Day 12 – Arles, Marseille, and Rome

(6/28/13)

A rather lazy travel day.  We took our time with breakfast and getting packed up, then headed to an internet café before having one last crepe for lunch.  After doing some souvenir shopping, we loaded up the car and drove an hour or so to the Marseille airport, where we dropped off our trusty vehicle, ate very disappointing sandwiches for dinner, then hopped on a plane to Rome.

We arrived pretty late so we just headed straight to our B&B near the Spanish steps.  Since it was so late, the Metro was pretty empty, and the presence of elevators and escalators made our journey from Termini to the B&B much, much easier than the similar journey in Paris.

So, we are now in Rome!  Be very prepared for more Roman nerdom.

 

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Day 11 – Arles, Mas des Tourelles, and the Crau Plain

(6/27/13)

Today was interesting, in that it was sort of a hodge-podge of the last few things we wanted to do in the area.  In the morning, we visited Les Alyscamps, a Roman necropolis turned Christian cemetery.  It was creepy and eerie and beautiful all at the same time.  The pathway was lined with sarcophagi and at the end, there was a building that looked like it used to be a church but was completely empty inside.  It was full of pigeons and bats making weird high-pitched screeching noises.  There were no lights except light coming in from dirty windows, so the whole place was dim.  Needless to say, anytime a pigeon moved, I jumped, and both Chris and I were happy to go back into the sunlight.

After trying to find a way up to the Port of Augustus, one of the entry gates to the city, and failing, we had lunch (lamb and toasts with olive tapenade for me, several different kinds of fish for Chris) then headed out to visit a winery.  Now, you might be thinking, “Oh, how nice, they’re finally going to experience some real French culture.”  Well, you’d be right but also wrong.  This wasn’t any old winery.  It was (you guessed it!) a Roman winery, called Mas des Tourelles.  By chance, I had read in our guidebook about this winery that makes wine exactly like the Romans did (or as close to it as possible).  It is actually also a normal modern winery, but I guess about 20 years ago they discovered the remains of an ancient winery on the property and so, with the help of archaeologists, decided to try making wine the ancient way.

There are several ancient sources that describe winemaking, the most detailed being Columella, who talks about how to grow the vines, how to press the grapes, and how to actually make the wine itself.  They had a small plot where they grew vines in olive trees, apparently a Roman method, as well as attached to a terrace type thing, rather than just in rows like modern vineyards.  They also had a huge press which they used for the second pressing.  The first pressing is done the super old-fashioned way – with feet.  There was a whole video about the process, and the most awesome thing was how they make the workers wear Roman tunics.  I’m thinking about coming back in September so I can help out.

We did get to taste three different wines, which were interesting and not totally out of the ordinary.  We also went to check out the site, which was extensive and pretty cool.  It is really amazing how little the actual process has changed – grow some grapes, squeeze out the juice, then let it sit for a while.  I wonder who first thought that would be a good idea?

After Mas des Tourelles, we had the most unusual experience of the whole trip.  While at Tufts, Chris had written his Master thesis on sheep economy in the Crau Plain, which is about 30 minutes from Arles.  Of course we could not be so close without going to take a look, so after our wine tasting, we headed out to the plain.  The Crau is still used to sheep herding today and is a totally weird landscape.  The whole place is covered in stones ranging in size from small pebbles to stones as large as two fists held together.  The only things that grow are scraggly grasses and thistles, which were surprising tall and menacing looking.  Chris had found one of his sheep folds on the map, so we parked the car next to the highway and began the trek out into the plain.  Little did we know that the fold was actually about 2 miles away from the road.  So, we spent the next half an hour fighting our way through the thistles and the wind, tripping over stones to find the remains of…a Roman sheep fold.  An outbuilding, then two back rooms and a large holding pen.  Literally a few squares of stones in the ground.  We hung around for about 5 minutes, then started the 2 mile hike back to the car.

I’m still not sure if it was exactly “worth it,” and it’s definitely not something other people do on their honeymoons, but I’m glad we did it.  Most people only see the great monuments, the amphitheaters, the baths, the temples.  Here was a simple sheep fold very literally in the middle of nowhere, and standing there, with the wind whipping crazily around me, it was astonishing to think that 2,000 years ago, farmers lived out here.  Ordinary people trying to make a living, maybe going to a tiny nearby village for necessities, maybe, just maybe going to Arelate to do some trading.  But those people, those men and women who lived with their sheep out in the middle of nowhere, they probably never went to the games in the arena, or could afford to spend a day in the baths.  And that’s something a lot of people now don’t remember.

