It's been good to be in on the road again after the small glitch in the last entry! Everything seems even sweeter, the poppies redder, the vines greener and even the Provençal sky is back to its almost unnatural cerulean blue after uncharacteristic storms. I had to face the possibility in the Avignon hospital that our trip could be in jeopardy, so the quick diagnosis and treatment was a huge relief. My heart rate came down slowly from around 120 and was back to 60 today, and had reverted to sinus rhythm. It might not have responded so quickly, so I am thankful.
Our couple of down days had also been very wet. Our mate Sami says that , “Jamais, jamais, jamais” Never, never, never has it been so wet in late spring. Ah well, we might not have got out much anyway. So yesterday as the sun peeped through the storm clouds, we grabbed our sun hats and raincoats to cover all contingencies, and headed north east to Pont du Gard. It was a glorious trip with all the elements of the south of France - poppies, olives and vines, plane tree lined boulevards, quaint ancient towns, and the
mighty Rhone river dominating the scenery. I felt as if I had been let out of jail! We are even a bit more relaxed on the road these days, although some of the local driving style takes our breath away.
Pont du Gard is one of the most popular tourist attractions in France, now a world heritage site, and attracting thousands of Rhone cruise passengers for day trips. So the car park is absolutely massive and I can hardly imagine coping with it on a busy day. But a showery weekday before the high season meant very light crowds, and we had a wonderful day.
It is hard to take in that such a massive and complete man made structure has been there for two thousand years. Part of a long and finely graded aqueduct that took water to the city of Nimes, this is the remnant and has three graceful tiers of arches over the Gardon River. You pay to park, then pay to enter the area and various exhibitions, so we had parted with over $50 before we started down the walk for our first view. One of our more expensive activities! That was when the
skies opened and we got on our jackets and protected the camera with the umbrella.
Somehow rain clears the air and the whole area, including the vast surrounding forest was pristine and shimmering clean. There were not so many other tourists and we spent a long time enjoying the beauty of it all and being blown away by the skill of the designers long before the age of technology to get all the gradients right to create a drop of 25cm per kilometre for the length of the aqueduct.
The size of the arches is also a cause for wonder, as the lower section arches are a huge 24 metres wide, compared with other bridges and arches, which were generally 4-5 meters wide. The aqueduct is also the highest of all the ones built by the Romans.
I was staying within myself, so wandered around at ground level, while Peter climbed to the top, crossed to the other side and scrambled through the forest. We pondered afterwards how important water is to civilisation, and that humans have tried to harness it for a long time. This aqueduct was used to distribute water to farm lands on either
side as well as supply a city.
The next day, we spent the morning on a walk around an unexplored part of St Remy and a continuing search for all four ancient gates of the city, which are still,part of the old wall. Today the ring road circles the town, following the wall, and it is a one way race track. Inside, however, there are peaceful little enclaves, restored apartments, newly planted shady squares and endless curved streets that promise more boutiques and galleries around every bend. A little bit like Venice, you wander in circles without realising and then have to sight the sun to find the direction home! To help us get back, we stopped for a crepe (actually our first!) - paper thin, melt in the mouth with lemon and local honey.. Peter noticed that the ladies serving looked alike and we had another fractured conversation but established that they are indeed twins - gemine - and he charmed them into posing for photos for him to paint.
Feet up for the afternoon and then we saw what a beautiful evening it would be - we had been waiting to go to the famous Les
View from Les Baux
The red patch is a poppy field
Baux but needed good weather. It is supposed to be the most visited hilltop town in France, only 15 minutes' drive from here, but is so crowded and parking is a nightmare. So our plan was to go in the evening and this was it!
Named after the huge bauxite deposits found in the area, it is perched precariously on top of the craggy Alpilles, dominated by a castle. It is hard to distinguish the houses from the rocks in places. I presume the motivation to live in such an impossible place would have been security from the raiding armies on the surrounding plains, but it is truly mind blowing. Today, every tour bus goes through it and it has become a rather garish shoppers' paradise.
Our plan worked well. After a short scenic drive up the mountain pass (when Peter grips the wheel and says “Here we go” I have learnt to shut my eyes!) we climbed up and up and were delighted to park in the nearest parking area to the town. The crowds had left, the shops were closing and just a few intrepid wanderers like us were in the streets. We felt that the
The usual narrow streets
This photo captures a four wheel drive wending its way up this lane!
views are probably the best part of Les Baux, rather than the town itself. Spectacular and craggy from every direction, touches of red poppy fields and all the greens against the vivid sky, it's hard to know what to photograph. We just meandered (slowly for my sake) and explored, hardly surprised any more by the incredible age of the buildings and trying to imagine daily life on top of a rocky outcrop.
We were fortunate to get a table with a view at La Reine Jeanne restaurant and had a fabulous French meal as the light faded. We thought we had missed the sunset but as we drove down through the pass in the Alpilles, the sky glowed and I had my sunset! Where better to catch a shot than at the Antiquities just beside the road - two ancient Roman monuments. And the parking man had gone home ... it was free! “Here we go!”said Peter, as he swerved across into the empty car park.
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