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Looong trip report: Aix, Carcassonne and Arles last week


Jan 31st, 2005, 12:41 PM
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Looong trip report: Aix, Carcassonne and Arles last week

This was my first trip longer than 2 days anywhere by myself. I�m a 34 year old city-dwelling woman. No problems whatsoever, and I had a fantastic time.

Flew Air France SFO-Marseille (layover in Paris). Cost was $520 including taxes through flycheapabroad.com (thanks to Ira, I think, who had listed discount airfare sites). Uneventful flight with pretty good movies, better-than-average food and service.

After much internal debate I decided that I wouldn�t be comfortable driving by myself. The tiebreaker was the expense of car rental for one person. Thus train schedules sort of determined my (imperfect but enjoyable) itinerary.

Aix-en-Provence on the fly:

I liked Aix�thought it was very pretty and elegant (beautiful doors!), but my decision to stay mainly in smaller towns was a good one for me this time.

Aix was the only place where I was mildly hassled when walking around alone in the evening. I live in a city, so it was no big deal, but it does feel a little different/more offputting when you don�t understand what the homeless person and/or drunken teenager is saying to you. I should say I�m remarkably tall, thin and beautiful so of course it's inevitable that I attract a lot of attention.

Just kidding.

Le Manoir was closed until Feb., so I ended up staying at the St. Christophe. Nothing fancy, but a convenient location and pleasant staff. It wouldn�t be my first choice should I return again mainly because the room was a bit charmless. Still, it was plenty clean, warm and big enough for me. I think it was E69 for a double-single-use.

I was pretty tired after long flight day and then long walk through the city, so I decided just to eat at the hotel. It was good.

This was my big �dining alone in France� debut, so I was curious to see how it would go. No problem.

I spoke my horrendous �French� to my waiter and he very patiently spoke French back to me and somehow I ended up with wine, dinner, a glass of Armagnac and the check when I wanted it. I had brought a book but never ended up even glancing at it.

Everyone else at the brasserie was French. Fancy that, in France of all places! Including a cocker spaniel eating with the couple next to me.

I had arugula salad with hazelnuts, parmesan and an herb vinaigrette. I�m a salad person and I really liked it.

Also had the plat du jour, which was agneau with some kind of sage sauce. And a gratin of pommes de terre with artichoke and sage leaves baked around it (?). Oh, I love herbs, especially sage and rosemary, so I was in luck. I think there were vegetables maybe too, but I always tend to forget my veggies unless they�re phenomenal. Maybe it was a stuffed tomato? Not tomato season so it was just okay.

Stuffed and exhausted, so I skipped dessert in favor of Armagnac, which I hoped would keep me asleep all night. I�d never had it before.

Actually, I�d ordered Gran Marnier but I tend to speak very very softly when in France, hoping no one will notice my abysmal pronunciation. The result is no one can hear me and they sometimes guess at what I�ve said. Depending on how tired/inhibited I�m feeling, sometimes I just go with whatever they think I�ve asked for. Hence the Armagnac. I liked it. And I slept like the dead.

Next day I tooled around the city a bit more. I had intended on hitting a museum, but instead I just wandered around, had some coffee and a croissant, marveled at the loveliness of the architecture, bought some callissons, and packed up.


Took the train. I think it was a long ride, but I don�t exactly remember�I fell asleep. I thought French trains were somehow easier to deal with than Italian trains, but maybe I think so because I�m a �grown-up� now?

Out the train window I saw all this white stuff on the cars. Snow! I live in California, so to me this was very special.

I stayed at the tres budget Hotel du Pont Vieux. I had read all the negative reviews on Trip Advisor, but call me perverse, I still wanted to stay there. Not sure why�the Best Western Donjon (or whatever) didn�t appeal and Hotel de La Cite is waaaayy out of my reach.

I liked it! They spoke to me in French and Spanish there�it was funny.

