France 2018: Day 8 – La Ciotat (Last Day in France)

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Our Adventures so far…

Arrival in Lyon
(Wednesday)

Day 1 – Lyon 
(Thursday)

Day 2 – Vienne by Train
(Friday)

Day 3 – Arrival in Nimes 
(Saturday)

Day 4 – Nimes in more detail
(Sunday)

Day 5 – Marseille, here we come!
(Monday)

Day 6 – On the Buses!
(Tuesday)

Day 7 – Chateau d’If & Birthday Boy
(Wednesday)


Day 8 – Thursday (Last Day!)

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Last night, we couldn’t decide where to go on our last full day here in France, but with the weather still forecast to being nothing short of excellent, we decided to hit the coast and visit La Ciotat.

It’s located on the southern edge and we’re getting there by a mixture of Bus and Train. We estimate the journey time will take less than an hour door-to-door, as it’s only 26 km.

Unfortunately, Mr Google wasn’t able to show us the exact connections, but Ann sourced it another way.

9:40am: So, after a quick breakfast, we were soon at the bus-stop near to the Hotel. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long for Bus no. 82S 2 each.

The ‘S’ is important as there’s also a plain ol’ ‘82’ that doesn’t go to the Railway Station.

Fifteen-minutes later, we were at the Railway Station. It was just a question of buying a couple of tickets direct to La Ciotat (30 trains per day – a great service). A word to the Wise though: for some reason, the ticket machines nor the ticket office liked our MasterCard, so it was a good job we had some cash! We didn’t need much though! – 8.30 & 6.20€ (grand-père rate).

I was rather taken back though as the SNCF lady at the ticket office looked at me and asked if I was over 60 to get the elderly peasant rate – clearly the night cream that Ann liberally plasters onto my face each night with a trowel is working!

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We had a quick coffee and then boarded the 11.32. Half-an-hour later, we were at our destination.

We now just needed to catch the No. 40 Bus just outside the Station – 1.50€ each.

12:15pm: Ten minutes later, we’d arrived. I’d not heard of this town before, but it’s well known (amongst other things) for having the first movie (ever) shot there – L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat filmed by the Lumière brothers in 1895 – and if that’s not significant enough, the town also invented the game of pétanque too! And, more importantly, that gaudy-coloured traveller, Michael Portillo, also featured the town on one of his Great Railway Journeys TV programmes.


Originally a port city, when the docks eventually closed, it received a major makeover in the early 2000s to become a pleasure boat harbour. It’s home to the biggest boat-lift I’ve ever seen!

 
Just right for the super-rich’s super-boats and palatial yachts…

12:35pm: What a pretty unspoilt place this was! And super-clean too! We took a wander along the Harbour-front soaking up the views…


1.05pm: Time for a spot of Lunch… and we were spoilt for choice. We wandered up and down the Front and eventually settled on a smallish Restaurant called L’Assiette. For once, the TripAdvisor Reviews matched our experience! Excellent Food (even if the service was painfully slow).


2.15pm: Time for a closer look at this beautiful town…

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Yes, it’s confirmed, this is one of the prettiest Towns we’ve visited in France.
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2.41pm: Time to get back on the Bus, if we’re to make our connection on time…

3.35pm: We did! In fact, we realised our Ticket was ‘open’, so we got a slightly earlier Train back, arriving back just after 3.30.

With a bit of time on our hands, we decided to walk back to the Hotel…


All-in all we covered around 3 miles on foot today and well over 10000 steps each!

What better way to sum-up the amount of walking we’ve done, than this rather impressive Arch along the way… (sometimes known as the ‘Triumphal Arch’). We reckon we’ve walked somewhere in the region of 28 miles this holiday! Time to have our little trotters pampered when we get back to blessed Blighty!


Port d’Aix or Port Royale – Read more HERE

4.45pm: We’re now back at the Hotel, writing this Blog, and reflecting on how lucky we’ve been with the weather, and the fun we’ve had travelling around on France’s public transport system!

It’s been dead simple, comfortable and pretty cheap too! OK, the French may not always respect their timetables, but we always got to where we were going, and the various bus-drivers, ticket collectors on the trains and other officialdom were all a very friendly bunch!
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We shall definitely be doing all this again as there’s still plenty we DIDN’T see here in Marseille.

Back to the land of Brexit chaos tomorrow!!

Au revoir Marseille!
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France 2018: Day 7 – Chateau d’If and Birthday Boy

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Our Adventures so far…

Arrival in Lyon
(Wednesday)

Day 1 – Lyon 
(Thursday)

Day 2 – Vienne by Train
(Friday)

Day 3 – Arrival in Nimes 
(Saturday)

Day 4 – Nimes in more detail
(Sunday)

Day 5 – Marseille, here we come!
(Monday)

Day 6 – On the Buses!
(Tuesday)


Wednesday

Whilst most would be content with a trip to McDonalds or the Zoo – not me, I fancy a trip to the Château d’If! (Our family was always a bit weird!)

