Saturday, July 27, 2013

Marseille, France

"The world is a book 
and those who do not travel 
read only one page."
-Augustine of Hippo

Our first stop after leaving Spain was Marseilles, France on Saturday, June 8. Seems a long time ago now...

Happy to have this opportunity to see some of the south of France we chose the tour that took us to two well-known spots, Arles and Aix-en-Provence where we were promised we could walk where Van Gogh and Cezanne had walked and painted... even Paul Gaugin had been there.

(Farmhouses in Arles, Paul Gaugin)

On the map you can see Marseilles right on the coast... look on the map to the left a short distance and you will see Arles on the Rhone River... then look to the right of Arles and just above Marseilles on the map and you will see Aix-en-Provence.

Within minutes of boarding the bus and heading out we saw old Roman ruins on the hillsides... old fortresses.  The Romans added to the infrastructure in most all of Europe.  This is France, good grief, but the Romans were here.

This 'drive-by-shooting' may lack some clarity but you get the picture.

Our first stop was Arles, Van Gogh country.

(self-portrait of the man)

This is where he painted some of his most important work.

Starry Night, Sunflowers and The Bridge at Arles were among the many he painted in this part of France.

Arles is known as 'the soul of Provence' but it was also known as 'the little Rome of the Gauls' because Constantine named this town his second capital of the empire back in AD 306.  The locals still capitalize on this.

As a history lover I was intrigued with all the facts (fiction) of the ancient part of town but the spot that spoke most clearly to my heart was the open market... they had the most wonderful displays of fruit, vegetables and herbs available.  A feast for the eyes and nose.

Tour books mention this Saturday morning market in Arles...

We were both so enamoured with this market that we lost our tour group.  Oops! It was our first day out with a group and a guide so weren't too worried.  We knew where to meet at what time so went about our business of photos and photos and photos...

And bushels of artichokes...I do wish I could take you there physically so you could feel the ambience and enjoy the scope of this market.  I loved the experience of watching the vendors interact with their clients and with each other. To hear French being spoken with no hesitation does put a smile on my face... we stammer and halt trying to find a single word and pronounce it correctly. It is beautiful to hear.

In our wanderings we found churches...

Winding narrow old streets...

The amphitheatre that served the Romans and the Gauls... it is still used on Sundays in the summer for bullfights...

and inviting restaurants. Well, inviting at the right time of day...we were early so many were still closed.

There was still no sign of our tour group but we sort of remembered that the guide had said something about this direction...

Should we knock?

Doors and floors are of special interest.

Aha, just down the street from the amphitheatre we saw a group of people and heard the unmistakable voice of a guide...

We finally caught up to them about the time the guide was giving 'free time'...

Here are some folks from our bus in the town square, Place de la Republic...

City Hall...

One of many local churches... Eglise St. Trophine.

Found that my iPhone did a much better job of capturing the interiors of dark buildings.

Loved the tile floors.

And around the back side of the church we found the cloisters where the nuns live(d).

This was our first of many Roman-Gaullo ancient towns but no matter how far we wandered in the month of June we seemed to never tire of looking at yet another old musty building.

Now I am just a little confused with directions and where we saw this hotel in the photo below.  Hotel Nord-Pinus is mentioned in Frommer's Europe Travel Guide in the town of Arles somewhere close to the above square.

After a walk about in the centre of town we headed back the way we had come, past the amphitheatre one more time knowing that the minutes were ticking by...

This area of Roman antiquities is a designated UNESCO site which made it a must-see on our list.

We did not have time for a tour of the amphitheatre but we peeked into gated areas that afforded us a hint of how it was.

We hopped on the bus and said au revoir to Arles.  Provence is definitely a place we would like to visit for an extended period of time.

Every time we could catch a few minutes to nap, we did, so the hour plus to Aix-en-Provence went by very quickly.

We rolled into town, sleepily got off the bus and started chasing another Catch-Me-If-You-Can tour guide. They just do not understand photo nuts like us.

The bus parked on av. Victor-Hugo just off of place de Liberation or place Gen. de Gaulle, depending who you are talking to, which opens onto cours of the loveliest streets in the south of France. Our guide was most anxious to show us the home of the parents of Paul Cezanne.

Apparently they lived in the house on your left, top two or three floors?

(Still Life With Basket of Apples by Cezanne)

We did not see the actual studio of Cezanne but if you listened carefully the tour guide would drop his name here and there throughout her discourse.  We looked forward to 'free time' to explore on our own.

It is a lovely little town with great potential as a extended vacation spot... have to brush up on the French but it is a very comfortable spot to explore.

Saints are a major influence in the Catholic church as is the Virgin Mary... you see lots of statues and artwork depicting both.

These saints line the doorway to Cathedrale St. Sauveur.

In spite of the threat of rain we were delighted to be there seeing much of what our art heroes had seen and felt.  The lighting in France has a magical quality to it even if most of the sky is grey.

The contrast between the old and new is a constant.  You see 4-500 year old houses with antennas or satellite dishes on the roof tops.

The lovely thing is that these houses are still used today.  What may have been a palace for one family back in the day, is today broken up into apartments or businesses for many.

Not sure anyone will be living in our house, or yours, in 4-500 years. 

We were happy to see that Aix also had a Saturday market... a flower market.  The visual feast was magnificent.

When I was in Paris a couple years ago with Marilyn and Gail we all enjoyed the food from a patisserie called 'Paul'.  It was my delight to introduce Sherwin to their food. We bought our lunch and had to find a bench down cours Mirabeau to eat because their shop was so full.

Sherwin is always happy to have a picnic...

Our day in the south of France came to an end too quickly but it was time to head back to our floating hotel and on to ports east!

Au revoir, Be Well!

"I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. 
I travel for travel's sake. 
The great affair is to move."
-Robert Louis Stevenson


  1. I love the art pieces you used. It was great to see the places that inspired these great artists.

  2. you're making me miss France.. Sounds like you need give your tour guides a little talking-to! Hey, it's not all about them. And let's have a little more photo time please!

  3. Yeah, not sure I could do the tour thing. I like my own pace. Wonder where I get THAT from?