Nimes and Aigues-Mortes
From failure to triumph. The day started off with a race to catch a train to Nimes. We were too late to purchase a ticket, so we decided to use our rail pass. After arrival in Nimes we had a little over an hour to wait until the train to Aigues-Mortes, so we walked to the Roman Arena, now used for bullfights.
The Nimes arena is even better preserved than its counterpart in Arles. We bought the tickets and made our way up to the very top and circumnavigated the rim of the arena. With the departure time approaching, we clambered down from the arena rim and then walked around the entire arena twice attempting to find the exit. By the time we had exited the arena we only had two minutes left to reach the station. Too short, even if we ran.
Frustrated and disappointed, we attempted to find an alternative destination. Carcassonne? Fully booked. Nice? Too far. We walked out to the tourist office and were given a bus timetable to the Pont du Gard, the huge Roman aqueduct. With more time to spare before the bus' departure we wandered back into the town centre. There we bought a Fougasse Aigues-Mortes. The delicate orange blossom taste was delicious. Maybe, just maybe...
Back at the station we had a choice. Catch the bus to Pont du Gard, or the later bus to Aigues-Mortes. Although the various guidebook entries on the walled city of the Carmague were quite short, their descriptions fascinated me and I felt a strong urge to visit. Beatrice wanted to go to the touristy Cote d'Azur instead, although it was too late to catch even a speedy TGV there.
If Aigues-Morte could develop such a delicious pastry as the fougasse, then it was worth a punt. We caught the bus and, under a grey and spitting sky, passed beautiful tiny towns before turning into the marshy farmlands of the Carmague.
Aigues-Mortes was everything I had hoped for and more. The smell of the sea wafted over the old stone walls. Inside the Roma Gitanes (cowboys) prepared for the upcoming Mary Salomes Feast day by getting drunk and pissing on the city walls. There was a bit of dope too judging by the smell. If you ignored them (and they ignored you, so it wasn't hard), it was easy to imagine a quiet town on the edge of a swamp, isolated from the rest of the world.
We sat down for a late lunch at the Restaurant Minos in the main town square. The 19 Euro three course meal was incredibly good. B raced through the mussels in white wine and cream sauce, while I had a fish soup so full of flavour, even better with the rouille (red pepper mayonnaise). The main was a tender local beef stew for me (only okay), but B had red capsicums (peppers) filled with salted cod, olive oils and garlic (brandade). We ended up sharing it, because it would have been selfish for either one of us to keep such a wonderful combination of sweet capsicum and salty contents to themselves. Dessert was an orange flavoured creme caramel and superb chocolate and mint mousse. We have had many more expensive meals than that one, but this was a meal worthy of a top restaurant.
To burn off all that food (and we were very, very full). We bought tickets for the walk around the city walls. The views around the canals, the farms, the pink saltpans and the old buildings within are stunning. Aiges-Mortes (dead waters in French) feel like it has many stories to tell and was one of the best places that I have ever visted.
We completed our visit by wandering through the confectionary stores. Unfortunately, our stomachs are still too full from lunch to try any of them!
Our original plan was to spend a couple of hours there before taking the train back. We were glad for the extra time afforded to use by the reduced bus schedule. We may not have seen the famous Pont du Gard, but we had seen a magnificent gem that many others would have missed.