Sunday: Nimes

We took a side trip from Arles today and drove to Nimes, about a half hour away. Nimes has ancient Roman ruins that are wonderfully preserved and right in the middle of the city.

We visited the Musee des Beaux Arts first, with masterpieces from the 1400s and 1500s, and others from more modern times (1600s to late 1800s). They have a beautiful restored mosaic in the main room, and some interesting sculptures throughout the museum. It was a nice visit.

The amphitheatre was our next stop. It is right in the center of the city and similar to the one in Arles – maybe a little smaller. The arena was used for bullfights, animal fights, and even public executions back in the day and it is still used for bullfights and miscellaneous performances.

We also visited the Carre d’Art, a contemporary art museum which was featuring an exhibit of Peter Friedl’s presentation: Teatro Popular. This exhibit was honoring 18th century Portuguese street performer Dom Roberto. It was an interesting presentation, although the rest of the museum – its very modern permanent collections – were not as appealing especially after seeing the ancient masterpieces earlier.

We ended the day back in Arles and will drive to Vichy in the morning.

photos: a jug from the 1500s at the Museum des Beaux Arts; the Nimes amphitheatre; part of the Peter Friedl exhibit – puppets

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

Sunday: Salzburg

December first! The year is almost over.

There were probably half as many people at the Christmas market today as last night so we were able to walk around, check out the booths, and have some hot punch in a Salzburg festival mug.

It seems that most everything at this city’s market is a holiday decoration or Christmas-related. Other markets we have visited have more random handmade gifts that are not necessarily Christmas- themed.

We had lunch at a busy pub where we were cautioned “One hour!” before I guess we would be asked to leave. That was fine since everything was served quickly and my goulash was very good.

We walked along by the river until the late afternoon. We go to Strausbourg tomorrow.

photos: Mulled wine mug from Salzburg’s holiday market; the river today; a street performer seeming to defy gravity.

Saturday: Salzburg

We left Vienna and headed to Salzburg today, running into some snow as we drove and then finding warmer weather in the city.

We arrived in the early afternoon. We tried the traditional Salzburg dessert of nockerl, a souffle-like pastry that is presented in three peaks, to represent the mountains surrounding Salzburg. It was very good although the serving was huge.

After lunch we explored the city which was beautifully decked out in Christmas lights.

Salzburg is said to have one of the best holiday markets in the world, so we headed there. The market was a 20-minute walk from where we are staying, across the River Salzach that runs through the city.

The crowds of people on the other side of the bridge were staggering and it was impossible to get near the booths. We left after about 45 minutes and walked back across the bridge where there was a smaller market and less people. We will go back to the big market in the morning and hopefully some of the people will still be asleep.


photos: The entrance to the holiday market; Nockerl – a traditional Salzburg dessert; crowas at the market

Friday: Vienna

I was surprised to see that Black Friday is a big thing here, and I am guessing it is “celebrated” throughout Europe. The holiday shopping season seems to officially begin today, the last Friday in November.

Shoppers were out in force throughout the city – at least double the crowds we have seen in the past few days. It reminded me of Manhattan on a busy weekend.

We headed to the Schoenbrunn Palace to escape the crowds and to see the beautiful, restored summer home of the Hapsburg rulers. The tour takes visitors through 40 rooms, each unbelievably extravagant in every way. I was disappointed that no photos are permitted inside the palace.

There was a big holiday market on the palace grounds and about a third of the things for sale I hadn’t seen yet anywhere else. I didn’t buy anything but enjoyed looking.

We took the tube back into the center of the city and had lunch and fought the crowds as we strolled around. People were everywhere. It seemed that everyone had at least one shopping bag. We head to Salzburg tomorrow.


photos: Christmas decoration in the city; The palace; rolling pins. I wish I’d have bought one