Lucky then, we’re in Marseille, just across the water from The Count of Monte Cristo’s enforced ‘holiday home’. The weather is looking hotter than yesterday – by a few degrees or so.

Oh, and we’re also going in search of the ‘black stuff’ as it seems to be a difficult thirst-quencher to find around these parts

Where are you?

As it’s my Birthday AND we’re away from home, we decided to travel light(er!), so we only brought the Cards that arrived by the time we left. The same went for pressies, but Ann did manage to smuggle two from her into the case!: ‘Atomic Blonde’ 4k DVD and Molton Brown’s ‘Bushukan’ Eau de Toilette. Very nice and a perfect choice!

62nd Birthday
Looks like a second birthday when we get home on Friday then!
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8.45am: After a quick breakfast we trod the well trodden route down to the Harbour and specifically the Booking Office for the boat trip direct to Château d’If.

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9.10am: As usual, we got there a bit ahead of opening time so we killed a bit of time looking around the Church opposite the Booking Office.

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Saint-Ferréol les Augustins (More info HERE)

Immaculate, inside and out, it was another Church here that was well worth the visit!
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As we left the Church, we could see that the Booking Office was now open. It was going to be a simple matter of booking our tickets, boarding the boat – and enjoying the Château d’If.
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9.50am: Well, the first part went perfectly well! With tickets in hand, we were pointed in the direction of the Boat, and we walked to the jetty. I guess we should have realised that the walk was just another of those half-marathons we seem to have got used to out here – but we followed the rest of the ‘herd’ anyway.

10.05am: On arrival at the jetty, it all looked good. The Boat – The Edmond Dantes was waiting. This was a good sign considering he’s the hero of the story – The Count of Monte Cristo – We prepared to board…


…but before we could do that, just before 10.15, the Boat upped anchor and sailed away into the distance – with NO-ONE passengers on it!
Surprised smile
10.20am: Confusion, doesn’t even begin to describe the situation. The queue got larger – now numbering over 50 and man with baskets of vegetables asserted himself to the front of the queue. In a peculiar kind of way, it looked promising, as he seemed to hint that he knew what was going on… but things then went from bad to very bad.
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10.15 came and went… and so did 10.30! And then 10.45 passed without anything changing! Anyone expecting the Count to appear on the scene would have been very disappointed as all we got was another boat arriving and the only ‘count’ was the boat-staff counting those the queue (see what I did there!). There must have been well over a 100 similar souls by now waiting impatiently – and we were all looking as confused as each other.
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10.35am:The Boat docked and those of us with tickets were encouraged to queue at the opposite end of the boarding point – in effect, making us last to board. Another 10 minutes passed and the queue eventually began to move. As we confidently presented our tickets when the time came, we were told we had the WRONG ones and we’d been queuing for the wrong Boat! It would appear that there are two ferry companies and we were trying to get on the wrong boat.

So, apart from that, we were OK!
Annoyed
We grumbled all the way back to the Booking Office, where we were politely reminded that we HAD been pointed in the right direction (literally next door to the Booking Office) for our Boat – ‘Right’ meant literally ‘next door’. Bizarrely, at the time, we’d followed the herd – it just happened to be the WRONG herd!

Oh, how we laughed!
Don't tell anyone smile

10.55am: We were now about an hour behind schedule, but on a positive note, at least they exchanged the tickets and we were soon jostling for position on the RIGHT Boat. The tickets cost €10 for the Boat ride and €6 for entry to the Chateau. Great value in our view!

At last, were off for the 45 minute journey to the Château d’If.

It was a very pleasant journey. The Boat was quite crowded with hoards of spotty German students, but the seats we’d grabbed were partially in the shade (which was a benefit as the sun was really starting to shine by now). Some great views on the journey followed…

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…showing-off a very blue sky…
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…worth the boat journey, just for the sights…

…a perfect day for it…

In under the hour, we had arrived. It was now much hotter, but we’d come prepared.

11.45am: The Castle awaits…


After some steep steps, our first stop, was the little Restaurant on the island – Marseille en Face – where we sat in the shade to cool down in the company of some suitable liquid refreshment!


A Corsican Brew at 6% – Yum!


First impressions of the Château d’If were good ones! Given its age – built in 1529 – and the fact  it was still in use as a prison until the Great War, the renovations have been done very well indeed – and the most modern and hygienic loos we’ve seen since we’ve been out here!

Plenty to see inside too…

…and above!

