A view from outside the walls

A view from outside the walls

The highlight of our trip to the south of France (besides the food and wine) was by far our day trip to Nîmes where we visited the historic Arena. Formerly a Roman amphitheatre, the Colosseum-style building is now the site of two yearly bullfights and other public events.

Cokebaby is a bit of a history buff, particularly of this period, so the opportunity to see this monument of human civilization was phenomenal. All the tours we’d paid for up to this point included an audio guide and this historic site was no exception. We found ourselves listening to pretty much every single detail and sitting down to hear the “extras” that were provided. In fact, although we were one of the first people to arrive of the handful that were taking the tour at that time of day, we were the last to leave.

Some interesting things I learned about gladiatorial life:

  • originally, gladiators were highly skilled volunteers
  • matches to the death were not the norm as the host would have to pay the gladiatorial school the cost to replace the trained fighter
  • it was an equal opportunity profession (as in there were lady gladiators)
  • lots of animals and convicts were, in fact, harmed in the making of this form of entertainment

The history of the Arena was also quite interesting as it changed hands and served different purposes during its time. Although initially constructed for entertainment purposes, it also became a military fortification during the reign of the Visigoths and then an enclosed community before eventually returning to its original purpose for entertainment.

As for the bullfighting that takes place there, we saw conflicting information about whether or not it was a no-kill kind of venue. So, it’s probably just as well that one wasn’t going on while we were in the town.

A lovely day in the public gardens in Nimes

A lovely day in the public gardens in Nimes

After grabbing a delicious lunch at a local bistro we continued on a walking tour to take in the exterior of the Maison Carrée (one of the best preserved Roman temples in the world) and eventually to the Jardins de la Fontaine. Here, we recaptured memories of Versailles and Paris. It’s an elaborate public garden with well-manicured lawns and maintained walkways. Families were everywhere. Old men played boules. It was absolutely lovely. It made me wish there were more of these types of public places in Canada where people can spend their time outdoors with loved ones.

We returned to our hotel, content and ready to return to Nice for the final days of our stay.

This part of the trip is what I like to call:

Planes, trains, & automobiles.

Literally.

We had already proved ourselves oblivious to the world by missing the news about the biggest storm to hit the region in a decade. It really shouldn’t have been a surprise to us when the concierge at the hotel informed us that there was a train strike. Apparently, unions just randomly hold strikes every once in a while in certain parts of Europe. The same thing happened to us in Venice only we were actually on the way to the airport then. I guess 35-hour work weeks and five weeks of vacation is enough to drive anyone to mobilize and take action. Or at least pick up smoking as a hobby.

Trying to get by in a second language in this sort of situation is not amusing. I understood that there was a strike. I even got that only certain routes were posted. What I did not figure out on my own was whether or not we could a) still use our pre-purchased tickets and b) get back to Nice.

There was only one employee that we saw behind the closed stall. And let me tell you the stereotype of the rude Frenchman must certainly stem directly from the ancestors of the a-hole who was the only ticket agent in the station. I only got out the first part of my sentence to ask if he spoke English and upon hearing my accent he put up his hand dismissively, scoffed, and walked away to an area where he could not be reached by us lowly customers.

With only a basic understanding of the language we were at the mercy of those around us. Thankfully, the town of Avignon is filled with very kind and helpful types such as the women behind the café at the station. One of them explained that we would use our tickets to get to Aix-en-Provence and then transfer from there. And that’s what we did with several delays in between.

Although we added about two additional hours to our journey, we found our way back to Nice a little worse for the wear but with a story to tell and a number of photos from the scenic route.

Next week: a French cuisine overview. Then, back to regularly scheduled blogging.

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