May 2018 – The Mixed Month of May

I say mixed month of May for a number of reasons, in this case the first is about departing Carcassonne. Everyone seems to have a view on the place, some good, some poor and some plain indifferent, but me, I like it a lot and departing it is always tinged with a little sadness for me. It’s got a good vibe and whether you love or hate the medievil old Cite the lower town has great feel to it, with a great open market in Place Carnot on Saturday filled with lively produce sellers and surrounded by bustling cafes and restaurants, fab bakeries and shops of all types to tempt the most reticent of shoppers, and best of all there’s a Jeff de Bruges ice cream shop just off the main square – need I say more!

Carcassonne Port locks & Gare SNCF

The Port de Carcassonne

Main city square – Place Carnot

Mixed May also because the weather this year was so varied, at least that’s how I remember it. The first week marked by high winds and sunny days followed swiftly by plunging temperatures down to 11C and rain leaving me wondering why I bothered sharing my naked legs with the world…bloody nippy if you ask me and definitely not ordered.

13th Century St Michel Cathedrale

No idea what this was….. looks like giant pigeonnaire!

Le Palais de Justice

In Carcassonne for nearly two weeks allowed Evey to head back to the USA for a week to visit her folks and the cat and I had more quality time together while she (the cat) re-established that we were in fact great pals and that all the social snubs I get while Evey is around are just accidental, unintentional coincidences….yeah right, how fickle can felines get I ask you. Never mind, I’m a sucker for a face rub with bad breath with a fang pressed into my nose as I take whatever passes for feline affection first thing in the morning. Evey’s absence does have one other bit of upside as our old boat buddy Arthur’s cruised in for a several days and so with minimal arm twisting we find ourselves propping up the bar in an Irish pub in town on a daily basis.

Not quite French culture but good for a pint! – Carcassonne

My mate Arthur

Leaving Carcassonne locks

Evey’s deck garden

 Trouble in Trebes & Hire Boat Hero’s ………. The pretty run down to Trebes is a short one at only 13 kms but with 7 locks it still takes us 3 hrs however on arrival we’re lucky to find a mooring on the quayside beside the restaurants and bars and also find Arthur tied up so an opportunity for more arm twisting, tall tales and several beverages though not before we’ve had to negotiate the carelessly moored hire boat that’s now drifted into the middle of the canal oblivious to those running the adjacent Le Boat Hire boat base.

 

The dodgy bridge with a very tight angle PK116 Trebes

Yellow Irises line the canal banks

Wild petunias

More brilliant mooring from Le Boat – no bowline attached and blocking the canal in Trebes !

Beverages in Trebes with Arthur

Heading into Trebes locks

Trebes locks

The triple locks at Trebes

Trebes mooring

Two days into our visit we get a generator malfunction which cuts out constantly shortly after we start it up. We check everything we can think of, connections, blockages, fuel etc but to no avail. This is a worry, if we can’t get or generate electrical power to charge up our batteries they’ll fail along with the fridges, freezer and all their contents, we’ll have no 220 V mains power and worse still we’ll have replace the lot which will be very expensive. Le Boat saved the day letting us use one of their moorings opposite with a power supply and the arrangement of a mechanic to come and look at our genset, alas in true French reliability form he never bothered to turn up! Why were we not surprised! Luckily and for reasons we never discovered further testing of the genset revealed no further problems and it purred away normally as before but with no clues as to the previous malfunction. With that sorted amid enormous relief there remained only one thing for it…..bugger off to a decent lunch. Several years ago when renting a hire boat in this neck of the woods we’d had dinner at the nearby ‘Moulin de Trebes’ restaurant which as we recalled was at best average, but in the last three years new owners and chef had taken up the reins and the food was fab u lous! So much so we returned again for a second crack at the menu the next day. A delightful meal with warm and friendly service, we were delighted.  www.lemoulindetrebes.com   

Le Moulin Restaurant

Lunch at Le Moulin de Trebes with Arthur and Evey

Amuse Bouche – Ceviche of razor clams, green apple, flying fish roe with wasabi – Le Moulin de Trebes

Loin of porc noir de biggore with green asparagus, jus & pommes Anna – Le Moulin de Trebes

Fois gras marbre with apple confit with ginger and cinnemon – Le Moulin de Trebes

Fois gras poele with sweet Banyuls white wine, chocolate & vanilla – Le Moulin de Trebes

Fillet of turbot with parsnips, leeks and creme fraiche – Le Moulin de Trebes

Leaving Trebes locks

Heading for Homps……..A short lived return to warmth and sunshine greeted the next run from Trebes to Homps, 27 kms and 14 locks with a three day stopover in La Redorte along the way and a chance to catch up with Belgian friends Joss & Bollica – I know I got the spelling wrong there but that’s what it sounds like believe me. Catching up inevitably means several bottle of beer and rose wine hence the need for a three day stopover. Sadly one of our previously favoured vineyards nearby, ‘Les Penitants Bleu’ had closed its doors as an independent producer now sending its annual grape harvest to the local wine co-operative, a sad demise for what was an excellent wine maker and one less good drop to drink.

The Aquaduct d’Argentdouble – La Redorte

Aquaduct d’Argentdouble – La Redorte

Le at the Epanchoir d’Argentdouble – La Redorte

Epanchoir d’Argentdouble – La Redorte

1st Traffic jam at Aiguille locks

You see the strangest things along this canal – Aiguille lock

Leaving Fonfile triple locks

Chestnut tree with candles – L’Eveque locks

The port at Homps

Le in Homps

Water water everywhere, never mind ‘and not a drop to drink’ ………Lest readers think it’s all beer and skittles or more accurately wine and skittles, swanning around the waterways of France, let me share a recent watery tale. Perhaps the title isn’t an entirely accurate picture as it occurs to me that in really there were in fact plenty of drops to drink. So there I was one morning, fossicking about in the ‘man cave’ aka the forepeak, a veritable Aladdin’s cave of tools, appliances, paints, varnishes, ropes of all shapes and sizes, cables, hoses and a bazillion other sundry boat bits and bobs. Digging around the various storage boxes I was after a rarely used electrical adapter to hook up to the mooring’s power supply, Evey meanwhile was inside the barge about to jump into the shower when the main water hose that connects our 2500 litre water tank to the circulation pump came free under some significant pressure. Next thing total bedlam, anyone who saw ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ can well imagine the scene .…..water water everywhere, I mean Jeeeeezus H Christ, (by the way does anyone know what the ‘H’ stands for?) it went everywhere of course but mostly all over me initially then onto everything else and finally into the bilge. By the time I’d raced back along the deck yelling to Evey to turn the pump fuse off we’d got a good 120 litres in the bilge and probably the same amount on me! I’ve no doubt that there’ll be a smidge of schadenfreude out there as some will find the image me emerging from the forepeak like some half drowned rat with barely a fig leaf of dignity remaining somewhat amusing, but I can live with thatJ So began the unexpected and unwanted task of clearing out the entire forepeak, drying everything off, vacuuming out the bilge and then replacing everything which took a good couple of hours and definitely not how I’d seen the afternoon panning out. Could have been a lot worse of course as had I not been there to play ‘catch’ with the water jet like the fictitious Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke (an engineering infrastructure term for those still sniggering) since if we’d been underway the water would have kept pumping out and god only knows how much water there might have been in there! A bit ‘browned off’ I think is the understated expression here!

As it turned out it was an easy fix as the jubilee clips had just worked loose and needed tightening up……I know that snippet will thrill some to no end!

Homps, despite having a port crying out for better management and facilities for visiting (read paying) pleasure boats is a likeable place with some delightful walks around the nearby reservoir, its surrounds filled with poppy’s and wild flowers. There’s a wine makers cave on the quay that sells a very good range of wines and no shortage of restaurants and bars including the excellent establishment ‘En Bon Compagnie’ with its charming canal-side shady terrace.

http://www.en-bonne-compagnie.com/fr

Homps lake towards the Pyrenees

Views to the Pyrenees at Homps

The reservoir lake at Homps

Olive groves at Homps

Banks of poppys

Poppy’s growing wild

The port alas lacks adequate moorings with or without services on both sides making it hard to spend time and money here supporting the local business (Ok in our case that’s mainly the restaurants and bars, but not exclusively I might add, we do buy groceries here too). It’s also strangely expensive for the size and type of place it is at €34 a night for us. Even more bizarrely they offer the first nights mooring for free, presumably to encourage people to stay longer, when in reality most pleasure boats take the free night then buzz off next day, gee, who’d have seen that coming!

Next day the warmth and sun disappears once more, Patcha, ever the perfect weather barometer takes refuge in a cat cave, pulling the blanket over herself.

Patcha taking some sun

Patcha appears from her warm nest

Patcha all rugged up

I know I’ve banged on about this before but each time I go to French country markets I’m transfixed by them, bewitched by the hive of activity and the hustle and bustle of it all. So while in the region we can’t resist a making a side trip to the best and biggest regional market at Lezignan Corbieres. Traffic’s bad, parking near impossible, roads in chaos but once you find a spot it’s all worth it. All manner of produce you can imagine, stands filled with a vast array of produce, great big barrels of olives of every size ,type and flavour imaginable, dried and candied fruit, and of course the usual suspects fish, poultry, meats, dried sausage, fruit & veg of course, cheeses by the score and strawberries galore, it’s just the most fabulous assault on all your senses …..few markets in the world can compete with places such as this and we never tire of them.

The Marie – Lezignan Corbieres

Lezignan Corbieres market

Dried fruits – Lezignan Corbieres market

Produce at Lezignan Corbieres market

Cured sausages of every flavour – Lezignan Corbieres market

The Wednesday market & olives at Lezignan Corbieres

Strawberries galore – Lezignan Corbieres market

More pastries – Lezignan Corbieres market

Ballasting the Barge……Moving right along with short stops in Ventanac where there’s more clouds, more rain and more low temperatures as the mercury drops to 10 C we’re asking ourselves if we’ll ever get some decent weather. It’s mid- May when we pull into Le Somail, catching up with our friend and restaurateur Thierry at ‘L’O a la Bouche’ greeting us like long lost relatives. Avoiding the large spaces marked out for hotel and passenger boats we moor up outside the restaurant but not before some heavy pruning of fig trees and brambles leaving me mauled and looking like a human pincushion from the bramble spikes I’d collected regardless of how carefully I tried to avoid them leaving me wondering just who was pruning who. I make a mental note to buy long handled pruning shears at first opportunity!

L’Escapade at Le Somail

The Bridge and old port of Le Somail

Approaching Le Somail

Moored at Le Somail

Like so many places along the canal du Midi Le Somail has now lost all the beautiful plane trees that once graced the canal banks on the approaches to this pretty village and while new plantings have begun, it will be a long time before the gaping wounds heal, never the less there remain attractions making this a worthwhile stopover, like the ancient chapel, the centuries old ice house and of course the well renowned book store with over 50,000 titles just waiting for you to spend a lifetime perusing! It’s even recorded that 3rd US President Thomas Jefferson spent a night here during his travels through the region back in 1787 when then a minister to France and well know Francophile. It’s reported that he travelled widely in France loving every minute of it and keeping extensive notes with observations on everything from Roman antiquities to the price of dung!

 

La Chapelle – Built in 1684 & 1693 and enlarged in 1842 accommodating all 180 local inhabitants.

La Chapelle – Le Somail

Le Glaciere & La Chapelle

La Glaciere – The Ice House,built after 1684 used from winter through summer to store ice underground and packed in straw

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the USA passed through this region and a night in Le Somail

I can’t help thinking about the strange juxtaposition that exists between the then emissary and later 3rd and revered President of the United States, (Thomas Jefferson) some 231 years ago, and how times have changed with the dung now no longer residing on French soil but emanating from the other side of the Atlantic where price is no longer an object and the volume of dung from today’s Whitehouse increasingly copious……. just a thought.

Le Somail

L’Escapade at Le Somail

Passing port Le Somail

Dutch tjalk – Le Somail

Returning to Le Somail also provided the perfect opportunity to visit nearby and favourite regional vineyard ‘Chateau Fontareche’ with its ever genial host, Director and oenologue Vincent Dubernet, a wine maker of great talent and as passionate about his product as you’ll find anywhere. We’ve been buying great wines from him for five years now and the wines, red white and rose are as good as ever. We’re indebted to English travel writer and wine buff Hilary Wright who’s book ‘Water into Wine” first alerted us to the fermented delights of this 5 generations old family vineyard several years ago.

Ballasting of course, as every bargee worth his salt knows, is an essential way to help keep it level and compensate for loads carried, and while literally a moving feast in this case, all be it a rapidly diminishing one, I can’t think of a better way to ballast a barge! ( Ok, so just in case there are pedantic tech heads out there we don’t actually use wine for ballast we use iron plates!).

http://www.fontareche.fr

Now we just have to find a place to store it all!!

L’Escapade loaded up

Stocking Up from Chateau Fontareche

Fine Feasting at the Auberge de la Croisade……. It’s just not possible to go past the Auberge de la Croisade without stopping for lunch, dinner or if feeling totally piggy both! Excellent food, probably the best along the canal du Midi along with host Bruno’s bubbly warm welcome ensures as perfect an experience as you’ll find anywhere seated under the shady mulberry treed terrace. The setting right next to the canal is perfect and on this occasion we’re treated to some spectacular thunderstorms and brooding skies, luckily the restaurant is only a few metres away, barely enough time to get wet.

