Chapter Ten – Ruins & Doins in Two Historic French Towns
Day Ten – Getting Agrippa on Nîmes, The MaiTais In Ruins, This Old House, A Walk Through A Vomitory, Canal Zone, Tour Of Death Heat March, Get Me To The Tour On Time, Stay By Me Diana, Salt Of The Earth, Our GPS Aigues Me On, Stop! Stop! Stop!, You Could Burn Up Here, Ramparts Last Gleaming, Hop On In, Will the Car Fit, Church Bells Are Ringing and Please Join Us.
I must admit that L’Albiousse’s chocolate muffins, along with yogurt with apricot & lavender that topped our fresh chopped fruit made it difficult to leave Uzés, but we had a long day ahead of us visiting two ancient cities on our way to Pézenas. Knowing our propensity for getting lost, Guillam said we could keep the map, and soon we were on the Road to Nîmes, however Bob and Bing were nowhere in sight.
I was a little hesitant about this stop because Tracy has threatened divorce on many occasions when we look at ruins, but I told her that these were “extra special ruins,” so she bought into the plan. Amazingly (for us), at 10 a.m. (30 minute drive from Uzés) we actually found our appointed parking garage (Maison Carrée) located near a giant head…
…and down the street from the TI where we would pick up our Nîmes walking map. We also purchased a combo ticket (€12) for the Maison Carrée (the ancient structure, not the parking lot), the Àrenes de Nîmes and Tour Magne.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote to a friend about this house, “Here I am, Madam, gazing whole hours at the Maison Carrée, like a lover at his mistress.” And, as we all know, Jefferson was quite knowledgeable about mistresses.
This structure is said to be the “best preserved Roman temple in Europe,” and I promised Tracy that I would take them at their word and not try to find better ones. Marcus Agrippa, who I thought was the inventor of the hard hand shake but in reality was a good friend of Augustus, had this building commissioned around 20 BC. It was at Maison Carrée that Tracy showed she is truly a pillar of society.
There were hordes of school kids inside, so after admiring the exterior for hours (ok, about ten minutes), we decided to bypass these young ruffians and see more of the town. Just across the street from Maison Carrée is the Carré d’Art, which houses contemporary art. The sight of this modern building juxtaposed with a 20 BC edifice nearby made for quite a contrast.
We walked past a church to our next stop…
…the 70 AD Àrenes de Nîmes, cited as the best preserved arena in France. It was by now obvious that Nîmes contained good preserving agents.
We walked around the arena that would have seated about 24,000 spectators. During this time we climbed stairwells…
…and walked through corridors, which the Romans cleverly named vomitories. Legend has it that the name “vomitories” was coined after numerous people became violently ill during an Octavius Bieber concert (some things never change) in 89 AD.
For entertainment other than bull fighting, they utilized an intricate system of trap-doors and hoist-lifts beneath the arena that enabled animals and their soon-to-be-dead combatants to be put into position during the show.
I believe many of these gladiators were the first to try out a new company named Over Armor, whose name has subsequently been changed (remember I imbibe during these trips, so my history may be a bit fuzzy). These could be bloody contests, and these lions and tigers won much more than their Detroit namesakes.
The day was growing hotter as we headed up L’esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle and stopped at the Pradier Fountain. L’Esplanade Charles de Gaulle is an urban garden comprising nearly one hectare located in the city center. Before stopping at the fountain, we paid a quick visit to Monument aux Morts Nimes, a memorial that commemorates the residents of Nîmes who were killed or went missing in World War I and World War II, as well as the wars in Indochina (1946-1954) and Algeria (1954-1962). Photo on the left below is from internet.
The Pradier Fountain has been “the centerpiece of Nîmes” since 1849.
A woman (Nîmes the Beautiful), with a replica of the Maison Carrée on top of her head, stands in the center. According to a website, “Nîmes the Beautiful is framed by four watercourses: two nymphs (the Nemausa spring and Fontaine d’Eure) and two heavily muscled giants (the Rhône and the Vidourle).” I believe that was also a plot of an X-rated movie I attended my freshman year in college.
We walked through town admiring the architecture.
After walking back by the Maison Carrée…
We walked briskly toward the Jardins de la Fontaine and were only nearly run over twice by bicyclists who must have forgotten there were stop lights.
The Jardins de la Fontaine were the first civic gardens in France.
With all this walking, however, the damned Tour Magne looked no closer than when we started. It was nearing noon, and Tracy started doing something she hates…sweating.
There was no attempt to turn around for “the look.” My vast preparation to visit here did not include the fact that to reach the Tour Magne, we would have to climb the Mt. Everest of parks.
After stopping for oxygen and seeing two dead bodies along the route, we reached the top. By the time we got to the entrance at 12:20, about two million schoolchildren were attempting to enter the tower.
“Why aren’t these damn kids in school?” I said, but I was secretly thinking, “Thank God, now we can bypass these 100 stairs and save my marriage.”
We walked along a shaded path down and came upon the Temple of Diana.
Right now I had my own wife to worry about staying with me or I could have been a Lonely Boy.
Nearby, thankfully, was Le Pavillon de Fontaine, where we grabbed a little lunch on the patio (oh how I love the frites in France)…before walking back by the fountains…
…and setting out on our next adventure of the day.
We walked by the statue of French historian Ernest Denis in Place d’Assas and somehow found our car in the underground garage.
Hopping in the car, by the time we reached the walled city of Aigues-Mortes, Tracy was once again speaking to me. There are four separate parking areas, and as I turned left to enter, our GPS lady started screaming at me (no lie). “Pedestrian zone!”...“Beware!”…“Turn back!”…“You’re a moron!” I might have made the last one up.
