Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Paris to Nimes

The Pont de Gard
After four days of jetlag which induced head spins and lethargy for most of my waking moments, it was a pleasure to wake this morning with a clearer head. Even my sense of humour had returned!

After three days in Paris, we were heading south with our Insight Tour.

Leaving the hotel at 8:30, we made the short journey to Gare de Lyon and a longish wait with limited seating among a crowd where everyone looked like a pick pocket to my inexperienced traveler's eyes. Sue found a chair and I perched on the pavement beside her as we talked to a couple from London about their travels. After an hour or so, we were advised of the platform for our high speed train south and managed to walk almost the entire length of the train before discovering ours was the first carriage we passed.

The trip to Avignon is a fast one – 580kms in two hours and forty minutes – so taking pictures from the windows is fraught with potential failure, especially when a TVG passes you in the opposite direction and you fall back into your seat swearing.

Our only stop was at our destination. Avignon, is a two minute stop for the TVG, which speeds on to Marseilles once those two minutes have elapsed. As a result, we were all on our feet for the final minutes, readying ourselves for the leap from the train and the following commando roll. As we crossed the Rhone on the railway bridge, Sue and I took no chances and were ready to spring past the elderly in front of us.

Aboard a coach again, it didn’t take long to reach the Pont de Gard, a remnant of a Roman aqueduct which stretched for 50kms from the source of the water at Uzes to Marseilles. Construction began on the three tiered bridge over the Gardon River in 20 BC and yet, more than two thousand years later, it still stands as impressively as the day the ribbon was cut. The large blocks and glorious arches make for an appealing sight and the area is extremely popular among Parisians during August, which is their summer holiday break, akin to our January.

It was a hot 35C and a rude shock after the air conditioned pampering of the train and coach but the walk was short and rewarding. Roman architecture never ceases to amaze.

On to Nimes, our base of operations for the next three nights, despite our desire for showers and cool drink, we left the coach short of the destination and went for a half hour orientation tour. If the cathedral near the centre of town had impressed us from the coach, it was nothing in comparison to what was still to come.

Standing on a wide footpath, we gathered for orientation and a word of advice for those of us who habitually get lost or left behind as to how we might find the hotel. There are some in our group who might be justified in pointing that particular bone at us.

Maison Carree

As the coach pulled away, there stood a Roman colosseum! Better preserved than its larger brother in Rome, Arenes-Nimes still hosts bull fights and music concerts. Large stone blocks and arches … so you know its Roman. Standing almost beside it is the Maison Carree, a temple built by Marcus Agrippa in 16BC and dedicated to the memory of his two sons Lucius and Gaius, who both died young. Corinthian columns and more huge blocks of stone. The combination of the two huge buildings in the centre of Nimes and the Pont de Gard on the way from Avignon, were an unexpected influence we had been ignorant of. Standing beside a 2000 year old building when you come from a country which has only been a nation for little more than 100 years is staggering.

We all dined together at the hotel. The three couples at our table – American, Kiwi and Aussies – exercised d├ętente. Perhaps more red wine and stories of how you met and fell in love should be compulsory at diplomatic talks. It served us well.

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