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September 2017

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Our itinerary for our first day in France included a guided tour of other towns in the surrounding region, and so, after breakfast, our group gathered in the lobby where we were met by our tour guide and bus driver. There were only nine of us in our group, which gave us plenty of opportunities to ask questions and to have a really intimate experience with the cities we would visit.

As we drove south from Avignon towards Arles, our tour guide, Nadine, kept up a steady dialogue about the history, geography, economy, and culture of the region. We drove through a light fog, that shrouded the fields in a mist, giving the countryside a bit of a mysterious feel to it, but by the time we arrived in Arles, the sun was out and it was becoming a warm day. Our first stop in Arles was the Arena, which was built by the Romans, and remains in use today as a bull fighting venue. Nadine described the events that take place here, including Spanish bull fights at Easter, as well as the local sport, Cocarde d'argent, where contestants try to pluck tassels from the horns/head of the bull.

After leaving the Arena, we wandered through the streets of Arles, where we saw the site of the Roman forum and the cafe captured by van Gogh in his painting "Café Terrace at Night". We also visited the (former) hospital where van Gogh was a frequent patient, with its courtyard garden, also the subject of one of his paintings. Finally, we made our way to the Place de la Republique. We were given an hour to get lunch before meeting back here to continue our tour.

While most of our group set off to find a restaurant, my wife and I continued to explore the city. We discovered the Théâtre Antique Arles, built by the Romans, but still in use today, and just generally enjoyed randomly wandering the streets of the city, taking photos.

Eventually, we made our way back to the Place de la Republique, where we rejoined our group and made our way back to our bus for our ride to our next destination.

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