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)

Narbonne

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

Narbonne

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.

Click here for Barging in France Day 9 and 10.

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 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.

Click here for Barging in France Day 7 and 8

Canal du Midi runs through a building in Narbonne

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 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.

Click here for barging in France Day 5 and 6

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

Barging in France

Barging in France in 2008

Read my advice and hints for boating on Europe – by using this link.

Tuesday 1st September 2009

Ibis Hotel Toulouse

We flew in to a warm, slightly overcast day in Toulouse, the pink city of France, and the epicentre of aeronautics and aviation.  We planned to arrive and leave via Toulouse for our canal boat holiday along the historical Canal du Midi.

The French style of doing things was immediately apparent as we spent our first hour making our way to the hotel. We had done a basic French Speaking course to be on the safe side. We like the Michel Thomas method of learning a language. We did try a language school but forgot all they taught us. With Michel Thomas we were able to at least make ourselves understood and string words together.

Maybe we were lucky, but we found the French helpful and friendly, contrary to expectation. It started at immigration. Border control let you through with a stamp in your passport and skipped the harrowing interrogation some countries find necessary. It’s a much nicer way to start a holiday.

View from hotel room

The airport was clean and their information or ‘accueil’ went beyond what was required to help us. They phoned the Ibis Hotels to find out which one we’d booked into. Who knew there were three? And they gave us plenty information and maps so we could find the shuttle bus, all in perfect English.

At least two people saw us with our map and offered us directions as we walked to our hotel so we eventually hid our map. We were not expecting the French to be so helpful.

Anglicization going on here

After checking in and showering we popped out for a bite and promptly changed our minds. Toulouse is bigger and so much prettier than we imagined. We bought snacks and went back to our room to furiously read up on Toulouse and what to do. We like Wiki travel for travel information. wikitravel Toulouse

Our rudimentary French was slowly coming back. The complimentary Wi-Fi was great but you sign-on in French. And one has to be able to ask things like, “Can I drink the tap water here?” or “Where is breakfast please?”

We were glad we have made the effort to learn basic French many times.

Wednesday 2nd September 2009

Jardin du Plante


We like Ibis Hotels. Ibis Hotels Booking on-line is easy, and the rooms, although cosy, are always clean and comfortable. We opted to have the hotel French style breakfast at €7.50 each, which was a spread of the usual fruits, cereals, pastries as well as some regional foods such as cheeses, tortilla and good coffee.

Pont Neuf on the River Garonne

We had two days to explore the city on foot before we collected our boat. Toulouse is the 4th largest city in France. It’s home to Airbus, the aeroplane manufacturers, and has the 2nd highest number of universities in France. The modern energy contrasts sharply with the old architecture of the city. We strolled through cobbled walkways passing by cafes and buildings with typical Mediterranean architecture, terracotta roofs and shutters on the windows.

Then we went to the city gardens, which had fountains, sculptures and plants grown to resemble faces and objects. We ambled along the Garonne River and the Canal du Midi, which was built in the 1600’s, and was a vital link between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

At lunchtime we remembered the superstores in France often have cafeterias, which offer local cuisine at excellent prices. We found Monoprix, a block away, and we each had a plate of assorted fresh salads from the buffet, boiled eggs, a small carafe of red wine to share and two carafes of water.
Not bad for €10.00?

Streets of Toulouse

The French style of eating is right up our street. They utilise lots of fresh vegetables. Fruits and salads are common components of a meal. Plain tap water and a small glass of wine usually accompany food. They take their time to enjoy lunch, which is from 12.00 to 14.00. Everything comes to a complete halt lunchtime in France, as people head home, baguettes in hand, to enjoy their midday meal.

That said that, we avoided the pricey French Bistros and Brassieres. The challenge of deciphering what we could receive on our plate, as well as the prices, kept us on the streets where we found great food. We regularly ate at Lebanese cafés where a huge combination mezze and salad platter would cost around €8.00 each, and a large carafe of wine to share (500 ml) was about €4.00.

We ended the evening with a stroll along the Garonne River, which came alive at night with students engaged in various activities along the banks.

Click here for Barging in France Day 3 and 4.

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.

