Everyday should start with champagne. My new motto, at least when on vacation.
I took a river boat trip from Avignon to Arles today leaving at 11:30 with lunch as we cruised drown the Rhone River. The scenery was actually quite boring for the greater part of the ride but I met some new friends and chatted. We landed in Arles at 2:00pm, the distance isn’t too far but we go through a large and deep lock which takes a long time and is fascinating. I got a good view of Le pont Saint Bénezet of the famous French children’s song, and we passed a couple of castles in the distance along the way.
I was in Arles in April 1968 on a school trip from Switzerland. The bus trip was from Lausanne to the south of Spain and back and I turned 19 on that trip. One of our stops was to Arles and I remember it well because the huge amphitheater was my first look at anything built by the ancient Romans. I was also fascinated by the still standing cafe from Van Gogh’s ‘Cafe de Nuit’ painting that looked just like the painting. I, and my school mates, sat in the cafe drinking a coke and thinking of crazy Van Gogh.
Now, 45 years later, it all looks the same. The town of Arles, the amphitheater, the cafe – talk about déjà vu.
The boat let us off at the dock with a map and a time to return to the boat. The centers in these old French towns a relatively small and it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. Everything is fairly compact and although the streets are not in a grid it’s fairly simple to follow a map. I wandered around the amphitheater, it’s so beautiful because of the color of the stone and the magnificent vaulted arches. Most of the original seating has been replaced by wood to hold the crowds that come for the bullfights. The amphitheater has seen hard times over the millennia but it’s incredible what still remains. Wouldn’t the Romans have been shocked to know the amphitheater would last for 2000 years in a world with planes flying over it, tourist walking around it with smart phones, and even satelites looking down over Arles from space!
The facades of the buildings in all these Provence towns have lasted for centuries and people have renovated the inside to live. The buildings are old but sturdy so other than adding the modern conveniences people are living in buildings dating back hundred’s of years.
There are town squares, usually with a church and the Hotel de ville (town hall), and lots of cafés.
When it’s time to return to the boat I have no trouble retracing my steps and as I get to the dock I see a bunch of old guys playing pétanque in the park. Classic!
Fortunately I have a few minutes to watch, I wish I had the nerve, and the time, to play a round. I was pretty good at Bocce.
On the ride back in the boat I met another couple who were from Minnesota. John and Betty are traveling in Europe for five weeks taking trains so John doesn’t have to drive. They told me a fascinating story about his mother who after World War II adopted a family from Belgium. Apparently there was a program where Americans could adopt a family from a war-torn area and send them goods they couldn’t get in Europe at that time. The two families have kept in contact for 55 years and have become quite close. Now three generations have visited back and forth? John and Betty are ending their European trip spending the last week with the Belgian family.
Only two days left then the journey home. Tomorrow it’s train the Aix en Provence.