Brooding skies at the Auberge de la Croisade

Auberge de la Croisade

The bridge at La Croisade

Stormy skies over the bridge at the Auberge de la Croisade

This trip we managed to indulge ourselves three times in less than as many weeks and each time as good as the last. Following the strategy of former barge buddies and keen noshers Graham and Linda Barley, we find a good restaurant, moor up as close as we can, remaining as long as we can while working our way through the menu before heading off again in search of the next venue!

Our first assault on the menu came courtesy of Canadian pen pal and would be barge owners Jonathan Shanks and his partner Jeannie, who kindly shouted us a delicious lunch before blasting off to Carcassonne and beyond. For some odd reason there’s no picture record of this event so I can only conclude that the camera took a back seat to the food!

Next day saw the arrival of my old infants, primary and Grammar School friend Judith Fleming and her German husband Klem, both of whom had cruised with us before in Burgundy last year, so now was a new region and new experiences, hopefully good ones! As they weren’t arriving until later in the day it seemed a bit of a waste not to have a wee lunch for just the two of us before we raced of to Beziers to collect them…..marvellous!

Flemings Afloat, The German Occupation & Acceptable Peace Offerings…….Despite months of SNCF rail strikes Judith and Klem arrived bang on time with German precision, and, whisking them away it wasn’t long before the first bubbles were headed south and the rose bottles un-corked. Judith and Klem as ever the perfect guests, ok I have to say that on account of the absolutely ginormous, humungous and vast bag of chocolate they brought with them. It seemed a pity to have to have them sign a confidentiality agreement not to disclose to Evelyn that not only had they brought the huge stash but that they had no knowledge of where I’d hidden it, and I needed to take a closer look and examine the fat bag’s contents.

Klem & DR with German chocolate nosebag!

Pigasse Bridge – Time for some Humility or Humilitation Revisited! ……As a semi- permanent cruising community we often rag the hire boaters out there, and I’m as guilty as the next person on occasions but the truth is they’re the life blood of many canals as the fees those hire boat companies pay to the waterways authorities are substantial and contribute to the upkeep of the waterways as well as supporting many canal -side communities and their commerces. While many of us believe that there’s not sufficient training provided and on occasions we see poor behaviour exhibited, for the most part it’s just a bunch of friends and family having a whale of a time trying their best to master in a week what takes the rest of us many months and years to get a grip of. It’s also worth noting that many of us, my wife and I included, who now enjoy this amazing lifestyle, got our first taste of it renting hire boats. Which brings me rather conveniently to the Pigasse bridge, which we’ve passed through at least five times now and I can’t help recalling that very first and totally disastrous time back in 2007.

Epanchoir near Pigasse

Epanchoir near Pigasse

Kilometre market at le Pont de Pigasse

The Pigasse bridge approach

We’d hired a steel Euroclassic barge in Capestang headed for Carcassonne and back in a week with Sydney friends Moon and Sally ..…….our first mistake, no, no, the mistake wasn’t going with Moon and Sal, it was trying to do the trip in just a week. Blame it on poor training, inexperience, not paying enough attention, whatever, but regardless of excuses there we were out on our first full day on the vessel which we’d dubbed ‘Miss Piggy’ on account of its porcine steering qualities, something akin to steering a multi tonne bar of soap on ice. We’d set off cruising on what would be the pre-cursor to a life changing experience for Evey and me. So, back to the Pigasse bridge, well as I said Miss Piggy was indeed quite porcine when it came to keeping it in a straight line and everyone of us who’d taken a stint at the helm managed to put the vessel sideways across the canal sooner or later..….lucky for the other sods on the boat it happened to them without causing grief to other boat users and without an audience of onlookers………not so for me! I still cringe when I think of the moment I decided to apply the brakes (engage reverse gear) and re-align before going through the bridge, at this point any vestiges of training instruction went soaring out of the window as the vessel slipped perfectly sideways across the canal slap dab in front of the bridge entrance and simultaneously running aground …..bloody brilliant. It was at this point that the misguided notion that, well, things could be worse proved to be just that, misguided as things were about to get progressively worse. The first of four other hire boats appeared from around the bend headed in the same direction as we were and ground to a halt, presumably to get ring side seats and watch the show as it was pretty clear none were coming to my rescue. As the heady cocktail of emotions swirled around my head oscillating somewhere between, embarrassment, anxiety, panic and frustration the first of two other vessels appeared on the other side of the bridge and also ground to a halt. Where was my trusty crew mates at this time you might well ask, and why not, it was a question I was asking myself as they’d all disappeared leaving me perched on the deck by the wheel like some clueless shag on a rock. Adding fuel to the flames of my frustration was a local French family in an adjacent cottage enjoying a pleasant Sunday lunch, but it wasn’t long before their free entertainment turned into a stream of vitriolic abuse aimed squarely in my direction as my lack of expertise was pointed out to me. It was at this point something snapped, no not on the boat but within me and as my French is pretty good I returned fire with appropriate expletives and the message that if the lunchers had some positive suggestions to assist me to extricate myself from the position I was in the I’d happily entertain them otherwise would they kindly go forth and multiply!!!

To my delight and relief the abuse changed to something more practical and after some further toing and froing I was free and on my way once more along with the rest of the crew who’d suddenly re-appeared!

All very amusing in hindsight but also a useful reminder that we all have to start somewhere and in the beginning little of this boating malarkey is intuitive or necessarily simple so maybe we should cut a bit more slack with our hire boating cousins. ( Doubtless I’ll change my mind the next time one comes flying around a bend at full tilt on the wrong side and in the hands of an unsupervised child!!!).

Needless to say this year’s passage went without incident but then it would wouldn’t it, after all there was no audience and no hire boats insight !

Passing through the Pigasse bridge – top down

The Pigasse bridge – looking back

Capestang loses the Plot ……..It’s either a highlight or a serious challenge, probably both but the arrival or departure from Capestang inevitably means passing through what is often claimed as the lowest and trickiest bridge on the Canal du Midi, in actual fact there are other bridges that are a smidge lower but they don’t all have the slightly twisted arch that bears the many scars of those unwary boaters that have passed beneath it without sufficient care. We’ve visited Capestang many times before but sadly this time we’ve elected to vote wit out feet and moor elsewhere as the fees have escalated to the point of being well out of order. It’s not that we’re against paying for moorings, far from it, in fact we welcome it if it provides good access and services but it’s got to be at a fair and reasonable price. Sadly Capestang has lost the plot and port fees now are bordering on usurious with vessels over 23.99 metres being charged €50 a night, hang on a minute guys this is Capestang in the Languedoc not Amsterdam or Paris. We, like an increasing number of barge owners are now voting with their feet, staying away, refusing to be ripped off especially when we’re spending money in the town supporting local businesses. It’s a pity as we’ve always like Capestang but there are limits, so we move on to other smaller places like the totally charming Poilhes a mere 5 kms further on but not before Evey and Judith have a chance to climb the unfinished cathedrals tower for a look at the districts views and I have time for a serious afternoon siesta!

Views near Capestang

Views to Capestang in the distance

Vineyard near Capestang

Approach to Capestang Bridge

The tight squeeze – Capestang bridge

Just made it !

The port of Capestang

 

Main square, Capestang

The part finished cathedral at Capestang

Capestang Cathedral

Judith & Evey at Capestang Cathedral

 

Views from Capestang Cathedral to the Etang de Capestang

Capestang Cathedral – The big bell

Over exerting myself in Capestang

Reviewing the bigger picture in Capestang

The Quiet Charm of Poilhes…….Having scorned Capestang the quiet backwater of Poilhes had a few surprises in store, and while moorings were less plentiful than Capestang, there was enough room for us which was fine and in keeping with previous strategies was only a few metres from what turned out to be an outstanding restaurant right next to the quay, and exactly where I like them to be I might add! With Judith and Klem in tow we booked ourselves in for an excellent dinner.

L’Escapade mooring in Poilhes

Judith & Klem – Dinner at La Tour Casserine – Poilhes

Another day, another lunch – Poilhes

It turns out that a regional artisanal brewer has a distribution outlet here as well, so me and my (sic) German beer buddy Klem made a beeline for the shed and proceeded to a) Pretend we knew what we were talking about and b) hoover up as much of the free sampling as we could persuade them to part with before parting with hard cash! We’ve no idea what Evelyn and Judith got up to during that time but let’s face it, beer is beer and must be investigated.

DR & Klem – beer tasting in Poilhes

Artisanal beer tasting

Church tower at Poilhes

Flowers at La Tour Casserine – Poilhes

Water well wheel – Poilhes

Bell tower – Poilhes

The girls school – Poilhes

Tower detail – Poilhes

Poilhes

Church tower at Poilhes

The Birthday girl, 97 and Not Out…….It might seem a bit daft to some folk but pet owners are as obsessed about their fur friend’s age as the rest of us and so our visit to Poilhes coincided on 22nd May with our sole surviving brown Burmese cat, Patcha’s 20th birthdays. For those curious enough to wonder what that is in human terms the best estimate is 97, and that’s a ripe old age in anyone’s language. We’re not sure how long we’ll have her beyond this point, she’s rather wobbly in her back axle, her eyesight is pretty well shot now though somehow she manages a circuit between bathroom, cat bed, our bed and the food and water. She’s on daily drugs for ailing kidneys and high blood pressure but for all that she’s as affectionate as she ever was and likes nothing more than close human contact and a chin rub, and for some strange feline reason has taken to rubbing her face and front fangs into my nose in the morning as a token of affection or at least that’s how I interpret it. So the birthday girl got a tuna treat complete with a candle even though it’s not on her diet and we all got to wear party hats.

Patcha’s birthday hat – 20th Birthday, 22nd May 2018

Patcha the birthday girl – 20 years old

Everyone gets a silly hat on Patcha’s birthday

Birthday tuna goes down well

Happy cat with tuna treats

Features & Fonserannes ……….Well, Ok, so not all these features are at Fonserannes but en route Fonserannes or just past Fonserannes is pretty close enough in my book. We’re heading to Beziers with Judith and Klem on board with a raft of canal engineering features along the way as our journey continues from Poilhes. The first is the Malpas tunnel which at only 173 metres might not seem at first blush to be all that noteworthy, however what is noteworthy is that it was excavated in 1679 under the hill d’Ensérune in Hérault, allowing for the passage of the Canal du Midi. It was also notably Europe’s first navigable canal tunnel and thus a monument to the determination of Pierre-Paul Riquet, the chief engineer of the Canal du Midi.

The Malpas tunnel

Entering the Malpas tunnel

Leaving the Malpas tunnel

Next is the 7 lock flight at Fonserannes just outside Beziers and made up of eight ovoid-shaped (typical of the Canal du Midi) lock chambers and nine gates, allowing boats to be raised or lowered a height of 21.5 m (71 ft) over a distance of just 300 m (980 ft). The flight was originally built as an 8 lock rise, however, in 1858 an aqueduct was built to replace the crossing of the Orb river. Boats now enter and leave the lower end of the flight through the side of chamber seven, which is permanently kept at its upper water level. The flight is therefore effectively made up of only six locks now. The lower gates of the seventh chamber are now permanently closed; the eighth chamber and the ninth lock, the pre-1858 route descending to the Orb, are disused.

L’Escapade tying up at Fonserannes

Lock filling at Fonserannes

L’Escapade at Fonserannes

The final feature of the day was the pont canal or aqueduct referred to earlier and which crossed the Orb river with spectacular view to the Cathedral St Nazaire perched high over the town and surrounding countryside……aren’t they all !!

The Pont Canal (Aquaduct) over the river Orb – Beziers

Views from te Pont canal over the Orb river to Cathedrale Saint-Nazaire de Beziers

Crossing the Beziers pont canal

Cathedrale Saint-Nazaire de Beziers

Villeneuve les Beziers ……It’s the 23rd May and while the journey from Poilhes takes a full five hours and seems a long way, it’s in fact only 20 kms as the crow flies or in my case as the bike rides as I need to head back and collect the car. We’ve always liked stopping over in Villeneuve le Beziers even though mooring is often hard to find and woefully inadequate but delving a bit deeper we discover there’s little interest in attracting visiting boats from the local Mairie as the town is quite well off deriving it’s revenues from the many commercial and industrial properties within it’s bounds, so no need to for a welcome mat for the likes of us. Local shop keepers and restaurateurs may have a different view on the other hand as we patronise both regularly.

The Canal du Midi – Glorious

Klem & Judith on the Canal du Midi

Flemings afloat on the Canal du Midi

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

Our arrival into Villeneuve passes through pretty sections with shady plane trees but we’re slowed up close to our destination as we pass the salvage and clean up barges and the tragic sight of a totally burnt out hire boat, that caught fire just after leaving the lock, totally destroyed in about fifteen to twenty minutes, the crew were incredibly lucky to have survived.

Villeneuve les Beziers locks

Church tower – Villenneuve les Beziers

Salvaging the wreck of a burnt out Le Boat Hire boat – Villeneuve les Beziers

Not much left of the Le Boat

Wreck of a Le Boat Vision 20

It’s Judith and Klem’s last few days with us so it’s time for a jolly and we buzz off to Narbonne for a day trip, we’ll return here later with other visitors and again with the barge for a week but this day trip means another chance to roam the fabulous indoor market and checkout the renovated port that sits slap dab in the centre of town.

The port at Narbonne & Pont de Marchands

Narbonne port

Narbonne locks

Les Halles – Covered market at Narbonne

At the Fish mongers – Les Halles, Narbonne

Street detail – Narbonne

Getting shawn!