We spent around 45 minutes there, just in time for a good look round inside as well as the perimeter plus, the obligatory birthday photo…


and to catch the next Boat back to Marseille


12.45pm: Luckily the Boat was less busy going back, but the temperature was on the rise – almost 26 degrees now… but it made for some more stunning photos…

  
  
Wow! What an adventure! – and in spite of the ‘mis-step’ earlier on, it had been a worthwhile and very enjoyable trip!


1.15pm: Back on dry land, the most immediate priority was somewhere for my Birthday Lunch! We wandered along the Harbour-front – everywhere was busy – and eventually settled for Bar de la Marie. By the time we got there, it was almost full, but they found us a nice table-for-two towards the back – and in the shade!


Ann had Grilled Salmon, whilst I settled for their super-cheeseburger.

Both were delicious. Having skipped Starters, we were ready for Desserts!


2.25pm: Mine was marginally taller than Ann’s but they both had an obscene amount of chocolate and cream in them. Ann struggled with hers and it was only right that I helped her out!
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3.05pm: We’d eaten too much and I’d drunk too much, but hey, it’s my Birthday! We headed for the nearest ColorBus stop and travelled a few stops round the circuit where there was only one thing left to do today…

…find a bar that sold Draught Guinness.

4.00pm: Luckily, we didn’t have to look far, as right on the harbour-front was the Queen Victoria Pub.


It all looked and felt very English inside…

…with Man Utd v Derby playing on the TV (Not sure whether it was live or not).


Mission accomplished in the shape of a Draught Guinness. It tasted fine but the amount of head/meringue on it when they’d finished pouring, was about twice that of the ‘Brit version’!

4.45pm: We then took the short(ish) walk along the Harbour-front back to our Hotel.

It’s been a great Birthday with all the right ingredients: New places to discover; great company; great food; great drink; memorable photos; a bit of exercise and great weather! It doesn’t get much better than that!

Off for a lie down now! I’m feeling my (new) age!
Confused smile
We’re not sure what we’ll do tomorrow, so keep an eye on the Blog! I’ll post it around 7pm UK time.


Previous Birthdays…

2017
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008
2007
2006
2005
2004


France 2018: Day 6 – On the Buses!

Reading time: 4 minutes...

Our Adventures so far…

Arrival in Lyon
(Wednesday
)

Day 1 – Lyon 
(Thursday)

Day 2 – Vienne by Train
(Friday)

Day 3 – Arrival in Nimes 
(Saturday)

Day 4 – Nimes in more detail
(Sunday)

Day 5 – Marseille, here we come!
(Monday)


Tuesday

Blakey might have hated Butler, but he would have loved the route today. We’re on the ColorBus – Marseille’s ‘hop-on/hop-off’ sight-seeing tour of this harbour-city, the second largest after ‘gay Pareeee’.


Click on the picture above for a larger version to view or download

At a mere 18€ for a 24 hour pass or 22€ for the two-day version – it’s a steal and takes in 14 significant stops around the Town.

Tours start at 10am and at this time of year, it’s a half-hourly service. What’s not to love!?


Click on the picture above for a larger version to view or download

We bought our tickets direct from the Driver but if you’re in a hurry, you can book them online HERE

The weather today is a lot cooler and, thankfully, a lot less windy – perfect for sight-seeing!

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9.45am: So, after a healthy breakfast, it was off in search of ‘Stop 3’ to pick up the Bus


10.15am: Being only stop number 3 on the circuit, and being the first bus today, we didn’t anticipate it being very busy!

Wrong!!!
Surprised smile
It was rammed! With only about four seats left, we squeezed upstairs and both ended up in seats that were less-than-ideal for photos!
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The Bus took-off with its heavy cargo, and boy, you wouldn’t want to have been the Driver, attempting to navigate the very narrow streets of Marseille!

11.10am: Our first major stop (and no scrapes later) – took us to the beautiful Marseille Cathedral

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Marseille Cathedral
Just our luck – closed for renovation! Still, it did give us an opportunity to look at everything else in the immediate area…

There’s been massive investment in the old port area as a result of the city being the 2013 European Capital City of Culture. New shiny museums, cafés and walkways everywhere, and clearing out the pimps, tarts, and political two-legged rats that used to frequent this area. It’s scrubbed up really well, making this a must-visit part of the city.



Stunning views!

11.30am: Next stop was hopefully going to be a visit to Mucem – The Museum of the Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, it was also closed! We’d forgotten that all museums in France are closed on Tuesdays – yes folks, this is not a 24-7 country!

We weren’t doing very well!
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11.45am: We decided to retreat into the back-streets of Marseille’s Old Port – that surely wouldn’t/couldn’t be closed! It wasn’t, and we were soon admiring the old buildings and the very narrow pavements in the area called ‘Le Pannier.’ This is where the dockers lived, with more tattoos and garlic infused wildcat strikes per square centimetre than any other part of the city. Yes, these streets were mean and even the butchers’ dogs carried flick knives when they went out late at night to ‘faire le mince’.  


