Day 18 Helen- Grenobles to Arles

We parted ways late morning, having repacked our stuff and left the back box and my helmet in the care of the hotel for the next week.

French trains are renowned for their punctuality and, unlike German trains, are cheap. I paid 40 euros first class for a one way ticket to Arles- a three hour journey. After a bit of a panic approaching Valence for the change, due to there being two stations called Valence ,10 minutes apart, I arrived in Arles. By now it was baking hot with a deep blue sky, unlike the gloomy, damp weather I had left behind in Grenoble. I wondered how Dave was and if he was staying dry.

Only 5 minutes walk from the station, you hit the old town of Arles in the area around the Roman arena where my hotel was located. It is everything I imagined. Old buildings made of local stone with blue, faded shutters and a backdrop of Roman ruins. It was very touristy around the arena in the middle of the afternoon and there was a preponderance of shops selling provencal aprons and lavender bags. I got some funny looks from the scantily clad tourists as I was clearly over-dressed for the weather in my bike boots and leather jacket.

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The Hotel Calendal is right opposite the Roman theatre in a wonderfully central location. The hotel has a lovely garden at the rear and many of the rooms are set around this, including mine. The room itself was tiny and smelled of damp, as is often the case in old, stone places but had everything I needed. It wash`t  until I went to bed, that I realised that the frosted glass door to outside did not have a curtain, causing light to come in from the patio.

I changed into something cooler and spent an hour wandering the streets, getting a feel for the town. I also located my apartment where I would be moving the next day. Arles is exquisite and it is very easy to lose the tourists and find yourself wandering silent, ancient streets alone. I found myself in the Place de la Republique which was filled with beautiful, flamenco guitar music, courtesy of a busker with an amplifier. The square was full of people of all ages and types, sitting around the fountain or on stone steps, taking in the atmosphere of the place. It was far too romantic to be doing this alone.

The hotel has a free spa. I was told to ask the receptionist to let me in. I imagined a place full of other women and maybe a couple of men, sitting around in towelling robes, but was surprised to find I had the whole place to myself. There is a window from the jacuzzi overlooking the Roman arena and the spa itself is styled like a Roman bath, so the whole experience was pretty evocative of Roman times. After a 20 minute steam and power shower, I was the cleanest I had been since I left Berlin. I lathered on all of the free LÓccitane products and made a mental note to visit the LÓccitane shop tomorrow.

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That evening, I ate at the Place du Forum in a restaurant opposite the Van Gogh Cafe, claimed by some to be the cafe that inspired the Van Gogh starry night painting and claimed by others to have been built in the 1980s. I had one of those magnificent, composed salads that only the French know how to make well and a glass of Cote de Provence rose wine. The square was heaving with holiday-makers and there was a very cheerful atmosphere. I finished the evening at a cafe overlooking the arena, now devoid of tourists and drank my way through a large pot of rooibos tea while watching others eating huge ice-cream sundaes and crepes with chantilly cream. The perfect end to the day was a visit from a couple of gitano buskers who gave us their rendition of some of the Gypsy Kings best songs (the Gypsy Kings are from Arles). The Camargue area of France has a large population of gypsies who were displaced by Franco after the Spanish Civil War. Of course, being of Roma blood, this type of thing really moves me, even if others might think it a bit cheesy. I wondered back to the hotel very happy.

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