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Wednesday, 30 September, 1998 10:25 pm. LES STES.MARIES-DE-LA-MER Le Castelet Hotel 230FF
I'm now lying in bed drinking poire (pear eau-de-vie) and listening to T fall asleep. It has been another fabulous day, jammed with adventure.
Thursday, 1 October 7:20 am
Just woke up in this quiet room to the sound of bird song and milk being steamed for coffee. Otherwise, it's absolutely quiet.
Yesterday, it was drizzling when I awoke but began to look like it would clear a little. We looked at the weather forecast for more rain and decided to ride out to the ocean anyway. We had planned to follow the Grand Rhone and then follow the dyke through the bird sanctuary but we weren't sure if the dig road would be navigable if it was wet. We went to a fancy cheese store to buy part of our lunch, where we got:
Cantal vieux (hard) 14.2 FF
Mascaré (chevre - brebis Hte.Provence) 14 FF
grape juice 23.4 FF
There were lovely cheeses on display with herbs, olives and/or bay leaves
decorating them. Some were layered with patés of olive or redpeppers.
We left Arles at 10:55am at the same time as two red and blue Italian style cyclists who raced by us waving. It was lovely; overcast and 18C. We quickly got onto a beautiful small road (secretly gloating that the red and blue ones were probably still on the bigger busy road) There were a few unmarked turns so when we saw a farmer, dressed in a checked shirt, we asked him if we were on the right road for Gireaux. He smiled and said yes, "tout droit pour Gireaux, St.Gilles, Montpellier, Espagne..." I laughed and said "puis le pole de sud" and he laughed again, replying, "Voila!" He returned to his machinery and we continued on our way. We had a stiff south wind (exactly the wrong direction for this time of year) and rode along the flat flat area hearing bird song and seeing lots of white horses and egrets. It began to rain a little but not enough for jackets even.
After St. Gilles, which looked to be a pretty town, we took the turn off to Pont de Sylvereal. The sun came out but it began to rain a bit more. It was steamy and 25C. At the Pont de Sylvereal was a closed hotel and lots of lush growth. We crossed the river on the D58 seeing a large fishing net hanging from a tree. T said he'd seen nets like that in India. We rode on the D58 only to cross the river and immediately got back onto a small road.
It started to rain again when we got into the flats and we took shelter under the archway of a farmer's outbuilding. There was just room for us and our bicycles and no other buildings or people in sight anywhere. There were prickly pears (?) growing wild nearby. The rain stopped and we rode on past ploughed over fields with egrets poking at the overturned earth.
We had lunch in the grass beside the side of the road; shading ourselves with my red umbrella from the sun that had come out in earnest by 2:45. The rain seemed to be gone. The cheeses we had brought were brilliant and in spite of the many cars passing us on the so called minor road, it was delightful.
We rode along through the flats, seeing our first flamingoes and then past a huge number of resorty looking hotels with lots of horses ready to be taken for rides. We saw a few free horses, with egrets on their shoulders, out standing happily in the flats, but most were saddled and bridled and standing resignedly lined up in corrals. It looked more and more like the nightmare of hotels near Niagara Falls. At 3:40 we reached Les Stes.Maries and the Mediterranean. I took my shoes off and ran in to the coldish water where others in wetsuits were trying to surf. There were a few brave souls (probably German) who were swimming - jumping and laughing in the mild surf.
We had ridden 57 km so far. It was brilliantly sunny and about 18C. We began to look for a hotel and passing up some touristy looking places, came upon this excellent one with a friendly young blonde patronne who has a big German shepherd to guard our bikes.
We dumped our paniers and immediately rode out again to go looking for flamingoes. We went out towards the dyke which is a wild life reserve. We followed the path beside the Mediterranean, heading east along the nature path that we had initially planned to take to go from Arles to Les Stes.Maries if it hadn't been raining. All of the brochures have mentioned the need for mosquito repellant. They aren't kidding. We stopped to look and take a photo of some flamingoes feeding. (In the photo above, you can just see the flamingoes in the distance.) They are a dingy whitish pink at this time of year, looking a little ragged but exotic nonetheless. But we were quickly covered with voracious mosquitoes. I had put insect repellant on any exposed skin so I didn't do too badly getting only a few bites on my back and arms.
