There are some times travel bloggers don’t want to write about, the personal parts, even in a new and exciting place, we may only post a few photos, or even none at all. We make brief references to family and friends, but want to hold them closer than the written page, which is not criticism of those who write about their family life, it’s just the way we are or they are. Both ways are fine.
This is, however, why, although you may have seen photos scattered over my Facebook page from France a couple of weeks back, there was little detail, same with London, really. This is because these times are very special for me, and I tune out thinking about places in quite the same way as when I am in “writing mode.” However, having now visited Nimes two years running, and loving the region, I feel guilty about saying nothing at all. That said, what I tell you will be very general, the sightseeing was gentle, and accompanied by much talking (the way you do when you have years to catch up on) so loads of details escaped me, and I made no notes, so this is all from memory.
As with so many places where I’ve felt good, I left a wee bit of me behind in Languedoc-Roussillon, mainly because dear friends are there, but also because it’s a region with such a fascinating history, for the English as well as for the French. I have a mental list of things to do/places to see in more depth in the future.
On the recommendation of my friends at The Spain Scoop I took the train from Barcelona to Nimes, and it proved a successful decision. Flying from the Canary Islands to Marseille, last year, meant changing in Barcelona, and overnighting on the steely airport benches, which doesn’t especially bother me, but I’d prefer not, if there is a better way, and so I flew to Barcelona and took the train to France. This had the added advantage of being a national flight, and so I had residents’ discount, which made it a cheaper option too. At least, it would have been had I not stayed overnight. It seems that it’s impossible to get to Nimes on the same day one leaves Tenerife.
My accommodation, which I found via Booking.com is worth a mention. I searched for somewhere reasonably priced close to the station, a little hesitantly it has to be said, aware that areas close to train stations are not always that salubrious, but no worries at Barcelona Sants, at least not on the side I stayed in. Barcelona Station, named for its location is an apartment building, and apartments can be rented by the day. It was only a ten minute walk, even with my suitcase and my bad knee, the next morning. Really, it was everything I needed, immaculately clean, with tv, wi-fi and cooking facilities if I’d wanted. Of course, this was Barcelona, so I went for tapas in one of the many nearby bars. It costs around 69 pounds for one night, so shared that would have been excellent value – the solo traveler, as always pays more. Even so, it wasn’t bad for city accommodation, and I note now – they take pets, yay! That’s worth remembering!
The Ave which runs from Barcelona to Paris is the same train I took from Nimes to Paris last year, so now I’ve covered the route, though at different times. The Nimes to Paris bit is much faster, whizzing through the French countryside, panting to be in the City of Lights, but the bit from Barcelona to Nimes is slower, and I was thrilled to catch long glimpses of the Camargue – a place I’ve longed to visit since seeing a documentary about the wildlife years and years ago. It’s an almost surreal landscape, wetlands which are home to flamingos and wild horses, amongst a plethora of other fauna, and my eyes were so glued to the window I forgot to check out the refreshment car, though people were coming back with delicious-smelling coffee from time to time. I had the quickest sighting of flamingos, but lots of egrets and herons (I think – not expert enough to identify so quickly!).
I had a closer look the next day as we drove to the ancient town of Aigues Mortes, which perches on the edge of the Petite Camargue. The amazingly preserved outer walls of this medieval city look forbidding as you approach, but they hide a network of cobbled streets, turned into tourist delights with typical French style. The city-fort has a long and intriguing history; if I mention religious persecution, crusades, economic recession and immigration, you may think plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Add to that soil erosion and reclaiming land and you have today’s world in one, small, walled community. It would be nice to think that the rest of the world, after surviving all of that, might end up as picturesque as Aigues Mortes.
It isn’t, of course, the only fascinating and well-preserved community in this region of France. On other days we visited a marvelous market in Sommieres, a real market, with antiques as well as delicious food, textiles and other goodies; my favorite town of Uzes, whose delightful, cobbled streets I’d glimpsed only covered by the sprawling market on my last visit; and the twin towns of Beaucaire and Tarascon, sitting on opposite sides of River Rhône, a picturesque ruin of a castle on the Beaucaire side and a fearsome fortress on the Tarascon side, under whose stern walls we enjoyed a delightful lunch in a very ordinary-looking café.
I had to get around to food sooner or later, didn’t I? Aside from the fact that I ate like a queen at my friends’ house, the meals we ate out were, every one, exceptional in comparison to anything similar here at “home.” The restaurant in Tarascon was half-empty, and we feared we might be too late for France’s very constructed eating hours, but no, a three course lunch appeared as if by magic. Every course was prepared with imagination and care, and this was typical of everywhere we went, including tourist places, where one might expect a certain amount of the blasé…..in one case they were closing a few days later as the season ended and winter approached, but still the food and service showed no signs of winding down, except that they had run out of Coca Cola. The French attitude to food remains reverential and respectful.
I was based in Nimes for my stay. I’m so lucky to have friends there, but imagine it’s an excellent choice of base for touring this very French countryside, outside of the Camargue, characterized by vineyards and roads lined by arching planes trees. Of course, as in so many places in Europe, the Romans were here, and left much evidence of their 500 year dominance. I remember reading about the amphitheater in Nimes back in French lessons in school, but this was the first time I had the chance to see it up close. It’s impressive to wander along a modern street and come face-to-face with something so, well, old. This was, after all, probably well over a thousand years older than the petroglyphs I’d delighted in touching in La Palma back in June. I take a special delight in places which have such amazing history, and yet are still used today. The amphitheater evolved in the 19th century to become a bullring (although I am assured that the bulls are not killed in France, as in other countries, excepting Spain), and today is also a venue for music concerts and, seemingly oddly, but not when you think about its original use, a setting for rock and heavy metal recordings! Even older than the famous amphitheater, however, is Maison Carrée, a Roman temple, and one of the best preserved examples of such anywhere in the world.
Not hard to see why I need to return to Nimes, is it! Friendships aside, this is an utterly fascinating part of Europe, wild wetlands, Roman history, nougat (and at this time of year marrons glacés!), olives, wine, and oodles of history from other epochs, good roads, excellent rail links, of course the River Rhône and canals, and could probably spend the rest of the morning counting off reasons. What I had was a fascinating taster. My friend, Wendy, is passionate about medieval history, so she was the best guide too, so that what I saw meant more to me that it would otherwise have done, but I have no doubt that next time it will be with notebook and camera in hand!
In finally, for anyone who thinks the French are maybe a tad too sophisticated or serious I present: Atelier de Ours ….. The Teddy Bear Workshop 🙂