April 2019 – The Journey North Begins – Amsterdam Bound

Last days in Toulouse ……. It’s early April and preparations are pretty well ready for our departure on the 12th, we’ve just enough time to cram in a few more meals with friends one of which is a delightful dinner with our boatyard fixer of just about anything Serge and his wife Vanessa which didn’t exactly help my cause as I’d been on a serious diet and shed 12 kgs since my return in  mid- Jan from down-under with me looking for all the world like the evil twin brother of Mr. Blobby. The problem with losing those 12 kgs was that I felt certain I knew where they all lived and they’d soon be back to take up residence around my newly svelte waistline. I don’t often post pictures of food but this was such a delightful meal I couldn’t resist including some.

A farewell dinner with Serge & Vanessa in Toulouse

Sea scallops – La Villa des Chimeres, Castelginest (Toulouse)

 

Fois gras mi cuit & chutney – La Villa des Chimeres, Castelginest (Toulouse)

Lamb cotelets & spring veg – La Villa des Chimeres, Castelginest (Toulouse)

Veal tournados rossini – La Villa des Chimeres, Castelginest (Toulouse)

Tarte aux pommes with pistache ice cream – La Villa des Chimeres, Castelginest (Toulouse)

Almond petit fours – La Villa des Chimeres, Castelginest (Toulouse)

Everyone it seems likes the French markets, and let’s face it what’s not to like, there’s lively activity everywhere and stalls crammed with fresh local produce of every kind imaginable it’s near impossible to come away without bags filled with the few things you came for that you needed and a squillion more of stuff you just couldn’t resist. This, I’ve discovered is Evey’s achilles heel, she’s a food market junkie and needed a last minute fix to feed her addiction with a last sortie into the nearby market at St Aubin browsing through the various produce venders stalls buying this and that until we get marooned at the strawberry stand with its early crop of fresh sweet French strawberries, so mouth-watering we barely have any left by the time we get back to the barge…so much for the promised dessert that evening.

Some fresh herbs for the table….

First sightings of French strawberries

Delicious pastries

Evey’s last trip to St Aubin market, Toulouse

Some Argentinian empanadas from the market

Tempting pastries

Another thing we’d long promised ourselves was a visit a visit to the Airbus factory, and so at last we did along with fellow Aussies Phil & Kathy Tyson who joined us for the tour that pretty well centred around the production facility for the huge superjumbo A380, a fantastic plane to fly in but sadly whose days are numbered due to a lack of sales, it’s a pity but hopefully those still in service will have a few more flying years in them. It’s an interesting build project given that Airbus parts are produced by a consortium of countries with major components being made and brought in from various places in Europe then to be assembled in Toulouse, little surprise then with 21,000 employees that it’s one if not the biggest employer in the city. Adding to this, one of the oddest sights see is the fuselage sections being brought up the Garonne river by barge before being transferred to road transport just south of Bordeaux.

Concorde – at the Airbus Museum, Blagnac

At Airbus with Phil & Kathy Tyson

Airbus’s military transport aircraft

Our guide at Airbus inside the A 400M

Airbus A380 body making its way up the Garonne river against the ebb tide

Another Round of The Wheelhouse Game………..We call it a game but it’s really more like an ordeal that we play twice a year when in the south west of France along with a few other locations. The problem is we can’t navigate the Canal du Midi with our hardtop winter wheelhouse up, it’s simply too high for many of  the low and twisted Midi bridges so we need to take it down piece by piece and stow it securely on the aft deck replacing it with our rather impressive canvas wheelhouse it’s a fab piece of kit we had designed and custom built six years ago, a bit like a cabriolet top that can be collapsed in around 5 seconds as required. So with just four days to go before we blast off we take advantage of the dry conditions and get it done, enlisting the help of fellow boat skippers, it’s an exercise that takes around 2 hrs to complete but in the end it’s all done and stowed for the trip north.

Hard top wheelhouse off and packed on the aft deck

Hardtop wheelhouse all packed up and ready to go

Soft top wheelhouse installed and ready to go……

12th April, Now is the time to say Goodbye……Departure day arrives and we’re all set, fuelled up and ready to go. Leaving Toulouse is always a little sad for us as we’ve come to love the city very much. Leaving on a Friday means it’s relatively quiet but our timings good as the sometimes violent ‘Gilet Jaune’ protests are expected to hold a major demonstration the next day and we want to be well clear of it given some of our previous experiences. All the remains is the last minute farewells to our friend Christian and of course to the Capitainerie ‘girls’ Nelly and Cherazade who’ve looked after us over the winter again, and with that we turn around and head off.

L’Escapade ready to go…..

Ready to leave Toulouse

Salut mon vieux ami, Christian

Nelly, Cherazade, DR & Evey …..about to leave Toulouse

My friend Christian

Christian & Evelyn

Cherazade & Nelly – Our Port Capitaines for 2017 & 2018

Here we go, off on the start of a new cruising season, 12th April 2019 our 8th season

Leaving Port St Sauveur – 12th April 2019

Leaving Port St Sauveur – April 2019

Leaving Toulouse – April 2019

Port Sud, Ramonville nr Toulouse

 Considering we didn’t depart until 14.30 we were never going to travel far that first afternoon traveling just 10 kms at a leisurely 4kph in glorious 20C sunshine to our overnight stop at Castenets- Tolosan for an evening rendezvous and BBQ with our old friend Arthur Robbins and his cruiser ‘Compass Rose’. Arthur never ceases to amaze me and is always full of surprises, like Zoe and Juliette the two young and attractive twenty something year olds he’d enlisted to assist his passage up to the canal summit through several locks and onto Castelnaudary. He might be 80 but I reckon we can all still learn a trick or two from Arthur and crew selection would be right up there!

Arthur’s ‘Compass Rose’ rafted up for dinner at Castanet- Tolosan Ecluse, 12th April 2019

Arthur with Zoe and Juliette…..How does he do it?

Zoe & Juliette…Arthur’s new crew

 Springtime along the Canal du Midi has to be one of the prettiest sights you’ll see, the light is stunning, streaming through new leaves as buds burst on the bank-side trees and shrubs making it one of the loveliest times to cruise the Canal. Words seem inadequate to describe the scenes as we cruise along with almost no other traffic to disturb our passage.

Leaving Sanglier locks

Looking a bit barren without our flowers

L’Escapade in the locks at Sanglier

Another low bridge

Warm spring morning along the Canal du Midi

Ecluse de Sanglier – Canal du Midi

Early spring views along the Canal du Midi

Early Spring on the Canal du Midi

Brick bridge……Pont Deyme

Brick bridge……Pont Deyme

Canal du Midi spring views

Canal du Midi spring views

Canal du Midi – Lock marker signage

Arthur gets a bit of a wiggle on with a tight timeline to get the girls to Castelnaudary so leaves us at Gardouch locks where there’s a convenient mooring opposite a wee restaurant – L’Estanquet – in the former lock keepers cottage. We’ve had some good nosh here before at this family run place and judging by the packed tables business is doing fine. It’s pretty much traditional French fare with slabs of fois gras, platters of charcuterie and a range of steaks and duck dishes. Reasonable prices and pleasant service all make for a very enjoyable evening, unless of course you’re  one of the many ducks that get served up that is!

Evey at dinner – Gardouch locks

Dinner in Gardouch

Hotel barge – Le Haricot Noir….Gardouch

Sunset at Gardouch

Reaching Ocean lock marks the summit of the Canal du Midi, a place where it’s feed waters are sourced from and the point from which it’s downhill all the way in both directions to the Mediterranean to the east and the Atlantic to the west. This water supply reaches the canal via man-made streams (la rigole) that wind their way stretching back for many kilometres inland to the Black Mountains and the reservoirs that collect the water from the surrounding hills. As it turns out it also marks the end of our run of good weather for while with rain and high winds forecast for several days  ahead.

Spring time approaching the Canal du Midi Summit

Spring on the Canal du Midi

The summit pound – Canal du Midi – This is where the feed waters for the canal come from….

A few days later we’re in the grip of the Tramontane, a strong wind that can blow for days on end down the corridor from the Atlantic ocean to the Mediterranean funneled between the Pyrenees and Massif Central ranges. Five days straight with winds gusting 55 – 85 kph it’s unpleasant to say the least and among other things makes cruising unpleasant and locking challenging at times though with a displacement of some 70 tonnes we’re better placed to deal with it than the plastic hire boats for whom it can be a nightmare getting in and out of the locks. The best thing you can do in these conditions is simply stay tied up somewhere secure and preferably as sheltered as possible to wait it out, easy for us of course with unlimited time but for those renters with a weeks’ vacation that’s a luxury they can’t afford and while at times their struggles getting in and out of locks can provide mild entertainment but of course if they get into real trouble we will go out and help!

In no particular hurry we find a secure place to moor with some shelter from the relentless wind and hole up for a few days, there’s only one thing to do and that’s make the truly awesome steak and kidney pie I’ve been promising for months and this seems like the perfect time. I dedicate the crust to Evelyn as a token of love!

Supper is served – steak & kidney pie, mash and peas

At last my awesome steak & kidney pie

Eventually the winds die down enough for us to slip into Castelnaudary where we’ll stay for a week. We wait nervously like expectant fathers watching the weather as we’ve got an installer coming this week to replace the deck matting and it can’t be done in the wet. As sod’s law all too often stipulates, that which can go wrong, will go wrong, and it does! After multiple delays to the new decking installation back in Toulouse we’d moved on and agreed to defer the work to Castelnaudary but demonic agents had conspired against us with the first being that the only day with rain forecast that week was, you guessed it, the installation day. It mattered not, as the installers incredulous face conveyed it all recoiling in shocked surprise when he saw the barge’s outside deck. Apparently no-one had advised him it was outside and he’d brought the wrong adhesive, this would never work he said and we’d have to defer the installation yet again while he sourced the new adhesive. We agree to rendezvous again after the weekend a few locks further on and complete the job then. At this rate we’d be in Amsterdam and still not have the job completed.