We continued to ride east and then left the path and the mosquitoes to got out on a large desserted beach. It was beautiful and desolate with a big piece of drift wood right at the water's edge. The sky was beginning to cloud over somewhat and the sun was hidden behind the clouds letting shafts of light through. I ran into the ocean and said it wasn't that cold. T agreed and said wasn't it a shame that we didn't have our suits. We looked around and didn't see a soul, so we stripped down and ran into the gentle surf. It was cold after all and we stayed only long enough to go neck deep and ran out again. We dried ourselves off with an extra shirt and T helped me to balance as I stood ankle deep to put on my pedal pushers. But they were on backwards! I had to start all over again and just stood in the sand. I then went to the dead tree to put my shoes on and just as I was lacing up my left shoe, my right foot (which was already shod) was immersed by a largish wave. Just as we finished dressing, we saw some cyclists on the horizon. It was getting late and the sun was getting lower so we headed back.
We rode as quickly as we could back into town so as to avoid mosquitoes. Then onto the hotel to have baths (yikes! so much sand!!) and put away the bikes. That day, we rode a total of 75.56 km.
While I was finishing off my bath, T went down to the hotel bar to have a predinner drink of Ricard. He met someone who is quite high up in the Ricard company and another droll and very drunk fellow who onws a ranch. I came down haveing heard singing as they sang a song of the Camargue to T. They greeted me warmly and I was regaled by the rancher's crushable hat that he thought was even more hilarious. We escaped laughing to go to the restaurant recommended by the hotel.We just had a great dinner at Les Alizés, 36 bis Av.Th.Aubarnel 13460 Les Stes.Maries-de-la-Mer
We both had 78FF prix fix dinners.
**E: moules farcie beurre d'ail (mussels in garlic butter)
**T: soupe de poissons avec sa rouille (fish soup with garlic/hotpepper mayonnaise)
**E: dorade with sorrel sauce (dorade is a sweet white fish)
**T: grilled sardines
*cheese: chevre & olive oil with herbes de provence & cracked pepper
T: glacé caramel
E: tortiere au pruneaux
T's soup came with a garlic clove for him to rub onto his toasts. The rouille was wonderfully hot.
The proprietress is very proud of what she serves and rightly so. What a fantastic dinner. We were there until 10:00 and as we were finishing our dessert, a fellow went into the patio and dismantled the tables. They stayed open for us but the rest of the town seems basically shut. Remarkable. It seems that we are virtually the only ones around. (although we did see a number of tourists this afternoon.)
After that wondrous dinner at Les Alizés, we strolled back admiring the boats in the marina and dreaming about living on one. The town was even more closed up and deserted than before.
Thursday, 1 October 3:40 pm VAUVERT Hotel du Louvre 150FF
This morning, it was sunny and 17 or 18 at breakfast. The lady of the hotel was busy getting her daughter ready for school as we drank our good coffee and ate our humdrum bread. It's surprising to be served bread in France that isn't better than the baguettes we get at Loblaws. We left the hotel at 9:30. We bought lunch in virtually empty stores that were just beginning to open. There was a man who had set up a fish stall by the marina but it didn't seem like he would get much business.
We stopped at a sporting goods store to see if T could replace his broken mileometre. The man was just opening up and was holding his very young son in his arms as he said he had no accessories for bicycles. The boy could not contain his laughter when he saw me put my helmet on. It bubbled out of him in a rush as he pointed, letting out a laugh garbled "... son champignon!" while his father shushed him gently because we were laughing too.
As we headed out of town by 10, it had clouded over and we could see huge areas in the distance that were getting deluged by rain. We headed into the wind towards those rain clouds laughing and singing songs about wind and rain hoping it would make it stop. The sky was wonderful with variations of slate grey clouds and rain on the horizon. One of the rain squalls was not a heavy one and curved off in the distance.
We rode along the flat lands past lots of grazing horses and burned off fields and were amazed to ride right by the rancher's (from the bar last night) spread that was clearly quite large. We continued on, seeing fewer flamingoes and more magpies and egrets.
The sun came out but it began to rain enough to put jackets on. Very odd. There was a beautiful section of sky that had light shafting down beside a big smoke smudge from a field being burned off.
We left the small road and got on the larger one (that happily has a bike path) to cross the wide Petit Rhone once again. I keep wondering how wide the Grand Rhone to the east of us must be! The sun came out in earnest and the rain virtually stopped. We stopped at a roadside stall to taste delicious muscat and not so delicious sausage and buy a bottle of apple juice for our lunch then continued our ride towards Vauvert.
We just found out that where we swam is a NUDE beach! Joke's on us!
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