Monday, October 3, 2016

2016 Tour de France Stage 11, Carcassonne to Montpellier, Near Valmagne Abbey

We scheduled time in Sablet this summer so we could watch one or two stages of the 2016 Tour de France. There were three stages where the route provided good options for watching. The first was Stage 11, a 162.5 km flat stage which began in Carcassonne and finished in Montpellier, the second was Stage 12, a 178 km mountainous stage which would begin in Montpellier and finish on top of Mont Ventoux and the third was the 13th Stage, a 37.5 km individual time trial which would run from Bourg-Saint-Andéol to La Caverne du Pont-d'Arc.

After looking at the map and considering what we wanted to do before we left for California, we settled on the first two options. Although being at the finish line in Montpellier was tempting, we chose to find a quieter vantage point where it would be less of a hassle to get to and from. So we headed to the Valmagne Abbey, about 35 km east of the finish line in Montpellier. We figured we could kill two birds with one stone, see a historic abbey and watch the Tour.

Valmagne Abbey seen below is a beautiful Cistercian abbey that was transformed into a wine cellar after the French Revolution. Its magnificent Gothic church has been called the "Cathedral of the Vineyards. The Abbey was founded in 1139 by Raymond Trencavel, Viscount of Béziers. The Abbey was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and given to Benedictine monks. The Abbey joined the Cistercian order two decades later.

The Abbey's downfall came with the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) and Religious Wars (16th century). The extensive damage inflicted by Huguenots on the Abbey in 1575 — which included the smashing of all stained glass — was instigated by the abbot of Valmagne, who had converted to Protestantism.

At the French Revolution in 1789, the last five monks of Valmagne fled just ahead of rebellious peasants, who ransacked and burned the Abbey. In 1791, Valmagne Abbey was sold by the government to a private citizen, who turned it into a wine cellar. This unusual use of the Abbey church saved it from destruction. The Abbey has been beautifully restored and was opened to the public in 1975.

Valmagne Abbey

A view from the Abbey

Young ladies killing time till the caravan arrives

Shirley perched above the crowd to take pictures

View down the road toward the Valmagne Abbey

View east in the direction the caravan and peloton would arrive

The 103rd edition of the Tour de France was scheduled for Saturday July 2nd to Sunday July 24th 2016, and would be made up of 21 stages, visit three neighboring countries, Spain, the Principality of Andorra and Switzerland and cover a total distance of 3,519 km.

The first car in the caravan arrives

Škoda Auto is one of the sponsors of the Tour de France

French TV car

Sponsor car

Patiently waiting for the peloton to arrive

Helicopter heralds the arrival of the peloton

The peloton arrives

The front of the peloton

The peloton

A rider from Santa Rosa, CA based BMC




A Team Sky rider gets liquids from his support car

A straggler rider trying to catch the peloton

BMC support car

Riders bringing up the tail end of the peloton

Trailing riders

192 riders started Stage 11 in Carcassonne.

Final rider

Peter Sagan stormed to victory in Stage 11 as he rode away from the pack with 12 km to go. It was a spectacular finish as overall race leader Chris Froome responded to Sagan's attack. They both took a team-mate with them and rode to the finish where the Slovakian Peter Sagan took his second stage win and significantly consolidated his lead in the points competition signified by the green jersey. Froome gained twelve seconds over his rivals and his hold on the overall lead and yellow jersey.

Team support cars

The road from the Abbey back to where our car was parked

A field of cantaloupes next to our car

If you enjoy the Tour de France, stay with me as we go watch the 12th Stage in Bedoin when the peloton begins their climb up Mont Ventoux.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Visit by Canoe to Pont du Gard

In the morning we walked across the Pont du Gard and then hiked up the trail to get an "aerial" view. After a light meal consisting of food and drinks from the Canteen at the Pont du Gard visitor center, we headed to Collias for our rendezvous to pick up canoes for our trip down the Gardon River to the Pont du Gard. It appears there are several companies that rent canoes, we reserved at the number listed in Rick Steves' Provence and The French Riviera guide book for Collias Canoe.

When we arrived at the location near the large sunflower field shown below, it turned out we had reserved at Canoe Le Tourbillon in Collias. So Rick Steves, if you are reading this, please correct your guide book and change your recommendation to Canoe Le Tourbillon, we highly recommend, or put in the right number for Collias Canoe.

Sunflower field near Collias France

The Gardon River starts in the Cévennes mountain range and flows 133 kilometers before it runs into the Rhône River at Comps, north of Beaucaire. It is the namesake of the department of Gard. Several of its tributaries are also called Gardon.

It is about 8 kilometers from the starting point in Collias to the pick up point north of the Pont du Gard. It takes about one and one-half hours to get to the Pont du Gard and another 30 minutes to go from there to the pick up point.

According to the Canoe Le Tourbillon website, the Gardon River is a calm river (degree of difficulty 1 on a scale of 6), so the canoe trip is suitable for everybody able to swim. The law requires that children be at least 6 years of age to go in the canoe.

Gardon River

They have a number of different types of boats, kayaks for 1 or 2 people, and canoes for 2, 3 or 4 people. You can protect your personal items with you in watertight containers that you take with you in your boat.

Shirley and I resting in our canoe

If you go, bring sunscreen, sunglasses and a pair of shoes that you can wear in the water. If you have to push your boat because of low water levels, you will be happy to have shoes because those stones are quite uncomfortable.

