In which I conclude the chronicle of my travels in southern France (you can also read the first part).
After sending my brother on his way back to the U.S., we visited the village of La Louvière-Lauragais, which has a population of around 50. There is an old church with an unusual belltower and apparently a Black Virgin, though we didn’t get to see it. I marveled again at the ornate interiors of tiny village churches tucked away in the countryside.
We stopped by Molandier, another village, to check out its three-pointed bell-gable (clocher-mur), which had fifteen bells of different sizes hanging in its eleven arches. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to hear them ring at noon because we had to make our lunch reservation at Le Paradis du Pape, a restaurant with erratic hours and extensive gardens.
After lunch, we bid our friends in Mazères goodbye and drove southeast. There was a good view of Carcassonne from the highway. We stopped in Nîmes to visit the Roman arena. It’s cool how 2,000-year-old ruins built by another civilization are still used today for shows and concerts, though the modern equipment does kind of mar the original.
From Nîmes, we drove to Arles. After checking into our hotel, we walked past the Roman arena and had dinner at a crêperie. I had a crêpe with Corsican sausage and cheese. Afterwards, we walked around Arles some more, passing the Roman theater, the impressive doorway of the Cathédrale Saint-Trophime, and the café famously painted by Vincent Van Gogh.
We left Arles and drove to the Pont du Gard, the Roman aquaduct spanning the Gardon river. We arrived right around noon. The sun was beating down mercilessly on aquaduct, tourists, and olive trees. We clambered up and down scrubby hillsides, seeking views of the bridge and occasionally glimpsing a town farther off in the distance. We picnicked under one of the massive arches and then walked across the bridge to climb the trail on the other bank. The aquaduct was certainly impressive; I just wish we could’ve gone swimming in the river.
From the Pont du Gard, we drove to Lyon to stay with other family friends. I’d last been in Lyon when I was studying abroad in Grenoble, not too far away. We ate dinner outside, and then we all went to the circus. I’ve seen some circus arts performances before, but this was my first time (that I can remember) going to an old-school circus complete with big tent and ring. There were no elephants, lions, or trapezes, however. There were some strange storytelling episodes and some okay juggling. My favorite acts were the Russian acrobats on the flexible beam and the man who rode standing on the back of a running horse. Towards the end of the show, a thunderstorm rolled in, and rain pounded on the tent. Lightning flashed in the dark sky as we walked across the field back to the car.
This was my one full day in Lyon. In the morning, we walked by the Gallo-Roman ruins and the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, taking in the view of Lyon spread out below the basilica plaza. Then we took switchbacks and stairs down into the city. We had lunch at the rooftop café of the Musée Gadagne and then walked to the fontaine Bartholdi by the Hôtel de Ville. Eventually we crossed a bridge over the Saône and took the funicular back up the hill to visit the Gallo-Roman museum (now called Lugdunum). I looked at a lot of carved rocks. There were also some lovely mosaics. I particularly liked the remains of a Gaulish calendar, with Gaulish inscribed on bronze.
In the morning, our host François drove me to the train station to catch a 6:30am TGV for Paris. I was a little worried about making my 11:30am flight to Los Angeles because I didn’t have much wiggle room, and although the SNCF strike had ended with the month of June, I was traveling on the day of a “mouvement social,” whatever that meant. My train was a little late getting into the Gare de Lyon, but I transferred right away to the RER. That train was stuffed to the gills, in part with cosplayers headed to the Japan Expo one stop before the airport. I made it to Charles de Gaulle, checked my bag at about the last possible minute, and dashed off to the security checkpoint. When I reached my gate, my flight was boarding, but I’d made it. The Air Tahiti Nui flight crew thoughtfully gave us World Cup match updates (in French only) as we flew over the Atlantic; the passengers cheered for both France and Belgium. I was pleased when France won the World Cup a little over a week later.