Thursday, 18 May 2017

French Holiday Part 11 - Gruissan Port, An Unexpected Event and Bastille Day

Wednesday 13th July
Gruissan Port and a most unexpected event

The weather had changed – we had a lot of wind and a lot less heat, but still far better than the UK.  We did not want to go too far afield today as we needed to be back in Bize mid-afternoon.  Tomorrow is Bastille Day and the limited parking in Bize is even more limited on such days, so we wanted to ensure we had a spot before everyone got home from work.

We drove down south of Narbonne to a place called Gruissan Plage where there is a port.  It is always a delight to walk around watching the boats and listening to the wind whistling through the rigging.



When we were here with Sue and Ken (nb Cleddau) in 2000 we did go out on one of these glass bottomed catamarans along the coast under the Cape de la Clappe, but today we just watched her moor up in this tight little corner 

before we went and had lunch at Le Tamarin.  A place we have eaten at several times before and have never been disappointed. I had a ‘marmite de poisson’ – a mixture of dorande (sea bream), filet de loup (sea bass), moules and gambas with some potato all in a pale yellow (saffron?)sauce.  There was a paste, some toasted bread and grated cheese on the side.  The fish was caught that morning, so it was all extremely fresh and very tasty.  Would I have it again?  Probably not, but it is always good to try new and different things, but it was not particularly to my taste.  Chris opted for fish and chips which was superb.  We both had the Café Gourmand – an expresso with four mini desserts – iles flotant (something we have always thought of trying and never have – I loved it, Chris found it okay), a Rhum Baba (Chris’ favourite, but I found it a bit medicinal), strawberries and Chantilly with strawberry juice and a little chocolate brownie which was my favourite, although it did not come anywhere near those made by Jaq from nb Valerie.

As we headed north back to Bize and neared Narbonne at around 14:15 we spotted this in the distance

Depending which way the road was going it kept appearing first on the right and then on the left, so it was impossible to tell where the fire was.

It got worse

About 15 minutes from Bize we stopped for some shopping at our local Intermarché.  When we emerged at 14:50 we saw the first of the water bomber aircraft.

On we went and we were still heading towards the inferno, but it was still impossible to tell where it was. 

By 15:05 we had made it back, found a car parking space and left the shopping in the house when we spotted another fire bomber aircraft flying over the village. We headed for the bridge across the Cesse where there were about a dozen people watching the fire across the valley.

It was all just a smoky haze to start with

And it gradually got worse


At 15:15 the first of the Pompier came through.

There were 6 aircraft in total – three of these mostly flying in close formation

 Two of these

And one of these – this one was able to do two runs before having to go off for more water,

There was also a spotter plane and a helicopter which may have been a spotter or possibly, more likely a film crew.

It got worse 

By 15:20 there were big flames shooting up into the sky

The smoke got worse - there were bits of ash falling all around us and a distinctive smell of smoke

The flames were in multiple locations

More pompier went through

Not just the fire tenders, but support vehicles for maintaining the fire tenders and the pompier themselves. 

 A long night ahead of them we feared.  In all we must have seen around 30 vehicles go up the valley.  It was all complicated by the fact the main road up to the fire had been closed all day for a leg of the Tour de France, so Bize which is normally a quiet village, was suddenly full of traffic going in all directions.  

The planes kept coming 

The fire got worse 

The sky changed colour

Everywhere went hazy 

At 15:35 the crowd on the bridge was starting to swell  

By 15:40 the flames were even bigger 

And then bigger still 

By 15:45 there were even more people on the bridge

To such an extent that ten minutes later a Gendarme arrived and instructed us to all get off the bridge

The bridge is the main route in and out.  There was traffic chaos with all the extra traffic for the fire plus that returning from the Tours de France with the other route shut.  There may well have been more roads closed due to the fire – we have never seen traffic like it in Bize.  It got really interesting when this huge lorry had to get across! 

Yet more Pompier and their support vehicles 

By 16:00 the local journalist had arrived 

And by then it was even hazy behind us

It was quite dramatic watching the water being dumped from the planes, but quite hard to catch on camera.  

At 16:00 there were still more fire vehicles.

The fire was spreading all the way along the ridge line 

It began to look as though it was coming down the valley towards these houses and Bize Minervois. 

