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Published: April 13th 2019
Up at ten to six and onto the coach to the station. With 22 people in our group, the luggage was always going to be a bit of a challenge, but we managed. High speed Spanish AVE train along the coast, reaching 300 km/h at times. There was a number of police on the train, walking through a couple of times. They arrested a man and escorted him off in
handcuffs at the next stop – maybe he was trying to flee Spain? We had to get off and change onto a local TER train at Nîmes. Overall it was a very pleasant journey.
Our hotel in Avignon is in the centre of the old town, opposite the hôtel de ville. Old Avignon is very beautiful, with the narrow, crooked streets crowded with restaurants. After having lunch at one of the several restaurants in the town square, we toured the Palais des Papes. Nine popes resided here during the 14th century – at that time power, politics and rivalry between the Holy Roman Empire and the French kings, as well as politics within the Church, led to French popes being elected, as well as Italian popes at
the same time, by different factions. This was the time of popes and antipopes – I believe at one time there were three popes at once – all very complicated. A huge complex and a very interesting tour. Each tourist was issued with a TourPad, which is like an iPad, with headphones. The commentary and map guides one around the complex, describes the rooms, and in many rooms offers a virtual reality view of how the rooms would have appeared back when the palace was in use. It was an excellent way to tour the complex, and very informative. I think this type of tour will become commonplace as it is so good – in Barcelona we did see visitors to Casa Batlló using TourPads.
Thursday 11th April
Today we travelled back to the first century AD to see and touch some extraordinary remains from the Roman Empire. First we travelled to Nîmes for an audio-guided tour of the second largest remaining Roman arena. Under restoration using the same local stone as when it was built, this arena is still used regularly. Caesar granted land in Gaul to many of his legionaries, who settled in this
area, establishing the gallo-roman civilisation of which this arena is an example. Many gladiatorial events were held here. The arena is impressive in scale and construction. The Romans knew how to build.
Also in Nîmes is the Maison Carré, an intact Roman temple. I only had time to see it from the outside. It's amazing to see the such an imposing classical Roman building in a modern setting.
We then reboarded our coach and travelled to see the extraordinary Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct built about 1,900 years ago. It is the tallest remaining structure of any kind remaining from Roman times. Really quite awe inspiring due to its scale and the magnificence of its arches. It is set in a beautiful limestone landscape. There was a school group canoeing along the river and under the bridge. A the visitors' centre there was a museum with some very good displays showing how the aqueduct was built.
After lunch we travelled to the town of Vaison-la-Romaine, on the Ouvèze River. Here there are 8 hectares of ruins of the Roman town, including several very large domi (residences – those we saw are around 2,000 square metre homes!).
There is also a reconstructed Roman theatre, rebuilt using matching local stone. The homes and theatre had been buried under hillside fields for centuries after the town was moved across the river and onto the hill on which a castle had been constructed, in medieval times. One highlight is the Roman Bridge across the river – 1900 years old and still in use.
We returned to Avignon. Tomorrow we will take the TGV to Lyon.
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