The port of Castelnaudary

Evey gets her new season plant delivery

Evey busy planting her new season crop of flowers

Evey….green fingers to grubby fingers in a space of minutes

In the meantime Evey had firm plans to get her deck planting done having already scoped out the suppliers, plants, colours and the species she required along with all the cooking herbs we’d  want in the months ahead. All that remained were a few more lunches, the first with friends Pete & Nikki Skerritts on their lovely barge ‘Aurigny’ and another at the Hotel Central in town where they serve up an excellent entrée of pelourdes and couteaux en persillade which translates into clams and razor clams with garlic, olive oil and parsley, trust me it’s to die for and if that’s not enough they deliver one of the best tarte au citron (lemon tarts) around.

Pete & Nikki (Aurigny) around for dinner…

Moules / Frites night in Castelnaudary …….all you can eat mussels, wine and beer….with Aussié mates Phil & Kathy Tyson

Veal tournedos – Hotel Central, Castelnaudary

Some delicious couteaux & pelourdes with garlic, parsley and olive oil – Hotel Centrale, Castelnaudary

Kidneys – Hotel Centrale, Castelnaudary

Leaving Castelnaudary looks trickier than it really is for a 25 x 4 metre barge

Le Grand Bassin, Castelnaudary

Le Grand Bassin, Castelnaudary

Coming up on the 4 lock flight ‘St Roc ‘ at Castelnaudary

The 4 lock flight ‘St Roc ‘ at Castelnaudary

Descending the St Roc 4 lock flight at Castelnaudary

Evey’s been out acquiring lilac blossoms

Peyruque or rather the mooring just above the lock at Peyruque is a spot we’ve moored at several times previously, it’s a delightful rural spot that looks out over adjacent farmer’s fields with the old lock keepers cottage now a small café selling drinks, ice creams and souvenirs. Cyclists, hikers and boats all stop here during the season taking a welcome break. Over a number of visits we’ve seen a variety of crops grown here, mostly sunflowers, but on this occasion it’s large fields of peas though alas the large deep ditch between us prevented us from performing some independent quality control sampling. Maybe that was just as well because shortly after we’d got tied up skies darkened as large brooding and ominous storm clouds rolled in just as cruising pals Bergy and Deborah turned up.

Deborah and Bergo arrive on ‘Peary’ at Peyruque ecluse for a couple of days

‘Peary’ at Peyruque ecluse mooring under brooding skies

Brooding skies over a Peyruque farm and fields of new season peas

Fields of peas at Peyruque locks

Fields of colour and light.

Fields of colour and fantastic light….Peyruque ecluse

Leaving Peyruque locks

Lock on the Canal du Midi

The storms moved on as storms do and so did we, after all we’d a rendezvous with the deck matting installer two days ahead. Thinking about the job it occurred to me that with just the one guy coming he’s most likely to just rip the old material off and then slap down a coat of new adhesive for the new mat, which as I learned later was exactly what would have happened leaving a very uneven result. Reluctantly that expectation meant plans for a lazy weekend went pear shaped and two long 12 hr days ended up spent scraping old adhesive off the large deck, cleaning then painting a protective waterproof membrane onto the deck in readiness for the installation. Imagine my sheer delight when appearing around the corner on the Sunday morning came the cruiser  ‘Peary’ mooring up along-side. A huge thanks goes to Paul ‘Bergy’ Bergson and his lovely wife Deborah……her for letting him spend an entire morning helping me with the odious task of scraping the deck and him for being such a pal and volunteering to do it, what a guy!

Before ….The old deck matting…..

Starting the laborious hard yard removing the old matting and underlying adhesive glue….

Not fun…………

Making progess after 7 hours hard labour….

Done at last…..now washing down…..

This is the easy bit…..

Applying a coat of ‘Noxyde’ base coat to protects the steel deck before the new matting is laid

Last bit….

The final touches before the new decking cover arrives tomorrow

New deck cover arrives and fitting begins….under supervision of course!

The finished product …all done!

Install Day and a Welcome break at Lalande Locks……..Monday arrived along with bright sunshine and our installer armed this time with the correct adhesive, better still he was early and work got underway, well it did for him, I was busy supervising. All done by lunchtime which still left enough time for the four hour run to Villesquelande for the night meeting up with the Bergy’s again along with crews from Polaris, Antonia & Bosch Plaas. It was here that after several ‘welcoming ‘ beers a sustaining dinner with sustaining wine that the mood for some creative writing ensued through the medium of calvados. Little wonder the six kilometre journey to Lalande locks had to be handed over to the Co-captain next morning due to a slightly incapacitated crew member.

Spring coming into leaf

Evey taking in the absolute stunning beauty of it all, near Villesquelande

A creative writing aid…….Oh no, not another glass surely?

Lalande lock flight consists of three locks looking down a stunning tree lined valley just seven kilometres from the historic city of Carcassonne. It’s one of our all- time favourite wild moorings in France and a place we’ve shared some memorable times with fellow aquatic nomads as well as times here just on our own. It’s pretty and tranquil for the most part though occasionally entertaining with the passing hire boat traffic depending on the conditions. On this occasion we’re joined by the Bergy’s, filling our days with walks, bike rides and an excellent lunch at the nearby Chateau Pennautier. It seems at times as if one could stay here forever but it’s now May with other commitments meaning we have to move on down to Carcassonne

Villesquelande….Aha, the first grape vines….a portent of things to come perhaps?

Lock setting – Lalande Locks

One of the most perfect wild moorings – Lalande Locks

Above the lock at Lalande

A busy traffic day here at Lalande Locks

In case your navigation skills fail you – a State of the art compass

The lock keepers cottage – Lalande Locks

The view of the valley

The view down the valley the locals call ‘Le Petit Versailles’ – Lalande Locks

Water comes in fast here at Lalande Locks

First lunch on deck 2019 – Lalande Locks

 

 

 

March 2019 – Boys, Beer & Bangers in Blighty

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time…….Ok ok, so before some of you start banging on at me for being slack in getting the rest of this year’s travel blogs done, I know I’ve been a smidge behind the eight ball, but hey, I’ve been busy, we’ve had visitors on and off and it’s been hot. I’ve also got a well laundered list of other invaluable excuses but will save those for another rainy day. In the meantime I’ll get back to the meat and potatoes of this years travel starting back here in March.

L’Escapade on the dock in Toulouse early March 2019

With February’s unseasonably warm spells we’d managed to get many of the early season jobs done to ready the barge in advance, so that left some free time to squander on more pleasurable activities, well, for me in any event.

Evey took advantage of the slack time to head over to the USA to visit family, something she does unfailingly at least twice a year. I on the other hand took advantage of an old school mate’s invitation to head over to Cheshire while his wife was away on an annual girlie trip to Lanzarotte to compare suntans, toenail colours and who knows what else but for me it was essentially a boys beer and bangers trip – bangers as everyone knows are English slang for sausages. The idea seemed near perfect but like so many of life’s well laid plans this was one was going to prove a tad less than incident free. Big time!

The first hint of trouble came shortly after I’d bought my bargain basement flight when reading the news that my bargain buddy airline ‘Flybe’, was about to go bust, blue sky to black cloud in a matter of days landing resolutely on the bankruptcy runway while simultaneously rendering my newly minted ticket as worthless as a nine bob note. Funny I thought mouthing the words ‘utter bastards’ that business about to cark it financially all know exactly when the axe is about to fall yet they happily take the public’s money for goods and services they can bet the house they will never deliver on. Brilliant I thought envisioning the pleasant prospect of several pints of fine English ale and succulent snags (which as everyone down-under knows is Aussie slang for sausages) slipping away from me and with no other flights available to get me to nosebag heaven. However, as luck would have it the air travel fairy smiled upon me granting the ailing airline sa reprieve at the last minute by a philanthropic benefactor in the guise of Virgin Airlines who’d offered a seemingly acceptable right royal rogering in the form of the princely sum of one penny per share, which being accepted by the shareholders as adequately generous ensured I’d soon be on my way sampling beery beverages and succulent sauso’s.

Manchester airport it has to be said has always seemed a depressing place to me at the best of times and arriving shrouded in a chilly, drizzly mid-March mist certainly did little to change my view of the place other than reinforcing my long held belief that leaving this place all those years ago was among my smarter decisions. My ride arrived in the plump and prosperous looking form of long term and former school chum Jon Clauson aka JC snapping me out of my depressing thoughts as I clambered aboard his latest flash limo and we hurtled towards Bunbury village nestled in the more rural south Cheshire countryside near Chester, and our rendezvous at the Yew Tree Inn with a couple of pints of deliciously golden Eastgate bitter.

 

 

 

 

Pints of Weetwood’s Eastgate bitter….delicious

Blissfully lazy days followed that first initial rendezvous and while the air remained chilly Bunbury village is quite pretty especially with the spring blossoms beginning to emerge. The village is also blessed by having two other excellent pubs all within immediate walking distance.

St Boniface’s church, Bunbury

Spring blooms emerging in Bunbury

Looking toward St Boniface’s church, Bunbury

A catch up with friends James Mulgrew and John Foster at the Nags Head

The Dysart Arms with JC, James Mulgrew and John Foster

Swiftly followed by the first of several sausage fests this time sampling the tasty pork & leek tongue tempters hand made by local award winning butcher RF Burrows & Sons  https://www.rf-burrowsandsons.co.uk/   at the Dysart Arms.  Naturally the Dysart serves these porcine rascals along with creamy mash and peas, what more could you wish for.

