Nîmes – lundi, le 1er octobre
Wake up call at 6:00, down to breakfast at 6:30 (I’ll will be missing this, but in France it’ll be café et croissants and maybe a little weight lost (ha!). Isabella was right there in the lobby to go-between us and the taxi driver (who was exactly on time). She also brought me a copy of a book she’d recommended “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”, so I’ll have something good to read from now on, since the Richmond Public Library’s online download doesn’t recognize me for some reason.
The taxi took about a half hour and cost. 4870HUF ($25) which was about what we’d have paid for the airport shuttle … but it was quicker, without stops at other hotels. So we got to the airport by 8:45 for our 10:10 flight … plenty of time for check-in, security (another nice mini-massage!), a slow walk to gate A7, a wheelchair request at CDG (which as it turned out didn’t get done), a restroom stop, and a cappuccino before boarding at 9:50, and all passengers getting settled. I didn’t get to use the wifi because it was available in the main terminal, but not at the gates area (who knew? … not me!). Once aboard things slowed down as the pilot announced the need to “back away from the gate and check engine #1”. So we did, and when the engine was tested we heard a sound like in NASCAR when the crew removes or tightens the lug nuts (sort of a really slow dentist’s drill) … a sound I’d never heard on a plane before. At 10:50 the pilot announced “pas de problème“, and after a 35-second run down the strip, we were airborne at 11:00 (about 45 minutes late), no problem … our train didn’t leave for Nîmes until 4:00-ish.
Good-bye Hungary … you were so pleasant, I’m looking forward to coming back!
I realize that I have had colleagues, acquaintances, friends, family … and friends who have become family … I’ve just left four of those back in Vác and Budapest.
Arrived in Paris CDG at 12:45, and had to wait a bit for the wheelchair assistant (Marod), and again met such kindness and fantastic attitude. Talk about customer satisfaction, they do it right! I’m sure all travel attendants are the same, but this trip was my first experience with it. Marod was his name, and he took us, Jo Anne and I, to get our luggage (checked this time), then walked us all the way to the SNCF (French Rail) station right in or under the airport. It would have taken us so long to navigate the baggage claim and the walk. Marod handed me off to Treet who helped me compose the tickets … no, really he did all the work. Then he dropped us off at a snack bar called “class’croute” and to return closer to 16:00 (4:00pm) to take us to the correct track. We bought sandwiches (mine was smoked salmon and herbed crème fraîche … yes, it’s a snack bar!), located the WC, found the horaire, and Jo Anne changed some money. At exactly 16:20 Treet reappeared to take us to Voie 4 (Track 4) … yes I was up and waiting at the door, getting just a bit nervous with only eight minutes to go before departure, but again it was “pas de problème” and we took the elevator down to track level and had to wait maybe two minutes for our train TGV Duplex #5118 to arrive. Treet guided us to our seats, loaded the suitcases and away we went!. I’d bought 2ème classe tickets at $147 each, and the seats were so comfortable, the car so clean, and the ride so smooth, that I cannot imagine how much better first class could be. Arrival in Nîmes is about four hours away at 20:02 after passing through Lyon (Part Dieu station), Valence, Montpelier, and Narbonne on the way to Toulouse, the final destination.
We were met by a SNCF representative who helped me off the train. He suggested a taxi, but the hotel Cheval Blanc was only about three blocks away (and I hadn’t really walked today), so we decided to hoof it. The temperature at 8:15 was nice and the walk wasn’t so bad. The hotel was not like what I remembered from all the student groups we brought here. It has expanded into about four other adjacent buildings to become very comfortable and attractive. Plus it opens onto the square directly in front of les Arènes de Nîmes (the ancient Roman arena). Our third floor bedroom (yes, there’s an elevator) has a window with that outstanding view.
There is a Cheval Blanc restaurant next door, but not part of the hotel. We studied the menu posted outside and saw several things, so went in. We decided to order nothing but appetizers … what a good idea. We had: moules (mussels baked in garlic butter), escargots (yep, snails in butter and parsley), and lastly a toasted chèvre (goat cheese) salad with pine nuts. Oh my! A small carafe of a local red wine and a bottle of water and the meal was complete. We didn’t need coffee or dessert – although the menu selections looked delicious! Final price … 40€.
Sorry one of the dishes was half-empty … but they smelled so good when put in front of us that we got carried away!
To end the day we strolled around the arena before returning to the hotel … it was almost midnight, but we didn’t start dinner until 21:30 (9:30pm).
