The bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. The bus driver, an old, grumpy, not morning person, slammed the doors and drove off before I could even ask, “Où est…?”
I looked at the old man, my only companion. He looked at me. It was obvious we were both going to the same place. We wanted to go to Pont du Gard, the Roman aqueduct that was used to carry water to the Roman city of Nîmes. He started walking in one direction and I followed, assuming that the old man knew where he was going. But he led us to a dead end, so I started walking the other way. Then he followed me, assuming that I knew where I was going. But I was also wrong.
We looked at each other. Well. We walked in opposite directions. And, eventually, we both found our way to the left bank of Pont du Gard. Now, I got there very early in the morning. Like 8:30 in the morning. But it was magnificent. I highly recommend going when you are the only person there. I didn’t like the site as much as when it was crowded.
The first thing I did was climb up to the panoramic view point on the left bank. It’s quite a hike. The path isn’t well-marked and the terrain is rough and rocky. Since I was the first one to walk these paths since the daybreak, I found myself with thin, sticky webs tangled in my hair. One spider was still attached. Maybe he was hoping to see a panoramic view of the Pont du Gard too.
After fighting through prickly brush (which was unlike anything I’d seen in America) and tripping over a million rocks, I ended up at the top of this cliff. In America, there would be a guard rail to prevent people from falling, dying, and having their estate sue the national park. In France? Nothing. There was nothing between me, nature and the incredible Pont du Gard.
I went further into the site, up and down different nature trails. I only had a rudimentary map and really poorly marked trails. I saw portions of other aqueducts and beautiful wild flowers. But then I wanted to get back. I had to rely on my sense of direction to get me back, as there was no cell service, no detailed map and I didn’t want newspapers to read, “American Tourist: Dead in Woods After Walking Opposite Direction of Civilization.”
As I started to walk back, I heard a rustling in the bushes. I hadn’t seen a soul the entire time, which was over an hour and a half. But this wasn’t a person. In Maine, I might assume that it was a moose, but it sounded too small to be a moose (and I don’t think they have Mediterranean Moose). A rabbit? A bird? Oh my goodness. If it’s a snake, I am screaming and running up a tree. What I saw was even stranger…
A cat. A cat in the middle of nowhere. There aren’t any houses near this place. It’s all wilderness. Where did the cat come from? Then it hit me. This cat was probably a feral cat. He looked at me from one point of the path. I looked at him. We started at each other for ten minutes, wondering what the other was going to do. He sat down and seemed to watch me in a bemused way. Eventually, he got bored and walked away.
I walked away too, but I heard noises in the bush for a few feet. He decided to follow me, but then grew bored of this activity too and disappeared. I returned to the base of Pont du Gard and then headed to the museum, movie and exhibition. Did you know that if you walk to the site, everything is free? I just had to pay for the bus ticket. If you arrive by car, you have to pay eighteen euro for access to the site, but everything after that (museum, movie, exhibition, etc.) is free. It’s a great deal and I definitely plan on coming back one day. Pont du Gard, for me, was one of the highlights of this trip so far.
I walked into the museum, unsure if I was allowed to be there. I was unsure because I was the only one there. It was a good sized museum, but no one was working. In fact, I don’t think I saw anyone working the museum, movie or exhibition the entire time I was there. It was really bizarre and unsettling. Usually, there are museum workers watching you to make sure you don’t touch the exhibits, but not here. Here, I was allowed to roam at my own pace and pretty much do whatever I wanted. They had some interactive stuff too which I liked (my favorite: the quiz on Pont du Gard at the end – you take it on the computer and it tallies up your score). I also liked how they included observations from famous people (writers, artists, etc.) who have visited Pont du Gard.
I went to the exhibit, which was a modern art display. It modeled after James Joyce’s book, Ulysses. My first thought…someone actually read that book? My second thought…who would make an art exhibit out of that book? It was really interesting because to see the exhibit you had to walk on this scaffolding to look down at this room size maze of wood and metal.
After the strange art display, I went to the movie, which confused many people. The doors were closed and the lights were off, but you were just expected to walk in. At the exact times, the movie started. I think the movie was on an automated timer because, like I said, I didn’t see anyone. It was all mysterious. The movie itself was rather strange because the brochure said it was supposed to be 15 minutes long and involve a dragonfly. What I got was a movie that was 25 minutes long and involved a French girl and her Italian boyfriend. She invites said Italian boyfriend to come to Nîmes and explore the region. She shows him around the Pont du Gard. It was so cheesy and it was definitely from the eighties. They drove around on a moped. Contrary to what I was told in middle school (or maybe it was true then, but not now), I have only seen a handful of people on mopeds. They really aren’t that popular, but in every French book in middle school, everyone was on a moped. This led me to believe that everyone rides mopeds, which is untrue. Most people ride bikes or take the tram or metro or bus. Anyway, the French movie was pretty funny. It reminded me of a video series we watched in high school to learn French regarding a French girl named Armelle and her boyfriend, Pierre.
I packed a lunch and then had a little picnic under the Pont du Gard. I returned to the movie theater to watch the movie in English, just to see if I really understood the movie in French. I was very surprised to see that I understood 90-95% of the French movie. The parts that I had difficulty with were the technical terms, but I felt better when I heard the English portion. There’s one section where the narrator rapidly lists carving tools…and I didn’t know what some of them were in English! Furthermore, when I was listening to them in French, I had the idea. I knew they were tools, but I didn’t exactly know what each tool was. In that sense, my English and French competency was probably the same.
After that, I went to the Mémories de Garrigue, which is a carefully labeled, outdoor museum/exhibition…I’m not sure what to call it. Basically, it gives you a view on the agriculture of the Mediterranean. As you walk along, you’re invited to walk among the crops and see how they are grown. It’s really fascinating. I walked among olive trees and grape vines and mushrooms! I saw lots of interesting things along this trail.
I ventured across the bridge to the right bank. I went up to the right panoramic and found a quiet cliff to hang out on for a bit. I just sat, thought…I can understand why writers are inspired by nature. I was overwhelmed with beauty and awesomeness…and I didn’t even have the words to describe it, but I wanted to. I climbed down and then walked along the Gardon River, which runs under the Roman aqueduct. I sat by the river and put my feet in. It was glorious. My feet were sunburned from the day before and it was very soothing. Children were playing in the river, adults were kayaking, some were swimming.
I went further downstream where the water was calmer and looked into the clear water. I saw fish nibbling on moss on a rock! I could have stayed forever in this place.
But I had to be careful because the bus only left at certain times and I needed to get back to Nîmes. I returned to Nîmes that night, dreaming of returning one day. I do know that this region is absolutely remarkable and I do wish I had more time to visit. I’m fascinated by the nature and the history that it holds.