09 July 2006

How to Starve in France (Act II, Scene IV)

Despite it being Jeannette's birthday (OK, yeah, I am over 2 months late with this! Sorry!), we did that waking up "early" thing again and showed up at the gates of Perpignan's massive, star-shaped Palais des Rois de Majorque (Palace of the kings of Mallorca) before they opened. Two days in a row we started our day before the rest of the country - how frustrating! We hung out until it opened, and wandered around for a while. Something just wasn't clicking with us that morning, so after a brief visit to the palace, we decided to go back to the car and start driving towards Nîmes, our eventual destination for the day.

We really, truly, shortchanged Perpignan. We slept there two nights and our most vivid memories are of the extremely squeaky floor of the parking garage near the hotel. I think we'll have to go back. It is a big city with lots to see. But I think there is enough to do there and around to justify a 2nd trip. I'm sure when it's getting cold in Heilbronn and we want a last taste of warm weather, we can pop over or something.

Anyway, after leaving Perpignan we took a detour to Lodève, or, more precisely, 8 km away from Lodève. In the woods in the hills above the town is the Priory of St-Michel de Grandmont. A monastary of Grandmont monks, who were not allowed to speak or do much of anything fun. In addition to the decent church on the grounds, there were some Visigoth tombs and even cooler, the Dolmen de Coste Rouge, a Neolithic pile of rocks with a cute little door-hole on it. It almost looks like a dog house from the Flinstones, or something. We were actually quite lucky that we got a tour - normally the only scheduled tour is at 3:00, and we were there at about 12:30. But there was a pre-arranged tour that had started a few minutes before we arrived, and we were allowed to join them. We didn't get a ton out of the tour, it being in French and all and we knowing just enough French to order food that wasn't raw meat or brains, but not enough to do much else. Occasionally the guide would drop into English for a half-sentence, but it was usually to say something we understood anyway (Lac du Salagou in French is Lake Salagou in English. Uh, thanks.) But it was nice seeing the deer, the dolmen and an owl.

Our happiness at that was short-lived, because we were getting hungry and we were approaching a critial time - the 2:00 shutdown of all restaurants. I don't know if this happens all over France or just in Languedoc-Roussillon, but today it was a major issue. Lodève isn't full of restaurants to start with, but when we found one still open at 1:30, we happened to get there at the same time as a huge group of English motorcycle riders. So the two of us were drowned out by 25-30 other people. By the time we realized that we weren't going to get served in a timely fashion (did I mention that we were ravenous?), we left, only to find that we were too late for any other options. We had some verging on stale road snacks to help stave off the hunger until, a few towns later down the road, we found a grocery store. It was a complete zoo (and despite the rare presence of a 10-item-or-less express lane, but nobody abided by that item limit...), but we survived and continued on to Nîmes.

Nîmes is a much bigger city than we had been in for the last 2 weeks of travel. Normally, I would say that the traffic circles in France worked quite well, but I have to amend that statement after visiting Nîmes. They work well in rural or less crowded areas. They became quite annoying in Nîmes, where they were frequently 3 lanes deep and with no pre-indication of which exit to take, we ended up staying on the outside lane, which was probably a major violation of etiquette. Eventually we made it to the "Villa Active" a huge cluster stores and hotels outside of the old city center. We decided (possibly incorrectly) it would be easier to stay there instead of in the heart of the city. We had no reservations (a frequent situation for us that we are perfectly OK with), so we first considered getting a room at a hotel that had been advertising for miles that they had a pool. Jeannette likes to swim, and on her birthday she should be able to swim if she wants to, darn it. We were about to go in to the lobby and get a room when we noticed that the pool had no water in it. As we found out later at dinner, despite it being beautiful and warm to those of us used to the German climate, the residents of southern France still thought it was cold outside - definitely too cold to be swimming. So we went to a different hotel, where we didn't have to pay for a non-functional pool. And after checking in and taking a short break, we got in the car again and drove towards the ancient Roman city of Nîmes.

It wasn't easy - we didn't have the best map of Nîmes. Well, that's not really true. We had a perfectly good map or two of the old city, but none that included the Villa Active. But eventually we made it to the Maison Carrée parking garage and switched to the safer, more reliable and less-frustrating foot transportation units that we had carried with us the entire trip.

The Maison Carrée is a very well-preserved Roman temple in the center of Nîmes.

There is a cathedral that looks nice from the outside.

I had a lot of fun taking pictures of the ancient Roman arena in Nîmes.

We tried to find the ruins of the Roman Tour Magne so that we could have a great view of the town from above, but by the time we found it, it was closed. See, the moon is already out!

After mingling with a crowd of French school children in the ruins of the Temple of Diana, we headed back to the Villa Active for a nice dinner for Jeannette's birthday. There was another comical exchange - we wanted to sit outside in the beautiful weather, but it was too cold for the waitress to even consider that as an option. We eventually cleared it up and got our food. It was a buffet for everything excluding the main dish, so we each got to try snails. Not my favorite. And the swordfish wasn't nearly as good as what we ate in Italy. I think all in all, it was a pretty good birthday for Jeannette. Hopefully she agrees.



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