A Travellerspoint blog

Nimes, Pont du Gard, Arles & Avignon France

The Land of Ancient History

overcast 53 °F

Bon Jour from the South of France,

We grabbed a cab in Barcelona and took a trip to the airport to pickup the rental car. We had a very interesting driver who was a part time tour guide of the Barcelona area. In the back of the cab he has a wire wound binder he had made with glossy pictures and descriptions of the area. We wished we had called him for a personal tour of the area before we were on our way out of town but if you want his contact info we have is somewhere (aka Susan has it). We rented the car got the GPS fired up and headed North toward the South coast of France. Our first stop was to be Nimes as we were going to use it as a base to visit Nimes, Pond du Gard, Arles and Avignon. This area is the land of castles as there are so many of them still standing they have road signs on the highway to tell you where to exit to visit them. We must have seen 20 such road signs between Barcelona and Nimes. Overall we were very impressed with the area and all of the historical events and structures that we found there. There really isn’t anyway the few pictures I am posting here can do justice to all four areas covered in this blog entry but since I am driving I can’t make use of my travel time on the train to get caught up on the blog and I’m falling way behind…sorry!

Let’s get to the pictures!

Here is a picture of our road map taken by the navigator. I think being the navigator is a lot like doing a job your boss thinks is easy. If you do it well and you get where you were going it was obviously expected and if not people (the driver) wonder how you could screw that up :) .

Here is a picture of one of the many road signs indicating there was a castle ahead.

The first thing to understand is that Nimes is VERY old! There is evidence of man’s existence here from 4000 B.C. It was a very important town to the Romans on the road from Italy to Spain and Roman legions who served Julius Cesar in the Nile campaigns were given plots of land here to farm after serving Rome. Much later in the 17th and 18th centuries Nimes became a wealthy town due to textiles and the fabric most all of us wear daily got its name right here. The term Denim came from the term De Nimes meaning “from Nimes”. It is also the home to the best preserved Roman arena where gladiators fought and Christians were fed to lions for entertainment. The arena is one of three remaining ruins dating before Christ.

The next five pictures are of the arena in Nimes. It was built about 1 B.C. Yes! It is now well over 2000 years old. It is in much better shape than the coliseum in Rome. The audio guide for the self guided tour is very well done and I was somber just thinking about how many lives had been lost here. We learned that many of the movies we have seen about gladiators and the arena are grossly inaccurate. For example, the games were typically hosted and paid for by the towns leader out of his own pocket. He was the one who decided if a gladiator was to be put to death or not when he dropped to his knees in surrender. His indication was not a thumbs up or down as we have seen but rather a flat hand with either the thumb extended indicating death or the thumb tucked into his palm indicating to put the sword back in its sheath. I was also interested to learn that should he choose to put a gladiator to death, he owed money to the gladiator’s school to compensate them for their cost in training him. More than 90% of those gladiators asking for mercy were granted it. In recent times the arena was still being used for bull fights. Nowadays instead of killing the bull they tie a ribbon between its horns and the Matadors try to grab it without getting gored.

Le Maison Carree was built by the Romans between 2 to 4 B.C. and was inspired by the Mars Ultor temple in Rome. It was used as a gathering place for ceremonies…outside that is as only the priests were allowed inside.

This was one of the main entrances to the city when it was surrounded with a continuous wall. The two larger arches in the center were for chariots and wagons while the two smaller ones were for people on foot.

Just about every town in this area has a carrousel and they are very popular among the children. This was a picture I took of the one in Nimes just after night fall.

Pont du Gard
Is the best preserved Roman aqueduct bridges in the world. It was built in the first century A.D. to bring water to Nimes across the river Gard. It was part of a 31 mile aqueduct system that would deliver more than 44 million gallons of water to the city each day for everything from baths to fountains. The second picture is of Susan and I standing in front of the bridge and the last picture shows Roman carvings of the number 17 and a good luck symbol.

We did not spend a great deal of time in Arles since it is best known for its Roman arena which was built after the Romans captured the city in 123 B.C. but it is not nearly as well preserved as the one we had previously visited in Nimes. Susan had visited here on a previous trip and wanted to find some the old places she had been. We did have a great lunch there at a small restaurant just off the square called Le 16. Here are some pictures taken around town.

