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Europe » France » Languedoc-Roussillon » Nîmes
December 19th 2009
Published: January 5th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

A Matador Statue By The Roman AmphitheatreA Matador Statue By The Roman AmphitheatreA Matador Statue By The Roman Amphitheatre

Nimes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Readers, in light of the title of this blog, you'll be pleased to know that I have my thermal underwear on. They consist of a set of SnowPro long sleeved top and bottoms, and are black and very unattractive. Luckily they are on underneath my clothes. The problem is though, that your leg hairs (if you have them) thread themselves in between the fibres of the material and it feels like velcro. I'm sorry for girls if they have to wear this stuff, because you know what shaved legs grown back a little are like. The reason I'm wearing these unflattering undergarments is because I have no choice. Outside today it is a moderate minus one degrees celsius with another five degrees taken off due to the thirty knot Northerlies blowing in from the Alps. They call the freezing winds “Ces” here. Sounds like an old neighbour I used to have, Cecil, and I wasn't a fan of him either. He was cold and bitter too.

I figure myself a very cold-hardy person, but after a while it seeps into your core and you better get warm or you're in deep shit. Aleks has also developed a chilblain on her
The Walled City Of CarcassonneThe Walled City Of CarcassonneThe Walled City Of Carcassonne

Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
outer thigh from repeated cold in that area, being only covered in jeans. It's not good, and we have to try to keep it warm and dry, but Little Miss Naivety just wants to keep walking around in freezing wind and having a great time. I don't understand it, I just know I want it gone. And if that means sitting in hot places for three days, then that's what's going to happen, whether she likes it or not.

We have a little water container hooked up to one of those pump taps you usually find in campers. We run it out about once every three days. We don't use it for rinsing, and we don't use it to fill the sink; we actually go to the truck stop bathrooms and fill up with hot water from the hand washing taps. It's funny to watch people's reactions when you're using a short water bottle to decant into a bigger one in the handbasins because the big one doesn't fit under the tap. They wonder what the hell I'm doing. When they raise an eyebrow, I just smile at them like I'm doing something evil and they shouldn't get involved.
Gateway To The Old CityGateway To The Old CityGateway To The Old City

Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
It's hard to wash up, or even dry the dishes, when it's zero degrees outside. Your hands freeze instantly and take about half an hour to warm up again.

What's my point with all this? I don't know... It's all nice to tell you guys about our day to day adventures and checklist-ticking, but it's interesting to divulge the intricacies of campervanning in a car that wasn't essentially designed to be a camper. It's a real learning process, a constant guess-and-check, a day to day problem solving extravaganza. You learn a lot about yourself in a situation like this, especially in relation to your ability to think logically. Like yesterday morning when every tap in a four hundred mile radius was frozen solid, and Aleks had already tipped the old water out. Fortunately we have a 5L container filled for exactly that reason: the constant glugging sound it makes as we drive is worth having it as a backup.

See? Tolerance developing from learning lessons the hard way. I'll just clarify: I might sound like I'm a little bit frustrated with this trip, but trust me that couldn't be further from the truth. I absolutely love where I
Inside The Chateau ComtalInside The Chateau ComtalInside The Chateau Comtal

Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
am right now and nothing short of a good dose of frostbite will get me away from it! But I think that when you're in an environment you're not used to, prudence is King. But I digress muchly...

We had covered 3459km by the time we reached Carcasonne. I know this because as we fuelled up the night before, Aleks took it upon herself to reset the “B”-Trip odometer total. The one I wanted to keep running for the entire trip to take a photo of at the end, showing our amazing number of k's travelled. I was heartbroken, naturally, and swore never to let a woman touch anything like that ever again.

Carcasonne is the largest, best preserved and one of the most politically important examples of a medieval city and its fortifications in Europe. Much of the city is a contemporary urban sprawl of 45,000 inhabitants, but the main attraction is the centre ville historique, a tight meshing of buildings encased within a double-reinforced set of ramparts and roman towers. It dragged a few astounded oohs and ahhs from us as we drove The Ark up to it, as it looks more like a King's Castle
The Wooden HordingThe Wooden HordingThe Wooden Hording

Chateau Comtal, Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
of old than anything we've seen so far. The amazing thing is that it was built in the 13th century and still looks largely untouched. Even though it was heavily restored to keep it standing in the 19th century by some geezer called Viollet-le-Duc. The good thing about this though, is that all the wooden parts have been replaced, including the hoardings (like big, wooden boxes) atop the ramparts. Basically it's got all the places that the other castles tell you about but haven't got. It looks just sensational, and you get a far better idea of how it really looked back rather than having to use your imagination.