At 16:35 you could still see the flames


16:40 and more support vehicles arrive 

17:25 and yet more fire vehicles 

18:00 and it is still going strong

And five minutes later the smoke obscured the setting sun 

At 18:15 the local radio personnel arrived - probably a bit late as things then started to look a little better.  

We lost count of the number of times the planes came over, but it was every 10-15 minutes for over 6 hours.  We heard the last run in around 21:00.

The last four fire trucks went past at 20:20.

I am sure it was a very long night for them all as although they had put out the worst of the fires we think they were up there ensuring everything was extinguished for a number of hours.  I know this is small beer for anyone who lives in places where these fires can go on for days or even weeks, but it is the first time we have ever experienced anything like it almost at first hand.

The reports the next day were all good – no one was hurt and no property was damaged.  It is a fairly frequent occurrence in these parts and the emergency services were soon in full swing to ensure the minimum amount of damage.

Now the interesting thing was going to be the next day which was Bastille Day.  A firework display takes place each year on the passerelle over the river and it is run by the Pompier.  The big question was – would it happen or would they all be recovering from today’s exertions?  We also thought the high wind might be a problem.

We drove near where the fire had been three days later and it became apparent how large the area was – it went all along the ridge line at the back of the vines


I am sure the road helped slow it down although there was damage on both sides

This is how close it came to houses – albeit under construction

The ridge was covered in trees

It looks as though some vines were lost, but all in all probably a minor fire and the lack of damage is testament to the emergency services expertise.

Thursday 14th July
Bastille Day in Bize Minervois

It was always going to be a slow and quiet start for us as nothing much happens until the afternoon.  The weather – well it is decidedly chilly and very windy.  I am sure the lifeguard did not expect to be sat on the bench in his jacket, all alone 

With no one to guard on such a big public holiday
 At one point a few brave (or maybe mad?) children did brave the cold, but for the most part it was extremely quiet and we spent most of the morning inside rather than on the terrace.


We did go out for the occasional stretch of our legs and saw the beginnings of the preparations for the afternoon and evening entertainment


The tables are ready for this

Late afternoon there were races for children – this was a very simple one – the children at the start had a bucket of water and a cup whilst the ones at the other end had an empty bottle.

First fill your cup

run to the other end trying not to spill too much 

and then empty the contents into the bottle held by their team mate

Those that cupped their hands round the bottle neck did the best and these two boys were the winners. 

There were other events, but we did not stay for them all.


The stage was set for some circus entertainment at 17:30

I mentioned parking yesterday – well the area where the children were racing is usually car parking, but not today – there were many of these signs to ensure the area was clear

However there is always one!

The local journalist was there again


The lady selling crêpes was doing good business 

At 17:30 the entertainment began with the children all sat at the front on a big tarpaulin

It was a mixture of mime, juggling, dance, acrobatics and music and was thoroughly enjoyed by young and old alike.  They were a young troupe, but did very well.  Here is a selection of photos to give you a taste.

The lad at the front left was the comedian – he was always either ahead of behind the rest and had some wonderful facial expressions. 

This lads balancing was pretty amazing – all the construction and clearing up was part of the act 

Would he manage this?

Yes! 

And one more?

Of course he does 

Up go two girls and off comes the shoes and socks

 And the acrobatics begins

Including mid-air splits! 


Next they mounted their uni cycles to perform a dance to music provided by a cello and a guitar

  It ended with a mass juggle.

We retreated home for a bit and to change into long trousers and shoes!  Yes it was that chilly.  It was by then 20:16 and we were heading out for something to eat. 

 Although there were a lot of people there was no sign of food 

The boys were playing football 

But there was no sign of action anywhere else and the passerelle was still deserted, so it did not look as though there would be any fireworks to end the Bastille Day celebrations.

So we retreated to the Café du Midi where we both had a very enjoyable meal after which we went back to the promenade to find they were all on their main courses – at 21:45 much too late for us to eat I am afraid.

Everything was set up for the band, but there were no signs of life and the passerelle was still empty.  A bit of a damp squib for us I am afraid, but the locals seemed to be enjoying themselves.  All so very different from 5 years ago when we enjoyed live music and a great firework display. C’est la vie.   We retired to bed as we had an early start the next day.  What we did’t know was when the band started, how loud it would be and how long it would go on for!


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