Half an hour away from Nimes on the train is AIGUES-MORTES, (dead waters) and the entrance to the enchanting CAMARGUE. My Isle de Stel cruise boat took off from the quai for the Canal de Rhone a Sete. The completely walled city was built by Saint-Louis, King Louis IX who then took off for the Crusades. He and his men were imprisoned in Egypt and he had to pay a mighty ransom, and only 2,500 of the 15,000 knights and others returned. A few years later in 1270 AD he set out on another crusade but died of dysentry during the Siege of Tunis.
His son Philippe le Bel, and grandson Philippe le Hardi had to complete the walls of Aigues-Morte, which took 40 years. From the boat on the two hour trip we saw lots of Camargue horses, all with beautiful manes. They are all born grey and then develop into red, brown, beige, black and have thick hair to combat the wind and cold in the winter months. Gradually it turns silky and after 5 years they are all white. They are resistant to the mosquitos in the hot summers and can fend for themselves even in deep water. They are fond of the reeds that we saw everywhere, and which are collected and sent to thatch roofs in Holland and also the cattlemen's houses around here.
We passed vineyards and rice paddies, for 80% of French rice is grown in this region, and asparagus is a very popular crop also. The other big money earner is salt, and there were mounds 40 metres high. Thousands of pink flamingos love the tiny shrimp that feed on algae and they develop this gorgeous pink colour and are the tallest of the many waders in the Camargue.
The bulls are about 60% of the size of Spanish bulls and have unique 'lyre' shaped horns. We disembarked from the boat at a bull ranch(La Manade) and watched a demonstration as a couple of cowboys rounded up a small herd and then separated them. The 'boss' bull wears a small bell or 'simbeu', and others follow. At a year old the bulls are branded and given names at a 'ferrade'. They are trained for the ring and the bravest are chosen. Unlike in Spain they return to fight again in the arenas of Nimes, Arles and small villages where they are run through the narrow streets. The best bull is given a 'biou d'or' trophy. They are not harmed, as all that happens is the 'rosettes' are hooked off their horns by 'raseteurs' or bullfighters.
In the walled city the narrow streets are full of restaurants and bars, and next to the 12th Century church the main square has a dozen or more to choose from, serving 'paella' fish, specialities, Italian and Provencial dishes, looked over by a gigantic statue of King Louis IX, dressed in his crusader uniform.
Back in Nimes I went to a French Ligue 2 match at the impressive Stade de Costieres between the red shirted Crocodiles of Nimes Olympique and the visiting Ajaccio team from Corsica. About 8,500 fans showed up, more than average for Ligue 2 and red flares were set off at least 3 times in the first half hour. I counted 21 lonely Ajaccio fans, segregated at the West Terrace, which grew into a band of as many as 26 by half time when they led 1-0. It finished 2-2 with an 'expulsion' -red card for each team in the last 10 minutes-and The CROCS are still in the relegation zone.