It soon became apparent that this particular area is liberally daubed in all sorts of colourful graffiti. Some of the spelling and grammar is pretty haphazard, with many of the artists needing to finish their homework on the conditional and imperfect tenses. There’s probably a bigger back street market for aerosol cans of spray paint than the current druggies choice for ‘spice’.

  
  
All that creativity gave us a thirst, so the next priority was somewhere for a drink.

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Midday: We wandered for a short while and discovered Rendez-vous des Amis. In typical un-hurried French style (no, go on, you finish your mobile call, it’s only a customer!) we were served after (about 15 minutes) and sipped from the world’s smallest coffee-cup! (We think it was quadruple strength espresso – I couldn’t blink for an hour afterwards!)
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With enough caffeine inside us to keep us going for months, we carried on around the town, soaking up the scenery before heading back to hop-on/hop-off bus-stop where we’d disembarked earlier.


We didn’t have to wait long and this time it was a tad less busy. We stayed on the Bus to our next significant destination for the day – Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica. This is a Catholic Basilica and the city’s best-known symbol. The site of a popular Assumption Day pilgrimage, it is the most visited site in Marseille and can be seen for miles around. It was built on the foundations of an ancient fort at the highest natural point in Marseille, a 149 m (489 ft) limestone outcropping on the south side of the Old Port of Marseille.


Cue: Led Zeppelin?

1.15pm: But the first hurdle was going to the never-ending steps to the entrance! Talk about a stairway to Heaven? It went on for ages! We hoped the struggle would be worth it, because we were also now running very late for lunch too!

Realistically, what are the chances of  there being somewhere to eat at the top of this Hill? Pretty slim I’d say, and we resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d be going hungry whilst trying to enjoy probably THE tourist attraction round these parts!
Disappointed smile

Well, hallelujah! On reaching the summit we saw that the Basilica had a restaurant!

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Floor 3, here we come!

We weren’t sure what we were going to find, but we had plenty of time to think about it whilst waiting for the Lift – what seemed like 50 years later, the lift arrived (and by that time, the queue behind us had decided to use the stairs!). Not us, we were all ‘staired-out’).

We arrived on the floor 3 to find the Restaurant that was overflowing at the edges – Wow! It was popular… and if we could get in, we’d find out why!
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We waited no time at all, and were shown to our table for two…


It was a straightforward Menu, and the prices were definitely from the 1970s – a sort of retro pilgrims diner!

1.35pm: Food at last – and it tasted really good in spite of the ‘cheap as frites’ prices.


In fact, it was probably one of the best meals we’ve had on this holiday. The steps had been worth it… and we hadn’t seen the Basilica yet!
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We had a Main and Dessert each, half a carafe of wine – and it came to just under £36 (39.95€).

2.15pm: Forty-five minutes later, we were ready to soak up what the Basilica had to offer…

…and its offering came it two very different parts. First there was the Basilica itself and then there were the views over the town of Marseille. I don’t think either of us could decide which was the more jaw-dropping – you decide!







The Ceiling

Then we went outside to take in the views…

Wow! Just Wow! One of the best city panoramas we have ever seen!
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Then it was back down to the Bus-stop to wait for our transport. Again, no more than a five-minute wait and we were once again back on board rubbing armpits with people we’d never met before!
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We took the opportunity to get off a couple of stops later and walk the rest of the way back to the Hotel. The weather was now up to around 24 degrees and it made for a very pleasant slow-wander back to base.

4.00pm: We stopped off at the Hotel Bar and reviewed our walking stats for the day…




We’d covered around 6000 steps today and a distance of 3.2 miles (I think 3 of those miles were the steps to the Basilica!)
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Tomorrow, it’s my Birthday and we’re heading for Château d’If (return ticket, I hope). We’re also going to track down some Guinness as it’s pretty rare in these parts!

France 2018: Day 5 – Marseille, here we come!

Reading time: 3 minutes...

Our Adventures so far…

Arrival in Lyon
(Wednesday
)

Day 1 – Lyon 
(Thursday)

Day 2 – Vienne by Train
(Friday)

Day 3 – Arrival in Nimes 
(Saturday)

Day 4 – Nimes in more detail
(Sunday)

 

Monday


Welcome back loyal Reader!

(The Bodyguard finalé was good wasn’t it!?)

Today, we travel to our third and final Hotel. Our new home until Friday is the NewHotel in Marseille, and was opened in 2006.


But first, we had to get there! We checked-out of our current Hotel just after 10am and it was just a short walk five-minute walk to the Station in Nimes.


