France: Lyon to Nimes, May 19-26, 2017

With my now broken arm in a velcro cast, we spent another night in Lyon. Unless I put weight on it the arm it really did not hurt much.  Having spent most of the day waiting around a hospital, at least we had a nice late dinner on the street near our hotel.

First course was cold asparagus soup. The Lyonnaise do not seem troubled by fat or cholesterol.  This soup was like a tall cold glass of whipping cream, gently flavored with asparagus and herbs.  What’s not to like?

My main course was steak tartare, a dish I had heard about all my life but had never eaten.   Lyman got something resembling steak salad.


The proprietor had recommended we not eat outside because the only table available was next to this group of rambunctious regulars.  We told him we did not mind.



The next morning we went out on the bicycles to “try again”; maybe not fall over this time.    Our day’s destination was somewhere thirty or forty miles down the Rhone River.    Since this time I only had the use of one arm, we took the online advice.   We bicycled a mile or so over to the main Lyon train station and took the commuter train ten or fifteen miles south to the village of Givors.   Finding the train, paying for the tickets, and pushing the bicycles on the train was all surprisingly easy.

At the Givors station Lyman used their high tech public bathroom.  Nowhere but France would you find a facility like this at a rural train station.


Givors was indeed a good place to start a bike ride; in short found the bike path along the Rhone River.

Which then transitioned to a country road.

And then transitioned back to a bike path.


In the town of Ampuis , at 1:45 PM, we were shocked that none of the three restaurants (one cheap, two expensive) in this town would serve us lunch.   They all said it was too late.    The French, we learned, have very defined hours when both lunch and dinner should be eaten.   We made do by sharing a plate of delicious charcuterie at a tony wine shop that sold snacks to accompany their customers tasting expensive wine.


After lunch we biked on further and looked for a room in the town of Condrieu.    The only real hotel in town was the Beau Rivage, at 118.00 Euro (about $132.00) the most expensive hotel we stayed in the whole trip.    The restaurant was also by far the most expensive at 64.00 Euro per person + wine for a three course meal.  There was really no other place in this small town to eat and we chalked this up as “let’s have a one time rich person’s experience”.  People were pulling up in their Audis and Land Rovers,  seemingly like the cast from the 1970’s movie Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Like almost everywhere on this trip, there were no Americans.

We chilled in the room for a while.  Later on, after a beer at the fancy bar, we sat down to dinner.  In late May it did not get dark until after nine at night.


In our hotel room there had been a pamphlet, in both French and English, about the hotel’s restaurant and its “rules.”   Everything about this restaurant reeked of fru-fru-edness; they pulled out all the stops to be pretentious.  Yet the pamphlet said that if you brought your dog into the restaurant for dinner, it had to be well-behaved.   Of the about ten occupied tables, two had dogs underneath.   One family had two small children, a baby, and a dog,   The dog at that table yapped repeatedly.

There were multiple multiple courses.

My appetizer was scallops carpaccio.


Lyman’s appetizer was paté of foie gras.

My main entree was duck breast with filipino spices.


His entree was lamb chops.


There were amuse bouche, sherbet between the courses, and complicated desserts I do not remember.   While it does not look like a lot of food in the pictures, I do not remember leaving hungry.

The food and the whole experience was quite satisfying, although in hindsight it was not all that much better food than much lower priced places we had eaten at, or would eat at.   Pretty much everything one eats in the country of France is delicious.

The next morning we pushed on downriver.   As always, I would ride the bicycle with just one hand.


The ViaRhona cycle route is planned for all the 449 kms along the Rhone River, from Geneva, Switzerland through Lyon,  to Marseille on the Mediterranean.   Some sections are not complete.   In most areas it is well marked, though I did have to pull out my Google Maps a lot.  Much of it is a paved bike path, connecting existing small country roads.   The path is almost entirely flat, even though steep hills rise up alongside.


Most of the time you have to get off the trail and go a half mile or so into a town to find something to eat or drink, but this day there was a pizza place with excellent salads right on the trail.



Mine was a salad with smoked salmon and little raviolis.  Each little ravioli was separately delicious.




After lunch Lyman catnapped.

We had wanted to get all the way that day to the small city of Valence. On the way the town of Tournon is right on the river.  We stopped there about 4:30 PM  to get an ice cream.   We liked the town so much we decided to stay.


We found a room in this place where the room looked out over the river.



Low cost hotels in France seem to like to display homemade art.   The nice young lady at the front desk said the paintings were by a local person; pictures lining the stairwell with gaucho and tango themes.