Next we visited Avignon which is also as you may image is also a very old town and is located on the banks of the bank of the famous Rhone River. One of the more interesting historical facts of the city is that from 1309 when pope Clement V chose Avignon as his home the papacy was relocated from Rome to Avignon and it remained the center of Catholicism for the next 68 years and 7 popes. During these years they built a large papal palace as all church business and finance was conducted here. The next 8 photos were taken during our tour of the palace.

This is a picture of the Pont Saint-Benezet which was built in Avignon to cross the Rhone River between 1171 and 1185. You can see that it no longer spans the entire river as a large portion on the left bank has deteriorated. The bridge had its own Chapel of St. Nicholas which was the patron saint to the Rhone boatmen.

I hope these very few pictures give you some idea of the wonder and long history of this area. It was truly amazing to see such well preserved ancient ruins and get a feeling of life in those times.

Next we travel further East along the French Mediterranean coast line to visit the towns of Marseilles, St. Tropez, Bandol and Villefranche sur-Mer ….Assuming our navigator does what’s expected :) .

Until next time….Au Revoir

Posted by Trainwater 09:37 Archived in France Comments (0)

Barcelona Spain

City of amazing architecture

semi-overcast 57 °F

Hola from Barcelona,

We travelled by train from Toulouse France to Barcelona Spain and got checked into the little hotel we had chosen. It was very near a very popular pedestrian walking and shopping center called the Ramblas. Susan became pretty ill shortly after arrival and had to take a day off to recover. I set out the first evening to walk the Ramblas just before night fall and was amazed at what I saw. It was Friday evening and the place was packed with all types off vendors and street performers. I was SO sorry I had left my camera back in the room that first evening. Barcelona takes street performance to an entirely different level. I think we have all seen a hundred of those guys that dress up like a statue and then become animated with a donation of a coin but these guys are amazing. The following Saturday was dedicated early to finding a place to watch the Superbowl. The Hard Rock Café was “the” place according to the ex-pat web sites for Barcelona but after visiting them and asking what the plan was it was pretty obvious that it had not been communicated to the employees. We got a few different stories but we surmised by the divergent stories that all tables had already been reserved and they were going to charge 14 Euro to enter and stand for 4 hours to watch the game…sigh! We were given the name of this small pub that had a feed for the game but did not have a license to stay open past serving time which would mean we would have to leave just after half time. We talked it over and got the owner to agree to just lock us in at closing time and allow us to leave only after the game and then just one at a time to avoid drawing suspicion from whoever controls the liquor licenses in Barcelona. It was great! We were able to watch the entire game on two huge projector screens and after closing we were there with only about 12 other people. The game obviously did NOT go the way we were hoping and because we were in Europe with the European feed we saw these very weak European commercials but it was much better than it would have been at the Hard Rock.

OK...back to the city itself. Once Susan was feeling better and we had recovered from staying up pretty much all night long to watch the game, we had one full day of touring the city. We found Barcelona to be a city of amazingly diverse architecture not only from the well known influences of the modernist architect Antoni Gaudi but from others as well. Let’s get to the pictures!

Our hotel was down a small alley just off the Ramblas and our room was on the 4th floor (this would be the 5th in America as the floor at ground level in Europe is floor 0 not floor 1). Above is a picture from our room looking back toward the Ramblas.

This was a very old pharmacy located on the Ramblas itself and I thought it was very neat looking. Here the pharmacy can prescribe medicine sort of like a doctor.

A very quaint alley seen somewhere on one of our walks.

One of many flower merchants on the Ramblas.

An elderly Spanish man looking like he had worked hard his entire life sitting next to a kid who should be working harder and begging less.

The next five shots are of just some of these street performers I was talking about earlier. There were even more original ones that first evening I went out without my camera. These guys go “all out” when it comes to being original in their costumes and approach. That last picture shows a guy that was amazing. He was supporting his entire body weight through some hidden structure with his cane.

This dragon was on the side of a hotel. I was never able to understand its significance or why it was there other than it looked cool.

This was a monument to Christopher Columbus at the end of the Ramblas near the port. Columbus returned to this port in Barcelona after discovering America in the late 13th century.

A beautiful port authority building in Barcelona.

This pedestrian bridge takes you over to the port area where there are many shops and some of the best seafood we have had on this trip. This bridge and port area were developed when Barcelona hosted the olympics in 1992. We sat at a table right on the water and enjoyed amazing seafood and meat Tapas with a great bottle of Rioja. I’m was liking Spain!

This 33 story building is the Barcelona Water Company building called “Torre Agbar” It does not have accommodations for tours but at night is has 4,500 LED lights of all different colors controlled by a master computer that give some brilliant light shows. You can see video of these on You Tube by searching for Torre Agbar if intersted...it's beautiful at night!

