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The Romans - Part 1
The "Superhighways" make a long drive across France very do-able. They are fast and if you don't get too confused when getting on and off (and thereby going in a direction you don't want to go….) you can go long distances in a relatively short amount of time. They also have terrific roadside stations with all the essentials - gasoline, restrooms, snacks AND about a million espresso machines. OK, there were only eight, but it amazed me to see eight large hot drink dispensing machines lined up against a wall. For 6F, you make your selection e.g. "Café en grains", Café instane, espresso, cappuccino, sucre, nonsucre etc. Tiny plastic cup, tiny plastic stir stick. Taste? Not bad!
We drove the Superhighways to Nimes because we wanted to see the Arena. The guidebooks said that it was the best-preserved arena in Europe and although this is only the second I've seen, I agree! I thought it much more impressive than the Coliseum in Rome. It was built for Gladiatorial contests and there was seating for over 23,000 spectators on 34 terraces. Different social ranks sat in different areas. They reached their seats through five concentric galleries at different levels via numerous staircases and passageways. An awning held by ropes tied to masts shaded the spectators.
It was used as a fortress between the 7th and 13th centuries but its military role ceased when the Languedoc became part of France in 1226 A.D. It is now used to hold public events in the arena - festivals, sports events, theater and musical performances, and bullfights. A removable cover makes it possible to use year around (they were installing it when we toured and so we were not able to see the arena and the lower portion of the amphitheater). Our tour guide said that they were getting ready for "Holidays on Ice".
We walked down Victor Hugo Blvd, toward the direction of "the square house", La Maison Carree. This area is very 'pretty'. Trees, flowers, sidewalk cafes, chic shops, lots of students and stylish shoppers. We found the square house; a Roman Temple built in 5A.D. and looked around for a few minutes. It is impressive but not memorable. The front steps however seemed to be a favorite reading for students who propped up with their backs against the stone pillars were engrossed in their heavy textbooks.
A young woman who was passing us did a double take when she heard me talking and she turned around and said, "Are you English?" I said, No, American and she said, "I'm sorry, I was surprised to hear English. I rarely do here on the streets." She said she was a student in Nimes and was from Ohio. We looked at each other and smiled. She was craving hearing her native language and I had a moment of 'envy' of this young woman doing her "junior year abroad".
Pont Du Gard
When I first saw the Pont du Gard, I thought of a very large 18th century painting in a very, very ornate gold frame that hangs in the Art Museum here. In the foreground are shepherds tending their sheep in a green valley. Beside a tree-lined stream are picnickers in ribbons and lace. In the background is an ancient structure that they knew little or nothing about except that it was there… In my real-life 'painting' there were young families wading at the river's edge, college-age studies scrambling up the trails, a woman sitting under a shading tree and sketching the bridge, and dozens of people walking back and forth across the bridge. It was quiet, peaceful, unhurried and well, bucolic!
The Romans liked their fresh water and they were very clever about building aqueducts and so when they settled in Nimes they built this one (in 19 B.C.) to bring water from the Eure spring to Nimes, a distance of 31 miles. It is three stories of arches: 35 arches on the top level (the aqueduct), eleven in the second and six arches on the bottom level (the bridge). It is 159 feet at its highest level and 874 feet long and built of mellow golden limestone that some folk couldn't resist writing their name in! We had a picnic here too. PERFECT place for a picnic!
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