Day trip to Nîmes
Writing this blog is a lot of fun because it gives us a chance to share our experiences and perhaps help others who are considering a move to France. We have an extra boost when someone who reads our posts gets in touch to say that they will be in town and could we all get together for a drink or a meal. Often people are passing through Carcassonne so it’s easy to meet at the main square and then settle in at one of the many cafés there. This summer Anne and Eliot were staying along the Mediterranean’s Côte d’Azur (you know—Nice, Cannes, St. Tropez, to name drop a few) and asked about meeting up somewhere between our home and theirs. A quick check of the map confirmed that we’d be spending the day in Nîmes.
When it only costs 1 euro/dollar to take the train to cities all over our part of the south of France, it’s no wonder that we jump at the chance to visit a place we haven’t been to before. The 2-hour ride to the end of the line, so to speak, gave us plenty of time to enjoy breakfast onboard before heading out of the station for our first stop on our walking tour, the Arènes, or Amphitheater. Although maybe only half the size of its famous cousin in Rome, this colosseum that was also built in the 1st century AD is still impressive with its seating capacity of 23,000, and by the fact that even today crowds gather inside for concerts and other special events.
Built in the century before the Amphitheater to honor the adopted son and grandson of Emperor Augustus, the Maison Carée (Square House) served as the economic and administrative center of this Roman town. It is apparently the only fully-preserved temple still in existence in the world due to its nearly continuous use since it was constructed. One description I read said that the size alone of a 2000 year old building, 86 feet long by 56 feet tall (26 meters by 17 meters) would leave you impressed and I agree.
For a change of pace to something much greener, we walked over to the Jardins de la Fontaine (Gardens of the Source) so named because of the spring that served the Romans as one source of drinking water. An easy stroll through the trees took us to a ruin commonly called the Temple of Diane where a plaque indicates the real name, and use, possibly as a library, remain a mystery. A short distance from there but a bit more challenging uphill we saw the Tour Magne, a 90 foot (30 meter) stone tower from 15 BC that was part of the original town wall.
Appropriately downhill from there we went to the original water distribution point when it arrived from the 31-mile (50 km) aqueduct built between 40 and 60 AD. This Castellum, much like the only other one still surviving that is located in Pompeii, had lead pipes that delivered water to public facilities first and then if the supply was adequate to decorative fountains and for other non-essential uses.
One final detour on the way to lunch took us past the Porte d’Auguste built in 16 BC. This gate through the defensive walls of the city allowed traffic on the Via Domitia passage on the route between Rome and Spain. This is the same paved road that we had seen on a day trip to Narbonne earlier this year.
It was no surprise at all to hear Bill’s suggestion for a restaurant: the Gard Ô Vin, a wine bar. After all of that walking we certainly needed some refreshment. The owners’ biography says that they are 2 grandmothers with a passion for wine and food and that they will accompany you on the journey to select just the right combination, even if it means sampling everything that they have! To make our choices a bit simpler, we went with the set menu and accompanied that with the wine that the owners suggested. Local residents making recommendations of local wines that they knew—what a winning combination.
By the way, you know those blue jeans that we’re all so keen to wear? Guess where that fabric got its start. You might recall from high school French that the word de can be translated in English as “from/of”. Levi Strauss made quite the name for himself by fashioning his products out of those textiles de Nîmes that, according to legend, over time became one word that we now know as “denim”.