Urban Camping in Arles!!!
After two looooooong weeks in and around Avignon, I feel very much like I have escaped this historical walled city!!!
Don't get me wrong its a truly stunning and picturesque location, where I met some great people and in reality, I did have a lovely time.
However, when you're staying in a location due to circumstances, rather than choice, it rather distracts from the overall experience and somewhat takes the shine off of things!!!
Regardless, I will be writing about my experiences as the "Grandad of the Hostel" soon, but for now I am in the equally ancient city of Arles, roughly 30 miles south of Avignon, sat in a Café, whilst nursing the hell out of my one, cappuccino, in order to utilise the Cafés Wifi! Which at present is a necessity of the trip, as I have run out of data on my phone, AGAIN!!!
I've actually been learning a little about Arles exceptionally rich history whilst writing this post. Although it is pretty evident as you either walk or cycle around this small city, from its ancient walls, to its Roman Amphitheatre and circus. However, the City is probably most famed for being the location where Vincent van Goch's went a little loco and famously lobbed his ear off in 1889, having created some of his best known pieces and over 300 whilst living in this region.
Anyway, I feel thats probably enough culture for most of my you, I'm sure you guys are far more interested in my "Urban Camping" escapades!!!
Well, like most places I've been on this trip, I'd done NO research at all and arrived with little knowledge of Arles, other than Vincent's ear op and the Amphitheatre, which was the first place I headed towards, after a steady ride into town.
My first obstacle and one which is a regular headache of the trip, is what do I do, or where can I safely leave the "Regal Beagle", in order to have a nose around the Amphitheatre?
A man had actually stopped to speak to me outside the Amphitheatre, a keen cyclist he was interested in my bike, the ride/route, etc and raised this very question, as to what I was going to do with the bike? He mentioned a friend of his owned a bar, literally a matter of feet from where we stood and he went off to ask his friend if I could leave the "Regal Beagle" there?
My French is still terriblé, but I gathered from the conversation it wasn't a great idea, he wouldn't be able to watch the bike for the duration and even still, people have been known to rob items from their tables.
I ended up speaking to the ladies in the ticket office, who initially were a little reluctant to let me leave my bike with them, but fortunately soon came round to the idea.
Like most places I visit, I got totally distracted and spend a little longer than the "10 minutes" I'd initially said to them, however, they didn't seem at all concerned when I re-appeared probably an hour or so later.
Following the Amphitheatre I was off adventuring again, although not for long, before I was stopped by a couple of french ladies, one was fascinated by my tattoo's and asked if she could take some photo's - not for the first time on this trip!!! - (So massive thanks to Vivi Ink and Schwarz and Bunt!!!) - Of course the response was "Pourquoi Pa!?!?!" - its quite the compliment!!! Even if in reality, I did NOTHING more than simply provide the plain canvas for my artistic friends to create!!!
I'd no sooner said goodbye to this lovely Parisian couple, when another lady, slightly older but clearly with a young head and heart, who I'd seen walk passed me moments earlier, stopped and come back to speak to me.
Julie, who was from Michigan, but had a place in France and also spent 6 months of her year teaching English in northern Thailand (on the Thai/Burmese boarder). She was fascinating and probably one of the most travelled people I've met so far on my trip, which is saying something!!!
We spoke for about 20 minutes, if not longer, everything from current affairs, through to all of our travelling trips and escapades, of which she had MANY!!!
A keen traveller, adventurer and cyclist herself, she asked for and took, one of my (now, very few!) business cards, in order to stay in touch. Turns out in an area as small as Arles, it may not have been necessary!
Yet again I was back to my adventures! It's such a nice experience to aimless adventure in a brand new city, particularly if you know little to nothing about it, you're alone and with no pressures, timescales or necessity to be ANYWHERE!!! This is particularly the case if you're passionate about photography and have a nact for getting distracted.
With that said, one consideration which had rather slipped my mind whilst I was in the throws of being an "adventure" photographer, was that I was yet to find anywhere to camp for the night.
In addition to my lack of camping location, was the fact I had no food and was developing a real hunger.
It was fast approaching 8pm, when the majority of local supermarkets close. There also appeared to be an incredible sunset and I was now left with a number of options, which, for someone with serious indecision is a bad place to be!!!!
I'd had a quick look on Google and found an area that appeared to be either a grass patch, or a field near the Rhone River and feasibly a nice view of the sunset.
My thoughts where to sack off the supermarket, do a reccy of this grass area, enjoy the sunset, then find somewhere cheap to eat and return to pitch my tent.
That was until I found said location!!!
