City Weekends

Rick and I live in the middle.  Equidistant from Baltimore, where I work; Washington, where Rick has worked most often; and Annapolis, where we play.  It’s a perfectly nice house, in a perfectly nice community, but kind of a suburban no-man’s-land.

When we want to get into nature, we hop aboard Calypso and go.  Last weekend, we didn’t have time to go out overnight, so we used Sunday afternoon to duck into one of our favorite nearby spots: Saltworks Creek.  We inflated our water toys and explored most of the creek under paddle power.

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I spent a lot of time on my kayak, chasing the blue herons.

Then we swam in the still-cool water, napped, had a dinner of whatever odds and ends we could find in the galley, and were back at the dock before dark.  It was relaxing and rejuvenating, and a perfect way to enjoy one of the nicest mid-Atlantic Augusts we can remember.

But sometimes, I have a craving to soak up some city energy.  Frankly, weekday work in a city center doesn’t provide that.  With a soul-sucking commute at either end of my days, all I can think about is getting the heck out of there.

So, I’m lucky to be able to enjoy city life on weekends from time to time.  I grew up in Chicago, and still have parents and siblings who live there, so I visit a couple times a year.  But my parents and my sister live in the suburbs, so if we wanted city action, we’d have to make a special trip and drive downtown.  Not optimal.  Until my brother obliged our travel plans by purchasing a  condo on Lake Shore Drive.  Now we have a city base for at least part of our visits.

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My brother’s place is a few blocks from Wrigley Field, where I misspent part of my youth for the $2 bleacher seats used to cost.  And across the street is Belmont Harbor, with SAILBOATS!

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The Chicago skyline from my brother’s building.

Last year, when we visited in August, everyone we were hanging out with had a sailing bug.  We learned it’s not very hard to charter a sailboat for a few hours.  I’d never been out on a sailboat on Lake Michigan, so it was a thrill.

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What a great view to have from a sailboat!

The boat we chartered was kind of junky.  It had an engine that wasn’t quite as efficient as a hand mixer (I guess they didn’t feed the gerbils enough…) and no working instruments.  But that didn’t matter, because depth wasn’t an issue, and there were no obstructions — just get out of the harbor and go.  We had perfect wind and a great afternoon.

Two weeks ago, we decided to stay in a River North hotel for our visit, right next to the Marina Towers and the House of Blues.

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It was Lollapalooza weekend, so we just soaked up the energy of the city.  And concluded our day with dinner at an of-the-moment restaurant, next to huge open windows that let us enjoy the cool (especially for August) Lincoln Park breezes and watch the passing parade of humanity.

Today is our 25th wedding anniversary, so we made special dinner plans for last weekend.

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Look at these innocent children on August 18, 1989.

For a local celebration, we don’t have to think too hard about where we’re going for dinner: Charleston restaurant in the Harbor East section of Baltimore.  (Clearly, we were not the only ones with the same idea, because at nearby tables there were 3 couples celebrating their 39th anniversaries, and a pair of rookies celebrating their first.)  But, because we knew we were going to indulge in wine (especially if we went with the wine pairings for each of the many small courses), that meant we were NOT going to drive home.  As we did for our 20th anniversary, we got a room at the Marriott Waterfront.

Our 20th anniversary was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  We didn’t even mention to the hotel that it was a special occasion, but we got a room upgrade.  Not just any old upgrade, but an upgrade to the 2,700 square foot Presidential Suite.  270 degree views of the Inner Harbor and city, dining room for 12 people, full kitchen, etc. etc.   A VIP experience likely never to be repeated.  This time, I selected a slightly upgraded room category, and was delighted with what we got.

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Day and night views from our corner room.

As you can see, we got breathtaking views.  And you can also see a city that is much changed from the one I moved to in 1987.

Back then, parts of the land over which we looked were an EPA Superfund site.  Now, what is known as Harbor East is a hip, happening, vibrant and — yes, EXPENSIVE — neighborhood.  With my office building out of sight, behind others, I could enjoy this part of Baltimore for the escape it offers from suburban chains and highway homogeneity.  And, as we did in Chicago, and other cities we love to explore, we just took it all in.

Most of the time, when I want to escape, I think about a boat and water.  But sometimes, I want to escape into the fray of a city.

 

Where Do I Go From Here?

