May 16, 2014
We planned a few days in Provence and stopped at the Pont du Gard on our way to Avignon.
The bridge was built in the 1st century AD, and is the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges and, with the Aqueduct of Segovia, is 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, standing 48.8 m (160 ft) high. The whole aqueduct descends in height by only 17 m (56 ft) over its entire length, while the bridge descends by a mere 2.5 cm (0.98 in) – a gradient of only 1 in 3,000 – which is indicative of the great precision that Roman engineers were able to achieve using only simple technology. The aqueduct formerly carried an estimated 200,000 cubic metres (44,000,000 imp gal) of water a day to the fountains, baths and homes of the citizens of Nîmes. It continued to be used until the 6th century, with some parts used for significantly longer, but lack of maintenance after the 4th century meant that it became increasingly clogged by mineral deposits and debris that eventually choked off the flow of water.
We decided to bypass Nîmes and continue onto Avignon where we had arranged a small apartment in the center of the walled city. We had all sorts of trouble navigating the one way streets to find the car park closest to the apartment and the owner, a ballet dancer, was in rehearsals so couldn't answer the 'phone. Anyway once we found the car park everything turned out to be quite straightforward. The apartment was quite small but well appointed and in a perfect location right in the center of the city. In effect we only had one day in Avignon but as usual we went to Les Halles for a coffee and croissant before spending the day walking around the myriad of small streets.
Avignon was home to the Popes of the 12th and 13th centuries and the Papal Palace was impressive. We heard someone say that it consisted of empty rooms the size of five football fields so we wandered around the square but didn't look inside the palace. The little streets were very pretty and we stopped by the bridge which was the subject the the song 'Sur le pont, D'Avignon, etc etc). The bridge no longer spans the Rhône but is mainly intact.
There is a famous wind that blows down the Rhône valley called the Mistral and it blew hard for the two days that we were in Avignon. I have never experienced such a strong wind and it stopped on the day we left to go to Aix-en-Provence.
Jenny has a knack of finding little treasures and in Avignon she found a little known place for lunch. It was in the gardens of the Petit Palace and we were the only ones having one of the best salads of our time in France so far.