Sunday, 7 March 2010
written 1st March 2010
1st march already! doesn't time fly when you are having fun! Although a third of our way into the time allowed (not even allowing for our delayed start) and not a tird of the way round our original statement of intent. We have, however, been extremely fortunate with the weather as it seems that arriving places earlier or later would have not been good - fortunately we are currently not in any of Spain, Portugal or France where there are awful storms and people are dying - good for us at least.
Anyway, where was I...
After a slightly blowy night - the same one in which half of France, Spain and Portugal were apparently decimated by storms and left without power, roads or drinking water - we woke to a brighter day and set of in search of the market.
We've never cooked mussels before but fortunately Tony in El Palmar had old us what to do with them - clean, beard, cook - so we were fairly confident we could manage them in the van and they were enormous. The fishman was so confident of their quality he was inviting customers to taste them raw (saltier and slimier than cooked but otherwise pretty similar) so we figured we couldn't go too far wrong :)
Our destination was La Grande Motte, which alledgely had an aire de service for camping-cars but we couldn't find it so parked in the centre of town outside the tourist office. I would like to say that after the two previous nights, it was a quiet, undisturbed night, which largely it was, apart from the seagulls landing and walking on the roof - they are surprisingly big and heavy for birds and sound almost exactly like a man climbng on the rook, which is rather disconcerting!
Next morning, the sun was again shining as we set off to explore.
through the massive white edifices offering various sorts of gated paradise,
before finding ourselves in a silent, deserted, moonbase part of town where the identical pod-like residences were set apart from each other like so many 1960's sci-fi space capsules.
I was expecting Happyland to be a joyous place, built of kittens and lollipops - yes we did debate the relative merits of kittens as building material but I still maintain that no one can be unhappy with a kitten, even if it makes your lollipops a bit furry... anyway.
Still, definitely worth a visit for the 1970's triumph of urban beach planning experience.
By way of complete contrast, we travelled next to Aigues-Mortes a walled town which has remained largely unchanged since its prominent role in the seventh crusade.
I didn't know this, but apparently, in the 13th century, the kingdom of france had no land on the mediterranean coast. Languedoc belonged to the Kings of Aragon (Spain) and Provence to the German Empire.
King Louis IX wanted to take up the banner of the crusade so negociated the purchase of an area of malarial, mosquito ridden, stagnant swampland from the Abbey of Psalmody on which he built his town of Aigues-Mortes (literally Dead Waters). It had a single road connecting it to the mainland, and thus the rest of the Kingdom, and he had to bribe people to live there through tax breaks and forced loans.
After just 2 years, in 1248, he was able to set off triumphantly on Crusade, with 100 ships, thousands of men and his wife and children in tow, returning six years later. He was not so lucky on his next expedition in 1270 when he died of typhus within a month.
With the silting up of the swamp and the annexation of Marseilles to Fance in 1481, Aigues lost its importance to the French crown, only coming to the fore again in the wars between Protestants and Catholicsin the late 17th century and in 1705 when the main tower became a prison for protestants, the most famous of whom was incarcerated there for 38 years.
Today Aigues is a major hub of salt production and a river port thanks to the Canal du Rhone a Sete, constructed in 1806.
As we turned round in the carpark, we saw someone who looked local (portly and hairy) loading large plastic bottles of what looked suspiciously like red wine into his car. Well that was certainly worth investigation!
The salt factory tour was unfortunately not actually starting until saturday - shame - and although we popped into Aigues for a wander - no maze of typical streets here, efficient grid pattern, presumably the local migrant workers of the day were hugely unproductive yet meticulously organised about it... - we decided against the castle and ramparts tour as we wanted to see the Camarge whilst it was still light.
The Camargue is the wetland delta of the Rhone, a flat, fen-like land which is a patchwork of lagoons, swamps, marshes, reedbeds, saltpans and farmland.
It is famous for its wild horses and also for bull rearing, rice growing and salt production. With all the nature reserves, museums and other local industry to visit, a week could easily be spent in the area if you had the time and inclination. I particularly fancied the salt eco museum and the rice museum - I realise I am actually quite ignorant about rice apart from stereotypical images of pyjama-wearing orientals with conical hats, paddling up to their knees in damp fields, I don't even know which bit of plant it is... - but it was too late in the day for any of that and we needed a Carrefour so we could cook our mussels so had to press on.
We therefore arrived in Arles, famous for its roman amphitheatre and apparently instantly recogniseable as the one-time home of Van Gogh and depicted in many of his famous works, just as rush hour hit and the tourist office closed. So we regretfully pushed on - unfamiliar towns and us at rush hour do not bode well...
We are now in a little aire in an out of the way village called Pelissane having just had the best meal we have cooked ourselves so far this trip.
Menu du jour
Premier Plat: Tielle chauffee
Second Plat: Moules en crème
Boisson et servis inclu
With the onions and garlic already softened in butter, in went the mussels, wine and cream and the whole lot simmered gently
With love for now from Becky, Will and Jules on Sunday, March 07, 2010