Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Road Trip Part Deux

Veterans' Day is a national holiday here in France which means I don't have to go to work that day, and since it fell on a Thursday this year I decided to faire le pont and make it a 4 day weekend. Plus it's been cold and rainy in Lyon, so a trip to the sunny south of France would definitely be welcome. Conviently timed with our 4-day weekend, George's Sister Ming is currently working in Marseille, so we decided to take advantage of the free place to stay and make that our base camp.

Marseille is a perfect example of poor planning and even poorer hygiene turning an otherwise amazingly beautiful location into an amazingly ugly city, but it is smack dab in the center of some of the most beautiful parts of France. Plus as we have been to Marseille before, it made a good spot to park our car and our butts at night, but spend our days as much outside of the city as possible.

Old arena at Arles

We started our journey about a half hour north of Marseille in the city of Arles. Like most cities in Southern France, Arles was in its hay-day about one hundred years before the birth of Christ, which is when the Arena pictured above was constructed and it is still used today to host concerts and, unfortunately, bullfights. Interestingly the Spanish community of Cataluña just across the border from France has recently voted to ban bullfights, maybe the French will follow soon.

Romans like theatre with their gladiator fights too

There are numerous other roman ruins scattered across the city, in various states of (dis)repair. Seeing all the problems I had to deal with in my comparitively young 85-year old house in Seattle, I am always amazed to see 2,000 year old structures of any kind still standing, and the ruins around Arles are no different. During the next few days we would discover that these types of artifacts are fairly common in the South of France.

Nîmes has an old Roman arena too

Next stop, Nîmes. Other than being the birthplace of the (in)famous Jouan Amate, Nîmes claim to fame lies in its remarkably preserved Roman arena and the totally superfluous ^ character above the "i" in its name. The arena is currently also, tragically, used for Bullfights, and while the one in Arles, above, is older and bigger, this one has an awesome statue of a bullfighter in front of it, which is pretty cool to take pictures with.

Nîmes is also home to the best preserved temple of the Roman Empire. Built just over 2,025 years ago, it is still in great condition probably due to all the construction guys working on the front and right side of it (which is why my picture is of the left side, but you can still see some of the construction barriers). We've got one of these temple jobbies near Lyon too, in the suburb of Vienne, but this one is certainly in better shape. And it was sunny and warm when we visited this one, and cold and rainy when we saw the other, so this temple is apparently appeasing the gods better.

The Jardins del la Fontaine are apparently also one of those things you shouldn't miss when going to Nîmes, but we missed it, so you'll have to go to wikipedia to get your fix.

Le Pont du Gard

We missed the famous Gardens because we wanted to get out of town early enough to see the Pont du Gard (Bridge over the river Gard). This bridge was also build nearly 2,000 years ago as part of the old Roman aquaduct system, but aside from being big and old it was honestly a bit unimpressive. We also didn't really succeed in getting there before dark, so you should check out wikidpedia for some better pictures. Interesting factoid, the Pont du Gard owes its survival over the centuries to the fact that it was a very popular toll road for crossing the river, which shouldn't be suprising for anyone who has driven around the South of France where the only thing more common than old Roman ruins is toll booths.

After visiting France's first tool road, we went to the incredibly cool city of Avignon, but since it was super dark by this time, I don't have any pictures to prove it, so here is one from wikipedia.

Palais des Papes

Day 2 started with a visit to Aix-en-Provence (The waters of provence), which as its name sort of hints at, is famous for fountains, but I somehow managed to not get any good pictures of them, so next up a castle!

This castle is in Allemagne-en-Provence (Germany in Provence). Apparently there used be a few cities in France named Germany, but for some unknown reason the others all changed their names right around World War 1. The castle is apparently a bed and breakfast now and closed for the winter season (is it ever really winter in Provence), so aside from this view from the parking lot I don't have much to show.


Allemagne-en-Provence was the beginning of our journey following the Verdun river which cuts a Grand Canyon (their words, not mine, although to be fair those are both French words) thru the south of France, and eventually led us to the picturesque village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie above. Perched on the sides of some limestone cliffs, the city has a waterfall running thru the middle of it, a giant golden start hanging across the chasm behind it, and about half-way up that chasm an old chapel that surprisingly (to some of us) didn't have a bathroom. You can see the chapel and the star below (the start is the little shiny thing in the top, slightly right hand side of the picture)

After leaving Moustiers-Sainte-Marie we just followed the Grand Canyon back to the nearest highway and then back to Marseille for some rest before our last day in the south.

That Grand Canyon I keep talking about

Our last day in the south was to be along the famous Côte d'Azur (the blue coast or more commonly, the French Riviera).

We made it as far as the famous Saint Tropez pictured above, but by far the coolest city we visited on this trip was Bormes-les-Mimosas pictured below.

The village

The view

The winding streets of the old town center

The old tunnels and bridges

The old stone buildings and tile roofs

The us

I hope the pictures above do some justice to absolute beauty of this village. Every road we walked down, every view over the next hill, every well-preserved building or cobble-stone pathway, every plant which still had nice flowers in November--the village was simply gorgeous.

On our way back home from the South George and I stopped in the city of Orange to grab some lunch, and SURPRISE, Orange has an old Roman amphitheatre too. As you can also see from the picture below, as we left the warm, sunny south, we slowly returned to the cloudy, rainy Lyon.

The roman Theatre of Orange

There is still a ton of stuff we didn't see, of course, as we only made it about half way from Marseille to Italy, so all that stuff east of their (Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo, etc.) will need to be explored later. To check our more pictures of this little part of Provence, click here

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