Category Archives: arles

Arles for Easter

Rain in Arles.

Rain in Arles.

I’m officially finished teaching! It was such a relief to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the last time yesterday. I got some odd presents from my students, including a box with a student’s picture in it, an origami fortune teller with nothing written inside it, and a somewhat creepy watercolor of an elf. A student was nice enough to give me a bouquet of muguet (lily of the valley), which is what you traditionally give to people on May 1 in France to wish them good luck.

Continuing with my travel posting, on Easter my parents and I took the train down to Provence again to visit Arles. I though that Easter would be a slow day and purposefully picked a more touristy place, but I was unprepared for the massive crowd we found in Arles. Apparently, the Feria de Pâques was taking place, a four-day bullfighting festival mostly centered around the Arènes. This was great because far from being dead like I expected, the city was full of music, people, food, and performers.

Arles pig with a rose in its mouth.

Arles pig with a rose in its mouth.

We first got coffee at a cafe and listened to competing bands playing Spanish music and then made our way to the tourism office. I’d seen Arles when my friend Randall was visiting, so I had a general idea of the city and this time added on even more Vincent van Gogh sites. Of all the towns and cities I’ve visited in France, I think Arles best encapsulates the provençal “je ne sais quoi.” It has the cobblestone streets with colorful window shutters, calissons in every shop window, santons on every corner, and of course the Roman monuments. We couldn’t go in the Arènes or other sites due to it being Easter, but that left plenty of time for quality wandering.

Mill featured in van Goghs painting The Old Mill. Not quite as he saw it...

Mill featured in van Gogh's painting "The Old Mill." Not quite as he saw it...

I introduced my parents to the European street kebab for lunch and then we saw almost all of the van Gogh sites in Arles. New for me was Les Alyscamps, a Roman cemetery painted a few times by van Gogh and also by his frenemy, Gaugin. We also took a walk a little out of the center of town to see the mill van Gogh painted in “Le Vieux Moulin” (“The Old Mill”). The old mill isn’t exactly being kept up to tourism standards and was actually in a depressingly bad state, but there seemed to be renovations in process. I wonder if van Gogh would like modern-day Arles. It seems like there would be too many people around now and definitely too many motorbikes ruining the picturesque views. Maybe he would live somewhere like Montana.

Bridge painted by van Gogh in Le Pont de Trinquetaille.

Bridge painted by van Gogh in "Le Pont de Trinquetaille."

We also saw the bridge painted by van Gogh in “Le Pont de Trinquetaille,” although only the part on the right seems the same from the picture. I have no historical reference, but I would bet something happened to the bridge in World War II involving explosives. I know it is not good to make up history, yet my time in Europe has taught me that the Allies and Axis alike were experts at missing military sites and destroying nightclubs, churches, and cultural monuments. Van Gogh’s studio, the Yellow House, was a victim in Arles, although we were able to see where it stood.

Horses getting dressed up in costumes.

Horses getting dressed up in costumes.

The only downside of the day was it rained constantly, forcing the city to cancel a lot of the festivities like the parade. However, we did walk by horses that were getting dressed in some costumes and the bands continued to march around town through the downpour. I really need to get a new umbrella when I get home because mine just gets worse and worse. It’s pretty much half an umbrella now and the slightest gust of wind flips it inside out. I refuse to buy a new one in France, though, as I don’t want a single more thing in my suitcase that is not necessary.

A street performer in the Place de la République.

A street performer in the Place de la République.

I wasn’t able to convince my parents to try Ricard, a yellow star anise-flavored pastis liquer made in Marseille and favored by Frenchmen over the age of 50 everywhere, but I had a glass when we took shelter from the rain. Its very popular in Provence and started to be produced in the early 1900s when absinthe was banned, basically manufacturing the illegal drink without the wormwood. It’s a little different now and definitely an acquired taste. After more street wandering, we stumbled upon a street juggler in one of the Places. Being that he was about the only act still going in the rain, he had a huge crowd and it was obvious that his nerves were getting to him. Oddly, the more things he dropped the more money people put in his hat. I guess sympathy gets you more reward than admiration, sometimes.

Crowd and bands in front of the Arènes.

Crowd and bands in front of the Arènes.

Before getting the train back to Valence, we stopped by the Arènes to see all the bands playing outside before the next bullfight. I’d read that Easter was the only time of the year they killed the bull in the Arles fights, so it wasn’t something I particularly wanted to see. Still, the festivities around it were great and at times the music and large dishes of paella all over town made me feel like I was in Spain instead of France.


A very provencal street in Arles.

A very provençal street in Arles.

The second week of February break, my friend Randall, who is an English assistant in Bordeaux and also studied in Clermont-Ferrand the same semester as me, came to visit Valence. The first day he was visiting we decided to take the train down to Provence and see Arles, formerly a major Roman city and probably best known now as inspiration for Vincent van Gogh.

Les Arenes dArles.

Les Arènes d'Arles.

The biggest monument in the city is les Arènes d’Arles, a Roman amphitheater built in 80 AD. While it once was home to gladiator fights and then later got covered in houses, it has  been restored and hosts bullfights. I’m not much for bullfights; I don’t think the bull is ever really given a fair chance and it seems more like a formalized slaughter. But, the amphitheater is very cool and although there was no historical information in the monument, it was fun to walk through it and climb to the top for a view of the city.


Inside Les Arènes d'Arles.

Les Arènes d’Arles was also the first of several van Gogh sites on our visit. He painted a crowd in the amphitheater at a bullfight in his piece  Les Arènes. Some people think that van Gogh got the idea to cut his ear off from the bullfights, where the bull ultimately has its ear cut off after the bullfighter is victorious. Apparently, van Gogh did it only weeks after seeing a bullfight, after in a way being defeated by Gaugin. But correlation is not causation, right?

LEspace van Gogh.

L'Espace van Gogh.

We got a map from the tourism office, but we mostly wandered around. Arles has many picturesque streets and for the first time in a long time, the sun was shining and it was warm in France. The next attraction we stumbled upon was l’Espace van Gogh, which was the hospital where van Gogh was taking after he had a fight with Paul Gaugin (with whom he was living) and cut off his ear. While he was in the hospital, he painted this courtyard in a piece called The Courtyard of the Hospital in Arles. The “Yellow House” where van Gogh had his studio during his year in Arles was destroyed in WWII from bombing.

Cafe on the Place du Forum.

Cafe on the Place du Forum.

Another van Gogh site was the Cafe on the Place du Forum, which he painted in Cafe Terrace at Night. The Place du Forum is named after the Roman forum that used to stand there and a couple pillars from the original structure still remain. Being that it’s not really the tourism season, the Cafe (now called the Cafe Van Gogh) was closed, which is why there is absolutely no one there in this picture. Interesting that Arles loves van Gogh so much now, but in 1889 there was actually a petition circulated in the town to get him evicted. He went to an asylum in nearby St-Rémy later that year.

Obelisk in Arles.

Roman obelisk in Arles.

Our amphitheater ticket also got us into the Thermae of Constantine, a Roman bath, and we spent some more time walking around the center of town and eventually got a coffee.

Space Invader in Avignon, in front of the Palais de Pape.

Space Invader in Avignon, in front of the Palais des Papes.

The sun was still out, so we took the train a short distance to Avignon and walked past the Palais des Papes and to the Pont d’Avignon. I spotted a new Space Invader, shown here. Apparently there are still more invaders to discover in Avignon.

I’m back at work and teaching The Very Hungry Caterpillar again. I’ve started to get more serious about finding a job after my contract here ends, but I’m still not sure where I’ll end up.