Anyway, after walking for four miles, we decided we had earned a spectacular dinner, which we ate – veal two ways (grilled and boiled in consommé) for me and sea bream with artichokes and olives for Chris, then the most amazing desserts: custard made with almond milk with poached cherries on top and cherry ice cream; and poached apricots with basil.  I certainly couldn’t think of a better way to end the day.  🙂

Pictures!

Outside the weird church thing.

Outside the weird church thing.

Inside the weird church thing

Inside the weird church thing

Another shot of the inside

Another shot of the inside

Outside again!

Outside again!

Mas des Tourelles

Mas des Tourelles

Roman wine press!

Roman wine press!

Dolia!

Dolia!

Where they stomp the grapes by foot

Where they stomp the grapes by foot

Olive trees with vines growing in them

Olive trees with vines growing in them

The site of the Roman winery

The site of the Roman winery

The Crau.  Doesn't it look like fun?!

The Crau. Doesn’t it look like fun?!

Thistles.  I accidentally brushed one with my foot and the thorn made me bleed.

Thistles. I accidentally brushed one with my foot and the thorn made me bleed.

"Hmmm... I think this patch of dirt looks different from all the other ones..."

“Hmmm… I think this patch of dirt looks different from all the other ones…”

Can you see the sheep fold?

Can you see the sheep fold?

IMG_2247

We're both so excited!  (check out what the wind is doing to my hair!)

We’re both so excited! (check out what the wind is doing to my hair!)

Day 10 – Glanum and St. Remy

(6/26/13)

I don’t know if I can’t write any more about the Romans without boring everyone to death, but I don’t really care because I love it and you certainly don’t have to be reading this. ☺

So, in the morning, we visited the site of Glanum, a Roman town in the Alpilles, a small mountain range about an hour away from Arles. It was originally a Gallic town, built around a spring sacred to the god Glan (thus the name). When the Romans took over, they kept the sacred spring and the town became an important place of trade in the area.

The site reminded me of Ostia – a really small (and cobwebbed strewn) museum preceded the site and there were hardly any people there (another group of French school children did show up at one point, but they were shockingly well behaved). We were able to scramble over walls and drains, getting closer looks at whatever we wanted. And there was certainly a lot to see. The town had a really complicated drainage system, which a drain under the street for waste water as well as drain channels on the sides of the street for rain water and water from fountains. The baths, while not large, also had excellent remains of the hypocaust system (which I love. Don’t know if you figured that one out yet). You could also see where doors had been placed into stones on the thresholds of building, which was really neat. The sacred spring had steps leading down into it and temples on either side – we were even able to read a bit of the Latin inscriptions.

After about three hours of being huge nerds, we headed into St. Remy for lunch. St. Remy is a tiny town famous for the mental hospital where Van Gogh lived and painted for a year (he had lived in Arles for a while before committing himself to the hospital). Our lunch was fabulous (lamb pastry with veggies and veal tajine) and so we then headed to the Cloitre Saint-Paul, where we saw various areas where Van Gogh had painted, as well as his bedroom. It was a beautiful place, and the really interesting thing is that it is still a psychiatric institution. They did a really good job of allowing tourists to see the place but also keeping them separate from the actual patients. There is even a gallery where artwork done by patients as part of their therapy is displayed and sold.

We spent the rest of the day walking around St. Remy and checking out some foodie shops (we bought some chocolate from one of the top 10 chocolate makers in France. hehe). For dinner, we headed back into Arles and ate at a rather fancy bistrot called A Coté. I had mussels with prawns and chorizo, which was really delicious and interesting, and Chris had brandade with mashed potatoes. Brandade is a local dish made of cod poached in milk then whipped or mashed with olive oil and garlic. It was pretty delicious and a good way to end the day.

Pictures! (sorry I’m not sorry there are so many. Also, I figured out how to use the “caption” feature. go me)

"Les Antiques," the triumphal arch and mausoleum that stand at the entrance to the town.

“Les Antiques,” the triumphal arch and mausoleum that stand at the entrance to the town.

A view into the market.  The line of stone you can see is a drain.

A view into the market. The line of stone you can see is a drain.

Hypocaust at the baths!

Hypocaust at the baths!

The main road.  See the drain on the right side?

The main road. See the drain on the right side?

door jamb!

door jamb!

Chris being super dedicated to archaeology.

Chris being super dedicated to archaeology.

The sacred spring (the arch in the middle) with the temple to Valetudo on the left and the shrine to Hercules on the right.

The sacred spring (the arch in the middle) with the temple to Valetudo on the left and the shrine to Hercules on the right.

The view of the site from waaaaay high up!

The view of the site from waaaaay high up!

super nerdy lovebirds.  :)

super nerdy lovebirds. 🙂

The entrance to the Cloitre St. Paul

The entrance to the Cloitre St. Paul

Inside the actual cloister

Inside the actual cloister

More cloister

More cloister

Van Gogh's bedroom

Van Gogh’s bedroom

A view of the institution from the end of the lavender field.

