Vegans Barging in France 1

Vegans Barging in France 1

One of the best bits about traveling in France is enjoying French foods. Words like chef, gastronomy, cuisine, Michelin stars and café spring to mind. They take food seriously in France. Very seriously. Lunchtime, anywhere from 12.00pm to 14.30pm, is sacred. Lock-keepers on the waterways go off for déjeuner (lunch). In smaller towns – the shops close. We like that. My other half and I are often asked what we eat. I thought I would share what vegans eat while barging in France. We eat similar food back home.

Soy yogurt and berry confit parfait

Soy yogurt and berry confit parfait

French food varies considerably from region to region. In the south it’s all olives, garlic and tomatoes whereas near the German border they love sauerkraut and sausages. Where we had been traveling, in Burgundy, they’re famous for Boeuf Bourguignon, Bresse Chickens and good quality wines – amongst other things. Don’t underestimate the influence North Africa and the Middle East has had on French food. Couscous is a favourite meal. In Paris we hunt down one of the many Lebanese restaurants. They serve the most delicious made-on-the-spot falafel and salad plates.

Vegan snacks

Vegan snacks

As a vegan couple I won’t lie, it is trickier to eat out. But it’s tricky no matter where we go. However, each year it gets easier. People don’t realise how fast the plant-based food movement is growing in France. In the world actually. We check out Happycow.net before we get to a place. If we can’t find anywhere to eat, then we improvise, taking inspiration from what we find in the French supermarkets and see on the menus at cafes and brasseries. You don’t have to be in France to enjoy French food. Plenty dishes, particularly what is known as peasant cuisine such as Ratatouille, are already vegan. Swap out eggs for corn starch and dairy cream for soy cream to make a crème brûlée. Skip the beef and use mushrooms to make a Mushroom Bourguignon. Maybe some of the ideas that follow might add a Gallic touch to your vegan home cooking?

Marinated tofu steak with veggie risotto

Marinated tofu steak with veggie risotto

I was prompted to write this section as one of the books I took with me to read on the boat was – The Happy Vegan – by Russel Simmons. I thought he did a great job explaining why he went vegan. It made perfect sense. He backed up all his arguments with supporting information. One thing he speaks about – is how he finds and makes food when he goes away. I thought this information might help someone who follows a plant-based diet on the French Waterways or even visiting France – to plan and make meals. Or maybe help someone who wants to increase the pant-based quotient in their diet?

One of the things Russel says, and it’s so true, is that vegans eat the same as everyone else. They just make their food differently. Burgers, cheeses, omelettes, meringues and yoghurt for example, are not off the menu. It just requires using different ingredients, techniques and flavourings to make them. The easiest way to find recipes for your favourite food in a vegan version is to go on-line and search for food you would like to make – with the word vegan next to it. Try vegan meringues or vegan omelettes. You will not believe how many recipes come up.

The Galley

The Galley

Most boats have a gas hob and oven. Ours has a ceramic electric hob – but no oven. So, baking and grilling are out of the question. Since we like to eat as much fresh and raw food as possible, it’s not been a problem. We have a small kettle BBQ that we sometimes fire up and make food like kebabs, stuffed foods or fire roasted veggies. We have a small fridge/freezer which means we must shop fairly regularly. A stick blender is an absolute must. If you don’t have one available, then pack one. They aren’t particularly heavy and are extremely useful. The more powerful the better. You can make delicious smoothies, soups, juices, pâtes, nut cheeses, nut milks, salad dressings, pistous and sauces with a stick blender. I also cannot live without a coffee grinder. They are small, and not only do they make fresh coffee, I use ours to make flours from grains and nuts and also to mill flax seeds.

The story contnues – here.

Barging in France – Last day, boating tips and boat hire companies

Barging in France – Last day, boating tips and boat hire companies

Villanouvelle

Friday 18th September 2009
The taxi fetched us on time and dropped us at Villanouvelle station where we took the only train of the day back to Toulouse or the pink city as they call it in France.

Tips for a French Canal Boat Holiday

1.    Take gardening gloves if your hands are tender. Thick course ropes can shred your skin when you tie up for the night or secure your boat in the locks.

