Monday, September 13, 2021

France 2021, Day 5, on the way to Nimes

I knew Friday would be the most stressful day and I am happy to report that we survived and I only became enraged once or twice. Fortunately, the taxi arrived promptly at the hotel door and we didn’t have to walk a kilometer down the steep hill with our luggage in the rain (my mother was sure our wheeled suitcases would take off with us clinging for dear life – I pointed out this would be one way to arrive quickly). He brought us to Avallon, a town 20 kilometers away on the River Cousin, which some feel could have been the Avalon of King Arthur. There were no knights of the Round Table or anything else at the Gare, which, most unfortunately for us, was closed for renovation.
The Arena in Nimes, which still
hosts bullfights!
We were so early for our bus we had to stand in the rain for 45 minutes and it was a great moment when the bus to Dijon came around a corner exactly as promised, although the luggage compartment beneath was jammed full. I had to go to the bus driver and say, “Au secours!” so he would come reorganize all the groceries and luggage other travelers had placed there. The best value of our trip was this regional bus which charged us only E1.50 each to take us more than 100 kilometers to Dijon! I had dreaded this part of the trip, both fearing the bus would not arrive and, if it did, would be full of French peasants with Covid (apologies to my great-great-grandfather Nicholas Pecheux, a French peasant who immigrated to New York from Belgium in the 19th century!). However, the bus was clean and quite comfortable, and most of the time there was only one other passenger. We drove through many picturesque small towns as the bus sped south in the rain (an appealing castle here, an attractive bridge there) and reached Dijon exactly on schedule.

The Dijon train station was bustling but not intimidating. I printed out our tickets for the next leg in the SNCF office and my mother bought a box of PiM’s Biscuits, pointing out they were the same price as at Roche Brothers. There was a rush to get on the Lyon train, which had eight cars, and by the time we got on our designated voiture, all the luggage storage had been snagged, so I had to huddle by the doors with our suitcases, moving out of the way when people came out to make phone calls or use the restroom. In Lyon, we were lucky – we had to switch trains but it was the same track, so we just had to move faster when the train came. This time, I wrestled other people’s bags to make room for ours (“A scooter!” I exclaimed in disgust, pushing it to the back of the rack). The last segment of the trip was only an hour and we arrived in Nimes just after 7.
Outdoor dining in Nimes
I chose Nimes as an essential destination for our trip for two reasons: one is that it plays a big part in one of my favorite books, Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart and the other is that Nimes is considered the most Roman city outside Italy. During the Roman Empire, it was a regional capital and home to 50,000–60,000 people. All the famous monuments we wanted to see were the product of Roman soldiers’ backbreaking work. I wish my Latin teacher, Miss Cox, were still alive to hear about this trip, although I bought her a present when I first visited Bath in the early 90s and she wrote back immediately, expressing appreciation and asking me to remind her who I was! I guess I was not as memorable a student as I had hoped, although she did write one of my college recommendations.
Dinner was another delicious galette
The train station is laid out at the end of a long avenue that leads to Feuchères Square and a prominent fountain. There were outdoor cafes and hotels on both sides as we tiredly pushed our luggage alone and turned left at the fountain. We perked up when we saw the Arena ahead and a sign for Hotel De L'Amphitheatre, which I chose for the positive posts and its proximity to the Arène. The location was great and the distance to the train station was nothing when we had no luggage but when I heard there was no elevator I nearly burst into tears. However, we got our luggage up two flights and collapsed.

After nearly 12 hours of travel, we had little energy but after an hour or so I decided it was time to see Nimes. It was a rollicking Friday night and an area of several blocks around our hotel was full of sidewalk cafes with the menus posted on chalkboards outside and hundreds of diners. We wandered around for twenty minutes, partly enjoying the scene and partly indecisive until we passed the Crêperie La Flambée with just four outdoor tables, one of which we snagged. We were so tired that when the waiter started speaking French to us and tapping his phone we just gazed baffled at him. A cute guy next to us (who later made his girlfriend cry) said, “English?” and when we nodded, said we just needed to show our Covid cards. No one had asked for them since the previous evening so we had forgotten all about them. Our food took a long time to come for such a tiny place but mine was very attractive – it was a galette, which as I may have mentioned before, is a crepe made out of whole wheat. Tonight, mine had chorizo, potato, and cheese that seems to be on every menu, Emmental, which we had to look up.  The chef was wearing a New Zealand All Blacks rugby shirt which made me think of my friend Bettina.


Cath said...

The galette looks yummy. You earnt that after that journey!

Katrina said...

It sounds like you're having a great time. I can hardly believe how cheap that bus trip was!

TracyK said...

The train part of your trip doesn't sound as relaxed as I imagined, but the bus through picturesque town sounds very nice. And the food. You tell the best stories about your travels.

JaneGS said...

That which doesn't kill you...or something like that!

Sounds like you will be stronger after surviving this particular travel day :)

Now I will have to put Nimes on my must-visit list. Roman ruins anywhere are always worth visiting.

Looking forward to reading this rest of your stories about this trip.