September 6th, 2013 – Sunny
PONT DU GARD, UZES
The most ideal method of travel around Provence was to drive. However, since I could not drive manual transmission we were not prepared to shell out triple cost for an automatic transmission vehicle. Instead we decided to attempt the “near impossible” by traveling by bus to Pont du Gard!
The central bus station was about 200 meters from Gare d’Avignon-Center tucked underneath a near empty building. The bus station itself was dim lit, relatively quiet, graffiti-filled, and downright scary in certain places (a French ghetto?). FYI: A bus station official told us that the station was being renovated/moved later that week. There were about 20 or so people in queue for the A15 bus, and by their spoken language most of whom were tourists. Fares were only 1.50 euros for a 45 minute bus ride to Pont du Gard, and the yellow Edgard coach was more than comfortable for such journey.
Many school kids hopped on the bus along the way at small villages, and it was a treat to look outside to see the Provence countryside – some of which was neatly organized into countless rows of perfectly-aligned grapevines that extended beyond the horizon. We reached our destination at a big turnabout and 3/4 of the passengers vacated the bus for Pont du Gard. We promptly checked the bus schedule posted at the bus stop since buses ran extremely infrequent (~every 2 hrs). Luckily it was still early in the morning and the sun was still half-asleep (18-20 degrees?) which made the 15 minute walk from the bus stop tolerable.
The visitor center at Pont du Gard had just opened when we reached the ticket booth, and needless to say the facility was nearly empty since we were probably one of the first visitors of the day there. The door to the mini-museum was unlocked so we started our Pont du Gard adventure by learning about the engineering and history of not just Pont du Gard, but the surrounding Roman aqueduct system. By the time we returned to the visitor center it was significantly more populated than when we first arrived. A leisure 5-minute walk down the well paved path later, a majestic 3-tiered aqueduct dominated the entire landscape. It was particularly awe-inspiring that this ancient structure was built almost 2000 years ago! We crossed the Gardon River via the lower tier of Pont du Gard (which also served as a bridge) where I spent some time photographing this UNESCO monument from different perspectives along the river’s edge.
After a 2-3 hour stop over at Pont du Gard we found ourselves once again at the traffic circle waiting for our bus. Instead of returning to Avignon we decided to push forward to visit Uzès on the A15 (toward the Alès direction). To be honest I had no idea what to expect from Uzès because I didn’t think we would have time to visit another town after Pont du Gard (but I remembered Uzès being recommended on a few travel forums). I was slightly worried upon reaching Uzès because the town was so tiny and the next bus weren’t scheduled to depart for another 4 hours!
On first impression Uzès was small but a very picturesque town. Streets and buildings were well maintained yet its rustic countryside atmosphere was kept intact. We wondered aimlessly down streets and alleyways until we arrived at a giant square flanked by countless cafes and restaurants. How was it possible for such a small town to sustain so many food establishments?! We enjoyed a beautiful lunch along with a couple glasses of Provence wine. Refreshed and motivated (to work off the foie gras salad lol), we directed ourselves to the tourist information center (Thanks Google Maps!) where we were provided a map along with a suggested route for a self-guided walking tour.
As we walked past the various attractions indicated on the walking tour map, we passed Uzès’ city hall, a perfectly kept medieval castle, and a small church with a leaning tower similar to the one in Italy (just way smaller)… all within 1.5 hours by foot! It seemed like every corner we turned in this petite village of Uzès we were greeted with another unique photo opportunity. As I feasted on Uzès with my camera we were eventually led back to the giant square where we first began our walking tour. Surprisingly, the once packed restaurants that lined the square were still full of patrons long past lunchtime. We had no intentions of stopping by these restaurants until J spotted a colorful sign that read “Artisan Gelato”… since it was another boiling day she received little opposition from me when she proceeded to order a beautifully arranged dessert art. 15 euros later we slowly made our way back to the bus stop via winding alleyways.
It felt like the entire town was trying to catch the bus because there were about a hundred other locals waiting at the bus stop… until J (being her usual observant self) noticed that most people at the bus stop were students. (I would have to say I had a hard time judging the age of many French people… male or female… because they all dress so fashionably mature and everyone in France are so damn beautiful). I began to worry that we might miss our bus because it would fill up before we could hop on, but luckily most students seemed to take the bus toward Nimes instead. When the A15 (Avignon) bus arrived everyone was able to get on… however, the bus filled up as it traveled towards Avignon and there were a few stranded tourists at the Pont du Gard stop (eek… a 2 hour wait!).
We were so exhausted from our fulfilling day trip that by the time we returned to Avignon all we wanted to do was… nothing. We quickly purchased a bottle of cheap wine at the supermarket Carrefour along with a couple of sandwiches at a random street-side cafe, and utilized our hotel bed as a giant dining table 🙂