last updated Sunday June 21, 2009
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MONDAY 20TH: ARLES
Travelling further south saw the weather improve considerably and Arles was everything we'd hoped it would be - old, quiet, decadent and full of Provençal sunlight. Everything seemed naturally a gorgeous rich yellow, especially the Café Van Gogh in the place du Forum (first two pictures below), apparently not the original subject of Vincent's famous Café de Nuit canvas but a post-war reconstructed version. Although who would know?
Arles was navigationally deceptive. According to Lonely Planet's map and the road signs, we needed to walk from the station, around the roundabout by a big archway, into and up the main drag for a good ten minutes and turn right uphill into the old town. In fact, it would have been much quicker to go through said big archway, which would have led us straight into the old town. Equally, on the face of it, Arles seemed a tiny town set around a large square, when in fact a late-night stroll proved it ran into a maze of countless tiny residential streets out of which we almost never found our way...
We also confess to having no idea that apart from a famous resident or two, Arles also boasted a Roman amphitheatre, Les Arènes, sitting in typical French style casually in the middle of the town:
We did some more washing at the launderette on the rue de la Cavalerie, which was the only one we'd ever seen with operating instructions in four languages - French, English, German and Chinese. Once again, we put our laundry in the machine, closed the door, put our money in, pressed the relevant button and nothing happened. And once again a lady came out of a little room and told us to shut the door properly, whereupon it worked straightaway.
On our first night here we had a good meal at Le Paellador opposite Les Arènes. The second night we had the best meal of the whole holiday - bouillabaisse and a steak provençal at L'Escaladou in rue Porte de Laure. Koy, brought up in a fishing town in Thailand, was duly impressed by the freshness and quality of the three different fish in her bouillabaisse. The restaurant was warm, welcoming, very yellow and full to capacity, and felt like being invited to eat in someone's home. Thoroughly recommended to all visitors.
Our Arles hotel meanwhile was a hit-and-miss affair. We stayed in the Hotel Saint Trophime, an interestingly-decorated place with a certain David Lynch feel about it.
Although our room looked good and had a lovely view...
...it was rather chilly and we didn't think the service and facilities were really worthy of the hotel's 2-star status, nor the €55 price tag. A PDQ machine en panne (so we had to pay the bill in advance, in cash), a TV with lousy reception, a leaking shower and a turned-off radiator ("Bah oui, c'est normale!" claimed the owner when we protested) would all have been just about tolerable, but cold coffee for breakfast to boot??? NON!!! Clearly this hotel was a triumph of style over content. Get your act together if you want repeat business, "Saint" Trophime!!
NEXT STOP: MARSEILLE / AIX-EN-PROVENCE