Luckily, as I made my way through the Porte de la Gardette parking lot, I somehow missed hitting every single person and parked safely. Meanwhile, there is a cat in Aigues-Mortes that is now celebrating his remaining eight lives. It’s the first time I ever received “the look” from a feline. I really do believe I heard our GPS heave a sigh of relief as the engine stopped.
We walked through the Porte de la Gardette…
…and straight down to Place St. Louis where the shops, cafés and the TI are located. We popped into the TI and picked up yet another town map.
Old King Louis IX, who would go on to be called Saint Louis and eventually move to Missouri (might have to look that part up), conceived this town. Louis was very much into plundering (as many 11th century guys were wont to do) and this was the perfect place to set sail from. It also was a great place for salt. With plunder and condiments being his hobbies, his biography could be entitled, “A Salt and Battery.” Also, according to the seldom in doubt but rarely correct Wikipedia, “Louis IX wanted direct access to the Mediterranean Sea. He obtained the town and the surrounding lands by exchange of properties with the monks of the abbey. Residents were exempt from the salt tax, which was previously levied so that they can now take the salt unconstrained.” Unlike the people Louis plundered, I’m sure they thought he was the salt of the earth, because they have a big statue of him in the center of town.
Sadly for Louis, he died of dysentery in Tunis, although some say he was just pooped.
This Dead Water town was also used as a prison, and there were other dark times until some bright people figured they could make lots of money by making this a tourist attraction. I might have skipped a few things in between.
Speaking of tourist attractions…
…we ducked into Église Notre Dame des Sablons, a 13th century Gothic church and the oldest building in the city.
Louis received the Papal League (a soccer league I’m not aware of) blessing before setting sail for the Holy Land so he could become a Saint. I told you my history was fuzzy.
First, we took the elevator (we’d already walked about six miles on this day so I gave us a break)…
…where we were afforded some nice views.
There were no stairs at either of them. At this point Tracy, never one to exaggerate, said, “I think we are going to burn up.” Not wanting to become a modern day Icarus…
…Tracy, myself and a very hot gentleman (in the temperature sense of being “hot”) from Seattle decided we should attempt to make our way back to Constance Tower before the vultures set out to devour our heat-stroked carcasses. Thankfully, we made it and medical personnel were not needed.
Walking (in shade where we could), our next stop was the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs.
This was a gorgeous chapel containing a monumental fresco depicting the Holy Spirit painted at the beginning of the 19th century by Xavier Sigalon.
The Chapelle des Pénitents Gris is also beautiful. Only problem…no photos, but if you’re here, check it out.
Had we a little more time we might have scoped out a salt tour, because one of Tracy’s favorite cooking ingredients is the fleur de sel of the Camargue, which is probably why my heart problems started at a relatively early age.
Arriving in Pézenas, our GPS was worth her weight in salt as we navigated some pretty narrow lanes trying to find our lodging, Hotel de Vigniamont (another spectacular find), where we would spend the next five nights.
Our GPS said we were there, but for a minute we were perplexed (shocking) at where the B&B was located. Tracy jumped out of the car (fortunately I had stopped) and about 30 seconds later she jumped back in the front seat and an unknown woman leaped into the back seat. A Pézenas carjacking? Of course not, it turned out to be our gracious and lovely hostess, Babette, who hopped in to help guide us to a nearby parking lot.
“Turn down this street,” she said. Well, “this street” fit like my 34-inch trousers do on my 36-inch waist. Our GPS sent out a warning that we were about to hit the walls and owe EuropeCar lots of money, but I deftly navigated the narrow lane to the corner where I finally opened my eyes.
We made the tightest left turn in history and then another easier one and, voilà, we were at a parking lot that is located just a little more than across the street from Hotel de Vigniamont.
Babette helped us with our bags, now feeling a little heavier thanks to those damned Beaune tablecloths. Hotel de Vigniamont is a five-room establishment constructed of gorgeous stone. We had hit pay dirt once again.
The breakfast room was beautiful, and our lodging also included a rooftop patio, perfect for relaxing with a bottle of wine. It just so happened that Babette had a bottle of vin rouge all ready for us. We washed up, and headed for the roof.
From the nearby town square, we heard dueling church bells, but fortunately they are turned off between 10 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. The view down to the bottom courtyard was a little vertiginous, made more so by the near bottle of vin rouge we had just consumed.
We had dinner reservations at L’Entre Pots at 8 p.m., and we were seated, once again on a lovely, although very quiet, patio. We had been on so many patios, I started calling myself Al Fresco. Our patio was almost eerily quiet, but thankfully a few more couples soon arrived.
We had another great amuse bouche to start: butternut squash soup topped with Chantilly (no lace) in a shot glass. When I started to sing the song, Tracy threatened to give me a big bopper on the head with her empty shot glass.
My carpaccio de boeuf in a mariné sauce soja (I assume from the shores of Tripoli), saveurs du sud was delicious, although I understood nothing about the dish except the beef. I followed that up with the Piccata de veau au citron, condiments et chorizo, légumes rôtis au four à l’huile d’olive.
Tracy enjoyed Tarte Fine (no relation to Larry), caillé de chèvre et légumes du potager and then finished with the veal dish.
For dessert I had to try the Baba au rhum, mascarpone and a choice of three rums.
Very nice! I now pour rum on all my food.
We walked back through the quiet streets of Pézenas to our wonderful room at Hotel de Vigniamont. Tomorrow we would head off to a desert with a name, check out some rocks (after sleeping like one), have lunch in a serene setting, drive around a lake and scope out wine in an abbey.
Next: Day Ten – Babette’s Feast, Another Old Bridge, UNESCO Abbey That Has Parts In New York, You Mean This Isn’t A Vegas Circus, A Lunch Setting Perfect For A Movie, Drive Around The Lac, Vats In The Belfry, Rooftop Time, Without A Kir In The World and Dinner on The Square