It was market day in Arles, so off we drove to the ancient little town in search of fabric, lavender, cheese and chanterelles. Along the way we discovered the trails that VanGogh followed and the wonders that Caesar left behind.
A ring road circles the inner city; on Saturdays wall-to-wall market stands blanket the ring road.
Van Gogh’s life and paintings tapped us on our shoulders, demanding attention, wherever we traveled in Provence. Arles was ripe with reminders of Van Gogh’s prodigious work.
The Fondation Van Gogh
The Foundation van Gogh is a beautiful gallery that features the works of van Gogh alongside modern-day artists whose work relates. (Here’s an interesting article from the NY Times about the gallery opening in 2014.) We raced through the works of Glenn Brown, not quite understanding the connection, and a bit horrified at the personal agony undertaken in the art. But we were rewarded with the lucious paintings of Van Gogh.
My favorite part of the day – lunch! We strolled around until we spotted the Bistrot Arlesien near the center of town. The cafe was empty (it was early) and we chose the perfect shady seats just out of reach of the hot sun.
Caesar comes to Arles
I was surprised at the huge presence of Rome in southern France. Every city seemed to have a bit of aquaduct or an arena to call their own. Those Romans were wiley! First they provided extraordinary infrastructure – roads and water – to their conquered citiies. Then they added government buildings. Entertainment soon followed housed in centrally-located arenas and coliseums.
Arles takes its treasures seriously and established the Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques in 1995. Of course, we had to see it!
So what do you do when your city is under constant attack in the middle ages? How about building your city inside the walls of the long defunct coliseum? That’s what the people of Arles did during the 1500’s.
According to the Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques: “In 49 BC, in the midst of civil war, Caesar who wanted to take the City of Marseilles that supported his opponent Pompeii resolved to build 12 ships at Arles which being completed and rigged in 30 days – from the time the timber was cut down – and brought to Massila (Marseilles)” (De Bello civili, I-36).
“At the end of the conflict with the supporters of Pompeii in the Iberian Peninsula, victorious Caesar rewarded Arles for its help by founding in 46 BC a colony under Roman law and granting it with part of Masilla-confiscated territories. He settled there the veterans of the VIth legion who had remained faithful to him during the civil war, whence the name of the new colony Colonia Julia paterna Arelate sextanorum this decision allowed the free Arlesian people to become Roman citizens.”
So how did all this stuff get to Arles? Much of it was created onsite but much also arrived by boat. The museum features a preserved merchant boat that carried everything from rocks to wine.
We only scratched the surface of Arles during our day trip. You could spend days here roaming the countryside, visiting the shops, enjoying cafe life, and meeting the residents. And I will – on another day!
What better way to discover the south of France than by planning our two weeks around the market days of the charming towns and villages scattered one next to the other throughout Provence? It was Thursday, so it was time to visit Aix-en-Provence (locals call their town “Ace”). Not only would we get to shop, we’d also get to see where Cezanne hung out, see the local cathedral and visit the “most beautiful tea room” at Caumont. We’d also learn that Aix is so much more than we had expected.
As usual, we got turned around and lost as we approached town. Sometimes we just had a hard time believing our GPS really wanted us to travel left down a tiny little street next to a crucifix attached to a wall in the middle of a road.
But we did find our way to the center of the old town. One of the very first things I spotted was a landmarker in the midst of sales booths and vendors’ cars.
Here stood 22 August 1944 one of Sherman tanks of the armed Allied liberation of Aix in Provence , surrounded by the population of the city in jubilation . Landed 15 August on the beaches of the Var , the armies lost more than 2,000 men before reaching Aix , while the provencal resistance saw 140 of its guerrillas die under enemy fire, often summarily executed. They joined forces August 19, 1944, to all liberate the city from Nazi barbarism.