A view of the institution from the end of the lavender field.

One of the spots where Van Gogh painted.  The olive trees are almost still the same!

One of the spots where Van Gogh painted. The olive trees are almost still the same!

The chocolate shop!

The chocolate shop!

Day 9 – Nîmes

(6/25/13)

Brace yourself, dear reader, for more Roman nerdom. Our visit to Nîmes was completely centered around the three Roman monuments there: the amphitheater, the Maison Carrée, and the defensive watchtower.

Nîmes is about a 45-minute drive from Arles. We arrived mid-morning and immediately went to the amphitheater (that is, after successfully navigating Nîmes’ winding streets and finding a place the park, where Chris had to get out and direct me because the space was so small). There was a free audio guide, which was quite good, and we spent a happy few hours scrambling over benches and steps. The weird thing about the amphitheater was that, like in Arles, it is still used today for shows, including the region’s famous bull fighting. Which means that the inside is covered in modern seating, which means that the inside looks like a modern arena. There were obviously some parts that were too much in ruins to be used, but the amphitheater in Nîmes is the most intact of the 400 in the world, so there was little space that wasn’t utilized. I like the fact that these ancient spaces are still being used, but I’m not sure if it makes it more or less difficult to imagine what it would have been like in Roman times. Maybe next time we’ll have to get tickets to a show so we can actually experience the arena as a spectator, rather than just a visitor.

After the amphitheater, we had lunch on the roof of the museum next to the Maison Carrée, so the view of the Roman temple was extraordinary. It was very windy, though, which meant that our food was a little on the chilly side and there was a constant threat of our glasses being blown over (I should mention that the whole area was SUPER windy – it’s called the mistral and it a really violent, really cold wind that blows from winter to late spring. Some of the gusts were so forceful they literally took my breath away). After lunch, we headed to the temple to check it out, only to find that the interior has been converted into a movie theater showing a very cheesy looking film called “The Heroes of Nîmes.” We decided not to see it.

The watchtower, our last monument in Nîmes, was built during Augustus’ reign, more as a display of power than as a defensive building. At this time, most of the Empire was at peace, and towers like the one we saw were not entirely necessary. It was located in a beautiful park with some ruins of a “temple of Diana” (it’s probably not a temple to anyone, but that’s what it’s been called for hundreds of years, so there you are), so we enjoyed ourselves strolling through the fountains and flowers. The view from the top of the watchtower was magnificent, and I think you could even see a bit of Spain.

After Nîmes, we drove about 20 minutes north to the Pont du Gard, which was so amazing and incredible and stunning and awesome I almost fell over. Seeing it in person is so awe-inspiring… it is so amazing to me that these people, who didn’t have the internet or cars or Starbucks built something so sophisticated and intricate that it is still standing today. I mean, this thing carried water hundreds of miles using only gravity. Standing at the base, looking up, I could almost feel the weight of those stones pressing into the earth, ready to withstand another 2,000 years.
We hiked around the hills at the top of the aqueduct for a while and found the remains of it that would have continued on to Nîmes. It was a bit eerie because no one else was around and the wind was fierce, but it was also cool because it meant I could climb up into the channel of the aqueduct and no one would yell at me (except Chris, who scowled accordingly. I know some of you readers will be scandalized that I did such a thing, but I really couldn’t help it).

So, moral of the day: the Romans are totally awesome and badass.

Pictures!   (there are a lot)

IMG_1917audio guide!

IMG_1920the inside of the Nimes amphitheater

IMG_1929 more inside

IMG_1939the outside!

IMG_1945 the view of the Maison Carree from our lunch spot

IMG_1948Apparently some archaeologist figured out what the inscription was by the placement of the holes in the stone. Pretty cool!! (if perhaps not necessarily accurate)

IMG_1949 The Square House from the front

IMG_1966 fountains!

Part of the Temple of Diana

Part of the Temple of Diana

IMG_1976another part of the temple IMG_1984the watch tower IMG_1986 inside the watch towerIMG_1987 the view from the top!IMG_1993 the “symbol” (?) of Nimes – apparently it’s supposed to symbolize Caesar’s defeat of the Egyptians since he settled a tone of his soldiers here.  SO. COOL.

IMG_2001the base of the Pont du Gard on the hillside

IMG_2018the base by the river IMG_2028 the very tippy top, where water would have flowedIMG_2033 remains of the aqueduct farther in the hillside  (see the water channel?  Yeah, I was in that!)

IMG_2037 another view of the water channel.  from where I was standing inside it.  hehe.

