journal excerpt of bicycle trip 1998:

AVIGNON to TARASCON to ARLES

please click on small photos to see enlargements

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road from Avignon to Abbaye St.Michel de Frigolet ©TPH98 (jpg 2.91kb)

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Tarascon Tuesday 29 September 6:25 am dark

Hotel Terminus Rm#18
190FF double bed, shower wc down hall

We are well ensconced here in our lovely little room with yellow and blue curtains. We're lying in this bed that is softer than I thought, listening to the traffic begin to start up. It was extremely quiet in the night but in an hour or so, I'm sure it will be very busy again with cars and trucks.

Yesterday on arrival at 11:30 am into Avignon, I went to use the train station toilets but decided 3FF was a little steep. Postcards were 7 FF!! Welcome to Avignon! But the air was soft and warm and Avignon is simply beautiful. No wonder tourists flock here. We rode in through the gates by the station to find a casino (grocery store) to buy our lunch. We stopped at the Tourist office to find out what direction we should go to get to that difficult-to-pronounce town of Rognanas. The lady told me to take the train because we would have to take national highway. But when I got my map out, it turned out that I was mispronouncing the name and she thought we were trying to get to Rouissignol, which is far away. No problem to get where we were going, said she.

We then stopped at a bar for the most expensive coffee and perrier. (44FF!!) The bar tender was friendly so I have to assume that he rips everyone off. Then out we went, after buying our lunch, passing a heavy set prostitute of about 65, who was wearing a mini skirt, long over-the-knee boots and a fluffy sweater. We rode through the gates of Avignon and south along a very busy road that happily had a bike path. It was sunny 23C. We could smell mint once we got out into the countryside. We stopped to make sure of a turn off. There was a rose garden right there and the smell of sweet tea was deliciously overpowering.

The bicycle path disappeared about 1/2 km before our turnoff onto the virtually deserted D81 to go up to Abbaye St.Michel de Frigolet. We were following the route that G, L and J had taken 10 years ago. What a beautiful ride! We went up on a gentle slope through pine trees, fig trees heavy with ripe fruit, and olives! We saw two hawks high above circling. It had clouded over a little but that only made the riding more pleasant.

We arrived at the abbaye which was quiet and peaceful.Garden at Abbaye St.Michel de Frigolet ©TPH98 (jpg 2.95kb) We could hear plainsong chant from behind the closed doors of the church as we talked briefly with a Belgian couple who had stayed at the abbey.

Then up we rode to sit in a little park to eat our lunch under the gaze of a statue of Mary. We had lovely pears, bread and a mystery cheese that T had bought at a regular ordinary grocery store.Abbaye St.Michel de Frigolet ©TPH98 (jpg 2.09kb) The cheese was brilliant. (19.95 for a large piece.) There was a French couple with their little poodle who were seated there as well. T asked if they were from around here and if they knew the name of the cheese we were having. They each had little tastes (no no, not for you little dog!) and we all agreed that it was very fine raw milk cheese but the name? Dommage, on ne sait pas. We talked a little about how sad it is that we can't get raw milk cheeses and the fellow said that even within Europe, they can't export it.

Guidepost to Abbaye St.Michel de Frigolet ©EJM98 (jpg 2.66kb)Their accent makes it a little hard for us to follow. (They pronounce absolutely everything, so that "la rose" becomes "la rosa".) With pleasant farewells, the French couple headed away with their little dog and we continued our lunch with wasps languidly trying to share our pears with us. We saw a little lizard sitting on the stone wall around the garden we were in. He stayed frozen for a moment, then jumped(!) down into the garden and jumped(!!) up (at least a foot) into a little cedar bush.

It began to rain ever so slightly so we headed back out and down the beautiful road past big pillars that lined the road up and were the guideposts to the Abbaye.

We got to the end of that road and had to ride for a km or two on a busy route. But the rain had stopped and the road had quite wide paved shoulders for almost all of it until we got to turn off onto a small country road. It was a little desolate with dry overturned earth or olive trees or sunflower fields. We saw few people. At one point, there was a Y in the road. We weren't positive that we had taken the correct turn so flagged down a man in a small van who was relieved to hear that we were only asking for directions. We were on the right track. He told us "tout droit; tout droit..."

We had to cross a very busy highway and again got to a few unmarked intersections. We flagged down another car that appeared on the otherwise isolated road and the friendly 60ish man with a soft high voice asked us if we were a little lost. When he found out where we were headed, he told us we weren't lost and to go tout droit, tout droit, past the pont, past the railway and we would fall right into the town. He smiled and drove off and we rode on tout droit, tout droit and there indeed was a pont and a railway overpass and we had fallen right into Tarascon by 3:45pm.