I had a room on the top floor with a fantastic view of La Cite. I was the only one staying up there. My room had an uneven floor, some loose tiles in the WC, plastic curtains. I thought it was charming and had character. It�s not for everyone, though.

I know Carcassonne has its detractors, but mid-week in late January, all the rooftops dusted with snow, it was absolutely magical.

Have to go back to work now, will finish up later.

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Jan 31st, 2005, 12:47 PM
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Oh do write soon...its a trip I would like to take ... I might have to spill the cash for a car trip in the Loire... but I was hoping to get someone doing a train itinerary in the South of France. And a woman alone... me too! At least I enjoy travelling alone. A LOT
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Jan 31st, 2005, 01:49 PM
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I think it's definitely doable, especially if you were to go in warmer weather (longer days) and added bus trips.

I actually met a man on the plane over who offered to drive me to a few villages so I could see them, but I wasn't feeling well when the day arrived, and I was a little skittish about accepting rides from a strange man. My instincts, however, told me he was perfectly "safe," and he was a sweet grandfatherly type.

Nonetheless, as I was only away for a week, I had enough to do without going further afoot.

There were a number of people tooling around by train/bus at my hotel in Arles, Le Calendal. In fact, the hotel is a great place to stay for a solo traveller--the staff is very helpful.

I'll try to be more brief with the rest of my report.

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Jan 31st, 2005, 02:52 PM
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Carcassonne, cont'd.

After unpacking a bit, I decided to go to La Citeit was around 7pm. I walked up there and it was so silent/empty on my way up I thought it must be closed or something. Not a single soul around. Walked through the empty town, through the little winding streets; I never encountered another person. It did cross my mind that I could easily be murdered up there. But, you know, in a fun way.

I found a pretty simple establishment for dinner. I cant recall its name, but the name on the window and the name on the menu were different, I think. Strange.

Dined on: salad with chevre chaud (yum, honey and walnuts), cassoulet with sausage and goose leg, and an apple tart for dessert. It was all tasty, straightforward country food. I wasnt wild about the tart. Two glasses of wine (table wine, not great but acceptable). I think this was 33 euros.

The next day I spent the morning in the ville basse (found time for some pastries) and the afternoon up in La Citetoured the castle, had a crepe and then coffee and then wine in a Jacques Brel-lovin place.

It was so cold outside I just wanted to be indoors and the waiter was a cutie; when his boss wasnt looking he gave me the good wine rather than the usual. Who knows. I was grateful.

That night I went to a Moroccan restaurant. Not good. I wont go into it.

This is beginning to sound like a pastry report, but I had breakfast in the hotel the next morning (good croissants, not-so-good coffee). Then I went out looking for something to eat on the train and finally decided onyep, chausson aux pomme (pardon the spelling).

It was snowing very lightly when I left.

Practically everything but a few cafes was closed. That meant that none of the apparently offensive tourist shops were open. I can imagine this little town might be a bit of a nightmare in high- or shoulder season, but I really enjoyed it and was glad I went. And the (very few) people I saw were helpful.

Oh, and as a p.s., the train station in Carcassonne was a little grotty.

I'll wrap up with Arles shortly.
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Jan 31st, 2005, 02:56 PM
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Murdered - in a fun way?
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Jan 31st, 2005, 03:17 PM
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"Murdered - in a fun way?"

you know, like by a ghost or something.

just imagination on overdrive.

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Jan 31st, 2005, 04:20 PM
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Hi, Leely:

Looking forward to the rest of your report...don't cut it too short, I'm sure Im not the only one enjoying it.
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Jan 31st, 2005, 05:12 PM
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I'm really enjoying your report - keep in coming! And it's definitely not too long!
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Jan 31st, 2005, 05:44 PM
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Thanks all, I appreciate it. It was an easy trip, made so in no small part by all the great advice on this board.


The train to Arles from Carcassonne is a straight shot. It takes 2 hours 24 minutes. I think there are only 2 of these a day.

