Chapter 1: The First Visit

France Chapter 1: On Van Gogh’s Trail

Van GoghGeoffrey’s Citroen now has a name: “Ales (pronounced Alice) the Cat.” Named for a village near here– Ales. And “Cat” –because her little diesel engine “purrs” like a cat.

It’s proper that Ales the Cat has a name. We are dependent on each other for the next few days. Besides, I’m growing quite fond of her. Geoffrey was so right to have a luggage rack on Ales’ roof. She’s easy to find in a parking lot. Especially when I keep forgetting she’s silver.

France Chapter 1: The First Visit

The road trip

Ales and I started out early this morning on Van Gogh’s trail heading for St. Remy de Provence. It was a beautiful, sunny day with light wind and temperatures in the high 70s. Our planned stops along the way to St. Remy were the towns of Remoulins and Beaucaire.

Remoulins

I’m not sure why I chose to stop in Remoulins. However, I did find a cemetery to visit while I was passing through. I’ve seen cemeteries along my trip that looked interesting, so stopping in Remoulins allowed me to check one out. To me, it’s interesting to see how different cultures honor their ancestors. In Remoulin and other areas of Provence, the deceased are buried above ground in family plots. Most gravestones date back many centuries. Each grave in Remoulin is adorned with elaborate porcelain flower displays and family memorabilia.

Beaucaire

Moving onto Beaucaire, the scenery definitely changed. The older part of town where tourists visit is centered around a busy canal. Marine traffic is active, primarily for pleasure boats, and cafes and restaurants cater to transients and locals. Often vessels are moored in the marinas for winter for travelers touring the western Mediterranean.

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Finding the way

1  If you’re wondering how I find my way around, it is relatively easy. I have a Michelin Atlas of France, which I found in the apartment. I know the main ways in and out of Uzes. With a couple of stops at petrol stations along the way to ask for directions, I got along fine on this trip.

Note: Both petrol stations had female attendants. Neither spoke English. I simply pointed out where I was going on the map, and they totally understood what I wanted. They gave me perfect directions.

Not to be sexist, but a man giving directions would have described every landmark along the way. The females just drew straight lines from one turn to another. Simple.

Another guide for finding your way on the roadways is “round-abouts.”I’m not kidding; there are round-abouts every two miles along the highways. That means there are frequent directions on signs that point your way.

When you get into a city,  you find clearly marked signs to follow. If you don’t see your destination on the sign, just keep going straight. Soon there will be a sign that says: Autres Directions. Follow that sign. It will lead you to the right road.

If all else fails, ask a woman.

St. Remy de Provence

St. Remy is advertised as the one place you must see if you want to experience Provence. Now that I’ve been there, I’m not too sure. I prefer Uzes.

Nostradamus was born in SVan Goght. Remy, and Doctor Albert Schweitzer was “hospitalized” here in 1917-18 when he wrote The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization and Civilization and Ethics, part of his philosophical study of civilization.

Most importantly, St. Remy is where the artist, Van Gogh, lived from 1889-to 90 in the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausolean.

Driving into St. Remy, an almost “spiritual” feeling came over me. There was something different about the countryside. It felt like a movie set.

The road into the city is lined with white-banded “plane” trees, like those leading out of Uzes. But they go on for miles and miles. Ancient stuccoed farmhouses and buildings are close to the road, with lush farmlands spreading deep behind them.

Van Gogh

The historic district of St. Remy is set in a circle. Ales and I found a parking place in the public lot close to the entrance of town. After depositing almost $5 in the meter, I looked for the tourist office. Before I had gotten very far, the menu special at a charming cafe caught my eye– salmon. I stopped for dejeuner.

Van Gogh
Perfectly prepared salmon, risotto with tiny chunks of tomato and scallions, and a glass of rose totally satisfied my hunger.

I skipped the tourist office and took off to explore the shops. Of course. Interestingly, I saw more Americans in St. Remi than anywhere else I’ve traveled in this area. I’m sure they’ve read the publicity about St. Remi being “the place to be” in Provence.   There is definitely a unique atmosphere in St. Remy. It reeks of the flavor of “the rich and famous.”

Art and architecture

Walking around St. Remy, there were so many times I reminded myself, “Van Gogh was here” I could imagine how he was inspired. It inspired me.

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In the footsteps of Van Gog

My day’s creme de la creme was a tour of the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausolean, the monastery complex where Van Gogh was voluntarily committed from 1889-to 90. From here, he produced two of his most notable works, “Starry nights” and his self-portrait. I was transported to Van Gogh’s day and time, taking the photos below. Despite his imprisonment, I could imagine how he felt fortunate for all the beauty around him.

The entrance, the buildings, the inside, Van Gogh’s Garden, the chapel, the view!

Van Gogh

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Van Gogh was released from the hospital at Saint Paul-de-Mausoleann in May 1890 and left for Auvers-Sur-Oise, near Paris. He shot himself on 27 July 1890 and died two days later.

Fortunately, his art lives on.

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15 replies »

  1. Lovely homage to Van Gogh, Deborah! Thanks for sharing this amazing field trip- hopefully this summer – I can duplicate a St. Remy trip with my good friend who is about to retire. My mom and I visited St. Remy in 2013 and stayed for a month in Languedoc and would drive around leisurely. Your trip was quite similar and reminded me so much of my time with my mom.🍷

    • So glad you are getting to return to St. Remy again. It is beautiful and so inspiring to me. Cherish those memories with your Mom, too. My oldest son visited with me in France for a month and I will always hold that time and those experiences close to my heart. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Glad to see you’re making the most of it and how successful your time has been in Uzès and surrounds. Hope you make it to Avignon as well (I find the history of that place extremely stirring and inspirational!) before you head back south on Saturday – I can’t believe how fast the last couple weeks have passed.

    • Frankly you gave me a lot of inspiration to go back to Nimes to see the sights. I didn’t want to miss it. Can’t believe I leave your wonderful place in only 2 days! I shall return!

  3. Debby: Arlene & I saw the original Starry Night in NY…it was awesome…& I saw his self-portrait in Chicago…I have always loved his art & his story…your pictures are fantastic & I’m having a fantastic vacation with you and my favorite are the blanc trees…can’t imagine being under that canopy!

    • I feel like you’re here with me. Isn’t it grand? The visit to Van Gogh land has been one of my favorite days. As you know, he’s awesome. Thanks!

  4. Sometimes I wonder who’s having the most fun! You make me feel like I’m on the trip without any of the effort. Wonderful stuff. I enjoy every entry! short cake

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