A day in Provence

Trip Start Apr 10, 2008
Trip End May 12, 2008

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Flag of France  , Provence,
Friday, April 25, 2008

Today was the first leisurely day I've had since I started this trip two weeks ago.  After breakfast, I drove down to La Grande Motte, a resort center on the Mediterranean. I used to have parishioners here when we lived near Marseille. I found the VVF - Le Ponant. It's a typical VVF center like ones we've used many times in the past, though this one is larger than many.  I was shown around by the seminar assistant.  The large meeting hall has a capacity of 280, and is clean and well organized. The two bedroom bungalow we visited was showing its age but was clean and well kept. The hotel type room had a beautiful view of the water and even had a kitchenette arrangement.  The surroundings were very pleasant, made more so by the cloudless blue sky and bright Provenšal sunshine. The restaurant was very inviting. They serve meals buffet style rather than family style as is most often the case, and the choices presented looked to be of very good quality.  This is definitely a possibility for future years.
From La Grande Motte, I started out toward Arles where I hoped to have lunch. Along the way I stopped briefly at Aigues Mortes just a few minutes into the drive. This impressive Medieval city surrounded by an imposing wall was in 1244 the departure port for the 7th crusade, called by Louis IX (later canonized to become Saint Louis) to liberate "the tomb of Christ". Some 60,000 men and 20,000 horses embarked here in 600 ships of all sizes for Jerusalem. They were gone 4-6 years. It was a disaster, the French army was defeated in Egypt and Louis captured. He paid a huge ransom to be released.
In 1270 Louis left from here again to try to convert the Muslims and the Sultan of Tunis. Plague broke out among his army and Louis himself died of it in North Africa.
Aigues Mortes (old French for "dead water" because of the salty marshes in the area) is still quite impressive and well worth the visit. They run bulls through the town during a festival in October, but not in as wild and dangerous a manner as at Pamplona. My wife and I were here one time and watched the running of the bulls - from a safe distance.
From Aigues Mortes, I drove on through fields of lavender, already showing, to Arles. Arles is famous for a number of things: it was founded by Greeks in the 6th century BC, conquered by the Celts, then by the Romans around 100 BC. Arles sided with Julius Caesar in his war against Pompey (Marseille sided with the latter), and when Caesar won, Arles was richly rewarded, becoming the administrative capital for the region.  There is a Roman theater and amphitheater still standing in the center of town. Both are still used for various events. Bull fights are held in the amphitheater every year. That sport is quite popular in this region of France, which is not far from the Spanish border.  I drove up to the amphitheater and looked for a parking place, but this being school vacation time there were none. As I followed all the one-way signs I ended up taking an unplanned tour of old Arles, driving down streets that have changed little in 2000 years. They weren't constructed with automobiles in mind. The cobblestone streets were so narrow that as I drove by, pedestrians sometime had to step into doorways to let me pass. One corner was sharp and narrow enough that a lady kindly stopped and indicated how much space I had before I would scrape the side of the car. Finally, I ended up on the banks of the Rhone, and could go back to where I wanted to park. The second time around, I found a parking place and had a pleasant lunch in the shadow of the amphitheater.
I drove on to Salon-de-Provence, another Gallo-roman city. In the late 1980s my wife and lived just a few miles down the road from here so this area used to be home for us. Salon hadn't changed much, the streets had been redone and some old stone buildings had been resurfaced. I found a little hotel for the night and then went into town to do a load of laundry. This will be my last chance to do any before leaving for Africa on Sunday. I had a stroll around town, walked past the house of Nostradamus the 16th century doctor, apothecary, and astrologer.  His reputation was such that Catherine de Medici consulted him and he became the physician of Charles IX. Henri IV also consulted him. The French are still curious about the astrological predictions he made, and publications come out every year claiming that his predictions are coming true (and explaining them all - if you buy the book...).
Our old favorite restaurant had gone out of business and was for sale. Time marches on with is melancholy aspects as well as progress. Tomorrow I'll drive back up the Rhone valley and enter Switzerland.
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