In my last post, I originally announced that we would summit Mont Ventoux on day 7. That was a mistake. We had planned to do just that on the morning of Wednesday, May 28th, but, with the advice of our bed & breakfast hostess, Aida, we flipped our days around and opted to explore Pont du Gard, Arles, and Les Baux-de-Provence instead.
We started the day at 9:00 AM with a breakfast including flaky croissants (I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to eat one in the US again), four types of jam, cheese, yogurt and coffee. There were no other guests staying at the B&B at the time, so we ate by ourselves. Well, Aida kept us company, chattering away, laughing often, gesturing wildly with her hands – she’s an energetic fireball of a lady. She’s tiny – there’s no way she weighs more than 100 pounds – but she’s a spitfire. Tons of personality in one itty bitty little package.
After breakfast, Aida kindly offered to drive us to the rental car office. We rented from Europcar this time, and the lady who helped us was a riot. After we complained about our previous rental experience with Avis, she gave us a conspiratorial look and said in her heavy French accent, “Oh, Avis.” Cracked me up. The rental agreement was fairly complex, because we decided to drive from Provence to Switzerland (the alternative was 3 trains and a full day of travel) after using the car to explore Provence. There’s a stiff penalty for dropping a rental car in a different country, but it was worth it. We also opted to pre-pay for a full tank of gas so that we could bring the car in with an empty tank. Getting gas in a foreign country – not the easiest task! I didn’t want a repeat of the Great Gas Station Chase in Caen. The challenge then became this: can we push the car into the rental agency in Switzerland on fumes?
We got the car (no error codes!) and set off to explore Provence. We began by visiting Pont du Gard, which is an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge. (That’s us in front of Pont du Gard in the photo above.) It was built in the 1st century AD. Let me say that again – the 1st century. I had literally never touched anything that old in my life. It’s massive and jaw-dropping to behold, and, much like the cathedrals, I found it unbelievable that such a structure could have been constructed by humans without the help of modern machinery. The weather in Provence was gorgeous that day, and we enjoyed walking around in the sunshine, admiring the water and the structure that spans it.
Afterward, we drove to the city of Arles. I found Arles to be a beautiful French city, with lovely streets, abundant windowsill flowers, lots of outdoor eateries, and lots of charm. We visited the ancient Roman amphitheater first, and I felt like I was transported straight into “Gladiator.” Walking around the ancient arena, built by the Romans around the 1st century AD, brought to mind thoughts of the battles that were fought while the crowd cheered from their seats. I read a plaque that noted the coliseum was constructed in such a way that people of different classes could enter and exit without ever meeting. The place might have given me the creeps, except there were elementary-school children being given a lesson in “combat” in the pit. Fake armor, wooden shields and swords, and instructors firing off instructions in rapid French. I wanted to join in, but I didn’t want to get taken down by a 3rd grader.
Lunch time! We chose le menu at an adorable restaurant called Au Brin de Thym. We couldn’t really understand our waiter or the menu, so we just asked for le menu specials of the day. It was the right choice. The meal began with artfully arranged, impossibly thin cold zucchini slices topped with Parmesan cheese and olive oil. The main course featured a whole fish served with colorful vegetables. Its eye was looking right at me. Luckily, we’d had fish fileted table-side in the past, so we knew what to do. And it was heavenly good – so tender and delicious and fresh, even if it did give me the evil eye the whole time. Dessert was a white cheese with jam for Damian and a fresh apple tart for me. We only had one glass of wine each to compliment the meal, because I didn’t want to fall asleep before visiting one more place.
Les Baux-de-Provence was our next destination, and it may be my favorite French village. Set high up in the hillside, the views from the castle ruins that top the town are staggering and breathtaking. If you can get up there. We walked through the town proper and enjoyed the beauty and charm of the cobblestones, narrow lanes, and little shops. Then we bought tickets to tour the ancient castle ruins all the way at the top. The stairs to reach the highest points were so worn by visitors over the centuries that they sloped in dangerously. Signs everywhere announced “danger!” in many different languages. But we decided to brave the steps and make our way to the top. The view was worth the trek. Spectacular. This is us at the top:
I don’t know what the hell I was thinking with those shoes.
After a full day of exploration, we were wiped out. We chose to visit a local market to buy cheese, bread, wine and fruit to enjoy at the B&B rather than heading back out for a big dinner. It was a lovely and mellow way to cap off a wonderful day in Provence.