I haven’t blogged much lately because Bobby and I have been spending most of our last few months of our Olmsted journey here in Firenze. We officially have just 4 weeks left. Yikes! Last week, however, we took our last “international trip,” a five-day trek through southern France. Initially, I wasn’t very excited about traveling again (I’ll admit, I’m a little traveled out), but looking back, I’m thoroughly glad we decided to go through with it. We had previously driven through southern France three times without ever stopping to take in the sites, so it was nice to finally get to see the area. We started out in Nimes, visited the Pont du Gard (a dream of mine ever since architecture school), and then stayed a few days in Aix-en-Provence. We then traveled along the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera) back to Italy, which I’ll blog about in the next segment, so stay tuned!
Our first morning in Nimes, we woke up early to dust off our sedentary legs from the car ride the day before, running from our hotel to the Jardins de la Fontaine. The gardens were only about a mile and a half away from where we stayed, but somehow we got lost without our (un)trusty iPhones, thus taking a rather hilly 5 mile run through the neighborhoods of Nimes. Luckily, we finally found the gardens in the end, and we got to experience them from the top of the hill back down to the valley below. The fountain in the photo above was so lovely and unique that we returned after our showers (or bath if you are Bobby) and took some photos.
Located in the heart of the city is the Arena of Nîmes, a Roman amphitheater built in 70 AD. Unlike many other Roman arenas, this one is still used today. Although controversial, the city holds two annual bullfights in the arena, as well as other concerts and events. It can hold over 16,000 spectators and what really sets it apart is its removable cover and heating system. I wonder what the Romans would think?!
Outside of the arena stands the statue of Christian Montcouquiol, a German matador nicknamed “Nimeño I”, who fought bulls throughout Europe in the 1970s and 80s. He is famous for defeating all six bulls in the Nimes arena in 1989, after another bullfighter was injured. Unfortunately, just a few months later, Nimeño I was launched into the air fighting a bull in the Arles, France arena, fracturing his spine and remaining partially paralyzed. Although he gained most of his mobility back, Montcouquiol committed suicide in 1991. In Nimes, he is considered a legendary bullfighter and I think the statue is pretty striking.
Nimes was smaller than I expected, but I think it would be a great location for an Olmsted scholar to complete his/her studies. There are numerous outdoor cafes, the people are really welcoming, and there are always people out and about at all hours.
As I mentioned above, I first learned about the Pont du Gard in architecture school at the University of Texas. I never dreamed that I would ever move to Europe, let alone see a lot of these Roman structures first hand. But, I made it! If Nimes was smaller than I imagined, then the Pont du Gard was much larger (I guess I should say taller) than I ever thought. I guess it’s hard to understand the scale of a structure like this from a book……..
It was rather expensive to see the Roman aqueduct (18 Euro), but that includes the entire park and parking. We didn’t know there was a “park” around the bridge, but we later figured out that it’s actually a popular waterhole of sorts for European vacationers. I guess if you want to go swim in a river, why not have a lovely view?
I had two goals coming to France: seeing the Pont du Gard (check!) and visiting the lavender fields near Avignon. Unfortunately, we were about two weeks too late. We drove around and saw several fields, but the lavender had already been harvested, leaving behind short greenish-brown bushes. Bummer. To make up for our disappointment, we pushed ahead to Aix-en-Provence, where we drowned our sorrows in macaroons and lots and lots of pastry cream.
We found a place called Paul’s, which we later figured out was a chain pastry store. Normally, you’d think that with a chain, the quality of the goods would suffer, but this wasn’t the case. We generally don’t love macaroons, but we found these extra-large macaroons to be the perfect consistency with amazing fillings. The pastry cream, of which Bobby is a connoisseur, was the best I’ve ever had. We’re certainly not experts by trade, but that’s our expert “we’ve-eaten-a-lot-pastries” opinion.
Our friends the Ahlstroms, other Olmsted Scholars from Bobby’s class, actually lived in Aix-en-Provence, but we also missed them by a few weeks, as they moved back to the States. Without expert guides, we took to the streets to experience the city the best way we knew how – by foot. We fell in love with this French town. Every street was lined with cafes and cute shops. We even bought a few pieces from a vintage home furnishings store for a very reasonable price!
That’s it for part one; we’ll be bringing you the French Riviera shortly!