The Dysart

JC feeling pleased with himself at the Dysart Arms

Banger, mash & beans at the Dysart Arms in Bunbury

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s only a short visit with the days slipping by all to quickly with barely enough time for a trip to the nearby market town of Nantwich followed by a Sunday roast lunch back at the Dysart with JC and Dranners, another old chum. Rare roast beef, roast pork, Yorkshire pudding and lashings of gravy with all the trimmings, it’s hard to beat. By now I’d just one day left to indulge in some tasty local nosebag and savour a few last pints before printing off my return ticket  for the journey back to Toulouse. What could possibly go wrong?

St Mary’s church, Nantwich

St Mary’s church, Nantwich

A V.C. Awarded to a Nantwich soldier WW I

 

The the Dysart Arms with Dranners and JC

Just the three pints please…..

Dranners, JC and me at the Dysart Arms

Roast Sunday lunch the Dysart Arms

How can I be here when I’m not all There?  – The Tale of The Flight that Never Was……..I should note at this point that I am, for the most part a pretty well organised traveler, some might suggest slightly anal in my preparations leaving little or nothing to chance, like for example the date of travel perhaps. Despite JC quizzing me repeatedly at length late on Sunday about my flight time on the Monday morning I remained steadfastly resolute in my belief that the flight was not until Tuesday, that is, the day after. So sure was I of these obvious and basic details so that in protest I insisted there was absolutely no point in even checking the times once again and with that I took off to bed to dream of my last day in the village and another couple of pints.

So it was with some degree of confusion the following morning while sipping my first cup of tea that I tried in vain to print off my boarding pass for the following day, and, no matter how many times I tried the system failed to deliver the goods. There then followed that uncomfortable sinking feeling that comes as it dawns upon you that the reason the boarding pass can’t be printed is simply because the bloody flight had already departed, hmm, yes, departed and without me on board. The rest doesn’t bare thinking about …forfeit ticket, wife arriving back in Toulouse with no access to barge, do not pass GO, do not collect $200, go directly to gaol, accept howls of derisive laughter from alleged friends, the miserable list just goes on like a broken record and with no-one to blame but myself, how could this be. Needless to say JC was the first to find my predicament vastly entertaining as these ramifications unfolded.

Little matter that the cost of the ticket was lost, of much more concern was Evelyn’s arrival back in Toulouse the following day from her USA trip and no keys to access the barge, this would not go down well and so instead of a decent pub lunch and a few pints my attention became steadfastly fixed on trying to find another flight back to Toulouse as close to Evelyn’s arrival without getting shafted by the airlines who’s last minute help consisted solely of air fares collectively focused on maximising their advantage over my predicament.

In the end I grabbed the least painful option which translated into a choice between the financial equivalent of a poke in the eye with a sharp stick or a hefty kick in the nether regions and came with the added knee in the groin being a replacement of my previous leisurely 2 hr flight with a 6 hour ordeal taking me to south to Lisbon in Portugal before a connecting with another flight back north to Toulouse along with a near heart attack sprinting across the airport to make the connection. It was not a good day but at least things couldn’t get worse could they?

 Joys of Airport Security & Tale of the Semtex Sausages……Airline travel’s become exceedingly dull these days I’ve concluded, with any vestiges of excitement at the prospect of the journey ahead extinguished by endless queues, pedantic security checks where one is practically expected to strip naked to pass through electronic barriers often manned by over- zealous obnoxious half- wits who, uniform clad wield their power with perverse delight. Once you’ve hitched your pants up for the umpteenth time, secured your belt, put your shoes on, retrieved your watch, laptop, phone and other worldly possessions we get to play the utterly mind numbing duty free maze game inspired those Nordic geniuses at IKEA whose annoying efforts to get you to part with your hard earned entails us to be herded sheep-like along the winding twisting yellow brick road past every single retail outlet flogging all manner of over- priced merchandise and tat you never wanted to own before finally reaching the sanctuary of the waiting lounge, well for the fortunate ones that have a waiting lounge anyway. I know it’s allegedly there for our own safety and protection and I, along with every-one else have little desire to test the brace position while strapping on the oxygen mask and life vest all the while hurtling towards the ground at terminal velocity but it has to be said that the security process can be, well, a little tedious shall we say. Give me a train any day.

Re-living the dubious joys of air travel seem to have got me side-tracked, so there I was a day later furnished with another ticket to get me back to Toulouse the same day as my wife all be it at considerably greater expense and a 6 hr trip time thrown in for good measure and I’m steeling myself for the pleasure of Manchester airport security.

Traveling short haul flights on bargain basement airlines as we all know comes with some baggage of course, no, I don’t mean passengers baggage for that comes at an ever increasing cost, the other price we have to pay is the meticulous care to avoid exceeding those very exacting cabin luggage dimensions or weight with transgressors variously having luggage left behind, placed in the hold at additional charge, abused by other passengers and or shouldering the blame for the late plane’s departure,  in effect just shy of a public flogging. Did I mention how much more preferable train travel was?

At this point I should make a small but important confession. I’m a bit of a sausage fan, who isn’t I hear the cry, but no, really, I do love a really good banger and have a particular affinity for English sausages.  Pork and herb, pork and leek, apple and pork, Cumberland, Lincoln and even those little breakfast chipolatas, I love ‘em all. Only days earlier while enjoying a few pints of finest bitter in the Dysart Arms pub in picturesque Bunbury, I’d succumbed to the digestive delights of the local butchers bangers and they were really quite delicious.

I’d quickly made up my mind to take a swag of the succulent snags back to Toulouse with me and careful calculations concluded that with a little re-working of my luggage I could accommodate a hefty 3 kgs equating to around 38 bangers snugged into my hand luggage, brilliant.

A trip to the local butcher soon had me hauling a goodly assortment of his finest all neatly trayed up and vacuum packed to preserve the flavour and freshness. I was as happy as a pig in poo as they say.

Security was always going to be a bit of a risk and despite having successfully navigating my way through the body scans clutching my trousers for fear that at any moment they’d end up around my ankles then patted down in a manner suggesting the patter enjoyed the process more so than I the patee and likely befitting being conducted by a member of the ordained catholic clergy, it seems all was not well with my cabin baggage which was hoiked out of the scanners for a more physical examination under the watchful and curious eyes of the other passengers.

The doughty looking trencherman tasked with taking the contents of my luggage apart did so with the meticulous care one might expect from someone dissecting an insect, all the while trying to determine the source  and nature of the dark matter that lurked therein. The benign nature of said dark matter soon became evident much to the giggling amusement of all and sundry standing nearby as pack after pack of RF Burrows & Sons precious porcine produce was laid out on the counter with me looking fertively around like some guilt ridden narcotics mule caught red  handed. Visions flashed through my mind of the scene in Midnight Express where the character Billy Hayes gets hauled away to prison in Turkey, but the moment passed regardless of any passing similarities between Manchester Airport’s underground security haul and a Turkish prison.

My stout security man while replacing my precious cargo confesses that he too was a fellow aficionado of the humble sausage and fully understood my addicted need to transport such essential supplies to the sausage wilderness of Toulouse, which, while that fair city does boast a famed sausage and key ingredient to the regional cassoulet dish, I have to say no Toulouse snag is a patch on the Great British banger. It’s at this point that the appreciate security chap points out the reason that my precious cargo caused such alarm was that apparently sausages had the same look and consistency of Semtex explosives! I hastened to assure him that this lot would only explode if incorrectly handled in a frying pan or left too long on a bar b que which is where these little puppies were destined for.

With the dramas behind me there was little left to do but find a strong coffee and prepare for the six hour plus flight that lay ahead. I made it to Toulouse by the end of the day but not before experiencing a near heart attack racing from one very long end of Lisbon airport to the other for my connecting flight which through some genius of planning transported me literally right back to the end of the bloody airport that I’d just run from, it does make you wonder who dreams this stuff up.

Evelyn was rescued from pals on Effie where she’d been holed up following a lavish lunch while waiting for me to turn up with the keys to L’Escapade. I ended the day thinking that after all these events senility was probably going to be a rather smooth transition for me and reminded yet again that generally with age comes wisdom, though occasionally it’s wise to remember that sometimes age comes all on its own.

End of the Month & Back to L’Escapade …….Once safely back to home afloat where our aquatic abode seems considerably more reliable than the vagaries of airline schedules and my failing memory there’s another burst of spring sunshine and warmth enough to drag out the shorts and finish the spring chores with the pace picking up in preparation for our shoving off next month. Serge our trusted barge welder and general fixer comes around to fit the new double glazed panels for our pigeon box, a job I’ve only been planning this replacement job for the past 7 years,

Serge installing the new pigeon box windows

Glass installed & Brass frames all polished up

and I return to the task of hunting out odd bits of rust which invariably means inventing new contortions to get my head in places it was never designed to go.

Treating rust under the gunwales

Not my best side……scouring for rust under the gunwales

Pumping out the old hydraulic oil

Plant potting mix arrives

Varnishing and epoxy resin applied to the new deck box

The  there’s deck painting, oiling woodwork, polishing brass and so on to the point I start to feel like I’m being sucked into a vortex of never ending jobs, but that a boat for you and like painting the harbour bridge this is a never ending series of tasks, but I wouldn’t swap it  for anything.

L’Escapade on the dock in Toulouse

February 2019 – Time for a Climate Change

Spring Comes Early……..Or so it seemed fooling us all as February, normally pretty damned nippy, turned on some extraordinarily warm weather for a considerable time and saw me digging out summer clothes and donning a pair of shorts and T shirt. There was no getting away from it this was a great opportunity to get a bunch of chores done before the spring came and thus hopefully have less to do later. Ha, what am I saying, what, was I thinking?

