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