12 July, 2014

Day 9: 1 Museum + 4 Monuments

We got up early. Not ridiculously early, but pretty early. The goal was to get to Arles at a reasonable hour.I think we didn't wake up as early as we'd planned. For whatever reason, we decided to just go right on with the drive to Arles, and deal with coffee and breakfast when we got there. I don't think we'd eaten or drank anything that morning, and we were, or at least, I was a little tired. It's probably not a good idea for me to take on a new place, and a commute to said new place with no food or coffee. Lesson, perhaps.

We drove to Arles, and it was a reasonably easy drive. I think we might have taken mostly back roads and maybe one section of the "A" highways that charge a toll. But we weren't on it for long. Then we were in Arles, and needed to find a place to park. We'd read about some parking lot near the huge street market that happens twice a week (Saturday and Wednesday), and figured we'd park in that garage, even though it was not cheap - like 15 Euro for the day. On the way, we encountered a lot that seemed like it was free. Lots of cars, lots of empty spaces, and no meters or machines of any sort. A few kind of shady people, but not very. We didn't really know exactly how far it was from our destination, but it might have worked. After we stopped in a space, we had a brief conference as to whether this seemed like a legitimate spot. I think Allie was trying to prevent me from making a bad choice, and regretting it later, so she thought maybe we should keep looking. She was mostly just reading my apprehension, I think. So we left, and kept looking, and then ended up, again, in the maze of streets of an old city, with narrow ways, and unexpected one-way streets, with the GPS lying to us about what was a one-way street and what was not. At one point, we were on the road that circled the Arena, and I was, of course, freaking out, because there were no spaces, and I didn't know if we were even going the right way, and I felt like an idiot, and that I should have parked in the previous place. I had become generally unpleasant to be around. This fiasco lasted maybe 15 minutes, until, after driving around in all sorts of circles, we found a perfect, free street parking space which turned out to be only 3-4 blocks from the market that we wanted. Allie was probably afraid to even speak to me at this point, since my freak out had fouled the air.

In any case, we made it to the market, and we looked at a few of the stands, but then decided to divert to a coffee shop along the street and take care of the first necessity, which was coffee. We sat for a little while, had the coffee, and the moods mellowed, and improved. The girl who worked there was really nice to us. Then we used the restroom, and made our way out to the street market. There were tons of stands, all along the street in multiple rows, and it was a mix of meats, produce, cheese, cooked foods, jarred foods, you name it. We started with Sacristain, which were actually better than the ones from the bakery near where we were staying.

There were so many things to potentially try, potentially buy, it was actually quite overwhelming. In those situations, I am prone to try and buy nothing, which is unfortunate. This, of course, can be resolved by a feisty vendor who offers you free samples before you can even think to say "Merci, mais non." And that's what happened at a stand that was selling tapenades and spreads of various sorts. She offered a sample. Before I even finished the sample, she offered another one. And another. The samples kept coming. Then Allie finally realized I had not kept up with her, and came back to join me. The woman began giving Allie samples too. By the 8th or 9th sample, I had pretty much decided "I think I need to buy something from her" even though I knew this would mean needing to transport a glass jar of whatever back in my luggage. I ended up buying the last one I tasted, which was some sort of... you know? I don't even know what it was. It's orange. I don't remember what it had in it. I am sure it was good. That's good sales, I guess.

Further down the way, I tried some cheese samples. The salesman greeted me in French and I replied (in French). I was tasting the cheese. He asked me another question in French, and I had no idea what he said, even though I kind of did know what he said. What he said, turns out, was "Ou habitez-vous?" But I wasn't expecting that question, so I kind of shook my head in confusion. "Where are you from?" he said, and then I felt stupid for not being able to respond to a question I learned in my first year of French class. But there's the element of expectation. I was ready for a question about cheese. Not about where I was from. A few times during the trip, I let myself get a little down about these missed connections, and gaps in my ability to recall, respond, react, adjust, etc. It makes me feel even more inadequate in the foreign culture than I actually am, which is already pretty weak. But I should let it go.

