Friday, March 4, 2011
A few days ago, we booked a tour through the Tourist Information Office to Nimes, which is only about 35 klm away. We expected it to be a large group on a big coach with lectures given in French over a microphone. We arrived at the disignated departure spot near the Gare to find no one there, no bus, and no apparent tour. Slowly, a few people began to arrive, and finally a battered white van pulled up and a young man got out, opened the doors, and began to sort of look around. Sure enough, this was our tour, and it turned out to be students from the language schools in Montpellier. What a special treat this turned out to be. All of us were from different countries - there was a Swiss forty-something man; another older man from Amsterdam; a bubbly blond woman from S. Africa who had just turned her teenage kids back over to her former husband and was traveling on her own and studying French; a young man from the Czech Republic who has been living and working in Spain for the last 7 years; Natalia, a darling young woman from Easstern Europe somewhere; and a tall Viking-looking but gentle young man from Norway who adopted us and translated the tour for Bill and me into very good English. He has just moved to Montpellier because he is engaged to a French girl and she is employed here. Our guide, Jeremy, was an actor and comedian. He spoke mostly French, but slowly and animatedly and made the tour great fun. I understood about 1/3 of what he said, which was very good, because I am not enrolled in a French language school. So, Bill and I were the only ones not affiliated with a language course. At the end of the tour, Jeremy broke out a bottle of Nimes rose wine and croquants (a very crunchy snack cookiet), and we toasted the Romans who built ancient Nimes.
The city dates back to 2000 BC. There were pre-historic people living in the area which was separated from the Mediterannean Sea by a large salt flat and from northern Europe by the Massive Central mountains. The Romans built a large colosseum in Nimes, and it remains the best preserved of all Roman coloseeums. It is still used twice a year for bull fights during the local Ferias in May and at the time of the grape harvests, vendange, usually in late September. It seats 24,000, which is remarkable because the population of Nimes at the time it was built was only 35,000. Entry for the citizens was free.
The Maison Carre is a beautifully preserved Roman temple built on the Greek model, and was the seat of government and the home of the governing Roman leader. We viewed a pretty "tacky" 3-D movie about the history of Nimes inside. We also visited the Jardin des Fountains where the original massive spring is still bubbling to the surface. This is one of the factors that led to early settlement in the area.
Nimes is considered more "working class" than nearby Montpellier, and the citizens of the latter are considered snobs by the former. There is a great rivalry between the two cities which extends to their local football teams. Nimes was reduced in size by religious and civil wars as well as the Black Death during the Middle Ages. Montpellier is now the larger is population. The Patron Saint of Nimes is St. Cathor, or literally translated, St. Beaver. How about that for an obscure fact?
We arrived back home in time for an evening stroll to the bottom of our hill for a pizza and a glass of wine, of course. This afternoon, our friends from England arrive. We met them when we traveled with Neil and Nadia to Greece about 8 years ago. They'll be here for the weekend, and I have stocked up on regional wines for tasting (as well as serious drinking).