Well, Calypso’s Odyssey has been finished now for almost 2 months.  As you might guess, I miss many things about it, but I’m also grateful for the comforts of home.  As always,  I’m plotting the next adventure, and working hard to make sure that this “trip of a lifetime” is not just a one-time event.

Click above (on “MAP”) to see the final map of our journey.  We covered over 3,000 nautical miles by boat.  That’s not so much by air, a lot by car, but a HUGE distance by vessel that typically goes about 6 knots.  Not including all the amazing stops along the way.

I’ve really enjoyed writing about our adventure on this blog, and my monthly dispatches in Spinsheet.   Writing is fun for me, not a chore, and so I’d like to keep it up here.  So, while I won’t be posting as often here, keep watching this space for occasional musings about sailing and travel.  Feel free to make observations and ask questions.  I’ve loved having readers’ input.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in reading about my past travels, I’ve been keeping a website for ages.  http://islandtime.homestead.com/

Until next time….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer in Chesapeake Country

Now that I’m back to a land-based life, and work, I’m often asked if I’m now “done” with the boat for a while.  In fact, I am anything but.  Calypso now feels more like home than ever.  We’ve pushed her limits, and expanded her utility.  I’ve got enough gear and supplies on board to just turn up, or stay longer, without planning to have done so.

The big difference these days is having to work.  But my most valuable tools — laptop, iPhone, personal hotspot, full array of chargers, obliging captain — make it possible for me to meet my work commitments without sacrificing boat weekends.  Unless I explicitly tell them, no one needs to know that I’ve been taking conference calls and whipping out document drafts from the nav station or, when the engine is running, the v-berth.

Since we’ve returned from our travels, we’ve been making the most of our Chesapeake weekends.  And for the most part, the weather has been obliging, offering up sail-friendly breezes (and gale force winds — thanks to Hurricane Arthur) and weather than hasn’t been too hot.  Yet.

I finally got my hands on my long-ago ordered kayak, and returned Harriet’s loaner.  I tried it out in the friendly environs of the Wye River home of Running on MT.

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Protected water and lots of wildlife make the Wye River a great spot to kayak and SUP.

A more typical weekend activity is the raft-up, where we make plans to meet with friends in one of the dozens and dozens of nearby coves and creeks.

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On this particular weekend, we met up again with Running on MT in the Rhode River.  It’s not a particularly peaceful spot, but it is convenient.

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It’s not a Bahamian beach, but this quite little spot of sand has its charms.

The girls get the chance to flex their culinary muscles.  Caprese salad (made with burrata – yum!) and tuna tartare are staples.  And on this particular night, I experimented with skewers of avocado, raw tuna, and watermelon with a tropical teriyaki splash; sounds scary, but it was yummy.

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After a few gin and tonics, and many glasses of wine, we’re happy not to have to hit the road.

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A beautiful moon over the Rhode River.

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Because Annapolis is even smaller than Smalltimore, we of course run into other people we know.  Hello Pleiades!

A week later, we were back to the Wye River, this time on the southern branch at an every-other-year Annapolis Yacht Club Newcomers’ Rendezvous at the home of Dick and Karen Kimberly.  We had been asked to move our annual solstice weekend party for the Chesapeake Bay Sabre Association accommodate those of us who are also AYC members who wanted to attend the now-famous event at “Kleenex Cove.”

