A Weekend in Provence: Arles, Les Baux, Avignon
Arles. The train pulls out at 8:15 on a clear, beautiful morning. I'm very comfortable in 15/51, after someone shows me the codes at the station. The sea flashes by on the right, Alps on the left (yes, I'm sitting backwards). I surround myself in white light, safety, peace and joy...then all travelers as well. The temperature is perfect. The ride is smooth. With a transfer in Marseilles, I arrive at Arles by noon...and within minutes am lost. The Tourism Office is closed (what???) I find a pharmacie for directions. The Colusseum is 'fermé' for a private event before the bull fights. An arab guide sneaks me in with my press pass for "un photo".
I make my way down through the jardin to find I have just missed the morning parade and fetes, and the huge market is closing up as well. I take refuge in a church with a fascinating art show, then am lost again, wandering (hot and tired...and hungry) until I find the bus stop (wanting now to just get out of dodge). After waiting, a woman tells me I need to go to la gare for bus 57. There is no way I can walk that far back, but finally a small shuttle bus arrives and takes me there, free. And just as bus 57 is leaving for Les Baux. I ride with women from Chicago and Kansas City, grateful for a translator. They're on a 10-day rush through London and France. I'm exhausted just listening to them. The driver engages me, tells me I speak really good French. I hear that several times on this trip.
Les Baux is a jewel, starting with the woman at the Tourism Office who issues all my press passes and prints out background info for the historic town and its best attractions. The hotel is just across the street, and my room is ready. I drop my backpack...and myself for a few moments, but I haven't eaten yet today, and I'm hungry. It's 3 pm, and the dining is pau until 7, so I walk across the street to Au Porte Mages, where I spend an hour reviving. The restaurant is a haven of sun and shade, olive trees, and sweet service. Plat du jour is grilled lamb, with veggies and frites...and a nice rosé. Afterwards I meander through town, making it up to the top and the Chateau - the film in the little church, the bulwarks and fortifications, walls and views. and everywhere the bauxite.
At 8:15 I make my way to the dining room...and end up with a lovely warm fois gras with salad and pommes et fruits rouge. Then sleep 8 hours!
Carrieres de Lumieres
I didn't know it before, but this show was the reason for my trip! Stunning images, displayed as never before. Uniquely fabulous, it puts you into the mind (and heart) of the artists...and into some future world where art is alive in each of us.
The quarries were dug to extract bauxite and limestone used to build the castle and the town of Les Baux. Carrieres de Lumieres - Quarries of Lights is amazing enough, but the show - Incroyable!
"Klimt and Vienna - a century of gold and colors" showcases 100 years of Viennese painting, with a trip to the heart of the colorful and bright works by Gustav Klimt, his contemporaries, and those he inspired.
Total Area of projections: 7000 m²
Height of projections: 6-14 meters
Running time: 35 minutes
Technical equipment: 100 projectors, 26 speakers ...
Number of projected pictures: 3000
" This show is a work on emotion, to feel what the artist in question wanted to convey with his work. This is why music is so important; the goal is that all the senses are awakened to capture that emotion. My interest is to give the public the opportunity to see art differently."
Culturespaces, producer of the show
"Our mission is to help public institutions to stage their heritage and develop their cultural and touristic attraction. It is also to democratize access to culture and for our children to discover our history and civilization in remarkable cultural sites." Bruno Monnier, CEO
Vive la France!
I enjoy a lovely breakfast at Le Reine Jeanne, looking out over the baux landscapes, then walk to the cave for the show (see above)...and back to check out. E100 for the room, dinner, and breakfast!
Avignon. Catching the 11 am bus, I wind through little back roads with farmhouses, greenhouses, vineyards, orchards, olive groves. This must be the bread basket of France, Europe even. The bus driver navigates his Mercedes Benz and rocks some great American music from Van Morrison to Michael Jackson as we pass rivers and irrigation systems, fields of broccoli and cabbage, apricot orchards, cherries (still!).
The villages each have a 'Credit Agricole' bank...and Roman ruins - a delightful trip, arriving after an hour in Avignon. Entering the wall, I'm just a couple of blocks to another extraordinary Tourism Office, where I'm issued press passes for the Pont d'Avignon and the Palais des Papes. First the Pont, made famous by its memorable song:
Sur le pont d'Avignon
l'on y danse
l'on y danse
Sur le pont d'Avignon l'on y danse tout en ron
I climb up to the bridge and explore, shooting pictures of the bridge, its little church, the Rhone, and views. Then I dance.
After a walk back to the square, I enjoy a salmon grillé, too tired to deal with the moules. Then I hop a little tourist train as a break from all the walking...and to get an overview of Avignon. The Palais des Papes is interesting enough, gothic but claustrophobic and musty, so I don't linger, despite its long history and interesting art and frescoes. The seat of the Christian world in the 14th century, more recently recognized as a World Heritage site, it bears the mark of nine popes who ruled here until Rome took over.
Fatigue overtakes me, and I plunk down at a small café for a Stella then call a taxi to shuttle me to the TVG train station, the new (10-years old) one, outside of town. It's clean and shiny, with good signage, shops, and restaurants. A trio peddle at a small bike stand to recharge their phones. Two young men share the free piano. It's a total bummer we don't do trains (and train stations) like the French! I buy water and a sandwich for the trip home, which due to the TVG is half the time of the trip up. We're off at 19:40, passing by farms and factories (yes, the French still make things). I watch the sunset sprawl across a wide expanse of Provence, heading home. Cannes is the third stop, just two hours later.