Holland – Part Three

Holland – Part Three

Canal in Amsterdam
Cannabis information centre

After our boating trip we spent a long weekend in Amsterdam. There are gazillions of must-sees and you can’t possibly see them all. We narrowed it down to the things that make Holland unique.

Our pick was a canal cruise, the Cannabis College and the Marijuana Museum.

We also did the Sex Museum and the Erotic Museum. We’re not likely to see museums like that anywhere else in the world so we decided to see them while we were in Amsterdam.

Were they all that? It was interesting to learn just how many uses cannabis has, apart from getting stoned, and they showed us some of the different ways it can be taken. Same with the sex museums. People are turned on by really strange stuff and you get to see it. Not for the prudish. You are warned before you go into a room where there is graphic and disturbing material. But they mainly have exibits of erotica going back eons and from all civilisations.

What it is really wierd though, is to walk the streets and smell the aroma of weed coming from the various coffee shops. My head knows that it’s an illegal substance, so it’s quite a head twist watching people smoking in public without fear of breaking the law. The distinct smell of cannabis pervades the city.

Add that to the constant clanging of the trams moving swiftly past and you could close your eyes and know you are in Amsterdam.

The Grasshopper Coffee Shop

We walked about and took in as many of the recommended sights and areas.

Cheese tasting and shop

We also enjoyed just being in the city and strolling the streets observing the goings on. If we passed a cheese tasting shop, then we would pop in, or have a coffee at a cafe and watch the world go by. Our obsevations were that the biggest customers of the coffee shops and the ladies in the red light district are NOT Dutch.

We found markets all over Holland. They seem to be in different towns on different days. The food stalls allow tastings and put out morsels for you to try. Be warned – you will end up buying – and eating – a lot of food. We consumed our body weight in cheeses, cookies and Belgian beers.

Dutch frites or a Maoz falafel for lunch???

My favourites were Speculaas cookies and Dutch apple pie. The beers are served in brandy style glasses with the name of the beer on the glass at local watering holes. Our favourite beers were Leffe and Grimsberg. These two have a sweeter, almost nutty flavour and aren’t fizzy like most lagers. One warning – they pack nearly double the alcohol content of other beers.

We tried a cheese and apple pancake at one of the pancake bars. Not a combo I would have thought of, I have to say, but nice all the same. Dutch liquorice is highly addictive. I managed to wolf down a half kilo bag in two days. It comes sweet, mint, honey or salty. I got a mixed variety bag and I can report – they are all good.

Since I don’t eat meat, the best value for money, and the best food for vegetarians, came from Maoz. They let you go back to the salad bar as much as you want to top up.

Tourism office or VVV

We had fun looking out for quirky boat names and even quirkier cyclists. There really, really are a lot of bicycles in Holland. I was surprised to learn they have right of way on roads. They also don’t wear helmets. Kids grow up riding bicycles so riding a bicycle is like breathing to the Dutch.

They manage to do all sorts of things whilst cycling. Like; chat on a phone, apply lipstick, carry babies on their backs, hold an umbrella. Pedalling in the highest of heels doesn’t seem to present a problem.

You have to keep your wits about you crossing a road as bicycles hurtle past in all directions. Amsterdam is not a pedestrian friendly city.

The Dutch tourism offices do not have an “i” sign, but rather a triangle shaped VVV board. It stands for Voor Vremdelingen Verkeer and is pronounced “fear, fear, fear”. The VVV offices are not always free standing. They pop up in museums and even in a sports shop in one town.

The ubiquitous trams

Many shops close on Mondays for some reason in Holland. Even in Amsterdam. Once we realised this we made sure we did our visits and shopping between Tuesdays to Saturdays.

Here are a couple of handy links for visiting Holland –

Holland Tourism
Visit Holland
Timeout Amsterdam
Lonely Planet Amsterdam

View fro Ibis Hotel Stopera

For accommodation we used Housetrip and bagged ourselves an fully furnished apartment right in the central city area. You could also try Wimdu or Airbnb.

The wonderful thing about the open, warm Dutch personalities is you can ask them for directions without fear of offending them. You are likely to be rewarded with enthusiatic help and friendly conversation.

It’s a great city and a lot more than just sex and drugs. Just rememmber to pack a rain proof jacket. It rained every day we were in Holland. Especially in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, it must have rained ten times a day.

Click here to go to Holland Part 1.

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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