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14 July, 2014

Day 11: Storming the Bastille... Day

Just so you know, I'm now writing about things that happened over 3 months ago. It helps that I have really good notes to jog my memory, but I still let things get a bit out of reach in terms of the nitty-gritty. It'll probably sound good enough...

So we got up this morning with the main plan for the day being to go see the famous Arena at Nimes. This is supposed to be one of the best, if not the best preserved arena from the Roman Empire. So that was something that made it to our shortlist of things to do. The routine began with a trip to the bakery to get more of the delicious sandwiches. Unfortunately, they didn't have any today. So we went over to our usual bakery for coffee, baguette, and one sandwich. Then back to the first bakery, where we bought some quiches that we'd bring along with us for lunch. We'd sort of decided that we were not going to do the "looking for a restaurant" thing everywhere we went, because it can be both tiring and frustrating, and it's much easier to find things that look good in a store or bakery, and bring them along. Then, you can just eat when you're hungry.

The drive to Nimes was pretty simple, and there was a decent-looking, reasonably-priced underground parking garage right near the tourism office. We parked there, and then went up to the tourism office to get some information. We were surprised to find the tourism office was not open yet. It wasn't that early, but it wasn't that late either, and we figured maybe they have a weird schedule. So we decided to walk around first, and then come back. We walked over to the Arene, and then it all became clear... Arene was closed too. It didn't look open, and we went into a gift shop in the bottom of the building, which was open, and asked if they were open (in French), and they informed us that today is Bastille Day. Of course! We already knew this! But it never occurred to us that the tourist destinations would be closed because of it. I guess it was not so much that they're "closed" as they were being prepared for an evening celebration concert. So we only got to look at the outside of the Arene. I was a little bit disappointed, but I was able to quickly appease myself with the recognition that the inside of this one probably wouldn't be radically different from the inside of the one at Arles, even if slightly better preserved. And it would be hot. The best part of these structures is looking at them from outside, so we did that for a little while.

From there, we wandered around the town of Nimes. There were a few other destinations that seemed worthy of exploring. We wandered toward some gardens. They were called Fontaine Garden. On the way, we found a shop in a small alley that was run by what seemed to be either Middle Eastern or Northern African men. They sold shoes. Allie almost procured for herself a pair of golden slippers, but they unfortunately didn't have her size. It was quite entertaining and challenging trying to communicate the requests to them, since it was truly two disconnected languages, with my limited French almost useless for shoe shopping. We left with nothing.

The garden was nice. A large open area with criss-crossing sidewalks through a grassy park with some landscaping and foliage. There weren't a lot of flowers. There was some sort of water thing too, but hard to describe what it looks like. Just Google it :) By that time it was already getting very hot outside. I think we were both affected by the heat, but I always seem to be affected more so than her. We sat in the grass in the shade, and we ate our quiches. We saw a small truck arrive at the edge of the park and start unloading ponies. One after another, many tiny ponies were escorted out of the truck, and lined up. There would be pony rides for the little French children.

It was so hot I didn't even want to walk across the garden to get to the shady area where we could wander along some paths that were more protected from the sun. As I recall, I had a headache, and no sunglasses. We wandered up some winding sidewalk paths, because we'd read online that there was an important famous tower called the Tour Magne. It was, as are so many things, very old and very historically important. We walked to it. We looked at it. We peeked inside. And we decided not to pay the entrance fee. As I recall, I don't think Allie even peeked inside. We must have both been hot and irritable. There was a pretty tree outside of the tower, and I took her picture in front of it, and then she took a bunch more pictures of it. We must have those pictures somewhere. It would be quite helpful if I someday augment this blog by inserting relevant photos that go with these points I am making. Otherwise, you sort of have to take my word for it. I might have just been sitting on my couch at home making all this up.

We made our way across the town, probably about a half mile, to another important site called Maison Carree. Again, we didn't go inside, but marveled at it from the outside. We sat on the steps. It was an extremely well preserved Pantheon-like building. Since I don't want you to completely miss out, I'll at least post a photo that I just stole from the internet.

This was the Maison Carree.


Nice, right?

I guess the reason it is so well-preserved is that, unlike many buildings, it has been in nearly constant use through the centuries. I guess at some point one of the enemies used it to stable the horses, which seems to be a common theme. But there you have it. We came, we saw, we sat on the steps.

We walked back toward Arene. We decided we were hot and we were done with Nimes. We stopped at a modern-ish cafe right near the parking garage and ordered cappuccino from a very nice server. We drank them inside because they had air-conditioning. Then we departed Nimes. I think we had some difficulties with the parking pay machine, but I seem to recall we found the necessary coins to do what we needed to do.

Oh yes... but wait... there's more!

The other big thing we had planned for the day was to visit Pont Du Gard. Now it's all coming back to me, and I realize that this was probably one of the most activity-filled days of the entire trip. We knew we wanted to go here, but we hadn't really any expectations as to whether it would be a major attraction, so-so, or what. the drive was a medium ways from Nimes. We had two choices, either the Left Bank or the Right Bank. It was all the same to us, and we ended up choosing Left Bank, as I recall, because we missed the turn for Right Bank, and probably would have had no context as to which bank we preferred. As it turned out, there was really inconsequential difference, because you can get to either bank by... wait for it... walking across the Pont Du Gard!

