Arles & Les Baux, hills and steps and steps and hills and stairs

Arles and Les Baux – hills and steps and steps and hills

            Ah, Provence.  Such a wonderful place.  Who knew it had so many hills and steps in it and stairs and hills and steps.  Did I mention stairs?  I and my arthritis are not going to be happy at the end of this trip but oh, the beauty of it makes me do it anyway.

After a good night’s sleep with a good roommate (neither of us snore or at least she wore earplugs so was polite enough not to tell me I snored), we joined the rest of our group, the ones already awake, in the dining room for a good buffet breakfast.  They had three tables set up for our group.  We sat with Alison, our tour leader; she had to leave soon to get ready for the day.

            Our first visit is a walking around the town of Arles to see the old square and the buildings and the Roman history.  The main square has a wonderful fountain and obelisk that has four heads spouting water.  There is the Eglise de St. Trophim on one side of the square and we headed into it to view the cloisters next to it and then into the church as well to view it.  I’m taking this information from http://www.sacred-destinations.com/france/arles-st-trophime  because they can describe it so much better than me but the photos are mine.

“””The Église St-Trophime is a former cathedral and masterpiece of Romanesque art in the Provençal city of Arles, France.

History

St-Trophime was constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries on the site of an 8th-century church dedicated to Saint Stephen. St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr; St. Trophime was an early bishop of Arles. Frederick Barbarossa was crowned king of Arles here in 1178.

The Église St-Trophime, along with other monuments of Arles, was classified a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. The magnificent portal was restored between 1988 and 1995 with the help of public funds and a large donation from the World Monuments Fund in New York.

What to See

West Portal

The Church of Saint Trophime is characteristic of Provençal Romanesque architecture. Overlooking the spacious Place de la République, St-Trophime’s very well preserved 12th-century portal is acclaimed as one of the finest achievements of the southern Romanesque style. Recent restorations have made its quality and beauty even more apparent.

The theme of the portal is the Last Judgment, with chained souls being dragged off to Hell on the right side and the righteous being delivered into the hands of the saints on the left. The tympanum depicts Christ in Majesty surrounded by the symbols of the Evangelists. Other narrative reliefs depict events surrounding the Nativity.

Full-length statues of apostles and saints stand guard on either side of the portal, with the two patron saints of Arles, St. Trophime and St. Stephen, in prominent positions next to the main door. From left to right, the figures are: St. Bartholomew; St. James the Greater; St. Trophime; St. John; St. Peter; [main door]; St. Paul; St. Andrew; St. Stephen (in narrative context, showing his stoning and ascent into heaven); St. James the Lesser; and St. Philip.

Interior

The dark interior has minimal decoration and is not as interesting as the exterior, but is worth a look for its austere symmetry and artworks (including a 4th-century sarcophagus).

Cloisters

More interesting are the Cloisters of St-Trophime that adjoin the church on the southeast. Entrance is through a separate gateway to the right of the church facade. The cloisters are not as attractive as some others in Provence, but only because they are in need of cleaning and restoration (scheduled to begin in late 2008, just after our visit). Most of the stone is black with industrial grime and most of the capitals are patched with protective tape.

The north and east galleries of the cloister are 12th-century Romanesque, while the south and west galleries are late-14th-century Gothic. Pillars alternate with columns, the capitals of which are decorated with fine sculptures of biblical scenes. The pillars bear figures of apostles and saints and between them are narrative reliefs of Christ and the saints.””””

            After spending some time viewing these splendors, we wove our way through the streets and wonderful old houses with shutters and balconies and plants to the old Roman arena.  I was surprised to see bull fighting posters along the way.  I had not realized that bull fighting was still being featured here and you could watch the fights.  I have seen a bull fight years ago in Madrid.  While I must admit I root for the bull, the ancient traditions and the athletic ability and the majesty of the “dance” is a splendid thing to witness.

            We clambered around in the arena for just a bit and then we had some time in the old theatre before we were turned lose to get some lunch before our afternoon tour out of town.  My roommate and I and several other ladies hit the store right across from the arena to get some ceramic guinea hens and lavender and herbs de Provence and linens and any number of things.  The store owner was a happy person that day.

            My roommate has also turned me on to Santons.  Had never heard of them before but they are clay figures, of any size, and molded and hand painted and look like the typical people of Provence doing their typical daily things like baking, picking Lavender, and much more.  We found an entire store dedicated to them which is good because the ones in the hotel were quite expensive.  I have to admit that I know have a very nice collection of Santon figurines and just from that one trip.  I go back to Provence and I’m in danger!