These men, those of Aix , those of the American 3rd Division , and those of the 1st Armee Francaise Libre, leveed in North Africa and Corsica , commanded by the Marechal de Lattre de Tassigny. These men coming from all walks of life, had all skin colors and all religions. They mingled their destinies and their blood for human dignity in the defense of democracy and the liberation of Provence.
This is the beauty of the south of France. Next to a profound statement is the fruit of struggle. People are free to explore the countryside and meet one another thanks to the sacrifice of others. I am grateful.
Market day has been held in the same area for centuries. The Romans traded on these very streets before Christ was born.
The Cafe du Palais
We arrived at the market hungry and bought up clusters of fresh fruits and vegetables for our home fridge, then we went in search of a cafe for lunch. We were more than happy to discover the Cafe du Palais with its hearty lunches for about $15 plus wine. Lesson learned from this restaurant: Before collapsing into chairs at the closest cafe, take a moment to see how the servers treat the guests. If the servers look like they are going to spend as little time as possible with you because they’re Jonesing for their next cigarette break, you might be better off somewhere else.
After lunch, we strolled and shopped, enjoying the windows and gasping at some of the exorbitant prices.
Enough shopping! On to some culture.
Based on collections once owned by leaders of Provence, the Granet Museum houses about 12,000 works of art in the former Palace of Malta and at a chapel down the street and around a corner. You can actually take a virtual tour of the Granet Museum on their website but these are a few of my favorites from the collection.
Cezanne is the star of Aix-en-Provence but the Granet displays just 10 paintings and owns another dozen, not displayed. Still, restaurants and shops are named after the all-star impressionist and you can see metal plaques capping cobblestones throughout town where Cezanne once painted. The capstones lead from the house where Cezanne was born to St. Jean Cemetery where he was buried.
Caumont Center for the Arts
The Caumont Center for the Arts is recommended for its elegant tea room but the place is extravagently expensive. We stopped in for for a cup of tea and a dusty-looking pastry only to be shocked when we were charged twice as much for the “tea of the day”. Two cups of tea and a bottle of water came to just under $30. Service was very poor and we had to track down a server to take our order. They simply could not be bothered to bring us our check and we had to find a manager to help us with that. Luke-warm tea and a close and humid room on a hot, sunny day contributed to the discomfort and rude atmosphere in the beautiful tea rooms.
The restrooms were the real treat at the Caumont. We avoided the lower-level restrooms and used the first-floor toilet tucked into a small passageway near the outdoor formal gardens. Best restroom in all of France!
The gift shop is another delight. Tables are elegantly staged and everything is for sale.
So my advice for the Caumont is to peek in the tea rooms – but don’t bother eating – tour the verdant gardens, enjoy the gorgeous gift shop, and leave with lovely memories.
The Cathedral of the Holy Saviour
The Cathedral of the Holy Saviour of Aix-en-Provence was built atop an ancient temple to the sun gods on the Via Aurelia, the Roman road built through the south of France. Begun in the 1200’s when Aix was the capital of Provence, the cathedral was completed just about the time Christopher Columbus was discovering America in 1492. The carved doors to the cathedral are made of wood and were commissioned in the early 1500’s. You can see the four old testament prophets surrounding the doorway and a dozen pagan fortune tellers above – they foretold the birth and death of Christ.
The altar piece painting is a masterpiece of the 15th century created by Nicholas Froment of nearby Avignon. Moses, guarding his flock, is astounded to see Jesus and the Virgin Mary rise from a burning bush. I’d also be pretty surprised if it happened to me. The people painted in the left and right panels are the folks who paid for the painting, King Rene (left) and Queen Jeanne (right).
This is an altar built by Audinet Stéphani for the Aygosi family. It used to be in a Carmelite church that burned down in the French Revolution so it was moved to the cathedral along with the altarpiece, above. You can see Saint Maurice in his coat of armor to the left of St. Anne, the mother of Mary.
I’m a fool for stained glass, and while I have no information, you can see that the window tells a story. Looks like maybe its the story of the female icons of the church, complete with a dog symbolizing loyalty.
