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Red dragons and large pink birds

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Today I take the bus down the Giens peninsula, which lies to the due south of Hyeres. Here's a photo I didn't take myself, this one's from NASA earth observatory and it shows you the lie of the land.

I get the bus from Hyeres, the town in the north of the photo to Giens, which is more or less where the ankle meets the foot on this. Giens is a nice little village but not very big. You can see the sea all the way round it as it's on a hill. During the ride down to Giens, I see something out of the window that makes me bounce in my seat. OO, we're in for a treat.

I get to Giens just before 12 and I'm thinking about lunch, as you do, but decide I want to walk a long way before I eat because after I eat (and there may be alcohol with this meal) walking a long way might not feel such a good idea. Know thine enemy, and my enemy is that I'm a fundamentally lazy person.

So I start walking along the saltings: 'salins', I think these are saltings. Or salt pans. Maybe those are the same things. Am rather too ignorant of geography to translate this one accurately. Shall I stop being a nerd and get on with the blog? I have never walked along here before although I have been to Hyeres several times and actually stayed in a hotel along the peninsula once. This is because there is no bus route along here, the bus goes along the right hand side of the shin (see aerial pic).

It's a mild and windy day (think the wind is probably the Mistral) but grey which is a pity because the scenery is beautiful. On my right are the saltings, on my left dunes. There are signs up telling me this is a nature reserve. I would love to come along here in winter, when it must be quite bleak and windswept but still gorgeous.

Haven't gone very far before I see what made me bounce in the bus:

Those little pink dots in the water if you can see them are flamingoes.

I have seen them here once before, but only once. They visit from Africa, and I'm guessing they must be about ready to fly back again as it's autumn.

There's not just one flock but about a dozen and I see them all the way along.

Also a heron or egret that gets really annoyed with me for chasing it with the camera.

I'm actually very close to it although it doesn't look like it from this. (Have just had a look on the net and I think this was a Great White Egret). The path I am walking along is actually where people will park their cars to get to the beach in high summer, so it's nice and wide and sandy and while I would prefer to be walking along the path I can see in the saltings, there's no way on to it. Additionally, if I got on to a path I might end up having to retrace my steps if it ended in the middle of nowhere. I see a lovely white flower that looks like an amaryllis hippeastrum (for the plant lovers), there must have been thousands of them because you can see the seed pods everywhere.

So I keep on. After a while, I see a path across the dune so I cross the road and across the dune and walk along the beach for a bit.

The Med is hardly tidal so you don't have to worry about being cut off etc the way you do in the UK. However after about a quarter mile it becomes really heavy going, it's sort of one step forward, sink six inches, heave foot out of gravel, take another step, heave foot etc so I walk back to the top of the dune and cross on to the road. There's a little lookout tower and I climb to the top of it and spend the next couple of minutes blowing ants off my hands, they are all over the railing which I put my hand on. Ah, nature red in tooth, claw and mandible.

Take some pix from the top. I can see Hyeres, Giens, the sea either side, and the saltings for miles. Climb down again. Bit further along and there are some flamingoes really close to the road. In the hope of a better photo I walk along a bit, find a way on to a path on the marsh and walk back but now I can't see them. Either they're hiding or they heard me coming.

Realise there are dragons here too. I watch a large rust-red blighter for a couple of minutes and it actually lands but takes off again when I get close. I'm being really brave here but it doesn't appreciate that. Then a smaller mustard yellow one comes along and there's a bit of a tussle, which the yellow one seems to win.

I head back to the path and keep going. Bit further along and the path ends so I cross over and there's now a path along the top of the dune, with a fab view. By now I'm feeling a bit on the hungry side and realise that I've slowed down too. Get my trusty can of Lipton Ice Tea (peach flavour) out and drink the whole thing without stopping. Now THAT's thirsty.

Get to the end of the saltings. I've actually been at this junction before. Just to my left up the road is a Roman site, Olbia, which is frankly only exciting if you're REALLY keen on stuff like this. There are Roman ruins all over this bit of France but Olbia is one of the less impressive. I turn right, and walk fast along a cycle track next to the metalled road running east-west along the top of the peninsula. I've smelt my nosebag, you might say, and I'm a bit worried about the time. It's 1.30 and the better restos in France tend to stop serving about 2pm.

Just before I get to the end of this road, I see the best flamingoes yet, in a pool to my left, a family of young ones, still in grey feathers.

Get to the port of Hyeres at about 2.15. Approach the first resto I come to nervously, breaking all my usual rules (browse first, make sure there's something you want to eat on the menu etc etc). Ask if it's too late for lunch? No, it's not. Am shown to a table and after some deliberation choose fish stew from the menu. And somehow a quarter litre of pink sneaks in there too.

Well, as it's a relaxed non-stuffy kind of place I took a photo for you. Forget the wildlife, this is more interesting. Actually, the wildlife is still with me in the form of a small but very keen wasp that spends ten minutes between courses making itself unpopular. It likes me best of anyone in the restaurant, although it does visit the people at the next table, briefly.

Those prawn things were about six inches long and frankly terrifying to someone who doesn't like insects (yes I know they are crustaceans, no need to write in) but I manage to deal with them anyway. I deal with the whole plateful except the cheese cos I'm not so keen on cheese on fish things and they are delicious.

The croutons . . . well I didn't eat ALL of them, not quite. That little pot of bright yellow stuff by the way (which is hidden behind the wineglass in the photo) is aioli (this is pronounched sort of i-ee-o-li and it means garlic and oil and basically it's mayonnaise, proper mayo that is, with about 10 per cent raw garlic, and saffron in it. The garlic blows your head off and it's utterly delicious. I eat the lot. Under the influence of the wine, I order pudding though it's fairly restrained: raspberry and apricot sorbets and coconut icecream and a tubular wafer thing. Then coffee. All this for 25.20 euros. An absolute bargain. I doubt it was even all that calorific (just overlooking the aioli for the moment). This is good because I ate breakfast in the hotel this morning and reckon it was about 800 calories, mostly on bread but partly on fig jam. I'll be back on cafe-croissant in a cafe tomorrow morning.

It's always interesting to see what other people are eating isn't it? There's a woman at a table across the way who's eating something that looks like meatloaf covered in tomato sauce, which is an odd dish for a French restaurant. Then the couple to my right finish slurping their oysters off the shells and move on to the same main. It's beef tartare with a raw egg on top.

One day, when I'm feeling very brave I'm going to try this. I love carpaccio, which is also raw. Mind you, the serving is ENORMOUS. They must be in their 70s and the woman is tiny and slender and I've just seen her eat six oysters, then this. She does leave some of her chips though.

Get to my feel, cautiously. Am not sure what sort of terms we are on. Not bad, actually. It's now about 4pm and the bus back goes at 5.45. So I potter around and have another drink and read my book and sit in the sun looking at the boats.

When I win the lottery I will move to Cornwall and learn to sail and own a boat like one of these.

On the walk back to the bus stop I take some photos of the pine trees. They smell so wonderful I can't describe it. Not just a pine smell, but a perfume.

They look sort of surreal, just like the ones on Clarice Cliff ceramics.

This solanum looked so gorgeous I took a pic of it too but it has no smell.

I have not decided what I am going to do tomorrow, but it will involve a long walk and good food. In my new Sparkfriendly lifestyle, these are the things I look forward to most. Oddly enough, the walk as much as the food.

Well, almost! ; )
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