Ducklings at home on a barge rudder – Villeneuve les Beziers

St Just – Narbonne cathedral

Cathedrale St-Just

Statue of Romulus & Remus – A gift from the city of Rome to Narbonne

Looking Cool or Just Plain Frozen…….Sitting in the wheelhouse moored up on the quay in Villeneuve le Bezier is the perfect place for watching the hire boats come and go through the locks and later in the afternoon the antics while trying to tie up on the waiting quay. Anyway late one afternoon it was a tad on the chilly side with a cool breeze blowing which had me wondering what it was that made men of a certain age and with a physique long past it’s glory days, feel the need to strip off to the waist in anything less than perfect conditions, the picture completed with sunglasses donned on a cloudy and rather cool evening. Clearly I was missing something, but Judith, a diligent student of human behaviour had it sussed immediately and ventured that it had little to do with personal comfort and more to do with a desire to look cool. From where I sat looking at their goosebumps I’d say they’d achieved it as they looked positively frozen! People watching can be so entertaining I pondered in my toasty sweat shirt while returning to my bloody Mary.

The Round Locks of Agde………Farewells to Judith and Klem mean it’s time to head onto our final destination in this direction at Marseillan. The trip is about 27 kms but with only three locks we’ll get there in about five and a half hours passing through some pretty countryside, vineyards and of course the famed round locks at Agde. Before reaching the Agde locks there’s yet another strange engineering structure that controls passage through the River Libron. With low lying land all round it wasn’t possible to construct an aqueduct over the river so a series of flood gates were installed to hold back the river from the canal in times of flood.

Old arch bridge near Villeneuve les Beziers

Flood barriers at the River Libron – Gates hold back the flood waters from the canal

Flood barriers at the River Libron

L’Escapade passing trough the flood barriers at the River Libron

One of the flood barrier gates

L’Escapade leaving the Libron river flood barrier

Eventually we’re at the Agde locks along with a number of hire boats queuing up to pass through as well. The locks are unusual in that not only are they very large and round, but also because they have three entries or exits allowing vessels to continue passage along the Canal du Midi or drop down onto the River Herault and access the sea.

Entering the round locks at Agde

The round locks at Agde

Inside the round locks at Agde

From Agde it’s a short run to the end of the Canal du Midi (or the start if coming from the east). The canal from the last locks at Bagnas is filled with brackish waters since it flows into the Etang de Thau so we’re mindful not to water the plants on board with canal water which would of course ensure a speedy end to their existence, flip side of that is that I wouldn’t have to scrub the fallen and stained petals of the decks every other day, flip side of that is I’d have to deal with an enraged gardening wife …..better stick to fresh water then! The banks are littered with all manner of craft and more than a passing number of wrecks abandoned and left to rot where they lie, not the most attractive or welcoming sight to such a world heritage listed structure as the Canal du Midi!

Leaving the Canal du Midi onto the Etang de Thau

A Scow at the start of the Canal du Midi

Magical Marseillan Catch of the day …. It’s barely a kilometer or so from the exit of the Canal du Midi across the Etang and past the start of the oyster beds, the harbour master at Marseillan directs us to a mooring just inside the breakwater, the other outside mooring’s already occupied by ‘Athos’ a 30 meter hotel barge waiting for their next passengers and as they only accept two barges at a time in the small port we’re lucky to get a berth. As it is we have a great mooring and with our stern jutting out into the entrance we have a wonderful view out across the Etang. At the end of the quay we’re a source of constant interest from curious passersby drawn like bees to a flowers nectar by Evelyn’s brilliant show of flowers, cameras click, hands wave and compliments flow, it’s hard not to feel a degree of pride in it all.

The port at Marseillan

View astern from L’Escapade at Marseillan (Hotel barge ‘Athos’ on the left

View from the back window – Marseillan evening

Evey & Supper on deck looking out over the Etang de Thau

Marseillan at sunset

Dinner looking over the Etang at Marseillan

The Port at Marseillan

Hazards of mooring – A Hire boater and the fatal plunge!!

L’Escapade moored at Marseillan

Marseillan sits on the Etang de Thau, it’s a vast shallow water lagoon over 17 kms long filled with brackish waters who’s primary activity is the cultivation of oysters and mussels that grow quickly in the warm waters. It’s reported that these waters produce over 20,000 tons of the molluscs each year.

The port setting lined on both sides by cafes and restaurants and town itself are both totally charming and we’re able to enjoy it all over the week’s visit despite some windy days and regular rain showers.

Hotel de Ville, Marseillan

The port at Marseillan

L’Escapade in Marseillan port

Oyster and Moules fest …..It will come as little surprise to most that one of the primary reasons for being here apart from the gorgeous location, is the drawcard of local food, namely the oysters and mussels. Evey had set herself the rather ambitious goal of eating her body weight in oysters and it seemed for while there that she was giving the challenge a red hot go, I on the other hand being the man of moderation and modesty, managed to control my mussel consumption, which was no small feat given how utterly delicious they were when prepared in the local fashion ‘brasucade’ which is a regional tradition along the borders of the Etang. Countless recipes exist but the basic principle of the brasucade is to cook the mussels in a large paella pan, on a vine stock roots or barbecue, and to sprinkle them with herb marinated olive oil, commonly rosemary, thyme, tarragon, salt, black pepper and flat leaf parsley, some suggest olive oil from Provence but there are just as good oils produced here in the Languedoc and I’ve seen recipes where red peppers (capsicum) are also added along with a splash of pastis! Whatever the preferred variants are they’re all delicious and the jus mopped up with some local crusty bread, and crispy regional Picpoul de Pinet white wine seals the deal and best of all savouring all this at the Etang side producers no frills, make shift eateries which line the shore is as cheap as chips, and as fresh as it ever gets………..such a treat.

Perfect Lunch at Coqui Thau, Marseillan

Oyster leases, Marseillan

Dine al fresco at Ets Tarbouriech Le St Barth, Marseillan

Ets Tarbouriech Le St Barth, Marseillan

Brasucade Moules

Oysters and Moules

Huge 6 yr old oysters – at Ets Tarbouriech Le St Barth, Marseillan

Awaiting the oysters at Ets Tarbouriech Le St Barth, Marseillan

Shucking oysters at Ets Tarbouriech Le St Barth, Marseillan

Moules ‘Brasucade’ – at Ets Tarbouriech Le St Barth, Marseillan

Now that’s what I call an extractor fan – at Ets Tarbouriech Le St Barth, Marseillan

Oysters as fresh as can be – Ets Tarbouriech Le St Barth, Marseillan

Leaving after one such oyster and moules fest we bought a kilo of pelourdes from one producer, a sort of clam which makes the basis for a fabulous pasta dish when combined with fresh leaf parsley, garlic, olive oil and a hint of chili, grab a bottle of chilled white wine and you’d think you’d died and gone to heaven.

Talking of heavenly, and while still on the subject of matters foodie, the local bakery by the port serves up an excellent baguette but of special interest to me are the bite sized fruit tartlets, custard on the pastry base and topped with all sorts of fresh fruit…..strawberries, raspberries are among my favourites but also medleys of mixed fruit. These bite sized treats are just the right size that with a small amount of effort I can cram one into my mouth in one go and savour the explosion of taste and texture…..sublime, so much so that my stay In Marseillan is punctuated by a daily trek to the pastry counter.

Committed to Scoff the fruit/ custard tartlet in one go……..

Almost there and drooling at the prospect……

Yep, and there it goes……time for another methinks!

All that remains now, is to await the arrival of our next visitors, John and Chrissie Randle all the way from Sydney who’ll spend a week cruising with us from one canal side restaurant to another as we start our journey slowly back westwards including a short side excursion to Narbonne and the coast, but all that is for June.

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April 2018 – When you Gotta Go…..You Gotta Go

Itchy Feet…..It’s not really a matter of cabin fever, nor have we run out of fab Toulousian nosheries in which to indulge our appetites but after six months in the one place we’re well ready to get going again. We’re heading off to Marseillan on the Etang de Thau which at 241 kilometres and 67 locks is the entire length of the canal du Midi plus a kilometre. Marseillan and the Etang de Thau is a major oyster and mussel producing region and it seems Evelyn has to eat her body weight in oysters at least once a year. So we’re going and plan to take 2 months to get there, stopping at various places along the way with many local business to support, admittedly mostly restaurants and wine makers it’s true but market traders, boulangeries, butchers and other shops will also get a look in.

The Canal du Midi

Last Days in Town….With only a few jobs left to complete we’ve still got time for a last visit to the park, a few farewell lunches and dinners notably our favourite pizza place with Christian – L’OccItalie and the best rum baba ever at restaurant ‘Mr Marius’. Evey’s regular trips to the market yielded a stash of newly in season morells that would go to make a delicious sauce with some other tasty morsels.

Park at the Grand Rond

 

Spring Flowers in bloom

Our last drinks at Cafe Authie – Louise, Catherine, Evey, Cindy & Arend

Graham & Cindy – Lunch at Monsieur Marius

Rum Baba – Monsieur Marius – After

Rum Baba – Monsieur Marius – Before

DR & Evey – ‘The last Supper’ L’OccItalie

DR & Christian “Les Copains” at L’OccItalie

DR & Christian at L’OccItalie Pizzaria, Toulouse

‘The last Supper’ L’OccItalie with Christian

Easter Cow?

Getting Your Top Off …………For most folk the connotation of getting your top off is the arrival of warmer weather and letting your bones feel the warmth of the sun, well, yes all very true but for us it has a whole different interpretation essentially getting our hard top wheelhouse off again, and installing our ‘cabriolet’ soft top collapsible version in order to negotiate the low Canal du Midi bridges, many of which bare the scars of other folks failed efforts. It’s the day 2nd April, and with a reasonable weather window it seemed more sensible to play the wheelhouse game than risking it yesterday, being April Fool’s day or ‘Poisson d’Avril’ as it’s somewhat oddly called here in La Belle France.

Inside foward cleared, curtains and rods down and ready for demount

Inside aft cleared, curtains and rods down and ready for demount

Outside ready for demount

Roof panels, roof supports & door windows off

Front & side windows out

Aft and rear windows out and soft top installed

Inside aft back to normal

Inside forward back to normal

Carting the Car……One last task remains the day before we shove off and that’s to get the car moved, and a chance to check out some moorings further up the ditch, a perfect spring day gets the car about 30 kms up the canal to Gardouch and fab bike ride back along the towpath in glorious sunshine with blossoms out and new leaves emerging all over the place.

Spring blossoms – Moving the car

Spring blossom along the Canal du Midi

Spring blossoms

Anchors Away Friday 6th April…….OK so we weren’t literally anchored and it’s just a figure of speech however, after a very pleasant winter munching our way though as many restaurants as we could, it’s time we were setting off once more. Winter mooring lines packed away and working ropes set out for the many locks that lie ahead. Decks scrubbed, and paint touched up but sadly no plants yet to decorate the barge with flowers as it’s still a bit too early, but they’ll come shortly. Farewells to wintering boat buddies and with horns blasting we set off. The forecast was for good conditions in the morning but with rising winds in the afternoon and getting worse as the weekend progressed but that should give us enough time to get to our first overnight stop at Negra.

Leaving our winter mooring – Port St Sauveur, Toulouse after Winter, 7th April 2018

Leaving Port St Sauveur, Toulouse after Winter, 7th April 2018

Port St Sauveur – The Departure 7th April 2018

Au Revoir Toulouse

The lock at Ayguesvives – Canal du Midi

The lock filling at Ayguesvives

Waiting for a lock keeper at Sanglier double Ecluse, 6th April 2018

Cruising ‘al fresco’ 6th April 2018

Passing the 1st hotel barge

Pont de Deyme, PK 20, Canal du Midi

Pont de Deyme, top down

It’s an Ill Wind …It’s not often I’d say I preferred rain to the wind, but getting into Negra heading towards 18.00 after a few hold ups and with the locks due to close, the pleasant morning’s weather had long gone and the wind was blowing hard, but nothing compared to what was to come. Moving the car the previous day I’d stopped in at the Locaboat base here to investigate the options for mooring here for a night or two if the conditions got really bad, and very graciously they’d kept a 25 metre space for us, which as it turned out was all there was left!

Saturday’s Wind Speeds – Negra

As the first night wore on the wind kept building through the night and by morning gusting 80 -100 kph. We’d never venture out in these conditions, too risky by far, though bizarrely we did see one small single handed cruiser on the move. They say the Lauregais region is notorious for high winds but we’d never experienced it like this before as we sat in the wheelhouse watching waves with cresting white caps on the canal. A few days earlier we’d taken down our hard to wheelhouse and erected the soft top version in order to navigate the canal du Midi and now we were having some serious concerns for the soft top wheelhouse in these conditions, it’s pretty sturdy with a stainless steel frame but these winds were extraordinary, howling like banshees all day and night long. If we lost the soft top we’d be in deep deep doo doo, so braving the winds which at times threatened to blow us off the top deck we strapped everything down with every spare rope we could lay our hands on hoping it would hold together for another 24 hrs when the winds were forecast to subside. It was a fitting testament to the skills of former sailmaker Ursula Thompson who designed and built the soft top back in 2013 that it withstood the most severe of wind conditions with zero damage – bloody marvellous!! Throughout the tempest Ursula’s efforts ensured we remained warm, dry and secure. Around 21.00 on the Saturday night after around 30 hours of continuous high winds the wild weather subsided, it was like being in the eye of a cyclone, but as the wind subsided the rain came in and in biblical fashion lashed us for over 24 hrs straight raising the canal water levels by a goodly 17 cms. Patcha the cat had the right idea, hop onto a heated cat mat pull up a blanket and sleep through it all. We opted instead for some fat pork chops and a bottle of red! At last Monday came and after being holed up for 2 days and three nights we we’re set to set off once again.