Day 8 – Arles

(6/24/13)

What a fantastic day!  Our first day in Arles felt like it should have been the first day of the trip – it was sunny and beautiful and exciting and full of Roman stuff.  (can you tell that we are huge nerds yet?!)  It is true that the day in Arles was the first day in a week that was entirely sunny, so that had a huge effect on our moods.  Anyway, in the morning, we visited the Antiquities Museum.

>> Quick history lesson for those of you who are not Classics nerds.  Arles, originally Arelate, was given the title “colony” by the big J. C. himself (and I mean Julius Caesar, who is the big J.C. to me) when Arles sided with him against Pompey and Marseille in the civil war.  Arles then became a very prominent city in the Provincia, which literally means “province” and is where the name Provence comes from.  <<

Anyway, the museum was great.  For the early history, artifacts were laid out chronologically so visitors could see the progression from prehistoric settlement to powerful Roman colony.  Once we hit the Roman period, the museum became thematic, showcasing different aspects of Roman life.  We watched a series of videos about the raising of a completely intact Roman barge from the Rhone and actually got to see them working on it from behind a screen.  That was incredible.

What was not incredible was the swarms of French school children who were running around and (Lord help me, it still makes me so angry) TOUCHING EVERYTHING WITH THEIR DIRTY LITTLE HANDS.  Oh my god, I thought I was going to collapse as I watched a teacher DO NOTHING while his charges were just touching all the statues and artifacts.  Do they not know the damage the oils in our skin does?!?!  Chris and I had to walk to other parts of the museum lest we completely lost it which would have been rather inappropriate.

After a delicious lunch of gallettes (savory crepes), we explored the city center.  Arles has a beautiful amphitheater with three of the four medieval watchtowers surviving.  It was really interesting to see how the space had been used over the years.  The watch towers were added to make the arena a defensive space, and over time the poor had built homes inside there, as well.  We also saw the Roman theater nearby and a cryptoporticus, which is basically a huge underground walkway.  There wasn’t really an explanation, so I have absolutely no idea what it was used for.  Of the more modern monuments, we saw the cloisters of St. Trophime, which were an interesting mix of Romanesque and Gothic.  They were doing some restoration work so it was pretty cool to see the contrast between the stone that had been cleaned and the stone that was still dirty.  Made us really rethink the term “Gothic” and how it’s always made us think of dark, dirty spaces.  Closer to our hotel were the ruins of the baths of Constantine.  I have no idea why Constantine would have needed baths built for him in Arles, but the ruins included some pretty good remains of a hypocaust system, so that was cool.

So, at long last, we are in our nerdy element, getting overly excited over ancient lead pipes and hypocaust systems.  Feels good.  🙂

Pictures!

IMG_1816a model of the Roman town IMG_1842 ingots!

IMG_1845 Augustus’ shield!IMG_1852 the outside of the arena at Arles.  You can see the watchtower

IMG_1854  the inside of the arenaIMG_1858 more inside…IMG_1871the ancient theater IMG_1899  cloisters

IMG_1904 IMG_1907

the baths!  and the hypocaust!

IMG_1916the small courtyard at our hotel

Day 7 – Carcassonne

(6/23/13)

After bidding Mme. Duranteau “adieu,” we headed out to Arles.  Along the way, we stopped at the beautiful town of Carcassonne, set atop a hill with a commanding view of the surrounding area.  It had been a Roman settlement that then grew as time passed.  The interesting thing about the city, though, was the fact that it was essentially entirely recreated in the 18th century.  The town fell from prominence then became a sort of ruin, with houses of the poor popping up inside the medieval fortifications and such, and then in the 1700s, some guy came along and decided that he wanted to restore the town to it’s former glory.  The chateau and surrounding ramparts were reconstructed, and all those poor people were kicked out.  Reminds me a bit of the “revitalization” of OTR, doesn’t it?  It also meant that, as we were touring the chateau and ramparts, we had no idea what was originally medieval and what had been reconstructed.  It was really interesting.

So, we toured the chateau and inner town defenses, then walked along the walls for a while.  There were parts of the wall and defense towers that we could definitely tell were Roman, which was pretty awesome.  The view was amazing and the height was terrifying.

We also had lunch in Carcassonne at a place which served “traditional” medieval food.  Not sure if that’s true, but we did have very tasty stews: duck, pork, and white bean for Chris, wild boar for me.  I’m also not sure if the crepe and bread pudding we had for dessert existed in medieval times.

After Carcassonne, we finished our drive to Arles, arriving in time for a dinner of grilled fish for me (lovely) and almost raw steak for Chris (not so lovely).  Apparently when you tell a French waiter “medium rare,” all they hear is “rare,” which must actually mean “raw.”  Oh well, c’est la vie.

pictures!

DSCN0016 IMG_1795 IMG_1799 IMG_1805 IMG_1810