1990-03-25: Avignon, Pont du Gard, Nimes

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Mike1:

25 Mar, 2106, Mallemort

Trip to Avignon this morning through very arid-appearing countryside, still with many orchards & vineyards. Weather was clear but very windy all day (after a.m. clouds blew away to SE). Palais de Papes was interesting (complete with automatic underground parking). Basically an empty shell with a few tapestries & a couple of exhibit rooms. Some room descriptions in English. Ate lunch at cafe (rapid service) right in front (50m) of main entrance (crepe with ham/cheese/egg). Walked up to park on hill over-looking Pont d’Avignon; a rock structure had a fountain & pool at its base, and misters provided an interior moist, shady place for moss & ferns to grow, very unusual. Wind made descent difficult (and blew dust in my eyes all day).

Visited Pont du Gard, remnant of Roman aqueduct ~19 BC (-19). Able to climb hill by river and enter the canal (or walk atop the canal if so desire; too windy today). Height of canal is 5 1/2 – 6 ft (except where top flagstones are missing) so I had to stoop most of way. No mortar between stones; perfect joints. The river was very low, but supposed to submerge piers in flood.

At Nimes, auto-parked below square and walked to Roman amphitheatre. This is practically complete & still in use. In winter they erect a dome-like covering over the inner tiers of seats for concerts etc. While we were there, it was setup for a dinner of some sort, 50 tables of 10 settings with fancy setup (champagne flutes, etc.) Stage had amps and lighting for concert.

Tour of arena went from front row of seats up through levels to top where slaves would watch. Guide said seating was segregated by class. Lower classes had to walk up stairs & ramps; senators walked down a short ramp.

Also at Nimes climbed a tower overlooking city, apparently remnant of a castle. This was no worse than climbing a lighthouse (e.g. Barnegat Lighht), except the walls of the tower were at least 20 ft from hand-rail of steps around central pillar; constant presence of abyss was somewhat unsettling!

After descending, inspected ruin of temple of Diane. This surprised me with many arches & barrel vault ceiling (remnant). Very different from “Maison Carree” which was essentially a temple as one sees in books, apparently well preserved (I don’t know if it has been reconstructed), although columns were badly eroded in places.

Walked through another carnival, bought steak-frite sandwiches & sat on bench next to bumper-cars to eat. C got to ride a pedal chariot, complete with horse steered by reins, 10F for 10 min. Finally returned home & hung up some wash in continued wind.

Mike2:

25 Mar, 2106, Mallemort

When we got to Avignon, most of the gates in the wall around the old part of the city, where the palace is, were blocked off for a bicycle race later in the day; there were also many market stalls set up around the wall. After failing to find parking outside the wall (as we had expected) we entered through one open gate, drove up road into heart of city, through square which was covered with tables from restaurants (only a meter from tables on both sides of car, like driving through a sidewalk cafe, which we were) and suddenly a sign for underground parking. We went down a ramp, got a ticket at gate, and parked. This ticket had magnetic strip with entry time; to get out you take the ticket to a machine (like a Washington Metro farecard machine), insert it and pay indicated parking fee; the ticket will then open an exit gate for about the next ten minutes (we never found out what would happen if you took too long to exit after paying). When we came up out of the parking garage, we discovered the whole thing is right under the palace!

The palace itself was less interesting; lunch in the open with all the wind was also rough. The whole thing seems very touristy (little souvenirs, etc).

Pont du Gard was great. The ancient aqueduct came down through tunnels in hills, and into the stretch still standing, which is about 300 meters. The rock is a type of sandstone which compressed over the years, so that there is practically no joint between weight-bearing blocks. The whole thing gives an impression of great strength and precision of design and construction. Climbing up the hill to the tunnel was fun, and walking through it was even more so. The tunnel is constricted in places by buildups of calcium carbonate. At the outer end (in the middle of the river gorge) a spiral staircase has been built to take tourists back down to ground level.

We went to Nimes primarily to see the amphitheatre (which I would call a coliseum). It was used in middle ages as palace for some nobleman, who built rooms in the archways and corridors under the seats. These have been removed, and the remaining structure is a nearly intact coliseum. I wish we had seen it without the dome, which prevented getting a panoramic view across the arena; still it was good to see it being used in a non-destructive way (apparently). (1991-06-12)

Chris:

Went to see Avignon next day. Saw Palace of the popes. Very impressive! We went to eat lunch. Lunch, hah! Crepes was our lunch! We were on time but they had nothing good! We saw Pont d’Avignon, and a place that was shady, mossy, and had swans. We climbed it with the wind and tried to go down into the wind but couldn’t. We visited the Pont du Gard, part of a Roman aqueduct. Pop and I got separated from Mom and climbed the rough way up. Mom was wondering how far behind we were and she was surprised whe she saw us in front of her! She went through the bridge first 10 people in front of D & I. As we neared the end Mom was down the spiral staircase and Dad jumped on top and looked around. He didn’t come down right away though. I started down the dark stairs alone. Mom told me how brave I was. Then we went to Nimes. We saw a Roman amphitheatre. It was nice! We saw: an old Roman house; an old Roman tower; and an old ruined temple with marvelous gardens around it! There were little pedal chariots for hire and we hired one! It was cool! Then we got a sandwich: steak on the bottom frites on the top. They like bumper cars here!

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