This was the old arena (sorry forgot the name) but it used to be the main place to hold bull fights and has been the location for many concerts over the years such as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles as it was the only place in Barcelona to house a large number of people at the time.

The next five pictures were taken of random buildings and things as we were walking around the city that I found interesting. I hope you will also.

These next two pictures are of one of Antonio Gaudi’s buildings called Casa Batllo. Very interesting architecture. Kinda of like Dr. Seuss takes an architecture class.

This is a picture of another work of Antoni Gaudi called Casa Mila.

The next three pictures are of the project Gaudi dedicated his life to called Sagrada Familia. It was started in 1882 and no one is sure when it will be done. Yes! It has been under construction for more than 120 years now. These pictures cannot do justice the complexity of this cathedral building. Every surface seemingly is detailed and decorated with detailed sculptures and images. I frankly can’t imagine how it will be maintained but I have never seen any building as “busy” as this building is anywhere in my life…amazing!

Finally a picture of Barcelona at sunset as we completed a very full day of sightseeing in an amazingly interesting city.

Well that’s it for Barcelona……….From here we litereally hit the road as we will rent a car here and begin to brave the European highway system. We will drive from Barcelona to Florence Italy stopping at several destinations along the South coast of France. Next stop will be Nimes France which we will use as a base to visit Arles, Avignon and Pont du Gard in search of what is supposed to be the area with the most well preserved Roman ruins in Europe.

Until next time ….Chow!

Posted by Trainwater 09:17 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Toulouse and Carcassonne France

Southern France and an amazing mid-evil walled city

sunny 44 °F

Hello from the South of France,

Well after three months in Paris we are on the road again. This time we are travelling to the South of France, Spain and Italy. We took the train from Paris to Toulouse where we enjoyed some wonderful food and some amazing sites. While there we took a day trip to Carcassonne where we visited the restored mid-evil walled city. It is said to be the best preserved walled city in Europe. Our plans are to travel by train from Toulouse to Barcelona where we will stay for four days and then rent a car to drive through Northern Spain, the South coast of France and finally return to train travel in Florence Italy. While it was very nice to be able to unpack and settle down for the holidays in Paris, it is now very exciting to be back on the road again seeing new places.

Let’s get to the pictures of Toulouse and Carcassonne…………

Below is the train station in Toulouse. Not best part of town but a beautiful building none the less.

Toulouse is a beautiful old city with many small streets and alley ways to explore. Below are a couple of photos of some places as we were walking about.

Next we visited the basilica of Saint Sernin. It was an amazing building with an open bell tower above the main alter that looked to rise about 7 stories above the roof of the church. The foundations of the basilica date from the 4th century and Charlemagne donated many of the relics to the church.

Below the main floor of the basilica was a very elaborate crypt that housed many remains as well as a number of these very detailed chromed wooden sculptures.

In the main square of Toulouse there was a building that we believed to be some sort of city administration building named “CAPITOLIUM”. As we were walking through a courtyard (shown in the first picture below) Susan just stepped inside an open door and we discovered some very ornate ballrooms shown below.

Next we visited the cathedral of Englise des Jacobins which is known for its large vaulted ceilings with contrasting arches. The building dates from the early 13th century but has not been as well maintained as many other churches we have visited. We ceiling arches though were very unique. These all seemed to come together at the main column near the front of the church. The last picture was taken looking up but I thought it was interesting they also had installed a large mirrored base at the bottom of the collum so you could see it without looking straight up.

Next we visited a Musee des Augustins which was originally a large mansion build in 1309 as an Augustinian convent but after the French revolution was opened as a museum in 1795. It houses many amazing works from all the masters as well as many small sculptures. Unfortunately no photographs are allowed inside the museum but here are a couple from the courtyard as well as the main tower as seen outside the building.

Next we visited the Pont Neuf Bridge. This very unique bridge was started in 1544 but for some reason took over 87 years to complete. The bridge is not symmetrical and the openings in the center of the pylons were supposed to represent the face and main of a lion (as we were told) but frankly I don’t see it.

The next five pictures were taken at random as we walked about town. Very neat walking city with a lot to look at and a long history.

Next we visited the Cathedral Saint Etienne des Toulouse which has large flying buttresses. This church also dates from the 13th century but is in serious need of renovation. We did discover some amazing wood carvings in the building which can be seen in the pictures below.