We paid our €8 to get in and were treated to a walk through of the usual maze of towers and ramparts, dungeons and lodgings that you see in these types of places. It was very fairytale, and seeing the size of the giant carpark they have next to it, it was another spot that we're very glad we're visiting in Winter so as to avoid millions of tourists. Apparently the place is hell in summer. There was just us and one other car in the carpark, so that was
looking Over The Old Townlooking Over The Old Townlooking Over The Old Town

Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
nice, and we barely saw a soul in there. Just like we like it.

After being done with Carcassonne it was off in the direction of Nimes, passing through a place called Bezier which was home to one of the most massive cathedrals we've seen yet, stuck up on top of a hill and looking just amazing. We also passed through a town called Capestang (interesting name I thought) where we first did some shopping and ate some lunch before investigating the local city centre there. There wasn't really that much to see there, and the church was closed, but some random guy saw me staring at the locked doors and suddenly produced a set of keys to the place. He let me in for five minutes to take a look around and I thanked him very much; the inside was very old but nothing spectacular. That afternoon we drove to the a truck stop halfway to Nimes and called it a day.

The 17th was looking to be a very exciting day, as we covered the rest of the distance to Nimes reading about the Roman Amphitheatre we were going to see... the best preserved in the
Roman Semi-Circular TowerRoman Semi-Circular TowerRoman Semi-Circular Tower

Chateau Comtal, Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
whole wide world. Amphitheatres! You know, like the movie Gladiator? Man I love that movie, and so it stands to reason that the day could only get better. We arrived in Nimes and paid for parking, then I treated myself to my first croque monsieur (like a ham and gruyere toasty). It was just OUTSTANDING, although it fell all over the place and was greasy and messy, but that was just fine. We then turned around and saw our destination, and I yelled “WOOHOO!” so loudly that a couple of people looked at me, but with good reason - see the photos. It's so large that I couldn't get it in a single photo and didn't do it any justice at all.

The only problem with this amphitheatre is that it was built in the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus (around 70AD). This means it has fifty billion possible entry points as was the case with most arenas built in that time, but you have to walk all the way around the building to find the main one as the others are gated closed. We found the entrance, paid €9.80 each for a ticket that allowed us entry
Someone Lost Their WindowsSomeone Lost Their WindowsSomeone Lost Their Windows

Chateau Comtal, Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
into the Arena, the Magne Tower up on the hill (a tower built in 15BC), and the Maison Caree (a temple built to honour Augustus' sons).

So basically the Arena's deal is that after it was built and then subsequently as the Roman Empire fell, the amphitheater was fortified by the Visigoths and surrounded by a wall. During the turbulent years that followed the collapse of Visigoth power in Hispania and Septimania, not to mention the Muslim invasion and subsequent reconquest by the French kings in the early eighteenth century, the viscounts of Nîmes constructed a fortified palace within the amphitheater. Later a small neighborhood developed within its confines, complete with one hundred denizens and two chapels. Seven hundred people lived within the amphitheater during the apex of its service as an enclosed community. And it's still standing after all that? With minimal reconstruction? Cripes!

Apart from this though the Arena was used as exactly that, an arena. This is the place where huge crowds of all levels of society (up to 15,000 at a time) could come and watch all sorts of things, like men fighting other men, men fighting lions and bears, criminals being executed, animals
6th Century Sarcophagus6th Century Sarcophagus6th Century Sarcophagus

Chateau Comtal, Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
fighting animals yada yada yada. The main event however was the combat between professional arse-kickers, known as the Gladiators. These hardest of hard men were trained at schools all over Italy, Spain and France, and came to fight till either the judges called it as over, or someone was killed. There's a lot of hollywood gloss that's been applied to this stuff, such as the big thumbs down given in killing a guy at the end of the combat - that's bullcrap, and usually they were allowed to live. They replaced the sand in the arena every hour to help deal with all the blood being spilt. Mmmm yummy. We toured around the whole place and took some amazing photos - the structure is just beautiful, albeit a bit more weathered than when it was built I would warrant. It was easily in my Top 3 of cool places to visit, not only because of how old and amazing it is, but the history of the gladiators too. Wow

That afternoon we also saw the Maison Caree, and watched a very kitcsch 3D film about “The Heroes Of Nimes”, which gave us the story of the important figures in
Who Farted???Who Farted???Who Farted???

