Provence 2: Arles

This was SUCH a good day.

As I had done in Italy a couple of weeks before, I began my France trip with an acclimatising day off in a small city. I had chosen Arles simply because it was where Vincent van Gogh had done some of his best work and that was good enough for me.

My AirBnB host, the last English-speaker I would meet for a whole week as it turned out, was a warm and loving half-Brazilian lady who fed me coffee & madeleines and traced out her favourite route around the city on a map before I’d even seen my room. There is something irresistible, I find, about a host who is so eager to get to know you that they dispense with the usual order of business and welcome you from the heart. Those are the people I remember most fondly.

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How long would it take to eat that basket of cashews? Like a day?

But sappiness aside, let’s go to the market. Arles has two market days, the big one on Sundays, and the ‘little’ one on Wednesdays. A number of people had told me it was a shame that I’d be missing the big market. It must be monstrous – I can’t even imagine – because I spent probably an hour wandering around the ‘little’ market and never did find the end of it. I gave up once I saw that I’d finally run out of food stalls and that I now faced roughly 8 million tables of dubiously-sourced housewares stretching off to the horizon.

The market was great, though, and full of delicious food. I stocked up on calories to bring on my Arles-Aix walk (tune in next time!): lovely olives, sausage, cashews, veggies… I also got an enormous seafood paella for lunch, full of mussels and shrimp and scallops, and sat by the Rhône dribbling it all down my front. How on earth does one preserve dignity while eating something like this? All these French people around me were so cool with their cigarettes and coffees and skinny jeans, and there I was with shrimp legs and bits of rice stuck to my chin, delicately rifling through my bag for more napkins with the two fingers that weren’t yet sticky from dissecting sea creatures on the fly.

I finished up, deposited my goodies at home and hosed myself down, then headed out for a walk around town. A guide to van Gogh’s Arles locations supplied by my host kept me occupied for hours.

 

 

 

SO COOL! Isn’t it so cool?? And I got to spend all that time fangirling without having to waste a beautiful sunny day inside a stuffy museum.

During my walk, I also swung by the Roman amphitheatre (though I was too cheap, as usual, to buy an admission ticket) and a lovely old church (hm…12th century?) across the way.

It was all so beautiful. You know how most of van Gogh’s work from this period features yellow so prominently? I get why now. The sunlight here is golden. All day long. And everything it touches gleams. Even the pale old limestone buildings emanate a creamy yellow glow in the sunshine that my camera just couldn’t capture, but Vincent van Gogh knew what was up. Things really do look like that in Provence.

So it might seem a shame that I then ducked out of the sunshine and into the damp gloom of the cryptoportiques. I regret nothing. This is the creepiest place I’ve ever been, even creepier than that time I saw a ghost in England. It’s also much cheaper to get into than the other Roman ruins in Arles.

This was essentially the basement of the city’s old Roman forum, a place to stash surplus goods such as slaves. It’s dark and sprawling, scattered with broken bits of architecture, and there is a constant eerie dripping noise. The walls are slimy. I was the only person down there for about half an hour, scared shitless the entire time. 10/10, would go back with a Ouija board.

I stumbled back into the late-afternoon sun and decided to cleanse my soul with a visit to one last old church, in the city’s main square. I marvelled some more at the way the light looks here, and smugly watched an older couple get chastised by a volunteer for being too rowdy. Damn grown-ups. My day ended with a burger & wine, a trip to Monoprix to buy a map, and an early bedtime.

Wow what a day that was, though. It was jam-packed and every moment was wonderful. Arles is awfully easy on the eyes, full of little wonders to discover, not overly touristy…Oh I loved it so much.

And tomorrow I would turn my back on it and go for another walk.

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In Canadian French, ‘bonne fête’ means ‘happy birthday’. I like to think that they’re just wishing everyone a blanket happy birthday here.
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