Moored at Negra Locaboat base

Leaving Negra Monday 9th April

Windy or wet best take refuge – Cat in a blanket

Now that’s what we call pork chops

Pork Chops, White asparagus with two cheese sauce (compte & parmesan) & fresh peas

The Run to Castelnauday…….With the weather improving it’s not hard to appreciate the real joys of a European spring with all the trees in their new leaf livery coming out, blossoms everywhere and warming sunshine. The flip side of course is the start of the annual gauntlet running with hire boats. Crawling past one even on ‘tick over’ Evey even managed to pull one off its poorly secured and unattended mooring pins….hopefully a valuable first lesson learned in mooring properly!

Coming into Gardouch lock

Evey at the Helm, top off …..the barge of course, not Evey

Rape seed crops in bloom

The Canal du Midi before the leaves arrive

En route to Castelnaudary

L’Escapade above Laurens locks

L’Escapade leaving Planque ecluse

Crossing with Drumsara

 

L’Escapade approach to Castelnaudary

The Mairie – Castelnaudary

Short Changed on 17th April…..Not financially in this case, but clothing wise the turn- around in weather with warm sunny days meant long trousers exchanged for shorts….. Short changed – get it? OK so it’s a bit light on subtlety but it seemed passable segue to discussing the marked change in weather that continued to trend upwards, at least for the time being making our visit to Castelnaudary all the more pleasant. A few days in Castelnaudary with yet another delicious dinner at the Hotel du Centre and we were off once more.

Slow cooked veal with girolles – Hotel du Centre, Castelnaudary

Tarte au Citron with lemon sorbet – Hotel du Centre, Castelnaudary

Mixed weather with varying temperatures makes us realise that it really isn’t summer yet and there remain some cool days and nights. The scenery however remains as varied as it does interesting  with views out to the distant snow capped Pyrenees.

Views to the Snow capped Pyrenees

Pyrenees view from the Canal du Midi

Port Castelnaudary

Evey making the tight turn to he low bridge – top down

Leaving the port through the dodgy bridge

Out the other side and into the grand basin

Old fortifications

The quadruple lock staircase at Roche, Castelnaudary

Looking down the Roche flight

Evey getting the garden planted and watered

Herbs all sorted

A beer plant about to get harvested

A moment of relaxation for the gardener

Moored at Peyruque lock

L’Escapade at Peyruque sunset

Selfie in the fields

RapeSeed fields

The Epanchoir de Villepinte

No Money for Old Rope …… Another tortured and not exactly accurate segue to the subject of old ropes and while there was no money for old ropes, there were other uses for them. Mooring up at Bram lock Evey gets stuck into making new rope fenders as our original ropes get recycled for the second time. ….their first incarnation is of course as new working ropes for when we’re cruising, later when worn and a bit daggy they become winter mooring ropes, and finally when they’re all done for that we turn them into fenders, Evey does a great job with them and they look good as well as being practical.

L’Escapade moored at Bram locks

Evey making rope fenders from old mooring lines

Making fenders

 

Evey’s rope fender making

Ripping up plane tree stumps

Plane tree stump removal workers

En route to Villesquelande

Villesquelande bridge

L’Escapade moored at Villesquelande

Lock cottage km marker sign at Treboul

Wysteria covered lock cottage – Treboul

Treboul locks

Reflections on a Nomadic Existence –Dutchy Tallman John ……A funny thing the other day, I got an email that perplexed me for a while as it was from Big John the Dutchman………..funny because I hadn’t heard a squeak from Big John since our chance encounter back in July 2017 when he saved my bacon and fixed my bike while I was fetching the car near Agde and he, taking time out from a hectic career as a chef in the Netherlands, was cycling vast distances around France, Spain and god only knows where else but our paths crossed at precisely the right moment and so with a bike fixed, a friendship was struck, contact details exchanged and beverages shared. I recall writing about my encounter with John last July but it’s a timely reminder that on this rather nomadic journey you meet all sorts of interesting folk, some on the water, some on land and in this case one on a bike and after a long period it was delightful that he got back in touch. I feel sure we’ll meet up again somewhere sometime, nomadic lives can be a bit like that.

Life can indeed be very good, and, for whatever time we have to do it, we must surely make the most of it, for life is often far far too short. One of the most enjoyable things about such travel is the wonderful people we meet along the way, mostly by happenstance and such unplanned encounters are what makes it all so interesting, unpredictable and ultimately rewarding.

Me and my bike saving mate John!

Dutch ‘John’ from Maastricht sharing a bottle of Noilly Prat!

The Best Saucepans in Italy ….My music playlists are getting longer and longer by the day, well, ok, maybe not by the day but certainly by the number of fellow bargees whose collections we plunder and swap periodically. Thinking about this from time to time I find myself listening to some great music in other languages, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Brazilian ( not exactly Portuguese) and yes mostly latin countries but while the music is a joy, the fact of the matter is that when it comes to the lyrics I‘ve absolutely no idea what they are singing about, might as well be what a great set of saucepans they just bought, what kind of cement render they used on a recent house renovation or how they treated a bad case of scrapie disease on their families sheep flock so, as good as my French is, I’m reminded that it’s time I learnt a new language. That way at least I might know what the best pans are to buy in Italy!

Never Judge Books or Old Buggers by Their Covers …..Earlier I mentioned that one of the things that makes nomadic life so interesting is the folk you meet along the way and this notion is perfectly illustrated by my growing friendship with young Arthur, Arthur Robbins that is. Arthur spent the past winter mooring in Toulouse close to us and was a regular at our Thursday night aperatifs in the local Café Authie where we gathered and chatted over drinks each week. From several discussions back at Café Authie I knew he’d had a bit of a career at sea, but as we’ve cruised along since the winter and hooked up in various ports along the way, shared a few meals and yes plenty of beers, his story and life experiences have emerged bit by bit and to say he’s ‘ had had a bit of a career at sea’ is a huge understatement. It’s fair to say that I rarely miss an opportunity to poke a bit of fun at my mates, but try as may, it’s not easy having a crack at Arthur as he keeps me fascinated with tales of a life and experiences few of us today could imagine. An early life as a merchant marine officer, years of study then a master mariner, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Pilot in anti –submarine gannets, served on the first aircraft carrier Ark Royal, been stationed pretty well all over the planet, ran a successful business in Antibes as a fully qualified ships compass adjuster, sailed his own yacht around the entire globe for years and now cruising the waterways of France which must seem a tad tame given his past, oh yes and lest I forget he’s partial to a tot of rum and been responsible for keeping me manacled to a bar well beyond a reasonable time….ok ok, so it’s true I don’t need much leading astray, but I’m a sucker for a good story and first hand insights into recent history, or in Arthurs case, not so recent history. As a gentleman of a certain age and a bees todger short of 80 years on planet earth he’s amassed a staggering array of experiences, most of them nautical and has lead me to believe there’s very little about seafaring that Arthur isn’t on top of. ! Whatever the case, this is one book that shouldn’t be judged by its cover!

My mate Arthur

Who Said there’s no such thing as bad beer?……………….It’s been said there’s no such thing a bad beer, just that some beers are better than others, well whatever it is I know one thing for sure the beer pictured below is one no self- respecting Aussie or Kiwi would ever be seen downing. I found this dubious beverage lurking in a supermarket recently which maybe just serves to illustrate the quirks of language. As any antipodean tippler will tell you, a Dag is originally a word meaning the dried sheep poo left dangling from the wool on a sheep’s hind end, more recently the word dag is commonly used in colloquial Australian English to refer to someone’s unfashionable, often eccentric style together with poor social skills and amusing manner. Whichever it is you won’t find Dagsbier gracing the shelves of the average Aussie pub anytime soon.

No self respecting Aussie or Kiwi could drink a beer named after the stuff stuck to a sheeps bum!

Along the way to Carcassonne……………I’m sure I’ve rabbited on before about the pleasures of seeing spring emerge in Europe. Meandering slowly towards Carcassonne once again I’m reminded of how utterly beautiful it is. A reward perhaps for putting up with cold and wet winters, whatever it is there’s no shortage of sights to delight the eye as we pass through the countryside. So rather than try to find the right words to do justice to this event I’ll let the pictures tell the story for me this time.

The locks at Lalande

Locks full and ready

Upper Lock – Lalande

Signs for where ever is home…………..

Le Rive Belle restaurant at Herminis lock

Lunch at Le Rive Belle

Wild flowers

Wild flowers

Spring Blossoms

Grape vines coming into leaf

An old plough

Old farming plough

Happy cat

Patcha enjoying some outdoors

Patcha snacking on some grass

Carcassonne Revisited ……..We’ve been here no end of times in the past few years though curiously we never seem to venture back to the fairy tale tourist trap in the old city, as beautiful as it is. The lower town where all the normal Carcassonnians live (if Carcassonnians isn’t a proper word don’t tell me because it should be) has its own charm with the pleasant Place Carnot to while away an evening apero, it’s also host to a great Saturday market and the port setting is as pretty as any, where Stephanie the long serving port Capitaine welcomes us like old friends. There’s no shortage of cafes and restaurants to provide culinary distractions set amongst the old narrow streets making it a delightful place to spend a few days entertained by the manic comings and goings of the hire boat fleets impressing us with their mooring skills. Ok so I lied about that last bit about mooring skills but it is great fun to watch even if that was us only a few years ago! Next month we’ll meander the rest of the journey to the very end, or, very beginning of the Canal du Midi at the picturesque port of Marseillan depending on which way you are travelling.

The Medievil – La Cite – In new livery !

Main city square – Place Carnot

13th Century St Michel Cathedrale

No idea what this was….. looks like giant pigeonnaire!

Le Palais de Justice

Carcassonne Port locks & Gare SNCF

The Port de Carcassonne

Not quite French culture but good for a pint! – Carcassonne

Selfie chillin’

After a days painting some time for chill-axing – Tunes, books & cold beer!

March 2018 – Sweet Springtime At Last

Anticipation & Spring Chores………….Looking back at the end of last month’s diary and the snowbound fuel delivery it seems somewhat bizarre that the very next day, 1st March, temperatures began rising steadily all afternoon and into the night so that by 11.00 pm it was 10 C positive outside, so we’ve gone from -1 C to plus 10 C all in the same day, very peculiar. The fast melting snow replaced with high winds in the order of 70 -80 kph, blowing a hoolie outside for two full days and nights sending owners out to check out mooring lines several times during the night.

The Dessert Box Concept – Insights from unlikely sources …….There’s more than a passing chance this’ll sound familiar in some way shape or form to those out there with kids, or perhaps even to those worth advancing years like my good self who’ve re-discovered the sublime joys of desserts, but before I delve into that diversion it’s worth reinforcing the notion that every now and then you get a culinary surprise when you least expect it, like the one we experienced when venturing into the Carmes district noshery, ‘Monsieur Marius’ recently. http://www.maisonmarius.com  An unassuming place along a food street well peppered on both sides with multitude of eateries. Evelyn, my dear wife, eagle eyed as ever on the lookout for new and interesting places to part with our pension fund cash, had spotted Mr Marius several times, while I, ever the sceptic was, for reasons unknown a little, well, sceptical, about the place but eventually the stars aligned themselves, which essentially means that after relentless pummelling I finally caved in to the inevitable, and probably could have saved myself any amount of distress by agreeing in the first place we finally went along for a lunch. Well…………. What a treat, the place was full within minutes of our arrival as we kicked off with an ‘amuse bouche’ of carrot and anchovy veloute, leaving my bouche suitably amused. Next in the luscious lunchtime line up was the starter – Pork & Prawn ‘boulettes’ with sauce gambas (prawn) and pomme puree, simply delish. Heading in different direction with mains Evey launched into Racasse fillet (scorpion fish) with chou farci (stuffed cabbage) & abats (liver & other offal) puree on toast while I hoed into the slow cooked Paleron (beef) then seared with caramelised onions and smoked pommes puree. I’ll call it dessert but it really was something completely different, maybe a cross over between cheese and dessert but I’ve never had anything quite like it – a mousse of Shropshire Blue cheese with croutons, radish wafers, crisped shallot & spring onion on beetroot base, fabulous flavours. It was all so good and at 22 euros great value, that I was compelled to savour it all over an old Armagnac.

