Arles

Though there are no extant arches in Arles, in antiquity there were several, and now it is home to one of the region’s largest archaeological museums. I took the train on a beautiful day, and walked to the museum, blissfully unaware that there was a free bus service that led from the train station to the museum. It was a longer yet beautiful walk alone the Rhône, unfortunately, my already sun sore skin was exposed even further and I could feel it get crispier and crispier. I felt like the dead little guy there in that waffenstücken.

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The Arles museum was one of the biggest of its type that I have seen in France. I could have spend much longer there. One of the most remarkable things they had in their collection was a riverboat that had been pulled from the Rhône in the past 20 years. Preserved using a process that replaced the water that had infused the wood with a preservative resin, the boat was HUGE. The picture here does not do it justice. Beyond the boat, the Arles museum had some canonical sculptures, sarcophagi, and mosaics.

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After my time at the museum was done, I was not looking forward to long walk back to the train station, when I happily learned that there was a shuttle. I got off the shuttle when my google maps told me I was getting close to the Arles amphitheatre, so I could do some walking around and exploring about the part of Arles I cared about, which was right next to the train station. I found a small bistro in which to eat where the motherly proprietor clucked over my ever-reddening sunburn and brought me a small cut of aloe to rub. I ate a giant omelet with some of the most delicious frites I’ve ever had.

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Arles was, in short, completely charming. It was sleepy in late March, perhaps a little too sleepy, but it like Avignon, pulled at my emotions and made me never want to leave. #Retirement goals.

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Orange

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My visit to Orange was the main reason I went to Provence. With the most famous example of an arch monument in France, it’s a must see for my work. Not only does Orange have an outstanding arch, but one of the oldest completely extant theater complexes in the west with a nearly fully preserved scaenae frons. The first few days I was in Provence it was pouring rain, so I wasn’t able to go to Orange until Sunday, and I had to go then, as it was closed on Monday and Tuesday (navigating opening days is the hardest bit about travel in Europe!) Being Sunday, the town itself was very quiet and sleepy, with not many restaurants open in which to prend un verre.

 

The theater was fantastic–I had it nearly all to myself so it was hard to imagine it teeming with theater-goers centuries ago (and kind of amazing to have it all to myself!) The exterior wall behind the stage front was once called, by one of the King Louis’s, “the greatest wall in France.”

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The arch was, in short, amazing. The pictures I took that day are some of my favorites, as the sky was one of those beautiful early-spring days with large fluffy clouds. I was slightly concerned because there was some construction on the roundabout that surrounded the arch, and it was technically fenced off. I decided to consider that fence a suggestion and visit it anyway– and there was a hidden benefit of it being Sunday! There were no workers or construction folks working on the roundabout to get in my way. Or accuse me of trespassing.

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I love love love when I can pass through the arches bays. Sometimes they’re blocked off, which is understandable I suppose, but this trip I was fairly lucky and more arches were open than not. The contrast of the bright and the dark of the passageway are literally one of my favorite views.

Ancona: A Day in Marche

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View of Ancona from the Ferretti Palace, it was a gorgeous day

My brief day trip to Ancona was another thing I was not very excited about. It’s a prominent harbor/seaport on the Adriatic, and for whatever reason I had an impression that the city could be a little rough and gritty. It’s not entirely untrue, a large part of the city, especially on the outskirts, is unrelentingly industrial and it doesn’t have…the polish, of other cities in Italy, but it was by no means a place where I felt unsafe even for a moment.

It was however very hilly, and for the first time, the train station was much farther away from where I needed to go, not crazy far, but just not close. It is in many ways super liberating as an American to train into a city and use your feet to get everywhere you need to go. Ancona was this trip’s exception. Between the hills and the distance, I decided to take a taxi to the Archaeological Museum, which was at the apex of the hill, in the 16th-century Ferretti Palace. English was not a thing here in Ancona, at least not to the folks I interacted with, and again that’s fine– there was a brief hang up because I only had a 50 euro bill, and I misunderstood the price of admission, but it all got worked out. (SideNote/ProTip — in Europe, always go to BNP Paribas ATMs …they give you a choice on you’d like your bills distributed. I know there are others that do it, but BNP Paribas ATMs are everywhere. NOBODY in Europe likes a 50 euro bill unless your purchase is 50 euro even.)