In any event I did get a bunch of things done, not the least another round of timber window frames stripped back to bare wood and then oiled with Owatrol D1 saturating oil – I’m done with varnish and after several years of stripping and sanding, then more sanding then multiple coats of varnish that needs re-doing at the slightest blemish I’ve finally converted to oiling the wood. Once sanded there’s  little else to do but periodically brush or use a cloth to apply more oil and the jobs done, Virtually no more sanding to be done with a small fortune saved in buying new sanders constantly only to witness them explode spectacularly through over use (I’ve trashed 4 in the past 6 years!). That said each frame takes a solid 5 hrs work stripping ensuring that by day’s end I can be found falling asleep at the laptop before dinner as I’m usually totally stuffed after a full day’s sanding.

Yoga took a back seat this winter in part because we like others have been away so with inconsistent numbers each week we struggled to get enough to make it worthwhile for the teacher and compounding that minor detail I’m totally stuffed at the end of the day and don’t need more stuffing so alas that worthwhile but tiring exercise is no more.

However Zoe our Aussie instructor did have one last valuable task to perform, that being to persuade her partner Fred to agree to build us a new marine ply deck storage box to match the one we already had and now that we had a new inflatable dinghy plus an outboard motor we needed somewhere to store them.

Fred’s a very talented craftsman and over a few weeks produced the goods, all that remained was for me to waterproof it with epoxy resin and stain it to match the other one . Evey on the other hand had a rather less enjoyable task which involved taking the black water holding tank pump apart , replacing a part and re-assembling the unit on account of a breakdown in our forward toilet system, but she does love to get all mucky!

Varnishing and epoxy resin applied to the new deck box

Evey cleaning out the black water pump – Yucky job!

I’m now dieting fiercely to shed my last season’s excesses having lost 8.7 kgs by early February, the trouble is I know the addresses of every single kilogram and have little doubt that I’ll be making their acquaintance again before too long.

Diet progress….the slowly shrinking Rothers

End of Feb 2019 and the diet yields results

Galley renovation re-visited………Yet again the subject of a galley makeover surfaced this month, if you cast your mind back to last November and all those grand ideas we had hatched for a galley overhaul, well now we were moving forward rather excitedly at the prospect of a new look with new counter tops and more efficient use of the space effectively once more trying to make the nautical version of a silk purse from the sow’s ear. We’d looked at a bespoke custom plan a year earlier and now given the fact it’s a boat and the high costs involved we’ve elected to check out the IKEA option and ok we get it, maybe IKEA isn’t everyone’s verre de vino but how much do you want to throw at a boat galley, after all this isn’t like a Federal budget with the benefits of a tax payer funded bottomless pit, this puppy has its limits!

I don’t know how much you know about getting these things organised through IKEA but I’m here to tell you that nothing is simple and that’s apart from the multiple visits to the store several kilometres away to sort things out. Anyway, we’d picked out everything we wanted and they sent a nice man out experienced in these matters to assess the viability of the project for a modest sum of €140 which would be refundable should we proceed with the project. So, all excited on the day the nice man came but our joy was to be short lived and our hopes dashed as he delivered bad news after bad news. Barges are not, as everyone who has one knows, square, nor uniform in shape or angles but it didn’t help that IKEA changed all their size specs for cabinetry making the whole project on the good ship ‘’lay-about’’ impossible without ripping the entire galley out and starting again from scratch and that’s assuming they could get the various bits delivered before we left to hear north. Then there were the issues of needing a specialist gas fitter as that was ‘’complique’’ and a specialist electrician because that too was ‘’complique’’ and the quartz stone counter tops were hard to custom cut because…blah blah blah and on it went, we got the message loud and clear.

It seems we are destined to put up with what we have for the foreseeable future, and in time I’ll get over it I expect!

English can be a bit tricky – The Eyes & the Nose …………Every now and again one gets an entertaining twist on the  complexity of language and English can be little different to any other. Most people who’ve been following the Brexit train wreck unfold will have sooner or later seen the UK parliament’s Speaker of the House – John Bercow  in action with his catch cry ‘ORDER’ wielded like a henchman’s axe when controlling unruly house. It may also have been noted that when MPs vote on an issue they leave the House of Commons chamber and divide into separate division lobbies for ‘ayes’ (yes votes) and ‘noes’ (no votes). So, the term ‘ayes to the right’ where I used in the title means that those in favour go through the right-hand lobby. So it was with peels of laughter that had to explain to dear Swiss friends on MV Electra that MPs were not being directed where to go based on their ‘Eyes’ or ‘Noses’  but for voting in favour or against a particular matter!

And while on Electra a former German passenger river boat he’s an interesting couple of pictures taken when she was lashed onto the side of a 185 metre coal barge being towed up the Rhone river as her battery powered engines were not sufficiently powerful enough, what an experience!

Passing Helen & Charles Stotzer’s ‘Electra’ near Villeneuve les Beziers

Electra being towed up the Rhone

Electra being towed up the Rhone

It’s Not all Fun & Games…………..It’s tough but it has to be done sometimes and by mid-February we were forced to take a break from the barge and suffer the hardships of a long weekend in Majorca with some former boaty pals, Alan & Sharon Smith former owners of ‘Drumsara’ and John & Winnie Eakins current owners of ‘Avasol’.

Flying over the Pyrenees

A great break with plenty of winter sun and great food around the old town. Majorca has a vibrant market with great seafood, fab nosheries and a delightful old town. Great spending time with crews we spent so much time on the canals with back in 2013 and 2014 before we all went up the Rhone.

Law courts – Palma

Law courts  – Palma

Law courts – Palma

A giant olive tree – Palma

Evey the sentry – Palma

The Cathdrale – Palma

The Cathdrale – Palma

View from the Cathedrale

Palma

Sharon, Evey & Win – Mercat 1930 – Palma, Majorca

John, Alan & me – Mercat 1930 – Palma, Majorca

John, Alan & me – Mercat 1930 – Palma, Majorca

Mercat 1930 – Palma, Majorca

Winnie, Sharon & Evey – La Bodeguilla – Palma, Majorca
La Bodeguill

Alan with his hands full – Palma, Majorca

Fresh steamed mussels – Palma markets

Fresh fish, Palma markets

Scary looking monk fish – Palma market

Seriously Chilled fish !

Fish stall Palma markets

Cured jamon – Palma market

Afternoon Drinks in Palma

The weekend over means we’re heading into March and final preparations for our long and exciting voyage north.

 

December 2018 / January 2019 – The Sydney Sojourn

December and familar haunts……..December back in Sydney was a generally quiet period, well quiet apart from countless lunches and dinners catching up with friends and former work colleagues liberally interspersed with daily swims which again became a familiar and enjoyable routine, all of which helped us slip back into the familiar pattern we’d left some six year ago, though ever present was Anita’s deteriorating situation generating a roller coaster of emotions for everyone but it did feel comforting to be in the company of close friends.

Lunch at the 16 ft Skiff Club, Clontarf with Michael & Ruth

The Hot Seafood platter

The cold Seafood platter

Scotty Bennett & DR, Australia Square

DR & Steve ‘Sniffer’ Newnham – Australia Square drinks

Sally, Elizabeth & Evey at Bob’s apartment

Belinda the perfect dinner host

Martin & Evey at the Andertons for dinner

There were pleasant afternoons sailing on Sydney harbour with friends Michael & Ruth Hand in their swank yacht ‘Smitten’ as the city prepared for the year’s end, strange weather patterns brought the periodic emergence of banks of sea fog rolling in over the headlands before disappearing almost as quickly as they’d arrived.

Smitten – Jeaneau Sun Odyssey 48′

Evey on Smitten

Michael and Ruth – Clontarf, wine and cheese….what else?

DR at the helm of Smitten on Sydney harbour

Ferries on the harbour

Sydney CBD & Opera House

Cruise ship at Central Quay, Sydney

P & O Pacific Explorer leaving Sydney

Some fat cruise ship heading out of Sydney

Sydney Harbour bridge from the west

Christmas tree – Martin Place, Sydney

Martin Place, Sydney

The New light rail – George Street, Sydney

 

Sea fog Balmoral

Sea fog at Balmoral beach

Sea fog

Being away from Sydney for long stretches you forget that the place really is sub- tropical and visiting with various friends you can’t help smiling at times when the amazing range of tropical birds arrives at your doorstep or more often than not at your very finger tips – red parrots that land at your window ledge, the screeching sulphur crested cockatoos that race noisily around the bushland, rainbow lorikeets squabbling in the trees and the omnipresent cookaburras with long sharp beaks always on the lookout for an easy meal. It also never ceases to amaze or delight me when I see the variety of other tropical life that inhabits this city with us like ring tailed possums or the giant fruit bats.

Evey hand feeding the parrot

Evey’s new best friend

A King Parrot at Rhod & Carole Webbs

Sam feeding the kookaburra at Bob Brewer’s

Sam feeding the kookaburra at Bob Brewer’s

Sam feeding the kookaburra at Bob Brewer’s

Kookaburra at Bob Brewer’s

DR hand feeding a Kookaburra

Cockatoo on Bob’s patio

Cockatoos en mass at Bob’s

Lorikeets

Ringtailed Possums

 

Flying Foxes (fruit bats) in the Sydney Botanical Gardens

Christmas Day was the strangest of days in many ways if strange is the right way to describe it. The morning came with the news that Anita had passed away peacefully a few hours earlier so along with other close friends we gathered at the house to be together and see Anita one last time, then later the same day we gathered with other friends for a somewhat more traditional affair, little of the day seemed real being hard to celebrate on the one hand and hard not to on the other, one thing is for sure it’s a day none of us will forget quickly.

