Saintes Maries de la Mer

There are apparently 4 Saint Maries, the real one and her 3 sisters. Never heard of the sisters. But the story goes that the sisters were put out to sea and washed ashore in the Camargue, hence the name of the town. I am dubious about this because there was a similar story told in Loreto, Italy, a town on the Adriatic. So it seems saints washed ashore everywhere.

We drove to the town to take a boat through the Camargue. We were promised flamingoes but all we got were herons. Or egrets. I can’t tell the difference.

We also saw bulls and more white horses.

Here are some photos of us on the boat.

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Montpellier

I arrived in Montpellier on Friday after a 6 hour drive from Nice. It should have been 4 hours but–of course–I got lost and ended up in the Camargue. This is a marshy region famed for its pink flamingos, white horses and bulls. I stopped to ask directions at a farm and got to see some white horses.

I also stopped at a farm stand and bought some bull sausage. It was, as you might imagine, a bit tough. But the local wine was good.

Yesterday Mary arrived after a nearly 24 hour trip from New York with a 7 hour stopover in Paris. We are staying in a home exchange, located in a suburb of Montpellier. Happily, the house is air conditioned, as we are expecting another canicule this week. I know it’s been miserable in New York but a lot of French houses don’t have A/C so that would be unbearable. There is also a tiny pool, too small for swimming but perfect for cooling off.

Today we drove 20 minutes into Montpellier which is the 7th largest city in France. It dates back to the 9th century when the city moved inland by 6 miles from a seafront fortress on the Mediterranean which was attacked by pirates. One-third of its population is students, including those at the medical school which dates to he 12th century.

We first visited the Antigone district for a farmers market and later discovered it is an architectural landmark in its own right. Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill designed the neoclassical quarter in the 1980s for public housing and local services.

From there we walked to the main Place de la Comédie, one of the largest town centers in France.

We wandered a bit through the medieval quarter and found a pleasant lunch spot where I had a lovely vegetable in puff pastry, more bull–this time a relatively tender steak–and profiteroles for dessert. No wine, unfortunately, as I was driving.

Into the Mountains

Nice has been hot and muggy, so some friends and I decided to head for the hills. The Alps begin just a few miles from Nice and there is a train journey called the “Train de Merveilles” that I’ve been thinking about doing for a while. It winds northeast up a single track some 50 miles, almost into Italy. In fact, I learned today, the town of Tende, which is the terminus, was part of Italy until 1947. There was a guide on the train who explained that the railroad could not climb straight up the mountain. Instead they built tunnels with S-shaped turns where the train could gain altitude.

Tende was at least 10 degrees cooler than Nice. Unfortunately, it was also raining. But we had a nice meal and saw the town, which was once a stopover for muleteers. There are some prehistoric sites nearby so perhaps I may return some day. Anyway, it was a nice change of scenery.

Canicule

A canicule is a series of hot days, derived, I’m told from “cane” for dog, as in “Dog days.” When the French weather service announces la canicule, everyone panics, there are alerts, etc.

Normally I don’t much notice the difference between the canicule and all the other hot days. But for the past 5 days I have been in the country, staying in a rustic cabin without, naturally, air conditioning. Or WiFi for that matter. It did however come with a lovely pool, so I stuck it out until I couldn’t take it anymore.

View of the sea from my pool

The house was in the hills above Menton in a family compound. Menton is the last city in France before crossing over to Italy, which I did on Tuesday to buy groceries and wine. My other major activity, other than lying motionless like a lizard in the heat, was to visit a national monument in Roquebrune. This was a house built by Eileen Grey, à well-known Art Deco furniture designer. Next to her house was a campground built by Le Corbusier. I thought that there was a connection between the two, but apparently not. The French state bought the site and has been slowly restoring both to their original condition.

The problem was that the site was very difficult to reach and once there, required climbing up and down steep stone stairs. And it was 91 degrees. I will say that it was worth seeing, but wish I had chosen a more suitable day to visit.

View from/of Eileen Grey’s house

Le Corbusier

Santa Margherita Ligure

I am sitting on my balcony overlooking the sea, enjoying a non-local vino and a local cheese.

View from my balcony

Abby and Ian arrived in Santa Margherita Ligure, just beside Portofino, yesterday by boat from Genoa. I arrived by train last night, happy to see them and even happier to have booked a hotel. They spent the night on the boat.

This morning was raining, so we walked around this cute town and had an excellent lunch. I had a ravioli in walnut sauce–yummm. As the weather had cleared, we met Roberto and his son Massimo for a sail to Sestri Levante, about 6 miles from our originally hoped for destination on Monterosso, in the Cinque Terre. As you can tell from the photos, I thoroughly enjoyed our trip. I was happy, nonetheless, to get back to the hotel for a swim in the pool and a shower.

Roberto, our captain

The galley

The head

Back and Forth Across the Border

Since Friday I have crossed from France into and out of Italy four times. And it’s not over yet. First, I drove back to Nice to return the car and drop Ellie at the dog sitter. Then, by train, I rejoined Abby and Ian Friday night in Albenga. Saturday we left Albenga for Genoa. Our original plan had been to spend the night there before joining our small boat charter to sail to the Cinque Terre. Unfortunately (or not, you decide) the weather forecast called for 4 days of heavy rain. The captain urged us to postpone the sail, which we did. But while we were in Genoa, we met with the captain and finally got a look at the boat.

I don’t know why I imagined a 40 foot sailboat with 3 cabins would be sufficiently spacious. I’ve been on small boats and understood that there would be trade offs. But somehow I didn’t visualize sleeping in a room the size of a coffin. I didn’t think about 4 or 5 people sharing 1 toilet. Or that we would have to shower outside. My reaction recalled an old boyfriend’s quip that for me “roughing it” was staying in a place without room service. Which is basically true.

There was no way I could cope, but Abby and Ian decided they wanted to do it anyway. So I will rejoin them next Sunday in Santa Margherita Ligure, near Portofino. They will sleep on the boat with Roberto, the captain, while I hie myself off to a hotel onshore. So I took the train back to France only to return to Italy next weekend. In the meantime, Abby and Ian are traveling in Italy to Bologna, Luca and who knows.

I forgot to take pictures of the boat which I will do next week. To compensate, I took a tourist bus around Genoa on Sunday morning, which is a very interesting city. Here are some photos.

Sidewalks on the main shopping street are made of marble!