Nîmes - Aigues-Mortes - Béziers

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May 15th 2015
Published: May 17th 2015
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This morning it was cold and windy in Avignon. It was so cold and blustery that Tatiana served breakfast upstairs in the house. We were told when we arrived that the venue for breakfast depends entirely on the forecast! It's hard to know why people act like Melbourne is the only place in the world that experiences highly variable weather; it was 30°C in Avignon yesterday and today the temperature will be lucky to reach 20°C.

We are getting better at negotiating our way into the towns that we are visiting! This morning Bernie had picked out a well-located parking garage on a map of Nîmes that he found on the Internet and programmed the address into the Sat-Nav. The Sat-Nav duly guided us straight down the A9 and into the centre of Nîmes without us getting into any difficulty i.e. the car park had places available and no-one ahead of us trying to reverse out or any perform any other strange manoeuvres. What a relief.

This morning's visit to Nîmes was a bit of a see it and tick it off the list exercise because we didn't really allow sufficient time to do it justice. First stop was the Arènes. The city of Nîmes is home to one of the world’s best-preserved Roman amphitheatres. NÎme's amphitheatre was built at the end of the 1st century AD and has aged extremely well. From the outside the arena has a well-preserved 21 metre-high facade divided into 120 arches over two levels. Inside, there are terraces that are well preserved interspersed with reconstructed sections that make it possible for the arena to host current events. Our entry fee included an excellent audioguide, but we only had time to listen to a couple of commentaries because they were extremely detailed. It would have taken most of the day to listen to every one!

Our next stop was Maison Carrée. One of the most beautiful and well-preserved temples of the Roman world, the Maison Carrée ('Square House') was built around 20 BC by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Caesar Augustus. Entry to the monument is timed with entrance allowed on the hour and half hour for a 25 minute presentation. Pressed for time we decided to skip the interior and settled for some photos of the exterior of the temple.

One more thing to do in Nîmes to complete the Roman trifecta - climb the hill to the Tour Magne at the summit of the Jardins de la Fontaine. As we climbed the stairs to one of the many terraces in the gardens we stopped to look down over the ponds. We spied a white swan looking rather puffed up and aggressive and watched as it paddled furiously towards some people kneeling by the side of the pond with the hands in the water. They were completely oblivious to the oncoming swan and jumped backwards with a scream and beat a hasty getaway as the swan attacked. Bernie thought it was the funniest thing he had seen in ages. He wouldn't go down to the pond though so that I could film a re-enactment!

After that diversion we continued on to the Tour Magne, or the Great Tower, the only remnant of the ancient Augustan fortifications. Standing at the highest point of the city, Mont Cavalier, it overlooks the entire plain surrounding the city of Nîmes.

With a couple more panoramic shots taken we headed back down through the gardens. From a different angle we could seen the reason for the swan's aggression - a mate sitting on a nest! We bought our lunch from a kiosk in the gardens. Oh dear, more kilojoules! ... although we did share the trois fromages panini that was made freshly for us and toasted while we waited. There was a very serious game of pétanque being played in the gardens so we went over to watch as we ate our panini. As we watched one of the competitors threw his boule with a flick of the wrist and some amazing backspin and hit the jack (although Google tells me its called a cochonnet (meaning piglet) and (we think) won the game because it seemed to end immediately after that 'shot'.

Back in the car we programmed the Sat-Nav for Aigues-Mortes because Bernie had read that there is an impressive walled city there. From Nîmes we continued down the A9 until we reached the Gallargues exit. As we drove along the N113 and the D979 we found ourselves in the north-western corner of the Camargue. Ahhh, this must be one of the more commercial areas where they breed the white horses and the black cows as we saw paddocks of both while we were driving towards Aigues-Mortes.

There was so much traffic in the small town of Aigues-Mortes! We eventually found our way around to the seaward side of the walls and into a car park. Thank goodness it was mid-afternoon and people were starting to leave. The car park was operating on a one car out, one car in basis so we had to wait for half a dozen cars to exit before we could enter the car park! Phew, once we were parked we programmed in the address of our B&B in Béziers so that we could work out how long we could spend walking the ramparts. Not quite sure what time we were expected to check in we decided that if we aimed for 7.00pm-ish that we would be not too early and not too late.

The seaward wall is very impressive and back when it was founded in 1240 by Louis IX it was actually right on the sea and the first French port on the Mediterranean. Louis IX left on his crusades in 1248 and 1270 from the port at Aigues-Mortes. Because we were parked 'out back' we had to walk all the way through the town that exists inside the walls to buy our tickets and gain access to the ramparts. Damn it, we walked right past an ice-cream shop so bought ice-creams to eat as we finished our walk to the ticket office.

Despite it being mid-afternoon we had to queue up to buy our tickets for the walk atop the city walls. The self-guided tour takes about 90 minutes, but we reckoned if we skipped some of the audiovisual exhibitions that we could do it in less. Hmmn, by the time we went up the Constance Tower to the terrace overlooking the entire region and walked all of the 1,643 metres of the chenin de ronde or wall-top walkway we had spent an hour exploring Aigues-Mortes! Time to get a move on to Béziers.

Rather than take us back the way we had come earlier the Sat-Nav proceeded to take us on a lovely coastal drive to the outskirts of Montepellier where we picked up the A9 again for the rest of our drive to Béziers. As we drove along the beachfront we couldn't help but wonder how crazy it must be in the summer when it is already pretty busy in the mid-May?!

Despite some roundabouts in Béziers that were not in the Sat-Nav's data bank we managed to find our way to our B&B for the night. Although we were probably a bit later than we were expected Nicole and Robert made us very welcome. As we have ventured further west we have been finding that our hosts speak less and less English. With Nicole and Robert having very little English between them tonight proved a bit of a challenge. This was also our first B&B where we were actually staying in Nicole and Robert's home rather than in dedicated guest quarters in an annexe or basement conversion.

After showing us to our room upstairs Nicole offered us a drink. We said OK thinking we would be given a glass of water or a soft drink but, no, we were then offered wine or beer. Alright then, a glass of wine, thank-you. Before we knew it wine had been opened and a bowl of olives and small cakes appeared to accompany our drinks. Nicole popped off into the kitchen and reappeared with small pastry nibbles and cubes of cantaloupe and then disappeared again and returned with rounds of bread topped with tomato and anchovies. Another bottle of wine was opened and more bread topped with pate appeared. O-M-G there was so much food we didn't need to go out for dinner which was just as well as because Bernie wouldn't have been capable of driving us to a restaurant anyway and I wouldn't have been any help at all with the navigating!!

Even though there was more of a communication barrier here than anywhere else we have stayed it forced us to improvise. With the assistance of Google translate on our iPhones and tablets, a bit of miming and showing of photos on our phones we managed to share more information between ourselves and Nicole and Robert than we have shared anywhere else. Technology can be very useful at times!

Slightly worried (me anyway) about how we would pull up tomorrow after a rosé-styled aperitif followed by a rose-styled wine, we finally convinced Nicole to stop plying us with food and made it up to the bedroom.

Steps for the day 17,644 (12.02 km)

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