22 July 2006

Aqueducts and Flamingos (Act II, Scene V & finale)


The day started like the others - we awoke earlier than any attractions opened. But at least we had a plan - hit a grocery store and get something for breakfast in the park outside Nîmes' Tour Magne. At 9:00 when it opens, run up, see the panoramic view of Nîmes then hop in the car and roll on to the Pont du Gard.

Pont du Gard

The breakfast part and the Tour Magne part worked out quite well. But the getting to Pont du Gard thing turned into a nightmare. We had maps of the downtown area and a road map of the region of France we were visiting, but the center of Nîmes maps did not detail how to get to the roads out of town, and the Languedoc-Roussilon map we had didn't have enough detail to navigate a city. So we relied on signs. Let me start by saying that we have never had a problem in Germany finding the way we wanted to go in a city. German towns are really good about having "Alle Richtung" signs, telling us "go this way to get out of town" and there is excellent signage to get to Autobahns and Bundesstraßen. Maybe Nîmes is the exception in France, but we had hella trouble finding signs to get out of town in the direction we wanted to go. We circumnavigated Nîmes at least twice, and once we found ourselves inside a rural suburb of Nîmes that was like driving through a maze, since the roads were narrow and were walled on either side. Not like driving in the city because we couldn't see any buildings - just walls. Eventually we got out of the maze and after another trip around Nîmes, we were able to decode the cryptic signs around the many traffic circles and go to a point outside of town that had a sign that told us we were on the right track to the Pont du Gard. Since web sites and books all tell travellers that the Pont du Gard is associated with Nîmes, you would think that there would be a sign or two inside town that tells us how to get there! Especially considering the huge cluster of hotels in the Villa Active, where we stayed.

Reflecting upon the Pont du Gard

Reflecting upon what should have been a 30 minute drive that turned into a 2.5 hour ordeal, I am hesitant to say it was worth it. As the driver for that leg, getting lost in Nîmes and the maze NE of Nîmes was pure hell. But that makes it sound like the Pont du Gard sucks. But it doesn't suck - it was quite nice. Very nice. Exceptional. Exquisite. And I am sure it still is (it has been standing for +/~2000 years, so I assume it is still standing 2.5 months later). But that drive sucked. At times I thought we would never get out, that we would be stuck in the city like the couch that got stuck in Richard MacDuff's stairway.

Looking up the Pont du Gard

Pont Parallel

The Pont du Gard is a Roman acqueduct, probably built in the 1st century (my book doesn't say BC or AD, so it is 2106 to 1906 years old). It was built to bring water to Nîmes, and the best suitable water source was 50 km away and across the Gard river valley. This portion of the aqueduct forms a bridge across the valley, and is 275m long and 49m above the riverbed.

Us at the Pont du Gard

Me at the Pont du Gard

Jeannette & the Pont du Gard

We hung out for a while, had a picnic along the river and just relaxed in the ambiance of this awesome site. But alas, eventually we had to leave.

We decided to pop into nearby Uzès. There was nice market going on, and we wandered the market in the medieval city for a while before hopping back in the car and heading back to our hotel in Nîmes. We were feeling a bit tired after being on the road and active nearly non-stop for two weeks.

Space Invaders

The next day, we headed for Montpellier, for a late afternoon flight. We wandered for a while, but almost everything was closed because it was Sunday. We did see a nice game of women's beach volleyball in the middle of the city, and some other fun stuff. But we really were tired. It wasn't until much later that I realized that Montpellier is a city that has been successfully overrun by space invaders.

We decided to try to find the flamingos we had seen on the airplane when we landed in Montpellier, so we cruised the Étangs near the airport and found them. They were quite the sight to see, and to wrap up a wonderful vacation, one of the flamingos waved goodbye to us.



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