Monsieur Marius

Carrot veloute with anchovies – Monsieur Marius

Pork & Prawn ‘boulettes’ with sauce gambas (prawn) and pomme puree – Monsieur Marius

Racasse fillet ( scorpion fish) with chou farci & abats(liver & other offal) puree on toast – Monsieur Marius

Paleron (beef) slow cooked then seared with caremalised onions and smoked pommes puree – Monsieur Marius

Dessert or something else? Mousse of Shropshire Blue cheese with croutons, radish wafers, crisped shallot, spring onion on beetroot base – Monsieur Marius

Beverages – Beaujolais from Morgon and sparkling water – Monsieur Marius

Coffee & vintage Armagnac to finish – Monsieur Marius

Meanwhile back to this concept of the ‘Dessert Box’ something I was previously unaware of until first introduced to it by Lilly, granddaughter of Floridian barge buddies Don & Laura Bestor. Lilly, who, when visiting few years ago explained the less than subtle mysteries of the ‘Desert Box’ that had hitherto eluded many a great mind. Once explained it was alarmingly simple. So, for the unenlightened here’s how it goes explained through the eyes of a very young person..….any meal regardless of how much is consumed, regardless of how many courses are served whatever the case may be, those early courses are conveniently stored in a separate digestive compartment from what will for ever now be called the ‘dessert box’ which itself always remains empty and ready to receive any and all sugar, fruit and chocolate based confections regardless of whatever else has been consumed beforehand. Reminders of early protests claiming ‘I can’t eat another thing’ before dessert if offered is immediately rebuffed by the simple and irrefutable logic ‘Well my main course box is full, but my dessert box is empty’ . Who knew that our appetites could be so perfectly organised, and ever ready to access a diverse world of delicious, creative and temptingly sinful cuisine that only a catholic confessional could ever possibly pardon. So glad I re-discovered the ‘desert box’ I never knew I owned, thanks Lilly! Here’s some sample reminders of why it pays to keep a dessert box at the ready……

Dessert – Pear, pastry, cream, fruit coulis & pear sorbet- Solides

Tarte tatin with armagnac ice cream – Le Carre Gourmand, Boe

Tarte au citron, merangue and citron sorbet – Hotel du Centre, Castelnaudary

Dessert – Pineapple sorbet with raspberries, l’Archange, Lyon

Cafe gourmand – La Croisade, Cruzy

Sweet Surrender – Walking around a city has similarities to the concept of barging in as much as it slows you down, allows you time to absorb your surroundings at a more leisurely pace and in so doing discover all manner of things we’re often likely to whizz past unnoticed when on a bike or in a car. Evey’s a hardy walker regardless of the weather as I’ve remarked before and often returns with excited tales of new discoveries. It’s not always easy to understand the excitement at times since it’s often like beauty, solely in the eyes of the beholder. On this occasion however I relented and mustering as much enthusiasm as I could, headed off with a couple of other friends on a long hike across town. But hey, it was a warm spring day so what the hell, besides there was the tempting bribe of a promised new chocolate shop en route to boost any flagging enthusiasm. It was indeed a pleasant walk taking us into new suburbs through parklands along the Garonne river bank and increasingly evident that Evey’s excitement was on the rise, like she’d just exited ten shoe shops having just bought as many pairs of ‘bargains’ ….aren’t they all bargains I seem to remember? The source for all this excitement we shortly discovered was just around the corner in the form of the Fage brothers recently opened, award winning chocolatier and chocolate shop with chocolate sourced from all over the world. The shop’s bright and modern interior housed the usual counters laden with huge selection of tempting morsels while a row of amazing chocolate sculptures lined one wall opposite a few tables and chairs where sad addicts such as ourselves could indulge our cravings with a tantalizing selection of hot chocolate beverages, all the while gazing at the workshop behind us where Easter creations were being prepared.

An exciting discovery – A new chocolatier

Tempting wares & the workshop

Inside the chocolate shop with Chis & Liz

A menu of exotic hot chocolate drinks – very tempting!

Temptation met……

About to give in to temptation

What’s not to like ?

If you need a chocolate fix in Toulouse then this is a must visit destination. www.cacaofages.com

The Rhino

Some other Greek god!

The Panther

An Indian

Neptune

Santa Claus

 

The Thinker

Chocolate owl

 

It’s Official, Spring has Sprung………..Or as It? Well it feels like it had on 8th March and awaking at ‘Gentlemen’s hours’ this morning (don’t ask and I won’t tell fibs) my day greeted me with brilliant sunshine as mercury rising in the outside thermometer glided to a pleasant 17C. Kettle on and an exploratory nose out of the wheelhouse door confirmed that spring had indeed sprung for it was warm and my spirits rose alongside the smell of the freshly brewed coffee that soon followed. Socks relegated to deep drawers and a short sleeved shirt dusted off, this was a day to be enjoyed outside. I’d been expecting this for a while now because recent weekly walks with my round French friend, Christian had produced plenty of evidence like the buds bursting on shrubs and blossoms emerging, certain harbingers of the spring that lay ahead.

Spring blossoms

Forsythia in bloom

Blossoms

 

 

Watching fellow barge owners making final preparations to head off on a new cruising season is another blue chip indicator that spring has arrived and the first to head off from here are Swiss friends Helen & Charles Stotzer on their electric powered barge…..Electra, no surprises with the name and no charge for shocking puns either. They are off in a couple of days so tonight we’ll have the first of several “Au Revoirs and Farewells” gathering at Café Authie our local haunt. We’ve all had our fire extinguishers checked and tested which reminds me of another little insurance scheme I’ve been working on.

The 1st of the ‘End of Winter Season Farewells’

Winter’s end farwells: De Halve Maen, Electra, Emily, L’Escapade x 2 & Florence

Electra leaving Toulouse

Charles & Helen Stotzer’s ‘Electra’

De Halve Maen ( The Half Moon) Leaving Toulouse

The truth is that how we define the first day of spring depends largely on your point of view and importantly whether we follow the astronomical or meteorological seasons.

This year then, spring runs between March 20th and June 21st, but only if you use the astronomical method which determines when the seasons begin, according to where the sun is shining on the earth’s surface. Summer and winter begin on the solstices, (about three weeks after the meteorological seasons) and the instant when direct sun reaches its most northerly and southerly points, over the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn respectively.

Spring and autumn then begin on the equinoxes, the instant when the sun passes either north or south over the equator. When the sun is directly on the equator and the tilt of the earth’s axis is neither away from or towards the sun, day and night are approximately equal in length. So it is that these “moments” or “instants” don’t happen at exactly the same time every year so the exact date of the seasons will vary slightly year on year.

It’s probably for this reason of consistency and simplicity that most us use the meteorological calendar suggesting that it’s already started, with the season running from 1st March to 31st May. This meteorological method is also the method used by the UK Met Office (little surprise there then) and work on the annual temperature cycle and the state of the atmosphere, splitting the year into four three month seasons (Spring: (March, April, May), Summer: (June, July, August), Autumn: (September, October, November) and Winter: (December, January, February).

Before computer technology, the Meteorological method provided a more straightforward way of gathering and analysing statistics with the Met Office being the holder of the UK’s national weather and climate records, this method makes it a more consistent way of calculating long-term averages and annual seasonal climate summaries. Both of the above methods use the calendar, but just to confuse matters further there’s a third methodology called phenology which uses changes in plant and animal behaviour, like animal migration, types of plants, changes in colours and so on to determine when the seasons begin. Needless to say this method being nature based and is a more fluid definition and not widely used. The pictures below was taken a couple of years ago in Briare when in March the skies filled with storks migrating their way back to northern Europe after their winter hols.

Cranes flying north over Briare

Harbingers of spring……..cranes returning north after the winter

A Little Insurance Never Hurts but Beware of a Chain Reaction………Brexit, Brexit, Brexit, it seems little else gets much airtime these days, not surprising though really with one of the biggest decisions a nation has taken in many years, it’s manna from heaven of course for the jouno’s, commentators, speculators and presenters while those negotiating and making the decisions along with those that wish they were get on with the complicated and arduous task before them. I don’t want to delve into the rats nest of opinion here as to whether Brexit is the right decision or not or whether the referendum should have ever been called in the first place, I’ll save that landmine topic for another time. It’s what happens after Brexit that has occupied my thinking for some time and, while I’ve every confidence that the great and the good on both sides of the negotiations will resolve the residency status for both currently established British and European expats there remains the question of what will apply post Brexit for those people wanting to spend longer than the current 3 months permitted under the Schengen rules who are not for example European residents but currently have British / European passports. All that leaves uncertainty and not something to try and resolve if it all goes pear shaped, so I figured a little insurance would be the go and before Christmas applied for a ‘Carte de Sejour’ – essentially a long stay permit (5 years initially) with rights to come and go for as long as the permit lasts.

Despite the commonly held belief that the French abhor queueing or waiting, it turns out in practice that they’re really quite good at both, don’t necessarily like or enjoy either, but then who does right? It’s just something you put up with and over here you get the impression of an over-riding resignation of the fact this is just to be expected when dealing with government burocracies. Anyway all that’s a long winded introduction to announcing my Carte de Sejour arrived in the first week of March providing that insurance against an unpleasant Brexit!

Me with Carte de Sejour

That’s the short version, the slightly longer one extends from getting the text that the card was ready for collection, so, a couple of days later I lobbed over to the local Prefecture in the morning around 10.00 am to proudly collect my card leaving plenty of time to make it to our weekly lunch out across town. Even better the carte de Sejour came in at the princely sum of zero euros, free, gratis, who’d believe such a thing in this day and age, I was elated as I hopped onto the electric bike rather than walk saving time and in a mood of near euphoria.

I should of course have remembered that old and more often than not accurate adage that few things in life are free, and so it transpired that the cost of collecting said carte de sejour may have been gratis in euro terms but also carried price of a 3 hour wait, just to collect it, I kid you not.

It never ceases to amaze me how public services the world over can take a simple task and make it mind numbingly tedious and frustrating, leaving all who come into contact with the systems wondering who dreamt this up, and why does it have to be this way, but not coming away with any answers?

What am I rabbiting on about you may well ask? Well having already experienced the joy of sitting through a 3 hr wait just to get a date to have an interview I’d foolishly thought that the simple act of collecting a card would be just that…..simple, right? Wrong! Arriving at the Prefecture around 10.00 am, I collect, you guessed it, another ticket to wait for another 3 hrs to go to a counter show my passport and be handed the card, a transaction that actually took all of 90 seconds. This of course rendered me well late for my weekly nosh at a new and as it turned out excellent establishment with my wife and Californian bargee and port neighbour. A place with the aptly named title of  ‘Le Restaurant’ no difficulty remembering that name then. http://www.lerestauranttoulouse.fr

Le Restaurants – Esquirol District, Toulouse

Seared Tuna, Creamed rice & shaved parmesan with julinne veg and flan – Le Restaurant

Numbed, bored beyond belief and frustrated though relieved I emerged hopping back onto the bike that would propel me at great speed, all be it forty five minutes late to a stiff drink followed by a delicious lunch. Speed however is rarely your friend especially when you’re in a desperate hurry to be someplace else as I was so it came as little surprise that after only a few hundred metres the bloody chain came off the bike and I glided to a halt. No spanner to hand to tighten the rear wheel bolts holding the chain in place though I did eventually manage to get the wretched thing back on whilst simultaneously transferring most of the oil and grease that previously resided on the chain, smeared all over my fingers. Gingerly pedaling as fast and smoothly as possible I finally arrived at the restaurant greeted by somewhat startled looks from the other diners at a round of applause from the waiter / owner who it seemed had received a blow by blow account of my troubled morning from Evelyn. Beer came forth, the amber fluid barely touching the sides on its southerly journey to my grateful stomach followed swiftly by red wine, nerves were soothed and food arrived. The girls kicked off with brochettes of veal kidneys which had them cooing joyfully while I selected the seche (squid) seared on a plancha (hot plate) with chorizo. We all followed up with flash seared tuna which came with an interesting side called a flan which was some sort of egg based soft omelette thing very mildly flavoured with curry, it was delicious, and a savoury rice side served with shaved parmesan. A bottle of Brouilly Beaujolais assisting the proceedings I was once again ready to face the world and now fortified with a splendid lunch returned back to port ready to do further battle with the bike chain.

Fixing the the bike

Plumbers Code for ‘I’ll Call You Back’ ………Am I missing something or is there some global plumbing secret I’m not aware of , but the world over it seems to be a recurring theme. OK, so as far as I can tell in Australia and here in France you don’t call a plumber for assistance, you hound them with persistent calls until they finally deign to answer you or god forbid call you back after several days or even weeks, by which time you’re ready to respond as spitefully as you can muster, “Oh thanks for calling me back after 7 phone calls your vast munificent princeliness, but I decided to study plumbing and in the end did the job myself or simply, I got someone else” knowing full well of course that you didn’t get someone else because they’re damned near all the same, but the temptation and satisfaction of saying it is almost more than you could resist, or you perhaps you consider the alternative reply “sod off you rude git for not having returned any of my 7 calls and the messages I left you because I’m desperate and Beelzebub was also busy when I rang otherwise I’d have happily hired the devil incarnate for price of my soul if only because he actually took my call! Plumbing trades I’ve concluded have in fact plumbed new depths reaching rock bottom in customer service and common courtesy, then decided to keep digging! So for those that haven’t experienced the pleasures of contact a local plumber let me unravel the code…….”I’ll call you back tomorrow” is the same code as “ I’ll call you back” or “I’ll call you later” which when you crack the code ( you’ll need to make around 3 calls first as a minimum) you’ll know simply means “ I’m NEVER going to call you, ring me as many times as it takes you to figure this out ”

On the other hand maybe I’ve simply misjudged them all along and they don’t realise they’re being rude, you know, it’s a bit like when you’re dead you don’t know you’re dead. It’s difficult only for the others. It’s the same when you’re stupid.

Having just received my long stay carte de Sejour this might at first blush seem like an odd time to embark on a tirade about the dire state of French customer service and by way of qualification I usually avoid knocking my country hosts, mainly because for the most part I love them dearly along with their quirky ways, but hey, we all have our quirky ways right and few of us are perfect regardless of any self- assessment, but there are times when it just can’t be bottled up any longer and recent interaction with the burocracy all but destroyed what vestiges of patience I had left!

