Pont du Gard and even more…

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Oct 142012

Another full day but under threatening skies. Our first stop was Pont du Gard the not to be missed Roman aqueduct monument memorialized by tourists past as well as present.

The bridge has three tiers of arches, standing160 feet high. The aqueduct formerly carried water to the fountains, baths and homes of the citizens of Nîmes. It was used until the 6th century, with some parts used for significantly longer. Lack of maintenance after the 4th century meant that it became increasingly clogged by mineral deposits and debris that eventually choked off its flow of water.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire and the aqueduct’s diminished use, the Pont du Gard remained largely intact but as a toll bridge. For centuries local lords and bishops were responsible for its upkeep in exchange for the right to levy tolls on travelers using it to cross the river. Stones were looted and serious damage was inflicted during 17th century. Starting in the 18th century it became an important tourist destination and underwent a series of renovations between the 18th and 21st centuries.

The Pont du Gard has been a tourist attraction for centuries. Because of the outstanding quality of the bridge’s masonry it became an obligatory stop for French journeymen masons on their traditional tour around the country many of whom have left their names on the stonework. From the 18th century onwards, particularly after the construction of the new road bridge, it became a famous staging-post for travelers on the Grand Tour and thus became increasingly renowned as an object of historical importance and French national pride.

The novelist Henry James, visiting in 1884, was duly impressed and described the Pont du Gard as “unspeakably imposing, and nothing could well be more Roman.” He commented:

“The hugeness, the solidity, the unexpectedness, the monumental rectitude of the whole thing leave you nothing to say – at the time – and make you stand gazing. You simply feel that it is noble and perfect, that it has the quality of greatness … When the vague twilight began to gather, the lonely valley seemed to fill itself with the shadow of the Roman name, as if the mighty empire were still as erect as the supports of the aqueduct; and it was open to a solitary tourist, sitting there sentimental, to believe that no people has ever been, or will ever be, as great as that, measured, as we measure the greatness of an individual, by the push they gave to what they undertook. The Pont du Gard is one of the three or four deepest impressions they have left; it speaks of them in a manner with which they might have been satisfied.”

After the vastness of the the Pont du Gard we were off to play hard at the Arenes de Nimes “Trophee Taurum, a kind of acrobatic bull fight more on the order of Ancient Crete than Tiajuna.












Alpilles Here We Come

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Oct 132012

The Alpilles are the chain of rugged limestone hills running east-west on which we look out every morning from our balcony. They are where bauxite was first discovered and named after the village of Baux-de-Provence to which we are headed on yet another glorious morning. Although from our vantage point they appear rocky and barren, since the middle ages they have been terraced to grow almonds, apricots, olives and grapes, all crops that thrive in arid conditions.


High atop a very defensible Alpilles peak, Les Baux was settled very early in human history. Traces of habitation have been found dating back as far as 6000 BC, and the site was used by the Celts as a hill fort around the 2nd century BC. During the Middle Ages it became the seat of a powerful feudal lordship and from their castle the lords of Baux controlled 79 towns and villages in the vicinity. Despite their strengths, the lords of Baux were deposed in the 12th century.

However, the great castle at Les Baux became renowned for its court, famed for a high level of ornateness, culture and chivalry. The Baux line died out in the 15th century with the death of the last princess of Baux, Alice of Baux.

Baux was revitalized with the discovery of bauxite in 1822 (get the name?) which was mined in enormous quarries until late in the 20th century when mining was depleted.

Now the tiny village and castle are a popular tourist attraction. An abandoned limestone quarry has been put to creative use as a projection space and in 2012 is celebrating the art of Gauguin and Van Gogh. Hesitant to get bamboozled by a tourist trap, we nonetheless bought tickets. It was great fun and really amazing.

Check out the web site and the Youtube to get a feel for what we experienced.









Chez Nelson en St. Remy

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Oct 122012

We just returned from an absolutely glorious day in Arle and I was so grateful to be “coming home” to our little condominium. It is so comfortable that I thought you might like to see it. It is comfortable functional, clean, convenient, well equipped and a central hub for exploring Provence. We are just a 15 minute walk to the village center where everything we need is readily accessible.


Checking E-Mail or Planning the Day

Our landlady Michele, has been very welcoming and informative without hovering. Certainly having this 10 days has been a wonderful relaxed break in our trek,
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Comfortable Kitchen Stocked with Local Vintage


Sitting Room


Off the Balcony


A Big Enough and Functional Bath


Dining Area


Guest Bedroom


Our Home in St. Remy

Off to Arle

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Oct 112012

Today is once again an incredible mix of layers of the past–Arles’ adaptation of an ancient city to medieval and present day civilization. Roman monuments, the earliest – the arena, the Roman theatre and the cryptoporticus (subterranean galleries) – date back to the 1st century B.C. During the 4th century Arles experienced a second golden age and building boom with the baths of Constantine and the necropolis of Alyscamps. Today these monuments just rise up in the middle of neighborhoods, cafes, and winding streets surrounded by 21st century teeming life. Kids are kicking soccer balls up streets in front of monuments, pedestrians hurry by talking on the their cell phones and as you will see, a school photo is taken on the steps of one of the monuments, It is totally amazing, Do you suppose someone gives directions to his home, “two blocks past the arena and make a sharp right”???

In the 11th and 12th centuries, Arles once again became one of the most attractive cities in the Mediterranean. Within the city walls, Saint-Trophime, with its cloister, is one of Provence’s major Romanesque monuments.

All of the above to be seen as we walk the evocative Van Gogh trail, a circuit of the city marked by footpath-embedded plaques, takes in spots where Van Gogh set up his easel to paint canvases such as Starry Night Over the Rhône (1888). At each stop a lectern-style signboard with a reproduction of the painting and interpretative information. Often the contrast between the painting and the current status of the setting is dramatically different but more important is to grasp the concept of him painting what he knew and saw at the time.

What a magical day!!
















“A” Today is for Avignon

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Oct 092012

Prior to the upheaval in the Roman Catholic hierarchy Avignon was of no particular note. In the 14th century Avignon became the controversial seat of the papacy. Although their stay here only lasted a century during the Catholic schism, the seven popes and two anti-popes were determined to give the place a monumental air. So in just 20 years they satisfied their edifice complex. The Palais des Papes, an austere-looking fortress lavishly decorated dominates the city. The surrounding ramparts and the remains of a 12th-century bridge over the Rhone have all been incorporated into a fascinating look into the papacy, one far more revealing than our visit to the Vatican. All information was compelling and very relevant and current to the present.

Following the return of the popes to Rome, the great banking institutions moved into the opulent buildings and area. Subsequently they went through a varied tenancy but restoration work began in earnest in the latter half of the 20th century.

We had an elegant 2 hour lunch across the street from the Palace and then drove to Orange for a visit to an enormous Roman amphitheater. All of today’s adventure happened under glorious blue skies and perfect fall weather.