The train ride down the coast from Nice to Marseille was scenic, but nothing like the bus ride to the Italian border. Miss those Corniche roads. We arrived in Avignon just in time for dinner, which was always a challenge here. The old walled city is a maze of helter-skelter, narrow cobblestone streets that never hold a straight line for very long. Maps list only some streets in a barely readable tiny font. We got to know Avignon pretty well as we wandered the streets looking for our trusty guidebooks’ recommended restaurants..

We were rewarded for this effort with our best meal of the trip so far at Fou de fafa, a small restaurant with limited seatings and a limited menu. They believe in doing a few things really well. Provencal cuisine at its finest.

Our fancy new hotel was only a couple of blocks from the train and bus stations. From here we day tripped to Arles, Nimes, and of course, Pont du Gard.

Arles was an important capital in Roman Gaul. After lunch in Arles, we stopped at a cafe and found to our surprise a personal museum to bull fighting. This area of southern France has a history of bull fighting held in their Roman arenas. We watched a live bull fight from Madrid, admired the mementos on the wall, and agreed we don’t much like this “sport” – we were rooting for the bull.

Arles is a town made famous by Van Gogh, who painted some of his most iconic works here. Although “Starry Night” gets all the publicity, I am more impressed by his “Starry Night Over the Rhone”. We made a small pilgrimage to the very spot where he made this painting – too bad there were no stars on a late spring afternoon.

Nimes is the reason for the aqueduct at Pont du Gard. A provincial capital, Nimes needed fresh water. We were impressed as we left the train station to see a lovely, wide pedestrian boulevard with running water flowing on either side, that leads to the center of a modern city that just happens to contain the best preserved Roman temple in Europe.

We headed there thinking it was the bull festival weekend. We were told it would be a wild weekend in the old town, which one of us was very much looking forward to. Alas, we were misinformed, it is next weekend. (Celia was relieved!)

Nimes is less a tourist destination than the other cities visited, even though it has wonderfully preserved Roman architecture and an architecturally superb Museum of Modern Art. Go for the art or have a drink on the rooftop lounge and observe the city below.

Avignon brags it was the Pope’s town. Inside the walls, the Pope’s Palace was both a powerful fortress and palace. It was the seat of the Christian world in the 14th Century, where 9 popes succeeded one another. We were fortunate to see the new light show, Les Luminessences d’Avignon, projected on the walls of the palace at night. Very high tech and would have been impressive even back in the states.

Tomorrow we travel to Bordeaux, wine country.

Arles on the Rhone

Arles on the Rhone

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Arles

Arles

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Arles – le jeune filles, Jeanne

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imageArles – Theatre Antique, important surviving Roman Theatre, around 1C BC

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arena where the gladiators fought before 20,000. around 75 AD.

Arles  – arena where 20,000 watched the gladiators.  AD 75.

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Arles cafe

Arles cafe

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Nimes, grand boulevard in front of le Gare.

Nimes, grand boulevard in front of le Gare.

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Carre d'Art, architecturally notable Museum of Contemporary Art

Nimes – Carre d’Art, architecturally notable Museum of Contemporary Art

Maison Carree, best preserved Roman temple

Avignon, across from our hotel

Avignon, across from our hotel

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nice room,  glass wall changed to transparent with flick of switch.

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The Pope's Place, very impressive.Avignon, the Pope’s Place. very impressive.

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imageAvignon – carousel in Place de L’Horloge. the kids loved this.

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after the light show at the pope’s palace.

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