We blundered our way to the Hotel Terminus. We asked two ladies who didn't know the hotel but said there were many close to the train station. We got closer in and stopped to ask a man whose back was to us and seemed to be working on the road. It turned out as soon as the man truned around that he was the village idiot. T asked him anyway so the man could save face. A lady walked by as the man was floundering and trying without success to catch the attention of the real workers. She set us on our way and we thanked her. I turned and thanked the man as well; he suddenly stopped looking slightly dejected and straightened his shoulders a little and smiled proudly.

We arrived at the hotel and looked at 3 rooms before settling on this one with its "assez dur" double bed. We worried that it would be noisy but it was very quiet in the night.

. .
. distance:42.7 km .
av.sp:14.7 km/hr (includes Lyon and Avignon train station walking)
max.sp:30.5 km/hr
time:2.53.46



It is now 7:25am and I hear lots more cars and through the wall, the voices of our neighbours talking as they have their morning baths.

At 6:00 last night after bathing and washing our clothes, we went for a walk through this lovely town. The main street outside the walls is very busy but inside the walls, it is quite quiet. We are seeing lots of Moroccan looking people. It was pleasantly warm/cool. We saw a beautiful poster advertising a festival of gardens here. The fellow at the shop said the Tourist office sold the posters. But when we got to the tourist office, it was just closed. The woman was still there and very kindly reopened the doors and answered our questions. She didn't seem to mind at all to stay open a little longer. The posters are all long gone, sadly, and none of the others were as wonderful.

We went into the local Supermarket "SuperU" to buy potato chips for T. It looks just like a K-mart with groceries except when one examines the cans on the shelves, sudenly it's quite different. There were several kinds of canned cassoulet, jars of preserved figs, vacuum sealed olives, many pates and a wide varity of odd looking packaged cookies. One brand has the name "Sunny Cookies". We found the chip section that had lots of different snacks. There was a curious one called Cigarettes that looked like it was white cheesies. We wanted to use up our little change. Much to the chagrin of the people waiting behind us in line, we held out our hands, looking like a couple of goofs and the cashier lady picked through it to find that we didn't quite have enough in order to use our centimes so we had to use a big coin and get even more change.

We continued strolling and settled at a little bar that looked out at the street. On one wall nearby was an old sundial and another building had a beautiful roof top garden. The proprieters were very friendly and explained that Byrrh is from Perpignan and is vin cuir (same process as Madiera, T thinks) At first I thought they meant it was mulled. Later the lady had a big basket of perfect cepes that she was peeling. The slices looked like pieces of alabaster. Gorgeous.

We got back to the hotel to have dinner and were just sitting down. The proprietress came and anxiously asked if we had the key to #4. I said I had thought I'd given her all the keys back. T went up to our room and luckily found the key in his pants pocket. Everyone was happy and relieved.

We then had the most wonderful dinner that definitely stood up to the ravings that G had given the restaurant when he, L and J had eaten there ten years previously.

Terminus Hotel Restaurant
70FF menu

soupe de poissons avec sa rouille et croutons (7FF supp)
E: pintade
T: cote du porc
pot de rouge (je ne sais quoi)
1/2 pot de rose

The soup was absolutely fantastic. The lady asked if we knew how to eat it. There was a basket of melba toasts (clearly made at the restaurant), a small bowl of grated Emmenthal? cheese and another bowl of rouille, which turned out to be a mixture of mayonnaise, garlic and powdered chile pepper. She explained that we were to spread the mayonnaise on the toasts and place them in the bottom of the bowl. Then we were to pour the soup over top and sprinkle cheese. Moan!! It was so so good.

to recipe for soupe de poisson

The dinners come with a choice of eggplant, green beans or potatoes and the lady brought us a plate that had a mix of all of them because we had had difficulty deciding. The eggplant was brilliant - sort of a ratatouille that oozed with olive oil. The green beans were more like grey beans but tasted very good, and the potatoes looked like potato puffs but were oh so much better than any potato puff I've ever had.

The wine was not bad, though not particularly flavourful or brilliant. But amazingly it did it's job of palette cleansing. We were totally unable to have dessert even though it sounded very tempting with a choice of house made banana pie, creme brulee, and two other things I can't recall. The restaurant was justifiably jammed with people and our waitress was friendly and very efficient.

We went out for another stroll and got very lost. Two men were out chatting on the otherwise deserted street. They rescued us and sent us back on our way (which was exactly opposite to what I thought - great sense of direction I have).

We came back to watch a little bit of the lobby T.V. - a Jean Claude Van Damme movie then upstairs for poire and fitful sleep in this bed that is very soft in the middle.

