There’s a whole lotta Arles going on outside, but all I want to do is sleep.My day started at 4.30am when I decided I wasn’t going to get any more sleep and instead arose to pack my backpack. My train from Paris left right on the dot of 6.20 (TGV, in my experence are extremely punctual), and I sped south to Avignon, accompanied by a loud Charlie Hebdo reader. Her friends were trying to shut her up, but her repartie with the cameraman across the isle went on regardless. I wish I understood French better because I think the conversation would have been entertaining. Getting out of the train, the humidity and heat hit me. The next leg from Avignon to Arles was a little quieter, although the soundtrack was selected by a reggae-loving, dreadlocked, Rasta man. It felt rather more like a FNQ (far north Queensland) backpackers than southern France, but at least the bus was cool.
I usually wander in ever decreasing circles when I first land in a new town. Unfortunately my navigation abilities were severely hampered by juggling a map, water and a heavy back-pack. That and the fact that Arles has an arena meant I walked far too far for a hot day, and I was fast getting a headache, as I do on days like these.There are so many things to do in this town. If history is your thing, you can choose from almost dozens of UNESCO listed sites ranging from the Roman to the Medieval, some both. Of course, you could attend a ‘bull fight’ – the thing to do in this region – apparently. You could wander through the streets checking out the annual Pholographic Exhibition or if you prefer paintings, a whole musee devoted to Van Gogh. Your other option, as I did, was to just amble around, looking lost, with a heavy backpack taking lots of photos of walls. Sorry Melbourne, you haven’t got a patch on some of these beauties!
So after getting my credential – the little passport for the Arles Route which entitles the holder to pilgrim-priced accommodation and some cheaper meals cheaper I thought I was set. I consulted Miam Miam Dodo and the Confraternity of St James guide, and started ringing phone numbers. After 4 attempts, with broken French and still no room for the night, I was starting to get desperate. There was the youth hostel, but it was a fair way out of town, and I didn’t fancy dragging myself avec backpack all that way. My last option, which was just next to the arena was La Maison du Pelerin … et du voyageur. The last bit, ‘et du vogageur’ was the key. I was surrounded by people just there for the cheap price. Not one pilgrim in sight. It disappointed me a little. My roommates were friendly, two French women there for the photography, and a woman from Shanghai doing general touring. If I was a normal European, or tourist, at 7pm, I would have been getting ready to go out. Not this little black duck – I had a shower, and was ready to curl up into a headachy cocoon and sleep forever. I felt somewhat torn, as I would’ve loved to spend time doing any of the activities I’ve listed. I almost felt like I should delay starting by another day, but I remembered one of the values I wanted to cultivate – purposefulness, and decided that I would just have to come back for all the rest Arles had to offer. Where before I would have tried to see everything I could, even with a headache, maybe it’s time to consider a new way. An unfolding, slower, ambling rather than marching way perhaps.