After the warmth in Lisbon, and the Gaudi architecture filled Barcelona, I looped back to France. Southern France this time, to see the sunshine that can change the color of my hair, to witness the place where Van Gogh painted Sunflowers, and to enjoy the rocky beach along the French Riviera.
I have always dreamed about Provence, almost the same way as I dreamed about Paris. Maybe it was because of the legacy left by Van Gogh — the sun he pictured, the yellow he mastered, and the masterpieces he painted. Or perhaps it was the crispy Rosé in the summer left me wondering the countryside of Provence.
Avignon is a small and rustic town. Behind the wall built by Romans, Avignon takes me back in time. The Palace of the Popes retells the story of the Schism of the 14th century with its medieval stone architecture, and its interactive tablet that let me see what was exactly in each room when the Pope lived here. Sometimes, without looking too carefully, I might take some houses as Roman ruins, whereas when I “stare” at the houses, I could see hundreds of years of time leading up to today. Rain rounded the rough edges; the wind blows off the dust, and vines grow persistently on the houses. The colors on the buildings fade in time, but the buildings stand still, and never fade away.
I did not have a car, so I decided to join a tour to visit the two most prominent wineries in Provence, Gigondas, and Chateauneuf das Papes. The wine tour was informative, and for a first-timer, I finally got to see the barrels where the magic happens. Though it was good to know different stones and soil produce very different tastes in wine, it was even better to try many great wines in one sitting. We managed to pour ourselves a second serving before they took the bottles away.
It felt nice to be in the countryside after hopping around in big cities. The sun was brighter and sky bluer. I cannot help but bend down to smell the flowers on the side of the roads, and gently brush my hand through them. They left a beautiful smell. I stood and admire the mountains, just under the clouds in the distance. They left me with imaginations.
Just as I thought Avignon is rustic, I visited Arles. Compared to its neighbor, Arles is more unpolished, dirtier even. But for me, that is part of its charm. I loved the amphitheater where gladiators fought, though it was quite brutal for me to think about. I only learned this recently, “arena” in Latin means sand, and it is for absorbing blood from the fights. The structure was impressive, considering limited modern tools they had at that time. Many Roman sites are well preserved, and it was interesting to see their usages in ancient times. For instance, Constine Bath. I knew Romans had public baths, but seeing it in person was different. The public baths had rooms with varying temperatures of water. But what struck me as impressive was that it was indeed open to everyone, regardless of social class, and it served as a place for socializing. I visited Arles mainly to see where Van Gogh stayed. I traced his steps, from the yellow house to the starring night next to the Rhône River. I stood where Van Gogh did, do I see what he saw? I love the narrow streets with old houses that grow vines. What makes them more appealing is the colors of the French door, which seems to disguise their old age. However, every time I try to capture the image, it escapes my camera. My camera just can’t see what I see.
Other Day Trips
Les Baux de Provence
A stone village with amazing views from the top. It has become very touristy.
Pont du Gard
The Roman structure that supplied water to Nimês. It can be enjoyed the best on the water. Unfortunately, the water was still too cold at the time, and I did not have enough time to stay longer.
We traveled further south to Nice, the vacation choice for Parisians and other tourists alike. I can see why people are obsessed with this place, the weather, the beach, and the color. Nice appeared to be as a very colorful city, integrating the influence from Spain and Italy. The colors are different from those in Lisbon. In Lisbon, the colors are gentle, just enough for the people on the sea to find their homes. In Nice, the colors are bold. I would see a bright pink house right next to a bright yellow one, and next to a bright blue one. However, everything is so well coordinated somehow that nothing stands out by itself. Yet, everything stands out.
The beach was very rocky, even a bit painful if you try to walk without shoes. But that did not stop people from laying down. They just wiggled a bit and found the perfect spot on the rocky beach for their afternoon nap. I certainly did the same, and nothing was more satisfying than having gelatos right after.
Wave after wave, it hits the rocks and brings a bit of mist to people who stay too close. Seagulls fly above the ocean. Sometimes, they just ride the wind and float in the blue sky. I wonder what they could see, something even more beautiful further away? The beach belongs to the seagulls after the sun starts to set. They look for any food that is left behind by humans, and it’s their turn to appreciate the sight from the land, searching where the ocean and sky connect.
Day Trip, Monaco
Seeing the casino was really the only thing on my agenda. It was a bonus to see many luxurious cars and people carefully posing next to them. I could not miss the chance to “gamble” in the casino, but to control the possible disastrous outcome, I limited my coins to 10 euros. And… I lost all of it within 2 minutes. I have to say, it was a very quick trip in there. But hey, if you are good at slot