Sunday, 8 June 2008

Pont du Gard

One of my latest weekends was a bit of a Roman weekend. I went down to Nimes in the south of France, this second half of the year has all been about the South really. Anyway Nimes is quite famous for it's well preserved Roman architecture, and one of the more famous structures, in France anyway, is the Pont du Gard. It's meant to be the second tallest Roman structure still standing in the world at 49m, it's something like 2 metres shorter than the Colosseum in Rome. The name means bridge over the river Gard and was thought to have been built in 19BC to carry water from a spring in Uzes to the city of Nimes 50km away and is thought to have been working for something like 400-500 years. The bridge was built in 3 years without the use of mortar, the stones were precisely made to fit together, which is amazing when you look at all the arches. If any of you have a 5 euro note, or remember what is on the 5 euro note, this photo may be familiar to you.

I caught the train in Nimes and I had checked on the web, including the Pont du Gard website, which all said there are buses running from Nimes to Pont du Gard, the number 169 and they even gave the timetable. But when you arrive in Nimes there is absolutely no information as to where the bus departs from, or even if there is a bus there at all. It is the main bus depot in Nimes and yet there is not one scrap of information there, no office open, no maps, no timetables. The only information lists the bus numbers and when they depart, but there was no number 169 listed anywhere. I got there about 40 minutes before the bus was due to depart, it was when the train arrived, so I had a lot of time to look around. The thing with Nimes is that on one side of the train station are the provincial buses, going to Avignon and Pont du Gard and on the other side was the main bus station for the metropolitan buses around Nimes. But I didn't really know which side my bus should leave from, so I kept wandering back and forth between the bus stations trying to find any sort of information. I eventually resorted to asking people in my pitiful French and so I at least homed in on the bus station on the correct side of the station. But I still had no sign of where the bus would leave from or even if it would ever leave. While I was examining the little information they had pined up I noticed another group of English people complaining about the lack of information, turns out they were trying to get to the city of Ales but also had no idea which bus to take. So we commiserated for a while and they tried the bus stop on the other side of the station. I then proceeded to ask all the bus drivers I could see, some of which said I don't know, some said down the other end of the station, and some didn't even speak French, but nobody seemed to know what time the bus arrived. At this stage I noticed a couple of other English-speaking people were walking around asking people too and turns out they were also looking for the bus to Pont du Gard and had exactly the same information as I had printed from the web. We really roused all the local Nimeans though, I could ask everyone, because I could speak enough French to at least phrase my question, whilst the others focused on those who could speak English. Between us I think we asked everyone waiting for a bus. Eventually we got definitive word that the bus would arrive at this platform in 10 minutes, and then it showed up right on time. The thing was it wasn't even bus 169 it was bus 14 or something. It's pretty strange that such a popular site has no specific information at the bus station. I wonder if the tourist-question asking is a regular occurrence at that bus stop? I also wonder if those other guys ever made it to Ales.

When I was reading a little bit on Nimes I read that they have 300 sunny days a year, and I thought brilliant, I took my umbrella anyway, it is Europe after all, but I didn't bother with my raincoat. Unfortunately when I got there it started bucketing down and then I read on a brochure that whilst it may be sunny for 300 days of the year, when it does rain, it rains hard, apparently that is the Mediterranean climate. So unfortunately I was there for one of the 65 days of the year, but even the bad weather didn't detract from the amazing sight, though it did make it a bit difficult to walk through the forest with my umbrella. There is a reason why bushwalkers generally wear raincoats rather than carry umbrellas.

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