…before catching the 11.47 direct to Marseilles courtesy of SNCF. We went posh and tried out French ‘First Class’ – the differences? Well, not much actually:-

  • An extra power-point
  • A Wider seat
  • A plusher seat-cushion
  • A recliner too!

Weather in Marseille is a little cooler than we’ve become used to – a frosty 20 degrees at noon and 50 mile an hour winds! Better dig out the extra, extra firm hairspray for Monsieur’s endangered thatch…


It was a trouble-free journey of just over an hour and we were soon checking-in at NewHotel of Marseille located in the Old Port (Vieux Port). This shouldn’t be confused with NewHotel – Vieux Port located nearby and part of the same chain! It would have been an easy mistake to make, and in fact, the guest checking in next to us, was politely being informed she was at the wrong hotel! – not a happy bunny!

All very confusing and certainly had me checking our paperwork!
Sad smile

NewHotel of Marseille


Room 102

First impressions of our Room? Very nice indeed! It had a very modern feel to it, and was larger than we expected. We quickly unpacked and connected up all the tech to the outside world and then took a quick wander round the immediate area to get our bearings.


…first, to the Park opposite, where we were met by the promised gale-force winds…


…but with great views across the Harbour…


…nearby was the Palais du Pharo (built in 1858 by Napoleon III for Eugénie de Montijo) that’s now part of the Aix-Marseille University a Convention Centre.


Next stop: ‘Four Des Navettes’, the oldest working Bakery in Marseilles – dating back to 1781!


Then: The Abbey of St Victor

…in wonderful condition, with a not-so-illustrious history…

..where the Monks barricaded themselves in during the Great Plague instead of offering help to the afflicted. Not quite the ‘Je suis alright Jacques’ attitude one would have expected from the God-squad…


The Crypt was in excellent condition. Tradition also has it that it contains the relics of the ‘Martyr of Marseille’ from the 4th century. In reality, the crypts preserve highly valuable archaeological evidence proving the presence of a quarry exploited in Greek times.

After our religious fix for the day, we continued our trek, heading for the Harbour. It was twisty-turney route, where eyes-in-the-back-of-your-head was a distinct advantage, when negotiating round the traffic in the side-roads.


We were now feeling hungry, and walked along the Harbour Front in search of a restaurant…

…the views across the Harbour were fantastic!

Our hunger was relieved in the shape of a chain we’d not heard of before – Steak and Shake. Founded in America in 1934, they’ve got outlets in various parts of the world (but not the UK).

Bizarrely, the DON’T serve Steak! Instead, they’re famous (apparently) for their steak-burgers! They do do Shakes though and they’re ‘hand-dipped’ (whatever that means!)
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We tried a couple from their Signature Burger range! Ann’s with mushrooms and Emmental whilst mine had everything plus a generous helping of jalapenos (Phew!). And whether their Burgers are really made from real steak or not, they certainly tasted very meaty – not surprisingly, it all went down a treat!


It was a very pleasant walk along the Harbour. Plenty of boats to view from the ‘everyday’. to ‘expensive’ boats and VERY expensive!

By now the wind had dropped and it felt very warm. With the sound of our rumbling tummies now a distant memory, we walked back to the Hotel.


Our little walk, to become familiar with the area, had taken-in much more than we planned, but it was worth it!  We covered just under 3.5 miles made of just over 8000 steps each.
Confused smile
Tomorrow, we plan to cover more miles but use less shoe leather! We’re planning to try out the local hop-on/hop-off bus service called color-bus.

France 2018: Day 4 – More about Nimes

Reading time: 4 minutes...

Our Adventures so far…

Arrival in Lyon
(Wednesday
)

Day 1 – Lyon 
(Thursday)

Day 2 – Vienne by Train
(Friday)

Day 3 – Arrival in Nimes
(Saturday)


Sunday

We’re remaining very local today, and exploring Nimes in more detail.

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You can download a VERY large map (3448 X 2419 pixels) of the local area HERE


Another scorcher in store (promised temperatures are in the region of low 30s!) – and even by the time I came to pen this Blog at 5pm, it was nudging 32 degrees! – Scorchio!
Sun Sun Sun Sun Sun

Our main mission today was to take a slower walk around this very pretty town including the recently opened Museum – Musée de la Romanitée (more about that later).


La Fontaine Pradier

9.35am: First stop: This was in the main Esplanade and looked stunning against the perfect blue sky. Unveiled in 1851, it was designed by Charles Questel and the sculptor was James Pradier.

9.45am: Then we headed for something even older (completed in 2AD) – The Maison Carée – and is one of the best preserved Roman temple façades to be found in the territory of the former Roman Empire.