So I bought a peach at another place. It was a donut peach. It cost about 20 cents. It was great. We wandered, and wandered, and looked at everything. So much to look at. After much strolling and wandering, we finally made our way to the previously identified Tourism Office, because we knew we'd want a map or information, or to purchase tickets to some attractions. There were a number of attractions worth seeing in Arles, so we decided to get one of these special passes. It was called a Passporte ticket, and it would offer us access to 1 Museum + 4 Monuments of our choice. There are 3-4 museums and maybe 7-8 monuments to choose. It wasn't too difficult for us to decide what we wanted to see. There was an Archaeology Museum that had all sorts of history of the Roman times, including artifacts that we wanted to see. Then we'd see the Arena, because how can you not? And something called the "Cryptoporticos" which was an underground thing that used to not be underground until people built on top of it. And the Baths of Constantine (seemed interesting enough). And a cemetery that seemed like it could be interesting, from a long time ago. A long list of things to do, and a full day to do them.

We decided we'd go to the museum first, passing through the rest of the street market that we hadn't already seen. It was mostly clothing and other non-food goods at the other end of the market. Some decent stuff, but a lot of garbage like you'd find at any market anywhere. To get to this museum, we had to snake our way under a highway, near a river (the Rhone), and then near large fields to where the museum stands, kind of isolated from the Old Town.

It was really hot outside. I mean, really, really hot. And when we walked near the river, we got the French Sewage odor that one occasionally encounters. Not pleasant. Not pleasant at all. But we survived it, and survived the extreme heat, and made it to the wonderfully air-conditioned museum. The museum is a very modern building, fitting in no way into the character of a city like Arles, but I guess it's okay because it's out of the way a bit. It apparently sits on the land that was once occupied by the place where chariot races were run. The museum had very nice graphics and narrative about artifacts dating back even further than Roman times. This was all written in French, so I tried to translate some of it, but it was mostly spotty understanding that I was able to gather from it. There were amazing models of parts of the city, including the Arena. When we first entered, the museum gave the impression that it was sparse, and maybe not the greatest, but it turns out to be a lot of stuff, even in very few rooms, and even with lots of open space. One of the highlights was some sort of barge that was used to transport concrete, which had sunk into the Rhone. There's a whole story about it in National Geographic. This boat sank in the 1st century A.D. That's pretty freaking amazing, and it alone was worth coming to the museum, not to mention all the other cool stuff that was there. Plus, the air-conditioned building.

To make our way to the Arena, our next stop, there were any number of routes we could take, including directly along the river, most of the way there. We started on the river route, but it became boring quickly, so we cut into the narrow streets of the town. It was fairly deserted at this time, due to the heat of the afternoon. Things were pretty. The buildings were pretty. There was laundry hanging in windows. There were pretty shutters. That's a theme of Provence is the pretty colored shutters. When we got close to the Arena, we saw a person with a few boxes of photos sitting on a table. They were all old photos that others had abandoned, and now they were for sale in a box, for one Euro a piece. Some were moderately old, others were very old. There were some great pictures, and Allie was fascinated by it. She decided to purchase a few and spent 10 minutes or so looking at them to find the perfect pictures. Then we went inside and realized it was a photography gallery of sorts. There were some really amazing enlarged photos of really beautiful places and people for really high prices. We could not buy those. A beautiful naked woman in French style for 800 Euro. It was that kind of place. So we left with our 1 Euro photos, and started walking down the final narrow pathway leading to the Arena, now in our field of view. We decided to sit in the shade of this narrow alley and eat some bread and cheese that we had wisely brought along with us, and drink all of the water we had with us. And then we made our way into the Arena.