End of the Day
At the end of every day in the south of France, we leave tired, happy and full of new memories. We take photographs of the parking garage and the cross streets where we left our car earlier in the day so we can find our way back. This may be the most important tip I give you in my blog! Simply pop your ticket into the machine located somewhere near an entrance to the garage and pay with your credit card. Your ticket will be validated and you can insert it into a second widow-height machine as you drive out of the garage.
Have a great day in Aix-en-Provence. Just eat somewhere else.
Things don’t always go smoothly on vacation. But sometimes what goes wrong makes for the best memories. Enjoy my sister Lyn Purtz’s account:
So, Monday morning in Umbria. Did we mention it’s raining? The weather is odd. We have needed to layer every day. But we never un-layer. When it rains, the temperature seems to drop 20 degrees. We are chilled to the bone.
Market day is in Marsciano. Everywhere we drive we do not know where to park, but in Marsciano we find a place right in front of the market! Vendors are selling more fruit and vegetables than you can find in Whole Foods. There’s also sausages, salted fish, anchovies, cheeses. Food trucks with a roasted pig splayed out; the porchetta vendor slices off a hunk of meat and places it on a hard roll with a little salt.
The vendor trucks have awnings that pop up from the roof like an RV. They display their wares either on tables or risers that unfold out of the side of the truck.
A shoe vendor has about 150 boxes of shoes with one shoe displayed on top of the box. Bigger than some shoe stores. Pajamas, underwear, cashmere socks, sweaters, skirts, etc. etc. etc. We are in shoppers heaven! And then…I decide to take the packages to the car.
Whoops! What’s that green paper flapping on my windshield? A ticket. I put the items in the trunk, take the ticket off the car and head to find Barbara & Terry. Then we move the car…up a hill where the parking is free. And then we need to find the police station. We ask a tall man at the sausage stand for directions. Our lack of English doesn’t phase him at all but he gives up on our Italian. “Mama! Mama!” he calls to his mother in the sausage truck. “I’m taking these ladies to the police station,” and then he walks us all the way to the police station.
We follow him around curved streets, across piazzas and then to the government house that doesn’t have a sign outside. How were we to find this? “Sausage man” waves arrevaderci and leaves us there. All the Polizia are women dressed in severe black uniforms. But they are nice. They smile. They shake their heads in sympathy. They try to use our credit card for about 10 minutes before they shrug – “Allora!” – We pay the $28.00 ticket in cash. No one wants our credit cards, not even the police.
We decide to head to Perugia, about 15 miles west of Marsciano. We hike uphil to the town center to visit the wonderful Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria – a museum that features six centuries of art and historic artifacts in chronological order. WOW! An elevator! We get into the elevator but it will only go to the 5th floor instead of the 3rd floor entrance. We take the elevator to the 5th floor and office workers rush out to tell us: The museum is closed. No reason why. It’s just closed.
We drive around the old town aimlessly lacking the incentive to walk in the rain and worried about our car. Since Day 2, our VW Tiguan flashed a symbol that we do not understand but does say that in 700 km if we do not add-blu the car will not start. Also, our GPS isn’t working correctly. We stopped at a gas station two days before to see what Ad-blu means: an additive to go in the car because it uses diesel. A man at the gas station we stopped at shrugs his shoulders when we ask about AdBlu so we call Eurocar, the rental company. We go to Eurocar and they try 3 GPS’s before they find a Tom-Tom that works, but they cannot put the AdBlu in. They send us to the airport in Perugia where someone speaks English and will take care of the additive.
But before we go to the airport…McDonald’s! Diet Coke with ice! A bakery and coffee bar inside. Clean restrooms with toilet paper AND hand dryers that work! But the crew works at the pace of Italy. Even though we are the only customers it takes about 15 minutes for a small hamburger and two pastries plus Diet Coke — which, in Italy, is Coke Light.
