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I hate cyclists

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Monday, October 16, 2006

July Trip
20/7 - Pont du Gard, Nimes


16 days in Italy had drained me, so France was a chance to recharge.

HI was really not out to make money - the pork chop I had for dinner the previous day cost only €4,50 and came with a generous serving of fries.

The configuration of the bus stops was very silly. Logically concluding that taking the bus in the opposite direction would take me back to the town centre, I waited at the bus stop opposite the one I'd gotten off from the previous day. However, I noticed that the bus I wanted didn't seem to stop at that stop, and curiously it was listed opposite - where I'd gotten off the day before (both directions of one bus line were listed as stopping at that stop). In the end a bus came along on what I assumed to be the right side and I tried to flag it down. The bus driver said something in French and pointed down the road, but let me get up anyway. At the next stop (the right one, as it turned out), a Japanese girl from my hostel going to Pont du Gard too got on.

I had some lovely French pastries for breakfast. One was a cheesestick like the sort L&E bakery used to make, but much much lighter and richer. I didn't know it was possible for layers of puff pastry to be so far apart. I also didn't want to think about the amoung of butter inside. The other was a feuillete - like the sort the so-called authentic French cafe-bakery has, but with applesauce inside.

At the bus station behind the train station, there was a Eurolines berth for buses. Seeing it sent shivers up my spine.

I wondered if the Pink Panther was released in France. I still hadn't seen Eurotrip yet in my time in Europe.

At Pont du Gard there was a guided tour offering 'privileged exploration of the Pont du Gard, the channel and the remains of the aqueduct'. Not only was it €6, it was also only in French, so I passed on it. There was also a €5 audio tour, but on the upside there was no charge for admission (though that might've been because it would've been impossible to impose such a charge).

In France the heart-shape brand ice cream was called 'Miko'. Uhh. What a curiously Jap-sounding name.


River north of the aqueduct


I was looking for the owner of this

There was a woman pressing her boyfriend's pimple on the bridge below the Pont du Gard. Tsk.


The water was amazingly clear, unlike in the river which brings us life. The fishes swimming inside it alongside my legs were testament to its life-giving properties. I'd forgotten how nice it was to wade in a cool, flowing river.


It was probably less clear after the events depicted here.
The man threw a stone into the river and the dog tried to fetch it, but gave up after a while seeing how many stones there were on the river bed.


Pont du Gard
There were a group of people in a cordoned area by the riverside who were splashing, playing and yelping. I wanted to take a picture but then remembered that they were not public property (France is the only country in the world where you need permission to take someone's photo - my brother-in-law will die). So I took a picture of public property, while accidentally including them in the bottom left.


Attempted camwhoring. The look on my face is of something approximating agony, for some reason.


Proper shot I got someone to take
The only people foolhardy enough to wade up to the middle of the river were kids, but finally one mother helped me out.


Side


Kayakers. These masochists'd paddled 5.5km downstream. Though if I'd a partner and time, I'd have done it. Later at 12:30pm I counted 18 kayaks on the river at the same time.


View from the other side


More angles


They had laid out 1.5km of so of 'Mediterranean landscape' for us to explore. I'd had 5 hours of real Mediterranean landscape in Cinque Terra where they were growing olives and grapes, so I passed. Considering that some of the paths I'd been on were near mountain goat difficulty, this was nothing and just a dumbed down version.

I tried looking for the aqueduct in the Mediterranean landscape, but it couldn't be found. A French man said I should follow the yellow signs on the trees, but following them I got to a yellow X marked out on the ground but nothing else. The place was not totally vegetated (the scrubs came usually in clumps), there was a rocky, well-trod path of sorts and there were crickets and other wildlife - it reminded me of Area D.


Arches

There was a PRC girl about 8 years old wearing a pink baseball cap with the word "ARMY". She has no idea.


Aztec Temple (top section of one side)


This was the area you could only enter with a guide. At least they were considerate - a fence blocked entry but there was space to shove a camera in.


Remains of the aqueduct - Combe Valmale (The Valmale Bridge), restored end 20th century.


Side

They were very proud that France had 27 UNESCO World Heritage sites and there was an information panel with a map showing where in France each was. Gah.