The e-mail from Le Calendal had included walking directions. It was about 2 in the afternoon so I thought Id give the walk a try. So glad I didvery easy, and Im an overpacker. (One thing I brought that was pointless: my running clothes and shoes. Ha-ha, never again. They didnt see the light of day for a week.)

At the train station I met a young female tourist from Taiwan and we walked into town together. She was coming from Avignon and had been most disappointed with how much was closed while she was there. Prior to that she had been in Spain and Portugal and she told me she thought France wasnt as cultured as those countries. I was glad Id prepared myself for dead-boring towns. Id lowered my expectations so much that everything was a pleasant surprise. It was all gravy.

But I think there might have been a bit of a language barrier in our conversation anyway. She couldnt have really found France uncultured?

As soon as I walked through the old town gate I loved Arles. I cant explain why exactly: I just liked the way it looked. And to round that bend in the road and see the Roman arena in that tiny little town center. Like seeing the Coliseum for the first time but on such a friendly scale.

Le Calendal was nicemuch nicer than the previous 2 hotels. It was almost too nice for me at that point. But unlike the other hotels my room was cold. It faced the courtyard and had big French doors. Whats great in the summer sure gets draughty in the winter. They also supplied me with a portable heater and I had it pumping whenever I was in the room.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around. I went to the tourist office but there wasnt really anything I wanted there. I kept going to tourist offices on this trip and then didnt know what I was supposed to do there. Id never been to one before this trip but I kept thinking Oh, make sure you go to the tourist office.

That night I ate at a small Italian place on some little street/alley. All my best-laid plans for making reservations, eating at recommended restaurants, etc., just went out on the window once I landed in France. It seems as if I just never wanted to commit to eating at a certain place at a certain time. Usually Im quite the planner.

Eating at the restaurant: me, a man and his teenage son (they both lit up after dinner. You sure dont see that in California), and another man who knew both the waitresses. I think I had salade vert and spaghetti al' amatriciana. Had to have something with lardons after all. It wasnt Rome-good, but it was very good. Chocolate ice cream for dessert. Coffee.

This dinner was very cheap. I think I had a demi bouteille of wine and the bill was 24 euros.

I think the real downside to solo travelling is the just-one-dessert-at-the-table thing. I definitely could have tried more.


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Jan 31st, 2005, 06:16 PM
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Chronology breaks down here as I spent 3 days in Arles:

The next day I bought a combo museum/monument pass (E13.50 )and hit the sites. The wind was blowing hard so I kept returning to the hotel to warm up. Luckily, its a small historical center.

I saw all the usual things in Arles and in fact even missed a few (more reason to go back). I quite enjoyed a photography exhibit they had up in the Arlatan museum. It documents late-19th century efforts to prevent deforestation in Provence and the Alpes region.

I dont read French (well, I read it better than I speak it) so I may have some of the information wrong. Basically, I found it interesting as both landscape/naturalist photography and as environmental history. It moved me.

But not as much as those live women in the Arlatan museum itself, the ones in the glass boxes who sit there tatting lace. Why didnt anyone tell me about them?! They really freaked me out. I nearly jumped right out of my skin.

The other big moment I had while in Arles was in the cryptoportiques. I spent a long time in them because there was no wind down there. I was the only person visiting (well, the only alive person). When I wanted to leave I couldnt find the door. I had a brief Am I in a horror movie? panic. It was scary and then I was laughing.

Had a bug for about 16 hours. I was glad to be in a nice hotel for this, but still I felt very, very sorry for myself. Mostly I worried that I wasnt somehow doing enough and that I wasnt eating at any of the places Id planned. I just had to let it go but it was hard for me.

