Camargue or not Camargue?

Sunday is still pretty rubbish weather, unfortunately, although it’s no longer hammering down with rain. After another bakery breakfast, we decide to set off towards the Camargue wetlands via the seaside town of Martigues.

Now, looking back on this, there were early signs of Zaza’s displeasure with this plan very early on. Nella spends a frantic car journey in the back seat next to the baby’s car seat going through every nursery rhyme she knows and getting repetitive stress injury from continuously shaking a rattle, in order to prevent Eliza’s whinging from reaching critical levels. The road is busy, and not very attractive, as we pass petrol refineries and other industrial delights. Nevertheless, as we approach Martigues, we are pleasantly surprised.

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Not only does the satnav not send me through tiny streets, but we instantly find free parking near the market which is packing up for the day, and walk into town under a dry, if overcast, sky. Martigues is pretty! The city is a link between the Mediterranean sea and a small inland lagoon, the Etang de Berre, and is crisscrossed by lots of canals over which you can walk (or drive) on lots of bridges. There are colourful little boats everywhere, and pleasant Southern facades with nice shutters, to which by now I’m sure you’re all getting quite used to in all our posts.

We’re after, in keeping with a firmly established pattern, mussels for lunch for Carol and Nella. Never have I met such mussel enthusiasts as these two! We detour through a surprisingly lavishly decorated church with many sculptures of saints and corresponding dramatic paintings of how they died (oh, Catholicism, you’re strange).

Finally, we locate a small family-run restaurant with a nice lunch formula, where I finally get to eat some decent cuttlefish (I love cuttlefish, but so far this trip have only been able to find quite rubbery failed versions!), and the mussel lovers are satisfied.

On the table next to us is a trio of ladies of a respectable age, busy oggling young men, chain smoking and drinking coffee while laughing raucously. They look like they should be in an episode of a French equivalent of Absolutely Fabulous, with their crazy hair, crazier coats and loop earrings. I rather enjoy them, and I think to myself that’s not a bad squad goal for my future self (minus the smoking, which is bad for you, and probably minus the coffee because ugh coffee, and minus the oggling men because, well, yeah. OK, maybe not a squad goal for me).

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The plan for after lunch is to venture into the Camargue – the enormous sprawling wetland that is the delta of the Rhone, one of French’s main rivers. The Camargue is meant to be a place of wild beauty, home to many species of birds including flamingos, and wild(ish) white horses and black bulls roam its flooded fields. We are all pretty excited and have chosen a route through it with the ever helpful Michelin map of goodness.

The wild beauty of the Camargue seems to be taking a while to reach – we seem to go through endless flat, frankly depressing landscapes punctuated with large factories that look like they’ve seen better days. Meanwhile, Eliza decides to fully demonstrate “demon child” mode to Carol and Nella. No amount of nursery rhymes can tame her this time, and no amount of shaking of rattles or cooing or blowing in her face (Hev’s latest find) diminishes the volume of her screaming. All occupants of the car are locked in a weird combo of gritted teeth, soothing sounds and hysterical laughter, because the situation is so ridiculous. We whiz past some flamingos who are stood in a grey flat pond on the side of a double carriageway; there is nowhere to stop, and the baby is wailing, but Carol and Nella and Heather gracefully make appreciative sounds nonetheless, because they are lovely.

I finally find somewhere to stop the car and march Zaza up and down the side of the road, in a nondescript grey and vaguely green plain. We are still, at this point, fairly committed to our original plan, although time is getting on. We press on, the child wails anew – as we reach a small ferry across a canal, somehow paying five euros to cross is too much for Heather and the plan is suddenly ditched as we are all totally desperate to just go home and calm that baby down.

There will be no Camargue this time! (Also, we took no photos of this, but let your imagination run wild and you’ll probably picture a grey and green boring flat plain, four harrowed women and one screaming baby fairly accurately).

For information and by contrast, this is what you see if you “Google image” the word “Camargue”:

Lies. All lies.

We return home, and order some more pizzas, and play some more board games.

The next day is gorgeously sunny, of course, which is when Carol and Nella fly home. Bright and early, after a hearty breakfast of cold pizza from last night, I set off with them in the car to the airport. At the airport, strong with the knowledge that one of the entrance barriers to the drop off car park doesn’t work (saw that when I picked them up on Friday), I confidently head straight through the other barrier – only to realise that I am now engaged in the taxi pick up lane, from which I cannot leave. I have angry taxis in front and behind me, and the lane is taking us away from the girls’ departure terminal and along the front of the whole airport. Laughing nervously, I drive very slowly along hoping that we will not have to wait in a queue until all the taxis in front of our car have filled with passengers. Meanwhile, some happy travelers with wheelie suitcases have elected to walk along the same lane in the road, chatting merrily and ignoring us. Frustrated, Nella beeps at them and they clear out; unfortunately this has also attracted an airport employee in high vis jacket, he is not amused that we are beeping at people from the taxi lane. I take my most “stupid-tourist-oops-silly-goofy-me” face and roll down the window. It works, he rolls his eyes and shakes his head dramatically (this is France, people!) and directs me with much gesturing on the “grand tour” all around the airport which I will have to perform to get out of the lane and back into the intended terminal.

After performing this circus, I finally deposit Carol and Nella at the terminal and leave again for the house. On the way, the car shoots me a warning light and a “check engine oil levels” message; from the smell and the way it’s running, looks like Peugeot likes to live on the edge and give you the warning as your car is about to actually die, rather than when you should start thinking about putting more oil in. Dad, if you’re reading this, I do check the oil regularly, I promise – it’s just rather more driving than usual is all. Anyway, I decide that as a competent adult, I will swing by somewhere to purchase engine oil and fix the problem. I exit the motorway confidently, as I’m practically a local now or something, and become almost immediately stuck in rush hour traffic. I am aiming for that enormous industrial estate I was telling you about from Thursday, which I’m sure has plenty of supermarkets and places offering a plethora of engine oils. I am nowhere near that place, turns out. I queue in nondescript residential areas. There are many closed garages (that’s right, it’s Monday!). My phone is beeping but as a matter of principle I refuse to look at my phone while driving (although literally everyone else in all the cars in France seems to be on the phone).

It’s now late and we should really be checking out of the Air BnB thing, so I decide to give up my mission and return to Hev and Eliza. As I near the house I find a garage and purchase the oil! Yay!

Turns out my phone beeping was Carol and Heather telling me that Nella’s phone had fallen in the car and could I bring it back to the airport please. We can probably maybe make it to the airport on the way to our next destination if we leave in the next fifteen minutes! We now have a super speed packing mission! The car gratefully accepts the oil (in my head it’s practically purring or wagging its imaginary car tail) and we shove everything in it, along with ourselves and the baby (praying for a calm journey).

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Here’s a picture of Hev and Zaza in Martigues because that’s a lot of text without a picture

In the night I had an epiphany / I did some Googling, and I have discovered that if the baby is more than sixty centimetres, we should remove the “newborn insert” from the car seat and all our troubles will be over! That sounds amazing. Feverishly in the morning I “measure” a puzzled Zaza with two A4 pieces of paper (for that, my friends, equates to 59.4 cm) and determine that the newborn insert may indeed be removed!

It works! Zaza is happy in the car again! I could cry with joy. Instead, I drive to the airport. I go through the correct barrier and Nella appears running from the terminal – she snatches the phone from our window and runs back in like a madwoman. Mission accomplished! Onwards to Sainte-Maxime and Viri!

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