Friday, January 7, 2011

Back in the Saddle

Right, well. The brief haitus from writing stuff down must now end. Basically, Matt and I are lazy good-for-nothings and just couldn't be bothered. Since it has been so long since the last post, this and the following are going to be a doozy. You have been warned.

Orange Theatre
We last left off in Provence, headed towards Orange. Orange was small, and interestingly the historical location of part of the Dutch Royal House of Oranje-Nassau. Orange has a gorgeous Roman theatre - that is still used today in its full glory. It was windy and bitterly cold. Especially at the top. Some of the pieces were carved out of the rock face.  Across the street was an unheated museum full of diagrams of Roman and Greek theaters around the Eurasifrica area. After freezing our butts off walking through a market (I think the same guys we saw in Arles) we went into a pub. Coffee was served by a non-ironic mullet wearing girl.

Anti-Papal Palace
Orange is also fairly close to Avignon and other sites that show Roman influence. Avignon was a larger town - and one we didn't spend a huge amount of time in. An Anti-Papal Palace is the main draw, as is a truncated bridge that dates from when Jebus-was-in-diapers. We took the free tour around the Anti-Pope house, as neither of of felt like spending the €20 to go in (we were anti-pay-pals). Basically, it's a big fortification, built buy a variety of opposing Roman Catholic Popes in the 13th Century. There was an upside elephant. At the site, there was a grotto that had been inhabited by Gallic people since the 2nd Century BCE. Matt stepped in poop. There was also a vinyard, assumingly for the sole use of the church. In town,  we headed into a small museum (housed in an ex-church), which had a wonderful variety of Roman, Greek and Egyptian funereal items.

After Avignon, we threw ourselves back in the car to try and get to the Pont du Gard before nightfall. We made it there just as the light was thinking of failing. Oh my. It was bloody glorious. It is part of a 50km aquaduct that feeds Nîmes, and winds through the countryside. The bridge only drops 2.5 cm over its 456 metre length. Over the full aquaduct length, the drop is only 17 meters. There were graffiti marks from the 1800s, especially interesting ones were up on the inside of arches - only reachable by climbing up the remaining protruding scaffolding blocks. As the sun set, we left. Stayed outside Nîmes after a quiet drive through the countryside.

Pont du Gard

Nîmes' most interesting locations were the coliseum, fountains, temple and guard tower. The current tower was built on a site of a previous pre-Roman tower. During the years, it has diminished in height due to poor maintenance and a dash of idiocy. At one point, some moron "interpreted" Nostradamus' prophecies to mean that there was a stash of gold hidden in the tower base. The king allowed him to excavate (as long as he got paid enough), and in the end, the idiot damaged the pre-Roman site, caused the tower to shorten by 1/3 of its original height, and forced a preservation effort to make sure the tower remained standing. What a twit.

The Nîmes temple is stunning. It is beautifully preserved on the outside, but apparently the inside only has a "movie showing". So, we decided not to go in, but admire it from the outside. The detail is shocking - and really gives a sense of the difficulty of artisan stone masonry.

We left Nîmes around noon, and spent the next 5 hours driving along back roads. Here:

View Larger Map

The terrain was insane. Roads would be perfect for a summer time motorcycle travel. As it was, Matt had his work cut out for him, as the roads were steep, curved, narrow and iced over in places. I had to navigate along minute roads in a national park. It was an exhausting drive for both of us. The reward in the end was the Millau viaduct - at sunset.

The Millau viaduct is an "engineering marvel". It was opened in 2004, and had been built by the Eiffage firm. It is huge! Hammond (from Top Gear) featured the Viaduct on one of his "Engineering Connections" shows.

After Millau, we decided to drive towards Bordeaux... until midnight.

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