2.    Do try and learn basic French. The French speak a lot more English than they let on but it is only polite to make an effort to speak their language in their country. Besides you will need to buy provisions, read notices or maps and ask questions of the Lock keepers and locals. We bought the Michel Thomas Learning French CD set.

Greenie at Villenouvelle train station

3.    Pack sun-hats and sunscreen. The temperatures were between 23’C and 29’C when we went, which was between seasons. It is the south of France. The mornings were cool but the afternoons were hot.

4.    We didn’t take the extras on offer such as bicycles and the insurance in lieu of a deposit. There is so little time to use the bicycles and a short walk is just as nice.

5.    It would be wise to have some boat handling skills. No formal qualifications are required but the boats can be unpredictable in currents and wind.

6.    Pack light coloured sole shoes so as not to mark the boat and make sure they are non-slip. Leaping on and off a boat for locks and moorings is a lot harder if your shoes are falling off.

7.    If you wish to fly the flag for your country then take one with you. People greet their fellow countrymen with gusto. We always fly our flag.

8.    Pack running shoes. The canals are sheltered by the plane trees and an après journey walk or run is a great way to relax at the end of the day and stretch your legs.

9.    It is mostly older and retired people who do these trips and while they aren’t strenuous they do require some effort. You will be leaping on and off boats and heaving ropes.

Gare de Villenouvelle

10.     Go easy on the water when on a boat. They come with about 200 L tanks, which is not a lot. Get into the habit of re-using water for dishes and when showering use the spray to wet yourself and to rinse. Switch off while you soap up to conserve water. Save shaving and shampooing for when you are in a bigger mooring places where they have facilities.

Boat hire companies –
Nautic – www.nautic.fr
Nicols – www.nicols.com
Locaboat – www.locaboat.com
Le Boat – www.leboat.com
Rive de France – They also do bike trips – www.rivedefrance.com
France Fluviale – http://www.francefluviale.com/~francef/index.html
Minervois Cruisers – English narrow boats – http://www.minervoiscruisers.com/english/main/

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Barging in France – Day 15 and 16

Barging in France – Day 15 and 16

Wednesday 16th September 2009

Greenie driving the Penichette

This was our last day for taking in locks and doing mileage. We wanted to be close to our final destination to allow us time to clean and pack up. The locks were much quieter this end so we made good time and the locks were a breeze.

Obelisque to Paul Riquet

We passed the summit of the lock where the river feeds water into the canal from the mountains. They call it the parting of the waters. There was an obelisque to Paul Riquet who started building the Canal du Midi in 1667 although the Romans originally had the idea of a route between the two oceans. It apparently cost millions back then and Riquet spent all his vast personal fortune and the salt taxes from the region in the building of the canal. It took 14 years to complete with 4000 people working on it.

We never saw any working boats on the canal apart from one that passed this particular day. It was a tour/lunch boat taking people up or down the canal. Working boats always have right of way so they snuck into the lock ahead of us. After the summit we started locking down which took a bit of getting used to as we had only locked up till now.

Patrick on the bridge over the River Aude

Our mooring for the night was right outside our last lock of the trip. Usually there are bollards or pontoons near to the locks which means one doesn’t have to hammer pegs or stakes into the ground, which can delay mooring. We both had a last run along the towpath although a semi road had replaced the towpath but it was quiet and apart from one or two cyclists I was the only runner for the hour I was out.

The final lock was only 4 kms away so I got a chance to see where we needed to moor and what facilities we could expect. We were the only boat at this remote spot and being out in the country it was pitch dark. All we heard was the sounds of nature. We never got to speak as much French as we hoped. How we were taught and how they speak is not the same. The French drop letters and merge words together which makes it really hard to understand them. But mostly they understood us.

Thursday 17th September 2009

Greenie about to enjoy a boat meal

This was our last full day and we chose to relax and square up. We woke to ducks squawking, some roosters from a farm nearby and the birds twittering in the plane trees next to us. It was all peace and quiet at this mooring spot. We liked the handling of this particular style of boat. Boats vary in their shape and structure and thus handle differently.

