Tuesday September 22
Late in the morning we met Nina, our local tour guide. She explained that Arles is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning that it has special cultural significance. Its most spectacular attraction is its arena, which was built in 90 AD and was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators. Its purpose was to provide entertainment such as chariot races and gladiators fighting wild animals. It is similar to Rome’s Coliseum, although this arena is smaller, and is in excellent condition. Now it is used for bullfights, plays and concerts in summer.
Our tour guide recommended a restaurant for lunch named La Mule Blanche. We found a table and were joined by Pauline and Steve. I enjoyed swordfish with pesto, squash, snow peas, and saffron rice, while Nick’s lunch was a salad of apples, pignoli nuts, various duck and/or goose parts, and purple potato chips. It was a fabulous meal with more fun conversation.
We had tickets we could use to visit historical sites in town. We had already explored the arena, and the remains of the theater that was constructed during the reign of Emperor Augustus. We walked to the Place de la République, where the church of St. Tropheme is located. The church of St. Tropheme was formerly a cathedral, but it no longer has a bishop, so it is now a church. It was built between the 12th and 15th centuries, over a church on the same site built in the 5th century. Its interior is quite dark, because it has only a few small stained glass windows. Our tour guide recommended that we visit the Cloisters next door. Centuries ago, the Cloisters were residences for the priests who attended the bishop and were expected to live as monks. Rick’s book told us that its small columns were taken from the Roman theater across town. There are also tapestries depicting the First Crusade.
Next we decided to go to the Baths of Constantine. In the 4th century, the baths were the locale for exercising and meeting friends as well as for bathing. They had heated floors and rooms containing both cold and warm water.
The Cryoptoporticos was a burial place that was once at ground level. Now it’s more like a basement with arches that support the town square. I could imagine the townsfolk silently gathering there during times when they were threatened by invaders.
We were on our own for dinner that night. Nick wanted to try a recommended restaurant. Sometimes our GPS gets confused, and this was one of those times. We walked all over town trying to find the restaurant. When we did, we saw that we’d be required to order several courses, but I wasn’t very hungry. We decided to go back to La Mule Blanche, where we had lunch. After another long walk to find it, we discovered that it was closed. Disappointed, we walked back to the center of town and found a café that our guide had mentioned called Apostrophe. Wanting another gourmet meal, Nick didn’t have high hopes for this place, but, he agreed to sit down at a table al fresco. He asked the waiter about a fish that was on the menu. The waiter described the fish as “red outside and white inside”. Nick decided to give it a try. Nick’s dinner plate contained the fish, snow peas, tomato, eggplant, rice, potatoes and onions. Not being very hungry, I ordered an “Italian salad”. I was stunned when the waiter brought my meal. It consisted of half a cantaloupe covered with slices of prosciutto and topped with shards of Parmigiano Reggiano, snow peas garnished with a cherry tomato, sun dried tomatoes, mozzarella with pesto and sliced tomatoes, a cup of penne with olive tapenade, and a green salad topped with asparagus. Both of our choices were more than we had hoped for in quality and quantity.
Everything was simple, fresh, and fantastic.
In Arles, while people are feasting al fresco in the evening, mosquitoes are seeking out people on whom they can feast. In my experience, there is one person in a room to whom mosquitoes will gravitate. I am that person. When the waiter saw my discomfort, he brought insect repellant to our table and sprayed my exposed arms and lower legs! I guess I wasn’t the first diner who needed this service!
As Nick took out euros to pay for our dinner, he discovered that my driver’s license had been stuck to his. What a relief! No waiting on line at the DMV for me.
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