This past Sunday the City of Arles put on one heck of a firework display over the Rhone River in southern France. In Fact, it was seriously the best firework display I have ever seen. I have seen displays with more fireworks and displays that have gone on longer, but never have I seen a display such as what we saw. It had fireworks, of course, but it also had trance-like music playing along, roars that sounded like dinosaurs, and balls of fire shooting up into the air. It was way more than just fireworks, it was art.
Archives for January 2013
I have a confession to make. Despite our short time here, I have fallen in love with the Provence Region of France, more specifically Arles, France. I love the shuttered houses with muted colors and the narrow winding streets. I also love the food, which seems to be a fusion from Italy, France and Spain. But I especially love the Provence region for its’ Roman history. Some experts say that this region has some of the best-preserved Roman ruins, and even better preserved than in Italy.
Since arriving, we have been able to see several marvelous Roman ruins in the town of Arles itself. However during our first couple days in Arles, we took advantage of having a car and went to the UNESCO world heritage site of Pont du Gard. Pont du Gard is approximately 30-minute drive from Arles. After our initial experience with photo radar while driving from Paris to Arles, Jason diligently followed all speed limits signs and aided with our Provence Region Michelin Map we made it to Pont du Gard with minimal wandering and hopefully no tickets. Once arriving at Pont du Gard, we drove to the parking lot but with dismay we discovered that it cost 18 euros to park. We promptly turned around and found free parking in the town of Remoulins. While looking for a parking spot, we had fun joking about the name of the town as it is similar to the name of an alien race in Star Trek. Although, we were able to find free parking with relative ease in Remoulins, I imagine it would a challenge during the summer. Once parked, we walked approximately 1.5 miles to Pont du Gard with a nasty headwind courtesy of the famous Provence Mistral winds. Despite the cold and constant winds the walk was all worth it once we made to Pont du Gard.
Pont du Gard is a Roman aqueduct-bridge built in the first century AD that spans over the Gardon River. It is just a small section of a larger aqueduct system that stretched over 30 miles from Uzes to bring water to the Roman town of Nimes. It is truly an amazing piece of Roman engineering. During the summer, people enjoy the day by sunbathing along the river, swimming, kayaking and diving off the rocks into the Gardon River. Unfortunately for us it was way too cold for any of those activities, so instead we had fun exploring the aqueduct. There are several trails around Pont du Gard including a trail that leads up a hill to a great viewpoint.
After crossing over the Pont du Gard, we passed several huge olive trees that were planted in 928 A.D. and we headed to the free museum. Wow, is all I can say about the olive trees. I have never seen a tree that old before. Pont du Gard has an excellent museum for both adults and kids and the material is in several languages including English. Sydney had fun learning about Roman Numerals and weighing food. Jason and I enjoyed learning about Roman engineering of the aqueducts and plumbing. I had no idea how intricate Roman plumbing was with faucets, ability to heat water, and “flushing toilets.” It is startling to think that after the fall of Rome much of this technology was lost for centuries. After a great day of sightseeing and exploring, we made our way back to our car with of course another headwind. If Provence Region of France is on your list of places to travel, Pont du Gard is a must see!
In Arles there is a river called the Rhone River. Arles was home to the Romans. They used the Rhone River to deliver stuff. Archeologists have found MANY stuff in the Rhone River such as a boat, pottery, and statues. Do you know what an archeologist does? An archeologist looks for ancient stuff. So far archeologist have found only 10 Roman boats. The newest one was found in 2004 in the Rhone River. The newest boat is the best one they have found. It has been under water for 2000 years. They think that it sunk because it got flooded. The boat is 100 feet long and weighs 80,000 pounds. The boat was a cargo boat. They had to cut the boat in pieces because it weighed too much bring it to the surface. They cut the boat into 10 pieces. There is a video were you can learn about this (see below.) The boat will be preserved in the Arles Museum of Antiquities starting October 15, 2013.
Archeologist found lots of Roman stuff next to the boat. They found rings, coins, lots of pottery, amphora, and statues. An amphora is great big vase that is filled with wine or food. They also found a statue bust of Julius Caesar. Caesar is one of the guys who ruled Rome. The Romans spoke Latin so if you find roman stuff the writing will be in Latin. The Romans also made little clay models. In the video there was a clay model of a cat. I like the clay model of the cat sitting on the chair best because I think the cat looks like the goddess Bast.
When I grow up I want to be an Archeologist who dives. I would also like to write about archeology. It sounds like fun because I like the diving. I like swimming and discovering things.
Now you know everything about the boat found in the Rhone River.
In America, everything is big. Big houses, big cars, and even big box stores. We’ve all heard that everything in Europe is smaller, especially the apartments. When we were looking for a place to stay for a month the options included spending $10,000+ a month for an American size apartment, or much less for a European sized one. We opted for the cheaper European version and spend the money we saved on traveling longer.
