All loaded up, we leave the beautiful town of Antibes and our temporary home with all the creature comforts, now heading towards Spain hoping we would miss the nasty weather that was looming on the weather sites!
The border was about 5 hours away, so we weren’t sure if we would make it into Spain today, as we were going to take it easy and not rush through this part of France.
We rode most of the coastal roads until lunch time where we stopped at a beautiful beach, we had bought earlier some cheeses, meat and some tomatoes, we sat down on grassy area where lots of families were enjoying the last few weeks of good weather before Autumn really sets in, the sea was calm and the sand was warm, children were either swimming or playing in the sand, a perfect family holiday spot.
With our picnic lunch over, we were back on the road still hugging the coast line, the roads were quiet which was nice, out in the sea we could see a large Navy ship, it looked like the crew were doing some sort of exercises as there seemed to be a lot of activity happening from what we could make out anyway.
We soon end up on some boring straight roads and our once beautiful scenery was now replaced with the industrial ugliness of Marseille, even though it was the afternoon we decided we didn’t want to stop here for the night so we push on towards Spain, then we see a sign for an Ibis Hotel on the side of the highway, they usually do a cheap deal for the night, so we head to the Ibis Budget Hotel in Arles, booking in for one night, we drop our gear off into our damp smelling room and head off into town, and find out what a treat we are in for, this little town is a real gem..
Arles is a small Roman town that sits along the Rhone River and these days is well known for some of its agricultural products such as rice and olive oil.
We ride slowly into the town centre past colourful sun-baked houses and to the Rhone river, park the bike near river and along side dozens of camper vans, that seem to be set up for overnight what a stunning site they have, we stroll towards two huge stone buildings that sit beside the river, at first being unsure what they are but on closer inspection we find two stone lions high up on stone pillars and seem to be guarding the remnants of a bridge that once crossed the Rhône, the lion is in fact the symbol of Arles.
Apparently the Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh lived in Arles in 1888–1889 and produced over 300 paintings and drawings during his time there.
Once back in the town centre, we decide follow the Van Gogh trail, which is a walking circuit of the city and is marked by footpath-embedded plaques, and takes in spots where Van Gogh set up his easel to paint canvases such as Starry Night Over the Rhône (1888).
At each stop there’s a lectern-style signboard with a reproduction of the painting and interpretative information, that was really good.
The next site we wanted to view was the massive Arles Amphitheatre which is now one of the town’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Many years ago Slaves, criminals and wild animals (including giraffes) met their death before a delighted 20,000-strong crowd, the arena was built around the late 1st or early 2nd century AD and is 136m long, 107m wide and 21m tall, topped with four defensive towers to become a fortress, in the 1820s, when the amphitheatre was returned to its original use, how ever there were 212 houses and two churches that had to be demolished first, before retuning the arena back to its former glory, it truly is a magnificent building and in remarkable good condition, we were however too late to go for a tour of the inside, but i’m sure it couldn’t have been too different from the Colosseum in Rome, Arles Amphitheatre is now one of the town’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Unfortunately there is still bull fighting that goes on today, and in no uncertain terms would we ever go and watch that horror thats played out in the name of ‘sport’… man against beast.
Close by was the Church of St. Trophime (Trophimus) which is a Roman Catholic church and former cathedral built between the 12th century and the 15th century, very nice it is too.
The late afternoon was now turning chilly, and as we were hungry so decided to find some where to eat, feeling full the sun had now gone down and the sky was a clear dark blue/black, but before we returned to the hotel for the night we wanted to have a walk around the town centre in the dark with just the street lights for our guide.
Wow the town was as stunning under the street lights as it was in daylight.
This town has captivated us, and after a quick ride once more around the town we then decide to call it a night, as we were wanting to get an early start in the morning. Before getting to Spain we had another place we had researched a while a go and as we were pretty close we could now get to see it, its the town of Avignon.
With the bike parked directly underneath our 2nd floor room, to save time running up and down stairs with our bags, i got to throw a couple out the window with Clive at the bottom catching them, lol, now all loaded up we were ready to leave, saying a sad goodbye to this little surprise town of Arles, a town that we could have explored for days if we had had the time, but we always knew we couldn’t do it all sadly.
The bike was making ‘clunking’ noises which was becoming really annoying now, we were both hoping that the chain will survive the rest of our journey!
The morning was cool and the clouds in the sky were high and cold looking, Avignon wasn’t too far away.
We passed low lying empty crop fields, and in the distance we spotted what looked like an old castle that had been built on the edge of small cliff, as nice as it would have been to visit, we can’t do all the castles we see, now can we?
Arriving in Avignon we rode through the beautifully preserved medieval towns walled entrance, it was like going back in time, but we were on an iron horse not a real one!