The following day we took a day trip by train to the city of Carcassonne which is home to what is said to be best preserved mid-evil walled city in Europe. It was amazing! The history of the city is unique and tells stories of battle, siege and politics over the centuries. The structure itself has been modified and changed many times over the years depending on who was in power at the time. Its main renovation to the state we see it today occurred in the late 1800’s but the history of the changes to the building have been lost in two separate fires that burned almost all historical documents of the building. More recently computer modeling has been employed to better understand how it might have looked at different times. There is no way the very few pictures here can show just how cool it is to walk around this walled city. You feel as if you are living in the 12th century as you experience it.

Finally for my funny street scene……. as we were leaving Carcassonne there was this Asian martial arts group that were climbing one of the outside walls so we watched for a moment . The wall they are on is about 60 – 80 feet above the ground and only about 2 feet wide while they were doing poses and martial arts exercises on top.

Next we are off by train to Barcelona Spain for a few days to have some tapas, sangria and (hopefully) find a place to watch the Superbowl. Until next time………..Au Revoir.

Posted by Trainwater 03:42 Archived in France Comments (1)

Merry Christmas From Paris France

Brrrrr "Can someone turn the heater on?"

snow 30 °F

Merry Christmas from Paris France!

It has been quite a while since my last blog entry. We were VERY ready to unpack by the time we arrived and just resume a more normal mode of living after being on the road for over 6 weeks. Shortly thereafter we found that almost all of our time was consumed with learning how to live here. There is a lot to figure out from transportation to where to buy the things you need. Shops are much more specialized here. The good part of that is you can learn which shop has the REALLY good cheese or whatever you are looking for. The down side is that you end up spending a LOT of time gathering what you need to buy. It seemed like just when we were getting that figured out we both came down with sore throats and finally decided to try our hand with the French medical system. I’m not sure our experience was typical but it was great. We called the outpatient doctor listed in the information notebook that came with the apartment. Within 20 minutes a doctor arrived at our apartment. He examined us both, wrote us each a prescription and charged us 120 Euros. We walked one block to the pharmacy and paid 40 Euros for the antibiotics. Within one hour of my phone call I had been seen by a doctor and had my medicine.

We are both over our illness and have been spending the past few weeks getting ready for the holidays and, of course, taking in more of the city and more excellent food. We have found some pretty good places for several different types of food. The best place for dinner is turning out to be here at the apartment. Susan has really begun to find out where to get the things she needs and we have been having some wonderful meals. We attended a cheese lunch last week at a women’s home where she presented a few of the dizzying number of cheese varieties available here and some suggested wine parings. Had fun and learned a tiny bit about cheese. Unfortunately the Camembert cheese we really like smells so badly you must keep in about 3 layers of Ziploc bags and Tupperware to keep it from knocking you over when you open the refrigerator.

I Know………….I’m rambling again! Let’s get to the pictures and show you some of the things going on over here.

Thought I would show you a bit of the apartment we are staying in here. We are living in the 9th arrondisement which is on the right bank about 2 miles North of the Louvre and just South of Montmartre. Here is a picture in the living room with our tiny Christmas tree.

Above is a picture of the bedroom.

Here is my home entertainment center (ha ha). I have connected external speakers and a SVGA micro projector to my laptop. I bought a cheap screen from the local Office Depot. With the Slingbox at home and the Internet I can watch and record programs from my satellite dish in San Diego. SWEET!

For those who may not know I am kind of hooked on Radio Controlled models so I bought a tiny indoor helicopter to fly while we are here and the weather outside is bad.

A snapshot of the kitchen counter the other night during dinner preparations’. Lamb Chops! Yum!

We arrived here during white truffle season and after enjoying them so much in Venice Italy Susan wanted to experiment cooking with them. I wanted to encourage her so we found a shop that had some fresh ones. We enjoyed them with some Risotto the first night followed by Pasta the next evening and with scrambled eggs the next day…YUM!

This is a “T” intersection of one-way streets right outside the apartment. We have witnessed several incidents at this intersection which have proven an interesting social examination of the French driver. Whenever anyone gets stuck at this intersection it backs up quickly up the one-way street and the horns begin to blow. The horn seems almost as integral to operating a car here as the steering wheel and the longer you have to wait the longer you hold down the horn button….Sigh

These next three pictures are from St. Eustache church taken during an impromptu visit as we were walking by.

Now for some other pictures we have taken around the city so far……..

A local Creperie in the 5th near where we have stayed on previous trips here.