Chateau Comtal, Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Nimes history via some crap acting of an old guy looking into the sands of time, asking “Who Is The Greatest Hero In Nimes' History!!!!” in a booming voice. There was lots of budget special effects and some more atrocious acting, and finally it was decreed that “All of the citizens of Nimes are heroes!” And we looked at each other and rolled our eyes under our ridiculous 3D glasses. We consoled ourselves by eating some truffle sausages for dinner at the truck stop and doing some blogging.

The next day it was back to Nimes to see the final leg of our €9.80 tour, the Tour Magne. The tower is a big, hollow round tower built as a survey tower and connecting point for the original walls around the city. Truth be told there's not much to see in there, save for a few bits of stonemasonry and some guy looking bored in a ticket booth, but the climb to the top is the main attraction via a spiral staircase straight to the viewing platform at the top. The staircase was built in the mid 19th century, and looks like the only support the building has! It's truly
A Quick Re-DoA Quick Re-DoA Quick Re-Do

Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
mystifying how it has remained standing for 2000 years with so little to reinforce it, although apparently Nostradamus predicted that something cool was buried under the tower, so they dug right down to the foundations which almost disrupted its stability. Once we had made it to the top, the view out over the city was just spectacular, so much to see even though it was a hazy shade of winter. We got some great high level photos.

After Tour Magne, which was a rather short experience, we were off to another place that we had been excited about for quite some time: Pont Du Gard. This is one of the best preserved Roman aquaducts in existence and a phenomenal feat of engineering and precise calculations considering its age (2000 years old). We arrived after the sky had cleared from hazy to a near iridescent blue, and the sun was falling happily like it tends to do at this time of year in the cold regions of the world. Thus it was perfect weather conditions to see the area.

Aleks touts Pont Du Gard as nearly her favourite place on the trip so far, and I'm inclined to agree.
Basilique St-NazaireBasilique St-NazaireBasilique St-Nazaire

Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
The area surround the three-tiered, 25m high aquaduct is just beautiful. It's very similar to some of the greener places we saw in Sardinia, a lot of limestone and olive trees. The water in the river running underneath the structure is an incredible turquoise for some reason, and on the whole the setting was nearly perfect. The structure itself however is the main event, and you can walk across it by means of an attached footpath built next to it in the 18th century. The whole thing is made of that beautiful Sarlat yellow sandstone, and amazingly bears graffiti from as far back as 1649 from what we saw; people had etched their names in the sandstone for hundreds of years. It's a bit stupid though, and it pisses me off to think people feel they are allowed to do that.

It's especially funny to see a couple of members of the stonemasons had scrubbed their inverted V shaped symbols on it in the mid 19th century, and it's about the fifth time I've seen them around. IDIOTS! Hear ye! We are truly great and powerful guildsmen and must leave our marks to show our worldly experience! I know,
Aleks StudyingAleks StudyingAleks Studying

Basilique St-Nazaire, Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
I have an idea, I'm going to invent a club and tell everyone how amazing and secret it is, and go around the world drawing graffiti on ancient artifacts, pillaging and stealing from historical sites and generally being a wanker, all in the name of the strength of modern man! *beats on chest*

Anyway, the place was just beautiful, we sat there for over an our just revelling in the beautiful day, and the amazing valley and river surroundings. We were also treated to a fighter jet flyover, and played with the ice building up in the corners of the river. After that we hopped over to a Carrefour for some some jambon cru, tomate and emmental on baguette for lunch, after which we spent a few hours in McDonald's recharging and blogging. Bloody McDonald's again. See, that's the sacrifice that I am making for you people. We then drove the rest of the way to Avignon, and as we came over the bridge we were absolutely floored by the vista of the city, it was all ramparts and the giant palace inside the walls, but it was getting late and so we retired to a truck stop, leaving
And Still StudyingAnd Still StudyingAnd Still Studying

Basilique St-Nazaire, Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Avignon for the next day... or as it turns out, the one after that.



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