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Calypso in a cove just across from Kleenex Cove.  Meanwhile, we take advantage of the dinghy service offered to us by Comocean.  (Our official AYC name tags make it easy for us to remember who we are.  And — oh yeah — the names of new friends.)
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Lots of little boats at Kleenex Cove — both dinghies on the muddy dinghy landing, and me and Rick on our trusty paddled craft working off the sins of the coming night.
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If you know me, you’ll know that there is a lot of sinning involved for me to get into the music.  Thanks to Comocean’s Phyllis, I wasn’t alone.  And I didn’t spill a drop.
Delaying our solstice party — which is officially known as the “Margaritaville Sailgate” party — didn’t dim enthusiasm for it.  Inspired by our southwestern France wine — I mean barge — tour, I borrowed the name of a Jimmy Buffet song to set the theme of the event: Turn up the Heat and Chill the Rose.  We headed to Eagle Cove on the Magothy River, served up a case of Languedoc rose, and all was good in the world. 
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The décor includes palm trees, Conch Republic flags, and lots of beautiful Sabre boats.
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 Thanks to Whisper and Scrimshaw, who joined us on the host raft, there was plenty of room for revelers.
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At the party, Sailin’ Whalen’s coveted trophy was grudgingly handed over to Rick, who earned it at last year’s Hospice Cup Regatta.
Another weekend on the Wye followed.  This time, we sailed to a Running on MT party celebrating life, and in particular, some milestone birthdays.
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 Parties are much easier when you bring you bed with you.  Likewise, after seeing the reunited Subdudes at the Ram’s Head in Annapolis, we could just crash on the boat instead of driving all he way home.
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We had a brisk sail home after that weekend.  But it was no match for the sail down in the gale winds kicked up by Hurricane Arthur.  Top speed was 10.9 knots.
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Rick has also spent time crewing on Sailin’ Whalen, as they moved their boat up the New Jersey coast for their summer sailing vacation.
I guess this all goes to show that while I’m not a “cruiser” anymore, I’m using my summer to extend the wonderful feeling of life on the water.
[P.S.  Thanks to Sailin' Whalen, Comocean, and Running on MT for some of these photos.]

Sipping From A Fire Hose

When I got home from work last night after cranking out 10 billable hours, I reached for some comfort.  Not just the Ugg flip-flops which are so much more comfortable than heels, and a glass of chilled white wine, but a treasure that I’d stashed in the boat freezer and brought all the way up the ICW from the Bahamas: lobster tails.  I turned them into lobster salad.  Dinner.

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Not quite the same as dinner at anchor, but it’ll do.

Today is Friday, and I’ve been back working for 4 days.  Four days, because I couldn’t face having my first day back be a Monday.  I was welcomed back warmly, and for that I’m endlessly grateful.  But I’m nevertheless somewhat shell-shocked.

After 7 months, I’d almost forgotten what fresh hell commuting can be.  We live near NSA, where thousands of jobs have been added in the last half dozen years.  Except they didn’t bother adding infrastructure like, oh, road capacity.  So I had to deal with that congestion.  But once past it, I’d forgotten that the only appropriate speed to drive is 19 MPH over the speed limit.  I’m not used to moving that fast; I was only going 10 over — in the right lane — and was being mercilessly tailgated until I stepped on it.  Then I discovered that since I left, road destruction has taken over every route into the city from the south.  I’ll have to refine my coping mechanisms if I’m to survive commuting in anything other than a dinghy.

Luckily, I have a pretty view in my office.

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A picture of an Albury Brothers 20 we’d once rented, anchored over Tilloo Bank in the Abacos.

Which is a good thing, because I’m going to be spending a LOT of time there in the coming months.  While my work had slowed to the point that a sabbatical was do-able last fall, I’m now in great demand.  (Which makes me wonder whether my colleagues missed me, or my capacity….)  I’m glad to have the work, but I’d been hoping for a gentler transition.

There are so many things to get re-accustomed to now that I’m working again.  I have to wear more than sunscreen, shorts and a t-shirt to go to the office.  I have to get up early in the morning to spare myself the worst of the commuting.  I can’t just have a cocktail before dinner, followed by 2-3 glasses of wine, on a “school” night.  I actually plan menus and make shopping lists, instead of picking up random available items in the supermarket.  Life is much harder than just looking for a likely spot for finding sand dollars; I’m chasing American legal tender now.

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Not looking for these dollars anymore.  And the only sharks are opposing counsel.

But right now, the hardest part about coming back to “real” life is the ordinariness of it all.  I don’t feel like I’m in the middle of being special and different anymore.  I live in a normal house (not a boat), in a normal place (not an exotic island), doing normal things like working (not making overnight passages or exploring uninhabited beaches).  I know I’ll be back someday, but it’s a long way off.  Sigh.

But at least I can still dream about it.

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Shroud Cay, Exumas.

Paris in Black and White

Earlier, I’d written that as kids, my sister and I imagined Europe was black-and-white, based on my parents’ old home movies.  Actually visiting there dispelled that notion, as reality tends to do.  But the days we spent in Paris definitely felt black-and-white.  We’ve been dogged by lousy weather since we left Charleston, and our few days in Paris were no exception.  Grey, cold, rainy.  Ugh!