Back in Lyon two days earlier our hotel had the stairwells lined with rock and roll and movie stars.    Were these paint-by-number?



Tournon has a wonderful street scene with tables laid out on the Main Street with a view of the river.   We had a beer at a cafe before looking for a restaurant.   We found an informal steak place with the menu on the blackboard. It was packed this Saturday night and we had to wait for a table.




The next day we continued cycling down along the river, the path switching sides of the river back and forth.

In the city of Valence there was a Sunday morning market, selling everything from food to sunglasses.  We decided we would feel healthier if we ate something other than just meat.   I started by buying some  olives.

We followed that with a loaf of bread.   Lyman went to buy fruit while I waited in line at a cheese trailer.   I bought a wedge of each of four different types of cheese at random,  not knowing anything about them.   I then searched the market for a corkscrew.  We stuck all the food in our bags and continued down the road until lunchtime.     For the next two days each day we would have a great picnic lunch.

That first picnic lunch out in the country, I set up and and opened the four types of cheese.   Each had come to room temperature and each gave off a different glorious stink,  apparently unique to that type of cheese.  It underscored the powerful flavors that cheese has; I do not remember ever being so impressed with smells.   The second day we tried to repeat the lunch;  that time we had bought the bread and cheese at a Carrefour supermarket.   It was fine but just not as pungent as the stuff we had gotten the day before at the outdoor market.

In America we have Route 66 and maybe US1.  N7 has a nostalgic hold on some of the French.  It is the old two lane highway that one drove in the 1950’s and 60’s from northern France, including Paris, down to the French Riviera.    I first heard of N7 about three years ago as the name of a French restaurant in New Orleans that uses images of N7 highway nostalgia.   We biked down N7 for about the last ten miles into the town of Montelimar, where we would spend the night.

I learned from Wikipedia that Montelimar’s claim to fame is its candy, called nougat.  I learned that George Harrison’s song Savoy Truffle on the Beatles White Album opens with the line “creme tangerine, Montelimar“.  The song is about candy and so is the town.  In Montelimar there is a government funded Candy Museum.   Buying nougat in Montelimar used to be a special stop for tourists in the drive to the beach.  But sometime in the last twenty or thirty years a new freeway bypassed route N7.   And the tourists apparently stopped coming to Montelimar.


Lyman and I got a hotel room for less than ninety Euro at about the nicest place in town.   We ate outside.    It was still a pleasant town and fun to people watch.



Walking around at night we saw more candy stores, some still in business.




Lyman was still sleeping when I got up the next morning and walked around some more.   I bought some nougat to take home to Tootie.

We spent another full day bicycling along the Rhone, mostly on that great ViaRhone bike path.


We got off the bike path briefly to push the bicycles up a steep hill through narrow streets to see the lovely medieval town of Viviers.

Eventually we parked the bikes and just walked.


At the top there is a cathedral, Lyman took this picture


This is the town from a distance.

We spent this night in the town of Orange, which has two significant Roman era buildings.  I never realized how many Roman buildings there are in southern France.    I hesitate to call them “Roman ruins” because many are not even ruined.    They were built to last.

There is the Triumphal Arch of Orange, 2000 years old.    There is a traffic circle around it; the grassy park was in the process of renovation.


While the Arch is about a mile from the central downtown, the Roman Theater of Orange, 1900 years old,  is right adjacent to the central old city.   It is still used for performances now, including opera.   We only saw it from the outside.



From Google Images, here is what is behind the wall.


We ate outdoors that night on the street in the medieval old city.

My appetizer: crab stuffed tomato


My main course:


My dessert (right on the menu!) Irish coffee

We had a nice chat with a fifty-something English couple who live a couple hours north in Dijon.   They were describing how many English people now live in France.  If you have a portable job, are retired, or are independently wealthy why would you stay in England?  The food and the weather are clearly better here, more often at lower cost.

The next morning Lyman and I plotted strategy.  He is a retired architect who specialized in historic preservation.  He was passionate that we see more Roman buildings including the Pont du Gard (Bridge of the Gard), a huge Roman aqueduct that is, you guessed it, 2000 years old.

To see this aqueduct we would have to cycle west,  away from the Rhone River and the bike path, on conventional highways.  (South of Orange the ViaRhone bike path is largely incomplete anyway.)


We climbed up into the hills.  The further south one goes in France the terrain becomes more Mediterranean / California looking.   We started to see what looked like second homes for the wealthy.


After a vigorous more than three hours of bicycling over steep hills in the sun, we pulled into the dusty and working class looking town of Remoulins, on the flat land along the River Gard.  We first went into this place where the locals were drinking rosé at 11:45 AM.