Even though we arrived early we had to ride around the old streets a few times to find a suitable spot to park,wow some of these streets are so narrow if our bike had been any wider we couldn’t have got through, we finally found a small park and managing to squeeze the bike through the bollards (after having to unload the bikes side boxes first).
Locking up our helmets and jackets, with the rest of our gear, we hoped that it would all be still there when we returned later…
This walled city is incredible, another stunning piece of history and so well persevered, the ramparts still encircle the entire 4.3 km city, building started in 1355 during the Papacy of Pope Innocent VI, to protect from the assaults by the roving bands of mercenaries, the wall was finished in 1370 under Pope Urban V.
We walked through the quiet old narrow streets, only a few cafes were open, most were setting up for the day and as for the rest of the shops, well they were all closed, the footpaths were narrow so we walked most of the way on the cobbled roads that on occasion turned to modern flag stones, we pasted old and picturesque squares that were dotted throughout the old town our way towards the popes palace.
As we were walking past many cafes we kept getting that ‘waft’ of coffee, the smell got too much to bare so we decided we had better have a coffee and some breakfast…and enjoy our surroundings.
A short walk from the cafe was Place du Palais (the Popes Palace)…what an impressive building this is, it stands so prominant in the square, its such an interesting looking building, i found myself just staring at it for what seemed ages.
The Palace of the popes was built in less than twenty years, starting in 1335. The first part was built by Pope Benedict XII and was continued by Pope Clement VI, Nine popes lived here and ruled from Avignon during the 1300’s, making the city a major political and spiritual capital of the western world and is a significant architectural heritage, it is the biggest Gothic palace in the world, and has 15,000 square meters of floor space – which is the size of 4 Gothic cathedrals!
It was hard to take a picture that included the whole of the palace!
The long queue to get in made our decision up for us and we decided not to go into the Palace, it is however a good excuse to return one day!
Close by to the Popes Palace were some stairs that lead up to some beautiful gardens and had a panoramic view of the Pont d”Avignon, the only thing that was a let down was the man made water cave, it was so unnatural and tacky looking that we felt it really spoilt the beautiful gardens.
Back into the Palace square, there were now many more tourists about and a few street performers, doing there best to trick people into believing they were statues, they were very good.
The sun was warm on our backs as we walked to the area where the bike was, Clive looked at the weather radar installed on our phone and it didn’t look good for our ride into Spain!
Despite the weather radar telling us we were in for some downpours we decided against putting on the wet weather gear for now!
Back on the bike we stopped for a quick photo of the Avignon Bridge, a beautiful stone brigade that only goes part of the way across the Rhone River, today only 5 of the 22 arches remain, the bridge was built in the 12th century and due to Wars and the Rhone river flooding the bridge was damaged even though over the years it was consistently rebuilt, before being abandoned in the 17th century, the river won that battle over the bridge!
This is one impressive little town, if you are down this side of France at all, i would suggest a visit, hopefully we will be back!
We rode for about 20 minutes before we had to stop to put our wet wether gear on lol.
We were only about less than 3 hours from the Spanish border and tried to avoid the main roads as much as possible, hoping to stick to the local roads, the rain got really relentless at times, stopping for some lunch and getting a break from the weather, we came to some coastal hills, that had some tricky switchbacks for this horrid weather, at times it was hard to see anything as we rode into fog, high on one of the hills we came to the Spanish border, the once used border buildings were run down, had smashed windows and were covered in Graffiti, bit sad really.
Wohoo we are in Spain and the weather was still crap, we came to a few coastal towns and thought we would call it a day, but it wasn’t meant to be, these towns were pretty much empty, creepy even, so we pushed on further and stopped in a supermarket to stock up on a few items, just in case we needed to camp, at this stage it was looking like thats what we will have to do, but where i don’t know.
Even though it was the early afternoon, it looked more like early evening, as the dark clouds turned day into night.
Looking at the GPS we knew a bigger town was only a short ride away, the town of Figueres, riding through the town i got off the bike and enquired at the Hotel Trave, a bit above our budget but at that stage we didn’t care, we were cold and didn’t want to ride around just to save a few bucks, so i booked for one night.
Lucky for us the rain slowed down just enough for us to get the bags and side boxes off the bike and up into our warm, massive room, we even had a balcony but it was too wet to check it out, claps of thunder and a few strikes of lightening were now joining the rain which had started again with such force that the balcony looking like it had marbles bouncing off the tiles.
Hopefully when we leave tomorrow comes so will the sun…
After a long hot shower, we decided that we should book a hotel in Barcelona (our next stop) we certainly don’t want to be hunting for rooms in the rain.
With our hotel all booked for Barcelona we could now relax for the evening…
To be continued…