Roman Ruins, Rain, and Running Out of Time
02.01.2012 - 06.01.2012 11 °C
We set off on a rainy morning for a tour of some of the ancient sites in this area that was once an important part of the Roman Empire. First stop was Vaison-la-Romaine which is built either side of a steep river valley with a BC era bridge joining the two sides. There were more ruins here but the pouring rain made it all a bit impossible so we drove on to Orange where we visited a fairly intact roman amphitheatre which is still used for a variety of events. After this, the weather had cleared and we travelled further to the famous Pont de Gard which is a large three-tiered aqueduct. We spent another hour or so wandering around, over and under it before we headed off to the city of Nimes. By this stage, we were running out of daylight so we drove past the arena and temple and promptly got ourselves jammed in traffic outside the railway station. Following a trip back to our base town in the dark, we decided that is was difficult to see the scenery at night.
The following morning, we set off for Nimes again for Frances to catch the train to Barcelona. It was about 7:30 and it was quite pretty with the sun slowly rising. We parked at the Gare in good time and waved goodbye to Fran as she set off on the next part of her journey. She is spending a few days in Barcelona before flying back to Paris and then on home to Hanoi.
Sonia and I made the most of the good weather to visit the Roman arena, temple, gardens and belvedere. The arena is more intact than the colosseum in Rome itself and is still used for bull related sports. I'm not sure whether they still do actual bullfighting or not but I think there is a contemporary PC version where they tickle the bull and run around a lot. At the formal gardens on the other side of the historic city centre, we climbed a rather high Roman structure to get a good view of the city, the surrounding countryside and a snow capped Mt Ventoux. They are not quite sure why the Romans built it but it makes a fine lookout.
From Nimes, we drove to St Rémy de Provence where we visited the ruins of a 6 BC Roman city called Glanum. After some extensive archaeological work, we were running out of daylight so decided to return to L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Leaving our apartment here the next morning was a bit sad as we were very comfortable there but we packed up and drove back to St Rémy for another look before heading to Aix-en-Provence. St Rémy was the place where Van Gogh spent some of his mad but reasonably prolific times and we checked out the markets, wandered the narrow streets and participated in the national pastime of having a long and formal lunch. Rosé seemed to be the preferred lunch wine in these parts.
From here, we drove up into the nearby Alpilles where we stopped for a while at a fortified village with good views towards the sea and across nearby olive farms. I then took the "no tolls" option on the GPS for the more scenic drive to Aix. It is a larger city with our chosen hotel in the historic city area being accessible via very narrow streets with limited parking. After going to the trouble of squeezing the Renault into a tiny spot and paying at the on-street machine, we checked in where the concierge recommended that, owing to the possibility of break-ins, it would be better to put the car in one of the underground multi-level secure parking stations that they have throughout the old city. So we unsqueezed it back out and, after getting lost and doing some circling, we went underground.
Aix is a graceful place with numerous fountains and a very atmospheric city layout. It is also obviously a university town with many young people about and a vibrant arts scene. We spent a couple of days here wandering around, visiting a couple of churches and old buildings, checking out the markets in the town "places" and eating a lot. We enjoyed some Vietnamese, some Japanese and a very good meal at a little restaurant that specialises in local Aix dishes. Sonia was also able to do another Paris-style blast of shopping in one of the boutiques.
From here we will drive to Arles to check out a little more Roman engineering before heading down to The Camargue.