From Trop Chaud to Châteaux!

Our second stop on our trip was Nîmes, a city in the south east corner of the  Languedoc region, but it is more associated with Provence.  It’s in southern France but not on the Mediterranean, and it’s known for its roman architecture and the best preserved roman amphitheater in the world!  One of our French friends told us that it’s the hottest city in France, and we definitely felt it.  It was hot hot hot!  We went from weather in the 70s and a pleasant coastal breeze in Nice to that kind of 85-degree weather that makes you want to wear as few clothes as possible.  Yay for dresses!

the arena in Nîmes at night

The super hot weather didn’t stop us from having a great time, though!  We toured the arena and learned that Nîmes was conquered by Julius Caesar and became a Roman colony, named Colonia Augustus Nemausus after Julius Caesar’s son Emperor Augustus and Nemausus who was Gallic.  The city was an example of the fusion of Gallic and Roman cultures.  It was a pretty important center for the Romans, and the amphitheater (built around 100AD) had a lot of events like animal fights (man vs. animal), gladiator fights, and the executions of those condemned to death, which was done by either throwing them unarmed to wild animals to be ripped to shreds, or forcing the condemned to kill each other.  Gross.  Apparently ‘arena’ means ‘sand’ in latin, and the sand in the arena was necessary for a few reasons: to soften the falls of the gladiators and fighters, to deafen the hoof sounds of the animals, and to soak up blood.  The sand was turned often because of the blood.  This arena is one of the 20 largest in existence and is the best preserved.  It is still used for events today (but I don’t think they kill anyone there anymore).

We also saw the Maison Carré, the Tour Magne, and the ruins of Diana’s Temple.

Maison Carré

Diana’s Temple

inside Diana’s Temple

the gardens

The Tour Magne. You can go up the stairs inside and have a nice view of the city from the top!

Maison Carré at night

We spent one of our days in Nîmes at the Pont du Gard, an hour bus ride away from the city.  The Pont du Gard is the largest Roman aqueduct in the world!  I was there during my first trip to France when I was 16, but I wanted Igor to see it, too.  We had a nice picnic and I dipped my feet in the water in the river below it.  It was nice, especially since it was so hot!

Despite the strong Roman influence, we actually found Nîmes to have more of a Spanish flavor than an Italian one.  There were lots of tapas restaurants with sangria and we had two really delicious dinners there!  It’s also a pretty small city, and it seems like tourist season hadn’t really started yet (or maybe it’s just less of a tourist destination in general).  It was really nice to be somewhere calm and not crowded, and feel a little bit more like a local instead of eating at restaurants filled with other tourists like on the Côte d’Azur.  There were plenty of young people and a good amount of places to eat and hang out at night, and even a movie theater that had movies in original English version! (We saw Dark Shadows.)  The city was also really clean and in general visually pleasing with a great mix of Roman architecture and beautiful modern influences too (like cool straw roof thingys in the park).  We really liked the feel of Nîmes!

our exceptionally delicious meal of tapas (chorizo, ham, sheep cheese, calamari, chicken, salad, sausage, sardines, shrimp, gazpacho, samosas) and sangria!

vineyards are everywhere in Provence! We saw a lot from the bus on the way to the Pont du Gard

After two days in Nîmes, we headed north to the Loire Valley to visit some châteaux!  We stayed in Tours, one of the larger cities in the Loire Valley, which has a lovely old town with cool buildings from the 15th and 16th centuries, and lots of nice green spaces and pretty fountains.  It is also known as the ‘town of 30 markets’, and there are multiple markets every day throughout the city.  We went to one and got some amazing bread with olives and chorizo in it, a bottle of homemade pear juice, exceptionally good pain au chocolat, and my favorite cheese ever, Valençay.  After the market, we spent the afternoon exploring the city.  Here are some highlights:

Place Plumereau in the old town

The cathedral in Tours was beautiful!

inside the cathedral

Balzac was inspired by this house

I especially like the little grumpy snail man on the top right

me and my favorite cheese!

The Tour Charlemagne – this tower used to be part of Saint Martin’s Basilica, which originally took up two blocks of what is now modern day Tours. The only other remaining part is the clock tower down the street. Now it’s a street with shops and businesses, and there’s a new basilica across the street that was built in the 19th century

Hôtel de Ville

even the post office door in Tours has castles on it!

I got pork’s knee for dinner. The couple sitting next to us was impressed because they thought Americans only eat hamburgers and hot dogs

Tours at night

Our second day in Tours was dedicated to château viewing.  We signed up for a tour in a minibus (since it’s hard to get to most of the castles without a car) and saw four châteaux in one day – Azay le Rideau, Villandry, Chambord, and Chenonceau.  My favorite was definitely Villandry because the gardens were incredible.  We didn’t even go in the château because there is so much to see in just the gardens!  The one hour the tour allowed us wasn’t enough.  Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to go back to the Loire Valley someday.  There are worse things.

Azay-le-Rideau

The château was built in the Italian style during the 16th century by Gilles Berthelot, the Treasurer-General of Finances during the reign of François I

inside the château

I think this is hilarious

Château de Villandry

The gardens were huge! They had flowers, cabbages, herbs, even hedges shaped like hearts. Also there was a giant forest with walking paths, some greenhouses, and a labyrinth!

This was my favorite garden within the gardens, the ‘Sun Garden’

I love poppies and bumblebees!

Château de Chambord, the biggest renaissance château in the Loire Valley

The famous double helix staircase

sign of King François I

the queen’s bedroom

I’m pretty sure these are original 16th century bed hangings. Crazy.

the roof was probably the most beautiful part of this castle

last but definitely not least, Château de Chenonceau!  This château was really well kept up and every room was decorated and furnished, partly because it’s privately owned (which means no free entry for us, but it was totally worth the entrance price!).  It’s called the ‘Château des Dames’, or ladies’ château, because it was residence of Diane de Poitiers, Henry II’s favorite mistress, and later Catherine de Medici who kicked Diane out when her husband died.  Centuries later it belonged to a few other ladies who renovated it and even ran a hospital out of it during the first World War

There were also gardens, created by Diane de Poitiers, which were super modern during her time (mid 16th century)

The fireplace is engraved with H and C for Henri and Catherine, which when intertwined form D for Diane. This is in Diane de Poitier’s bedroom

mermaids! in François I’s drawing room

The castle was filled with notable works of art by Tintoretto, Veronese, Van Dyck, Rubens, etc. I like this one of the Three Graces

Louis XIV’s drawing room

I want this bed

One of the crests on the ceiling of the ‘Five Queens’ Bedroom.’ There was one crest for each of Catherine de Medici’s five daughters or daughters-in-law

This entire room smelled heavenly because all of those lilies are real!

Overall, I’d say it was a pretty good day!  Next stop: Nantes!

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