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.

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Barging in France – Day 9 and 10

Barging in France – Day 9 and 10

Thursday 10th September 2009

Exiting a lock

This was a long day. Apart from the traffic on the canals, we had 10 locks including some staircase locks to cover. At Laredorte, we tied up after lunch and tried to shop for provisions. The local ‘epicurie’ only re-opened at 16.00. We made enquiries with a repairman who smiled at us and shrugged, saying it was – the south of France – what did we expect? Yup, it’s a laid back place when shops close for lunch till 16.00. 

Push button style lock

One can buy very basic provisions at some of the locks. The lock keepers and locals are an enterprising lot. At the locks you often find a small selection of home-grown vegetables, wines and honey. At one lock they even sold their signature “cafe chocolat” drink for €1.

We never got to Marseillette that day as the 9th lock on the way had a huge backlog of boats. The lock keeper shut down 19.00 sharp. A queue of 13 boats were waiting to lock up and 15 boats stood waiting to lock down. We all spent the night together outside the lock.

Lock doors opening

We had a good chuckle with the Canadians on the boat ahead of us and the French on the boat behind us at our unexpected mooring location for the night. Despite the crowd of boats it was so peaceful that we both slept until we heard the other boats hammering their pegs loose and getting ready to move ahead in the queue. It was just as well we took the boat for two weeks to do what the boat hire company suggested was a week long trip. Unforeseen delays and the desire to see more of the villages would have made this trip really tight. The peak boat season runs June to August. We were in the shoulder season. One can only imagine how busy the canals must be in the height of the holiday season.

Friday 11th September 2009

Boats queuing to pass a lock

Luckily this day got off to a better start and even at the staircase locks we had an easy passage.

Market Carcasssonne

With an assortment of nationalities together communication can be a gesture at times. One guy showed a hand to mouth motion as he came out the lock to show those of us waiting, that the lock keeper had just gone on lunch. So we stopped for lunch at Trebes. The Tourist Info opened up at 13.30 pm and they told us there was a supermarket 15 mins away We grabbed our bags and headed for a walk though the town and a shop up. We could relax once we had topped up on food.

However, this turned out to be another interesting day as we got stuck in a lock. The lock closed but it refused to open. Our Canadian friends from the day before as well as a young French couple were stuck in the lock with us. We had visions of sleeping in the lock that night after our experience the day before. Happily the lock keeper rustled up a mechanic who hit something with a hammer – hard – and . . . Voila! We were free. We tied up in Carcasonne by 18.30pm and we even managed to squeeze in a run along the towpath.

Bread at the Carcassonne market
The towpath next to the canal

The usual church bells chimed on the hour and ½ hour as they do in nearly every French village or town. Sometimes there are a few church bells nearby all chiming within a few seconds of each other. Our mooring was close to the local garre or station so we heard the train’s clickety clacking throughout the night and the arrival and departure announcements in French. The nice thing about this kind of holiday, is one rarely sleeps in the same place twice, so the sounds and experiences are always completely different. Your bed stays the same and your clothes and food all travel along with you. How convenient.

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Barging in France – Day 7 and 8

Barging in France – Day 7 and 8

Gruissan Beach

Tuesday 8th September 2009
We stayed another night in Narbonne so we could see a Mediterranean Beach. Images of Cannes with sexy boats and beautiful people prompted this idea. Tourist Info gave us the local bus timetables and we thought we had it all worked out. We missed the bit, in French, on the timetable where we had to change to another bus. We did get to see a beach but not the one we had in mind. It was nothing like we had hoped for. Flat, deserted, no cool beach bars or eateries nearby. We were stranded for a good few hours with not a lot to do. Not many busses come and go this way. Not surprising either.

Gruissan Beach

We ended up flagging down an out-of service bus back to another stop where we settled for the
next ride back to Narbonne. We gave up on the idea of going to Port de Plaisance. Thank God for the surprised bus driver who let us on his bus and our good that fortune he spoke some English. He kindly dropped us opposite a bus stop. Who knows how we would have got home?

