Departing at 0500, The Viking Heimdal took us quietly south from Avignon to Tarascon, the most convenient place to dock for coaching to Arles. We reached the remote dock at 0815 and boarded our coach 0900, a process that would soon become routine. [Pictures all enlarge on clicking.]
Tarascon is the site of a small castle (Chateau de Tarascon) and a walled town built on Roman ruins (this will be thematic in France). The castle was used as a set for the movie “The Lion in Winter.”
Arles was quiet, very quiet, it seemed nearly abandoned (this will be thematic in France). Since France has a plethora of National holidays, religious feast days and bank holidays, and since the French often bridge Thursday and/or Tuesday off days into long weekends, one really needs a good calendar to know whether to expect shops to be open (the non-tourist ones). In many of the places we visited, similar round stone towers focused our view into the city.
These bronze plaques guided us through Arles to points of interest in the life of Van Gogh during his time here. Nina, our guide, offered so much more information than we could have garnered on our own (this will be thematic with Viking). Our narration was provided with single ear blue-tooth broadcast tech. We would sync with the guide for each outing, and after that, we were the tour groups with no shouting.
Arles was an important place to Julius Caesar as he conquered Gaul, and the ruins here included a substantial amphitheater which is now the site of French and Spanish bull-fighting. For French fights (ribbon snatching from the bulls’ horns) the bulls’ names are on the posters. For Spanish fights, the bullfighters’ names are on the posters. Here on the edge of the Camargue region the mixture of Spanish and French influences extends beyond the bull fighting to cuisine and language as well. It was just as true in Julius’s time. The 20000 seated here for the events of the time might have come from as many as fifty (Roman dominated) cultures. After the Romans it became a fortress city encircling 200 houses. Porticoes were walled shut, and towers were added. It is now being restored to is Pax Romana configuration.
Arles is where Van Gogh went for medical assistance after his ear had offended him. The hospital has been restored to its original colors, and the garden is planted as he would have seen it. The post card racks and toy shops are new however.
As the sun passed the zenith, it was approaching time to return to the ship for the fourth (already?) of 42 excellent meals. Crossing the city square was a traffic nightmare–wink-wink. As noted, it was quiet there. Even the dogs didn’t bark.
Back aboard, the crew greeted us, and the Captain invited all who wanted to visit the wheelhouse to come see what he had at his disposal to deal with the challenges of swift currents, high and low water, locks and bridges. It was a highlight of the trip for both of us, and the Captain commented we seemed to have a bit of empathy for the challenges he faced. Wonder why?
We arrived back in Avignon at the remains of the Pont d’Avignon as twilight dimmed (about 2230). Now only half jet-lagged, we dimmed too. Tomorrow in Avignon, the steepness of the tours were to increase.