Daughter Tricia with family and Shirley

I wanted to record our trip down the Gardon River but was afraid to risk my Nikon or mobile phone to do this. I was afraid Shirley and I would figure out a way to turn our canoe over. For some reason I figured that Tricia riding with Alvin would be less likely to tip over and lose my mobile phone, my hunch was right, and she shot all of the pictures of our trip down the Gardon River.

First view of the Pont du Gard

Check out the sights as we approach and pass under the Pont du Gard.

Closer view of the Pont du Gard

Taking a break while granddaughter Avery enjoys the cool Gardon River

Water tight container tied to canoe

Approaching the Pont du Gard

Getting ready to pass under Pont du Gard

Under Pont du Gard

Close up of Pont du Gard showing three levels

Young people on rocks under Pont du Gard

Doing flips off the rocks into the Gardon River

Diving into the Gardon River

We made it back to the pick up point on time and headed home. We had not done a water visit to the Pont du Gard before but were very happy we did it and will do it again I'm sure.

Canoë Le Tourbillon
3 Chemin du Gardon
30210 Collias

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Visit to Historic Pont du Gard

With daughter Tricia and family visiting, we planned activities that would interest grandchildren Avery and Caedon and frankly use up their seemingly boundless energy including hiking and swimming as often as we could. We figured a visit to Pont du Gard would be perfect.

Our favorite Roman ruin in the South of France is the Pont du Gard, the aqueduct bridge located in the Gard Department of Languedoc-Roussillon about 60 km (37 miles) from our home in Sablet, between Remoulins and Uzès.

The Pont du Gard is part of the 50 km (31 mile) Nîmes aqueduct constructed by the Romans in the 1st century between 41 and 54 AD to bring water from a spring near Uzès, the Fontaine d'Eure, to the Roman city of Nîmes where it was distributed to fountains, baths and private homes around the city.

On our most recent visit with daughter Tricia and family, we parked in the lot on the Rive Gauche - Left Bank, there is a small charge for parking but access to the bridge is free, and strolled along the path until the Pont du Gard came into view.

View of Pont du Gard as you arrive from Visitor's Center

The 900 foot long Pont du Gard has three levels of arches: six crossing the Gardon River, 11 in the middle tier and 35 smaller arches at the top which support the water channel. The Pont du Gard is 161 feet high above the Gardon river.

Stonework on the Pont du Gard, showing the protruding blocks that were used to support the scaffolding

You can walk across the bottom tier which has been used as a thoroughfare for centuries - in 1285 the bishop of Uzès ordered that a toll be collected from all travelers crossing the bridge.

Shirley and grandchildren Caedon and Avery

The Pont du Gard was built of limestone from nearby Estel quarry that borders the Gardon river's left bank and assembled largely without mortar or clamps. The stones, some of which weigh up to 6 tons, were cut to perfectly fit together eliminating the need for mortar. The cut stone was lifted into place with a human-powered treadmill providing the power for the winch.

View of Pont du Gard from upper trail

Shirley and I always look at the arches and admire the skill it took to design the Pont du Gard without computers and imagine the thankless labor of soldiers, craftsmen and slaves who built the bridge almost 2000 years ago without cranes or other equipment.

Swimmers along the Gardon River near the Pont du Gard

The Aqueduct of Nîmes had a capacity to carry 35,000 cubic meters of water a day that took nearly 27 hours to flow from the spring to Nîmes. The aqueduct descends in height by only 17 m (56 feet) over its entire 50 km (31 mile) length, an indication of the precision the Roman engineers were able to achieve using rudimentary technology.

View south down the Gardon River from the upper trail near Pont du Gard

Bringing water from the spring near Uzès to Nîmes was easier said than done. Although the distance between the spring and the city is only 20 km (12 miles) in a straight line, the Romans built the aqueduct 50 km (31 miles) mostly underground in a long, winding route to cross or circle the natural obstacles of the countryside.

Side view of the Pont du Gard showing the three levels of arches

The Pont du Gard carried water in the channel seen below across the gorge of the Gardon River.

Channel on top of Pont du Gard that carried water across the Gardon River

The Pont du Gard is remarkably well preserved and was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1985.

View of the Pont du Gard from the Right Bank of the Gardon River

The Pont du Gard can be accessed from either the right bank or left bank of the Gardon River. There are several places where you can swim in the river if you so choose.

Another view south of the Gardon River from the Pont du Gard

I remember visits to the Pont du Gard when I was very young, probably in connection with visits to my grandmother's family who lived near Anduze in the Gard Department, and swimming in the Gardon River near the Pont du Gard.

View south down Gardon River from Pont du Gard

View north up the Gardon River from Pont du Gard

Make sure to look at the ancient olive tree on the Rive Gauche - Left Bank on the path to the Pont du Gard from the Visitor Center. The sign by the tree says it was born in 908 and lived in Spain till 1985 when the Counsel General of the Gard adopted the tree and planted it here in 1988.

Ancient olive tree along path to Pont du Gard from Left Bank Visitor's Center

A good way to explore the Pont du Gard is as part of a visit to nearby Duchy of Uzès which is worthwhile. There is a wonderful Marché Provencal in Uzès on Saturday mornings, one of our favorite markets after the Tuesday morning market in Vaison la Romaine.

With our grandchildren visiting, we didn't go to Uzes but rather after grabbing snacks at the Visitor's Center, we headed to Collias France to get canoes to go up the Gardon River under the Pont du Gard. Check back to see my next post where I share pictures of our visit to Pont du Gard by canoe.