Spring goes back into Hibernation …..So who was it first coined the phrase ‘What a Difference a Day Makes”   as the week beginning 19th March arrives and I’m forced to eat my words, barely ten days early I’d been crowing about the advent of fine spring weather but it seems the chilly days and nights are not completely done with us yet as the temperatures fall once again hovering around 0 C at night and around 10 C in the daytime stalling early efforts to get the barge ready for our April departure. We all have our preferred ways to ward away chilly weather, most being conventional and easily found but at the recent monthly antique and bric a brac fair here in Toulouse Evelyn spotted what looked like a dead hedgehog, turned out to be a hand warmer! Later that evening one of the local residents stopped next door on the stern of another boat taking time for some preening, presumably also to help keep the heat in and cold water out. These cute looking creatures known locally as ‘Ragondans’ are introduced coypu, and while otter like in appearance and entertaining to watch, are now considered a national pest doing immense damage to canal and river banks with their burrows. They’re also considered a bit of a delicacy by some as we’ve seen pate made from them! As for me, I just like to keep my cat warmer close to my chest. Whatever it was maybe I was just using the wrong methodology for starting my predictions of spring.

Evey with ‘hand-warming hedgehog’ !

Ragondan perched on a boat’s stern

Patcha napping

The Other, Joys of barging – Careful what you wish For……Getting the barge ready in the spring means lots of gory chores, well it does if you’re a bit anal like we are and want the old duck to look in peak condition so that means a flurry of activity before setting off. I’m adding these tid bits of the more pedestrian reflections of our cheese changing lifestyle because in part I’ve come to the conclusion that pretty well everyone who bothers to read my ramblings has reached the view that all we do is stagger from one restaurant to another, which, to be fair is not an unreasonable assessment, but, and it is a big BUT, as any boat owner will tell you, boats require maintenance and some more than others, and, the bigger the boat, the bigger the maintenance, so to balance the books so to speak here’s a quick rundown of the non- eating side of the past couple of weeks. Juggling between inclement weather there’s touch up paintwork to be done, more time consuming has been the pressure washing of the decks, painting non slip coatings all round, sanding two wheelhouse doors and applying ten coats of varnish, food and general supplies to be bought, plant pots to be cleaned and 380 litres of potting mix to be sourced and filled ready for new season flowers, various kit to be re-homed, new sander acquired as the last one wasn’t up to the job, and tomorrow, being Monday 2nd April we have the wheelhouse game to play with a three hour job of demounting our hardwood winter wheelhouse and replacing it with a collapsible ‘cabriolet top to enable us to navigate the Canal du Midi and its low and twisted bridges. Brass work to polish of course and other odds and sods, more sods than odds if truth be told. Fortunately throughout all this hive of undesirable activity I’ve been able to maintain focus and still manage to keep adding a new restaurant road test to our weekly activities.

Spring jobs, preparing to re-varnish wheelhouse doors & frames

Gory chores – Removing old varnish

Gory chores – power washing for 8 hours

Power washing the decks

 

You Have to take Your Medicine …………I can’t claim this witty piece as in anyway original but when ‘Pomme de Mer’ and Zimbabwean barge buddy Nick Gambier proffered these medical insights I thought it worthy of sharing and to give credit where credit is truly due I’ve concluded that Nick will henceforth be given the Honorary title Dr Nick or possibly, The Good Dr Nick but never ‘Old Nick’ despite his craggy devilish good looks!  So his medical advice goes something like this:

It’s hard to understand why prescription medicine is allowed to advertise on TV or why anyone would think of trying these medicines after listening to the laundry list of possible side effect warnings. However here’s one that’s definitely an exception:

Do you have feelings of inadequacy, suffer from shyness, sometimes feel stressed or simply wish you were more assertive?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist about Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the safe, natural way to feel better and more confident. It can help ease you out of your shyness and let you tell the world that you are ready and willing to do just about anything.

You’ll notice the benefits of Cabernet Sauvignon almost immediately, and, with a regimen of regular doses, you’ll overcome the obstacles preventing you from living the life you want.

Shyness and awkwardness will be a thing of the past. You’ll discover talents you never knew you had.

Cabernet Sauvignon of course, may not be right for everyone. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use it but women who would not mind nursing or becoming pregnant are encouraged to try it.

Side effects may include: dizziness, nausea, vomiting, incarceration, loss of motor control, loss of clothing, loss of money, delusions of grandeur, table dancing, headache, dehydration, dry mouth and a desire to sing Karaoke and play all-night Strip Poker, Truth Or Dare and Naked Twister along with the risk of loss of driver’s license.

Additional Health Warnings:
The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may make you think you are whispering when you are not.
The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may cause you to tell your friends over and over again that you love them, and in some cases complete strangers as well.
The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may cause you to think you can sing.
The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may create the illusion that you are tougher, smarter, faster and better looking than most people.

Clearly while there are some obvious benefits there are some potential hazards and I regret to say that I’ve experienced most of them in years past. Thanks Nick.

Downward Dog Heads for the Pound……Or in my case, heads for more pounds, a likely result now that the end of the month has brought an end of this seasons Yoga classes. We managed 9 weeks with the able assistance and expertise of our extremely bendy and delightful Aussie tutor, Zoe. We’ve all enjoyed the efforts she’s made to get us moving, and become more flexible even if the learning curve has been a bit more curved for some of us, but little doubt we’ll want to get it started again next autumn.

Supposed to be a ‘Downwood Dog’ position …..more like a half dead old dog

Mission Accomplished ……….Yes but which one I hear the plaintiff cry. We’ve really enjoyed the winter here in Toulouse, and managed several goals, the start of yoga being one, losing 5 kgs for me another, even if I was looking to lose 10 but hey, no-one’s perfect but more enjoyably the goal of a new restaurant every week has been easily reached with 25 road tested in as many weeks plus a few who got return visits, we’ll have a crack at the rest next winter! Here’s a few snaps of the some we ‘hit’ over this winter………….

Le Nez Rouge

Tatie Danielle

Le Cosy

L’OccItalie – Best Pizza in Toulouse …………and beyond!

Monsieur Marius

La Madeleine de Proust

Bistro de L’Etoile

La Madeleine de Proust

Les Sales Gosses

Au Bon Servant

La Popote

Le Perche Pinte

Solides

Place Mage

Les Crepes De Benoit

Bistro de L’Etoile

La Madeleine de Proust

Bistro des Carmes

Au Pere Louis

So with the advent of spring we’re on the cusp of yet another cruising season, all be it this year in familiar territory along the ever delightful Canals du Midi & Garonne, but first with April comes the Wheelhouse game…………………

February 2018 & Things Beginning with ‘F’ – Football, Friends, Food & Fuel

A Funny Thing, These Blogs…………. I’ve been posting this blog come / travel journal / diary or whatever we call it, for some six years now. It’s really a bit of diary for me to keep track of where we’ve been, some of the stuff we get up to and some of the wonderful folk we’ve met along the way, and there are plenty of them. Some professional flatterers even suggested a book on the back of it all, but I’m not convinced. I’ve also been contacted by people wanting to know more about this semi-nomadic path we’ve chosen and perhaps to try and do the same, and trust me, it’s not that difficult. Not so surprising that friends and family ‘tune in’ from time to time and I’m flattered that you that know us (yes you, you know who you are!) are remotely interested in these tales tall and mostly true, even with the occasional bit of creative license thrown in. But here’s the funny thing, there’s also a steadily growing number of folk from all over the world who’ve never so much as clapped eyes on us before but are following our journey, so I’m even more flattered and, a bit bemused that any of you out there should find it interesting enough to follow, anyway thanks for being curious and interested, and yes you too know who you are! I’ve no idea how people find this blog and in case you’re wondering where you all come from its literally all over the planet starting with and in no particular order, England, Australia, Scotland, New Zealand, Germany, France, USA, Canada, Philippines, Egypt, India, Someone on a merchant ship, Ireland, South Africa, Switzerland, and The Netherlands. I suspect there’s more out there but those are just the one’s my curiosity found.

Early blossoms

So far it’s largely been one way traffic, you know….I write, you read, but some people, alleged friends mostly, do write back and post messages, so if you’re feeling inclined, don’t be stranger, let me know how you found L’Escapade France and what you think.

 Sporting Injuries………..Aren’t usually much fun, but on this occasion the reverse was true for the first of February’s ‘F’s because Saturday 3rd February was the first round of the 6 Nations Rugby football tournament here in Europe and for some of us compulsive viewing. Now it’s fair to say that I could have watched from the comfort of L’Escapade but given there was a double billing of Wales v Scotland followed swiftly by England v Italy, and, with Evey still away in the U.S. it seemed an opportune time to head off to ‘De Danu’ a cosy, nearby former Irish pub serving pints of passable English beer. The temptation being more than I could resist I braved the cold and headed beer-side. Funny how both time and beer slip by when distracted by a rugby match but slip by they did, and before too long uplifted by the result of yet another England win, all be it against a valiant but outclassed Italy I weaved my way back to the port. I should have been richer for the experience but given the volume of beer that was consumed I was decidedly the poorer.

De Danu – English Pub

Road Testing Resumes in Earnest…….. Evey’s happy return from the U.S. on the 6th February could mean only one thing……ok two things, the first being a serious clean and tidy up of the barge hiding all evidence of the bingeing that the cat and I had indulged in for the past fortnight (yes, that fur friend was as guilty as I was) and more enjoyably that the serious business of locating new nosheries was firmly back on the agenda, with some new and very satisfying successes, but first a few words about lunching ‘Froggy style’. Lunch here is generally the prime meal of the French day with lighter meals usually served in the evening, though life on L’Escapade doesn’t necessarily follow the same pattern, anyway it’s probably why the French are not generally as tubby as some of us. It’s also not by accident that the French are drawn to restaurants for lunch since in part lunchtimes offer exceptionally good value with inexpensive three course set menus or ‘menus du jour’ as they’re called attracting the crowds. Little wonder then, when the identical menu served at dinner may cost many euros more. Another interesting observation is that pretty well immediately after the Christmas nosh fest where the French lash out with enormous gusto like the rest of us both at home and ‘mange-ing’ (sp eating) out, the restaurant trade nose dives for several weeks while those hard earned euros are diverted to the annual sales or reserves are built up again.

Clausons Visit, We Know What to Expect with the 2nd of February’s ‘F’s …… Friends and a feeding frenzy of course. Well you couldn’t make it up could you, the past few days produced a decidedly cold snap with sub- zero temperatures then a day ahead of the much awaited Clauson visit it snows, overnight and through the next morning leaving a cold white blanket over the barge, but like all the previous snow falls here it doesn’t last and by the afternoon it’s all gone again, though still nippy. Mind you the cold weather has never bothered one of L’Escapade’s more slothful crew members being Patcha who‘s an unashamed radiator hog spending countless hours perched on the wheelhouse window sill itself located above a heating vent so she can slow cook herself.

Patcha knows how to deal with the cold !

Les Clausons Arrive

With just two and a half days for the visit it we’ve a packed program, packed that is with eating, drinking and recovery napping as it happens and it beggars belief the further damage done to my waning efforts on the diet front. It’s a widely held belief amongst the experienced that on any semi- serious social event lasting more than a day, it’s prudent never to ‘go long’ that’s to say, not to hit the beverage trail hard on the first night. So much for the theory, the reality seems all too often, and this occasion fits the bill too, that entirely the opposite happens and the longer the gap between visits, the harder you go. The seeds for our first night’s demise came swiftly with a visit to our regular Thursday night haunt with other plaisanciers (boating folk) chez ‘Café Authie’ http://cafeauthie.fr  for some light refreshments, seeds sown and watered it was off to another favoured establishment, this time the excellent noshery ‘La Popote’, http://lapopote-toulouse.com and with the cold night air demanding substantial red wine upon our arrival we began our descent down the slippery slope. Fueled now by a truly excellent meal, as always, all that remained to finish us off was a visit to the amply stocked ‘digestif’ stash aboard the good ship L’Escapade and a raid on some vintage Armagnac.

Cafe Authie, Place Dupuy, Toulouse

Cafe Authie as it once was

Cafe Authie

Cafe Authie

 

JC & Tina – First night dinner at ‘ La Popote’

It comes as no surprise that Friday morning was barely greeted at all, little enough time for tea and cereals before a stroll around town taking in the fabulous Mairie , ‘The capitoleum’, its chambers richly decorated with huge artworks on walls and ceiling.

Place de la Capitole, Toulouse

The Thorn between two roses – Tina, JC and Evey,

Inside the City Hall

Stunning ceilings in the Capitoleum

From here an even shorter stroll would find us seated for lunch at yet another great Toulousian restaurant ‘Le Genty Magre’  http://www.legentymagre.com and another memorable meal. Waddling back to the port and L‘Escapade casualties from the previous long night were beginning to show signs of fading and an afternoon of some professional class napping was quickly the order of the day especially with today being a restaurant double billing and an evening ahead at what we reckon is Toulouse’s best pizza house ‘ L’Occitalie ‘ for a light snack and a mouth filling Cote du Rhone red or two.

Le Genty Magre

L’OccItalie – Best Pizza in Toulouse …………and beyond!

When nothing else will do…………………

The perfect pizza – L’OccItalie, Toulouse

Communing with nature…..or not stamina post lunch………amateurs!!!

Lunch takes it’s toll…………

Another one fades after lunch

 

To Market…….. Saturday morning and a clearer head has me pondering that my cunning plan to avoid a weekend of cooking and washing up might not have been entirely well thought out but it was too late as this particular train had now left the station, destination being another noshing double bill.

