Vacation: Day 7

We were pretty psyched to see Nimes, an ancient Gallo-Roman city. Nimes was pretty important to the Roman empire, and was actually the terminus of the aqueduct that ran through Pont du Gard (it started in Uzes). Because of its importance, it was outfitted with typical Roman comforts: gardens, temples, an arena, a circus, etc.

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Driving in Nimes was insane. We took the first parking garage we saw, and were lucky to find a spot. We immediately discovered some friendly Nimeans. The guard in the parking garage had a tourism map for us and pointed us to the tourism office with ease. When we emerged on ground level, we weren’t quite sure which way we were facing. An older woman was marching down the street with purpose and a fanny pack. As she passed, she sort of quietly asked, “Vous cherchez?” as she kept walking by at full clip (“Are you looking for something?”). I almost didn’t respond, but shouted back, “Oui” as she was already a few feet away. She circled back and pointed us to the tourism office. As we strolled down Boulevard Gambetta, we watched her commune with her people. I nicknamed her the Maire (mayor) of Nimes because she seemed to know everyone. She stopped at several bus stops to chat with people. She talked to old men sitting on benches. She never saw a stranger. She stopped so often that despite her quick pace, we ended up even at the intersection we needed to turn at. She pointed us the way we needed to make sure we were headed in the right direction.

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The tourism office is just a few yards from the Maison Carre, which is actual a Roman temple to a caesar despite the French name meaning “Square House.” The temple was undergoing some renovation, so I don’t think it was as interesting as usual. It currently is used to present a 3D movie about the history of Nimes. We watched the movie and bought the 3-pass combo there that gets you into the Maison Carre, Tour Magne and arena.

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After the movie, we followed the Roman canal to the city gardens. This is where my poor French came in handy again. Phil got bounced from a public bathroom, so I went over to find out the situation. The man guarding the restroom explained that it cost 50 cents, so I sent Phil back with change. I apologized to the man for my poor French, and he apologized back. I think he was trying to explain his accent, but I couldn’t comprehend it all. He was very sweet.

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Bacchus was looking at the Temple of Diana. It was times like this when my brain just couldn’t comprehend how old the things surrounding us were. The Temple of Diana was open to the public with a simple sign asking you to not climb the ruins. Other than that, though, you could walk around and see what was left.

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The city garden is on the northwestern side of the city, and it climbs up the huge hill that is capped by the Tour Magne (Great Tower). It was nearly destroyed over the ages: in fact, Nostradamus predicted treasure beneath it, and that led to some pretty major vandalism. The tower served as a watchtower during Roman days. In fact, from the top, you can see the entire city of Nimes and farther.

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From the tower, we walked back to the ancient downtown, had lunch, then headed to the arena. The Nimes arena is the best preserved in France, and it’s still in use today. There are bullfights, concerts and various other public events in the millennia-old structure. We had the audio guide, and Phil was very excited about the gladiator descriptions. There were almost a dozen different kinds, each with specialized armor and weapons.

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The city crest for Nimes has a crocodile chained to a palm tree in honor of Julius Caesar’s Egyptian campaigns. The town hall actually has four real crocodiles chained to the ceiling.

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As we walked back to our car, we passed the Porta Augustus, which was one of the Roman passages into the city.

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It seemed that downtown Nimes’ traffic was perpetually congested. We ended up leaving around 5, which seemed to be rush hour. We took a path out of the city that didn’t work and ended up having to go back and circle almost all the way around the city to get back on track. We were glad it was our last day trip with the car, and we were really happy to be “home” in Avignon. On the way back, I was finally able to snap a photo of the tire store that made us laugh every time we headed west out of Avignon.

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