Feeling a little disappointed we headed back to our boat to collect our laptop and then back to Tourist Info to avail ourselves of 2 hours free Wi-Fi. (pronounced Wiffy by the French, like we say Jiffy bags)


The French have a slightly different keyboard to the English one. I struggled to find the correct letters. After our ‘Wiffy’ session we did a last shop up and settled back on our boat for the night. Since we had infinite water at the mooring we shampooed, shaved and got ourselves squeaky clean. We made a lentil bolognaise with the usual fresh green salad, yummy fruit, bread and selection of cheeses. With all the food we ate it’s no wonder we slept so well on the trip.

Wednesday 9th September 2009


We read that the markets or Les Halles in French were worth visiting in Narbonne. and since they opened early and the locks only opened from 09.00, we popped in for a quick visit. We bought more dried figs, vine tomatoes, dried prunes and some salad greens. We would have visited every market in every town if we could. The array and presentation of food was always a treat.

A party of boats locking upward

We had a busy day with 11 locks to get under our belts so we got going swiftly after that. Luckily these particular locks were automatic, which meant we didn’t have to wait for slow and occasionally tardy lock keepers. It also meant the locks would be open though-out lunchtime. Meals in France are already a lengthy affair. Occasionally one finds oneself at the mercy of a lock keeper who takes extra long lunches which can hinder progress on the canals.

A staircase lock – multiple locks together

The canals had been fairly quiet but this day there was plenty traffic. People fly their national flags on their boats whether hired or owner-driver. A surprising assortment of nationalities passed by. We had a brief lunch stop at Salleles d’Aude and headed back up to where we first collected our boat at Argen-Minervois. We moored with a little difficulty, as it was slightly windy. At this spot we had access to showers and water but not a lot went on in this tiny place. Most people stayed on their boats.

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Barging in France – Day 5 and 6

Barging in France – Day 5 and 6

Sunday 6th September 2009

Canal du Midi

We read in one of the brochures that Capestang had a Sunday market in the village, so we followed the stream of people with baskets and found it easily. They sold clothing, books and baskets, but mostly they sold food. We could not help ourselves and bought yet more yummy cheeses. They may smell like old socks but they certainly taste good. We also bought ripe black figs, fresh melon, red cabbage, spring onions, coriander, a dark grain baguette and some lavender honey. Food heaven!

Canal du Midi

Back at the boat we opened up the sliding roof to let in fresh air and snacked on a platter of local cheese, fruit and bread. Ripe Brie, Emmentaler, pepper encrusted goats’ cheese, sweet grapes, nectarines and a glass of rich red wine. Yummy!

Lowest bridge in France at Capestang

Apart from the scenery on the canal, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Capestang has the distinction of having the smallest bridge on all the canals in France. After lunch we packed up, headed under this bridge and veered left to Narbonne. We met a French couple heading in the same direction as us and managed to converse in “Frenglish” through 5 locks together.

We stopped off for the night just outside the lock at Saleles D’ Aude. It was nice to be away from the other boats for a change. We lay in our cabin that night listening to the sounds of nature, and what we thought were owls hooting.

Monday 7th September 2009
We left our peaceful sleeping spot and set off for Narbonne. Out boat was a 9.5 m non-fly-bridge, Penichette. The Le Boat style cruisers were massive next to our boat but for two of us the Penichette was plenty big enough, however it would have been tight if there were two couples on this boat.  We met up with two Scottish couples on another boat and travelled through 5 locks with them. One sort of makes ‘friends’ with other people heading the same direction as you for the time you are together.

We got to Narbonne by lunchtime and still managed a water top-up en route.The south of France is normally a warm part of the world, but by afternoon it was sweltering hot. I stripped down to my bikini top to keep cool.

A typical lunch on our boat.

Later, we went to explore Narbonne and found the Tourist Info Offices. They allowed two hours free Internet there so we planned to make a turn before we left Narbonne. We compared boats as we wandered along the canal. People actually live on the rivers and canals. It is amazing how some boats have home comforts, flat screen TV’s, wi-fi and washing machines. They are powered by batteries, but also by wind turbines and solar panels. There are even huge floating hotels where guests languish in luxury. We had a long chat to a Canadian who had lived on the canals in boats since 1965.