9:35 am In the breakfast room (a little late for this place) to have bread, croissants, apricot jam galore and butter and cafe au lait. As we came down the stairs, there was a group of French tourists who were just leaving. They looked to be in their 50's, upwardly mobile very properly dressed but not chic. They looked very nice in their tweeds. Two ladies wearing wool coats and silk scarves were greeted with kisses on both cheeks by the patronne.

Arles Wednesday 30 September 7:45 am

Hotel Regence 180FF double bed, shower, wc down hall

It's raining gently now and the parade of cars and scooters has begun to go by our window. It was pouring in the middle of the night.

However, yesterday remained dry. We left the Terminus Hotel in the sun after saying goodbye to the patronne. We went in search of a fruit store and saw that a little market had beeen set up on the street nearby. It appeared to be clothing and utensils. We went by a stall that had stacks and stacks of differently coloured nail polishes - all colours: blue, green, turquoise, yellow as well as the usual hues of read. Then many with sweaters and trousers, skirts, underwear, jackets, another that sold ribbons exclusively, another selling hair accessories and then we came upon one that was selling things made from outdoor market Tarascon ©TPH98 (jpg 4.43kb) olive wood. Pepper grinders, beautiful cutting boards, bowls, pestles and mortars, big spoons that were slotted, big spoons that were solid, egg lifters, mixing spoons an THEN we noticed our favourite kind of spatula. We had to buy a couple for T.

We continued through the crowds of marketers, many of whom were Muslim women wearing long straight brightly coloured gowns and headkerchiefs. Everyone was carrying baskets.fruit market Tarascon ©EJM98 (jpg 2.95kb) We turned down a laneway when we saw some vegetables and suddenly the air was filled with the divine smell of roasting chickens. There were many roasting on spits, turning round and round dripping onto some big sausages sitting cooking below on the grill. After a few more stalls, we came upon one that sold fruit. T bought pears as I stood behind holding up the bikes and listened to the squawking of the guinea fowl in cages behind me. There were ducks as well. An elderly lady carrying a large round bottomed basket came hobbling by. She had a brightly coloured kerchief over her grey hair and her dark skinned face was very lined. She was wearing a big circle skirt of many colours that looked like the table cloths we had seen at one of the stalls near the olive wood stall. Later on, we saw lots of places selling the same fabric that was made into clothing as well as table coverings. We headed back to get a photo of the olive wood stall and on arrival there, T realized that he had forgotten to take the pears. Back we went and the pear vendor laughingly handed T his bag of pears, his young face already craggy from hours in the sun.

We left the market area and rode about exploring the lovely town getting lost again in the maze. We stopped at a bicycle store to try and replace my mirror. They had none but trying to be helpful, pulled out a huge motorcycle mirror. We blundered onto the street that had one of the landmarks "Soleiado" that was marked on our tourist map. We went into the beautiful courtyard that had flowers hanging form the windows and balconies and huge pieces of cloth hanging from the balcony of a store selling this multicoloured cloth that is obviously indigenous to the area. It is very beautiful heavy cotton that is also very expensive.

We continued on through a churchyard where a little dog, wearing a collar, flirted with T, throwing himself down at T's feet. He followed us for a while before being distracted by another local dog.

We came out to one of the main streets and realized that the whole town had been turned into a market.paella, outdoor market Tarascon ©TPH98 (jpg 4.77kb) We passed by a bored looking young woman who was grinding her calliope. Her fat little dog was lying on top of the calliope and as we went by, he opened his eyes a little and she murmured "MonsieurDame" as we went by, vaguely hoping we might stop to give her money because she saw I was smiling at her. Then we came upon a woman who was buying paella from a man. The paella dish was HUGE.

Then out of town we headed, stopping at the large Chateau that sits on the Rhone, facing another large chateau on the other side of the river. T pointed out the many pockmarks from ancient bullets that were all around the windows of the chateau. There were also big pockmarks from cannonfire. We paid 32FF to go in and then began a long conversation with a Canadian couple who have been bicycling since Easter.

It was extremely sunny and 27C but there was a nice breeze. How horrible it must be in the summer with the sun blazing down. There was a big clump of flowers growing out of the rock at the base of the chateau that is not even mentioned in the Lonely Planet.

We at last got into the chateau after our long chat with Glen and Shiela, who were heading towards Spain for the winter. We went through the chateau remarking on the graffiti on the walls put there by prisoners in the 18th century. view from Tarascon chateau ©TPH98 (jpg 2.05kb) We stopped for a time at the top to admire the wonderful view. The last of many otherwise empty rooms was truly amazing. The walls of the smallish room were absolutely covered with carvings of ships and weapons from the 16th? century. They were carved by an unknown person who was obviously there for some time. It's thought he was a mariner and that he was probably incarcerated there.

