We have spent the last few days with at my brother in law Marcus, and his wife Paddy. We have visited the New Jersey, the most decorated battle ship in the US navy ever, and strangely enough we went to a Duck Decoy museum, all about the wooden decorative ducks.
We also when to Philadelphia, where we saw the Liberty Bell – which they allowed Lois to touch. There was a huge photo of Mandela there (yay)! We also went into the room where the US declaration of independence and the constitution were signed. We rounded off the day with a horse and carriage ride. It’s great being on leave.
SA can learn a lot about customer service from USA. Everybody is very willing to help, and nothing is a bother. Service is fast, friendly and efficient (addendum: it’s either really good, or really bad – never in between).
A downside of this is that they tend to live in a consumer-based society. Many people only live on fast food and are immensely overweight. They have to park in disabled bays because they are too fat to walk any distance. We say a man order 6 donughts at Dunkin’ Donut (sic), and eat them all in a few minutes.
I have to respond to the feedback about the flags. Americans are immensely proud of their country. It does not mean that they support George Bush, or the current war. Many don’t. However they do believe that they live in the best country in the world. That is what SA can learn from! It was described to me in a quote ‘it is the world’s largest dysfunctional family – they don’t always get along, but they support each other against other families’.
A few weeks ago, in a momentary lack of my intelligence, Lois’ iPod shuffle (or iShuffle as we call it) went through our washing machine (I had left it in my pocket). I realised that it was there about five minutes after switching it on.
Now, as most of you are aware, you cannot open the door of most washing machines once they have started washing. So with much trepidation I patiently waited for the washing to end.
Once the washing was complete, I took the iPod out (it was now sparkling white), and dried it a bit with a warm hair-dryer. (Because it was an iPod I could not take out the battery). After leaving it overnight, it worked fine with no problems whatsoever. I was astounded.
Aside from the fact that it is washing-machine proof, it really is an amazing little mp3 player. It is small, light, has excellent sound quality, a good battery, and it holds about 250 songs. I love it!
Today, we drove to the Provincial town of Arles. Arles is very similar to Orange, in that it also has many Roman runes. Our main stop was Les Arenes (The Arena). This Roman amphitheatre is oval in structure, with many rows of tiered seating. Built in the first or second century AD, it holds about 20000 spectators. It was originally built to host chariot races and fights often with wild animals, slaves and gladiators pitted against each other. The fights were very often until one or the other dies.
The amphitheatre is still used today for bull fighting, although the aim now is to capture the ribbon ties to the bull’s horns, and not to kill the bull. If you climb to the top of the theatre, you can see a fantastic view past the town and across the Rhone (be careful – the stairs are very steep).
The artist, van Gogh lived in Arles for a few years, in particular he spent time there in hospital when he was suffering from depression (this is where he cut his ear off). There are exhibitions and museums dedicated to him.
Arles is at the edge of the Camargue, the large delta of the Rhone, a large area of nature reserve. There are huge areas of wetlands, covered on pink flamingo’s. It is very reminiscent of the Langebaan Lagoon wetlands, but on a larger scale.
The Camargue is also the home of the famous Camargue horses, small horses slightly larger than ponies. If you drive down the reserve, you will find many horse farms, offering horse riding per hour or per day. Although we didn’t manage to go riding, it is definitely on the agenda for our next trip.
The main road through the Camargue terminates in the sea-side town of Stes-Maries de la Mer. This little town is populated by many restaurants and shops selling bright umbrella’s, children’s buckets and spade and inflatable rafts. It was the first time we had seen the Mediterranean sea, so we had to put our feet in the water. The water was lovely and warm, however the sand was very silty and fine, much finer that the beaches in Cape Town.
We would love to have spent the day on the beach; however we had a long drive back to Avignon. (We did have time to have a drink on one of the many sea-front café’s!)
Next time we are in the Camargue, we will spend a night or two at Stes-Maries, and make sure to spend at least one afternoon horse riding.
On the way back, we chanced upon the Perfume Museum, where we spend some time learning the history of perfume, and we able to smell about 50 different essential oils.
The Pont de Gard is an old Roman aqueduct which was build around 19BC. That is over 2000 years ago. The aqueduct is now in the middle of a nature park, with lovely paths meandering through the greenery. If you walk down to the river, there are loads of places where you can sit on the bank and have a picnic. Unfortunately when we arrived it was raining, so we had our picnic in the car in the parking lot!
Fortunately the rain stopped and we were able to walk down to the bridge. The walk is only about five minutes from the car park. The bridge is very grand-looking in the pictures, but far more so in real life. It is built as three sets of arches. The first is about 20m high (you can walk across at this level), the second level is also 20m, and the final level is 5m high. The water course would have moved through the top level. The total length of the bridge is about 265m. It was quite intimidating to see this hugh bridge towering above me. If you look carefully at the pic on the right, you can see how huge the bridge is compared to the people below. You are standing on the first level, and looking up at the second and third levels.
The total length of the watercourse is about 50km, with a gradient if 1:3000, which means a total drop of only 15m through the entire journey. That is absolutely amazing engineering for the time. You are able to go and visit remains of the actual aqueduct itself, but it was too far a walk for today, so maybe next time.
There is also a visitor’s centre with a small museum and gift shop etc. It takes about one hour to get there from Avignon, but it is well worth it (The area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Centre).
Today I did something I have never done before. Lois and I went for a ride in a four-seater aeroplane. We saw the brochure last night at the hotel and thought “why not!”, so off we went. We took off from the Avignon airport (which is basically a small building and a single runway).
The cabin of the plane is about the size of a mini, and the engine is probably not much bigger (I am still partially convinced that the engine is just a really long elastic band). The plane honestly needed about 100m runway to take off, and a bit longer to land.
The trip was fantastic, we flew really low over the whole area, giving me a wonderful opportunity to see the landscape from above and to take some great photos. We opted for the shortest trip –which is about 25 minutes. The longest trip is about 1 ½ hours, and goes all the way to Marseilles.
Here are some vineyards; they are all over the area. The bright yellow in the middle is actually a sunflower field.
A hilltop fortified village, of which there are many. You can literally have a several hundred meter drop out of your bedroom window. No sneaking out at night!
This is the centre of Avignon, clearly dominated by the Papal Palace. Building started in 1305, when the papal court moved from Rome to Avignon. In the second picture, you can see the town square as well.
The bridge on the right is the remains of the famous bridge "Le Pont St Benezet". This famous bridge was built between 1171 and 1185, with an original span of 900 m. See this post for more details.
Finally, our landing and a quick pic of us at our aeroplane. It is not often that I get to sit in the front! The trip is expensive, but I really encourage you to do it – it was worth every cent.