When we initially walked into the apartment after climbing the 6 flights of stairs, we were shocked at how small it was. To be honest, over our month there we often felt like rats trapped in a tiny cage. But after talking to other people, we soon realized that our “tiny apartment” was actually big. You see, the minimum size for an apartment in Paris is 7 square meters, which is 75 square feet. Can you imagine living in an apartment that was 7 1/2 feet wide by 10 feet long? That is smaller than one of our “small bedrooms” in our house back in Portland. In talking to one person they said that when their sleeper sofa is opened up they have a tiny bit of space on each side of the bed. Yes, their apartment is about the size of a bed. After hearing that, we were grateful that we had a loft and high ceilings. Grateful that we had a view of the Eiffel Tower and lots of light from the windows. Our apartment didn’t seem so small anymore.
So, before leaving Paris Sydney wanted to give a tour of our apartment and the stairs we had to walk up and down daily.
When we recently needed transportation from Paris, France to Arles, France, a distance of 450 miles, we looked at all the options. The two cheapest options we found was to take the train for $268, or to rent a car for $102 + the cost of fuel. While the train was much faster, the car rental was for 72 hours and would allow us to go from door-to-door plus have a couple of days to explore the South of France. We chose the car. In hindsight, the train would have been the cheaper option! Driving in France costs much more than we had anticipated and we were shocked by all the hidden costs.
We don’t have toll roads on the west coast of the United States and I just assumed that once we got our car we would just get out on the road and go and the only other costs would be fuel. Boy was I wrong. When planning our route on Google it mentioned toll roads, but did not state how much. Not knowing what to expect I searched the Internet trying to figure out the actual toll costs and stumbled across a great online route planner from the company that makes Michelin Maps (www.viamichelin.com.) Their route planner gives you the tolls that you will pay, detailed turn-by-turn directions, distance, time, fuel costs, and even options to avoid tolls. Unfortunately, avoiding tolls for us would have taken an additional 5 hours and we would have arrived in Arles at around midnight. So, we chose save time and to pay the tolls, which was rather shocking. The total cost in tolls for those 450 miles came to 50€, which is around $66 USD.
Total cost to rent a car with tolls: $168
In the United States people complain about the price of gas when it is $4 a gallon. After buying fuel in France, $4 a gallon is cheap! The price for gasoline (petrol) in France is currently around 1€60 per liter. Sounds cheap until you realize that there are 3.785 liters per gallon, which brings the cost of gasoline to 6€06 per gallon. But wait, there’s more. One euro is currently worth about $1.32. So, now we have this simple formula of 1.6 €/l x 3.785 l/Ga x 1.32 $/€ = 7.99 $/Ga. (can you tell that I have a degree in engineering?) which gives us the total of roughly $8 a gallon for gas!!!! There is a reason everyone in Europe drives little tiny cars.
When we realized that the cost of fuel was going to be expensive we wondered if there was a diesel option that would save us a small amount of money. When I went to pick up our rental car I asked and they gave us one. So now we only had to pay 1€52 per liter for diesel and we would get better mileage. Our fuel cost to drive the 450 miles was 60€, which is around $80 USD.
Total cost to rent a car + tolls + fuel = $248
Automated Photo Radar (EVIL)
Another thing we did not expect was the speed traps all over the place. We had those back in Oregon, but never on the freeway. At random places the speed on the motorway will drop from 130 KPH to 110 KPH with a photo radar unit permanently mounted on the side of the road that will happily give anyone going over 110 KPH a ticket. Unfortunately, we had this experience. As we were getting close to Arles, the speed limit dropped, but I thought it was the speed for trucks and people towing. Wrong! With a blinding flash my perfect European driving record came to an end. I was only going 5 KPH over, but it was enough. We don’t know how much the ticket will be, but I expect it to be more than I would want to pay, and hopefully, it was only one ticket.
Airport and Train Station Surcharge
I had assumed that all the fees were included in our rental price, but had assumed wrong. When I returned the car to the rental agency in Arles, they slapped me with a 48€98 surcharge for picking up the car at a train station in Paris. Ouch! From now on we will avoid picking up or dropping off rental cars to train stations or airports, unless there is no other choice. Cost of surcharge was $65 USD.
Total cost to rent a car + tolls + fuel + surcharge = $313 + speeding ticket fine
Will We Rent Again?
Even though renting a car in France had lots of hidden costs that we did not expect, it was great to be able to drive through France at our own pace and to see areas that would have been really hard to get to without a car. Would we rent again? Absolutely, but we will know what to expect next time.
Tips for Driving in France
- Get detailed Michelin Maps for the regions you will be spending the most time in. The overall maps of France lack the details needed to get off the motorways and find your way around.
- Know what the road signs mean before you drive. The road signs are different than the USA and rather confusing the first time seeing them.
- Don’t speed and pay attention to speed limit changes. Those automated photo radar units are ruthless!