Monday, August 1, 2011

Aqueducts, Alps and Silence

After our trip back in time in Carcassonne, we were off even further back, to see the Pont du Gard near Nimes. We rose early and packed the tent and bike the fastest we’ve done it in awhile. There was a long day ahead and we wanted a headstart.

Riding through the French countryside in the light of 8am was awesome. We rave about the rides through these areas but cool air and sharp new light gave a whole new feeling to the ride. My sunflower fields were only just waking up, and the never-before-seen lavender fields smelt amazing as the heat hit the dew. We stopped only once for petrol and arrived at the Pont du Gard (after driving through a random parade not long before) around lunch time.

The Pont du Gard is the longest and most impressive surviving stretch of a once 50km-long aqueduct built by the Romans over 2000 years ago to bring water to the city. The three levels of arches are not only impressive in size and beauty, but in the fact that the entire aqueduct was built in only 5 years. Without modern computers to calculate the engineering of the structure, the Romans had water travelling all that way without relying on a downhill slide to do so.

I’ve studied the structure off and on in Classical Studies, at school and the few Uni papers I did, so while it added an hour to our day’s journey, I couldn’t not go. It’s not ‘just’ a bridge either, as Courts found out. When you pay the exorbitant 15 Euro parking fee you actually get access to museums, a film, the normal souvenir shops and cafes, the Pont itself, and guarded swimming areas as well as picnic grounds and 7km of walking trails. We stuck with just having lunch and marveling at the monument (which is way, way cooler in person than any picture will have you believe) but the river below with it’s pebbled shores, swimmers and kayakers dotting the water definitely called to us.

When we eventually got back on the bike 2 hours later, we followed the GPS until we saw signs for Lyon, the city closest to our final destination for the day, a tiny village called Cormatin. Once we knew the signs for Lyon were regular and reliable, we turned the GPS off to save battery and let the signs lead the way. Somewhat of a mistake, as it turned out.

We think the signs were some sort of ‘scenic route’ because as we climbed into the Rhone Alps and the temperature started to drop for the second time in 2 days, we turned the GPS on again to find that an hour had been added to our estimated arrival time. Sore bums, tired necks (it’s hard work staying upright in that wind) and stiff knees were not pleased to find this out. We decided to follow the GPS again and it was relatively smooth sailing from then on, despite a short trip the wrong way up a one way hill and a resultant trip through an unknown town somewhere between Lyon and Cormatin.

When we turned off the motorway and started to pass through small towns again there was a lot of relief. Signs for Cormatin appeared and we started following the directions given to us by Sue and Cees, the hosts at our campsite. Sue and Cees have been lovely ever since we found their website many many months ago. At the time we were just looking for a one night stopover near Lyon, the first of two enroute from Barcelona to Amsterdam. When La Tuilerie Chazelle came up in the search however, we made special effort to stay longer.

We were not disappointed. The campsite is tiny, 6 tents maximum, in a field behind the house where Sue and Cees live. They have 2 Gites as well, villas you can rent instead of tent space. There is a toilet and shower block with a fridge and power points you can use. We can leave our phone there to charge and not worry about it being stolen! The field is dotted with molehills, a novelty that was not lost on us (There are no moles in New Zealand, never seen a molehill in my life) and the next door fields filled with cattle.

When we arrived, Sue and Cees showed us around, armed us with 2 folders full of information about the surrounding areas, and left us to it. We put the tent up in the furthest corner of the field and listened to the countryside silence. The silence, that is, of grass in the breeze, cattle chewing, birds chirping and the occasional, very distant hum of a car. Perfect.

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