With a very long day of driving in the rental, the scenery slowly changed leaving the quaint villages behind. We finally arrived in Nimes where the air was colder and blustery. We managed to unload the various luggage at the hotel and made our way to the paid parking garage associated with our lodging. I punched in the code to lift the door open, and Bill slowly but surely reversed into a tight space. When deciding how to spend the next few days we opted to see all of Nimes by foot and then after checkout, extract the car to visit the outer area.
Nimes is certainly an interesting city, full of Roman history and remains. While waiting for restaurants to open for dinner at 7, we meandered around our neighborhood. A vast plaza with a towering cathedral and statuesque fountain were lit up and just off that is the ancient arena which we would tour the next day. When the restaurant opened we returned all with several others and chose our pizzas. We were surprised there was not a choice of beer and wine; there was only the house version. Palatable, but not the best. My bruschetta pizza with goat cheese had good flavor, though.
The next morning we opted for breakfast at the hotel. There was the usual bread, croissants, pain au chocolate, toast, ham, cheese, cereal, yogurt, and fruit. It was sufficient but eggs would have been good. Then we began our Roman ruin explorations. The arena is the best preserved of the remaining Roman amphitheaters and has some ongoing restorations. We listened to an app explanation of the history and architecture as we were directed to move to various areas. Finished in the early 2nd century AD, seating was according to social class. The oval shape meant everyone had a good view of the spectacles and the geometry and symmetry of every aspect, including the arches and seating, were truly engineering feats. The well planned galleries and staircases meant that crowds could enter and exit quickly and greatly lessened congestion and pushing. The stone was quarried nearby and the sand on the arena floor was turned regularly to minimize the smell of human and animal blood. Surprisingly, awnings were erected to protect the spectators from the hot sun. Trapdoors were used by gladiators to enter and exit the arena. There was even a hydraulic drainage system. It seems they had thought of everything two thousand years ago.
From there were visited the new Roman history museum where there are artifacts from excavations. Statues, gravestones, friezes, pottery, etc. were displayed along with with movies which provided a chance to sit as well as become informed. After being on our feet for hours it was time for a early afternoon lunch and then a rest back at the hotel. With such a big meal we did not need dinner, so while on our evening walk of the old quarter, we purchased some lemon tarts to enjoy after leftover bread and cheese.
The next day we visited the Maison Carrée, a temple of the same era, which was built to house the recently established Imperial cult, showing loyalty to Rome. It was dedicated to the two grandsons of Caesar Augustus. We watched a half hour movie which gave us some historical background, and that was all that was available to see inside the building.
From there was a bit of a walk to the Fontaine gardens, built around the founding spring of the city which is contained within two grand winding staircases, with a spacious plaza and garden decorated with vases and statutes. Off to the side are the remains of the Temple of Diana, but it’s purpose is not known. Following paths through trees and garden from the top of the staircases brought us to the crest of the hill. There is one remaining tower from the city wall, which has all but disappeared. Tour Magne was built around 15 BC. It was almost destroyed in the 12th century when a gardener was convinced the Nostradamus prophecy referred to this tower. He got the king to let him search it with the king getting two-thirds of treasures. He found nothing while emptying it and nearly destroyed the tower with his foolishness. We climbed the 140 steps where we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the city.
After lunch, more lemon tarts and bread purchased, a rest, and a short evening stroll we packed up ready for the car extraction in the morning and a short drive to the next Roman marvel.
The Pont du Gard is certainly quite impressive! We had hoped to be able to park somewhere for free or low cost and walk to it, but the area is protected from such freeloaders! One has to park, walk to the ticket office and pay the entrance fee which is nine euros each and includes parking, and then around the bend the views begin. At first trees were obscuring the view somewhat, but down by the river, which was at a low level, were clear views. Once past the trees there were more photo opportunities.