Plane trees along the canal

We saw the old Roman baths and a canal running under a building. Seriously, the canal runs right
through a building! There was more typical Mediterranean architecture in this region. We noticed eccentric people who appear to roam the bigger towns and cities with packs of dogs. We suspect they are street people.

Places like Narbonne are ideal for a sleepover as they have the requisite shopping, eateries and amenities one needs. But a night in the middle of nowhere with not a soul in sight and the only sounds are water lapping and trees rustling, are what make this such a special holiday.

Vineyards opposite the canal

At about 19.00 as the day started to cool we went for a run along the canal under the shady plane trees. I took a detour along the vineyards which stretched out behind the trees for miles. Back at the boat, after a warm shower, my other half made a chick pea curry with rice and a raita. We had shore to boat power so we sat till late tidying up photos and working on the laptop.

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Canal du Midi runs through a building in Narbonne

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Barging in France Day 3 and 4

Barging in France Day 3 and 4

Food market

Friday 4th September 2009
After breakfast we checked out and walked to the main train station. Two tickets from Toulouse to Lezignan-Corbiers, came to €38.00 for both of us. We arrived in this sleepy little town and found the only taxi driver at the café next to the station. He was having lunch. Priorities are different in France. He still had two other passengers to drop off before us. They were waiting for him to finish his meal. We decided to eat at the café too.

Canal du Midi

They served us each an enormous baguette with Brie, a coffee and a tea, all for €8.00. The presentation of the tea was a little different – I got a small cup of boiling hot water with a tea bag in it.

The drive to Loca-boat passed through ancient villages and vineyards that were planted way back in Roman times. One got the feeling life has not changed much in these villages. Local villagers sat outside their old stone homes and watched the world go by. A barking dog or a bicycle passing  was about as busy as it got.

At Locaboat we had our handover and set off immediately as we needed to buy food and cleaning items. We tied up at the next village, Paraza, and asked some people walking past in our best pidgin French where we could find the local grocery store. They asked if they could speak in English. But of course!

Our Penichette boat

They said it wasn’t much of a store but directed us up the road. We scrambled up a thorny bank and meandered along lanes that twisted and turned until we found the local ‘epicurie’. One has to remember to look out for cars coming on the opposite side of the road in France or one can walk right into a car. We managed to buy the absolute basics and headed back for a quiet night on the canal. Sleeping well is a given in such tranquil surroundings

Saturday 5th September 2009

At the Locaboat mooring

Our plan was to head along the canal to Narbonne, track back, and then head in a different direction to our final destination, which was Negra. We stopped en route at Ventenac d’ Aude hoping to shop. Buying supplies was not as easy as we thought and our attempts to get guidance from locals proved amusing to all. At times it was like playing a game of Charades with a word or two thrown in and plenty of smiles.

We passed Le Somail and decided to brave it and eat at a bar/restaurant type place we saw close to the canal banks. Nice to be able to check out potential places to eat as you cruise the canals. I’m vegetarian and the French don’t get why anyone wouldn’t eat meat. However they served us a divine salad with warm goat cheese on bread, a demi-carafe or ‘pichet’ of wine, a bottle of water, a cheese platter to share with bread, and two coffees or cafes as they call them. Our meal excluding tip was €32.00.

Le Somail

Back at our boat we got going again. Further along the canal we decided to stop at Capestang. Voila! At Capestang we finally found a supermarket. And after a shop-up we promptly found an even nicer supermarket. C’est la vie!

We both went for a short run along the towpath. I stopped and ate wild black berries growing along the banks of the canal. Our mooring for the night was picture book perfect. There was a crowd of riverboats under a bright full moon. We could hear of the strains of other people chatting and cutlery on plates. Meanwhile we tucked into a meal of baguette, cranberries and Brie with a fresh vegetable salad.  We both slept soundly.

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