I stayed a little longer than T in that remarkable room and came out of the chateau at about 1:00 and was ready to head out of town just after peeking into the cathedral across the street. But T was talking to a Seattle couple, Susan and Tom, who had been bicycling for about 4 weeks and were headed home soon. We talked for far too long and suddenly realized that we had only ridden 4 km and hadn't even left town yet. We raced away in the blazing sun at 2:00, crossing the bridge to go onto small deserted roads and wind our way towards Nimes.

At 3:00, we stopped in an orchard (plums?) that was remarkably clean - no signs of any of the fruit that had already been picked. It was lovely and our shattered souls were rejuvenated as we stopped beating ourselves up that we had left so late. We decided that we wouldn't go to Nimes after all but head towards Arles. We backtracked a little and followed lovely little roads that were marked everywhere with signs saying "Mas de ..." One was "Mas de pauvre menage". We kept wondering what "mas" meant (it's not in either of our pocket dictionaries), vaguely remembering it being explained to us a couple of years before. We wound our way, using our compasses, to Fourque, on the other side of the river from Arles, stopping at a coffee bar there at 4:15.

The people at the bar (owners and clientele) were very friendly and were most concerned about the mosquito bite on my arm. I told them I am allergic to French mosquitoes and they thought that was hilarious. They kept telling me to go to a pharmacy to get various creams. Then they told us about a cheap hotel in Arles called "Classe 1" They gave us detailed directions, arguing and laughing: "right turn" "no! a left turn" "no, they're on bicycles! they can go that way!"

We went on our way across the river into the lovely town of Arles. We stopped at the Tourist office for instructions to get to Classe 1 and found out it's called "Premiere Classe".

It began to cloud over and the wind picked up - we had been battling a relatively stiff south wind already. We rode the long way to the Premiere Classe, leaving town almost and getting into ugly modern shopping malls. We aborted just as we saw the hideous building, deciding not to even look inside and turned around to go back into town.

We stopped at a small hotel on the river and were greeted by a friendly chatty lady who happily showed us a room, saying it was her last room. Just as we were going to look at the room, another couple walked in to ask about a room; she turned them away, saying she had just rented her last room and directing them to a nearby hotel. She knew that we might say no but was obviously not too concerned if we said no as she was assured of finding someone to rent the room. We looked at the room with a double bed and noted how firm the mattress was and that there was a lovely view of the river and we took the room at the Hotel Regence - 180FF + 30FF breakfast

. .
. distance:37.39 km .
av.sp:13.2 km/hr
max.sp:29.2 km/hr
time:2.49.59



We walked around a virtually deserted Arles. (Where were all those tourists that we had seen at the hotels???) The big Roman arena is obviously still used and had giant posters advertising a bullfight (the nonlethal kind) that was held there two days ago.

We wandered to various restaurants, deciding not to go to one where Tot asked (in French) what "Forestiere" meant on the menu and the answer was in heavily accented English "a mushroom sauce". Another place became a distinct possibility. It was a tiny creperie that also had paella. (We still regret not going to that aromatic, inviting niche.) We finally ended up going to one close to the hotel that had been recommended by the patronne.

Arlatan

90FF menu

E: soupe de poissons avec sa rouille
T: volaille forestiere (and now we knew what
it meant because of the snot noses from the other restaurant!)


E: porc roti
T: lapin farcie

There were only two other people in the restaurant. The server was very pleasant in a closed way but was happy to tell us that "mas" is pronounced like "mass" and denotes the style of the building. It is a provencal style - kind of bungalow like with ceramic tile roof and plaster walls.

The dinner began with Kir for me and Ricard for Tot. The server brought a little bowl of olives and 2 puff pastries stuffed with olive pate and 2 cheese sticks. The dinners each had a spinach mousse that looked like a piece of zucchini standing up on the plate. There were cherry tomatoes and scalloped potatoes. We finished with chevre in olive oil - delicious!

We walked back in the chilly night air to the hotel to look at the river. On our way, we ran into a young German couple who had eaten at the Terminus in Tarascon the night before. We chatted with them for a while; they seemed so pleased to see us there. They are driving their car that they brought by ferry-train from Germany to Avignon. Amazing! Europeans know how to travel and really have their rail systems working well.

to Les Stes.Maries-de-la-Mer...

Our route:

route map bike trip98 (gif 3.34kb)

You can click on the map above for an enlargement of our route.

Thanks to City.net excite travel for the France map template
and University of Texas library on line for the relief map template.

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© ejm 1998-99
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