Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Arles - just pretend you are gargling and leave off the S

April 16

Today we made the longer trip to Arles.  We drove some lovely roads through the country side, past many of those strange apple groves – we’ve begun to feel sorry for apple trees that aren’t allowed to grow naturally – and then down a long stretch of road lined with plane trees.  These trees look a lot like sycamores unless they are pollarded.  This is a pruning process that creates great big knots at the end of a branch.  We have seen pollarded plane trees mostly in towns – apparently, the young branches were originally used for fodder or for fuel.  In any case, they are a feature in most towns around this area.  Kathy says they make her think of Tolkien’s ents and they do look like they could reach down and clobber you. J

Arles is a lovely city located just below where the Durance River rejoins the Rhone, having split off somewhere around Avignon.  The Roman amphitheater is in very good condition and is used for French bullfights.  These are not at all like Spanish ones, more like teasing the bull and running away.  Our host tells us that it is the bulls that become the star athletes with famous names and posters announcing when they will be fighting.  I wonder who negotiates their contracts?  And what does a famous bull do with all the money he makes?

We couldn’t decide what to see first so we sat down for a cup of coffee.  Lee went to use the WC and met a man from near Orleans.  We had a lovely chat before taking off down Rue du Voltaire in search of the Van Gogh “easels” which are located at points around town where he painted.  Sigh, we found two only.  But we did some great shopping!  Even Lee shopped; he bought a hat to keep the sun off his head and, naturally, made friends with the shop owners.  Another delightful chat ensued and we all made friends with Corteau, the labrador who looks after the shop.

We walked some more, discovered a visiting circus and the Rhone.  Then we headed back into town to find lunch.  The first place we tried, recommended by the Rick Steves book, was not open on Tuesdays.  So we went around the corner to a sidewalk café and had another fabulous meal!  Each of us had a different quiche with salad (all salads here are dressed just with olive oil and maybe a little salt) and then we had ice cream or sorbet.  Apparently, it is now warm enough to make it.  We had been told several times before now that it was not time.  I suppose when you make your own, you wait until the demand is greater. 

The wine we had at lunch was so good, we crossed the Rhone to find a shop that sold it.  While our café owner knew about them, they had never heard of the café.  We got a few reds, too, one of which wasn’t all that good.  And then Kathy drove us home with a few stops to take pictures of the tree-lined road, the sandstone wall-lined road and something else I have forgotten.  We are always on the lookout for a good picture.

We have been here a week and the snow on top of Mont Ventoux decreases by the hour.  We might see if the mountain is open and go back before we leave; that is, if there is time.

Today, the 17th, Bev, Lee and Kathy have gone of to the Gorges du Verdon, the Grand Canyon of Europe.  It is 2300 feet deep and many miles long.  And the road along the gorge is said to be one of the most treacherous in Provence; hence, I am not with them – heights and narrow, windy roads not being on my list of fun things to do.

So this is my day off.  Laundry, reading and a nap are in the offing.  The weather is once again simply beautiful with cloud-free blue skies and a nice breeze coming in the windows.  Someone is operating a jackhammer not too far away so it is not completely quiet but I have heard many birds calling back and forth.  We have cuckoos and magpies and really mournful mourning doves.  There is also a cat who wanders by occasionally but is not the least bit interested in greeting the strangers.  Must be a female….

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