Friday, October 21, 2011

Trip Report - France 2011 - October 2nd - Arles

After breakfast we left the boat (still docked at Port St. Louis) and got on the bus. The bus would take us to Arles, and the boat would sail up the Rhone without us, and meet us in Arles.

Arles is an ancient city: it has been inhabited by Ligurians, Celts, Greek, and Romans. It was a port for the Phoenicians, and has been invaded by Saracen Muslims, the Franks, and the Vikings. Today the old part of the city is a patchwork of history. Most recently it was the city where the painter Van Gogh produced over 300 works. I find it hard to keep all this history in my head.
Reproduced "Bridge at Arles" - I photoshopped this to make it bluer

The yellow house that Van Gogh made famous is gone, but the Langlois Bridge at Arles has been reconstructed, and the bus stopped so we could visit it. In Arles the driver let us off by the spot where our boat would be docked when it arrived, and we walked through the old town and visited the ruins of the Amphitheatre and the Roman Theater.

Amphitheater at Arles - view from a tower

The Roman Amphitheater in Arles is smaller than the Colosseum in Rome. It was constructed to hold only about 20,000 people, while it is estimated the Colosseum held 45,000 to 55,000.  It is still impressive, even though it has lost its top tier and much of its marble.  During Rome's administration of Arles it was nicknamed  "Little Rome". After the fall of the Empire, around the 5th century, the amphitheater sheltered the much reduced population of the area. Four towers were built to make the Amphitheater into a fortress, and a small town with houses and two chapels filled the interior. Outside the Amphitheater at that time most of the city was deserted and ruined.  Later these buildings were removed but some medieval traces remain.

The Mistral, the Royal Rhone, and the Swiss Pearl

At some point my Vox box (a wireless instrument enabling us to hear the guide more easily) had stopped working and I decided to wait until later to see if it could be fixed. (Turned out both sets of batteries were dead.) Harry and I returned to the dock in time to see our ship, the Mistral, coming in. Here we first witnessed  the phenomenon of boats docked side by side so that you have to walk over the nearer ones to get to the farther ones. There are many cruise boats on this route, and we got to see and compare the other cruise ships ("Hey look, they have cookies in the lobby!")

After lunch we did exploring on our own,  visiting the Thermes de Constantin and meandering down to Boulevard de Lices and around past parts of the old ramparts. We followed part of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. When we got back to the dock the boats had changed position and the sign telling us that had blown over, so we were stumped for a moment, but we found it.

All on board, at 5:30 we left Arles to sail to Avignon. It was our first time to be on the boat while it was sailing, and it was very nice. At Avignon the ship approached the famous bridge and we heard the song "The Bridge of Avignon". After dinner the ship had a pair of gypsy entertainers in the lounge, but I was too tired to stay up. We slept that night looking towards Avignon.
Long view from the boat

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