Friday, July 20,2012
Woke up at 7:30am. It is sunny with a cool breeze.
Today we are traveling further into the South of France to Arles. We need to return the rental car, get a taxi, and arrive at the train station soon enough to get tickets to Arles. The night before, we reviewed the train schedule so we know what train we want – the 10:41am to Narbonne (our one single stop along the way to Arles).
Why Arles? Because Rick Steves says it is the best example of a medieval town he has seen in France.
We return the rental car without a problem. The lady at Avis calls us a cab which arrives quickly. We are at the train station with 30 minutes before the train is scheduled to leave. The train is on time according to the electronic schedule board in the station. The ticket office is closed — its gray metal door is completely drawn shut. The sign on the window indicates that they should be open today at this time, but they are not. We try to use the ticket machine but our credit cards do not have the proper electronic chip in them so this option does not work. Only thing we can do is get on the train and hope the conductor does not ask us for tickets..
Eleven minutes before the train is to arrive, the gray steel door of the ticket office is lifted. There is the ticket agent! We are second in line after a French couple who have a problem with their ticket. With only a couple minutes to spare, we finally speak to the ticket agent. We get our tickets just as the train pulls up. We get on the train with about a minute to spare.
So, what have we learned about our stay in Castelnau d’Aude:
- It is not about the place, it is about the people who live there.
- Slanted floors make me dizzy.
The trip to Narbonne is quick, about 20 minutes. We have a two-hour layover here. We get off the train, find the Tourist Office and get a map. We are fortunate to find a kind hotel to hold our luggage and we are off to explore Narbonne. It is hot but not too bad in the shade.
The only really attraction in Narbonne is the cathedral — Cathedral of Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur. Just when you think all the cathedrals look the same, one surprises you. Magnificent is really the only word I can use to describe the cathedral at Narbonne.
It is noon and we are hungry. We get a ham and cheese sandwich and a chocolate filled beignet and walk through the busy streets – one shady spot to another shady spot. The sandwich was good, the benige was really good! We sit by the canal and drink water from the bottles we tucked into our backpacks. We decide that Narbonne is a nice place!
We collect our luggage from the hotel and make it back to the train station to catch the 1:30pm train to Arles with time to spare. We get on the train, stow our luggage and we got lucky – there was room in the air conditioned car! As our train progresses with the South of France, we see sunflower fields and distance views of the Mediterranean Sea. At each stop, more and more people get on. By the time we reach Arles, the train is packed and we have to dig our bags out from under all the other bags that accumulated along the way.
Our hotel in Arles is not far away, but with luggage it seems like miles. We decide to get a taxi. But there no taxis. None.
We drag our luggage a few blocks to survey the path we would need to walk to our hotel. The path runs right next to the River Rhone on a high embankment. It is hot and is seems to be a long way to the hotel on the opposite side of the river. We stop at the first hotel we see and ask the receptionist if she could order us a taxi. She tells us that there are no taxis running today – she doesn’t know why. So, I guess we are walking to the hotel.
We make our way to the bridge over The Rhone River to go to our hotel. My DH had no problem crossing the wide stone bridges in Paris or Amboise, but he has a problem with this one. It is very windy and the bridge is long with a very narrow sidewalk and open steel railings – he has a fear of heights. Every cell of his body is telling him not to cross the bridge.
After a couple of heroic attempts, he just can’t do it. He is pretty sure that if he steps on that bridge, he will dissolve into a puddle. He is pretty sure that if he steps on that bridge he will suffer a long and painful death as that puddle-that-was-my-DH oozes between the bridge railing and drops drip by heavy thick drip into the deep, cold, dark waters of the Rhone River. Walking over that bridge is not going to happen for him. There is nothing I can do to ease his fears.
We rest in the hot sun for a couple of minutes, allowing my DH to get his land legs back. Well, if we can’t walk in the direction of the bridge, we will walk in the opposite direction with the hope that someone at the Tourist Office can help us. Lucky for us, there are signs to the Tourist Office posted all over the place.
We find the Tourist Office! The young lady there does not understand our problem. She explains that our hotel is only a “ten munites” walk across that scary bridge. She than proceeds to laden us with maps and bourchers of the city and tours. Eventually, she points out a taxi stand across the road. We grab our paperwork and head for the taxi stand.
When we arrive at the taxi stand, there is already a taxi there – lights on, but no driver. I go to the call box and press the button, nothing happened. I press the button again, but nothing happens. Tired and hot, we wait for the taxi driver. We figure that at some point, that taxi needs to be moved by someone.
A couple minutes later, another taxi arrives. A young man gets out, eyes us with a confused look as we stand next to the existing taxi with no driver. He points to the empty taxi, we shrug our shoulders in the internationally known “I don’t get it either” jester. The young man gets on his cell phone, says a few words in French, and out from behind a nearby shop comes the taxi driver. Was he in the bathroom or having a coffee? We don’t know, but the taxi driver with the phone is not happy with him. After a brief exchange between the two taxi drivers, our driver is friendly and helps us with our bags. Ten minutes later, we are at our hotel on the wrong side of The Rhone.
Once at the hotel, Hôtel Porte de Camargue, we check in and my DH takes a rest. I scope out the neighborhood. I find the bus stop and a convenience store – I figure that both will be useful during our stay in Arles. I get a big bottle of cold water at the store.
Back at the room, my DH is feeling better. We discuss our options – bus, taxi, or get a new hotel across the river? The hotel manager says we will need to pay for all four nights if we decide to move. He also tells us that getting a taxi here is easy, the bus service is limited. We decide to stay — the room is nice, it is quiet, and the air conditioner works. It just happens to be on the wrong side of The Rhone.
Once again, the internet connections are unstable leaving me very disappointed and feeling a bit defeated in regards to my blog. As we leave for dinner, people are in the lobby complaining to the hotel manager as the wave their useless iPhones – everyone has internet problems! He says there is nothing he can do about it. In the US, that hotel manager would be on the phone with his ISP provider giving them hell but not in France – it is our fault for wanting to use the internet he so proudly advertises.
Around 8pm we decide to go out for dinner. Options are slim on this side of the river. We settle on a neighborhood French restaurant called St. Pierre. I order my favorite, Salad Nicoise. My DH orders Baked Salmon. My salad is too oily and there are way too many anchovies (I guess they are cheap here). My DH’s salmon was perfect—I eat the eggplant side dish!
At the end of this trying day, we are physically and mentally drained! Thank God for good air conditioning. Did I tell you that it was hot today?
Quote of the day: “Why is our hotel on that side of the river??????” — DH to Anna