Refueled, we go looking for the tiny Perugia airport. This is difficult because our new Tom Tom works no better than the previous one. Tom Tom’s do not like hills. Or cities. Or water. Our little advisor does not advise “recalculating route.” Instead, the screen of death reads “GPS signal lost.” I swear the Tom Tom gets lost more than we do. We decide to just drive downhill away from the city centers of hill towns when leaving a town and uphill toward the duomo when arriving in a town. To get to the airport, we follow five camouflage-painted trucks full of soldiers downhill, out of town, while we look for signs that will point to an airport. We see one. No, really, we see one sign to the airport. Just one.
Our sister Terry goes into the airport, the Eurocar attendant shuts down the desk, and tells us to follow him in his car…for about 15 minutes…to a gas station. But the attendant and the Eurocar guy can’t figure out where to put the AdBlu. Under the hood? No! In the gas tank? No! Look for the manual in the car? No manual. Make a phone call. While making the phone call a big lorry pulls up. He needs AdBlu. We move our car away from the nozzled hose poking out of the back wall of the fuel station and let him fill up. Back to our quest for to find the hole in our car for the AdBlu. Where do we put the additive? Ohhhhh, in the trunk, under the carpet. Of course! Move everything in the trunk aside. Did I say we were shopping? AdBlu…who knew?
Relieved to be on the road again. Happy that the car will not stop unexpectedly (and we were told that YES it will stop without it).
How to end a lost day filled with travel mishaps and rain? How about a great dinner in Deruta at a Mom&Pop trattoria? Terry checks out Trip Advisor and comes up with a name. Tom Tom calms down and gets us to the tiny hole-in-the-wall on the first try. As we drive, the rain finally stops for the first time in six days. As I look to the left, a huge rainbow appears touching the hills in a perfect double arc. We see both ends of the rainbow as it shines in front of the mountain! Being Italy, there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just the incredible beauty of the green and dirt hills of Umbria.
We arrive at Osteria Il Borgetto in Durita and a gentleman our age greets us at the door with a welcoming smile and open arms. People in Umbria are so happy to serve you. Love this Place!
It’s been a long day of frustrations and fun. What else could go wrong? As we exit the freeway for the long drive around Marsciano, we turn the correct way towards town, we take the right turn on the rotary as we duck past cars trying to merge into our back seat, no drivers tailgate us an inch from our back bumper, no drivers bright us or honk the horn as we drive the speed limit, we take another rotary and make the correct turn the first time, we drive past the graffiti-covered centro sportivo, make another right turn on the uphill side of the sports center, take anther round about and head away from town (another correct turn), wind up the 1 1/2 lane wide road past the two huge houses set 12 inches from the roadway, spy the pink house near the top of the tall hill, turn right into the long and rutted gravel driveway, drive straight downhill on a slope that looks like it would be tricky to ski on, the rain starts – again – and the ruts overflow their already full capacity, we drive into the valley and lose our Tom Tom signal, we head uphill in the dark, dark night, we miss the first attempt up the steep driveway so we back up and make a running start and make it up the driveway, and we are home!
FloraHolland is the largest trading market for flowers in the world. It’s located just outside of Amsterdam in Aalsmeer, is open to the public from 7 -11:00 am, and costs about $6 to enter. The massive warehouse, shipping yard and trading center must be one kilometer long and a few hundred yards wide. Wear your walking shoes and prepare for an unusual adventure into the world of trade in The Netherlands. You’ll be rewarded with a new respect for business and the astounding sight of beautiful flowers packed for trade.
Even though the just-cut flowers are gorgeous, the story here is about sales, not beauty. More than 4,000 people work at FloraHolland, participating in the trade of millions of dollars of flowers from all over the world. It is a bustling work place of more than 1 million square yards. The flowers move from field to auction to your home in less than 48 hours.
Even though you walk along the raised platform for at least 10 minutes to get to the center of the action, you can see over the rails to the action in the warehouse below and there are explanatory signs posted in several languages all along the walkway. One sign explained, “Floraholland membership consists of thousands of growers representing approximately 60 countries…they hail from countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Israel, Columbia, Equador, Belgium, Italy and the UK.”
