but don’t bother you or ask you unnecessary questions or try to make small talk. They do their jobs and that’s it. I feel they also pay more attention to you. We emptied the water carafe at the table, and immediately a server swooped in and whisked it away and before promptly replacing it with a new post3gone. I liked that I could just focus on my company while eating rather than the waiter, whether it be trying to get his/her attention or being interrupted by unnecessary talk.  I think it might have something to do with the fact that the tip is included in the menu post3fprice (and tax!), so they aren’t trying to suck up for a tip. It is definitely pleasant concept, and ideal to me.

Feeling full and happy, we headed back to the hotel, making a pit stop at the cafe we at at for lunch so I could momentarily steal the wifi and listen to the musicians playing beside the beautifully lit arena.

Crypts and Cathedrals of Arles

post2hAfter waiting at least 20 minutes, the sweet clerk at the entrance finally let us down into the crypts. I think they tried to limit the number of people down there at once, partly because the staircase was post2gquite narrow and maybe to keep it from getting too crowded.

The crypts were a lot bigger than I imagined they would be. They were, in fact, huge and we were  impressed. I felt like I was in a man made cave – everything was very dark and damp and there were puddles of water we had to navigate around. Historians are uncertain as to what these crypts were used for, but most were used for storage. Since these are so wet though, they believe it is more likely that they were used as housing for public slaves.

post2jAs I had felt for most of our trip, I was amazed again at how these ancient Roman structures are so intact after several thousand years. It was also so strange to me to be in region with such an ancient history that is so intertwined with the present.

After climbing back up the stairs an back into the bright sunlight, we stopped by to get some gelato at Soleileis, local gelatoria with all natural ingredients and unique flavor combinations. I got a couple different flavors to try, one of which was the fadoli, olive post2goil mixed with nougatine. Jesse got a few other flavors also, so we got a fair sampling and were not disappointed with any of the flavors. Mmmmm. We felt better and refreshed after getting a bump in our blood sugar level from the cool, creamy dessert and headed back to where we’d just come from to explore the St Trophime Church, which was just across from (or on top of?) the ancient crypts.

The smooth curves of the Romanesque style cathedral were a refreshing change from the harsh Gothic style angles we had seen during the first part of our trip. The cloisters made a post2inice, peaceful stroll and also an intriguing architectural study, as they was a mash-up of Gothic style, Romanesque style, and pieces of the old Roman theater (various columns and pieces of art). The roof above the cloisters was incredibly hot due to the lack of shade and it being mid-day, so we didn’t stay up there very long.

On the way back down, we stopped by a temporary art exhibit at the Cathedral. It was a bit shocking to see this particular type of art in an old Church, but perhaps that was part of the post2jartists’ vision and post2qstatements, I am not sure. All I know was it seem horribly ironic to have crude art in the wings of a church. There were pictures of the backsides of nude people, cutouts of nude people sewn into large quilts/tapestries, and a large blown up photo post2kof poop falling out of an elephant’s rear, and these were just a few of the many, many random art pieces decorating the walls. Bizarre, but sort of an interesting surprise and it made smile and I left the church with a spring in my step.post3k

Theater Ruins of Arles

post2oThe ruins of the ancient theater of Arles were just across the street from the Arena. I don’t think it would have been possible to have a theatrical performance occur post2cat the same time as one of the fights in the arena; the maddened roar of an adrenaline filled crowd would have easily drowned out the voices of the actors. We had read that most of what was worth seeing could be seen through the fence, but we went ahead and paid for admission anyway so we could get a closer look. I’m glad we did, as it was enjoyable to see everything up close, but it’s probably true that it would be passable for most individuals. Then again, admission wasn’t too costly and Arles’ economy does seem to be based primarily on tourism, so you might just go ahead and contribute the locals as well as the the preservation of history.

The theater is still being used today, despite thepost2f fact that not much of it is still standing. The original red and blue marble floor is still intact and much of the seating had been replaced with new concrete; the originals that remained has been worn down into undefined slope, making walking around the stadium a teeny bit dangerous for clumsy folks such as myself.  It didn’t take much imagination to see post2athat this had once been and incredible place and had probably put the theater in Orange to shame. There were huge pillars, stones, and fragments of massive columns scattered about the ground. The St. Trophime church nearby had actually come and taken and repurposed some of the stone and smaller, still-intact pillars for use in its construction. The pillars can be see in the cloisters. It seated several thousand more post2dpeople than the Orange theater did had a beautiful red and blue marble floor that still exists today, surprisingly well preserved. Other pieces of the monstrous old theater laid scattered around the plot of land.