Friday night drinks in Cammeray – Evey, Helen & Sally

Christmas dinner table – The Harlows

Harlow’s Christmas Dinner

January 2019………..With flights back to Toulouse booked for mid- month the days just evaporated, Evey left a few days before me stopping off in Paris to see boating friends for a couple of days and for me the last few rounds catching up with friends and last days at the beach, with the occasional evening picnic taking in the city lights at dusk, then, before then before you knew it I was off to the airport. We’d been away from all this familiarity for such a long time that the return took time to sink in, then, having sunk in, it seemed so odd and uncomfortable having to leave it all behind and of course saying goodbye to those near and dear along with a huge thank you to our good friend Bob Brewer who’d hosted us at his apartment for seven long suffering weeks, an incredibly generous gesture.

Sam & Evey at Balmoral

Bathers Pavillion and Balmoral beach south

Morning at Balmoral beach

The island at Balmoral beach

DR at Balmoral beach for daily swim

Views to the city

The Manly Ferry & North head

Sydney harbour at Sunset

Sydney harbour at Sunset

Sydney harbour at night

Sydney harbour at night 2

Sydney harbour at night

Talk about climate change, crikey, the return to Toulouse brought that into sharp focus pretty damned quickly having left Sydney’s hot and toasty climate landing in Toulouse was cold and wet and there were a solid three months of cold weather ahead before any signs of spring were to show up. Worse still all that culinary indulgence from the previous months plus the toll that the Sydney trip had added meant only one thing……the diet must begin! I’d set a date to start the minute the plane’s wheels hit the tarmac in Toulouse with a target to lose 12 kgs. It’s one thing cutting out all the things you love to eat and drink but layered liberally on top comes lashings of willpower, backbone and discipline, never my strongest traits where food is concerned but it had to be done.

Clear days were made up of long walks and bike rides in, around and out of the city but given there were plenty of rainy days these excursions were pretty limited in nature, then a visit from friend Tim who’s mission it seemed was nothing short of the sabotage of my diet plans. However by the end of January I was 5 kgs lighter, constantly hungry and just gagging for a beer.

Having a Riot of a Time…… Continued demonstrations by the Gilet Jaunes movement were having a serious impact on the city’s commerce. By 26th January  these demos had been going on for 11 weeks. Saturday afternoons saw squads of heavily armed CRS riot police becoming a regular feature around the city while overhead police helicopters monitored the situation from above.  Tear gas was frequently used to disperse the crowds which on one occasion headed right past the port and where we were moored, tear gas cannisters landed on several boats including one rafted up next to us, had it gone through our wheelhouse windows we’d have had to evacuate pretty quickly. The impact on local traders was huge with weekend shoppers staying away from town and sales well down. Many businesses resorted to placing signs in their windows suggesting the business was in danger of closing and for sale, the signs advertised a number to call which turns out to be the local Prefecture whose phone lines get clogged – it’s the merchants and restaurants way of communicating the impact this political impasse is having on them.

The continued weekly Gilet Jaune demonstrations…headed for the Port St Sauveur

Noisy demo’ followed by heavy police presence

Crowds scatter as police fire off tear gas cannisters

Tear gas and cannisters land over L’Escapade

Armoured police carriers and water cannon

Steel posts mowed down by the armoured police trucks!

And so ends January, a rather uneventful month if you exclude demonstrations and in downtown Toulouse but the countdown to Spring while still nearly three months away has begun.

November 2018 ……..A Month of Mixed Emotions

Autumn in Toulouse is particularly pretty as leaves change colour the city takes on a new look after the heat of summer has departed, walks and bike rides along the canal and around town never cease to keep your interest alive as there’s always something to catch your eye. Days are still reasonably warm but night time of course brings a bit of a chill with it. We’ve got our yoga classes started again in the capitainerie and Aussie instructor Zoe who ran our weekly exertions last winter has agreed to run them once more with the same level of enthusiasm as before.

Le Pont Saint-Pierre

Rue Riguepels

Toulouse secret gardens

Place Sainte-Scarbes & our favourite pizza place

The laneways of Toulouse

Place Sainte-Scarbes

Looking down the Garonne

Life in Tandem

Le Pont Neuf

Le Pont neuf

Pont Neuf by day

Rent a bike

Barges along the Canal du Midi at Ramonville, Toulouse

Views along the Canal du Midi, Ramonville, Toulouse

Liveaboard barges at Ramonville, Toulouse

Bike paths around Toulouse

Le Pont Neuf by night

Bike ride around Toulouse

Esplanade des Francais d’Afrique du Nord

Jardin Royal

Jardin Royal

Autumn leaves, Toulouse

Autumn colour, Toulouse

Le Grand Rond Statue

Le Grand Rond Statue

Le Grand Rond Statue

Le Grand Rond Fountain

For Evelyn there’s always the constant lure of the markets, Victor Hugo, the largest, is a little further away but close by is Carme market and Evey has spent enough time there to work out who supplies the best of just about everything and with me being the main beneficiary. One stand out supplier is a chap who’s become know to us as  ‘lamb man’ as he consistently turns out the very best lamb we’ve eaten anywhere on the planet…..grilled, BBQ’d or roasted there’s none finer and we’ll miss him along with the market when we leave in the spring.

 

Cepes

Fruit for all seasons

Duck anyway you want it

Hares, Rabbits, Ducks, Guinea Foul, and chickens

A Deli to die for

Fishy fishy fish

Lamb man !

All the Oink you could want!

Spinach anyone?

Supporting of all this culinary activity we’ve started to think seriously about upgrading the galley on L’Escapade planning ways to maximise what is otherwise a pretty small space particularly so for two people who like to spend as much time as we do in there, it’s probably well overdue. In any event we come up with a list of desires, wants, maybe’s and must have’s but events overtake us and the project is deferred unto February in the new year.

Machine Machinations………….. Part of me says it could only ever happen in France but where in the world would you find a city of such size close the city centre down to traffic for four full days for a cultural event let alone for one operated by a private company, but that’s exactly what happened here in Toulouse this particular November. La Machine is a French company originally from Nantes that designs, builds and displays a variety of mechanical machines in the form of animal characters both real and ficticious. Some are on display in various French cites and on this occasion ahead of a new purpose built museum to house many of these machines in Toulouse as a new and novel tourist attraction, there’s a four day piece of street theatre with a giant minataur and a giant spider that move around the city acting out a story backed by music. Believe me these machines are huge and controlled by an equally large team of operators. Over the four days something around 600, 000 people descend upon the city to watch the spectacle, it’s truly incredible.

Visits There, Visits Here…….November means that Evey’s due for one of her regular visits back to the USA to see family and help out with her mum who’s getting on these days and sadly declining with dementia, there’s little joy to be had there and with diminishing dignity. It’s a constant and somewhat sobering reminder for the rest of us as to what may lie ahead. Less sobering is the imminent arrival of my brother Charlie from the UK. It was all my fault really, as I’d used Evelyn’s absence one evening to indulge in a rather delicious dinner on board cooked by my own fair hand, trouble was that the same fair hand was equally occupied filling it’s glass with fine red vino so by the time the meal was over the self- same hand found itself dialing the digits for the aforementioned brothers number and following a somewhat confused conversation an invitation was extended to come visit and indulge in some fine French fodder washed down with copious verres de vin.  Sleep followed soon thereafter and all recollections of the invitation had long vanished by the morning when all thoughts were well and truly focussed on the more urgent task of banishing the recently arrived hangover. Moments later came the text with brother Charlie’s flight details and announcing his imminent arrival later that same day. Dinner in town that night for some beery beverages, posh nosh and bon vin precede the next day’s a bike ride around to see a bit of the city followed by a simple but delicious lunch at one of Toulouse’s more quirky but amusing noshery’s ‘Au Pere Louis’.

Charlie in Toulouse

It’s hard to go past a visit to Au Pere Louis for a genuine Toulousian experience. What makes this place so enjoyable is low key unique blend of ambience, charm, simplicity and great humour. There’s a limited menu but always something good and a wine list to match. The old boy chef / waiter owners are two of the most engaging characters you’ll find anywhere and be sure to sample the home made aperitif – Quinquina made from a raft of stuff but includes bark from the Cinchona tree which is also used in the production of quinine formerly used for the treatment of malaria. Having sampled several glasses it’s less clear what one would take for the treatment of Quinquina!

With one night remaining and both feeling a bit jaded it’s a duck dinner on board with cauliflower cheese  and red wine of course.

Charlie wif da duck ….innit!

Sunday dinner on L’Escapade – BBQ duck, roast spuds and cauli cheese!

Australia Calling………….We always knew that we’d be heading back to Australia sometime this year but never exactly when, and equally we knew we’d be dreading it in so many ways after we’d learned that our dear friend Anita Strong had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer back in April. Such news, as anyone who’s had friends or relatives that have been through such similar circumstances understands, is hard to take in. Few words ever seem adequate to express the anguish that those closest are impacted with or have to deal with on a daily basis and I won’t try to do so here. I’ve wondered for some time how to put these thoughts down here but the inescapable truth is it that it happened and it can’t nor should be ignored. When Anita suffered a stroke in mid- November we knew we had to head back immediately both to see Anita and husband Sam, Evelyn’s former business partner and my best man at our wedding. Heading over to Sydney it struck me as rather strange as I reflected on the circumstances that brought people together be it joyous and celebratory events or tragic and heart breaking circumstances and as it turned out in this case also a celebratory occasion.

