Colosseums, Kayaking and Truly Awful Taxidermy

Trip Start Apr 04, 2007
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Trip End Oct 22, 2007


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Saturday, October 6, 2007

We were unsure what to expect from Nimes, other than a tiny note in our guide book by Gabrielle's brother which said "cool city", so we have been pleasantly suprised by this underrated and awesome little city with it's incredibly rich Roman-era history. We arrived from Marseille mid-afternoon and found out that we couldn't check into our hostel until 5pm. More than a little disgruntled after the long bus ride and uphill hike it took us to get there from the train station, we stowed our bags and decided to make the best of it by heading back into town to explore.

Our first discovery heading back into the city was that among the many attractions of Nimes is a 2000 year old Roman arena, the best preserved in Europe and still used for bull-fights during the summer months. Jumping off the bus at this miniature-Colosseum, we went inside to discover that audio guides were free and spent a fantastic hour roaming the arena, picturing the gladiators and roaring crowd, and checking out the mini museums inside dedicated to bullfighting and gladiatorial lore.

The next morning, we had hoped to head to Collias for a kayak trip under the famous Pont Du Gard aqueduct, but bad weather meant that the river was too high to safely travel. We were still set on the kayak trip, so booked another night at the hostel in the hopes that the next day would bring better weather, and set off back into the city to fill another day sightseeing. After booking hideously expensive train tickets to Paris (almost $300 New Zealand each!!) we went to check out the free Museum of Archaeology and Natural History. It was definitely an old-school museum, lots of stuffed animals with staring plastic eyes and jars of pickled things lining the walls, while other rooms featured prehistoric stone flints, ancient Roman pottery and befeathered African masks and spears. The taxidermy was definitely our favourite though - some of the worst taxidermy I have ever seen, and the sheer scale of it! We figured every museum in France had sent their stuffed relics to this place once dead animals on display became less politically correct, but the lack of multimedia and high tech displays definitely made this museum endearing, if dusty!

Our next stop was the column-ringed Maison de Caree building, like a mini-Acropolis in the middle of the city, then the lovely and orderly Garden of Diana where old men played petanque in dappled sun beneath autumn trees and canals flowed past tidy statue-lined paths. We found a bench and just soaked in the atmosphere for a while, then carried on up the hill to an ancient Roman watch-tower and back down past a ruined Temple of Diana (the huntress goddess of the Romans), and headed back to the hostel. We had splurged a little on a bottle of wine and gourmet ingredients, and cooked ourselves a fancy dinner before polishing off the bottle of French red and calling it a night!

The next morning we awoke with high hopes of kayaking and headed out on the bus to Collias - or so we thought. When we reached the Pont du Gard the bus driver kicked us off the bus with reassurances that we were in the right place, and when a 'helpful' lady at the tourist info centre told us it was only 3km to Collias we decided to walk. Four kilometres later, with another four to go and an impending rainstorm, we decided to have a go a hitch-hiking, and within minutes a lovely young French woman picked us up and we chatted away in very broken English-French until she dropped us off in front of the kayak place, Kayak Verte. Things were starting to look up!

The rain mostly held off, and we had a beautiful if slightly soggy paddle in our double kayak, herons and trout keeping us company as we wound our way down the river. The highlight was definitely the Pont Du Gard, built around 19BC by Marcus Agrippa. The massive, imposing structure appeared majestically before us as we rounded a bend in the river, mirrored in the perfectly still water. We paddled under, jaws dropping at the sheer scale of this ancient aqueduct and carried on to the drop-off spot for the kayaks and headed back in the now golden sunshine to walk over the Pont, have a cup of tea and dry off before heading back to the bus.

We have had an amazing time in Nimes, and are packing our bags for Paris!!

All our best from France,

Dan and Gabes
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