snapshots of my travels
Vincent Van Gogh came to Provence, a region of Southern France, in search of sunlight, warm days, and artistic inspiration. The Dutch painter was fascinated by the vivid colors, the people, and the Cyprus trees.
While there are no original works left in Provence (they have been bought by museums in Paris, Munich, Amsterdam, and New York City), it is still possible to see the actual spots he painted. At times, it felt as if his spirits still lingered between the hospital's cloisters or in the fields of flowers. Many locations around Provence even had "easels" set up nearby to show the comparison between real life and Van Gogh's interpretation.
Hospital in Arles
Van Gogh painted the Hospital in Arles more than once from late 1888 to early 1889. He had just cut off his ear, then began experiencing hallucinations.
Starry Night Over the Rhone
Van Gogh painted the lesser famous "Starry Night" in Arles in September of 1888. Legend has it, he would balance candles on his hat to allow him to see his easel during the middle of the night.
Terrasse des Cafés an der Place du Forum
Located smack dab in the middle of town, this cafe is an easy one to find. Unfortunately, it is quite the tourist trap. It has since been renamed Cafe Van Gogh, and now serves expensive food.
Bedroom in Arles
Like many of Van Gogh's most famous painting, the Bedroom in Arles was painted in 1888. While the actual bedroom in Arles was bombed during World War II, there is a recreation of his bedroom at the Van Gogh Asylum in Saint Remy. He loved this painting so much that he painted again two more times. The disproportional look was intentional, as to imitate a style of Japanese painting.
Peach Tree in Blossom
The Dutch artist was enamored by all the natural beauty in Southern France. He painted trees hundreds of times. While the photo of the blooming peach tree was painted in Arles, the largest amount of pink trees were found in Avignon. I am fairly confident these are actually cherry blossoms.
Jardin de l'hôpital Saint Paul
He came to this asylum in Saint Remy in 1889 after leaving the hospital in Arles to begin receiving treatment for his mental health. In a letter to his brother, he complained about the lack of care given to the garden. In another letter to Emile Bernard, he said, "You’ll understand that this combination of red ochre, of green saddened with grey, of black lines that define the outlines, this gives rise a little to the feeling of anxiety from which some of my companions in misfortune often suffer, and which is called 'seeing red'."
The Yellow House
Van Gogh lived in the Yellow House on 2 Place Lamartine, in Arles in 1888. In a letter to his brother Theo, he wrote, "...It’s tremendous, these yellow houses in the sunlight and then the incomparable freshness of the blue."
The building was damaged by the Allies during World War II and later demolished. That being said, there are tons of buildings around Provence that looks very similar - the yellow walls, the green shutters, and the nearby restaurants are all commonplace in this area.
Green Wheat Fields
Green Wheat Fields was painted in Auvers in 1890, while my photo was taken just outside of Saint Remy. Still, the landscape looked pretty similar to the one Van Gogh painted above.
What is one painting by Vincent Van Gogh you would like to see?
Let's be honest. Southern France is famous for its fresh food. But if you are anything like me, the thought of eating fish and raw beef is a little bit unappetizing. Even with these two French staples out of the picture, it is still possible to find delicious gastronomic delicacies for even the most picky of eaters.
I can rave about the bread in France for a thousand years, but I don't think it's even possible to understand just how good it is until you take your first bite. French bread is one of those foods where the most simple ingredients are what make it so delicious - common flour, water, and salt! The bread is so soft, so flavorful, and so aromatic - nothing like the "French bread" in the United States.
Atarte tatin is almost like an upside down cake, but also pretty similar to an apple pie because of its crust. It is baked with the fruit at the bottom (usually Gala, Fuji, or Golden Delicious apples), meaning the natural sugars are able to caramelize. While originally created just south of Paris, it is widely available on the menus all throughout the country.
Crepês are considered a cousin of the pancake, though they are much more thin and crispy. The sweet crêpes are typically made from wheat flour and usually served with nutella, caramel, cream, strawberries, syrup, or preserves. In this case, we picked the chocolate and banana crepes.
More often than not, savory crêpes are made with buckwheat flour and filled with a combination of cheese, meat, eggs, or vegetables. I just so happened to findJean's crêpes at the train station in Avignon and couldn't pass up the opportunity to watch my crêpe being made right in front of my eyes. Thirty seconds later, I was gobbling down a freshly made ham and Emmental cheese crêpe for breakfast. This was actually one of my favorite meals in Provence.
French Pressed Coffee
There are many countries that have their own way of making coffee. In the United States, the coffee is pretty watery, yet extremely high in caffeine content. In Vietnam, the coffee is made with sweetened condensed milk. Italian coffee has an unbelievably strong flavor, yet, because the water shoots through the granules at such a fast speed, the caffeine content is pretty low. In France, coffee is pressed. First, the hot water is simply steeped in the coffee grounds, then the filter is pressed, so the water goes through it, before serving.
Duck is one of the staple meals in France. I had never tried it before this, and I was pleasantly surprised by the flavor. You know how kids say that certain foods "taste like chicken"? Well, in this case, after trying duck for the first time, I exclaimed that it tasted like steak. In fact, I liked it so much, I ordered duck three times during the trip! This plate was covered in a honey sauce, adding the perfect amount of sweetness to balance the meat.
Walk past any boulangerie (bakery/pastry shop) in France and you will find rows and rows of gorgeous little sweets. From perfectly flaky pain au chocolat to madelines, and cream filled eclairs, the amount of decorative little indulgences are endless! Just about any road in Provence has a bakery, so you are bound to find something you like. I absolutely loved this giant chocolate danish on the bottom left - although it was about the size of my face, so i couldn't finish it myself, unfortunately.
French Onion Dip
We have all tried "Dean's French Onion Dip" or the Lipton powder packs that are mixed with sour cream... I grew up on that stuff. Every party or event I ever attended had it. But, coming to France and trying the real, authentic, French onion dip was totally different! This was not made with a powder, but by hand. The spices carefully picked and the onions seared to perfection... I highly recommend you order this as an appetizer.
Provençal Beef Stew
I had been on the search for a nice, hearty stew the entire trip, but it wasn't until the very end that it finally popped up on the menu. I knew I had to order it. Provençal beef stew is made with a tough chuck roast, carrots, onions, black olives, tomato paste, broth, and red wine. While it was delicious, I was quite perplexed as to how to eat it exactly. The meat in this stew came out in one big chunk. Was I supposed to slice it in the bowl? Take it out and slice it on a plate? Perhaps you can give me the answer in the comments below!