Sunday, 5 July 2015

Avignon and Chateauneuf du Pape

The Roman aqueduct carried water to Nimes 2,000 years ago
This morning we woke up very early to get the TGV train from Paris to Avignon. The double-decker train went an average of 290km/hr and we got to Avignon within two hours and 40 minutes.

The Pont du Gard is the span of three A380 plans nose to tail
Once we arrived we were met with a heat wave, dry and hot, 34 degrees. It was oppressive hot, but not as physically sapping as Hong Kong humid summer heat, which is probably why I fared better than most of the other travelers on our tour.

We didn't waste any time and made our way to Pont du Gard, an aqueduct that was constructed in 1st century BC by the Romans.

The bridge, known as Guard Bridge, is part of the Nimes aqueduct, a 50km long structure to carry water from Uzes to Nimes. The incline is only 17m which probably explains why it took 27 hours for water to travel from one end to another.

Many locals beat the heat by playing in the river below
What's so amazing is that Roman engineers were so precise with their measurements using simple technology. Some 1,000 workers constructed the aqueduct that took 15 years to build, and in the end carried 200,000 cubic metres of water a day that were then disseminated to various districts.

The bridge span is the length of thee A380 planes nose to tail, and is the same height as the Statue of Liberty.

However, by the 5th century the aqueduct was not well maintained and mineral deposits accumulated on structure, making it eventually impossible for water to make its way to Nimes.

The red wine from Brotte is in a funny bottle
In the 18th century, a road was added on the second of the three levels of the aqueduct, mostly for transportation purposes, and later on it became a tourist destination.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Pont du Gard being named a Unesco world heritage site.

An interesting factoid is that denim for Levis Strauss came from Nimes, where the material for sails were made for boats. Hence the strong blue material became known as denim, or de Nimes.

We then visited the wine region of Chateauneuf du Pape, a winery called Brotte. We were told that the area is the second largest wine region in Cote du Rhone, known for making fruity, easy-drinking mostly red wines.

Practically every piece of land that was not inhabited was used to grow grapes -- not a single garden was seen. Mostly grenache is grown here, a long with some 13 other varietals.

Posters advertising various theatre shows in Avignon
We tried Brotte wines, with the red in a distinctive wobbly-looking bottle. It is a soft, fruity, round wine that's best drunk young. There's no vintage because the wine is blended in order to keep the taste consistent.

The founder of the winery was the first to develop a way to bottle wines, which changed the wine business here, as the wine was originally sold in batches and then bottled.

Afterwards we headed to our hotel, which is next to the Pope's Palace in Avignon. We'll find out more about the palace tomorrow, but in the meantime we had a great time having dinner and watching the various street performers who are here as part of Festival D'Avignon 2015.

Mrs Doubtfire was a funny entertainer
Most were in crazy costumes or tried to literally drum up interest to get people interested in actually buying tickets to their shows, while others handed out leaflets. One of our favourite performers was a guy who was a spitting image of Mrs Doubtfire -- who sat on a senior's scooter offering to promote shows -- for a price!

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