When I felt better, I felt better--if that makes sense.
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Jan 31st, 2005, 06:35 PM
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Leely, I am sorry you got a bug or some kind of a virus while on your trip. I hate that. Had that for just a short day in Italy last visit and I felt the same way, so sure understand how you felt. Great trip report, enjoyed reading it.
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Jan 31st, 2005, 07:22 PM
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Leely, sorry you got sick. I love the Arletan Museum and happy you loved the Calandel, a hotel I often suggest for a hotel with parking.
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Feb 1st, 2005, 10:15 AM
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I did manage to recover, do more sightseeing, get a reservation at a restaurant, find the restaurant, and eat very well my last night in Arles. (Chocolat fondant with chili peppers, sauce framboise, starfruit and creme chantilly w/mint.)

Last day was market day: how fantastic. It made me wish I was staying longer and that I had an apartment with a kitchen.

Would I return to Southern France? Certainly.

Would I travel solo again? Most definitely. This small-town trip has boosted my confidence. I know now I could handle a city. Although I was just telling a good friend and great travelling companion about last week and she said, "So if I navigated would you be willing to drive?"

Thanks to all--what a wonderful time.
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Feb 1st, 2005, 10:38 AM
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What a great report, I love your sense of humor and glad you had a wonderful solo trip.
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Feb 1st, 2005, 10:51 AM
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Lovely trip report, leely.

Thanks for sharing.

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Feb 1st, 2005, 10:58 AM
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Leely, I have traveled solo for so long, I don't know any differently! My little child accompanies me now (last 2 years) so we both continue to enjoy the travel experience; however, there is many a time that I still do feel like I am traveling solo still. Glad that you didn't find it intimidating, it is quite fun being alone isn't it?! You are on your own time, schedule, etc....that is what I like most about it.

I am so glad to hear that you liked Arles. I LOVE Arles, its small-town feel and provincial charm make me return again and again to this town.
(I was just there in March).

I think I know which Italian restaurant you ate at -- is it down a small side street from the forum? If so, I happened upon the same restaurant and loved it. My little child and I ate there every night - we were so happy to find an authentic Italian restaurant with unbelievably low prices - owned by an Italian (she is from Milano, I was thrilled to speak Italian with her after French for 2 weeks!). Your experience in the Cryptoportiques was funny, I never felt claustrophobic because the area is relatively small, but I have certainly been down there alone before and can attest to the weirdness of that. Did you get a chance to walk over to 'Les Alyscamps'? Glad you caught market day too.....Arles is a charming place indeed!
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Feb 1st, 2005, 11:33 AM
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I didn't make it to Les Alyscamps and I really wanted to go. It was one of the things I ended up not doing when I felt a little under the weather. I also wanted to go to the antiquities museum.

Sounds like the same Italian restaurant. Low-key and relaxing.

Oh, there was also a wedding at the Hotel de Ville on Saturday. Six horses and Arlesiennes (um, they were men and women, so not sure about spelling/name) with these sticks to hold over the happy couple's heads when they came out of the building.

They were quite an attractive couple, and she was visibly pregnant. Loved the traditional/modern mix there.

I'll definitely be back.
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Feb 1st, 2005, 12:10 PM
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Excellent report. I have so much admiration for people that travel solo, especially abroad.

We too enjoyed Arles for many of the same reasons that you mentioned. We also stayed at LeCalendal although we opted for a room with a terrace that overlooked the street.

We are going back next month and your comments brought everything back to life, especially the food descriptions.

Congratualtions for taking the solo plunge!

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Feb 1st, 2005, 12:49 PM
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Waiting to hear more. I took my solo trip for three weeks in Provence several years ago and it remains one of my favorites. You'll look back on this as yours, I bet.
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Feb 1st, 2005, 12:54 PM
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glad you liked my adopted area !

In a previous life, I travelled solo for 25 years for business. Pretty well every week.

My memories are lot's of boring dinners with a book, interspersed with a few wonderful people I met who I wouldn't have met if I was with someone else.

I'd be happy to put your journal, and photos on my new website.

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