            We grabbed some Panini’s and joined a couple of the other ladies on the trip in the former cloisters of our hotel in the lower floor.  It was semi rainy so at one point, we were eating with our umbrellas over our heads.  But it was nice and cozy and so much better than a restaurant.

            Enough dilly dallying around in Arles now.  We have to go to Les Baux!  OMG.  It said it was one of the most dramatic fortresses in France and they weren’t just pulling your leg here.  It sits in the small mountains, up on the hill top and it was obviously a holiday in France too because the cars were parked and lined up along the road for a mile or more from the site.  Our bus driver was quite the man for managing to get through the maze of curves and hills and cars and caravans and other buses.  He took us up to a site where we could overlook the town of Les Baux and the fortress then managed to drop us at the bottom of the hill that took us up to the city.

            Have you ever noticed that all the best stuff (except scuba diving of course) are always UP!  We were given a time to meet back at the hill to walk down to the bus and set loose on the town.  It was quite crowded, almost as crowded as some of the Christmas markets!  Most of us worked our way through the crowds until we reached the entrance to the fortress where we paid our fee and got into see the fortress.  I chose not to get an audio guide because I don’t really like them, preferring to read the signs or just to get a feel for the place and then read up on it later.  Luckily for the rest of our group because I became separated from them and would not have been able to turn in my audio guide with them later.

            I walked to the far end of the cliff and looked over the valley.  So very lovely.  There were several trebuchets and catapults in the courtyard and as I was picking my way back from the end of the cliff, they were doing either a demonstration of the weapons or a comedy show.  There was a lot of laughter but it was all in French.  I made my way over to the towers and climbed them.  Climbing again!  But of course, the views were even more fantastic.  Unfortunately, I did not have time to climb the last tower.  The views were probably crappy from that tower, I’m sure.  Must have been since I didn’t get to go.

            I headed back into the small town and while there are tons of people wandering about, I can’t see a single one of the 25 ladies that I am traveling with.  I stopped in a hat shop to look for hats as I still need one for Ascot.  He had a nice one that fit me well and was cute so I got it but nothing for Ascot.  Now I am rather nervous that I STILL don’t see a single lady I recognize so I walked out of the town and down the hill to where we were to meet the bus.  No bus, no tour leader, no tour guide so I figured I was ok.  I walked back up the hill – again.  Helped some lady who really wanted a drink but was afraid she’d have to pay to get into the town, and then luckily I saw some of the women I knew.   Happily I joined them.  Unhappily they were in a wonderful ceramic shop.  OMG.  I wanted everything I saw.  And every time one of them picked up something new, I wanted it too!  I am such the consummate tourist!  I support the local economy wherever I go!

            Now we were running out of time so I quickly picked out some items that were awesome and yelled at one of the other ladies to pick me up a couple of the items on her side of the store, please, since I was in line to check out.  Checking out is a bit of a problem because they wrap everything for you, in several layers of paper and sometimes bubble wrap as well.  Very good for the purchase but very bad time wise.  We are out of time so as soon as I checked out, I walked quickly (for me) through the crowded streets until I was out and saw our tour leader checking her watch and waiting for us.  Told her the rest of the ladies were in the checkout line and I went down to our bus and stowed away my goodies which are going to make packing a bit of a challenge as so far I have Santons and ceramics – all big and bulky or heavy.

            Finally we are all back on the bus with our purchases and ready to head to St Paul de Mausole which is where Van Gogh stayed for a while, a couple of years I think, and painted a lot (it had lavender fields out in the garden but the lavender isn’t in bloom yet).  This was a lovely small place where one could retreat and be quite well looked after and rest your soul for a while which apparently Van Gogh did.  There were reproductions of many of his paintings on the grounds.

            We didn’t spend a long time there but headed back to Arles where we were splitting up for dinner as it is hard for restaurants to handle the whole group of us.  I was going to a restaurant with Alison, our tour guide, and seven other ladies.  We were the furthest away from our hotel so we waited in the main square while Alison got the other groups into the right places.

            We had a very lovely meal albeit it was one of those meals where you sit and wait between courses for about ½ hour or so.  In all, it took us 3 hours for the meals and that’s just too long for me.  I’ve never been a social eater.  I was so tired of sitting and my legs were so tired of walking and climbing that I could have fallen asleep in my plate.  Finally a few of us said we wanted to go back to the hotel and the bill was brought and split unevenly, of course, as I had one glass of wine but helped pay for all the bottles that were drunk.  That’s ok.  I get mine back in eating all the bread I can – ha ha ha ha!

             Met one of the other groups on their way back to the hotel as well and then we all turned in for another good night’s sleep for a wonderful day in Provence.

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