Uzes - An Autumn by the Sea - CycleBlaze

November 17, 2018

Uzes

Indian summer looks like it ended yesterday.  Today the temperature dropped ten dregrees and it’s lightly raining this morning, with scattered showers on tap throughout the day.  Tomorrow it is forecast to clear up but drop another ten degrees, and beyond that we see a string of cool to cold days ahead.

We have a short, easy ride today to Uzes, across the Rhône in the Gard department.  At the glacial pace we seem to travel lately, we’ll need about four hours for the ride.  With plenty of time on our hands we decide to lie around in the room a bit longer and hope for conditions to improve.  We finally step out at about 10, happy to see that it’s overcast but no longer raining.  It’s 50 degrees, and will remain at almost exactly that temperature all day long.

What’s the rush? It’s comfy and warm in here!
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Preparing for the worst, we break out the wet weather gear for the first time since leaving Italy.
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The ride begins nicely, on the same road we left town on yesterday on the way to Les Baux.  We’re riding the Route Ancienne to Arles, or something like that; and like most old roads, it’s great cycling - devoid of cars, interestingly nonlinear, rural.  It carries us most of the way to Tarascon, when it merges into an arterial.  

Not long after, we’re apprehensive when we see the road blocked at a circle ahead.  It’s an odd scene, hard to interpret.  There are perhaps fifty people milling about in yellow vests, with numerous cars in and around the circle blockading all of the exits and lines of cars backed up on the spokes.  Not knowing what this means, we’re afraid that we’ll be diverted off on some long detour, the last thing we want to see on a cold, damp morning.

When we arrive though and point hopefully in the direction we hope to pass, folks smile and wave us on.  Hoping for an explanation, I ask if anyone speaks English.  Nope.  Who knows what’s happening here?  What it is ain’t exactly clear.  We’re just happy to get through, and ride on.  One of those mysteries.

On the old road to Arles
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Approaching Tarascon, and booking my plane tree shot for the day early
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It begins sprinkling before we reach Tarascon and the Rhône.  We wonder if we should stop and put our rain boots on, but about the time we decide it’s time, the rain stops.  Then starts again, then stops.  A cat and mouse game with the weather.

We bike through Tarascon efficiently, stopping briefly to admire what looks like an attractive small town and speculate on whether to base ourselves here some year for a few days.  Arriving at the river, we find ourselves facing the fortress - the one we had intended to visit yesterday.  It’s worth a visit - at least it was in 1996, and it hasn’t changed much since then by the looks of it.  We just bike on by though, happy to make the most of a dry spell in the weather.  We have a bigger fish in sight today, and want to be sure we save time for it - Pont du Gard.

Taking temporary shelter in Tarascon
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Tarascon castle is well worth the visit, if nothing more than for the impressive views from up on top.
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We follow the east bank of the Rhône for a short ways north of Tarascon and then leave Provence, crossing the river piecemeal across two dams on either side of a large bar that splits the river just downstream from the convergence with the Gard.  Not long afterwards we leave the riverside road for an excellent cyclepath that will carry us all the way north to Pont du Gard.  

Not long after joining the cyclepath a light sprinkling amplifies to a cold drizzle.  We decide it’s time to stop and layer up further, beneath the large overhang of a warehouse.  We put on our rain boots and watch the weather hopefully.  It doesn’t look like it will stop any time soon, so after it eases up just a bit we start biking again.  The bike path is a perfect place to be for conditions like these - with no cars or road splash to worry about, we can move at our own pace and weave between the puddles.

Not wanting to repeat yesterday’s fiasco, we keep an eye out for lunch before it’s too late.  We find the perfect spot, in Remoulins - a warm, friendly cafe with a sheltered spot for our bikes just outside the window next to our table.  I hustle in, pick a table, and start peeling off wet layers while Rachael is still outside.  The waitress is great - I tell her there are two persons, which she somehow misunderstands as meaning I want two beers.  She returns with them, and after the confusion is cleared pleasantly leaves one and takes the other back without trying to make me feel like a fool.

This huge freighter is drifting his way into the loc’ at the right side of the dam. I’d liked t9 have stayed for the whole show, but it’s not the smart idea in this weather.
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Northbound, along the west bank of the Rhône. We follow it only a short distance before angling northwest along the Gard.
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Crossing the Gard
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Finding a bike lane like this is the most you can hope for on a rainy day.
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We’ve found a nice haven from the rain for a few minutes, and finally decide to don our rain boots before our shoes get any wetter.
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Still raining lightly, and still quite chilly. Could be better, could be worse.
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Tethered here for the amusement of the bikers. Or perhaps it’s the other way around?
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Jen GrumbyFrom the look on its face, I'd say this horse is there to be entertained by passing cyclists.
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2 weeks ago
It’s grey and a bit dark, but still the fall colors shine through.
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One of the many reasons that I love this country. From time to time, the little guy would hop down and start making the rounds, sniffing the ground for any dropped crumbs.
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Leaving our new favorite cafe in Remoulins, we’re gratified to see that it has stopped raining for the moment.  Less than a mile later, we bike into the vast western parking lot at Pont du Gard (there’s one equally large on the east bank).  It must be large enough to hold a thousand vehicles but today there are like two cars in it, and no visitors in sight at the moment. We start biking toward the famous bridge, and come to a gated barricade and a ticket office.  Even in the dead of off season, the office is staffed.  It costs us 13 euros to visit the bridge (and the museum on the opposite bank, if we choose to visit).  I suspect we could have just biked past today, but we’re more than happy to pay our way and support the monument.