Some cabin cruiser boats slide about on the water. The biggest thing to grasp is that a boat does not have brakes. You can’t hurtle at full speed and then suddenly stop. The brief driving lesson and the instructions in the manual the boat hire company provide are well worth studying. It is vital to understand how to move a boat, particularly in small spaces like a lock.

Deep lock on Canal du Robin – see faces at top

For the most part the climate had been cool in the mornings and decidedly hot in the afternoons. But by the latter part of September the mornings were colder and I was wearing a warm jacket. The European holiday season typically ends the last week in September when the weather starts to turn.

Perving boats from the side of the canal

The boat hire company offered a cleaning service but we chose to clean the boat ourselves. Since it wasn’t a big boat and there were only two of us it wasn’t a hardship. We arrived early afternoon at the Locaboat office in Negra and arranged a taxi to collect us the following morning with the guy in the office. He wasn’t too particular about the boat being squeaky clean, just the basics such as strip the linen and mop the floor type stuff. The evening was a bit of an anti-climax as we so enjoyed our holiday. We shared our last bottle of wine and ate the last leftovers while planning our next boating holiday from a brochure we picked up at the office.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Barging in France – day 13 and 14

Barging in France – day 13 and 14

Monday 14th September 2009

Castelnaudry Grand Basin

The mornings were becoming cool. I started wearing an extra top to keep warm. We got off to a swift start and there was so much talk about the boat that sank from various lock keepers along the way. One guy tried to sell us his home baked apple pie. He also showed us photos on his cell phone of the boat that crashed. Naturally each lock keeper swore blind it would never have happened had they been on duty.

Boat life

The appraoch to Castelnaudary was via the biggest of all staircase locks we had encountered thus far. It had four chambers and five gates. The lock keeper let the boats lock up, and down, simultaneously, so we passed each other in the middle chambers.

Basilica in Castelnaudry

Thanks to a planned extra day we had time to explore Castelnaudary. We managed to get to the local marche in time and my other half bought two pairs of boating shoes for €12.00. I got a pair espadrilles for €3.00. The markets are usually in the mornings on fixed days of the week in the different towns. One has to enquire which day is market day. To check when the market operates ask the locals, lock keepers, Tourist Info or other boaties. We had a small wander around the town. It was built in a circular shape around Le Grand Basin, which is a big pond really. Apart from the marche, Castelnaudry had the usual ornate Basilica or two, street café’s and some beautiful people wandering about. Sitting at the café’s allowed me a chance to be a voyeur to life in France. The French on average are beautiful in a natural, hip kind of way. Their outfits are sort of bohemian but never slovenly or dirty. They look fresh, but never contrived.

The mooring provided boat-to-shore power so we updated all our communications and inspired by boat life we searched the Internet for info on boats for sale. I tried to read a French fashion magazine, gave up and went for a run while my other half went for a walk. I got horribly lost on my run as I missed the road back to the towpath. I managed to find my way back and we settled down to another quiet evening together. We had leftover lentil curry and our usual after-dinner selection of cheeses and fresh fruits.

Canal du Midi

Tuesday 15th September 2009
We treated ourselves to a late start. We still had access to the Internet and shore-to-boat power so we get hold of family, downloaded photos and charged up cell phones, camera batteries, etc. The amenities at Castelnaudry were particularly good so we both had extra long hot showers.

Source of the Canal du Midi

It was nice just to stroll around with no real purpose other than to browse the shops and people watch. The French don’t really get the idea of drinking tea so we tended to drink “cafe” as they call it. It’s served as a tea bag in hot water in a teacup, milk is extra. Tea is more expensive than coffee. We took stock of our food so we could use up what we had. We did our last shop-up at the supermarche. There wasn’t going to be much between Castelnaudary and our final resting place in Negra. We went for another walk into the town to see more of the town.

One can hire bicycles but we chose not to. The amount of time we were likely to use them did not justify schlepping them around and they are an extra cost. However some people cycle the canals and we often encountered them passing our boat laden down with tents and maps.

