To Arles, city of the Romans

After a difficult night, I’m rewarded with a morning lie in while Marie takes Eliza for a walk around the village. Feeling refreshed from this, we set off to explore the nearby city of Arles, known for its Roman ruins, city walls and pretty Mediterranean streets.

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Our trip starts with the usual navigational nightmares of having me in the passenger seat and some ‘discussion’ when it comes to finding a parking space outside the city walls. Car parked and buggy set up we head inside the city, through beautiful narrow, cobbled streets lined with tall pastel coloured houses with pretty shutters of deeper, varied tones. We have some challenges with locals driving down these streets on mopeds and in reasonably big white vans, meaning many a buggy manoeuvre, but at the same time it feels lived in and lively. Every so often a street opens out onto a plaza with a fountain or other centre piece surrounded by benches and with plenty of sunshine.

We have planned to follow the ‘walk around Arles’ in our guidebook but soon realise, with rumbling stomachs, that we’ve parked the opposite end of the city to the walk, so we are now instead searching for a suitable terrace for lunch (and a beer for Marie if I remember rightly). Several options are considered, but all are in the shade so we keep going to the Colosseum. WOW. I immediately proclaim that we should eat here, even if it’s overpriced for the view, because What A View! An enormous stone Roman Colosseum stands tall and wide ahead of us, pale stone arches high up in the sky going round further than the eye can see in each direction. It’s beautiful and impressive and kind of unbelievable that it’s so old and yet still used by the locals for events.

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We start working around its edge, checking the menus for something we fancy at a decent price. I am, as usual, using this as an opportunity to practice French by trying to read it through myself without asking for translations…however, this proves slow and Marie’s thirst means she’s particularly frustrated that I keep not noticing that places are closed and going through their menus (this happens at least 3 times so I can see her point). About halfway round we settle on a place that’s open and has a terrace partially in the sun and overlooking the Colosseum. It seems to be the dining preference of Italian tourists with several groups nearby and we’re warmly welcomed by the waitress. I have seabass which is delicious and soft, with rice and salad and Marie has a galette (buckwheat savoury pancake) filled with roquefort, vegetables and lardons- she is pretty excited about this.


Then comes a gift from Zaza; I hear it being delivered, so quickly ask the waitress where I can change her only to find, on a table in the main restaurant directly opposite the bar and on people’s journey to the toilet, that Zaza needs a full outfit change. This is not my strong point so it takes a while, whilst ensuring the bottles and oranges sharing the tables with Zaza remain in place and having people coo over Zaza and ask me questions in French about her. It takes so long that Marie comes in to check on us and takes over the final re-dressing.

Fed, watered and in Zaza’s case cleaned, we’re now ready for our adventure of Romans and Van Gogh. We’ve already semi abandoned the walk and it soon gets dropped completely, aside from the part joining up the Roman attractions we’ve bought a combination pass to see in the centre. We begin in the Colosseum, passing hordes of school children on the way in and around- in fact this is a common occurrence throughout the day- city of roman ruins = perfect school trip. It’s fun to climb up on the seats and imagine what it would be like to watch gladiator battles in there as people had many years ago. My favourite is walking through the internal arched stone corridors, there’s no hint of modernity here so it really feels just the same as it would have more than 2100 years ago.

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After this we tour the Roman Theatre nearby, learning about the seating arrangements for both venues- seating by social class and exits arranged so that people of different classes never meet.

It’s then off round the corner to the Romanesque St Trophime church- a grand building with an amazing portal (decorations around a huge double door) of Judgement day sat on a beautiful and lively plaza where we later enjoy a bakery treat by the fountain. Inside the church there is a weird emphasis on relics, with little chapels full of bits of bones and skulls and drops of blood of various saints (sorry, Catholics, but that’s creepy).


Opposite this we find the Cryptoporticus, a series of underground corridors with stone arches, built as a foundation for a building above and sometimes used to store perishables or to house slaves. As we descend, I feel a bit like Buffy going down into the sewers and joke that I’ll protect Zaza from the vampires. We wander around and it’s pretty cool and not too busy. We’re then joined by a rabble of teenagers on a school trip, making lots of noisy jokes in the way teenagers do when they’re a bit scared or creeped out but trying not to let it show.

All too soon our parking is running out and it’s time to head back to the car, with a quick pit stop en route to the ‘yellow house’. Van Gogh lived in Arles for some time and was treated here for various mental health problems. All over the city are ‘easels’ noting paintings he did of particular Arlesian places. He stayed in the ‘yellow house’ for treatment and there is a surprisingly accurate painting by him of the garden- seeing a copy of the painting and the garden in the flesh ahead of you is quite something and throughout the day I’ve warmed more and more to his painting style.


Van Gogh’s depiction of Arles’ nightlife

We’ll be back, Arles!

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