Nîmes – mardi, le 2 octobre
Woke at about 8:00 to school children on the move in the square below … brought back memories. Out for breakfast at Bar de la Bourse just on the west side of the arena. Jo Anne got us a pain au chocolate each and a cafe au lait – small for me. Cost – 2,40€ the pastries, and the coffees 2,20 and 2,70€. She went inside to use the toilet … and came right out saying “C’est un pissoir! (no translation needed, right?). Then,when I asked the owner where women “go”, he said that there was a “sit down” there too, in the same room. So Jo Anne went back to the hotel. Good thing because I’d forgotten to turn in the key when we left … she retuned at 11:20 after going to the pharmacy and the bank. Next stop a walk-walk-walk to try to locate an Orange store to buy a phone (I know how Hannibal’s elephants must have felt). Noon – success! It was in La Coupole shopping mall along with FNAC, clothing stores, pharmacies, and a market (food & provisions) on the rez-de-chaussee (ground floor). We’d visited all three floors … it is a large place. Jo Anne got the phone she wanted plus a lesson in how to use it … cell phones are still a mystery to me, I’ll have to come in to this century and get one too! Tried out the phone, but could not call Jamie, so back to Orange. At 14:15 we finally left La Coupole, and, since we’d passed through its market area, went straight to lunch at a restaurant I’d seen about five hours earlier. They’d had a menu board listing Moules frites … and, I am a fool for moules! We both had a bucket of mussels, French fries, some red wine, water (of course), a creme brûlée, and an expresso – total 38€.
Les moules frites
|Oh … I did not enjoy those mussels at all!
After lunch Jo Anne wanted to visit some of Nimes’ historic sites like the Maison carree and the Jardins de la Fontaine, but since I had been here numerous times I chose to go to the square called Esplanade Charles de Gaulle and people-watch and read. We met at about 19:00 (7:00pm) for a Kir, then had dinner at 20:30 in the same place as last night. I had foie de veau (liver in a parsley sauce), Jo Anne had rabbit, and we finished with coffee. Again we met another traveler, a nice lady from Rio de Janiero, Brazil, be ause she was trying to take a photo of herself in front of a restaurant logo … so we helped, and wound up exchanging emails.
Packed tonight because tomorrow we leave for a villa in Uzès – yes, a “villa” until we return here on October 9.
Nîmes – mardi, le 9 octobre
Oh how I hate to leave this sweet old house with all the bells in the surrounding towers! Breakfasted at 8:00 on bread, jam, coffee and a pear. Cleaned up the kitchen, tossed all dead sunflowers, stripped linens from the beds, took trash to the bin around the corner, and made the house look as if we’d never been there. Jamie brought the car to the lot just behind the house (didn’t have to move the luggage far). Nîmes is only about 24k from Uzès, so the trip only took about a half-hour, not including a U-turn so Jamie could photograph a herd of sheep in a field. His friend, Loryn Brazier (a Richmond artist), will probably use the photos as subjects for her oils.
Arrived at Hotel Le Cheval Blanc at 13:30, but the rooms wouldn’t be ready until 14:00, so off to lunch we went. Chose the mussels place from last time so that I could indulge again. Jo Anne had calamari, Penny and Jamie had blanquette de veau with noodles. Mine came with my first crème caramel (flan in Spain) as dessert, and we all had coffee. Of course I asked the French ladies sitting next to us to take our photo (with some “there she goes again” eye-rolling from Jamie) – but they didn’t seem to mind a bit.
Checked in to find that our room had been made up as a queen bed, instead of as two twins – so we “rearranged” the sheets a bit … all is good. Jo Anne called home, Penny took some of her meds, Jamie went down for a nap, you know what I did, right? After a bit, Jo Anne and Penny headed further into town. Penny wanted to see the Maison Carrée, and Jo Anne wanted to find a book store. After they left, that nap idea sounded good to me too!
Well I came to at 18:30 just before Penny and Jo Anne returned saying that it was time for dinner … see I’m not the only “foodie” in the group! They had scouted the area west of the amphitheatre and located several eateries that had the meats that Jamie had been looking for. So off we went by 19:30 and found four interesting places. Jo Anne wanted a salade niçoise so she chose a popular place called L’Aventure … and it was a good choice. For some strange reason, I was not particularly hungry – yes, me, not very hungry. I did see the waiter taking beers to a neighboring table, and they looked so frosty and good that I ordered one (called 1664) and it was good. Sounds strange but with it I had an Assiette melon avec jambon de Serrano (slices of cantaloupe with Spanish ham – like Virginia’s Smithfield but not quite as sweet and nutty). It was the perfect choice … light but satisfying. Jamie chose entrecote frites and a salade de tomates on the side (steak, fries and a huge sliced tomato salad). Penny and Jo Anne split a salade niçoise and a pizza aux champignons (a Niçoise salad and a mushroom pizza). The three of them shared a carafe of red wine. Everything was good, and I think we were fortunate because I hadn’t expected so many places to be open on a Monday night, even in a tourist town.
|The symbol of Nîmes is a crocodile, so we were glad to find this fountain.|
Back to the hotel by 22:00 to adjust the suitcases to be ready to be at the train station by 7:00. Off to Paris in the morning!