There was limited shade at the ruins and we were getting pretty hot, so we found a place to sit under some trees and watched the other people wandering about and smiled as families walked by us and we could hear post2bthe shrieks and cries of laughter as the post2echildren darted about, completely unaffected by the temperature or sun. One particularly cute family sounded and looked as though they were from Italy. Again, Arles is definitely very touristy, mostly in a way I don’t prefer, but it does make it a fun place to post2lpeople watch in and my ears and brain enjoyed hearing all the different languages spewing out and trying to identify and interpret them.

We sat and soaked it up for just a bit longer before reluctantly getting back on our tired feet and heading off to check out the old Roman Crypts. We happily discovered that the entrance was in the beautiful, dark, and cool foyer of the town hall. We enjoyed the cool air while waiting in line, though it was a mixed blessing as it seemed to draw even more attention to our aching feet.

Arena of Arles

ArenaPanorama

We woke up post1crefreshed and headed out the door to find something for breakfast. Vaguely recalling a little bakery we’d passed during the previous days’ exploration and miraculously found it again. Mmm. There were many delicious pastries housed inside, it was difficult to choose which items we wanted to consume that morning. The employee who assisted us spoke about as much English as we did French, so we had fun gesturing at the different nameless items as well as holding up post1fingers and using our very limited French to indicate how many of each we wanted. Jesse even held up his index finger to his thumb to indicate that he wanted a small coffee instead of a large! After being helped, we found a seat outside the shop where we could enjoy our food while people watching. The only pastries I know we got were chocolate filled beignets (amazing!), a chocolate croissant, and some macarons (which we saved to have as a snack later). The names of the other pastries were beyond me. Apparently I need to expand my knowledge of baking! It post1bwas pleasant outside and quiet since of the tourists were not yet out and about; it made people watching quite relaxing.

After Jesse had sipped down the last of his café, we meandered off to check out the old Roman Arena. It was big and beautiful, though after having seen the Orange theater the previous day, it was less impressive than I had hoped. While the theater in Orange had a modern stage, a few speakers, and a roof to protect it from further deterioration, post1fit still looked close to how I imagined it did in its former glory. This ancient amphitheater of Arles also had a few modern additions, though these were less subtle which made it hard to completely connect with and feel like I was experiencing a piece of history. There were metal bleachers, wooden walls on the floor of the Arena, and advertisements plastered around the structure, which was a little bit disappointing, though understandable considering post1gthe Arena is still in use today. Still, it was beautiful and easy to imagine how beautiful it must have been 2000 years ago. With a capacity of 20,000, the energy must have been and intense the excitement wild. It was free, but similar to the theater in Orange, it was set up so that members of different social classes never had to make contact with each other. It was also built with numerous archways and exists so that crowds could quickly exit and fights didn’t break out. Wandering the outer edges of the arena post1ddemonstrated some of the most beautiful and majestic points on the arena. After the slow collapse of the Roman Empire, the Arena was not destroyed (unlike the neighboring theater). Instead, it was transformed into a village where 200 homes, a town square and two chapels were fit inside. They filled in to create both homes and a fortified wall. It remained that way for the next 1200-1300 years. It was fascinating to try to picture. I imagine it smelled horrible and that rodents quickly scurried about from one closely packed house to another. I also think there would’ve been an incredible lack of privacy and sounds and rumors would have quickly passed through the village. A post1efew of the medieval structures still remain and we got to climb up to it. I know I would’ve been terrified to live in one of the homes that once neighbored it, as they would’ve been precariously perched upon the top of  outer edge. The view was incredible and they would’ve gotten some fresh air, but I’m not sure that would be enough to make it worth it.

It was nice to know that the price of my admission ticket is helping to preserve and restore such a beautiful piece of humanity’s past. I love that humanity is so clever and capable of building such masterpieces, and have been for so long. The restoration process is nearly complete and it looks like a post1htedious, stressful process. Not only do they have to worry about creating an exact historical replica of the original stone, but they also have to be very careful to keep the structure from collapsing and not to damage anything else during their construction. It must be painstakingly difficult, but such an honor to be part of.

After a bit of exploration, we post1asat on some stairs in an archway to enjoy our snack of macarons. They. were. amazing. Why do we make such boring sugar cookies when we have these delightful desserts?! They dissolve in your mouth. Mmm. Though, I side with Jesse in that there is a reason macarons are typically very small. The ones we got were too large and thus somewhat sickeningly sweet. A smaller size isdefinitely recommended so that they aren’t quite as overwhelming. After a bit more gaping, we reluctantly exited through the gates and headed across the street to visit the ruins of the neighboring theater of Arles.