Folk came from far and wide around the globe to see Anita both before she left us and for the celebrations of her life afterwards, she touched so many in so many ways and as we spent time with friends as well as with folk we’d never met before but were close to her and dwelling on that it occurred to me that this was Anita’s legacy, that she was able to bring so many people together and strange as it may seem it brought so many of us that much closer to each other. Anita passed away on Christmas morning.  May she rest in peace.

Anita “glowing” at the prospect of chocolate cake!

Patcha’s Passing ……………Having just penned some thoughts about the passing of a close and dear friend it seems rather incongruous to be lamenting the passing of a cat, but never the less it’s inescapably true. Everyone who’s lost a pet or fur friend knows this of course. Patcha had a good long life for a cat, not just any old cat though old she was at twenty and a half years, but it was her time and by November she was increasingly frail, losing appetite and weight, and while the decision to let her go was as hard a decision as any we’ve had to make it had to be and while I was already in Australia Evelyn had the dreadful task to fulfil, it hurt us both and still leaves us feeling rather empty. We’d had our brown Burmese along with her sibling sister Soochee since they were tiny kittens fitting in the palm of your hand. Soochee had passed away three years earlier and as hard as it was then we knew we’d have to deal with it all over again with Patcha someday. The barge seems strangely empty without either or both of them on board, as they’ve been here from the very beginning of our cheese changing lifestyle back when they came over in 2012. In some ways they’ve ensured we have been tied to the barge for these passed six years and now have released us to travel back to Australia on a more regular basis.

Soochee & Patcha 2012

Patcha

Patcha in the Grass

Hard Times & Good Times…….There’s no getting away from the sad events that propelled us back to Australia this year but despite that it was a wonderful opportunity to visit some favourite haunts like the beach where I swam every day and where we got married before heading off on our barge binge around Europe as well as getting together with so many friends. Mind you the waistline took a bit of a beating and will have to be dealt with in due course.

First night in Sydney with Bob Brewer & Martin Murray

Moon. Sally & Sam at the Oaks pub, Neutral Bay

Sam at Balmoral

Tim Benke & Moon tuck into lunch at Balmoral

Selfie with Sam at Balmoral

Sam at Balmoral on a blustery day in November

Balmoral beach

Balmoral beach

Balmoral beach

 

October 2018 Back to Toulouse & A Labour of Love or was it just Labour.

The trip back – Tired and Really Tyred……..We missed Italy almost as soon as we left Rapallo, and the longer we’re away the more we think about going back, isn’t that often the way when one travels?

The trip back to Toulouse was long, tiring and at one point quite stressful. The journey should have taken a straight 8 hrs from Rapallo but instead stretched out to 10.5 hrs plus on account of us shredding a front wheel tyre on the motorway at speed…all credit to German engineering and the Audi handled brilliantly as we came to a stop. As luck would have it we’d  stopped close to a pull in bay where a helpful chap from the motorway services staff who just happened to be there helped change the shredded mess that was formerly our front tyre, then with instructions sent us on our way while driving on the crappy emergency spare wheel for 20 kms to Nimes on the thin strip of tarmac that passed for the emergency hard shoulder on the autoroute while huge articulated juggernauts thundered by.  We’d little idea that in mid-afternoon on a Friday it would take four different tyre repair shops driving around town before we’d find one stocking our tyre size. Of course we only needed one new tyre but since it’s not possible to mix brands and types of tyres we’re obliged to buy two as they only sell them in pairs don’t they! It did sound like a bit of a gouge at first but then again maybe not, but what do I know about the tyre business anyway? In any event we were grateful for the fact we’d actually located a pair of tyres that fitted our rather oversized wheels and that they’d fit them while we waited for an hour despite the 365 euro price tag, better than limping home at 50kph for the next 6 hours or more.

Finally getting into Toulouse around 8.00 pm, tired, hungry, poorer and just a bit frazzled the Patcha the cat finally decided to wake up having slept through the whole day – the joys of being an octogenarian feline! Next day it’s back to reality for us now as we prepare for our dry dock rendezvous next week, and, apart from locating some clothes that vaguely fit my newly porcine shaped body I get stuck into some menial tasks sanding back deck chairs and outdoor dining table for re-oiling a tedious task as each chair takes a good 5 – 6 hrs to strip but hey, somewhat bizarrely it beats being back in the office!

The next morning’s confrontation with an unsympathetic set of bathroom scales revealed the true costs of our Italian jaunt as I discover that I’ve become  ‘Mr Blobby’ and as if there were any doubt, the  unemotional digits confirmed my worst fears with the number 92 kgs staring me in the face heralding that my mission ahead was to shed at least the first 12 kgs knowing it would be a long haul!

Dry Docks & The Unexpected…………Ostensibly our periodic dry dock rendezvous is primarily for the bottom cleaning (barge not mine I hasten to add) along with replacing our freshwater sacrificial anodes, but such things rarely occur in isolation and before long we’re given the ‘ Good News’, that being there’s an unexpected maintenance matter that needs attention. Actually we knew this day would come eventually as the surveyor pointed it out when  we first bought the boat back in 2012.

Dry dock entrance, Toulouse

Regardless of the unexpected, the rest of the work would ensure that there was little time for play these next few weeks as days would be long and breaks few if we were to get everything done in our allotted time in the dry dock.

L’Escapade entering the dry dock basin

The dry dock in Toulouse is in itself an interesting place constructed in the mid- 19th century it’s located in le Bassin de Radoub with the Pont-des Demoiselles site being located near the new Saint-Sauveur harbour and connected to the Canal du Midi. The central basin used to serve four refit docks. One of the three surviving docks was covered with a highly technical framework, reputed to be one of the finest examples of fluvial architecture in Toulouse. The covered shed of 1843, the covered railway station of 1855 and the basin are all registered as Historical Monuments.

Into the basin

Essentially it’s the place where the VNF (Voie Navigable de France- The French waterways national management body) does most of the maintenance for their own vessels in this region along with various workshops for fabricating various bits of kit and repairing others.

The old covered dry dock and open air dock adjacent

Waiting for L’Escapade

LE in the covered dry dock

L’Escapade on the blocks and water drained

For those vaguely interested in boat maintenance read on the rest of you can skip this bit and move on. Engine cooling systems on barges can take several forms, commonly is what’s called ‘raw water cooling’ which essentially sucks fresh cold water (raw) from the canal and circulates it around the engine getting warmed as it passes around the engine then is sent back into the canal warmer than it came in. This is all fine until you get into mucky or weedy canals and you start sucking in bits of debris that then clog the filters until the engine stalls for lack of cooling water. The other common method is called ‘keel cooling’ and is a closed system involving a series of pipes that circulate from the engine along the length of the barge’s keel and as the pipes are immersed in the canal the warm water circulating past the engine is cooled and then returns back past the engine to continue the cycle. Nothing wrong with this system and it avoids the problem of having weed and muck in you raw water filters. Perhaps the only possible drawback being that if the pipes running along the keel are poorly positioned one runs the risk of damaging them when in dry dock and the weight of the barge rests upon them, not often an issue but it can happen. The last method and the one on L’Escapade is by way of a ‘heat exchanger’  – very similar in many ways to keel cooling but instead of having pipes running the length of the barge’s keel there’s a series of pipes a bit like a radiator but suspended inside what’s called a sea chest which is partially open to the canal and filled with cold water, the system similar to keel cooling  is a closed system circulating the warmed coolant from the engine away through the heat exchanger in the sea chest then back around past the engine with cool water or water with antifreeze. Still with me?

Ok, so our sea chest is around 90 plus years old as best we can tell and it turns out that the sides a heavily pitted, corroded and in some places small holes rusted through just above the waterline, the risk here being that as the chest walls deteriorate we end up with water filling the engine room and bilge in short we get a leak, which is generally considered to be a bad thing in boats!

Sea chest opened up and heat exchanger exposed

Sea chest open and heat exchanger removed

Cutting out the old sea chest

Cutting out the old sea chest

There’s nothing for it but to uncouple the heat exchanger and remove the entire sea- chest completely then with new steel weld a new one in place re-installing the heat exchanger once again. Examination of the heat exchanger itself  shows little evidence of wear and is pretty well in perfect condition which is a great result not to mention cost saving.

The heat exchanger

Serge our dry dock maintenance manager and expert welder along with his trusty offside Abdel do a great job cutting out the old sea chest with a plasma cutter which makes a bit of a mess in the engine room but it needs a clean and re-paint anyway! Then it’s onto cutting and shaping the new steel to fit and welding it in place but causes little problem and soon it’s all done and re-assembled, tested and operational.

Preparing the new sea chest top section

Plasma cutter making water vents for the sea chest

 

Welding the new sea chest side in place

Re-installing the heat exchanger

Sea chest with new sides, top & back welded in place

Sea chest painted, anodes fitted & heat exchanger re-installed

Hull bottom view of new sea chest cover

Fitting the new sea chest outer cover

Hull enclosed again

Another Crack at the Bow Thruster…………..Bow thruster are funny things and in the barge world evoke all manner of opposing views. Purist owners of old barges such as ours take the view that having a bow thruster is akin to cheating, serving only to demonstrate one’s inability to handle a large multi tonne’d vessel with any degree of personal skill. However while it’s true that being able to handle a large barge without a bow thruster is both a handy and at times essential skill given they do have a habit of breaking, there’s another school of thought that says life wasn’t meant to be difficult, well, not all the time anyway and that any labour saving device is just practical and sensible, after all we don’t all disconnect the power steering to our cars these days do we.

It’s also interesting to note that while most hotel barges don’t have a bow thruster and rely on their skilled use of the large stern thruster otherwise known as the rudder, pretty well all of the humungous commercial barges one sees on the large commercial canals and rivers all have very powerful bow thrusters, so while we have one and can equally navigate without it, we’ll continue to make life easier where possible.

