Our morning started with a huge breakfast at Antichambre, where Jeanluc cooked us up a treat of local delicacies. The previous afternoon when he’d asked us what we didn’t like to eat at breakfast, I said mushrooms and he accepted that, but when Vanessa said fish, he looked astounded. “You don’t like fish?” he asked, shaking his head. “Really?”
So of course, among the many different items on each of our plates that morning were a little mini flapjack topped with crème fraîche and smoked salmon, plus a little bowl of salt cod pâté. Vanessa is convinced that he did it to spite her because she fiddled with the air conditioner settings in the common room, but I think it was just a case that he genuinely didn’t understand that someone wouldn’t want to eat fish for breakfast. When he saw her plate with everything else gone but those two dishes, I think the penny finally dropped. “Ah!” he said, “you really don’t like fish!” Not that she went hungry mind you, there was so much else going on – lots of pastries, bread and jam and even a little bowl of tasty ratatouille.
After breakfast we left our luggage with Jeanluc and headed out into Nîmes to look at some of the many Roman ruins that still dot the city. I say ruins, but some of them are so well preserved that they are still in use today, nearly 2000 years after they were built.
First on the agenda was just a block away from the B&B, the impressive Arènes de Nîmes, a Roman amphitheatre built in 100 AD, not long after the Coliseum of Rome. With a capacity of 24,00 spectators, it served as a public event theatre as well as a gladiator fighting arena. It is regarded as one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatre in the world, and still hosts annual bullfights during the Feria de Nîmes, as well as other public events like reenactments of Roman Games or concerts. It currently holds more than 13,000 spectators.
Inside there are various spots where you can access the main arena, and in rooms throughout the main structure there are displays such as bullfighters costumes and even a couple of great little hologram displays of gladiator battles.
When we arrived, they were in the process of dismantling a stage from the centre of the arena after a series of concerts featuring the likes of Elton John, Mark Knopfler, Toto, Supertramp and more. I’d love to have heard how rock music inside a 2000 year old amphitheatre sounded, especially when heavy metal horror shows Slipknot or Slash started belting out their tunes!
We left the arena and made our way along Boulevard Victor Hugo, pausing briefly for a shot of Saint Paul’s Church (which apparently has very ornate wrought iron door hinges and locks that were created by the same iron worker who created the central portal of the Cathedral Notre Dame in Paris). Once again, the heat was starting to become oppressive and as we didn’t have a lot of time before we needed to catch our train, we decided to press on to a couple more Roman remains.
Next on the list was the stunning Maison Carrée, a Roman temple dedicated to Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar, grandsons and adopted heirs of Augustus, sometime between 4 to 7 AD.
As well as being the inspiration for l’Église de la Madeleine in Paris (that we saw on day 1 of our trip from the rooftop of the Printemps building), Americans might recognise it as being the inspiration behind Thomas Jefferson’s design of the Virginia State Capitol.
The temple has been restored over the centuries, but most of the restoration work has been sympathetic to the original Roman design and today it looks much the same as it would have in Roman times.
There are a number of other Roman remains in Nîmes that we would have liked to have visited had we more time and less sweltering heat, but the last one that we saw on this trip was probably the least impressive to look at, but to me at least was the most exciting. The Castellum Aquae is the point in Nîmes at which the massive infrastructure of the Pont du Gard aqueduct flowed into the city.
While not a lot remains today to look at, what is there gives an amazing insight into just how clever the Roman engineers were. Remember that for over 50 kilometres, water flowed at a rate of 40,000 m3 per day, and all of it entered here. The Castellum Aquae then distributed that water through a series of channels so that it could be sent throughout the city.
What is ingenious about the design is that the channels were set at different levels, depending on their intended purpose. Those intended to provide drinking water to the city’s residents were placed at a lower level, whilst those used for supplying water to the city’s fountains and ornamental ponds were higher up. This meant that in times of low flow, essential drinking water supplies could be maintained, whilst in better times the parks and gardens would also benefit.
By now we had climbed a fair way up the hill above the main centre and it was getting oppressively hot, so we wandered back into the shade of the plane trees and made our way back towards the B&B, stopping at a fantastic little organic food shop for some delicious iced chocolates.
Once back at the B&B we did a little bit of shopping, although thankfully most of the items there were too big or too delicate to make the journey home with us, so there was no need to take out a second mortgage. Once done we gathered our luggage, said our goodbyes to Jeanluc and Marjorie and started on the 15 minute walk to the station. We stuck to the shade as much as we could, which was reasonably easy to do thanks to the lovely plaza that runs most of the way from the Arènes de Nîmes to the train station.
After a three hour train journey we arrived back in Paris for the final stretch of our trip and checked into La Maison Favart, a four star hotel located directly across the street from l’Opera Comique in the 2nd Arrondissement.
After dumping our bags we headed out for another great bistro meal nearby, which was made only slightly less than perfect thanks to the copious amounts of cigarette smoke drifting inside through all of the open windows. The one thing about Paris that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to.