Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pont du Gard, Arles, France

Le Mistral continues...
By Chuck
One thing that impressed us, yesterday and today was the unusual cloud formations we have seen. We both thought of Close encounters of the Third Kind. We suppose it is the wind doing this; or, perhaps, the gods are getting playful during our brief excursions into the ancient world of Rome.

We got up earlier than usual, today, and we decided to postpone breakfast in order to have an early start. This was no sacrifice, since we were full from our wonderful Provençal meal last night. This was also not that early – we waited til the receptionist opened at 9am to ensure we would not lose our spot if we took everything with us. Suzette was slow to give us a direction as we were leaving town and we had to circle the entire city before she would allow us to leave. However, we got a bonus: The backside of the city wall was quite interesting, being built on top of rock, saving the builders time and effort in finishing the project.

We had supposed that we would be hard pressed to cover both Pont du Gard and Arles in the same day; although we expected the first to only take about 15 minutes – to simply look at an ancient bridge – we expected the second, a medieval city, to take most of the day. We were surprised to find that we loved the bridge (pont) and spent one and a half hours there: First we walked below the bridge to see it from below and to get a sense of the size; while we were standing there, a man from across the river was shouting to us in French. I hollered out my most exquisite “Parlez vous Anglais?” and he responded in English, apparently asking us to move, as they were filming a movie. Since we had seen what was there, we had no qualms in complying with the request.

When I walked up to the road level, there was another member of the film crew. He requested that I not stop as I walked across. While I was waiting for Claire to catch up – she had remained below to get a picture of me showing the contrast between a person and the size of the bridge – I decided to walk up the stairs to the gauche side of the pont and try to get onto each of the upper two levels. I only got to stand at the end on each of the upper two levels of the pont; I could not walk across, as access was blocked. I did see a dirt tunnel that went several hundred feet through the hillside and walked through to explore; there were remains of an archway, but, I have no idea what was originally there.

Waving from Pont du Gard

Movie crew

Pont du Gard from above

Pont du Gard is the second tallest Roman structure – after the Coliseum in Rome; it is about six feet shorter. It also has the largest arches ever constructed by Roman engineers; moreover, it served as an aquaduct for over 400 years, carrying water over 30 miles, dropping in elevation only 1 inch per 350 feet, and serving 9 million gallons of water per day. And, they did it all with only brainpower and Roman numerals – no mortar, no slide rules and no computers; these guys were terrific.

We had a wonderful picnic lunch in Homer – taking refuge from Le Mistral and sitting in comfort. We had bread, cheese, paté and cinnamon cookies – delicious. I have three reasons for loving these picnics: They are cheaper than eating out, we can do it anywhere, and I love the choices – for dinner tonight we had tea, cookies, bread and herb salami; yum.

I have to say that Arles was our first disappointment in a site. I cannot say why; but, we both agreed. Claire did have a brilliant suggestion for avoiding the narrow, crowded roads in the city: Drive to the train station instead! Suzette did take us down some narrow highways – quite unnerving in the high winds. But, we lucked out in finding parking: We saw the tickets that other campers had received for parking in the bus area and kept going; and we avoided turning into the regular parking area with the height bars; but, just as we turned left toward another parking area, someone was leaving from a spot large enough for Homer – what a relief.

The highlights of Arles, for us were: seeing the Café Nuit restaurant that is painted to represent Van Gogh's Cafe at Night painting; getting a postcard of same from the Van Gogh Institute in Arles, along with a Van Gogh nightshirt for Claire; seeing the Roman Arena that still hosts sporting events such as Bull Games (bullfighting without the mayhem). We also got an exceptional baguette for dinner. We felt none of the specialness of Avignon or Eguisheim.

Cafe Nuit

Cafe Nuit today

Street Scene Arles

Crucifixion of Vincent

But, we were impressed enough with the Roman aspects of the day that we are going to begin viewing the HBO series, Rome, for the second time, tonight. If you are interested in this part of history, we highly recommend this 2 year series.

On the way home we stopped at the ubiquitous “Mr. Bricolage”, France’s answer to Home Depot. I was looking for a watering can to fill our water tank when a hose is not available. Mr. Bricolage is all about home improvement and also includes decorating items such as throw pillows, curtains, and candles.

We are currently right on the MEDITERRANEAN(!) in Fréjus, just south of Cannes at Camping Au Paradis des Campeurs, €15. I can't believe we've gone from the English Channel to the Mediterranean. We’re hunkered down, relaxing and getting some reading time in.

Our campground in Fréjus

Plenty of magazines in the bathroom, including Reader's Digest in German

Along the way we were finally able to get a shot of the road sign that so amused us the first time we saw it.

We’re still not sure exactly what it means since it’s on a road where everyone is driving a car.

We haven’t completely outrun Le Mistral but we’re happy to be here at a campsite that boasts of its “outstanding toilet facilities” which translates into “we have toilet seats and lots of showers".

Our friend Tai has suggested we consider this accommodation for our next trip


Diane said...

Hi Guys,

We are really loving your trip and adventures...almost like being there. I am lusting over the Roman architecture and the arched bridge is amazing...Diane and I watched the 4-hour epic Cleopatra recently and perhaps we should now view the HBO Roman series you have recommended. The photos and writing are wonderful...keep sending the food photos! The blueberry salami was exquisite and even a veggie like me has to admire it!
Cheers and Best Wishes,

Chuck and Claire said...

Thinking the blueberry salami was exquisite coming from you is a high compliment. Thanks! I think you would love the HBO series, Rome, very much. Netflix has it. I have come to understand the history so much more thanks to this series and look forward to my third visit to Rome with a whole new appreciation. The architecture we're seeing is the most interesting part of traveling to me. I'm far more interested in the outside than the inside.