Bow thruster controversy aside we’ve had various problems with ours over the years we’ve owned L’Escapade and any number of attempts to fix it permanently with varying success. We’ve even run the barge without one for 18 months and managed fine. The last time we had a crack at what we then said was the final fix and last time we’d throw any more wonga at it was in 2016 up in the Netherlands and that only partially fixed it. However as any attempted fix requires us to be out of the water and we were going to be hauled out for around near three weeks all those previous words were quickly forgotten and another fix was to be attempted. Along with Serge we’d concluded that the current prop inside the thruster tunnel was either too small for the tunnel or the tunnel too large! Website searches confirmed that thruster tunnels of our dimensions were no longer readily available than thus no props could be found to fit it exactly and ensure optimal operation. Next best thoughts were then to locate a new but slightly smaller steel thruster tunnel and weld it inside the existing one thus aiming for a better fit, but alas the fastest delivery we could arrange was a good four weeks away and at the bargain price of 1,000 euro for the steel, ouch!

Old thruster tunnel

Bow thurster tunnel welding underway

New tunnel welded in, cleaned and painted

But as so often happens along this ditch luck smiles on you a little and we located two metres of the required steel tubing in an adjacent dry dock bay a mere 20 metres away which after some haggling we snaffled for a bargain 600 euros cash, then of course there was the not so small matter of the labour cost getting it welded in, what was I just saying about not throwing anymore wonga at this thing? I was beginning to swing my views to those of the purists on the premise that is you don’t have one then there’s nothing that can go wrong with it right? Well it was too late for that as the deal was done, steel was acquired and the project begun.

The new bow thruster motor support plate installed

The guys did a first class welding job and re-fitted the motor and prop into the new tunnel, primed it and painted it, and truth be told it does work a whole lot better than before, or maybe I just want to feel better about it having shelled out a shed load of more cash wondering if this will be the final curtain or just another rehearsal!

Thruster tunnel guards & anodes in place, & anti corrosion paint applied

Leonardo de L’Escapade……..Not painting the town red in this case and not really painting the town at all but rather painting the barge instead,  though I did  sneak a little red in there at the end. With nearly three weeks in dry dock there’s a lot to do. Serge and Abdel take care of the welding and mechanical jobs along with cleaning the bottom and bottom blacking as well as replacing all the 22 sacrificial anodes as the existing ones are….well non- existent or nearly so. That leave us with the task of painting the rest of the barge from the waterline upwards along with the fore and aft decks. The painting part is relatively easy it’s the preparation that takes the time though.

The old anodes

High Pressure washing begins (400 – 500 bar or 5800 – 7200 psi)

Serge pressure washing the hull

Pressure washing completed

Cleaned prop & rudder

Primer paint – stern

Primer paint being applied

Serge applying the bottom paint (Brai Vinylique)

Serge painting the hull

Prop primed

Everyone at it….

Barging friends Phil and Kathy Tyson the new owners of Effie lent us a hand which was helpful. I‘d driven them to Nimes in atrocious wet and windy weather earlier in the week to help out translate with their carte de sejour at the prefecture there having risen at the ungodly hour of 05.00 for the trip so I didn’t feel bad when Phil offered me a couple of days labour for the gesture and I was well glad of it. Evey meanwhile was busy scrubbing the engine room cleaning up and painting after Serge’s work in there with the plasma cutter and sporting Serges breathing mask she looked for all the world like Darth Vaders sister.

Evey sanding the old paint

Primer spots applied

DR sanding the aft deck!

Caught in the act

DR applying the Hempel black enamel paint.

DR painting the green

Phil pretending to help paint the aft deck

DR cutting in on the aft deck

DR & Phil Tyson hard at it – Aft deck

My grubby darling wife Evey fresh from cleaning the engine room!

Evey looking like Darth Vaders sister – fresh from painting the engine room

Phil & Kath Tyson help out painting

DR applying the new red paint

Painting progress – black and green coats applied port side

All Finished starboard side and ready to re-float

The Workers!

The French Connection – Vanessa, Serge & Abdel

Work done barge looking rather spiffy all that remained was to reward ourselves with a fine Sunday lunch at La Madeleine de Proust restaurant with live jazz a la Django Rinehart style with two guitars, a double base,  and enough wine to erase the memory of the past three weeks hard labour at stalag dry dock and so ended October.

All finished – view from the stern

All Finished starboard side and ready to re-float

L’Escapade out of dry dock Toulouse, all finished and re-painted

L’Escapade back on her winter mooring with the hard top back on in Port St Sauveur, Toulouse

 

September 2018 – Taste buds to Tuscany with a Side Order of Culture

Early Autumn – War & Peace……………If we thought August was a big month September was as big with even more crammed in than a fat Santa’s stocking. It’s going to be War & Peace in this epistle according to Rothers.  I can’t quite believe that after so many years visiting Europe I’d never been to Italy before, but this September that all came about with a chance to get together with some old friends and former work colleagues and the added bonus a couple of days in Marseille along the way.

We’ve always like mooring at Meilhan sur Garonne, even though Mike and Kath Ricketts have hung up their barge poles as Port Captains, somehow it seems it will never be quite the same as those first couple of years we spent in this region immediately after buying L’Escapade, such great times, long standing friendships forged and lasting memories made. So there’s something a bit sad about departing from Meilhan knowing that it’s unlikely we’ll be back here for several years. More immediately our departure marks the realisation of imminent the end of yet another season, our 7th. All this reinforced by the fact that temperatures while still warm during the daytime they do take on a hint of cooler weather ahead.

Polaris & Sassi – Meilhan sur Garonne

There’s still time to share a last meal with friends Bob & Christine on Sassi before they too head north and Swissy’s Frans & Muriel. Having parted with our heavy plastic dinghy some weeks ago there’s still time to give a test run to our new inflatable with the outboard, it’s a bit of a thrill letting it rip up in the confines of a somewhat narrow canal but short lived as otherwise we’ll incur stern words from the moored boats. While I’m having a seriously fine time ripping up and down the canal fellow bargee Jane Slack put it  rather differently commenting  “He’s like a three legged dog……you know there’s something terribly wrong but you love him all the same” I felt crushed!!

Dinner in Meilhan

Dinner with Polaris and Sassi – Meilhan sur Garonne

Now let’s go full throttle!!

L’Escapade leaving Meilhan sur Garonne

Canal de Garonne at it’s prettiest

Glady’s all the way from Manchester!

St Louis Hotel Barge

Lock gate detail

From Buzet to Plain Old Boozey……. The run back to Toulouse finds us stopping off at a few well- worn watering holes and local nosheries in part to sample the local nosebag for one last time for some time and also to say goodbye to friends along the way. There’s some stunning scenery along the way as we pass other familiar barges along the way. The first of these is at Buzet sur Baise where it all started for Evey and I back in 2012, and a last day or two with port managers Kevin & Sara Sharpe, and long- time port residents guitarist and crooner Terry Lalley and stalwart wife Sandra. A last dinner at the Vigneron in the village and we’re off with a wave from owner Sylvain. Next stop is just a splash down the ditch at Serignac home to the helicoidal church spire and a nice quayside mooring and where we have important business to attend to.

Sylvain Magnac (Owner of Le Vigneronin Buzet) & son coming to say goodbye – Ile aux Oiseaux

Like old times – breasted up with Les Vieux Papillons

Serignac as everyone knows, well ok everyone in these here parts knows, is on the edge of the Gers and the Gers region is famed for several things, duck and fois gras being deliciously among them but also and equally satisfying is Armagnac and we’re on the hunt for urgent supplies before heading north. Everyone has their favourite after dinner tipple and while I’ve always been partial to a snifter or two of cognac in the past I’ve concluded after several seasons in this part of the world that Armagnac is by far away the better of the two and the older the better, but dig deep for it’s not cheap, then again where’s the joy in just drinking the cheapest hmm?  As we’re going north next season we’ll need supplies to tide us over until we return here in 3 or 4 years’ time! Time is against us and so while we’d like to do some more regional sampling, we return to old favourites like Domaine  Magnaut and Domaine Pellehaut both of whom produce some truly fine vintage Armagnacs.

Chateau in the Gers

Domaine Magnaut – Wines, Floc & Armagnac

Santiago de Compostella Pilgim sculpture – Domain Magnaut

Muscateer sculpture – Domaine Magnaut

While tickling our tonsils ( metaphorically speaking as neither of us have them any more) we’re treated to an incredible thunder and lightning storm , big black clouds and rain in biblical torrents, no need to venture out in that lot we thought bobbing back inside for one last soupcon. Loading our haul into the car the tasty totty who’s looked after our Armagnac and wine tastings rushes out with a case of their fine red wines as a gift in appreciation of our custom a sure fired we’ve lashed out big time but the gesture is appreciated and works it’s intended magic as we’re certain to return when next in the region. Always best to buy direct from the producer wherever possible, supermarkets don’t stock the really good stuff and specialty grog shops charge like wounded bulls so best to seek out the folk that grow the grapes and make the stuff themselves, one of the great joys of hanging out in this part of France.

Domaine Pellehaut

Pigeonnaire – Domaine Pellehaut

Dramatic skyline – Domaine Pellehaut

Dramatic skyline – Domaine Pellehaut

Spoilt for choice & that’s just the wines

It’s a hard life at times……..

Some of the excellent Armagnac vintages

Moissac and the Sky’s on Fire……..Stores fully laden with fine Gers Armagnac we’re only a couple of days or so from being back in Moissac stopping off in Agen for lunch at the Grand Brasserie de la Gare once more for a nice lunch with fellow bargees Bob & Christine from Sassi and Mark and Annie from Anna, the light is quite stunning as we make our way up the Agen lock flight and across the pont canal Aqueduct. It’s a short hop from here through Pommevic and we’re back in Moissac and back on the tarn river mooring with some of the most spectacular sunsets I can recall in a long time.

