Flamingos & flaming poppies
18.05.2011 - 18.05.2011 28 °C
This morning started out really overcast, but it soon burned off & became another hot sunny day.
The Camargue is the delta of the Rhone River as it feeds into the Mediterranean Sea, and consists mainly of marshes and salt flats. The landscape isn't pretty, that's for sure, with a lot of scrub and rushes. But it's ideal land for rice paddies and for sea birds.
The white Camargue horses apparently run wild there, but I only saw some in paddocks & saddled ready for tourists to ride - but they are pretty cool anyway.
I decided not to take a ride to save euros. I drove right to the end of the Camargue road, to Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, a relatively new town built around a historic church on the edge of the Mediterranean. There are apparently about 4000 residents there, and 10,000 gypsies come and go. It didn't hold any interest for me and looked like a bit of a UK-oldies mecca!
I headed about 20 minutes northwest to Aigues Mortes (thanks Brenda) for a look around and some lunch. It's a medieval walled town (yes, another one!) and was bustling today. Lots of souvenir-type shops, as well as the usual brasseries and other eateries, fashion shops and art galleries. Because I was there at lunchtime, a lot of the shops were closed - French people like to take 2-hour lunches, so many shops close between 12:30 and 2:30pm, some till 3. It had a nice feel to the place & I wandered around for quite a while.
In the Camargue is an ornithological park (Parc Ornithologique), which is open to the public and has about 7 km of tracks around the various marshes and small lakes. It took me a while to find it (it wasn't on the GPS), but I really wanted to see the flamingos that make their home there at this time of year. I wasn't disappointed - except they aren't as brightly coloured as the ones in the Menagerie in Paris.
I assume it's because the zoo must feed them those pink shrimps specially, whereas the ones in the Camargue may not get those in their diet as much. They still have the bright salmon colour under their wings & they do have a light pinky tinge. They're so graceful to watch, and it's easy to get a good photo because they move slowly. What's really cool is that they do a little shuffling dance in the water to stir up the silt and disturb anything edible that's there.
I had also read that there were muskrats there, and it's possible they may run across the path in front of you as you walk around. I was disappointed that didn't happen & had faced the fact that I wouldn't see one so started heading for the exit - and wouldn't you know it? There was one casually eating the grass on the way out (see pic). They are so cute, and a lot bigger than I expected. They're not really rats, just a type of rodent related to lemmings - thankfully! I was able to sneak up really close & get a video, before he realised I was there & raced into the bushes.
Headed to Arles after that, to check out the roman amphitheatre and arena. I couldn't get into the amphitheatre because it was too late, but it looked like they were setting it up for some kind of performance. It's used for concerts and the like, and there were spotlights etc, so didn't look very ancient from the inside!
The arena is just around the corner, and is similar to Rome's Colisseum. It's also still used today, for bullfights (the bulls don't get hurt). I went in & even though there's scaffolding in place for repairing it, and temporary stands for the public, it's history is obvious. The tunnels that run around under the stands are full of historical character, and if you close your eyes you can almost hear the crowds from centuries ago. I can't wait to see more of this when I get to Italy!
Inside the arena
Under the arena
Steps leading up into the arena - hundreds of years of wear
Had an early dinner in Arles since I knew I wouldn't be able to eat back in Barbentane - really nice pizza, best food I've had here!
For days now, I've seen these poppies growing wild along the roadside, much smaller than the poppies we can buy in the garden centres. These little spots of colour are so pretty, a surprising flame orange (not red), and you see them sometimes in pockets with lots of flowers, and other times just one lonely bloom. Even in the Camargue, not the most hospitable environment, there they are, still dotted here and there along the side of the road.
Off to stay in Villecroze tomorrow, near the Gorges du Verdon which looks amazing, and closer to that part of Provence with the lavender fields. Hope I get to see some of those. Guess it's up to my old pal, the GPS (who behaved herself today)!