Friday, April 10, 2015

Easter in Arles

For a too brief period this week we achieved Pampert perfection.

Having stewed over the failure of three in the bed with nowhere to roll over, and the disaster of an ear infection far away from home, we were more than a little concerned with our planned 3 week trip through the south of France and down the coast of Spain.

I managed to cut down Nina's old cot mattress to fit the only remaining floor space in Pampert and we crossed our fingers that she would tolerate the new arrangement. A short 8 hour drive later we were in the Camargue region of France, in a camp ground just outside of St Gilles, a short way from Arles.

The Camargue is famous for it's salt, it's white horses and the most dedicated mosquitoes I have ever met. Horse-riding was what we baited Nina for in the car trip on the way up, promising that she'd meet some lovely four legged friends. (I want a poo-ney, she says, repeatedly)

On our arrival the manager congratulated us on our good fortune to be in the area for easter- Arles was having  it's annual easter festival! The camp ground was right next door to a manger and some lovely white horses, but no Poo- neys. We found them a little way down the road and Nina had a great time with her new friend Juli.

A grown up trail ride was leaving too, so I joined up and we set off. We had passed through the region 6 years ago, and turned our noses up at the line of horses threading their way through the marshes. 'Tha's not a real horse ride.' I remember saying back then. This time though I did and it was lovely. Still early spring, the group was small, the horses fresh and the marshlands seemed unspoilt and wild. We scared up pairs of ducks every couple of metres, watched eagles and hawks and herons and storks fishing. In the distance an ungainly flamboyance of flamingoes took to the air. (Is that not the best collective noun for anything ever?) The horse, Ninu, was lovely and responsive, and the national park was breathtaking.

The capital of the Camargue region is Saintes Maires de la Mer, where the three Saint Maries are said to have come ashore and spread Christianity in Europe. They were helped by a local woman who became Saint Sarah, the patron of the Roma who hold an annual pilgrimage and festival here.

Its a nice town but I found nearby Aigues Mortes (literally Dead Waters) to be a much more interesting and beautiful town. A fortified village at the mouth of the Rhone, it has a lovely atmosphere and doesnt seem to get quite as much traffic as Saintes Maries. And it has a pink lake, with pink flamingoes.

The next day we did head into Arles, where we saw markets, merry go rounds, and a dozen roving street bands, one of which had a fantastic dancing band leader. We ate paella at the Cafe de la Nuit, the old haunt of Vincent Van Gogh, and stopped to say hello to every horse that we could find.

The festival is mostly about bullfighting though, which occurs in the Roman arena in the centre of town. No way were we going to watch a bull be tormented and tortured to wild applause, and as we skirted around the arena the sight of a poor dead bull being carted off reminded us what most people here were celebrating.

The nights we slept well, with Nina delighted with her little bed, and as we ate beakfast surrounded by daisies, we considered staying a few days longer. Coulda woulda shoulda.

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