After the excitement of the Trébuchet, we headed down out of the medieval castle ruins into the second part of our visit to Les Baux de Provence – shopping and eating – two of my favorite things. The cobblestoned streets and alleyways echo hundreds of years of history as they lead from shop to restaurant to more shops. We found the classic touristy boutique like this one where we got matching “I heart Provence” t-shirts and post-cards describing how to take a castle with a battering ram (always fun to send to the family back home).
And enticing shops filled with goodies like this one. Cookies, Candy, Chocolate – the Three C’s. I did not, and I repeat, DID NOT cross the threshold of this place. Stop the madness.

But then we came upon the pottery, linens, olive oil, scarves, and French condiments. Oh, no. You can never have too many condiments. My head was whipping around like a cobra.

I indulged greatly and was trying to figure out how to get more bubble wrap to get my treasures home when it was finally time to eat. So we dashed to La Reine Jeanne restaurant in the heart of the village for a group lunch. With the warm weather, we made the most of the beautiful terrace shaded by large mulberry trees.

Here we had one of my favorite meals of the trip – the classic Salade Niçoise – which I will spend my life trying to replicate just like this one. It had fresh greens with light vinaigrette, tuna, tomatoes, boiled eggs, potatoes, olives, sardines…and a wedge of vegetable tart of some kind that was so very delicious. I’m thinking tomato or something like that (mostly because it was red) but not sure. I tried to get the waitress to explain what it was or get the recipe but my French was as bad as her English. Oh well. I’ll figure it out somehow.

Our table-mates, Marolyn and Bob

And Kathleen and Betsy…
And the rest of the gang…

As if the salad wasn’t good enough, they surprised me with an ambrosial dessert that I think was a Napoleon-type construction of ricotta cheese swimming in a heavenly berry sauce. It was accompanied by flaming sparklers. Cool way to celebrate your birthday, huh? Provence, good friends, great food, and sparklers. They even gave me a La Reine Jeanne polo shirt of my very own (hope that doesn’t mean I have to do dishes!)

Ok everyone, back on the bus. Next up – touring around Arles.

Once back in Arles, we met up with a lively character (don’t remember her name, sorry) who gave us a heart-felt tour of her home town.

We started with a view of the quay on the east side of the Rhone, looking into the bend of the river towards the western shore. Coming from the North, the Rhone turns to the right at this point to surround the rocks on which Arles is built. This town has a deep connection with the Dutch post-Impressionist painter, Vincent van Gogh, who moved here in 1888. It was here, in the south of France, that van Gogh came to love the strong sunlight and vibrant colors that would influence his art. Here in Arles his work grew into the unique and highly recognizable style that heavily influence 20th century art.

One of my favorite van Gogh paintings was made right here where we were standing. He painted this bend in the river at night – the sky and effects of the gas lights on the river – into the magnificent Starry Night Over the Rhone.

Our tour continued into the center of town – only a few minutes’ walk from the quay to the Place du Forum.

Here was the yellow house that van Gogh rented. It’s now a café named for the famous artist which our guide was not too keen on. Take your picture, eat elsewhere was the recommendation…But still, it was pretty cool to stand there and think about van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night.

I love the architecture, windows, doors, flower boxes of Europe and especially Provence. It’s so beautiful.

My mom had a little dream she would tell me and my sisters about. I can’t exactly remember when she started cutting advertisements out of the travel section of the Post, but it was probably just after my dad passed away.

She would show us these little clippings of villas, apartments, homes that you could rent in Provence. “Let’s rent a house in Provence and stay for a month” she would say. “I’ll paint and we can sit in cafés and drink chilled wine.” It sounded wonderful. We never got to do that with her, which I regret. So throughout this day as I’ve wandered along the paths she so wanted to take I’ve thought of her often, raised a glass of rosé, and thanked my mom for bringing me into the world oh so many years ago today.

Joyeux anniversaire à moi,

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