September 7, 2013 – Cloudy + Sunny
As a fan of Vincent Van Gogh I had originally planned to stay in Arles instead of Avignon (Starry Night). However, since we only had a limited amount of time in Provence it would’ve been a logistical nightmare if we had stayed in Arles. We were due to depart for the riviera later in the afternoon (~3 PM) so we had an opportunity to visit Arles in the morning. As an added bonus it was Arles’ famous Saturday market that day.
Unfortunately since it was the weekend regional trains were operating at a reduced schedule, and the only train that worked out for us was due to depart Gare d’Avignon at 6:30 AM… so for the first and only time on this trip we were forced to set our alarms and woke up early for a 15 minute train ride.
The train arrived on time and the streets were empty with most locals still asleep. Since we had some time to kill we decided to walk into town instead of waiting for the shuttle bus = a wise decision because it only took us 5 minutes haha (I guess the map wasn’t to scale). Aside from a few city workers unloading crowd control metal barriers (for the market?) and an opened boulangerie, the town was completely silent. With a fresh warm baguette in our hands we embarked on another aimless journey on foot around the town of Arles.
Compared to the cities/towns/villages we had visited previously in France, Arles was slightly dirtier and not as well maintained compared to the rest; streets were often unevenly paved with minor potholes scattered throughout. Despite of minor cosmetic blemishes Arles struck me as a true blue collar city with its own unique flavor, not just another tourism-oriented town. We navigated through crammed streets and alleyways until we reached the center of town: a small Roman coliseum/amphitheatre!
The miniature coliseum was definitely a scaled-down version when compared to the famous coliseum in Rome, but this well-maintained 2-tiered structure was still a behemoth compared to the surrounding residences/shops. Unlike Rome’s Coliseum Arles’ amphitheatre still served as the city’s arena and it continued to host public events… in fact there were promotions for bull fights later that day!
As the sun peaked through the clouds the town slowly awoke from its sleepy stupor and residents began pouring onto the streets. We walked past yet another ancient Roman relic – Arles Roman Theater but it was obvious that its glory days were well behind it as only a few stone columns remained in this open-air theater. Furthermore, these ancient columns were surrounded by modern audio-visual equipments (perhaps for an event in the evening?), and I saw little value of pursuing a decent perspective for photographing this monument.
By about 9:30 AM the entire town was filled with pedestrians and the crowd grew thicker as we approached one of Arles’ main avenue. I was aware that it was Arles’ market day on Saturdays, but I did not expect the market to be of such great scale! (I thought it would be of similar size as the market we attended in Paris). The avenue was off-limits to automobiles and vendors were set up on both sides of the road! Vendors seemed to be organized into specific sections of the market depending on the goods sold… we began our market experience at the produce section filled with a multitude of fresh local fruits and vegetables. We continued down the market for a healthy amount of time (15 minutes?) and we passed various vendors selling produces, meats, cheeses, wines, hot foods, clothing, linens, cheap electronics, all the way to pots and pans. Since we had no intentions of purchasing 10 year old Ricky Martin CDs we decided to double back to the food section.
Once back at the foods section we were dizzied by the vast array of aromas from pizza all the way to paella… which was convenient since it was close to lunch time haha. With our fresh pizza and paella in our hands, we went to a few fruit vendors for some figs and grapes (prices varied quite a bit between vendors so it might be a wise idea to visit a few vendors before buying). We also saw a 5L (which is a little bit over a gallon for you Yankees 🙂 plastic jug of wine for a grand total of….. 10 euros! (you think boxed wines were classy? think again lol!). Needless to say logic (aka my wife) stopped me from purchasing such volume of alcohol. We also saw live rabbits and frogs available for purchase (probably not as pets) and it disturbed J a little bit. With our stomachs growling, we found an empty park bench near a merry-go-round and went to town on our food conquests and life was awesome.
We wondered around town for another hour and encountered many friendly locals who directed us to a photography exhibit that was scattered around town (because I had a DSLR around my neck?). In order to get to one exhibit we had to walk through a local bookstore, and as we walked through a hallway J jumped in shock… apparently the same hallway also led to a spa/sauna and according to J there were a few oversized ladies in the nude! Our time in Arles had to be cut short as we rushed back to the train station for Avignon, and from there we embarked on the next chapter of our honeymoon – The French Riviera!