Plane trees were planted along the canals to provide shade to slow evaporation of water, and their roots also help support the banks of the canal. Canals are cool for the most part, and cycling them as opposed to doing them on a boat could be a great alternative way to explore the area.

Languedoc region

My other half fancies the Dutch steel boats and I like the smaller barges, which are more like houses on water. We did some boat perving while we still had Internet access that evening.

The family moored next to us in Castelnaudary lived on their boat. They had two children they were home schooling on their boat. Slept well, of course and heard an owl hooting again.

Click here for Barging in France Day 15 and 16

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Barging in France – Day 11 and 12

Barging in France – Day 11 and 12

Saturday 12th September 2009

Food market Carcasonne
La Cite Carcasonne

It was nice to have a slow start and a chance to explore the town of Carcassone. From the window of our boat we saw a steady stream of people with their shopping baskets and bags heading for, what we assumed was, the market or marche. We had no idea there was a market close by, so we leapt up, wolfed down our breakfast, and bags in hand, followed the stream of people. We easily found the market. We had done a huge shop-up the day before but we could not help ourselves and bought yet more food. There were stalls upon stalls of sheep cheeses, goat cheeses, cow cheeses, fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh herbs, dried fruits and nuts, assorted pastries, breads, and so much more yummy food.  I have never seen so many different types of mushrooms. One can compare prices, check the quality and pick the very best potatoes on offer for the day. No wonder we didn’t have any desire to eat out. Where else would we have bought sheep cheese? Who knew it was so nice?

La Cite Carcasonne

Walking back from the market we went past Le Capitaine or La Capitaine in this case and we asked for a mooring with water and electricity. The moorings had been around €5.00 up till now – this one was €29.00. But then they had washing machines, ‘Wiffy’, showers, proper loos and even security for some reason. The fee at Carcasonne was based on the length of the boat, the amount of occupants and they also charged tax. Like many French people, when we asked her if she could speak English, she said she would, if we tried to speak French, which is fair enough. They usually revert to English and speak it well.

La Cite Carcasonne

We went for a stroll to look at other boats. Since we had been staying on a boat we were intrigued by other people and their boats. My other half got chatting to a few more boat owners about the pros and cons of their particular boat types. One guy had a couple of boats scattered around Europe and he alternated between them. Some people travel with their dogs. I’m never sure how much the dogs enjoy being stuck on a boat.

Another good reason for taking a day out of the trip was a chance to see La Cite. It’s a medieval fortress or an old city 2 km from the centre of Carcasonne. It’s full of the usual tourist trappings and tat but well worth having seen. On the way home we discovered a bunch of runners next to the quay and it turned out there was a race that evening. We heard strains of Pink Floyd and the Beatles going on in the background. Later we heard them announcing what we assumed were prizes for the winners which went on well into the night. I never understood a word for all my French lessons.

My other half bought a ready-made Cassoulet, which is one of the dishes of the region for supper. It’s a haricot bean and sausage stew with duck meat for flavour. I made my own version of a warm goat cheese salad and polished off the left over pasta from previous night. We made a honey mustard salad dressing with the local honey and mustard we bought at the markets.

Sunday 13th September 2009

Friendly cyclists on the tow path

We headed off for Bram as per the Locaboat travel suggestion. There was a lot less traffic on this section of the canal than the area we covered a few days previously, which made the journey a lot easier. The day was going well and there were only 3 locks for the day. The locks have some interesting names and one does wonder. We passed through a Lock Criminelle.

Sinking boat on the canal

We have done French and UK canals before, with very little trouble. This trip had its share of drama. We made good time till we got to the lock prior to Lock de Guilhermin. At Guilhermin a boat managed to get bashed inside the lock and cracked. She started taking in water and she sank just outside the lock. The lock keeper at the next lock shut down so fast. We thought that was us done for the day. We ended up going for a walk to see the unfortunate boat. The canal was cleared fairly quickly and we managed to make one more lock but we lost 1-½ hours.

We settled for the night outside the next lock miles away from anywhere. My other half made a lentil curry and we sat sipping wine, writing, doing sudoka’s and listening to the ducks squawking outside.

Click here for Barging in France Day 13 and 14

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

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