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Day 1: Nîmes

Back in January we decided that we wanted to make the most of all the Bank Holiday weekends this year and booked some cheap flights to Nîmes in France. It wasn't a town I had ever heard of before, but when we did a Google image search it looked really pretty, and we realised that it was also close enough to Avignon for us to have a day out there too. All in all it seemed like a brilliant idea, until a couple of weeks ago when the French air traffic controllers threatened to strike on 2 May, the day we were due to fly out. When your plan is to fly out on a Saturday and back on a Monday afternoon, any sort of delay or cancellation means the trip is hardly worthwhile, so we started reading the small print of our travel insurance and trying to resign ourselves that we might not be able to go. As things turned out we were lucky and, after carrying out a strike earlier in April, the air traffic controllers decided to cancel the additional strike in May. Our holiday was back on! What could possibly go wrong now?!

Nothing, except nearly missing the flight :( We thought we had left home on good time this morning, allowing ourselves two hours to get to Luton when it should actually only be a journey of about 90 minutes. I thought there might be lots of traffic because it was a Bank Holiday, but it turned out that there wasn't really. Things were going according to plan until we got within a couple of miles of the airport parking. There seemed to have been some fairly dramatic roadworks around the motorway junction which had resulted in the abolition of a traffic island which both our sat-nav and the instructions on the parking confirmation were requiring us to go around. We drove around in circles for a while, unable to figure it out, before deciding just to follow signs for Luton Airport and see whether we could find it. We normally park in the official long-stay carpark at Luton, but this time we had chosen to park with Airparks, because it was slightly cheaper. The booking confirmation suggested that we would simply be able to follow signs saying "Airparks", but we drove around the airport and almost as far as the long-stay parking without seeing any sign of them.

Fifteen minutes later we ended up pretty much back where we had started, but this time we had a lucky break and saw a sign for one of the B roads which was mentioned on the Airparks instructions. Soon we were on the correct route, happily following the promised Airparks signs. We were running a few minutes behind schedule, but it was only around 11.30 and the flight wasn't until 13.20, so there was still plenty of time.

We arrived at the car park, parked, and made our way to the queue for the bus to the terminal. And what a queue it was! There was a lengthy shelter for people to wait inside, but the queue was already overspilling outside it. A bus arrived at 11.40 and started loading people on but unfortunately we weren't anywhere near close enough to the front of the queue to get on. Never mind, we thought, there are so many people waiting here that there is bound to be another transfer bus along in a minute...

Fifteen minutes later we were still standing there with no sign of a bus, and I was starting to get seriously stressed. I Googled "Airparks" and established that their buses only run to the airport terminal every twenty minutes. Oh dear. Sure enough, just after 12pm a bus finally arrived. By this time there must have been over a hundred people waiting and there was complete chaos. Several people brazenly queue-jumped and there were a few anxious minutes where it looked like there might not be enough room for us to get on the bus. Fortunately we managed to squeeze on though and were still in with a fighting chance of catching our flight.

The Airparks carpark was only about 5 miles away from the airport, but somehow it was 12.25 before we got to Luton and were disembarking from the bus. To say I was stressed would be putting it mildly, as according to our boading passes the gate was due to close at 12.50. We didn't have any luggage to check in so were able to race through the airport towards security. I was keeping my fingers crossed that it wouldn't be very busy... only to be confronted by the world's largest queue just to show our boarding passes.

12.40 and we had finally had our boarding passes scanned and were in the queue for security. Our flight had probably already started boarding. I wondered if they would let us out of security again if we missed it! This queue, though long, was moving fairly swiftly but it felt like everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The man at the security desk made us take our shoes off. Then I set the scanner off and had to be searched. It was 12.50 on the dot before we emerged out the other side and into the departures lounge. The screen showed our flight as boarding at gate 3.

Gate 3. That didn't sound like too far away. We set off at a quick trot, hoping that we might still be on time. Gate 3 was surely just down the corridor. Or perhaps the corridor after this one. Or the corridor after that... It turned out the gates were numbered in reverse order with gate 1 being the furthest away!

We made it to gate 3 at 13.00, to find that they had only just started processing the huge queue of passengers waiting to board. Phew! We made it! I have never been so close to missing a flight in my life!!

It took most of the flight to Nîmes to calm down and realise that we were actually going on holiday now :)

It was just after 4pm when we touched down and it immediately felt like we were in a different world; a warm and sunny one where it was already summer! After a brief bus journey into the town centre we made our way to the hotel and set out almost immediately to explore the down.

Just a little way down the road from where we were staying, we came to the gate into the old city.


We also found our first palm trees of the year :)

The most famous sight in Nîmes is the Roman amphitheatre. Built around 90 AD and restored in the eighteenth century, it is now used as a concert venue and a bull-fighting arena! We had seen pictures before we came, but weren't quite prepared for how huge it was going to be.


There seemed to be some sort of Roman reenactment going on today so we weren't able to go inside, but we enjoyed walking around the perimeter.


The amphitheatre might be the main attraction, but the rest of Nîmes is very attactive too. We walked through the main square, complete with an impressive fountain, where lots of people were out and about enjoying the sunshine.


We found several interesting churches...




...and also the war memorial.


One of the most stunning buildings was Maison Carrée, one of the best preserved Roman temples in the world.



It was about 19.00 by the time we had finished strolling around the old town and we were starting to feel tired, so we headed back towards the hotel to a pizzeria which the check-in lady had recommended to us. The food was beautiful, as was the wine, and we began to feel properly relaxed :)

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