Raymond Rogliano's "cani aov/aose/nose" (2003) was very wth. It looked like a fossil embedded in the ground. Meanwhile another artwork I saw someone looked like a random layout of pebbles on the ground. Wth. This was also called art. But it still beats Yves Klein, I swear.

The Pont du Gard museum was €6 - I took it as a donation for maintenance of the thing and anyhow it was very big and good; I didn't even have time to look at everything.

There was a 3rd century suction pump at the museum. Apparently the suction pump was invented in the 3rd century BC and its design was described by Vitruvius.

They had fascimiles of a reconstituted stove (?) and a limestone funeral monument fragment. I didn't know it was possible to fscimile such things!

The Caracalla baths spanned 11 hectares. All the Imperial baths of the 2 centuries preceding it spanned <9 hectares.

They had a reproduction of a groma (a Roman surveying tool similar in principle to a plumb line).

90% of the aqueduct was underground.

There was a section of the museum with a very helpful 1:1 scale reconstruction of how the Pont du Gard was constructed. The lights illuminating this area kept dimming and brightening. In the museum as a whole, various random musical notes filled the air, moving through funny gradients (sliding up and down in pitch and volume). The sounds of the wind rushing through empty spaces, water flowing and building tools being used were also played. To crown it all, at one end of the museum a light was projected through a ripple tank mounted above the heads of the aufience, resulting in the floor being lit with ripples of light. All in all, a very eerie effect was achieved; I felt like I was watching March of the Penguins again, sans 95% of the notes in the music. Bloody French. They can't even keep this sort of surrealist rubbish out of a musuem.

Surrealism aside, at least the museumwas quadlingual, and there were no curators enforcing the no photography rule!

Oddly enough, after exiting the museum I realised it was not guarded (the ticket booth was two floors above). There were machines to scan your ticket but there was no barrier blocking entrance.

I then returned to Nimes.


Statue-fountain in Esplanade/Charles de Gaulle (according to map)

At almost 3, I had lunch at "Quick Burger", billed as a "Quality Hamburger Restaurant" (that sounds so Malaysian). It was quick and cheap compared to restaurants, and I just felt like sitting down in an air-conditioned environment since I was tired and it was hot. My bun had sesame seeds embedded in the top like in brown premium bread, heh. On the other hand, my coeur d'ananas looked big in the picture but in reality was the length of my third finger and the width of the 2nd and 3rd combined.

One restaurant had moules and frites for €8,20. Wah, so cheap.

"Our friends the dogs are not allowed" - Sign on the Roman arena


Amphitheatre.
My timing was most excellent. It was closed to the public on 19th and 20th July for a rock concert, but opened on the 21st, when I would be in Avignon. I could've jiggled the dates I visited each place around, but it was very troublesome and slightly less safe (due to luggage issues, getting back to the hostel - taking a bus and walking up 500+m, and such). The day before, I'd expressed my regret to the British punk at not being able to visit, but remarked that I'd been in the Colosseum 2 weeks before, so it was alright. He asked if it was the one in Rome; I should've asked if was the one in Timbuktu.

The main things I missed about Italy were the granite and the gelati. Some shops in Nimes were selling granite, so I bought 1 petit one. It was the worst crushed ice concoction I'd ever had and likely will ever have. The ice was extremely coarse, so much so that I had to chew the ice (and as the girl in the Ding Dong Song tribute remarks, "It's a scientific fact that people who chew ice are sexually deprived.").


Maison Carree, a very well preserved Roman temple.

I wanted to enter the Maison Carree, but it turned out that the place had been converted into a movie theatre screening, at half-hour intervals, a fun-looking campy 3D movie called 'Heroes de Nimes'. On the poster outside I saw gladiators, a Roman priest, a jousting knight and a bullfight. I figured what the hell, there wasn't much else to see in the time I had left anyway, so I bought a ticket.

One woman in the queue had jury-rigged a novel cooling device. A detergent spray bottle had a battery-operated handheld fan on top (the tube-shaped ones with a fan blade on the top of the tube) - she turned on the fan and started spraying.

Unfortunately the air-conditioning inside was spoilt. There were 2 fans, but they were patently insufficient. If I'd known, I wouldn't have paid to watch the show!