Best of all, there weren’t too many Tourists about to get in the way of the photograph! (apart from the guy in black who just wouldn’t get off his mobile!)
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10.00am: However, what the town lacked in Tourists, was more than made up for with Locals armed with shopping bags! Something was popular – even at just after 10am on a Sunday! We followed the masses towards the main shopping area – and all was revealed – a proper French Sunday Fruit & Veg Market!
  
  

  
We think it had one of every type of fruit and vegetable – and on one stall alone, at least six types of potatoes!

10.15am: Resisting the temptation to stock up with super-cheap spuds, we headed for the next tourist must-see…


The Porte De France

This was one of the four ‘Gateways’ that originally surrounded the walled town of Nimes. Today, only two survive, the other being Porte Augusta.

10.30am: It was now warming-up substantially, so we headed in the direction of the new Museum I mentioned earlier – Musée de la Romanitée. Opened in June of this year at a cost of 53m Euros – it looked at felt impressive – outside and in! We therefore expected it to be comfortably cool with its air-conditioning – but it was strangely warmer than expected.


It cost only 8€ teach to get in and featured two floors and a mezzanine (although the mass of wheelchair-friendly ramps and gentle slopes made it feel more expansive) split into two distinct time-frames:-

  • The Mediaeval era
  • The Pre-Roman era

It also had a panoramic roof with a swanky restaurant.

Back to the contents: The artefacts were all in excellent condition and the clever lighting and positioning added to the ‘wow-factor’…


There was also a very interesting exhibition about gladiators and the entertainments put on show in the Arena 2000 years ago. This was in the days before our current addiction to Netusflixus, with good old fashioned disembowelling, and assorted fricasseed guts and gizzards being displayed for the blood thirsty audiences. In fact, locals still fondly talk to this day about the legendary battles staged between the Vegan Virgins and the dastardly Brexiti UKIPUS tribe. 

We must have spent about an hour-and-a-half in there as there was so much to see (but unless we missed a bit, it didn’t seem to equate to the supposed 5000 items on display!)

12 noon: Our final stop here was to look at the panoramic roof…


Given that its next-door-neighbour is The Arena, the views were magnificent; and beyond the immediate view above, we could see a lot of the roof-tops of this ancient Town. It’s certainly worth the slightly claustrophobic lift journey for this unique experience.

It was now getting close to lunchtime, so we thought we’d get a table in the rooftop restaurant – after all, it was almost deserted! No such luck, as we were politely informed that it was full up! I guess my shorts and baseball cap probably didn’t fit with the restaurant’s typical clientele!
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12.15pm: Never mind, we took a walk out the back of the building and discovered that it had a beautiful garden! Officially named The Archaeological Garden, it’s cleverer than it looks on first inspection. It laid out across three levels coinciding with the Pre-Roman, Roman and Post-Roman periods and contains flora relating to that time period.

Definitely worth a look!

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The Archaeological Garden

12.45pm: Our final stop for the day was a late lunch – and we headed into the main restaurant area in town for that. It was mighty hot and mighty packed, but in the end we settled for Le Courtois Café


We opted for the 25€ Menu that gave us Baked Camembert to share as a Starter, Roast Duck with Lyonnaise Potatoes and Salad. We helped it down with a bottle of Rosé, a Cider and a Blackberry Kir – and that left no room whatsoever for a Pudding! The service was friendly but was typically ‘relaxed French’. Just over 50€ and an hour and forty minutes later, we took on the heat (now up to 33 degrees) and headed back to the Hotel for a kippas maximus.


Today’s Travels (2.6 miles)

4.45pm: We reflected on our local walk today and were pleased with how much we’d seen. The heat had been a major distraction, and by the time we’d made the 10-minute walk back to the Hotel, we were pleased to be in the air-conditioned comfort of Room 404!
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It’s been our last full day here today, but we’ve been so impressed, I’m sure we’ll re-visit the area again in the future. Hopefully, it’ll be a little cooler next time! If you like Roman stuff, this place has loads of it and is well worth the visit. There are plenty of places to eat – even an Irish Pub in amongst the plethora of Pizzerias, Chinese, Pakistani and more traditional French restaurants.

Tomorrow it’s back on the Train and we’re heading for our next town – Marseille – for the rest of this holiday. We’ll be staying at the Newhotel of Marseilles which, ironically, is located near to the OLD Port.

See you there (virtually)!
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Only one thing left to sort tonight – persuading the laptop to play nicely with iPlayer so we can watch the final of The Bodyguard!

France 2018: Day 3 – All aboard the Train to Nimes

Reading time: 3 minutes...Our Adventure so far…
Arrival in Lyon (Wednesday)Day 1 – Lyon (Thursday)Day 2 – Vienne by Train (Friday)

Saturday

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8.45am:
A lazy breakfast here in Lyon before boarding the TGV Train bound for Nimes, or Nîmes as most of the French write it. It’s famous for being the ‘most Roman city outside Italy’ – that’ll suit us perfectly!!


