My first house guest came to visit recently. During her two-day stay, my college-aged friend and I visited some of my favorite spots around Uzes : Pont du Gard, San Quentin La Poterie and Nimes.
When I learned that my friend from North Carolina’s daughter wanted to come here during part of her break from college, I was thrilled. She is a student at Tulane and is studying a semester abroad in Copenhagen.
Imagine: A “20-something” wants to spend time with me!”
Through emails I learned my visitor wanted to plan her time around a market day — either on Wednesday or Saturday. Since she reads my blog and she knows how I rave about “markets” she wanted to see one for herself. Plans worked out that she would arrive in Nimes by train on Tuesday evening and return for the train on Thursday evening.
The “agenda” we decided upon would give her a chance to go to the Wednesday market in Uzes, and then see Pont du Gard, shop a bit in San Quentin les Poterie and tour around the quaint pottery village. Then on Thursday we would see the sights in Nimes — remains of Roman civilization — before meeting the train in the evening.
I was so excited about meeting my visitor at the train that I got to the station in downtown Nimes well ahead of time. The train was delayed but she arrived close to schedule at 7pm. When she stepped off the train to greet me she was more adorable than I remembered. The last time we saw each other was when she was in middle school.
After quick “hellos” and hugs, we took the elevator in the train station to the parking lot below. We hopped in Mustang Sally and took off for Uzes — a 40-minute drive along a very narrow, curvy, downhill road. The same route the Tour de France cyclist often travel.
First impressions of Uzes – When we entered the town of Uzes I deliberately drove slowly down the tree-lined street, around the tall cathedral and along the walled passage. I could tell my young friend was taking it all in. Before we got to the main street, I pulled Sally into the almost-empty underground parking lot. We walked up the steps, through the staircase that leads from the garage, and into the fresh air.
A short walk through a backstreet alley led us to the plaza of the Duche — Place de Duche.
“Oh my,” my friend blurted out as we rounded the corner; I knew the feeling. Seeing the Duche, the towers, and the ancient stone buildings for the first time is pretty amazing.
When we reached the apartment building and entered the massive entrance door, I led her up the fifty-five steps to my place and to her room for the next few days — decorated just in time for her visit. A room with a view.
Knowing we would be returning to Uzes late, I’d planned a simple dinner, one of my favorite meals in France so far: Mont d’Or over boiled potatoes with a green salad. As hoped, she loved it and claimed Mont d’Or is” the best cheese I’ve ever eaten.”
Rise and shine – Not one to awaken early, I made an exception this day so that we could cram in as much sight-seeing as possible.
Our first stop: a cafe for “petite dejuener”. After going by three of my favorite places,we learned that cafes around here don’t serve pastries with their coffee. It is, however, perfectly acceptable to bring in a bag with your own. (You can tell that eating out this time of day isn’t part of my routine.) Happily, we went to the boulangerie to choose from a decadent selection of fresh, hot bakery items. Our choice: croissants — two chocolate, two almond. Then off for coffee and latte at the nearest cafe.
Wednesday Market – Market vendors and tourists are dwindling down in numbers with the cooler weather in Uzes. Anyway, there was enough activity that my guest could picture the Place aux Herbes crowded with people and things to buy.
Pont du Gard – the aqueduct built by the Romans to supply water to the early Gaelic city of Nimes was next on the tour.
On the 20-minute drive from Uzes to Pont du Gard, I became concerned about the weather. The sky was cloudy and the wind was ferocious at times. I was a bit concerned about our plan to walk through the expansive, open grounds at Pont du Gard, then across the long, open bridge that is part of the aqueduct.
My mind darted back to last summer when, crossing the Pont du Gard, my hat flew off and it almost went over the side. It’s a long way down to the river and valley below. I didn’t want to be a “killjoy” but I related the hat story and added that the wind was blowing much harder now. My companion wasn’t worried at all. She had seen worse in Copenhagen. We forged ahead.
There’s a blog about Pont du Gard that I wrote this summer. It goes into detail about my feelings the first time I saw Pont du Gard. I really hoped it would have the same affect on others. I wondered how I would react seeing it again.
In the fall, with few visitors in the park, the view of Pont du Gard is still amazing.
San Quentin la Poterie – Right on schedule after a half day at Pont du Gard, there was plenty of time for sightseeing and shopping in the small village on the other side of Uzes known for its artists, pottery and laid-back atmosphere.
We accomplished a lot in Day One of the two-day tour, including plenty of time to eat lunch at Pont du Gard, to sip lattes in a tiny cafe/reading shop in San Quentin la Poterie, and to enjoy “mashed cod and potato” pizza at “Pizza les Duche” when we returned to Uzes.
The next day was just as busy, filled with visiting more sites of the Roman occupation of Gard. A tour of Nimes.
Nimes – a city of approximately 150,000 citizens, is proudly called the City of Art and History. Its beginning starts over 2000 years ago with many sites dating back as early as 25 BC.
To include Nimes on a visit to Uzes is not only a must-see, it’s convenient. The train station is in the middle of the city — the closest around. Trains connect to Paris and the rest of France where you can get most anywhere in Europe. My house guest’s train to Marseilles, then onto Nice, was scheduled for early that evening, giving us time to leisurely walk around the historic town.
La Maison Carrée – To me this is the practical place to start the tour. The grand, majestic “forum” is in the middle of downtown.
A 20-minute movie plays constantly during the daytime at la Maison Carrée that presents the city and its history in 3-D. It seems a bit “hokey” because the scenes are intended to represent people and events 2000 years ago; however, it’s entertaining. I definitely enjoyed the film more this time than when I saw it last summer. Then there were lots of tourists and I had to sit on the theater steps.
The Arena – Also known as the Coliseum, is one of the most spectacular places to see in Nimes.
It is one of the few remaining arenas from the Roman days and, reportedly, it is the most well-preserved. We both agree it is a more impressive landmark than the Coliseum in Rome. The park-like historic district where the arena sits in Nimes gives the giant structure the space it deserves. Even though it is in the center of town, there are no tall buildings around that hinder the view.
Ooops! Ok, there was a slight interference with the view that day — a ferris wheel
Just a reminder that Nimes is a lively, modern town.
Our lunch stop in Nimes gave me a chance to introduce a local dish to my guest — moules and frites.
When I see mussels and fries offered on a street menu as the “plat du jour”, I go for it. To pay nine or ten euros, it’s a good value. Plus, it’s really tasty! Especially with an icy, cold glass of beer from the tap.
Tour Magne – The Great Tower is at the highest spot in the city of Nimes and the only remaining remnant of the ancient wall built by Augustus near 15 BC.
Getting to the Tour Magne is a mission in itself. Standing tall above the beautiful Jarden de la Fontaine, the monument is reached only by climbing the stairways that lead to the top of the terraced garden. The views along the way are magnificent, even in late fall.
By the time we reached the monument visitor hours had just ended. Just as well for me since I swore the last time I climbed the stairs of the tower would be … well … the last time. My energetic friend could have easily taken it on, but she assured me she wasn’t disappointed. To see Nimes from this height was quite enough.
Missing the climb to the top of the Tower meant we had more time to relax, visit and see other parts of Nimes.
It also meant we had time to take in one of the most interesting, amusing spots of all — the cafe near the train station. My guest agreed these out-of-the-way places and people you meet make France the place to spend as much time as possible.
The non-stop, three day visit to this part of the Gard in southern France was over.
Before leaving on the train, I heard my “20-something” friend proclaim: “I’ll be back … soon!”