The three tiers are quite spectacular. The bridge is almost 50 meters high, 275 meters long, and includes 35 precisely built arches. Each block, some weighing more than 5 tons, was carved by hand and transported from nearby quarries. The height of the bridge very gradually diminishes by 2.5 cm from end to end, just enough to keep water flowing. Not bad for 19 BC! After proper admiration as we approached and snapped multiple photos, we traversed the first level where graffiti from the 1800’s can be viewed; at least there wasn’t spray paint back then. A few sightseeing planes flew overhead, and how I wished we could enjoy that perspective. On the other side there are numerous trails for walking and one to the museum, cinema, food, etc. The ticket included the museum which explained the history and process of constructing the bridge. It is all rather humbling.
From there we continued north to Orange where we expected to visit an ancient theatre. When we arrived, the ticket office informed us of scaffolding covering the huge stage wall. We decided to forgo the experience and walked around the outside of the theater. After a bit of an exploration of the back streets we found ourselves able to view it from outside the premises. That was good enough and saved us twenty dollars. At first I was disappointed not to enter, but having seen the Greek theaters, I was content with what we could see here.
We ended the day by driving to Arles where we had a fantastic AirBnB. It was roomy, well-equipped, and the location was close to everything, yet quiet. After parking in the designated garage where we left most of the suitcases, we trudged along with our few needs for two days. As we approached the central square, there was clearly some sort of event happening. At the far end was a gathering of people and smoke. Just as we neared the action in front of the town hall, a small wedding party emerged. They stopped there and over the heads of the crowd, we were able to aim our iPhones to take pictures and video of the celebration. The bride and groom, cheered on by family and friends, began to dance together to their ethnic music. A few minutes later they made their way across the square to continue the celebration elsewhere.
From there it was just another block or two to where Sebastian greeted us at our BnB. He was quite charming, speaking English pretty well. After showing us how to use everything, he reviewed a map to orient us to sites, restaurants, and groceries. We returned to the garage with the free access card, left the garage after paying, and entered again to park for free. Afterwards we meandered about the area, bought groceries, had dinner, and then took a quick walk at night to see the arena lit up. There are many narrow cobblestone streets and lanterns which create an ambience we enjoy.
The next day we decided not to enter the arena as we had done that at Nimes. We walked around the outside, ambled about admiring the street scenes, found a cemetery outside the wall but no really old tombs, and ended up at an ancient theater from the end of the 1st century BC. The remains are minimal compared to the one in Orange from the same era yet had been the same size. I did want to see this theater and while we paid for tickets, we found they included the arena. Since we were sleeping in Arles, we were able to take part in the winter special which gave us a 33% discount. Score! A movie explained the history of the theater, which we watched after we had explored the seating, stage, and remnants lying around out of the way. Apparently, the theater wall had been two stories high and looked a lot like the arena from the outside. Only a few of first rows of seats are original, and there are two complete columns from the wall still erect. After the fall of the Roman Empire it was taken over by the Catholic Church and later a group of nuns. During the Middle Ages it was slowly dismantled and quarried, the stones used to build the other projects. It is currently used for various entertainment productions.
Next, we visited the arena since we had already paid for it. A description said it is the same size as the one in Nimes, but it seemed smaller. After a rest back at our place, we checked out the courtyard of the former hospital where Van Gogh had his ear stitched. Now it seems to house a small variety of commerces, and a place where we had just missed an exhibition. The courtyard was full of flowers, even though it was just March.
Then it was time for lunch. We chose a Moroccan eatery, with a view of the arena for me, where we had tagines. Mine was a chicken leg/thigh with lemon slices and way too many green olives for me to eat. Bill had a spicy meatball concoction in a tomato sauce. We opted for desserts this time. He had flan which did not have enough of the orange flavor it was described to have, and I had an assortment of tiny pastries. They we all ok, but nothing notable.
That night I had a message to arrange a Skype interview for a pet sit in the UK next August. We agreed to set it up for the next morning, just a half hour before we were to check out with Sebastian. During the conversation she decided to confirm us as the other candidates were coming from another country; we will already be in the UK for other sits. Score again!
On to Marseille to reunite with Martina and her men!