JC and other fish

Fish Fingers Clauson at Victor Hugo Markets

Most decent sized French towns and cities have a good indoor market and Toulouse’s Victor Hugo market has to be one of the best around. The large hall’s filled with every kind of produce you can imagine, some you probably can’t and some you might wish you hadn’t. Swanning about the bustling aisles filled with hungry shoppers we’ve soon worked up an appetite but before heading upstairs to the restaurant hall, there’s time for a visit to one of the seafood vendors where a skilled husband and wife team are busy shucking fresh oysters for an eager crowd. It seems churlish not to buy a couple of plates with a crispy white wine to prime our appetites.

A wine & oyster snack before lunch

Waiting for wine & oysters

Upstairs is restaurant alley, with easily a dozen establishments jammed next to each other, every one of them crammed with lunch time diners. The meat and seafood dishes supplied from fresh market produce below make this a great place to experience market food, little wonder the place is packed and with more hungry mouths queued up waiting for tables service goes on for most of the afternoon at weekends. It’s great value too despite its popularity with locals and tourists alike and you can easily find a good 3 course meal for under 20 euros, but be warned get here early or be prepared to wait.

The boys selfie, Marche Victor Hugo

Evey & Tina – Lunch at Victor Hugo market

Too much talking!

 

Time again for another power nap ahead of one of the weekend’s highlights, a return visit to the ‘Danu’ pub for the rugby union clash between England and Wales, as usual the place is packed with supporters from both sides and the French predictably backing Wales makes the England victory all the sweeter leaving some of us at least salivating at the prospect of the England v France match to come in a few weeks’ time. A last night farewell dinner and joined by former Aussie resident now made good in Toulouse, Jane Francois at the charming and traditional Bistro de L’Etoile http://www.bistrotdeletoile.fr rounds off a memorable weekend visit with friends, round being the operative  for that’s exactly how I’m feeling, very round indeed!

Bistro de L’Etoile

Last night dinner at Bistro ‘L’Etoile’

Les Clausons Depart !

 

Lunch and all that Jazz – Our friends en route to the airport and at risk of being labeled excess baggage themselves after our four day feeding frenzy it’s almost at an end, but not quite as Evelyn and I have a long standing lunch engagement with port boat buddies at ‘Le Madeleine de Proust’ http://www.madeleinedeproust.com a neighbourhood restaurant serving traditional fare and once a month has a jazz trio playing some really good music, how could we resist despite the prospect of seeing Mr Blobby return to my bathroom mirror once more and after episodes like this weekend I’m starting to think I’ll never be old enough to know better!

La Madeleine de Proust

La Madeleine de Proust

Jazz lunch – Sunday lunch at ‘La Proust de Madeleine’

Cindy Sparks & Evey at lunch

Plaisanciers de Port St Sauveur – Sunday lunch at ‘La Proust de Madeleine’

Evey & Cindy discuss dessert……or something

Arend, Chris & Liz

Arend, Chris & Liz

 

It’s Not Always About Food ………..Having just penned countless words about ‘nose-bagging’ (think eating) at no end of nosheries over the previous weekend and sans doubt countless other times, it probably sounds like a rather hollow claim that retirement life here isn’t always about the food. However testing the bounds of such claims was a great night out mid- month to the Hall au gains concert hall to see world famous American jazz musician Wynton Marsalas with his 15 piece band, a truly memorable experience and in such a great venue right on our doorstep. Mind you it proved to be a somewhat ambitious evening out, despite having looked forward to the event for some months and the fact that it was absolutely chucking it down with rain that night, it ran back to back with our regular Tuesday night yoga class. So what, I hear you cry, well, believe it or not, after the recent Sunday jazz lunch at the Madeleine de Proust, and the Clauson feeding frenzy weekend a week or so back I’d embarked on yet another austerity program and impressively hadn’t had a stimulating beverage for 3 days at this point as well as having been on light rations for the same time with my 5:2 ‘fasting’ diet modified to a 4:3 diet in recognition of the magnitude of the challenge ahead of me. So without making excuses like I was probably a bit faint with hunger but that nights yoga class being a tad on the strenuous side it wasn’t long before eyes closed and I fell asleep only to be prodded awake by my concerned wife Evey jabbing me in the guts for alleged snoring. A charge I strenuously deny regardless of the strange looks some of the surrounding concert goers were sending my way.

Place Dupuy

Le Hall aux Grains – Place Dupuy

Wynton Marsalas plays Toulouse

Wynton Marsalas 15 piece band plays Toulouse

 

OK, So It IS, All About Food………..On reflection and in view of tales to follow I’ve re-evaluated a previous claim to the contrary and concluded it’s probably largely false!

The middle of February while characterised by several dreary days and plenty of rain, heavy and persistent at times, it’s also punctuated by food, another of February’s ‘F’s. My walks along the Garonne River as it passes through town offer plenty of evidence of the volume that must surely have been falling further upstream as the river here rises well over 2 metres, barrelling along at a fair old lick along with the usual debris and some pretty big trees and branches.

We get one of those odd weather spikes and with the sun out the temperature clears 20C, enough for me to dust off a pair of shorts and ponder summer ahead.

15th February Toulouse…..20C who’d expect to be in shorts!

Talking of food, yes, when aren’t we I know, well another little gem we discovered through some boating neighbours turned out to be just that, a little gem. Run by two old boys, by all accounts ‘Au Pere Louis’ has been around forever it sure felt that way from the decor that looked like it hadn’t been touched in decades but that’s ok, to me it just adds to the ambience and believe me this place has oodles of the stuff. It’s always a comfort I find to enter a restaurant in France that’s filled to capacity, buzzing, bustling and lively, especially if those generating all that buzzing happen to be locals rather than tourists. Tick another box at ‘Au Pere Louis’.

Our lunch that day didn’t kick off exactly perfectly though, nothing majorly untoward just slow, I mean really slow. Greeted warmly and seated we sat there for ages sans vino, sans bread, sans anything except regular apologies and promises to be with us shortly. With a full house and a big group upstairs these old buzzards were seriously under the pump and I wondered at one point if I shouldn’t jump in and offer a hand! Near an hour passed before things settled down but then our man came over, more apologies and glasses along with a large bottle of something we’d never encountered before…..an unusual and rarely found local aperitif, a speciality of the house we’re told as he pours out several small glasses of Quinquina. What the hell’s that I hear the plaintive cry, and well you might ask. Our man gives a detailed explanation but it’s not clear to me what it is other than it’s got extracts of Cinchona bark in it. Further reading revealed that the Cinchona tree is native to Ecuador and from its bark comes Quinine, the naturally occurring compound first isolated back in 1820 but also that bark extracts have been used in the treatment of malaria since at least 1632.

Quinquina

Having grasped very little from our host about the origins of Quinquina I later consulted with that font of all knowledge, Mr Google, to see what he had to say on the matter only to discover that not much seems to be written about this aperitif other than it’s connection with the Cinchona tree and it’s classified as an aromatised wine alongside other examples such as Lillet, St Raphael and Dubonnet. All that aside the taste’s something akin to a blend of vermouth, itself based on wine, with slight bitter orange flavours, oh yes and quite delicious to, so much so we all bought a bottle to take home. Anyway unusual it maybe but delicious is absolutely is. I love these souvenirs you get to enjoy multiple times.

‘Les Patrons’ – Au Pere Louis

The bread slicer – Au Pere Louis

The charcuterie cutter – Au Pere Louis

Chris & DR – Au Pere Louis

Evey, Liz & Cindy – Au Pere Louis

Lunch when it arrived was fine, pretty traditional with pintade (guinea fowl), steaks, duck, andouillette and such and we all had a good time. Our genial host returned once more and this time bearing more apologetic beverages with our coffee in the form of a bottle of Armagnac, refusal was pointless as he poured for all of us, besides I love the stuff. We must have been on a role because on paying the bill at the desk on the way out I spied a barrel behind the bar bearing the name Laphroaig. Armed with an inquisitive nature and being rather partial to scotch and smoky, peaty ones like Laphroaig from Islay especially, I quizzed my host as to whether the barrel indeed contained the amber elixir as I’d only ever had it from a bottle previously. My man assured me that it was indeed full of the scotch and proffered a small glass to prove the point. Doubtless because it was still in a barrel, but the flavour was mind blowingly delicious, like nothing I’d ever tasted from a bottle in the past. I made a pact with myself vowing to return to invest in a thoroughly decent sampling in the not too distant future.

Barrel load of Laphroaig

 

The jolly to Pere Louis’ is just one in a long line our similar outings over the past month which it must be said was a bit of monster. Capping the month off a few days later my French walking pal Christian took us out for a Sunday lunch at J’Go in town which is as good a way to spend a Sunday afternoon as I can think of. A sunny day always brings the crowds out and strolling back to our boats there’s just enough time to soak it all up along the way while soaking up another coffee and an Armagnac, just to keep the chill off naturally.

Evey & DR at Le J’Go

DR & Christian

Evey & Christian at Le J’Go

DR & Evey at Le J’Go

Monsieur Haag

Endive salad with cochon noir pork belly

Coffee at Place St Etienne

Heading to a Dark Place and the Benefits of Being Fatter…………………Time to dispel the notion that life afloat is all just breaking bread and beverages, because other things break as well, in this case it’s the float switch in our forward bathroom sump, which, for those of you not familiar with such niceties, and let’s face it why would you be, is essentially what it says. The sump is a relatively small tank below the water line that collects the waste water from the kitchen sink, dishwasher, bathroom sink and shower that needs to be pumped out over the side when nearly full with the float switch being the device that triggers the pump into action. Failure of the pump or the float switch that gives the order usually means we end up with a lot of smelly waste water in the bilge that then has to vacuumed out so not exactly ideal. Our float switch had been playing up for a while which was a smidge annoying given they retail at £172 GBP a pop or about $304 Aussie dollars including delivery, luckily we had smaller temporary one we could use until a replacement could be delivered. But hey I hear the plaintiff cries, what’s all this about the benefits of being fatter, and for that matter, fatter than what? Well dear readers the fatter than what question is easy, it’s fatter than my elegantly slender wife, and then benefit can be seen perfectly illustrated in the photos below as the very small access panel in the side of the bath is way way too small for a male person of a certain size to insert his body into but an elegantly slender wife might just fit! Evey of course, now a fully qualified barge plumber, did a splendid job dismantling the defunct switch and installing the temporary one, while I remained on hand to pull her out in the event she got stuck. It did occur to me that we could have the panel enlarged for easier access but then what we need two plumbers on board for, besides, it’s easier for us both to just keep in shape…..my shape being round!

‘Bilge babe’ Evey fixing the forward sump float switch!

Wonder how she’s going to get out

Last of the February ‘F’s and this ‘F’ is for Fuel & Winters Last Hurrah ………….I know Feb’s a short month but this one blasted by faster than ever delivering a few surprises as it went.

We’d been watching the BBC news and weather, watching with interest the arrival further north of bitterly cold weather and snow across northern Europe, the ‘Beast from the East’ they called it and while we didn’t expect anything like folks further north were copping it, we were treated to another a cold snap as the overnight mercury dropped to – 5C and some steady snow overnight.

Port St Sauveur in the snow

Helen & Charles Stotzer’s river barge Electra in the snow

1 day snow , Toulouse February 2018

Wintery outlook

It’s sods law of course that the arrival of the cold weather coincided perfectly with the day I’d arranged for a diesel fuel delivery. We needed to fill up our red diesel tank with about 2,000 litres, and a few other boats would take advantage of our tanker delivery topping up their tanks at the same time as the tankers won’t usually come out unless you’re taking on at least 500 litres, which for us is never a problem. Getting the $2600 dollar bill for these fill ups on the other hand reminds me never to whinge about filling the car up when back in Sydney again. The fuel depot texted me the night before advising the driver would rock up between 07.30 and 09.30……..are you kidding I thought at the time, Christ, I’m retired, I don’t ‘do’ 07.30 anymore. Anyway it’s not 07.30 it’s more like 06.45 by the time you get up, shower, and have a cup of tea while donning 4 layers of clothing because, yep you guessed it, it’s still snowing and it’s minus 2 C outside…….why me I wondered as I stumbled out into the cold.

Our man showed up before 08.00 and we started loading fuel, moving the truck from boat to boat in the dreadful weather, Evey made him a big mug of coffee which seemed to go down very well.

Barge Beverage – The Diesel truck arrives

No sooner had the last load been delivered than the snow stopped and sure enough the snow started to melt though Evey was able to get a few pictures from around the neighbourhood.

Fuel delivery day …..in the snow!

Along the tram lines

She looks cold without any clothes on

Snow in the park

Snow in the grand Rond park

Place de la Trinite

Fountain at the Grand Rond with ice

The icy fountain

Already the daffodil shoots are well up flowers beginning to appear, and already there are some early blossoms emerging on shrubs around the place.

Signs of spring despite the snow!

Camelia blossoms

Early magnolias

Happy Says It All…………The arrival of spring flowers, lighter, longer days and rising temperatures always gets me excited at the prospect of setting off cruising again soon and the long hot days that lie ahead. Browsing through some previous seasons pictures the photographs the story of this cruising lifestyle in summer along the Canal du Midi better than any words of mine.