11:15am: We arrived at the Station. We’re on the 12.14 and it’s around a 90 minute journey to our destination. It ran about 10 minutes late…


1.45pm: …but made up for it with ease, arriving in Nimes on time. A quick check of the weather in Nimes revealed that our destination looked a tad cooler than Vienne.


2.00pm: We were soon at the Taxi-rank. it was a quick ride from the Station (we probably could have walked it) and we were then quickly checked-in to our new home for the next few nights at the Hotel Des Tuileries, owned and run by a couple of Brits – Andrew and Caryn. There are just 11 rooms and we were shown to Room 404, on the second floor (obviously!)



…it even had a balcony looking out onto a typical French side-street – lovely!
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2.45pm: We unpacked the essentials and attempted to set up an internet connection with the outside world. I say ‘attempted’ – Ann’s Tablet connected OK, but my Laptop (Blog Central!) simply would not! It didn’t matter what I tried, it wasn’t having it. The Owner commented that their internet setup was close to ‘end-of-life’ and might like to try and post downstairs where the signal is stronger…

We’ll see!

3.00pm: We came… we saw… it didn’t!
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Still, it’s not all about the technology, and we left the laptop to consider its future, whilst we explored the Town.

3.05pm: Just a five-minute walk later, and I think we fell in love with the town immediately! So many old buildings… so much Roman influence… and so many retail outlets!
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I wasn’t expecting that!


…and then there was The Arena… (a sort of Colosseum-lite). It was built around 70AD, is oval-shaped, measures 133 metres long and 101 metres wide, with an arena of 68 by 38 metres. The structure is 21 metres high and its exterior façade comprises of two floors of 60 superimposed arches together with an attic, separated by a cornice.



I feel sick…

We actually thought it was better in every respect that its big-brother in Rome! It’s certainly better preserved. In keeping with the times, it has a couple of Bars and modern loos too – it’s clearly used regularly for modern events! It seats 24,000 and you can imagine back in the glory days, before Emperor Amazonius  created ‘Amazonius Primus’ and civilisation as we know it, this was the entertainment centre of Gaul.

The lucky inhabitants of Nimes (plus the few thousand poor slaves who toiled to build it) could enjoy all manner of blood shedding/gory/thrilling events to make le-weekend speciale. Yes, locals can still recount the legendary chariot races. Yes, some even died laughing, it was that bad.     


Just 1.5 miles, but it took nearly 1.5 hours!

4.30pm: We completed our our ‘quick’ tour, and it had given us some ideas for the rest of our stay here (and maybe a return visit in the future). We stopped for an ice-cream (Ann: Strawberry + Fig & Honey, me: Rum & Raisin + Chocolate) and then we headed back to the Hotel for some well-earned ‘feet-up’ before planning to go back into the town later for our evening meal.

Meanwhile, the Laptop was no better and still refused to connect to the Hotel’s wi-fi. I had no idea what was going on! This Laptop had followed us around the world and has never played up before. I’d narrowed it down to the laptop itself as Ann’s Tablet and both our mobile phones logged-on without a problem
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5.00pm: So, whilst Ann looked for the best place to eat tonight, I looked for the nearest wheely-bin! And then, in one of those increasingly rare super-techy moments, I recalled what was different about the connection set-up on the Lappy. 15 seconds later, I’d fiddled under the bonnet, unset some settings, and the internet sprang into life. It turned out to be mostly to do with the Hotel’s non-standard wi-fi sign-in procedure. Note to self: *Stop mucking about with the DNS Server addresses!
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*Nope, Google Translate won’t help you with this!

6.15pm: We headed back into town. Ann had located a highly recommended Restaurant called Le Menestrel


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What made it unique was that the owner acted as Chef AND Waitress – and it was all cooked to order.


Ewe’s Cheese


Steak (perfectly cooked!)


Tiramisu

All-in-all, it was a perfect meal… excellent service and good to see a small business thriving (it was pretty busy when we left).


Phew! We’re done! Time to head back to the Hotel and recharge the batteries!

Tomorrow, we’re going to explore the rest of the town.

France 2018: Day 2 – Vienne by Train

Reading time: 4 minutes...

Our adventures so far…

Arrival
(Wednesday)
Day 1
(Yesterday)

Friday

Today is our final full day here, and we’re jumping on the Train to visit nearby Vienne.


Vienne is located 35 kilometres south of Lyon, on the river Rhône and is famous for its ancient Roman Theatre. Built in 1AD, It was re-inaugurated in 1938 and since the 80s has been used for various regular live performances – especially by the jazz fraternity.