We climbed to the second floor of the warehouse and then walked a loooooong platform high above the action to learn how flowers are packed in boxes according to type of flower or plant or decorative vegetable or grass, then rushed to this trading center (the largest of several flower auctions in the Netherlands), sold off in a Dutch auction, then quickly moved to the brokers for redistribution back out across Germany, england, Belgium, France and other points across mostly Europe.
Growers list all the lot information on a form that accompanies the just-picked flowers to FloraHolland. The flowers arrive after the auction closes at 11 am and are placed on trolleys. Flowers that need cold are moved to cold storage and plants that need warm are moved to warm storage. Auctions begin at 6 am but this is a 24-hour business.
The flowers are brought into the center on long “trains” so the flatbeds pass by loaded with, for example, pink roses. They are inspected by buyers who call up to the auction floor and report on the quality of the plants. About 120 buyers have seats on the auction floor and sit in a tiered semi-circle staring at two huge round calculators on a screen. Buyers can also participate remotely by internet.
Here’s an example of how the auction works. A photo of pink roses appears with a suggested price of, say 29 cents a stem, and a box on the clock screen tells how many cases of roses are available, say 120 cases. Within seconds, buyers bid at the 29 cent price and also input how many cases they want. As the flowers are sold off, if buyers really want pink roses, the price starts to climb as the quantity starts to drop (think supply and demand). If no one wants pink roses today, the price may start to drop and late buyers may get the remaining pink flowers for 18 cents a stem (or lower) until all the roses are solde. If everyone wants pink roses today, the price quickly rises and late buyers may pay 35 cents or more per stem.
All 120 cases of roses can sell off in about 10 seconds but I saw no auction last longer than 30 seconds. The flowers need to move fast so they can stay as fresh as possible. In a few minutes time, you might see 12 auctions for a dozen different colors of roses followed by 10 auctions for six different colors of irises. The highest priced flower I saw was an almost black iris; it went for 95 cents per stem.
Here is another explanation of the auction process taken right from the information signs: “Circles, lamps and numbers – The auctioning is led by an auctioneer. The auction clock is a circle numbered from 1 to 100 around which a red lamp moves. These numbers correspond with the prices offered. The system used is known as a Dutch Auction, which means going from a high price to a low price. The auctioneer will start the lamp at a high number (i.e., a high price) and then let it go down. If a buyer wants to bid on a lot, he presses a button. If he is the first one to do so, the lamp stops and the number at which it has stopped is the price.”
The grasses and decorative vegetables are all part of the flower sales. In addition, some flowers arrive already packed in individual boxes so there might be a “train” load of long stemmed flowers in long whiteboxes with gold lettering and a ribbon around the box. More than 2,500 flowers trains move through the facility each hour.
Once the flowers are sold, they are packed into containers for the appropriate buyers and shipped out immediately to points around the world. In this photo you can see where carts are being loaded with the purchases of individual buyers within 90 minutes of their sale. Once the buyer is done for the day – well before noon — the cart is transported to a truck and immediately shipped out to the buyer’s designated destination.
We got up extra early for this experience because FloraHolland opened at 7:00 am, giving us time to tour before heading on to Amsterdam from Wassenaar. We drove by car and did not see any public transportation as FloraHolland is located on the outskirts of town in a rural/industrial area. The parking lot is on the roof of the warehouses and is so large that it is confusing to figure out where to park and then it is confusing to figure out how to get out of the parking lot when you leave. If you decide to visit, make sure to make note of where you leave your car and how to get to the exit. There is no clear line of sight to see where the ramp that leads you off the building’s rooftop is located. You’ll eventually figure it out but pay attention when you drive up to the roof.
This is a must-see attraction and I’ll be back to visit again. It’s definitely a marriage of beauty and business.