Last Agen lock before the Garonne river Pont Canal

L’Escapade ascending the Agen lock flight

Crossing the Garonne Pont Canal

Heading for Agen

Tha basin at Agen

Everyone’s somewhere else it seems

At last a perfectly normal photo!

Power nap

L’Escapade on the Tarn river quay – Moissac

The Tarn river quay moorings – Moissac

Plane trees near Moissac

Moissac abbey

Moissac and the Tarn river

Skies on Fire – Moissac sunset

Skies on Fire – Moissac sunset

Skies on Fire – Moissac sunset

Skies on Fire – Moissac sunset

BoB’s Meeting ……….BOB’s for the uninitiated is a not so secret society of barging ‘Blokes on Boats’  who’s members share all manner of serious matters and thrash out most of life’s more  important issues and is not to be confused with WoB’s the opposite gender’s forum but what goes on there we can only guess. BoB’s issues are mostly aired over the internet but just occasionally there’s a live gathering such as the one in Moissac where lofty matters were resolved through the medium of beer, which always seems to help. Meanwhile on a bike ride somewhere nearby Evey takes the opportunity for a little early season apple scrumping muttering something vague about the sweetness of forbidden fruit but these were definitely not sweet yet and we’re still too early for the kiwi fruit harvest of which there seems to be a vast amount growing in this part of the world.

‘ Bob’s ‘ Moissac temporary chapter drinks – The Quorum

Evey ‘scrumping’ kiwi fruit

Enfin Toulouse ……Off again from Moissac on the last leg, it’s mid-September with heavy morning dew on deck, well, on everything really, and along with the cooler evening temperatures the signs are clear that the page has turned once more and Autumn has arrived. The days remain warm and sunny, it just takes a while longer to get going. Cruising early morning from around 09.00 which is what passes for early morning here these days given the locks don’t open until 09.00 (unless you’re a long way from a lock in which case you can set off earlier) is one of the nicest times of the day to be out on the water. The air is still and everything quiet, and while there’s no shortage of the huge winged herons that patrol the banks studiously staring at the water for anything that moves and might provide a tasty morsel, we’re only occasionally lucky enough to catch the fleeting shimmer of a shy kingfisher disturbed as we pass by and scurrying among the branches we’re often rewarded with sightings of red squirrels, it really is the perfect time to be out on the water.

LE Departing Moissac for Toulouse

Heading for the Pont Canal lock, Moissac

The Pont canal aquaduct

Morning light en route to Montech

Lock gates at Montech

Ascending the Montech 5 lock flight

Pommevic locks

And talking of pleasing sights, it’s always a source of delight when we find ourselves entering Port St Sauveur in Toulouse especially in the knowledge that we’ll be here for the winter though even though there’ll be a few more sorties before we’re finally tied up for the end of the season. We’ve car trips to Marseille and Tuscany lined up and then the dubious pleasure of near three weeks in the nearby dry dock where we’ll get hauled out for repainting the barge from top to bottom and new anodes along with any other jobs that crop up as they inevitable do.

Final destination 2018 – Toulouse

L’Escapade heading for our Winter mooring – Toulouse

Marseille – The French Connection …………..Our first foray away from the barge this year and we’re off to Tuscany for lunch, sounds rather grand and it was but more on that shortly. It’s a bit of a hike from Toulouse to Tuscany so looking for someplace new to explore we’ve planned a couple of days in Marseille. I’ve long been curious about Marseille since reading an article some years ago that the city was taking steps to shake off its somewhat shabby and slightly sinister past reputation so this trip seemed the perfect opportunity to check it out. Having loaded all the cats luggage – litter box, bed, heated cat mat – don’t ask, wet food, dry food, and various medicines all of which I might add is only matched in sheer volume by that of HRH Queen Bess II we’d just enough room to squeeze in a couple of toothbrushes for ourselves and so we set off from Toulouse on Thursday 20th September. Marseille’s an interesting place and well worth a visit in so many ways, and, as mentioned earlier though it’s had a reputation for being a dangerous city in the past, especially as a center for drugs importing (possibly stemming from the 1970’s film ‘The French Connection’), its image has cleaned up a lot these days and it’s no less safe than most other large cities with the usual caveats for it’s no go areas. Marseille is France’s 3rd largest city and largest seaport also ranking 5th largest in Europe (for stat nerds ranked in 2018 in order of gross tonnage handled behind Rotterdam (466 million tons) , Antwerp (208 million tons), Hamburg (138 million tons), Amsterdam (95 million tons) and Marseille (82 million tons) but despite its primary port function it’s now also firmly on the tourist circuit as evidenced by the near constant clatter of wheeled luggage.

Downtown Marseille

Our downtown hotel, carefully selected on the basis of location close to the old port without breaking the bank soon showed its shortcomings, the parking was not on site as indicated but in a public carpark up the street so lugging Patcha’s stack of luggage plus our own proved a smidge inconvenient. The room, well I call it room but in reality it was a shoebox with another shoebox annex for the bathroom, but hey, the bed was good, the sheets clean, everything worked and given the size of le shoebox most things could be operated without even getting off the bed, so we’re talking small here in case you’re in any doubt, and proof that more often than not you get what you pay for or in this case you don’t get what you don’t pay for!

There’s quite a bit to see and do as well as sampling the local nosebag! We’re only able to get a taste of what the city has to offer but even in two days you get a sense of what an interesting place it is, partly because half the time you can be forgiven for thinking you’re anywhere but in France, such is the large and colourful migrant population it seems that apart from French the most common languages you’ll hear here are Arabic!

Straying not too far from the old port precinct as I wander the streets I’m thinking this place can best be described as shabby chic, though some areas are definitely more shabby shabby with little evidence of chic chic but there must be some chic somewhere given a city of this size. The other unfortunate thing we notice in some areas is the sheer volume of graffiti, it’s everywhere, walls, public buildings, private houses, shop fronts and even people’s front doors. The only place I’ve seen it worse was in Lisbon a few years ago, it maybe a sign of the times or a reflection of increased discontent it’s hard to say but it is noticeable.

Street view Marseille

La Cathedrale de la Major -Marseille

Much of the tourist activity revolves around the old town and the old port where apart from a host of mostly small yachts you’ll also find all manner of small fishing boats ensuring the area retains its old world charm, there’s even a daily quayside fish market where we’re told local restaurateurs source their fresh fish for the famed Marseille Bouillabaisse.

View to Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille

The old port

View to Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille

Le Vieux Port, Marseille

Hotel de Ville -Marseille

Le Vieux Port & Le new Super yacht , Marseille

Maybe because I was a tourist, maybe not paying attention or maybe that Marseillans are just poor at arithmetic but I managed to get short changed on at least three occasions, admittedly only a euro here and a euro there but it did make me wonder if I wasn’t experiencing the last vestiges of some of the city’s murky past with a penchant for thievery, or maybe they were just keeping their skills up, who knows.

Marseille fishing boat

Marseille fisherman mending his nets

Rock cod

Scary looking monkfish

Dog shark

Fish market Marseille

Marseille fishwife

Marseille fisherman

Fishing boats in the old port

It’s Finally Come to This…………We’ve always avoided them like the proverbial plague up until now, and, any place that has them is usually an indication for us to head off elsewhere but here in Marseille I claim special dispensation from scorn and derision for boarding one of the omnipresent ‘petit tourist trains’ . Christ, talk about becoming the archetypical tourists we might as well have hung signs around our necks emblazoned in large red letters screaming YES WE’RE TOURISTS as we dutifully queued up and boarded the shiny white train that was about as discreet as an undertaker in a grim reaper outfit. My plea for leniency which I fully acknowledge will receive scant support from most friends and other readers was a bout of post lavish lunch lethargy and laziness (now how’s that for a bit of alliteration) and a desire to avoid the 2.5 kilometer, 40 minute, 149 metre climb up the steep hill to visit the most famous local landmark, the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, with its 11.2 metre tall,  9,796kg copper statue gilded in gold known locally as the guardian of the city and referred to as La Bonne Mère (“The Good Mother”) It would have been unfortunate in the extreme to have schlepped all the way up there only to croak at the foot of the statue and the look on the face of the bloke who’d set out shortly before we boarded the multi-wheeled wonder and whom I might add, looked about as fit as a butchers dog, ended the slog looking like he needed an oxygen mask told me all I needed to know and that the modest 8 euro ride was worth every centime.

Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde

Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde

Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde

Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde

Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde

Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde

Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde

Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde

Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde

Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde

The views out to the islands and in all other directions is little short of spectacular, you have to hand it to those early ‘catlics’ (sp) they always knew where to find the best real estate to build on!

It’s come to this, Le Petit Train – now we’re real tourists!

Evey boards Le Petit Train, Marseille

DR on Le Petit Train

Views to Des Iles IF & Frioul

Looking north to the new maritime harbour

Views to Des Iles IF & Frioul

Food Glorious Food…………is the opening lines of Lionel Bart’s famous song in the 1960’s musical Oliver begins, and where better to sample glorious food than in some of the over 2,100  eateries in Marseille. We tried the highly rated and slightly tucked out of the way ‘Schilling’ restaurant, that being Schilling in name only as our fab fishy lunch which they specialise in cost rather more than a shilling though a very small menu everything is fresh, the innovative dishes are carefully prepared and presented and,  while no longer hungry after the meal it was just impossible to resist the siren call of the family run home- made ice cream and sorbet parlour we’d spotted across the street……fab- u -lous!

Evey at lunch – Schilling

Fab orange ice cream – Le Roi des Glaces