To say Arles is a beautiful city, with a great deal of history and tourism, you don't have to venture too far from it, in order to find yourself in the depths of the French Ghetto and what appeared to be a bit of a gypsy encampment - very Snatch'esque - a few burnt out cars, a couple of area's which had been used for fly tipping, a couple of dodgy looking caravans and dogs, and just generally not a place I thought wise to stop, nor camp, particularly for a non-French speaking, English cyclist, who was riding along with ALL of his worldly possessions.
I have a real problem with people who are ignorant, or judgemental and the inhabitants of this area could've been lovely, but I also think it's best to go with your gut and on this occasion my gut was saying "Vamos Amigo!!!!"
This now left me in somewhat of a pickle, no food, campsite, or supermarket and it was getting darker by the minute, hmmm!!!!
The next grassy area I found was a park in the centre of town, again I went and did a reccy. My options now were to lock my bike to a railing at the back of this small park and sleep in my sleeping bag alongside and somewhat under a little bush, whilst praying for a dry night, however, on further inspection this park was to be locked up at 8:30pm. Theoretically I could hide in this park and hope I wasn't found by the wardens when they came to lock up, but this would leave me in the same predicament of no food.
I made the decision that food was my first priority, I'd find some cheap grub, maybe a burger joint that had me salivating earlier in the evening and I'd deal with my sleeping arrangement as and when it became a necessity!!!
I cut through the city, which I was beginning to know the like the back of my hand and was about to head passed the Amphitheatre and to the burger joint, when I head a voice shout "Jamesss!!!!"
"Que.....????" - Who on earth was this??? Only Julie (the American) from earlier in the day, with her friend Claire. They were sat on the terrace of a creperie and very kindly invited me to join them, I was initially a little reluctant to interrupt their evening, particularly as they'd both nearly finished their meals, but Julie insisted, stating she wouldn't have offered if she'd not have meant it!!!
With great thanks to Julie, that was my first obstacle dealt with and dealt with in beautiful surroundings, with great company and great conversation.
We once more said our goodbyes and Julie disappeared into the ancient city, whilst I popped on some extra layers and contemplated my next move.
There was a real chill in the air, which I thought would put my sleeping bag through its paces, as the likelihood of find finding somewhere to pitch my tent was diminishing QUICK!!!
My next adventure took me back passed the park, which by now had been locked up, however, turns out this far from the most favourable of locations!!!
Unbeknown to me there was a town procession occurring and just opposite the park. The street was lined with folk, there were quite a number of police around, floats, live music, terrible food - the sort of thing which is the same the world over.
From my previous investigation on Google, I'd found one LAST place, a green square area, maybe a football pitch, or a school, either way, it was literally now my last option.
The route Google took me there was incorrect, taking me down a dead end, however, it also took me passed an ERDF office block with an underground carpark which appeared to be open, on my return leg I went in for closer inspection and found a "sign" selo-tapped up on the control for the garage door, saying "do not touch, Danger!!!"
This lead me to believe the garage door would be open for the duration, however, I didn't want to count my chickens so went back to join the procession. At one stage, well quite a few stages, I literally joined the floats and the procession itself, to the amusement of quite a few of the crowd. I even ended up getting some sardines off of one of the floats and some grog off of one of the others, but made a point of returning to "my" garage on a couple of occasions.
On my third return back and with the garage door still up, I decided this was definitely to be home for the night.
I went to the lowest level of the small carpark, figuring this would be the safest and least likely to be visited by pissed passers by and all was good, I had my ground mat, sleeping bag, electircals on charge and was surprisingly warm and comfortable.
That was until 1:30 am, when I was woken to a car driving into the carpark!!!! Que??? This is a works carpark, who on earth is parking here at this time on a Saturday night? Obviously I sat up and the car slowly drove passed where I lay, stopping near enough bang opposite me, before reversing into its space (which I think was actually a garage for a resident). Either way, there was no way the driver had missed me in my brightly coloured sleeping bag, we'd basically looked each other square in the face, which left me in the position, do I ignore it and act like it never happened, or do I acknowledge it and make a point of saying hello? I sided with the latter, thinking it was the polite thing to do and maybe the other person may react better, than if I hadn't. Sheepishly I put my head round the wall "Bon Soire, ca'va? Desole!!! Je suis fatigue", using as much of my French limited as I could, in what I'm sure was a completely non-sensical sentence!!!
However, the gent in question replied in perfect English, "Don't worry! You're fine, I don't mind if you sleep here!"
"Merci-Beaucoup mon-ami, merci-beaucoup!!!!"
After this I slept like a baby, if not for a couple of rather strange dreams, either way, it was warm, dry and my first attempt at urban camping - I rather enjoyed it!!!
I'll be posting again soon, but in the meantime, much love and Peace Out one and all!!! X