Saturday, March 21, 2009


Arles is a quick 20 minute train ride from Avignon, but unfortunately the train times were kind of annoying, so I still had to get up kind of early for a 9:45 train. Blah.

And even more blah was the fact that I arrived to a major rain storm, North of France style. This majorly messed up my plans to walk everywhere. Stupidly enough I decided to tough it out and walk to the Ancient Arles Museum, which is a good 30 minute walk from th center of town. I could have just taken the bus, but for whatever reason decided that getting totally drenched in torential rains would be a better idea.

Some days I don't get high points for logical decisions.

Arles contained one of the highlights of my trip, seeing the church of Saint Trophime and its cloister. St Trophime is actually the first purely Romanesque architectural style church that I've visited, and I was just fascinated by how different it is to be in a church that has almost no windows, how dark it is, and how your eyes are consistently drawn down the long, narrow nave to the choir, where all the action would be taking place. I'll spare you all the nerdy art history details, but basically it's totally different than being in Notre Dame in Paris, or the cathedrals in Reims, Strasbourg, and Amiens.

Here's the faƧcade of St Trophime:

Arles is one of those adorable towns that people dream about visiting in Provence: brightly colored houses and shutters, tiny, romantic cobblestone streets that time seems to have forgotten:

Of course what the tourists don't think about is that those tiny little streets are impossible to follow. Arles is not set out on anything that might even remotely resemble a grid, streets go every which way, and it is very easy to get lost, as I did several times. I very much enjoyed getting lost on purpose when I was just wandering around the streets to admire the town, but when I was trying to find my way back to a restaurant at night, I did not appreciate the fact that straight lines apparently don't exist in the magical Provence. The streets are all tiny and crammed together, there isn't really a major commercial thoroughfare, it's all just kind of jammed together. Cute for wandering, not cute if you have a specific destination in mind.
Arles also has a bunch of Roman ruins, which are fun, but nothing compared to the real thing in Rome. I love ancient Rome, I ADORED Rome, but I found the Arles stuff to be a poor substitute for the real thing. Oh well. Fun to visit anyway.


Monique said...

Did you make it out to Orange and see the old coliseum?!

I went there around Easter last year with my dad.... my whole life has been tinted through the world view of Provence, as my family still lives in Brignoles about an hour from Toulon (like way back relatives). You talking about the Mistral and all the little Provencal cities, wineries, etc. brings me back :)

Not sure if you ever made it east, but the southeast was such a fun region!

shannon said...

Straight roads don't really exist in old towns in Provence because of the Mistral. The winding roads helped give some relief from the high winds. Haven't been to Arles but I have studied its ruins. It's a perfect exam of a Roman constructed town that still exists today with all the ruins. A lot of the ones in Aix are now gone.

au soleil levant said...

Monique - I didn't make it to Orange, but I did spend the last two days of vacation in Nice, photos to come! How cool that your family has such strong ties to Provence.

Shannon - that's very interesting that the Mistral influenced building styles in Provence. I'm sure you know that they still use the ancient amphitheater for bull fights. It's in the middle of a massive restoration project, they are making it look like it was back when it was brand new.

shannon said...

Aix is famous for its winding streets in the medieval part of town because of the wind. I got turned around so many times during my first month living there. Now, I know them like the back of my hand, but at first, I'd end up right back where I started.