South of France
7 Oct 2008 to 17 Oct 2008

We left Paris behind heading south and apart from one scary moment where we thought the GPS was sending us down the Champs Elysees, we made it out of the metropolis OK. The Autoroutes are very smooth, and fast, and to/from Paris are also toll roads - EUR33.00 (NZ$80) to travel from Paris to Clermont-Ferrand (approx 4hrs/400km)

Tue 7th Oct - after our drive down, and dropping off our bags at the hotel, we went into the centre of Clermont-Ferrand. Here is the cathedral.
Like most French cities and villages, the centre of their town revolves around some amazing churches. This one dates back to the 1200's and was blessed by the Pope at the time (statue, not fat guy with camera around neck)
It was a typical French town with narrow cobbled streets - we enjoyed walking around in the glorious 26 degree heat after the cold of Paris!
Wed 8th Oct - On the road again, heading further south to Montpellier. We stopped off at a marvelous bridge spanning the valley with Milleau at the bottom
This is Milleau which is now bypassed by the new bridge. The top of the towers are higher than the Eiffel Tower, and the bridge is often higher than the clouds - but not today!
Again dumping our bags at Montpellier, we took a quick 40 minute drive to Grotte Des Demoiselles
If you think the caves at Waitomo are special, they don't come close to these! The main cave "The Cathedral" was over 60m high, 50m wide and 120m long
It was difficult to get any decent photos because of the low light, and the enormity of the caves, stalactites and stalagmites. Fortunately we have some great video!
Thur 9th Oct - some hours to kill before we can check into our apartment at La Grande Motte so we headed into Montpellier and took a little Tourist Train ride around the city. This is a statue of Louis XIV which was decreed to be the highest point in the city
After grabbing a quick lunch it was off for a short drive to Nimes. Finding parking took an eternity, but first stop was the ancient Roman arena
Built shortly after the Collesium in Rome, it could hold 24,000 spectators. Its still the best preserved arena from Roman times, and still hosts bullfighting events, but with a reduced capacity of around 15,000 on temporary seating constructed over the original seating
The audio tour was facinating recounting the history,and the events, which took place in the arena. We got to explore all over the monument.
Next a shortwalk to The Square House - another monument from Roman times. Inside was a 3-D movie depicting the history of Nimes
Short break for some ice cream before battling the rush-hour traffic in Nimes for the journey to La Grande Motte
Arrived at La Grande Motte - our apartment is highlighted. This photo was taken from the waters edge of the Mediterranian. Location couldn't be better!
Fri 10th Oct - early morning view from our deck
Quick walking tour around the waterfront of La Grande Motte to get our bearings
If you think Napier is trapped in a time warp with its Art-deco buildings built after the earthquake, La Grande Motte reeks of late 60's early 70's architecture. It was purpose built as a resort and officially opened in 1968. This is the Fidgi Apartment Block that Vicki stayed in when she was 13.
After a trip to the Hypermarche at nearby Lunel for supplies, we hit the beach. It was a glorious high 20's degree heat too and the kids enjoyed building castles
First of many wonderful sunsets over the marina from our balcony
Sat 11th Oct - First excursion out and off to Pont du Gard
Building of this aquaduct began in 34AD and was finished by 52AD by a team of 1000 men.
A magnificent piece of Roman engineering
We then drove to Avignon for some lunch. This is the Palais de Papes
And of course the famous bridge of the nursury rhyme "Sur le pont, d'Avignon, On y'dancer On y'dancer".
It was EUR10 each to walk on it, so we just took photos instead. Besides, it should be half price, because technically its not a bridge, is it? It should be called a pier because it doesn't go all the way over the river! We touched it, smelt it, walked around it, walked under it, all for free and that was enough!
Next stop was Arles, a quaint little French villiage on the way back home. This is the Tourist train we took around the city
Apart from having its own Roman Arena (though smaller than Nimes) it is the site where the painter Vincent Van Gough famously cut off his ear after an arguement
Sun 12th Oct - rest day at La Grande Motte - after a morning swim at the local aquatic park, we walked around the Marina
Danielle & Connor enjoyed exploring the rocks for Crabs and Skinks
Finally a belated 40th Birthday cake for Vicki!
Mon 13th Oct -day trip to Carcassone. The site of a restored medievil walled village with origins dating back to Roman times
The views from the battlements over Carcassone were amazing
As was the tour around the inner Castle
Despite its origins dating back into Roman times, the whole area had been restored to the time of Louis IX
All the streets in the city were full of shops, restaurants and cafes
There was even a Haunted House experience (Danielle was too chicken to do it, but Vicki & Connor did)
As well as a Museum of the Inquisition which featured all the torture equipment and history around the religous persecutions at the time of the Inquisition
Tue 14th Oct - day trip this time to Sete. A small coastal town about 40km from La Grande Motte. We went on a small cruise around the harbour on the red boat in the background
Another beautiful day on the Meditteranian sea - high 20's and clear sky
Danielle & Connor went below decks to see the fish and jellyfish go by through the underwater windows
A view of Sete from the ocean showing the brighest lighthouse visible from France and the seaman's graveyard half way up the hill
Next we visited Aigues-Mortes another walled city about 10 minutes from La Grande Motte
We stopped off for lunch and explored the small streets, cafes and shops
Before returning to La Grande Motte for a spot of fun on the beach
Finally another stunnng sunset from the apartment
Wed 15th Oct - Last night at La Grande Motte and an evening overlooking the marina
Wed 16th Oct - We left La Grande Motte and travelled east towards Cannes and we had lunch at McD's before hitting the waterfront
The place was full of media people attending a conference, so was packed, but we made it down to the beach at least
The locals were making some interesting sandcastles
We drove the short 25km drive to Nice and said goodbye to our little Pug after 5350kms and then we explored Nice waterfront.
After exploing Nice all afternoon, it was off to a restaurant for dinner - this was one of the squares in Nice.
Which also had a spectacular waterfall
And that was France. Tomorrow we braved the Italian railways for the three hour train ride to Genoa to pick up the cruise ship.

To be honest France was better than expected - the people were friendly, and our high-school French got us by OK. Food was generally good, though the meat quality was far below NZ (how much was horse???)

Driving was also better than I thought, and we managed to survive without damaging the car, though I would hate to drive without a GPS, even the locals were kitted out with GPS systems too!

The sights were incredible, and a lot like the Louvre needed more time devoted to it than we had time to allow. But now on to the Med!

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