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26 June 2009

(Happy Anniversary, Walt!)

This morning journey to Avignon on the fastest train in Europe, the TGV. View the imposing Papal Palace and the nearby Pont du Gard. Continue to Nîmes, a city full of Roman history and known for textiles. Denim, the fabric of blue jeans, derives its name from this city. See the Roman Arena and La Maison Carrée. [We did not go to Nimes]

I have, from time to time, on this trip, thought I might die.

Today I felt as if I'd died and gone to heaven. Truly.

All I can say is...if you are ever in Arles, DO NOT PASS UP THE OPPORTUNITY to stay at the Hotel Calendel. Rick Steeves recommends it and for good reason. It is absolutely wonderful. Jeri and I have a 2 room suite overlooking the old Roman Arena (smaller version of the Colliseum in Rome, only here they still use it, but for bullfights). The arena is literally across the street from us. Talk about a photo op.

OperaJeri.jpg (62257 bytes)But let me go back to last night first. Our last night in Paris. When I last wrote, I was waiting for Jeri to return from the Louvre so we could go to the Opera House, of "Phantom of the Opera" fame, which she, Pat and I did (Char collapsed after the Louvre, which is how I knew I would have been if I had gone.) "Breathtaking" is the best way to describe it.   (The photo is of Jeri standing in front of the statue of Charles Garnier, who designed the opera house in 1875.  The green part of the structure is a diagram of the opera house itself.)

Everybody knows the story of the Phantom of the Opera, who escapes through the sewers under the opera house.  When construction started on this building, they wasted nearly a year trying to remove the water, but they finally found a way to corral the water (and learned, in the process, that having water under the opera house stage was actually good for acoustics!)  In 1896, one of the counter weights for the grand chandelier fell and killed someone, which, along with the underground lake, was the inspiration for Gaston Leroux's story of the Phantom.

The theatre itself was closed while we were there, because of rehearsal, but they did open a couple of boxes so people could peek in. They do mostly ballet at this opera house now, since they built a newer opera house a few years back. We guessed from the set that this may have been a tech rehearsal was for "La Fille Mal Gardee," since it was not a dance rehearsal. Still we were able to see the ornate theatre, seemingly covered with gold gilt, and the marvelous Chagall ceiling (the "new" ceiling!). Very definitely worth skipping the Louvre for, at least for me!

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The Grand Hall

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The Grand Staircase (taken for the local paper)

After we returned, it rained. Not lots of rain, but lots of thunder and enough to qualify to make this trip officially victim of The Blackford Curse (it always rains when Char travels!). We were all too tired to go far for dinner, so we just went across the street to an Italian place, where we were served by a very bored looking waitress in a shiny blue dress which clung provocatively, and with the greenest nails I'd ever seen.

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Dinner was very good (I had a salad--I'm finding that I'm so exhausted by the end of every day that I can't eat big meals on this trip. Maybe I'll lose some weight (tho the "pastry a day" and the glass of wine each night might offset that!)

Jeri and I got our bags packed before we went to bed because we had to board our bus at 5:45 a.m., but I hardly slept at all thru the night. Ian met us with bag breakfasts and we headed for Gard du Lyon, where the TGV (the high speed train) whisked us from Paris to Provence in just under 3 hours. Some beautiful scenery en route, especially as we got farther and farther south and saw fields of sunflowers and of lavender so purple it almost hurt your eyes.

We drove from Provence to Avignon, where is the Palace of the Popes. Avignon was the center of the Roman Catholic Church for a few centuries and you obviously can't have a pope without a palace. After Ian's history lecture and getting us oriented to the town, he left us to "wander." Jeri has been so amazing, watching out for me. Stairs are increasingly more difficult, the uphills leave me gasping for breath, and the heat doesn't help at all. Jeri waits for me, watches out for me, helps me, but I don't want to tie her down, so I told her to run and frolic and we could meet for lunch, which we did.

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Rhone River with the town of Avignon in back
(structure is the Palace of Popes) and the Pont d'Avignon
(you know...Sur le pont d'Avignon at left)

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Chapel at the Papal Palace
(on one of the town squares)
I didn't have time to go in because it cost money

Avignon has one of those great town squares, with a fabulous merry go round and lots of room to walk. There are several sidewalk cafes, so we chose on and ordered lunch and listened to some protesters on the plaza (never did figure out what they were protesting). Jeri had another galette and I ordered a salad and quiche. The salad dressing was fabulous and I told Jeri to help herself to my salad and we could share. Suddenly she said, "uh...there's a worm in your salad!" as indeed there was. After I'd taken both a photo AND a video, I called the waiter over. He took my plate away and brought me back a new quiche and french fries! (Which I didn't want...I was very much enjoying the salad!) He didn't charge extra for the worm.

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Next stop was Pont du Gard, an old Roman Aqueduct (see Photo of the Day). The walk to where you can see it is quite long and both Char and I gave up and didn't actually go UP the the thing, though everyone else did. The black clouds that Ian laughed about when we predicted rain, kept building and building and for a brfief moment we had a real downpour. Ian still insists it never happened. But the Blackford curse is alive and well in the South of France!

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No denying it--it's HOT here. And humid. But once we arrived at the Hotel Calendal in Arles, all was forgiven when we stepped into the air conditioned room with all the luxury and the gorgeous view.

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(It's expensive -- from $185 a night -- but
so very worth it!!!)

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This is the view out our "suite."

Ian gave us an hour to "settle in" before we had "a little stroll" around town (Ian's "strolls" are the Bataan marches). Sheri, Jeri and I used the time to wander around the shops near the hotel.   This area is famous for distinctive types of colors and patterns.  I visited a shop where a woman made all of the traditional things and felt bad that when I finally decided what I wanted to buy, I bought it elsewhere (just because I was elsewhere at the time.)

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By the time Ian was ready to stroll, Char had decided she was beat, so opted out. I went as far as the Arena to hear the fascinating history behind the whole development of the Roman games. but then I figured out that a stroll down into town would mean a stroll back up to the hotel and I just couldn't face another walk up the steep (for me) incline.

But Arles is the place where Van Gogh did some of his better known paintings and there is a Van Gogh tribute museum very near the hotel which I'd wanted to see, so I opted to do that instead. Unfortunately by the time Pat and I got there it was closing, so I can say I was in the lobby, but that's about all. We will be gone tomorrow before it opens for the day.

I came back to the hotel and checked e-mail and then we had a really fun, really delicious dinner here at the hotel. Great camaraderie is developing among this group. I like them all very much.

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After dinner, I helped some of the group try to figure out the (free!!!) internet and then headed off to bed for one of the most comfortable nights of sleep I had during the whole trip.

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Pont du Gard.


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