We refreshed ourselves at this cafe, but we really needed a place to have a nice lunch.   Just down the street was another establishment that seemed to place more emphasis on food.


When you looked inside there did not seem to be anyone around.   Everyone was out back on the terrace   and lots of people were eating here, including the cops.





So we sat down to a wonderful lunch.  My first course:


Lyman’s first course



My main course was chicken in cream sauce over couscous


Lyman’s main course was asian noodles with beef and asparagus

And of course there was dessert, something.  And expresso coffee.

We staggered out and got back on the bicycles to ride in the hot sun about three miles to the Pont du Gard.   Unlike almost everything else on this entire trip, Pont du Gard is a government run tourist destination with entrance fees and a large parking lot filled with tour buses.   There we lots of Americans and many other nationalities.   Despite the fees and the crowds, this was a 2000 year old aqueduct definitely worth seeing.


We wanted to see more Roman buildings in the city of Nimes, just to the south.   First, however, we would cycle about ten or twelve miles to the medieval town of Uzés where we would spend the night.  I booked a room over the phone before we left the aqueduct.

On the way I saw vegetables for sale by farmers.   Asparagus, cherries, and strawberries seemed to be what was in season.

One advantage of a bicycle is that when entering an old city like this you can just ride in and not have to worry about parking or one way streets.   Our hotel was on this street.


The restaurant that evening in Uzés was my favorite of the whole trip, maybe because after many days of pork, sausage,  and cream, the dishes here seemed lighter and healthier, but still very French.


The food was so good that I took a bite before I remembered to take a picture.  Both of us got the same things; arugula salad with cheese and melon

grilled tuna steak on ratatouille


and their dessert autour de la cerise (around the cherry); a plate with three or four different small portions of cherry-based desserts.

The wine was very local; I checked the address on the bottle on Google Maps and it was from less than ten miles away.  The bottle of wine we shared cost about 19 Euro and it was not the cheapest one.   Amazing gourmet food for 25 Euro + wine.   We were the last ones to leave on this Tuesday night.


We walked around town after dinner.

The next morning I walked around early and took pictures.

We wanted to get to Nimes and see the Roman structures there.  It was only about twenty miles but it involved cycling over a pretty fair sized mountain.

We glided into Nimes about lunchtime.   When traveling by bicycle the size of cities and towns become amplified.  Nimes (population 147,000) really felt like the big city.  We had to look up the pronunciation; the “s” is silent: Neem.

We stopped at a cafe in downtown Nimes just to get something to drink but decided to stay for lunch.   We got salads, mine was salade nicoise.


Eating in this public square under an awning I could watch people walk by in the sun.







We found a hotel room.


Later that afternoon we walked over to the Roman Arena,  paid the fee and walked around inside.  It is 2000 years old and pretty much all intact.   Yes, they used to have gladiator fights here.  In the more modern era bullfights became popular in southern France and in about 1860 they started using the  Roman Arena as a bullfight ring.   They still do bullfights here along with other stuff.





We also walked over to what the French call Maison Carrée.     It is essentially the only completely preserved Roman temple.   It has stood in this square of Nimes for 2000 years.   In 1785 when Thomas Jefferson was U.S. Ambassador to France he ordered a stucco model and used it as an example when he designed the Virginia State Capitol building.

Catty-cornered is a modern art museum designed in 1986 by the British architect Norman Foster.

We hung out in central Nimes.   Sitting outdoors in cafés in Nimes is a great way to spend time.

Later on the restaurants are were all crowded and we had trouble finding a table.   We finally (of course) had an excellent dinner on the streets of the old part of town.

My appetizer was tuna tartare


This was Lyman’s appetizer; beef carpaccio


My main course, their take on bouillabaisse.


Lyman’s main course, I think it was some kind of steak.



Adjacent to our restaurant was another café where young people were hanging out.

We had purchased tickets on the  TGV high speed rail from Nimes back to Lyon.   A hundred and sixty eight miles in an hour and twenty-seven minutes, including stops.

We biked over the next morning to the Nimes train station.

Unlike the commuter train a few days earlier, taking a bicycle on the TGV was more complicated.  We had to fold up each bicycle and put them in a carry-on bag.

We had assigned seats on the upper level.


Back in Lyon we had a late salad lunch (listed as Entrée XL at this place.)



We had our flights back home early the following day from Lyon airport.   Walking around downtown Lyon that last evening, we saw that these people had taken over a street as their own.



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