Saturday: Arles

Saturday is market day in Arles and the amount of vendors selling everything imaginable is huge. There are baked goods, paella, chicken turning on a rotisserie, and many kinds of fish. Clothing, books, and household supplies are all there, and so are fruits and vegetables. I walked straight down the street for a half hour and still saw more sellers.

I bought a French language Little House on the Prairie and another book that the kind bookseller proudly found for me – a book in English. Not that I needed any more reading material.

We had apple pastries and coffee at the market, then headed to the Arles Archaelogical Museum, where a Roman barge from 50 A.D. was excavated from the Rhone River about 15 years ago. It was hard to believe the boat was found in such great shape although it required three solid years of intense work to preserve and reassemble it.

There was a small Christmas parade through the streets later in the evening, with a horse, bagpipes, Santa, and a snowman who encouraged ne to pose with him and his bear friend.


photos: at the Christmas parade; the Arles-Rhone 3 barge; spices for sale at the market

Friday: Arles

We began to explore the city today, and with sunny skies and temperatures in the high 50s, it was a very good day to walk around.

We found a coffee shop near where we are staying and as luck would have it, croissants had just come out of the oven. One of those, plus cappuccino, was the perfect start to Friday.

We walked to Museum Reattu, with art from the 1700s to present day. It had quite a few Picasso sketches and two of his paintings. Most of the more contemporary art was not my favorite: a circle cut in half, an overexposed man’s face, colored rectangles hanging from the ceiling like a middle school art room. But the museum is housed in a very old convent and the building was a treat to walk around.

Next we went to the old Roman amphitheater – actually the ruins of the theater. It is still used for bullfights in April and May, and since it is still generally in its original condition, it was a wonder to see. There were some feral cats sleeping on the stone bleachers, one was walking around and as big as a fox. So I didn’t walk around the entire amphitheater.

photos: a perfect start to the day; gathered paper with glue = not my idea of art; the ancient amphitheater

Thursday: Arles

We left Mantry, France early to drive to Arles. It was only intended as an overnight stop and there was nothing we were interested in seeing there – and didn’t want to wait for shops to open. We had a 4.5 hour drive ahead of us.

It was well below zero Celsius and there was frost all over as we drove south. I tried to assess whether the trucks on the highway were taking part in the strike here today and purposely slowing down – especially as we approached Lyon – or just driving cautiously. It didn’t really matter since there was little traffic on our route. It sounds like Paris is a mess.

We stopped for lunch in Flaviac, a small town on the Rhone River. The staff was so kind to us and I’m sure they rarely have Americans visiting. It was a treat for all of us.

We continued on to Arles and arrived in the late afternoon. After getting settled we checked out the city and will visit some of the many points of interest in the days ahead.

photos: an interesting wall a few miles from Flaviac; the Rhone River in Arles; a pretty area near where we stayed last night in Maltry, France

Wednesday: Colmar, France

We left Strasbourg this morning and drove to Colmar, about an hour away. Colmar is where Frederic Bartholdi was born – the Statue of Liberty sculptor – and the town celebrates him with a museum and his name on some buildings and businesses. Since the museum wasn’topen until later in the afternoon, our plan was to visit the Unterlinden Art Museum there, but there was also a holiday market.

The museum was interesting, but the market was excellent. We got a few gifts and some hot cider in their Calmor Christmas mug.

We had lunch in a restaurant near the museum and walked around the city center, checking out the holiday decorations. It was very cold out, so we left and headed south toward Arles, where we will spend a few days. It is seven hours away, so we won’t get there today.


photos: a Statue of Liberty replica in the center of a roundabout. It was very foggy; at the Unterlinden museum; the entrance to the holiday market

Tuesday: Strasbourg

We explored Strasbourg today, checking out the Christmas markets, Petite France – the historic part of the city, the huge Cathedral, some ice skating, and the shops. Strasbourg is such a lively place, and the River Ill adds some beautiful ambiance to the city.

The decorations in the cities we have visited are all unbelievably extravagant and unlike anything I have ever seen. Strasbourg is no exception. It calls itself the “capital of Christmas,” and the lights and displays are on every street.

There is a huge police presence throughout the city and most of the officers are cradling their cocked weapons as they walk or stand, and they are constantly looking all around. It is unsettling to observe, but if prevents a repeat of last year’s December terrorist attack here, it is necessary.


photos: the Ill river, running through the city; ice skaters. The rink seems to be a very large piece of plywood and somehow a thin layer of snow is spread on top. Skaters rent orange plastic skates they strap to their shoes – regular ice skates wouldn’t work; the decorations on one street in the city

Monday: Strasbourg

Today was a driving day: Salzburg, Austria to Strasbourg, France. The distance is about 5 1/2 hours but with snow coming down when we left this morning then a complete nightmare of the center of the city being closed off for security reasons, it took us closer to seven hours.

Last year at this time, the Strasbourg Christmas Market was the scene of a terrorist attack, with people killed and injured. This year there is no entry to the city at all by car, so we parked at a garage and walked to where we are staying. We got to a checkpoint and were stopped by police to open our luggage. We didn’t understand it all at first, but remembered the whole awful tragedy once we arrived at our lodging and talked with people there.

Strasbourg is a bigger city than I realized, so we will enjoy checking it out tomorrow. We had dinner at one of the few restaurants open on Monday, and by the time we were finished the market was closed for the day and the streets were quiet.


photos: snow in Salzburg this morning; decorations we walked by in Strasbourg this evening; a building in the city

Monday: Trieste

Trieste is a beautiful seaport city with a complicated history. It is just 12 miles from Slovenia, and has a wide mix of cultures. Trieste became an important music and literature center in the 19th century. Many writers, poets, and otherwise well known people have lived in Trieste: Italo Svavo and James Joyce among the more interesting.With all that said, it is a very cool, non-touristy place with excellent restaurants, bakeries, bookstores, and an arts scene that won’t really get underway for a few more weeks – late November.We had read about the osmisa, a tradition unique to the Trieste area. Osmisas are gathering places in a person’s home. Each day of the week, some of them are open. Anyone can go.We checked the osimisa website to see that of about 15 total, five of them were open near (30 minutes away) us today. We chose the one that sounded the most interesting (the owner makes honey, cheese, and salami) and set out. Like most, its open hours were pretty much all day: 9am-midnight.The osimisa was not easy to find, even with GPS. There are dirt roads, narrow passages, and unmarked roads, and then finally a small sign.We walked into the home sort of timidly. No problem – they welcomed us and the owner went to get his wife once he realized we spoke English.We ordered red wine (they make it), cheese and salami. We sat by the fireplace and it was a very interesting, very unique experience. People stopped in every few minutes for a quick glass of wine, or to sit and eat.We enjoyed our wine and snack (which turned out to be lunch) for about 45 minutes. I wished I had brought my book in from the car since it was a perfect reading setup. We left after paying €9.30 (about $12) for all we had.A traveling group of folk singers randomly stops in at osimisas during the week – in the early evening – and it would be fun to be in one when they showed up.photos: the center of the city at night; at the osimisa; interesting windows we walked past