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This picture of the Eiffel Tower looks pretty much the same in black and white as it does in color.  The only color we saw much of in Paris during our visit was green — it’s a city with a lot of trees.

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Here’s the same photo, in B&W with only green picked out.  Sort of makes my point!

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The only place we really saw much color was in the flower markets on Ile de Cite.

My principal goal in visiting Paris was going to Roland Garros, one of tennis’ four “Grand Slam” tournaments.  While I won’t go so far as calling myself a tennis fanatic, I took up the game when I was 14, played on my high school team, and have been a player and fan – with a few hiatuses – ever since.  Attending all 4 Grand Slam events – the Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the US Open – is on my bucket list.  By attending Roland Garros, I’m now ¾ of the way there, having also been to the US Open many times (it’s do-able as a day trip from Maryland) and the Australian.  Wimbledon next year?

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Me and Rick in front of Court Suzanne Lenglen.

I’d arranged to get tickets through Championship Tennis Tours, and requested first round tickets on Court Suzanne Lenglen, one of show courts.  When the tickets are purchased, there’s no knowing who will be playing and on which court.  CTT and the scheduling gods came up trumps for us.  CTT came up with a VIP package that gave us access to a separate entrance to the grounds and lounge where endless champagne flowed – which turned out especially useful during the several rain delays we endured.

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A champagne lunch in the VIP lounge under Court Suzanne Lenglen.

And the schedulers gave us Rafael Nadal against Robby Ginepri of the US.  Rafa is the No. 1 player in the world, the defending champion of Roland Garros, and the most dominant clay court player of all time.  Not bad!

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Rafael Nadal serving, and returning.  Which view do you prefer?

We didn’t have much time left in Paris after a day at Roland Garros, as we’d planned this trip while I was working and needed to get back to work.  Which, of course I still do.

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The view from our room.

Since we only had one full day to look around, we did a quickie tour by Metro, tour boat on the Seine, and lots of walking.

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Ile de Cite and the River Seine.

The tour boat was super-cheesy, with lots of schoolchildren aboard, but gave us a good orientation.  We got to gawk at many of the sights along with them, starting at the base of the Eiffel Tower and ending past Notre Dame.

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More views of the Eiffel Tower.

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Breathtaking Notre Dame.

Then we walked along the banks of the Seine for hours, despite the cold and wind.  My impressions of the City of Light were clouded by the weather and by the crowds – for example, we’d hoped to visit the Musee d’Orsay (the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays), but the lines would have consumed the better part of our day.  At least we visited an interesting exhibit on tattoo art at the Musee Branly.

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The unusual plant-covered exterior of the Musee Branley, and the exhibit we toured.

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We didn’t go into the Louvre, but walked the grounds.

As limited as our self-tour was, we confirmed that Paris is nevertheless a stunning, life-filled, historic, beautiful, stylish, vast city deserving of more time than we had available.  It’s also crowded, maddening, confusing, and loaded with traps for the unwary (e.g. pickpockets and other scammers).

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And it can be very expensive.  We ended our tour with a stroll down Rue de Faubourg Saint-Honoré, one of the famous shopping streets in Paris.  As much as I wanted to bring home a high-end souvenir from Hermes, I was out of luck (I’m hopeless with square scarves, and so would not be willing to spend several hundred Euro to play with one.  And the huge crowd of foreign shoppers – which made the store feel like a Coach outlet before Christmas with a sale on – was off-putting).  At last, I spotted gorgeously-colored handbags in a shop window, and felt like a kid in a candy store, when I discovered I could buy an orange leather tote bag body, add a fuchsia zipped pocket, and aqua handles.  Except the body was 500€, the pocket was over 200€, and the straps were 195€.  Each.  Bye bye beautiful orange bag….

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Locks placed on bridge railings by lovers.

And goodbye to our European adventure.

I’ll have more thoughts to share about our sailing odyssey and our travels in coming blog posts, but right now I’m facing going back to work next week.

 

 

Sometimes You’re The Show

I’m writing this post on the TGV high-speed train to Paris.  Whatever one might think of France, the trains are comfortable, fast, easy, affordable, and – at least in our experience – reliable.  This is a very nice way to travel!