Here we are on the Champs-Elysées with all the Christmas lights and the open market that was really fun to see.

This is one of the local large department stores in full decoration for the holidays.

The local Boucher (Butcher) with his new Christmas goose that he was very proud of.

My funny street scene entry. This picture was taken on the Rue de Rivoli. I’m not sure what’s going on here for sure. There seems to be a sign about a Psychoanalysis Congress but if you notice it was written over another sign so….hmmm

Above is a picture taken at the Place de la Concorde of the Egyptian Obelisk of Luxor which is the oldest monument in Paris at 3300 years old. There remains today some difference of opinion between France and Egypt about how it got here. This is also the area where the executions of more than 1300 people including King Louie XVI and Marie Antoinette were carried out during the French revolution.

Galerie Vivienne a small indoor area of shops first established in 1823

This picture is a great example of the Baron Haussmann architecture from the late 19th century that is frequent in the city.

Hard to imagine but people here are more crazy about their dogs than in the US. They bring them with them everywhere here (subway, stores, restaurants, bathroom). This was a dog we encountered in a restaurant. While his owners were occupied chatting we fed him bread & cheese. Later we noticed he was eating the cheese off the bread as there was a pile of bread under their table when they left.

We have had a lot more snow than usual here in Paris (or so we have been told). This picture was taken out the window of our apartment on one day last week.

This is a picture of the Tuileries one morning after two days of snow had frozen into a solid sheet of ice.

Well I guess that’s it for now. I will try to do better in keeping in touch in the future. We are starting to plan for our trip to Spain and Italy as well as the South of France in February. Should be a blast.

From our family here in France to yours wherever your travels may take you we want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a most Happy and Healthy New Year.

Tom & Susan

Posted by Trainwater 10:17 Archived in France Comments (0)

Amsterdam the Netherlands

A vacation from our vacation

View European Adventure on Trainwater's travel map.

Hello from Holland,

We decided in Bern Switzerland to reroute our trip to Paris from the more direct path through Dijon France and instead come to Amsterdam for a few days. Great decision! We will catch Dijon on our way back to Paris on our trip in February through Spain and the West coast of Italy. The train trip from Bern to Amsterdam was a bit interesting. We had just received our meal in the dining car when there was an announcement that the train was to be taken out of service and at the next stop everyone would have to get off and board another train to continue on our journey. Of course the announcment was first given in some other language so everyone was all upset around us and we had no idea at first what was going on. After we figured out what was happening we grabbed the wine & cheese (of course) and ran back to our cabin to collect our luggage then transfered trains. I guess it is all part of traveling in Europe.

We arrived in Amsterdam and had a great time. Amsterdam has very liberal laws but it doesn't seem out of control or chaotic. It seemed to be a very "Live and let live" mentality among the people. We spent the first days walking around the city to the flower shop district, to tour Anne Frank's house and the famous red light district and a coffee house or two. We also stepped into a church (just to maintain balance...you know) and spent a lot of time just wandering the canals and checking out the city. We also spent more time than ususal just hanging out at the hotel and relaxing. After almost 8 weeks on the road it was great!

Here are some pictures we took of the city.................

A beautiful old house on the intersection of two canals

Ben & Jerry's ice cream is big here. They even keep thier corporate yacht here.

Anne Frank's house. The tour was well worth the 45 min wait in line.

The next four photos are canal shots. The trees are turning yellow as fall has arrived in Holland. There are canals everywhere here and about a million bicycles.

It was Halloween when we were here and probably not surpisingly people in Amsterdam were into it. This picture shows the long line waiting to get into the costume store.

Here we seem to have a duck riding what appears to be a tiger....ahhh....not that there is anything wrong with that.

There was a carnival going on where we sampled some traditional wafffles with chocolate and hot cherries...YUM!

One of many beautiful clock towers around the city.

These two pictures above were taken at the flower market which is huge. This time of year they are mostly selling bulbs.

The next three pictures were of the church we visited. I knew the name but I have since forgot. (go figure)

This picture of a coffee house in Amsterdam probably most accuratley represents our experience. It was GREAT!

Well that's it for our journey trhough Eastern Europe on our way to our apartment in Paris. I will try to post some pictures of the apartment and the neighborhood in Paris as well as any pics I find amuzing (I'm assuming those two aren't the same) as soon as I can.

Drop me an email if you want at trainwater157@gmail.com

Until next time...........au revoir

Posted by Trainwater 05:31 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

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