November 2 – 7
We had another full day ahead of us that Monday, so we didn’t waste much time in the morning, eating breakfast in the room, checking out of the Best Western and walking back to the Arles train station to ride up to Avignon and get the rental car from Hertz. We made sure to select the correct ticket options this time around, ensuring a fine free trip for a change.
The Avignon TGV station sits on the outskirts of town about 3 miles away from the central station and is accessed via a dedicated shuttle that runs twice an hour. We disembarked at the modernistic (futuristically?) designed TGV station and walked over to the nearby Hertz office.
Within a few minutes I had the keys to our rental, a cool looking Nissan Qashqai with a manual transmission and diesel engine. Now in its second generation, the Qashqai is rebadged as the Nissan Rogue Sport in the United States.
Even though we had purchased maps in Arles to help us out with directions we were pleasantly surprised to find that the car came equipped with built in navigation. It’s a sad commentary that we’ve been traveling in Europe since the 1970’s and driven a car there many times (1977, 1984, 1999, 2002, 2007, and 2014) all for the last without GPS in the car and somehow we managed just fine. None-the-less, it’s nice having the computer tell us where to go.
We made straight for our destination for the afternoon, a 40-minute drive to the famed Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gardon River near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard. It is the highest of all elevated Roman aqueducts, and, along with the Aqueduct of Segovia, one of the best preserved. It was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1985 because of its historical importance.
The bridge has three tiers of arches, stands 160 ft. high, and descends only 1 inch while the whole aqueduct descends in height by only 41 ft. over its entire length of 31 miles, which is indicative of the great precision that Roman engineers were able to achieve using simple technology. The aqueduct formerly carried an estimated 8,800,000 imp gals of water a day to the fountains, baths and homes of the citizens of Nîmes.
After the Roman Empire collapsed and the aqueduct fell into disuse, the Pont du Gard remained largely intact due to the importance of its secondary function as a toll bridge. It underwent a series of renovations between the 18th and 21st centuries, commissioned by the local authorities and the French state, that culminated in 2000 with the opening of a new visitor center and the removal of traffic and buildings from the bridge and the area immediately around it.
This is important, to consider, the removal of traffic, something we would encounter the next day at a different site, that is a two-thousand-year-old Roman aqueduct / bridge being used until recently for vehicular traffic.
As our tour of the aqueduct was scheduled for about 90 minutes after our arrival, we spent that time in the comprehensive and well-presented museum about the site, still not managing to cover all of its contents before we had to walk to the start of the tour.
We gathered at the starting point and soon found ourselves walking through that portion of the structure that formerly carried the water. Our guide explained to us that the narrowed sections of the walls were actually mineral deposits that had accumulated during the period of use; indeed, improper maintenance of the aqueduct eventually resulted in diminished effectiveness and likely abandonment of its intended purpose, that is to transport water.
The tour over, we walked out on the other side of the river and continued on a path to view an above ground section (the bulk of the system used underground tunnels), then walked back to an overlook with stunning views of the Pont and the river before returning to the Visitor Center to complete our time in the museum.
With no other sites on the agenda, we hopped into the Qashqai for the one-hour drive to L’Isle-sur-le-Sorgue, our home for the next three nights. Originally known as “Insula”, the town officially adopted its current name in 1890, taking the latter part from the river Sorgue to which it owed much. As early as the 12th century, the river served defensively as a moat around ramparts which surrounded the town until 1795. The river also served as a source of food and industry: fishing and artisan mills for oil, wheat, silk, paper, rugs and dyeing.
We found and checked into the Hotel Les Novens and received a couple of recommendations for restaurants from the friendly and informative desk clerk. We made our way to the room which while functional, was slightly disappointing compared to the Best Western in Arles, particularly as we were paying roughly 20 euros a night more.
Unpacked, we hit the streets to do a walk around the center of town, crossing the river at one of the many bridges that allow access and covering the winding streets of the interior. Hungry, we briefly considered one of the recommended restaurants, but not feeling up to a big splurge that night and noting that they would be open the following evening, we opted for a budget friendly stop at a small kebab shop, Kebab La Baraka.
For the princely sum of 10 euros we each got some form of a pita-based wrap, mine with chicken and a drink apiece. This food is uniformly good to eat, relatively healthy, and often a welcome break from the country dependent cuisine we’ve been consuming, not that this is a bad thing in France. As it was getting deep into fall, the brisk wind blowing down the narrow streets encouraged us to keep a smart pace as we walked back to the hotel.
We’d had another fine day of being tourists. The ease of the Hertz pickup and quality of the car erased all memory of the Jenny Manetta moment of the day before. Spending time at the incredible Pont du Gard added to our ever-expanding knowledge of Greek and Roman history and full of a nice middle eastern dinner, we could look forward to another full day of sightseeing made complete by a great meal. What more could you ask for?
Nissan Qashqai: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nissan_Qashqai
Pont du Gard: http://www.pontdugard.fr/en
Hotel Les Novens: http://www.hotel-les-nevons.com/