Friday, October 21, 2005

Look! More old rocks!

We spent five days or so touring the Provence region in an effort to get some good food as well as tour some Roman ruins. Why Roman ruins in France? Mostly because the current plan is not to make it as far south as Rome, etc. However for the non-history buffs out there the Romans made it as far as England (before the Scots told them to feck off) so France has plenty of cool ruins to check out without the hassle of Rome.

First stop was the town of Arles. Got the chance to see the ruins of an old Roman theatre as well as a mostly intact arena (where the gladiators used to battle and which let becca take lots of pictures of arches). The town itself wasn't much to look at; in fact with its scary deserted bus station it gave the impression of a town long past it's prime. Our innkeeper was nice though and gave us some good info on how to identify rental cars. Evidently in France the last two numbers on a plate correspond to the region the car is registered in. However, for rental cars, they are either 60 or 76. That way we could identify cars if we needed to hitch our way home from Les Baux.

Les Baux you say? During our stay in Arles, we decided to take the bus to St. Remy (thankfully we found somewhere other than the abandoned bus station to get info) and then hike from St. Remy to Les Baux. It was only supposed to be a three hour hike so we grabbed our day bags and headed off. Two hours later, we still weren't sure we were headed in the right direction, it was raining on and off (coinciding with whether I took my raincoat off, leading to much cursing and general rock kicking) and things were generally not going well. Having infrequent trail markers didn't help. Nor did finding out that the trail markers we thought we saw were actually land boundaries in that area. Did lead to a humorous story Becca was told about the Germans someone had to finally set straight because they kept hiking in a circle around his property...

Thankfully we were able to organize ourselves and finally get to Les Baux. Spent the afternoon visiting the castle in a windy rain. Educational but not terribly nice weather-wise. I think this sums my sentiments up exactly. We did enjoy seeing the ruins of the castle though and learning about life (and punishment) high up on this rock plateau. The weather brightened as the tour finished up and ended up being nice the rest of our stay in Provence. After a "more expensive than planned" dinner at our hotel (the only place open in town in the evening), we spent the night and had a much more straightforward hike back to St. Remy the next day (though it did involve climbing a chimney through a cliff by a lake).

Of course, that day being a Sunday instead of being able to take the bus straight back to Arles, we had to take a bus back up to Avignon and then took the train back down to Arles. Of course, being the efficient travelers we are, we then had to head right back to Avignon the next day for two nights and a visit to Pont du Gard. We enjoyed Avignon quite a bit; a bit bigger than Arles and infinitely more infrastructure which allowed us to be able to do a little more preparation for our visit to Italy.

Pont du Gard was easily the highlight of the Roman ruins for me (if you want to work on your French, click here). We visited the museum first and were glad that we did. It was highly interactive, complete with videos, surround sound, touch screens and the hi-tech like. Very educational as it explained the building process, the Roman history and the place of water in Roman life in great detail without overwhelming us.

Armed with more information than we could possibly hope to remember, we went out and visited the actual site. An impressive structure; amazing how in almost 2000 years some structural methods are sounder then than today. We climbed around the Pont du Gard and even hiked up into the hills to explore some of the additional parts of the aqueduct.

Bus ride back was eventful as Becca was able to successfully negotiate safe passage for two fellow English speaking travelers to their destination after our bus driver let their connecting bus go (though not before almost running into it). Ended up that another fellow bus driver was going to drive them to their destination in HIS OWN CAR after the bus ride ended. Don't see that everyday, eh?

All in all a good visit to Provence. Got a chance to see some amazing history in the Roman ruins and get a little hiking in on the side. Apologize for the randomness of the entry but the mind is still recovering and in need of some more R&R...


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