Arles

20140818_194631While we waited for our train at the Orange train station, another train shot through at light speed. Jesse had been standing near the edge of the platform when it flew by and it left him a little traumatized… I think images of him losing balance and toppling over into the train tracks and becoming unidentifiable human remains had flashed through his mind.

Anyway, we got to Arles 20140818_163535safely and made the short walk from the train station to the our hotel, Hôtel Régence, where we were greeted by the very kind Eric. He was the sweetest man with a wonderful smile and gentle demeanor.  I wish you could bottle up the energy and personalities like perfume and carry them around with you. Then, when you need a boost of joy, glee, goofiness, post2gcalmness, etc. you could just open up the correct bottle and take a whiff and experience some of that energy. It would be rather nice, plus who doesn’t want to market their personality? 😉

After getting a local map from Eric, we walk to the Arles History museum that is built at the site of the old Roman race track. Unfortunately, most of it has been buried, save for a few spots of the foundation that were dug up. The museum was very nice though. It was arranged very well and had a nice collection that helped me to understand the history and significance of Arles. I like looking atpost2f old stuff and imagining what it was used for, like the giant pot in the picture. I think maybe it was for olive oil, but I can’t remember now. Whatever the purpose, it is one very impressive, very heavy piece of clay. How do you go about making something like that, or firing pottery so huge? I liked post2dthat the museums we went to left so many beautiful, historical pieces in the open rather than locked up behind glass and sensors. It makes the experience so post2imuch more real. I also wanted to share something I thought was somewhat humorous; there was one wall covered with small engraved stone tablets. I was envying the near perfect “handwriting” and craftsmanship when I glanced over to see one one tile that made me chuckle. I guess bad handwriting has always and will always exist!

After spending a couple post2ehours in the museum, we wandered off to do a reverse walk of our guide book’s tour of the Van Gogh sights. It was enjoyable, but my feet felt like they were going to fall off by the end of it. The locations of these two pictures are the subjects of Garden of the Hospital of Arles and Café Terrace at Night, which might be familiar to some. It was a fun way to explore and get to know the town, as many of these sites were in very hidden, off the beaten path areas. Without a good map, I doubt we would have been able to find a few of them, post2kbut I was glad to have gotten a quick rundown of Arles’ layout that quickly. At one point, we passed by a lady stirring a hug skillet of shrimp paella. It looked amazing and the smell reminded me of the Cajun cooking in New Orleans when I had 20140818_174647been there years ago. I could definitely tell the Cajun descended from the French.

Arles was a very intriguing city, and one I find I rather prefer in photos. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Arles, but I found it to be a bit touristy; it is overflowing with tacky tourist shops and booths as well as hundreds of tourists flocking in from the cruises ships that stop by for the afternoon. The city is a bit of a maze, like post2lmost ancient cities, but it felt a bit grimy and unkempt; most buildings appeared a bit dilapidated and there was dog poop littering the streets. It has a beautiful charm in photos, and I can tell why Van Gogh found great inspiration here ~125 years ago, though much of the charm has been lost due to over commercialization. It would be nice if Arles had post2amore of a vision for their sweet town. I talk to some of the employees in various shops they went to, and most of them had to do their personal shopping in neighboring cities, as everything here is catered towards the tourists. I think the city’seconomy is post2solely sustained by tourism. Again though, I did enjoy the city, it just wasn’t what I expected. It was pretty cute and full of surpises though, like random posts painted with eyeballs (Jesse enjoyed these) and yarn bombed trees lining one of the main streets. I think Arles does have a lot of hidden treasures, you just have to look a little further to find them and make sure you get off the tourist roads. We passed one lady making a big skillet of shrimp paella; it smelled amazing and brought me back to the days of

After finishing up our walking tour and successfully post2cnavigating all the doggie doo-doo piles, we stopped at the Monoprix to get some snacks for dinner: tomatoes, carrots, peaches, plums, what I’m going to call French Goat cheese and paprika cheetos (Belin Croustilles Fromage de Chevre), some other treats we picked up in the junk food aisle, and wine. We also finished off some more of our cheese and jamón sandwiches. Come to think of it, that was quite a feast. We may have been just a wee bit hungry when we went to the grocery store. We did have plenty of leftovers to snack on for the next several 20140818_195737days though, if that’s any consolation.

In any case, it was fun and refreshing to eat inside and have a long evening of relaxation. It was our first evening to get back to our hotel before the sun went down and have any time to really just relax and ponder our trip and the things we’d seen. We opted not to set the alarm for the morning too, as we were both completely wiped out and needed some good recovery sleep. That evening was exactly what we needed.

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