Back on our bikes, we see a young couple posing and taking photos of the bridge.  Overhearing their English conversation, we pause to chat with them.  They’re siblings, who grew up near here - dad is American, mom is French.  The young woman still lives near here, and her brother is visiting from his new home in California.  They ask if we were held up by the traffic circle barricades, and when we eagerly ask for more information they let us know it’s a nationwide protest against the high gasoline prices that have resulted from taxes aimed at reducing carbon emissions.  There are thousands of these demonstrations blocking circles around the country today, which explains our experience earlier today outside of Tarascon.

The Pont du Gard  is the most visited ancient monument in France, and must be one of the most impressive engineering feats to have survived through the ages.  A UNESCO world heritage site as well as being designated one of the top ten Grand Sites of France (along with Mont Saint-Victoire, which we visited just a few days ago), the viaduct/bridge is unforgettable.   It is awe inspiring to look up and across the immense structure and contemplate its history, the age in which it was created, and its reason for existence.  Built in the first century AD, it was part of a massive engineering project to create a viaduct to deliver water from Uzes fifty miles south to the Roman city of Nîmes.  It is hard to fathom constructing the giant viaduct with the tools and equipment available two millennia ago; and it is also provocative to consider that this immense project was undertaken for something so mundane as delivering a water supply.  

If you come to visit it by bike, note that you can bike or walk across it (but not drive), so it fits well into a touring itinerary.  I’m still unclear if you actually have to pay to cross, but you should probably plan on it.

Also, we can report that the museum is well worth visiting.  We stopped in mostly to hide out from the rains that had just started up again, but we’re glad we did.  It includes a nonstop presentation of an excellent video in a large, IMAX-like theater that gives historical context on its construction and evolution: after five centuries it fell into disuse as an aquaduct because the enclosed channel clogged up with limestone deposits; it became a toll bridge for about a millennium, until the bridge was modernized in the mid eighteen hundreds.  Its conversion to a pedestrian bridge is a relatively recent development, as part of a package of developments to enhance and protect the site.

The video has no audio track, but is subtitled in French and English.  It is quite creatively done, with illustrations suggesting how the aqueduct was constructed, and demonstrating its great scale (as high as a stack of seven elephants; and wide enough to hold three commercial jet planes queued end to end).  Great for the whole family.  No popcorn though; but perhaps the concession stand was just closed for the winter.  

Finally, Rachael finds it important that I let you know that we came into the theater in the middle of a showing.  When it ended, and the two minute countdown began before the next one began, I suggested that we leave (I wrongly assumed we had seen nearly the whole thing).  She broke into loud, uncontrollable laughter at this, somehow finding it funny that I would walk out in the rain again rather than wait two minutes - I, who endlessly hold us up for photo stops.  It’s the hardest I’ve heard her laugh  all month.

Pont du Gard: as high as a stack of seven elephants; as wide as three jet planes.
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This has little to do with Pont du Gard. We just liked the crazy quilt of colors and patterns.
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Steve Miller/GrampiesWe also love the bark of the plane trees. Very similar to our Arbutus trees here.
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Steve Miller/GrampiesThey do remind you of the arbutus (we called them madronas down in the States), don’t they. Their patchiness is so suggestive, like cloud patterns or ink blots. If you look hard enough, you can see clouds or people in them.
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3 weeks ago
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Included to illustrate the scale. Note the tiny family walking across.
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I think it’s probably not like this in the summer.
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We have the show to ourselves. At the time, I was pleased that the film cast such a light on Rachael; but I see now that it’s because she was taking a photo of me too.
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Part two of a well executed team selfie
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The rest of the ride to Uzes was uneventful, which is what you’d like on a cold, damp day.  We arrived at the usual time, 4:30, and checked into our apartment after being met on the sidewalk by our host.  Too late to see the town, but we’ll be here for two nights so of course there’s time ahead to get a look.  Sure, sure.

Off to dinner. We’re packing umbrellas, just in case.
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The central plaza, Uzes. It looks like a beautiful town. We really should make an effort to see it in the daytime.
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Today's ride: 37 miles (60 km)
Total: 2,576 miles (4,146 km)

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Eva WaltersSo glad you got to Pont du Gard on your travels through southern France. We've cycled to the Pont on two separate tours, both times in November, and feel very lucky to have enjoyed the amazing sight when hardly anyone else was there. The second time we toured the museum, and agree with you that it is definitely worth visiting. Thanks for keeping up your detailed journal with the great photos. We look forward to reading it every day, and you've given us lots of ideas for future tours.
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Eva WaltersGreat to hear from you, Eva! Strangely enough, Rachael and I were talking about you over dinner last night, reminiscing about how much we enjoyed our visit in Nelson.

You were here in November also? Twice? I’ve really been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed seeing this country so late in the year, but we’ll see how long it lasts. It was quite cold and damp today.

Thanks for checking in. Keep warm, keep dry.
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3 weeks ago