12 January 7.45am at Avignon in self-catering apartment
The sun doesn’t rise here till about 8.20am so it is still pretty dark as I start writing this. It has also got distinctly chilly with the “mistral wind” blowing. We’re only up this early as we have to meet the tour bus at sunrise for a half day tour of ancient Roman sites. This has seriously displeased the B&B owner as he believes – passionately – tours are a waste of time and money and you can get to everything by public transport. Plus he is really miffed that the tour is picking us up from around the corner at another hotel and not right here (probably because they have other people at that hotel and can’t be bothered coming to get us he declared).
Dad and I agreed with all this but insisted we were still looking forward to it, so after a quick breakfast we set off. It was very cold and after hiding in a random doorway to stay out of the wind the lovely Caroline picked us up on time and we set off. And once again it was only us!!
As the sun rose it turned into a glorious cloudless blue sky day, and the countryside looked much prettier than from the train yesterday. We chatted about the region and I asked Caroline where she lived. “Oh a little town you wouldn’t have heard of” she said airily, “Beaucaire”. “I have been there!” I exclaimed.
She knew our hotel Domain des Clos, and Chez Cecile (the lovely restaurant we visited). In fact I couldn’t remember the names but she guessed them from my description. We agreed Beaucaire had potential, but was a bit rough in parts. She said the new mayor was making a real difference – he was young, good looking, gay and a member of the national front … but he was improving Beaucaire.
First stop was the arena at Nimes.
This is the best preserved of the 400 amphitheatres in the world. We spent about an hour exploring and climbing the incredibly steep stairs, and listening to its grim history.
We then walked up to Musee Carree – an ancient Roman Temple.
Both are over 2000 years old and they still hold bull fights in the arena.
Next stop was the small town of Uzes. This was incredibly pretty and a delight to walk around – even though only about 250 years old. We had time for a quick stroll and a coffee before going on to the Pont Du Gard.
This is an immensely impressive aqueduct built to carry water from a spring near Uzes 50 km away to Nimes. Pont du Gard is just one part of that journey. It has triple decker arches with the water carried along the very top. Dad was blown away by the engineering required to transport the water all that way, especially with only a 12 meter drop in height. Pont du Gard took 5 years to build and the aqueduct was in use for over 500 years.
It is also a Unesco World Heritage site, which means it gets a lot more money to support it than other sites. However Caroline doesn’t approve of how it is being taken care of these days. It is too controlled, and restricted, with poor quality monopolies granted to the very few food outlets there and a focus on money and rules. She remembers it from when she was young and it was much freer. People went there at any time of the day and night and saw it as their monument, eating and drinking and playing music as they liked nearby.
When we got back our B&B the owner asked how many were on the tour. When we said “just us” he puffed in disgust on his cigar and said, “Bah. And they couldn’t even be bothered picking you up from this hotel. Bah.” He is Dutch.
Despite that, and Caroline’s criticism of the Pont Du Gare, we were wowed.