It was a tiny bit confusing, but we arrived at a large parking lot. There was a little bit of a walk and then you come to the entrance gate which, of course, has places to buy food, get souvenirs, and there was also some sort of building that had galleries or something in it. We got our tickets (as I recall, I was able to pull off decent enough French to ask for the tickets). We entered, and got some water, then made our way across the Pont Du Gard. It was amazing. The views of it are amazing, and the experience of being on it was amazing. There were a lot of people there, but it didn't matter. There were people lounging on the beaches along both sides. There were people swimming in the river below. People were floating on rafts. And they were from all over the world, though it seemed to be predominately Westerners. We took a lot of pictures, walked across to the other bank, and down near the water, where Allie decided that she was going swimming in the river. I decided that I was not going swimming in the water, because I was a little stubborn, but mostly didn't want to go in the cold water. It was not warm. It was great to just be there and see it. Allie swam for maybe a half hour and then got out. We walked up a trail that was completely abandoned. It wound up, up, up through the woods, to the point that we were actually above the height of the very top of the aqueduct. The path then wound around and down, meeting the top of the structure, where there was (not surprisingly) a line of people waiting for a tour of the very top of the aqueduct. We waiting in line briefly, and then discovered, as they started letting people enter, that there was a special ticket for this. It was a ticket we did not have. It was not much money, but one needed to have it already. Meh. Whatever. If you've seen the top of one Roman aqueduct, you've seen them all. We took the path more traveled on the way down. It was a stone path, transitioning to steps at some points, back down to the level of the base.

By this point, it was definitely very hot, and we'd spent a lot of time in the sun. We decided to make our way back across the span, and head back. Out of curiosity, we entered the building where there were some exhibits. What we discovered was amazing. It was a large, completely dark room, with nothing but tiny spotlights shining on an art exhibit of a painter named Jacques Gorde. It was incredible work. We must have spent close to an hour looking at every piece there. He had a variety of styles, but all were interesting, and intricate. It turned out that this was a tribute to him, because he died recently. The exhibit was one of the highlights of the trip. If I think of it, I'll add an image from his collection.

I guess we also attended the Aqueduct Museum. I have no recollection of this which is not necessarily a reflection on its quality. As I seem to recall, it had some stuff related to the aqueduct. Ah, wait... yes! It was a museum that had all kinds of artifacts that related to the construction of the aqueduct, how people lived in the cities which were served by it, the importance of water, etc. Almost all (if not all) of the artifacts on display were replicas, which surprised us because they looked real. It had details of the plumbing that was used, etc. There was also an exhibit that depicted the technology and manpower that went into building the aqueduct. There was an exhibit that showed the relative size and length of all the major aqueducts of the Roman Empire. Really cool stuff. And on the other side of the building, they had a scientific study and archaeological details of every section of the aqueduct from its origin all the way to its designation, which spanned some extremely long distance (I don't recall but it was very very long). I was fascinated by all of it. Plus it was in an air-conditioned, dimly lit building, making it all the more appealing! They even had some places where you could sit on stones and hear simulated conversations, of a historical nature, in a language of your choice, which might have reflected what it was like to live in those times. Very cool. Glad I remembered that!

We drove back to St. Remy-de-Provence after that, uneventfully up to the very end of our drive, when we discovered that ALL of the roads heading into the center of town were closed, and traffic was diverted away, due to the preparations for the evening Bastille Day celebration, and some sort of parade that had occurred. We kept going around in circles, unable to get to the parking area. I started losing my shit, of course, but it was never completely off the rails. After going around in circles maybe 8 or 10 times, we found a different, wider circle that somehow enabled us to get to the other side of the mess and make it to the parking lot, which still had space in it (miraculously... that lot made life quite easy staying in St. Remy).

We were in a bit of a mood at that point. We were hungry, tired, fussy. I think Allie needed to use the restroom. We saw a restaurant in town that I thought looked good, but Allie didn't. So we decided to go back to the apartment, freshen ourselves up, then find dinner. We found it at a restaurant that was called Alpilles or something. It was not good. The ambiance was nice, and the service was friendly. But neither of us liked our food. I had a cheeseburger. She had fish and chips. I complained a bit about my meal, which was probably boring to listen to. Allie didn't complain about hers, but confided later that her food wasn't good either.

Not every meal is going to be perfect. While it seems important at the time, the reality is that an hour later, it's like it never happened. Food is for survival, not entertainment. Sometimes it's quite entertaining too, but that's icing on the cake. I should remind myself of that next time I am disappointed with my dinner.

After dinner, we walked around briefly and returned to the apartment again. I did yoga. While doing yoga, I could hear a cover band playing down the street. They were playing almost exclusively Rolling Stones songs. It was kind of weird hearing a French band playing Rolling Stones, but I guess they're popular in France. They were French residents for a time, so probably not surprising. When I finished yoga, we heard the fireworks start. We went on our balcony and were able to stand out there and see them. It was kind of romantic. The air was comfortable, and we had this experience of a holiday that wasn't the 4th of July, but felt a little like it.

The fireworks motivated us again, and we wandered out one more time for another walk. When we arrived at the town square, we discovered that there was an amazing band playing on a huge stage. Everyone was dressed to the nines, and there were dancers, backup singers, costume changes. It was very flashy. They did a mix of new and old songs, from the US, Britain, France. It was pop and classics. And different members of the group sang each song. The stage was fancy with all these tiers to it, so it was quite the extravagant performance. People were packed in the streets, and it was just an incredible party. We watched for a long time, including when they had their one slightly embarrassing moment of a poorly executed Beatles medley. Finally, we grew tired, and wandered back slowly. It was probably close to midnight. We went to bed and could still hear the bad cover band that had been playing Rolling Stones earlier in the evening as we drifted off to sleep.

As I write about it, so much after the event, it strikes me what an amazing and full day this was.

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