Tour de Chev Blogdays 11,12 and 13

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September 29th 2009
Published: September 29th 2009
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Carcassonne to Nimes

Easy drive on autroute all the way

Additional maps: Nimes to Pont du Gard

Belle Epoque HotelBelle Epoque HotelBelle Epoque Hotel

Carcassonne. Actually the Hotel Terminus
Blogday 11 Saturday 26th September

The plan for the day was to visit the medieval Cité: the original Carcassonne. It’s a walled town on a hill overlooking the River Aude, while the modern town lies on the opposite bank of the river: laid out in a gridiron fashion that should make it easy to find one’s way around, which it is on foot; but not in a car because of the one-way system. We walked the mile to the Cité from our hotel in the new town along a pedestrians-only street, across the Aude over an ancient bridge and then up the hill to the Cité itself, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Hugely impressive on account of the excellent restoration work that was done in the late 19 Century by one Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, who inspired William Burgess amongst others. Burgess being the architect who restored Cardiff Castle. We “did” the Cité including the citadel and the Basilica of St Nazaire. While we were browsing around in the Basilica admiring the stained glass windows, four guys who had been sitting in the front pews reading what looked like bibles stood up and walked up in front of the high altar and began singing. One of them had a very deep bass voice (he looked rather Turkish, swarthy and with a large circumference: from the neck down), while the three other were average build European types. They were singing some kind of religious song, much of it in counterpoint (I think. Assuming that counterpoint is two guys signing the same words a fraction later than the first two). Whatever, the effect was magical. These wonderful voices in perfect harmony, in a fabulous setting. They could teach our male voice choirs a thing or two; which is the highest praise I can offer. It turned out that they were Russian, called Doros. They sang again 20 minutes later and we stayed to listen. Jane bought their CD which, they assured me, had been recorded in a cathedral in Moscow (I was anxious that the recording captured the sound of their voices echoing in a very high ceilinged building like the Basilica). If the CD is half as good as their live rendition then it will be marvellous. Later we went around the citadel which was excellent; and the tour itself was very well organised so that visitors followed a one way system around the halls and walls.
I won’t bore you any further with the details of the Cité. If you’re interested in finding out more, and seeing better photos than mine, then check out Carcassonne on Wikipedia. The Cité is definitely worth a look in you’re in that part of the world but Carcassonne itself isn’t up to much. However we had some pleasant meals there, Jane sampling Cassoulet the local speciality: white beans and duck in a rich sauce served bubbling hot in a ceramic bowl. All this in fine weather, warm without being too hot, so it was a good visit.
Then it was back to the hotel and a light picnic dinner in the room on account of the large lunch in the Cité. And so to bed.

Blogday 12 Sunday 27th September

Had to get up early as the Hotel Terminus check-out time is 10am. The problems started immediately I left the room with some bags in order to start loading the Chev. The lift that I was in went from the 2nd floor down to Reception then back up again to the third floor without allowing us to get out. But it delivered us to the correct floor at the second attempt via a swift detour to the second floor on the way back down. Then, when I arrived at the entrance to the underground public car park close to the hotel, I found that it was closed and I couldn’t get my parking ticket to open the door. Also, the vehicle entrance and exit had metal grills down so I couldn’t get in that way either. So I went back to the hotel and asked the receptionist what to do and she gave me a room access card and told me to try that. So I returned to the car park and as I was about to try the card lock again a local came along so I motioned for him to try first. The solution was simple, I had been inserting my card upside down. Not bad for an ex-banker who had nearly 40 years experience with all types of locks and security systems. Anyway, I loaded the car and went back to the hotel to check out. Then the third problem arose. My credit card was rejected. However it did work on the next attempt. But by this time I was a gibbering wreck. I’m not usually superstitious; except when it comes to misfortunes happening in batches of three; and as I’d had my three for the day by 10.30 am it was no surprise that we were able to drive out of Carcassonne and on to the autoroute to Nimes without any difficulty, delay or bother - after all I’d earned it.
Easy drive to Nimes, just 198 kms along the auto route, past Narbonne with occasional glimpses of the Mediterranean in the distance. Having carefully listed the directions to our hotel in Nimes, which lies pretty close to the centre of town, we confidently entered the town from the autoroute but when we were within 100 metres of the turning for the hotel we were forced off the Google mandated route because of a one way system, and ended up in a residential apartment area behind the railway station. Relying on the famous “Jenkins Sense of Direction,” which once landed me in Kenya having sworn never to go to Africa again, we got back on the original route and with guidance from local gentleman and his wife who directed us to the road where the hotel is.
Checked in and then went on a evening walk around the centre of Nimes and in particular the Roman amphitheatre: apparently the best preserved of all Roman amphitheatres. I have to say that if it had not been for the excellent audio tour which provided a lot of interesting background information, the tour would have been a bit of a dud. The amphitheatre itself is in pretty good condition but it has been repaired in several places with what looks like low grade grey concrete. Also, because it’s still used for large events (capacity 24,000) including bullfights, the Health & Safety apparatchiks have installed extremely ugly galvanised steel scaffolding and seating all around the amphitheatre which make it appear very drab. Having finished the tour of this UNESCO World Heritage site we went on a quick trip up the road to another “wonderfully preserved “ Roman temple in a newly redesigned square who’s other main feature is a museum of modern art, designed by Norman, Lord Foster (whose ego is another World Heritage). Couldn’t get in, so we went for dinner which was another success. The food seems to be getting both better and less expensive the further south we get.

Blogday 13 Monday 28th September

Was looking forward to this as the visit was to Le Pont du Gard was one of the main reasons for the Tour. Because it’s only 20 kms up the road from Nimes a leisurely start was in order and duly observed. We left at 11am and after a slight, but not serious, unintended diversion we arrived at Le Pont at 11.30 - and spent the next 7 hours there.
I’m not usually big on architecture but I am interested and keen enough to have been hugely impressed by the Taj Mahal, the Houses of Parliament, Sydney Opera House and Cardiff Castle. Well the Pont du Gard is right up there with the very best. Roman architecture usually appears to my untrained eye to be heavy and functional, whereas the Pont du Gard looks very light, beautifully proportioned and totally in keeping with its surroundings. The valley of the River Gard is particularly pretty at this point with the river running through a white limestone gorge and the bridge spanning the gorge. The bridge, or more properly the aqueduct, looks great from every angle. Also, the guys who built the adjoining bridge
Pont du Gard, human scalePont du Gard, human scalePont du Gard, human scale

There's somebody there at the base of the bridge-honestly!
in 1743 used the same stone on building techniques, and the “new” bridge in effect merely widened the lower tier of the main bridge and doesn’t detract from the original at all. The statistics relating to the Pont du Gard are mostly superlatives and I won’t bore you with them. Check it out on Wikipedia if you’re interested. As a great bonus there’s a superb Visitors’ Centre near the bridge where we spent two hours looking at exhibits which showed the building techniques, and relief maps of the entire aqueduct system that delivered fresh water to Nimes from its source 57km away through tunnels and over 16 aqueducts and bridges including the splendid Pont du Gard. Then back to Nimes dinner in the same restaurant as the previous night; dining al fresco in a medieval square a stone’s throw from the amphitheatre on a warm evening: very pleasant.
And so to bed.

Additional photos below
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Global RecessionGlobal Recession
Global Recession

Instead of their usual motoring holiday this German family had to economise.

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