There's not really that much to say about the Arena. It's impressive, of course. And it's pretty much what you'd expect from photos. I don't know that I could get a big "rush" from visiting half a dozen different Arenas unless I was either an extreme Roman architecture expert, an architect, or autistic. It was hot when we were in the sun, and cool when we were in the tunnels within. So, stands to reason, the tunnels within were more pleasant. But we made our way around the grounds, and even went up to one of the towers that were built into it, and looked at the amazing view from this height. The sun was sapping our energy, but we were doing alright, I guess.

We walked to the Baths of Constantine. They're pretty badly ruined. It's ruins, yes. I expect that. But it's sort of vague as to what it might have been like back then. We spent maybe 20 minutes there, not worrying too much about it, since it's one of the 4 monuments we get to see, and we already felt like we had our money's worth, whatever the money was, which I can't recall. On the way to the baths, we stopped in a Moroccan leather store, and saw some nice goods. The sales person was kind of pushy and was trying to cleverly sell us on his wares, which he probably didn't realize was not going to work with people like us. But he was entertaining, and then he told me I was a very lucky man to have such a woman, and asked if Allie had a sister. I guess that's a compliment, albeit a kind of skeevy one.

After the baths, we needed to find our way to these Cryptoporticos, which are essentially underground pillars that used to be above ground, and it's now just sort of a dank, dark ruin, though reasonably well-preserved underground. These are entered through the basement of a fancy Hotel Ville. We were not sure if we'd be able to easily find it, but we actually ended up navigating right into it, and arriving at it almost before we knew we were there. In fact, we were there, and discovered it by looking at the map and seeing that the dot of our destination was on top of the dot of our current location. Lucky. There was a couple walking down the street. A tall black man in an orange suit with a top hat and a feather, and a white woman decked to the nines in fancy dress and heels, looking like famous people, walking around near us. We observed them for a bit, and admired their style and attitude. Then we saw a big wedding that was just getting out from the hotel where it must have occurred. We took photos. There was a professional wedding photographer also taking photos. We made eye contact and smiled. A man accidentally stepped on the brides tails. A child laughed. And then the wedding party dispersed. We entered the hotel and went into the cryptoporticos, down many stairs. There was a German-speaking family with two young children near us. The younger child didn't stop making noise the entire time, and they were near us almost the entire time. I don't understand why this would be interesting for a child of 3 years old, and it disrupted what, for us, might have been a kind of peaceful and cool place. We wandered off down a side path, gaining solitude. It was darker. We both stepped in a giant underground puddle and got our shoes and/or feet wet. We wandered some more. It was reasonably interesting but, again, the big attraction was probably the cool air. Alas, we'd seen all of the underground ruin that could be seen, and we made our way back up and out of the fancy hotel that hides this "monument" as it is.

One more monument to go, and that was to be the Necropole/Cemetery/Church. It's a bit across town, but not entirely out of the direction of our car. We saw the ugly parking garage that we didn't park in. We people-watched on the way there. The cemetery was supposedly a place where Van Gogh walked and painted. It's not traditional. And it's mostly in ruins. There are some very old looking semi-ruins, and there are many sarcophagi lining the sides of one long aisle that goes for about a 5-10 minute walk. They're all in ruins, to varying degree, with none appearing to house anything anymore. But they were old graves. Stories about their history I have read and forgotten. At the end of the path is a decent sized church that is a mixture of stone and more recent constructions. It was originally a very old church, and then it was redone and expanded in waves during the renaissance years. It was probably the highlight of this location and, again, it was cool inside, so we liked it.

Having seen our 1 museum + 4 monuments, we walked back to our car, glad to find it without a ticket, and then drove back to St. Remy uneventfully.

We wandered to some shops, went to the grocery store again for some supplies, and returned home after a brief stop at a really neat little wine shop where I bought a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet, a variety of the general region (Languedoc, to be precise) that I was familiar with from back home.

Back at "home" we relaxed, I did yoga, we had a dinner of pasta, bolognese sauce, zucchini, and more of the Rose wine (saving the new wine for another day).

I did my writing, and that was a night. A long day. Lots of sights. Lots of sun.


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