The show itself was disappointing. A Roman priest asked the gods who was the bravest of the people of Nimes. He then saw visions of gladiatorial fights, a Gothic Dark Age rebellion (when the rebel had barricaded the amphitheatre), medieval jousting (in a curiously empty field - apart from the jousters and their horses there were only 2 tents, 2 squires and the jousting rail), 18th century swordplay (some rebel against Louis XIV) and 20th century bullfighting. The lame conclusion was that "As long as the amphitheater stands, the heart of Nimes will live on. Of all the peoples of the empire, the people of Nimes are the bravest". Great, I spent €3,60 on watching a propaganda film about Nimes.

In the show, bullfighting looked so easy, not least since the bull charged for an extremely short distance (maybe the real bullfighters are all in Spain). There was also a man on a horse standing by, doubtless to attack the bull if the situation got out of hand. A test of courage my foot, and especially laughable when compared to the fighting gladiators.

The show had no blood or gore either (a red splotch on one guy's arm after he got injured in a swordfight doesn't count). They should've spent the money used for 3D on some fake blood, but then there's the European aversion to violence. In that case, they could've found some way to include sex, heh.

On the up side, they had the priest and gladiators speak in Latin, though I'd expected French!


Jets along Quai de la Fontaine


Jardin de la Fontaine. Not bad, but nothing can match les jardins inégalés, pour un idiot inégalé (which must've been wonderful at that time of year).


Swans in Jardin


Pond in Jardin

I tried to look for the ‘Temple de Diane’ which was marked on the map but couldn’t find it. Maybe it was like the ‘Roman Ruins’ in Schloss Schonnbrunn (check).


Tower magne
Despite appearances, this was available for mounting.


Nimes from the top



The telegraph was so important that in the first half of the 20th century – ‘telegraphic language’ was taught in a number of primary schools in the area.


Castellum – distribution point at the end of the 49km aqueduct.

At 7+ I was walking along the restaurants in the centre of Nimes. They were all extremely crowded. I considered having paella/moules et frites but didn’t feel like it. Apparently my appetite was out of whack, though I hadn’t had a lot at lunch. It didn’t help that all the menus were in French, the place not being non-French speaking tourist friendly.

I paid €1,60 for water with lemon juice - ‘Volvic Zest’ from a vending machine at the station. At least now I knew what ‘peu sucre’ meant (it had 0.5% sugar). Damn French.

I considered having pho for dinner, but one ‘vietnamiennes, thailandaises’ place didn’t have it, though it had ‘crab clow’ and ‘boisson exotique’ (wth); at least it had an English menu. I ended up at another Vietnamese restaurant in the end, one run by Cantonese-speaking people (and with some English words on the menu). So I had my pho (it was listed under “soup” as pork pho on the menu, which I thought very odd, and they gave me what I was 99% sure was beef, damnit) and cold crab and chicken salad (mostly bean sprouts, some shredded carrot and other vegetables, with chopped peanuts sprinkled on top but dressed with no chili, yay [this is France]). It came up to €8,50 – less than paella (Hah! Maybe I’d have it in Avignon). (I don’t understand why I got keropok – is it Vietnamese?) The guy wasn’t very good with English, but I got my tap water in the end (yay) though I think he was trying to coerce me into buying a drink. I gave them a small tip in the end so I don’t think they had anything to complain about.

At a sandwich place: ‘Pan Baguet vegetarias’ had ‘jambon thon, poulet, surimi, jambon crii (??)’ Wth.

I missed the last bus by half an hour, so I had to walk all the way back. I should’ve da baoed a sandwich instead of sitting down for dinner. Unfortunately, I was feeling quite listless. Climbing rocks at the Pont du Gard had taken more out of me than I’d realized.

Perhaps Thursday was market day. There were little stalls in most squares I walked past. I saw a lot of couples cuddling in parks. Must’ve been the French connection.

I left the bus stop at the train station at 9:12, reached the bus stop at the foot of the hill the hostel was on at 9:49 and reached the gate of the hostel at 9:59, and wanted to die by then, especially when I imagined what it’d be like to do it with my killer backpack on my back.
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