So, after an earlier breakfast at the Hotel, we headed next door to the Station and picked up a couple of tickets. Most of the time, all the planning for our adventures in foreign climes pays off – the studying and re-studying of maps; the checking of routes by land, air and sea; the tourist attractions as well as suitable eateries.
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Today, however, WASN’T one of those days!
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After a slightly unpredictable journey to our destination to Vienne’s main railways station by way of Gare de Lyon-Perrache (which if that had been the only surprise, we would have been OK), things went downhill uphill downhill. (I’ll explain that later!)

I blame France’s current Minister of Culture personally for today’s disaster!


  
11.00am: OK, it all began well enough… A comfy Train, air-conditioned and with power-points at the seats – so, all was well. On arrival at Vienne we discovered a massive mural in the station commemorating those from France lost in The Great War together with all the names – and this was a great start to our cultural introduction to this ancient town.


Amazing!

11.20am: Things continued according to plan where a short walk later, we arrived at Vienne’s Cathedral.


Opened in 1529 and dedicated to St Maurice, it’s a blend of Romanesque and French Gothic architecture and well worth a visit.

11.40am: Next on our list was the Temple of Augustus and Livia. A well preserved Roman construction from 10BC, perfectly preserved and just surrounded by a sweet little square selling Roman specialities of frites, monsieur whippy and cherry-aid. Things were still going well! 


Then it all went horribly wrong! Our main reason for visiting Vienne was to look at the famous Ancient Theatre. It’s THE attraction in Vienne, so it should have been easy to find… there was bound to be loads of signs around, so we wouldn’t have to worry about maps (paper or electronic)…

Well, not quite! And that’s why The French Minister of Culture is in my cross-hairs.

Sure, we found the Sign…


…note the use of the singular noun! Just ONE sign, but hey, OK, if we follow the sign what could possible go wrong?

11.50am: Off we trotted, and after about 10 minutes of walking, we maybe should have realised that having not seen a Bus, a Taxi, nor a Tourist Coach pass us, we must have gone wrong, but we WERE following the sign! We were now relying on instinct and common-sense (always a worry in MY case). As the local geckos started to outnumber the humans, we knew things were going from bad to worse…
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…But we optimistically carried on further up the hill. It was now 29 degrees and very humid, but surely we must be nearly there! Twenty minutes later, still no sign of any Ruins nor any sign of signs… but we kept going!

We must have walked another mile-and-a-half before we decided to snare some passing natives and ask the question. At around the same time, I fired-up Google Maps. In tandem, our natives and Mr Google confirmed that we had been walking in totally the wrong direction – and we needed to head back towards the town of Vienne.
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I know, ‘what the…?’ ‘how…?’ ‘why…?’.

12.45am: We descended down the hill, all the way back to where we started – and decided to stop for a spot of Lunch at Da Gianni’s, re-group and try to work out what went wrong.


It’s amazing what some good food and alcohol can do to re-kindle enthusiasm – and it certainly worked for us!

  
A quick re-visit to Google Maps confirmed that where we sat was only 0.4 miles away from the Ancient Theatre!

0.4 miles!!!
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So, our 2.8 mile uphill yomp had been a complete waste of time (OK, not completely! We’d done our walk for the day… and some!), but just a single sign for the major tourist attraction!!!! Seriously!!!???
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2.00pm: Four minutes later, we’d found the un-findable… but disappointment was to follow, as it was clearly under major restoration!


Once we’d navigated round the crane (with not a gallic workman in sight) things improved slightly, but I’ve got to say this was a MAJOR disappointment (especially after our Olympic-style hill-climb earlier). Yes, it was very large, seating 11,000 spectators, divided into 4 classes to separate the empire’s unwashed; upward social climbers; the ‘moi-aussi’ brigade; and those who think culture is found in bio yoghurts.

Interestingly, it has ‘vomitoria’ which are vaulted corridors underneath the seating, so there must have been a lot of dodgy kebabs sold to the audiences in the intervals.

2.45pm: We only spent about 10 minutes there as there wasn’t much to see (apart from the crane!). What to do? We called it a day, and consoled ourselves with ice-cream at the Station! We simply pointed at the sign in the shop, and two ice-creams followed – just how signage should work!
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Well, at least they were easy to find!
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On our journey back to the Hotel, we reflected on the day. Not one of our finest, and memorable for all the wrong reasons – but on a more positive note, we had walked a total of almost five-and-a-half miles! We’re now well on our way to becoming marching roman centurions! The weather forecast didn’t materialise and the day became increasingly grey.

4.00pm: Another carpet picnic back at ‘416’ and that will give our feet time to recover!

6.00pm: All Packed! We check-out of our Hotel tomorrow and are heading for Nimes by train, where we’re spending a few days at Hôtel des Tuileries.

7.00pm: French TV is rubbish, so it’s a NetFlix binge tonight!!

See you on the other side!