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The Ferretti Palace and the harbor at Ancona — The Ferretti Palace is blocking the view of my arch, which is in the harbor below. You can see a reconstruction of a group of equestrian statues on the roof…more on that momentarily. 

This museum was technically the archaeological museum of the Marche, the region to which Ancona belongs. It focused super strongly on the proto and pre-historic eras of history, with a nice glimpse into the Greek and Roman history of the city as well. I had the museum entirely to myself. So I took my time exploring, and taking care of business. There was a lot to see that was interesting, and lots of sherds and things that (sorry sherd nerds) I glossed over. It was nice to take my time and have so much to wade through.

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The Gilt Bronzes from Cartocerto di Pergola, c. 1st century BCE/CE  (a copy of the original currently in Pergola)

On my way out, the woman working the front desk stopped me and told me to follow her! It was in this moment that I learned I can a) understand Italian a lot better than I give myself credit for and b) I do very well when the subject matter is something I’m super familiar with– like ancient Roman sculpture and art. She told me that a lot of people missed seeing these guys, and they were important and no one goes to Pergola so I needed to check them out. The Gilt Bronzes from Cartocerto di Pergola were found in Pergola in the 1940s and they were housed in the museum in Ancona until the 1970s when they were moved back to Pergola in a specially built museum. This is apparently a sore subject, based upon the guide’s tone and description. A copy was made however, which is what you see above. The Gilt Bronzes are SUPER important because they’re the largest surviving gilded bronze equestrian group from Roman antiquity. It comprises two equestrian figures (2 men, and 2 horses), and two women — the second rider doesn’t survive, and all of the other figures are fragmentary. Even in modern copy, it was impressive.

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Isn’t this picture just so stereotypical Europe? At least in the minds of Americans? 

After finishing up on the museum, I made the descent down the GIANT HILL OF ANCONA (after the flatness of Venice and Rimini, I was spoiled) to find my way to the Arch of Trajan, the major reason for my visit. Along the way I saw many scenic vistas and buildings, continuing to erase the negative conception I had previously had about Ancona. It wasn’t like any other Italian city I had been to (there are SO many wonderful little cities and towns that are each unique in their own way), but it was charming in its own right.

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You can see the more picturesque Ancona (foreground) juxtaposed with the kinda-gross-Ancona (background) 

I eventually wound myself down the switchbacks of the hill, and started upon the track to the arch. It was like immediately being in a different town because in order to get to the arch, you had to walk past a good mile of harbor stuff — a lot of it passenger ships. There were a few restaurants (most closed it was Sunday) and a nice walking path with the nice soft squishy material (what is that stuff called?) A good number of folks were out and about enjoying the pleasantly warm day.

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The Arch of Trajan at Ancona 

Eventually, there it was. The Arch of Trajan at Ancona in perhaps one of the most confusing juxtapositions of old and new that I’ve seen yet. The picture above captures some of it, but from all sides you had visible evidence of at least two millennia of cultural activity. It’s an impressive structure, one that was surprisingly difficult to photograph, thanks to the steps on the approach. It was a great spot for taking cheesy pictures of me in front of my arch thanks thanks to the architectural assemblage in the surrounding area.

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Me and my arcchhhh 

The rest of my time in Ancona was fairly brief and I had my only experience with the trains being messed up in Italy. The train was 45 minutes late. Luckily I didn’t have to be anywhere, but I was currently in a difficult spot because I *really* had to pee and the bathrooms only took 50 cent pieces and I didn’t have any (things were also closed because Sunday). The train FINALLY arrived, and I go to get on my car 3. Car three is closed down and other Italian speaking individuals spoke to the conductor who told them in very rapid Italian SOMETHING and gestured toward the rear of the train (and here’s where I learn how bad my Italian is)…I just follow them as they walk down the cars. Eventually we are stopped by another conductor, he examines each of their tickets and tells them something and I think he just assumed I was with them because I was just standing there like “uh…..Inglese?” and he’s like “Oh yeah! Car three is at the end. After car 8.” So to sum up, 45 minutes late, and two “Car 3″s! Ah the fun of travel!