 

January 2018 – It’s Not All Pain and Suffering

The No Plan, Plan Revisited ……Here we are in 2018 on the cusp of our 7th cruising season and 6 full years here come 6th June. Looking back at some notes I penned back in 2012 I’m reminded that our early estimates were that we’d be doing this for about 18 months before returning home to Australia then commuting back and forth to take advantage of perpetual summers………..wonder what ever happened to that plan as we haven’t been home now for 5 years something I’d never have envisaged. Well that’s the beauty of the no plan, plan I guess. Something else I penned back then was a suggestion I was on some kind of Sabbatical, now there’s a laugh. So when does a sabbatical become a full blown retirement I wonder? Must ponder that some more when pondering time permits. The truth is it started as full on retirement from day one but I thought I might like to leave a door open and also to kid myself I might return to financial services one day. In reality I’ve never been busier or less bored in my life with barely enough time to scratch myself. The cheese change lifestyle has been and remains heaps of fun, meeting loads of interesting people, exploring no end of new and interesting places and learning a great deal in a new field which is great as well. If there’s a down side it’s missing our dear friends back home but we will return, just not sure when!

Whoever it was that said you can have too much of a good thing got it badly wrong. So what about the no plan plan? Well looks like we just might have to stick to it which means having no plan at all…..suits me perfectly. 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Next…………..Well now that gazing into the tea leaves is out of the way I can get on with life and the year ahead with loose current thoughts revolving around four main themes:

1. Renewed sourcing of a different restaurant every week while still in Toulouse.

2. Renewed efforts to lose 10 kgs before the new cruising season begins in April – Accepted this item seems at odds with Item 1 but I’m an optimist and feel sure the two can be accomplished with care and moderation.

3. Renewed efforts to get a bit fitter with more regular bike rides, walks and yoga…..yes curb the laughter I did say yoga.

4. Renewed efforts to bring up to date my long overdue blog / travel diary which had stalled somewhere around May 2017 but as evidenced by this month’s post recent efforts have spawned great results with just February to go.

Getting Fitter Not Fatter………. Christmas out of the way with the predictable damage to my initial weight reducing efforts there’s no escaping that something has to be done despite the onset of colder weather. There’s nothing like a light dusting of peer pressure to get things rolling. My portly French pal Christian on a nearby cruiser has set himself a serious challenge to shed some 20 kgs by April (yes I can already hear the indignant of “ what, portly French pal as distinct from rotund Anglo / Australian guy). Whatever, it’s not my fault there are no mirrors on our barge. Anyway Christian’s been walking every day and once a week does a longer 9 km walk, he’s cut his alcohol down to a single small glass of red occasionally and seems to eat little other than boiled chicken with steamed vegetables everyday along with a side order of cigarettes. Now this seems rather extreme to me and is bound to clash with my road testing new nosheries every week so I intend to take a more conservative approach besides, I don’t need to lose as much as him.

Kicking the month off I joined my porky pal on the weekly 9 km hike plus a few shorter ones with Evelyn who’s far more diligent taking daily walks regardless of the weather come rain, hail or shine. My route march with Christian follows the Canal du Midi to the Port de l’Embouchure, its junction with the Canals de Brienne and Garonne and eventually back to the Garonne River which makes its way through town. We can see the results of recent heavy rains as the waters rise and the current picks up carrying all manner of debris with it.

The Garonne in flood

The Garonne in Toulouse after heavy rain…..

Garonne in Toulouse, 2018

Flood debris on the Garonne, Toulouse  2018

 

The Skinny Martian………..I even rack up a 40 km bike ride with American neighbour Chris next door. Though he’s a lot fitter than me and 6 months younger I reckon he looks a lot older which I put down to him spending 30 years in the US navy as a navigator so he must have lead a hard life. He swims in a pool nearby several times a week and is a serious bike rider with all the go faster kit…..you know, lycra, clip in bike shoes, helmet and a bike that Lance Armstrong would be happy riding with or without the drugs which is what I reckon I’ll need to keep up with him, however I’m able to rely on electric power assistance for the 40 km Tour de Toulouse!

One bit of bright and encouraging news I recently received from a thoughtful soul claimed that if you weighed 200 pounds on earth (which by the way I do not) then you’d only be 76 pounds on Mars, so maybe it’s not that I’m overweight, just on the wrong planet.

What Was I Thinking – Yoga Classes Begin………….Looking back, something I seem to be doing too much of this month, I have absolutely no bloody idea how I got it into my head that getting a yoga class started was a sound idea. I had toyed with the notion years ago back in Sydney when Evey was doing a weekly class but common sense prevailed and it never went any further. However at a friend’s dinner party early on in the month we’d met a young Australian woman who conducted classes in town so the subject got broached over dinner, no doubt encouraged by the influence of too much wine. I had a few other misgivings at the time as our soon to be instructor is also a vegan vegetarian and here’s me a card carrying indiscriminate carnivore so it had me wondering if we’d be out tree hugging before hours of chanting and communing with the universe while cradling handfuls of mystically powered crystals. I need not have worried as Zoe, that’s her name, is quite normal, well, apart from not eating any animal derived produce, but hey, that just leaves more fois gras and dead animal goodies for me.

Me doing yoga……who’d have thought it !

So classes got started with me conning half a dozen others to participate, half boys and the other half…..not boys. It probably comes as little surprise but it was pretty clear from the very beginning that the girls were infinitely more flexible than the rest of us managing to stretch way beyond anything we could remotely accomplish, something to do with bellies getting in the way I recall, but let’s not get picky about who bends more than who, the main aim of this malarkey is become a bit more flexible and while the warm up exercises never seem outrageously strenuous it doesn’t take too long before we’re heating up all the while discovering muscles you never knew you had and questioning whether you ever wanted to. I swear the next day it felt worse than skiing and OK so I’ve only done that once before and remain scarred by the experience and humiliation of it all as I remember only too well spending most of that fateful weekend on my back staring breathless and weary at the sky, either that or otherwise playing human skittles trying in vain to stop. Fortunately or unfortunately my brush with skiing venture was a weekend one off……yoga on the other hand looks like it will last rather longer and as noted earlier this form is more about exercising those long dormant muscles, in short, become more flexible and hopefully a bit healthier. Early classes in this quest however simply served to prove just how inflexible some of us have become over the past decades leaving me to wonder if I’ll ever get remotely as flexible as Zoe. Given that the girls are more flexible than the rounder and fatter boys it makes for some entertaining moments along with a chorus of moans & groans while trying to stretch those parts that have lain un-stretched for decades, and my ’downward dog’ position is more akin to ‘struggling old dog’ which is definitely not the same thing! In theory it’s getting easier and while it’s often claimed there’s no gain without pain I’m still waiting for the pay off!!

Supposed to be a ‘Downwood Dog’ position …..more like a half dead old dog

Others in the class who should remain nameless like my walking buddy Christian, ooops, slipped out, oh well c’est la vie, find the class has other pay offs as from his yoga mat he’s perfectly placed to exercise his eyeball muscles perving at the instructors shapely form!

While the Cat’s AwayEvey’s US Trip……… I’ve made precious little progress losing any pounds post the Christmas food and beverage binge, which, as pleasurable as it was, has taken its toll and most of those I’d bid farewell to before the festivities have returned like long lost pals, I should have known it was more a case of au revoir than adieu. As if to sour my disillusionment there’s a bout of mixed weather, mixed being light rain and showers mixed with heavy rain and showers. Making matters and my mood worse was Evey’s impending trip to the US visiting her folks and helping to look after her mum who’s dementia continues its downward spiral, poor girl it’s not going to be a barrel load of fun as trips go.

A still, cold night in Port St Sauveur with perfect water reflections

A cold night in Port St Sauveur

Mind you I shouldn’t grumble too much as national weather reports are showing pretty well all the northern rivers in flood, Paris is 20 feet up on normal water levels and even the Arsenal port off the River Seine is flooded. Glad we’re not there this winter and glad we’re not moored on a river either as I don’t own any wellies!

Evey’s flight gets away on time and having abandoned me to batching’ (as in becoming a bachelor again) for a couple of weeks with Patcha the cat it should have been the perfect chance to make some meaty inroads into my lacklustre efforts at shedding those newly arrived few pounds.

Alas life doesn’t always pan out so perfectly and my well intentioned plans began to unravel barely after the wheels of Evey’s plane had left the ground with my boating neighbours taking pity on my plight and, in serious fear that I might starve to death showered me liberally with kind and generous dinner invitations which I, with a profound sense of good manners and weak will, found impossible to refuse, and let’s face it someone has to be held accountable right?

Now fortified with a swag of perfect excuses for making minimal effort in losing any weight I embarked on a weekend marathon cook off providing some modest sustenance between dinner invitations, and re-stocking the barren looking freezer. First culinary cab off the rank was a large batch of my all weather total knock out pasta meat sauce with the secret ingredient…..chicken livers, and trust me, if you haven’t treated your taste buds to this magic ingredient you’re genuinely missing out (be sure to break down the cooked livers completely and they’ll add such a rich flavour to your sauce you’ll wonder why you never did it before….probably because you never knew about it before). Next to hit the pans was a slow cooked chili beef dish that’s got some real zing in it, perfect for colder weather ahead and also comes with a secret ingredient as I’ve added some smoked sausage (a real find at a Chinese food store near Agen) that gives it a nice twist. The final dishes in this fat buggers guide to eating well see a return to the slow cooker with a 12 hr. shoulder of lamb with vegetables consumed long before it makes it anywhere near the freezer and lastly a fat roasted turkey leg with leftovers made into turkey and veg soup. All cooked out these tid bits would see the freezer officially FULL for some time to come.

I saw it quoted somewhere that aapparently you have to eat healthily more than just once to get in shape, though when faced with all these dishes that notion just seems both cruel and unfair.

All that remained was for me and my fur friend the ‘Princess Sleepalot”  to binge eat, binge drink and binge TV courtesy of barge ‘Effie’ buddies Graham & Linda Barley’s who’d lent us the entire box set of 60 episodes of  ‘The Wire’ , and I sensed a fine bottle of red and a marathon run watching it.

Princess Sleepalot

Me and my fur friend

‘The Wire’ series was brilliant but also educative in several ways convincing me that I was glad I was never tempted to join the Baltimore police force, (as if), glad I never went into politics, and glad I never got involved in the drug trade!! Of further debateable value I did learn the rudiments of Afro-American urban drug gang language, though having mastered the basics I’m not sure how much use I’ll have for it, and certainly not along the tranquil Canal du Midi.

Man cannot Live by Bread Alone ……..Or so Jesus once said it’s claimed, luckily for us local boulangeries have interpreted this as ‘man cannot live by flogging bread alone’ and offer a mouth-watering and waistline widening array of patisseries, pastries, cakes, fruit tarts, chocolaty morsels and so on to tempt the steeliest resolve of any “Oh I just popped in for a lunchtime baguette buyer”. I on the other hand make no such claims to such willpower and have long since recognised I ‘ve got the backbone of your average invertebrate when it comes to these delicious offerings regularly succumbing to the temptation and confirming, no doubt to the boulanger’s delight, that if you bake it they will by it! Here endeth the lesson.

One of our local bakeries

If you have to live by bread alone……..lots of choices

Looking at these tasty morsels I’m sure this wasn’t what she meant when Marie Antoinette allegedly said “Let them eat cake” (Actually what she allegedly said in reality was ” Let them eat brioche”, which, while the translation to “Let them eat cake” is a very poor one, there’s no evidence she ever said either. It didn’t matter as it turned out because they still lopped her head off at the guillotine anyway so I guess she wasn’t going to be eating any either.

Let them eat cake……….

Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it?

Which brings me to a perfect segue to a far more pleasant but slightly unusual eating experience on Friday 12th January when we found ourselves eating solo in a lunchtime restaurant and on a Friday to boot when most nosheries are filled to overflowing so perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised when I’d called to advise we were running half an hour late and greeted with a pleasant ‘pas de soucis’ (no worries in local lingo). Wandering past several other establishments it was evident this was indeed a cyclical phenomenon and we were assured that the restaurant of our lunchtime attentions was in fact full that very evening, presumably the shop sales had closed for the day and thus any spare euros could be re-directed to more culinary destinations.

But I digress, where these observations were originally headed was to note that having a restaurant entirely to yourself whether you booked it that way or were just lucky is an unusual experience where all the staff, in this case the owner chef, apprentice and waitress, were it seemed there solely for our personal enjoyment, and enjoy it we did.

The noshery in question ‘Au Bon Servant”   translated literally to ‘To the Good Servant’ had been on our list for some time and it exceeded our expectations. Naturally with just the one table to serve the service was timely, efficient and attentive so perhaps leaving tip was a bit over the top but hey, she was particularly attractive as well and having had a bottle of good Cote du Rhone probably helped the cause, so what. Anyway where I was going with this was to correct the idea that when it comes to French fare, all too often France is the subject of critique for having overly ‘traditional food’ on offer and lacking in creativity or innovation. Well in our experience while it’s true there’s no shortage of traditional tucker to be found, it ain’t necessarily so and ‘Au Bon Servant’ is a fine example of what dedicated young chefs are capable of with wonderful local ingredients and a flair for innovation. Indulge me for a moment while I lamentably try to do justice describing our meal.

Selected entrée came delightfully presented with leeks & mussels served with thin slices of poitrine (bacon) and drizzled in a light aioli, utterly delicious, followed up with duck breast cooked & served pink, seared on the grill first then finished in the oven on a bed of walnut shells and served with roasted cauliflower puree, sweet chestnut puree and a sabayon of cepes (wild mushrooms). These words are a poor description of what were delightful flavour combinations. The sweet oven baked apple with light crumble and caramel was a perfect ending to such an excellent meal, so much so that all that remained was to waddle home barge-side replete and ready for a nap…..so ended Friday…..aah bliss! On yes, and wine apart those three courses came in at the modest sum of 20 euros a piece…..damned good value in my book!