But it don’t sing and dance and it don’t walk…
And long as I can have you here with me
I’d much rather be
Crocodile in blue jeans…”
Yes, I changed the last line…that’s a Neil Diamond song I’ve done at karaoke many times. I took a cheap flight to Nimes, France for the weekend….this was my first flying trip where I only stayed two nights, but the flight times were perfect so I maximized my time here. This was also one of the first trips that I enjoyed so much, even though I traveled solo and spoke to no one….typically a bad sign for an extrovert, but Nimes was absolutely wonderful.
So what’s with the odd blog title? Nimes has a lot of Roman history, as evidenced by its main attractions, which I’ll get to later. Back in the BC times, Rome was victorious against an Egyptian invasion, and Nimes adopted a crocodile tied to a palm tree as its city symbol. The crocodile represents Egypt, and the palm tree signifies victory. I doubt many of the locals now remember this origin, but they obviously still love the crocodile, as the symbol is found everywhere in the city, and their football team is nicknamed ‘Les Crocodiles’.
I love cities with a quirk like this…never before would I’ve associated crocodiles with France. The ‘blue jeans’ reference comes from the city’s influence in producing denim….actually the word ‘denim’ is derived from ‘de Nimes’. So I have this city to thank for my daily ‘t-shirt and jeans’ look.
Why did this city hit me so hard? Why did I consider taking French classes back in San Diego in hopes of moving here one day? First of all, I love the Languedoc region, having spent time before in Carcassonne. Although other regions get more attention for wine-making, Languedoc actually has three times as many vineyards as the better known Bordeaux. Nimes is also known as the ‘French Rome’. I remember loving Thessaloniki, Greece so much because as I walked around the city, you just stumbled upon Greek ruins in the middle of town squares. It’s the same here, as Roman ruins are scattered about the city. I’ve never been that interested in history, but it’s pretty cool to enjoy a glass of French wine at an outdoor cafe overlooking some of the best preserved remnants of the Roman empire.
My hotel was situated right next to one of the most well maintained Roman arenas in Europe. This is a great landmark in case you get lost walking back to your hotel, as it’s hard to miss a giant gladiator-style arena set in the downtown area. This is similar in design to the coliseum in Rome, only on a smaller scale. I spent an hour strolling around inside, and got some good pictures. The arena is still used for concerts in the summer…I checked the schedule and noticed that Lenny Kravitz and Sting are due to play here in June. It’s also used for bull-fighting…of course I’m not a fan of that, but I understand it’s part of the local culture so I can look the other way.
I stumbled across other sights while walking around this magnificent city. The Maison Carree (‘square house’) is one of the best preserved Roman temples in Europe…it’s well maintained in part because the city kept using it for a variety of functions since its construction in 16 BC. It was a stunning sight from the outside, but the inside didn’t offer much besides a movie on the history of Nimes.
Next, I walked the long uphill path to the Tour Magne, meaning ‘great tower’, and it was set in a lush park overlooking the city. I made the walk up the spiral staircase to get some good pictures of Nimes from the top of the tower.
I kept walking through the park, and ended up at the Jardins de la Fontaine…which was one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in Europe. As I walked down the stairs to enter the gardens, I felt like I was walking into ancient Rome. There was marble everywhere, together with fountains, epic statues, and the Temple of Diana, an old Roman building which they think might have been a library. I’m not one to relax in a park and read a book, but if I was to do that, I’d do it here.
Nimes seemed very livable…within a 5 minute walk from my hotel, there was a grocery store, a Subway restaurant, and an Irish pub! The hotel was great, it was run by a British guy who had lived in Nimes for many years, so I had a good English-speaking resource for tourist information. The food was good here…I decided on a Russian restaurant my first night, and that was an interesting experience – I probably wouldn’t recommend it for a vegetarian, as I’m not sure they got the ‘no meat’ thing. I ended up getting a vegetarian ravioli dish, which was good but seemed more Italian to me. I was excited about a local Thai restaurant I found online, but it turns out they were closed for renovations…so that night I settled for a Tapas restaurant nearby my hotel. There was a cool American style pub called ‘Bar Joe’, and I spent some time there watching a rugby match, which is really popular in this region of France.
I can’t really specify one thing that made me love Nimes so much, but that’s the beauty of a city like this…the whole is what makes it so great, not the individual parts. I’m already considering coming back, as I’m not finished with this city just yet.