Day Eighteen: Roquemaure to Avignon to Arles: Sur le Pont, ou non. - Grampies Go On Their Knees - CycleBlaze

April 14, 2017

Day Eighteen: Roquemaure to Avignon to Arles: Sur le Pont, ou non.

The lovely couple that own the hotel where we were last night asked where we were headed to today, and on learning that it was Arles, they pointed out that this is one of the biggest weekends of the year there. Not only is it Easter, but it is the time of the twice per year festival of bulls, which includes bull fights in the arena and the running of cows in the streets. With this information, we knew we better have a booking in the town. Our hosts volunteered their big screen computer, and we found a place, just over the bridge from the old town. Hooray. Only thing, now we had to make it there, and no wimping out!

We snapped a photo of our hosts - such a sweet couple and so friendly. We think we will collect a fair number of such snaps over this trip - from Ma and Pa run moderately sized hotels that we are staying at.

Roquemaure, where we had passed the night, has a big claim to fame, or infamy, because it was here that in the 19th century someone imported some American vines and ended by spreading Phylloxera disease to all of the Midi region. To help ward off the plague, a rich grape grower went out and bought the relics of St. Valentine, which were installed in the local church.

In recent years, the town is again capitalising on this purchase by holding huge Valentine's Day celebrations.

Naturally we beetled down to have a look at St. Valentine in the church, but we found it locked tight. The lady in a nearby fruit store offered the opinion that it might open in a half hour, but that is an eternity to the fast moving Grampies, so we regretfully took to the road.

Oh, not so fast. There is no way to take to the road without a stop at the baker. This one had an Easter specialty called Brassado. It caught my attention because it looks vaguely like a bagel. But actually it is a sweetish dough and vaguely related to a hot cross bun in flavour, except that there is orange in there. Interesting.

Our hotel owners in Roquemaure, gave us a boost in finding a place in Arles
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The church with the relics of St. Valentine
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Not quite bagles, but maybe they, like bagles, are boiled.
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An image of Roquemaure
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We rolled easily to Avignon, crossing on the working bridge and having a great view over to the famous, partially destroyed, Pont Saint Benezet. This is the bridge of story and song. There were naturally a lot of people standing on it, having paid, we found, the 5 euro admission fee. This time - not us. Instead we swung around the base of the bridge and came to the first of what are dozens of souvenir shops, around the bridge, the nearby Papal palace and church, and down the main drag of town. We found the souvenir shop, and the other souvenir shops, delightful. They all have a heavy focus on things lavender and lavender coloured, plus things Van Gogh, and things from the Camargh (areas where the Rhone meets the sea), like the wild white horses, and bulls.

As we stood at the first shop, some waves of guided tourists came through. The guides instructed them not to get dug into the shops right now, so that was good. All the tourists were Italian, and so being, were weak on walking manners like keeping to one side and making way. No problem, Dodie has Italian experience. Without being mean or aggressive she just snowplowed the Italians out of the way with her bike. I gratefully followed in her wake.

At souvenir shop number two we ran in to the Belgian couple who had passed us several times the day before. We often catch up with speedy people because tortoise and hare like, they have a tendency to stop at pubs or hotels, and linger long. The Belgians will be heading home tomorrow, because the lady part of the team, Marlena,has to go back to work, next week. It sure is great for us to have more than short vacation time for cycling.

At the Palace of the Popes Square there is the palace and also a church. The palace is an 11 euro admission thing with many rooms to look at, and a long line waiting to get in. We limited our visit to the free part, the church (leaving one of us at a time to watch the bikes). The church had some nice ceiling frescoes, and also the sarcophagus of Benoit XII, who was pope from 1334 to 1342. We picked up a postcard showing all the popes of Avignon, so somewhere we have a record of where Benoit fits in. Still, any Pope relic is a good find.

We shot down the main drag, still occasionaly ploughing Italians from the way, and using the two way bike lane that occupied half the roadway. Car drivers often strayed on this lane, but since we had the rght of way, we ploughed them off too.

Dodie stopped a police car to ask about the location of the TI. Rather than be gruff in a "we have criminals to go catch" way, the officer driving offered that she could provide town maps, if that was all we needed. But no, what we wanted was our creanciales stamped, so on we went.

TI said that the stamp resided at the Papal palace. So we turned around and repeated the procedure of making way for ourselves. At the Palace there was the problem of the crowds and the paid admission. Dodie talked her way past all that and came back with a most official looking stamp, featuring the papal crown.

