Thursday, October 9

Paula: Today's forecast was for warmer and calmer weather, so we decided to spend the day outdoors further exploring the Camargue National Reserve at the delta of the Rhone on the Mediterranean coast. The Camargue is an interesting area with a mixture of salt marshes, lakes, fields and sand dunes - it covers 350,000 acres and is well-known for its extensive wildlife.marshy land and pastures leading up to the coastline. Wild white horses and bull are visible from the two roads leading into the reserve and they are herded and tended by "gardians," the French vision of a cowboy.

We hired a guide for a jeep tour in the morning who took us on some of the off-roads to explore the area. We drove through many ranches, small by American standards but still substantial. He explained that the white horses are actually born brown or gray and gradually become white over 4-5 years. We also learned that the bulls are raised for reproduction, bull fights (the Camargue version) and for eating. Most of the horses appear to be kept on the ranches and used for riding, and several of the ranches accommodate guests who come specifically for this purpose. The other main attraction is the birds, specifically the flamingoes. There are over 10,000 pairs of flamingoes that breed here, and many stay year-round. Other shore birds common in the reserve are ergrets, plovers, oyster catchers, herons and various gulls.

Our guide also explained that the cabanas in the Camargue are very expensive properties and that the gardians who live and work in the Camargue build small modest homes with thatched roofs. The homes are always built facing the south and no windows are put on the north side. This is to deal with the mistral (winds) which blow here and are especially strong in the winter and early spring.

After the jeep tour we had a picnic lunch on the beach and explored the village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. This village is built around the 50,000 tourists who occupy the town in the summer. There is a small arena for the Camargue bullfights and what appears to be a thriving boating industry. The coastline is beautiful and the beach is covered in fine dark colored sand. The mistral made it quite windy today and there were a few kayakers and surfers taking advantage of the waves. A few people were swimming but it was bit too cool for us. We sat on the beach and let the wind cover us with the sand!

Except for area around two small towns, the coastline is protected and somewhat difficult to access. However, there is a dirt road that is accessible only to walkers and bikes, so we decided to rent bikes for the afternoon. We set out along a 25 kilometer (round trip) trail that led along the coast toward a lighthouse. The trail was rocky and in a few areas sandy dunes required us to walk the bikes but we soon discovered that our biggest obstacle was the wind. The mistral blowing southwest grew in intensity during our ride. Since the path ran west to east, we found ourselves having to literally fight the wind to stay on the path on our way to the lighthouse and then again our return. Somehow, the wind seemed even fiercer on the way back, and the ride was extremely difficult. Despite this, we enjoyed the challenge and the views of the coast, dunes and birds made it well worthwhile. David and Katie were particularly proud at having ridden 17 tough miles today, but we all ended up very sore and happy to return our bikes…

On our way back this evening, we stopped and drove down one of the dirt roads that we had been on this morning during the jeep tour. This road led past several marshes filled with flamingoes, and they were still there this evening. We marveled at the huge flocks of these large birds, and even at a distance their pink color contrasted against the blue water is very beautiful. We tried to walk off the road toward the water for a closer view, but our feet quickly sank into the muddy swampland and we had to turn back. We did manage to take some nice pictures, and we won't soon forget how wonderful a sight this was.




Distance Walked: 2.25 miles (we're also taking credit for our 17 tough miles on bikes!)









David's Download - My Impressions of Venice

Venice is one of the most spectacular cities we have visited so far on the trip. Its narrow streets and meandering canals create an unforgettable memory. The gondolas, small bridges, glass and mask shops, and cathedrals are truly grand.

When looking at a map, it almost seems as if Venice is a tiny island is the middle of the sea. It actually sits on 120 islands, connected by 410 bridges, crossing 117 canals! The only way to get into the city is to drive on an extremely long bridge that connects Venice with the mainland. There are no cars permitted in the city, so you must walk into it and take a water taxi (boat) to your hotel. If you attempt to walk, chances are that somewhere along your trip you will came across a dead end that leads right to the edge of a canal, then you're stuck. I loved riding to our hotel and admiring all the gondolas (fancy flat bottomed boats) skimming the water and paddling in and out of the canals. Homes are built right up the water's edge, so you must have a boat outside your front door to get out! If I lived in Venice, I would like to have a house like this, overlooking the Grand Canal (major river/highway through Venice) with a gondola to ride in and out of the city. The good thing is that it only takes 10 minutes to get out to the sea and fish. I would love that!

We decided to count how many bridges we walked over in a day, and discovered that we crossed over 50 bridges. There are only three bridges that cross the Grand Canal, which is two miles long, so it takes some planning to get to one of these bridges if you need to get to the other side. The mot famous bridge that spans the Grand Canal is the Rialto. This bridge is always packed with tourists and photographers. It has 24 shops on its edges, which sell anything from glass to gondola hats.

To get a feel for the city on our first day, we decided to take a gondola ride through the city. The rower wears a striped black and white shirt (very traditional) with a hat. He stands up on the back of the boat with a huge paddle, and steers his long gondola through the canals. There are two really comfortable seats lined with cloth and two wood seats (very uncomfortable) in the gondolas. Of course there was no chance from the very beginning that I would get to sit in one of these seats. My dad immediately took one with my mom, while me and Katie where stuck in the wood seats. We couldn't walk around much since the boat was really wobbly and easy to submerge.

Another thing I enjoyed was just wandering through the narrow streets without any specific destination. Exploring the shops and restaurants around our hotel was fun, and we always found something new each time. St. Mark's Square is one of the most beautiful sites in Venice. The Cathedral in the square is covered with gold mosaics dating back to the 12th century. Frescos could not survive long with the damp weather conditions, so mosaics where made everywhere. There were also hundreds of pigeons in St. Marks Square, eating the corn kernels sold in the square to tourists.

My mom liked seeing the long rows of clothes hanging out from building to building over the canals. If you don't use strong clothes pins you can say goodbye to all your clothes!

I enjoyed visiting Venice because of how different it was from any other city we have visited. I have never visited a city built on islands with canals weaving in and out of it. I will never forget this marvelous city and the adventures we experienced there.













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