On Monday morning, I woke up early, sensing that we were moving and sure enough, upon peeking out of the drapes, the world was going by at a very smooth and leisurely pace. The curtains were thrown wide open at that point and I was simply grinning as I knew that the adventure had really begun. We were not moving at any breakneck pace and before we knew it, we had come to a stop and all that I could see was a dock arrangement and Rod surmised that we were in some sort of a holding area for a lock. Sure enough and when it was our turn to enter, we had this view out of our cabin window; some hopeful feathered friends, before sunrise.
This act of sliding into a concrete lock was going to be a big part of our travels, as we went UP the Rhone but this time we made a little side trip down to the farthest reaches open to non sea-going vessels; Arles.
We watched the sun turn the landscape pink and got ourselves showered and ready for the first breakfast aboard, making a right, out our cabin door and down the hall to the dining room. It was full of chatter as we began anticipating our first stop of the trip, in the little town made famous by a certain ginger haired lunatic and his colorful vision of this land of Provence. Good coffee, croissants, fruit, cheese and crudite were my favorite breakfast, well that plus the amazing fresh yogurt prepared onboard in little glass jars. It was a great way to get ready for the walking.
We arrived at about 10 am and were ready to surrender our room keys in exchange for a "boarding pass" and a group number, anxious to join our first local guides, on this, our first walking tour. Each person had their own receiver with an ear-piece that was tuned to the frequency emitted by our guide's transmitter. When we were all tuned in, off we went, to discover Arles. As you can see, old and new coexist.
It was a Monday morning, but it seemed that the people of Arles were just not that interested in any hustle bustle and so that part of the equation was provided by tourists. The wind was howling that day and we got a good idea of how the Mistral, which blows down from the far north can make winter miserable in this region and can cool the stinging heat, in the summer. We were bundled up in layers and as we got into the arena, where the Mistral could not reach us, we all got a little bit sunburned!
This arena has been and is being lovingly restored and is used all summer for a series of festivals and cultural events, which I found to be so thrilling. There are non-lethal bull festivals and operas and all sorts of concerts within these walls.
On we walked, through the windy and narrow streets of this ancient city until we came to this square with a familar piece of architecture.
You can see our guide, there. She reiterated what we began to hear, in the South and that was that because of tourists coming to see their local treasures, educated guides could make a living in the high unemployment areas. We felt less like interlopers and more like welcome guests. The education that we received from this gal with her thick Occidental accent was amazing, as she pointed out all of the places where Van Gogh hung out, recuperated and was tolerated (somewhat). In the April sun, I could begin to understand what the colors were all about and as a Californian, I recognized that light.
We finished our tour of this throughly charming little town center and ambled our way back along the cobblestone streets, through history, on our way back to the waiting boat. Hands into the sanitizer spritz and boarding passes exchanged for room keys, before lunch was served. Salads salads salads and then a main course plus dessert...good thing that we signed up for more walking.
Rod and I had signed up for the optional afternoon tour of the hospital where Van Gogh was kept and where he produced some of the most magnificent paintings that I have "known as long as I have known myself". It was a bus ride past some of the newer and rougher areas of Arles and we discovered that this was the home town of one of my favorite musical acts; The Gypsy Kings...yes, a very large enclave of Roma call Arles home.
We motored out into the country and split the groups up so that not everyone was descending upon the hospital at the same time. Our first stop was at some of the Roman ruins, that are nearby. See that sky? This was a funerary monument, although it was probed with sound or light and was found to be empty...just for show, I guess.
You know, when you walk through a place and begin to recongize the trees and flowers as those things that you have seen in works of art, it is a humbling thing. Van Gogh was shut away in this hospital for the mentally ill and his brother could not afford the very best of care, so he was upstairs in a small room but as he began to paint and the people who ran the sanitarium recognized his talents, he was moved to a room with better light and more air.
We saw the original, over two weeks later, in the D'orsay, but as we walked the gardens of this place, there were copies of these works everywhere.
We scurried up the stairs in the museum portion of this place and found the room where Van Gogh lived and then went down to view the works of art created by the women living in the portion of the hospital still caring for the mentally ill. Art.
It was hard to say goodbye to this place but our busses awaited us and had to get those of us who took advantage of the Extra Enrichement (who would NOT want to see it all?) back to the Viking Europe, with time for a wash and for me to have the joy of finding my suitcase waiting for me in the hallway before dinner. Oh, what a day in the bosom of Provence.