Our papal stamp
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The famous bridge at Avignon
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Paying bridge customers
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The papal palace and church
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Souvenir shops feature lavender and Van Gogh
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Lavender in a postcard
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White horses of the Cmamargh in a postcard
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Watch out, Italians!
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Dodie clears the way
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The Belgians
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Along a row of souvenir shops as we head for downtown
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We would like to have bought some dresses like these
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In the Papal Palace square
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Frescoe in the papal church
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Pope's sarcarphagus
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Friendly police of Avignon
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Avignon main drag
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Look at the balconies!
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Because we had a date with Arles, we did not linger any longer in Avignon. But there remained the question of the route to Arles. Via Rhona had long since given up, but we still had the Bikeline guide and GPS track. There is a kind fostraight route on a big road, but we wanted to arrive in Arles alive. So we started out doing it Bikeline's way. We crossed the bridge and headed up into Villeneuve Les Avignon, or maybe Haute Villeneuve. Anyway, we pushed the bikes up and up some more. It was quite brutal. It seems wrong for a cycle routing outfit to choose a way that no loaded cyclist could possibly actually pedal.

However as we climbed my sense of Provence, heighten by all the postcards down below, grew. It was very warm, and the air sweetly scented by flowering shrubs. All around were flowers of various kinds, with purple irises standing out for me. The buildings were subtly changed from what we had further north, now taking on an Italian villa kind of look. At certain points things temporarily levelled out, and there we found the public, hanging out at outdoor seating of terribly inviting retaurants. But no "plat du jour" for us, we had places to go!

Finally, after a brutal push where I did my bike and then went back for Dodie's, I assumed we were at the top. But no, the GPS showed that Bikeline intended us to take a narrow path upward again. We balked, we had had it. So we turned and just headed in the direction of Arles on the road that was at hand. It turned out fine. Only for a short time did we land on the big road, but there was also a long stretch on new pavement that actually had a shoulder. Again, while we were on that shoulder Bikeline would have had us wiggling around on all sorts of little side roads. It's true we wanted to get to Arles alive, but we also needed to get there earlier than next week. Sorry Bikeline, we ditched your advice and just went for it.

Along the way we ran into several more touring cyclists. One German from Freiburg had just soent two months in Barcelona and was cycling home. And a young couple from Czech had flown to Marseille and were embarked on a tour around Provence. I found it fun to talk to these folks. But Dodie went on ahead, leaving me to catch up. Can't get to Arles unless we actually do some pedaling, not talking!

And we did get to Arles, before it was too late in the day, but both of us were very tired. Again, our hotel hosts were a nice couple. On learning of our itinerary that includes reascending the Loire, they waxed nostalgic, since they are actually from Tours. We now have enough French experience that we could feel nostalgic for Tours along with them.

And this place really is a diffrent land from Tours. For example, the language has different vocabulary. We found "mas" in wide use, meaning "ferme" (farm). And "Feria" means "fete" (holiday), while "toreau" is "boeuf" (beef). We are very excited about tomorrow, because it is La Feria d'Arles, during which the toreros will confront the bulls in the ring (which we refuse to watch) while the cows will run through the streets.

We went out to a local restaurant, and while we did not go for Bouillabase right away, we could see the Provencal influence in what we did get. The salad had boiled potatoes, olives, and tuna. Our main dish, a sort of torreau stew was uniquely seasoned (not quite sure how to describe it just yet) and the beef was firm yet tender. The rice too was different - seemingly larger grains, and chewier.

We are really looking forward to tomorrow in the streets, after which we will dive into the Camargue, looking for flamingoes, white horses, and salt.

And oh yes - Arles is the start of the Voie d'Arles to Santiago. We hope they have a dandy stamp for us!

A random St Jacques in the street as we left Avignon
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A kind of Italian aire to buildings here
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This is where we balked and refused to keep climbing
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So we descended towards the river
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Roses in full bloom along the way. We really have gotten quite South
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How about this roadside warning as we approached Arles
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The Czech kids
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The Rhone to Sete canal with many boats and canal side restaurants
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Everybody eventually shoots a deux chevaux in France
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This great road was missed or rejected by Bikeline
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"Mas" is local terminology for "farm"
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Our hotel in Arles. We have room #1, on the main floor!
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Our salad has a very Provencal slant
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Tomorrow will be interesting.
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At the end of tonight, a fireworks display.
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Today's ride: 73 km (45 miles)
Total: 890 km (553 miles)

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