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.

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.