We’ve finished our canal trip, and I’m reminded that Rick is fond of saying, “Sometimes you’re watching the show; sometimes you are the show.”  Usually this refers to sailboat docking attempts, not all of which are smooth and painless.  Any of us who sail have been there, both watching someone’s misadventures, as well as providing their entertainment.  On our next-to-last days in the Canal du Midi, we were definitely the show.

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Above, the pretty town of Colombiers.  And, speaking of shows, this day-tour of the Canal shows just how looooow those bridges actually are.

Our next-to-last stop was the Mediterranean town of Beziers, a good-sized town featuring the obligatory hilltop fortress, ancient buildings, Roman ruins, and great food and wine.

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So far, all of this stuff hasn’t gotten old.

Beziers is known for – among other things – being the birthplace of Pierre-Paul Riquet, the architect of the Canal du Midi.  And he definitely saved his most spectacular technical feats for Beziers.  The most popular attraction in Beziers is the Fonserrannes lock staircase – 6 locks in immediate succession, covering quite a descent.  Check it out on Wiki:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fonserannes_Lock

Once you’ve negotiated one lock, and gotten down your crew’s routine, it’s really no big deal.  But, evidently, for people observing from the shore, it’s something to see.  For better or worse, on Friday, we happened to be the only boat heading down the locks, and we drew quite a crowd.  People were watching us, photographing us, videotaping us, chatting us up, and very much wanting to be part of the show by “helping” us with lines.  I felt like charging 5€ per photograph.  It was all in good fun, though some of the spectators did very nearly interfere with our smooth transit.  Fortunately for us (but maybe not for the audience who was looking for some mayhem), we made it through without mishap.

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The bow rope handler’s (i.e. mine) view of the Fonserannes locks.

Once past the locks, we got some pretty spectacular views of the bridges over the River Orb, as well as crossing over it via aqueduct.

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The aqueduct over the River Orb.

Then we settled in for the evening near the old bridge in Beziers, tucking into our usual dinner and wine.

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A French country dinner of fresh melon and tomatoes, baguette, ham, cheeses and pate.  Meanwhile, we compare wine colors: two roses at left, and a red.

A strong storm – presaged by some pretty ominous looking clouds – passed through and left a rainbow and chillier weather in its wake.

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Scary-looking clouds, and the rainbow that followed.

Around 1 a.m., I heard some thumps and stumbling on deck.  Rick climbed out of bed and chased away one or two miscreants who were up to no good.  Again, at 4 a.m., I heard more noises (paranoid, and maybe a little freaked out), and Rick looked out again.  This time it was clear that one of our bike locks had been breached and a bike stolen.  Bugger!

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The broken lock, and the remaining bikes, which were rather nice 21-speed models.

So, the first task of our last day was marching to the police department and filing a report, in the hope that the barge company Le Boat wouldn’t charge us for the loss (they didn’t).  But after that – which didn’t take too long – we wandered around the town, stopping in a few shops, and ending our morning with a lunch of crepes and moule frites.

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Public park, and on the right, an outdoor market.

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The indoor market, and a typical street scene (really hilly!).

 

 

 

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A park built within the ruins of a Roman amphitheater, and another street scene.

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Another lunch featuring local rose and mussels with a tomato and garlic sauce.

From here, we finished the journey, coming ever closer to the Mediterranean Sea and beaches – which we skipped since it was so chilly.

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More Canal scenery as our journey nears its end; meanwhile, Rick ducks under a bridge.

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Fields of poppies, and a salt marsh, en route to Port Cassafieres at the end of our trip.

I truly enjoyed visiting this part of France, and exploring it by peniche, and would recommend it to anyone who is interested.  It is, as they advertise, a method of travel that just about anyone can handle.

Rose Colored Glasses – Drinking Our Way Through the Languedoc

I’ve long been an enthusiastic drinker and advocate of rose wines, much to the skepticism – if not derision – of others.  But I’ve stood my ground.  It’s not nasty, sweet white zinfandel I’ve been quaffing, but crisp, dry, grown-up rosés, which go beautifully with seafood.  Now that we’re in the south of France – in the Languedoc region – and the home of exemplary specimens of this gorgeous wine, I’m being vindicated.

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A rose we picked up in Le Somail; Rick and Harriet enjoy it while working on their iPads.

It hasn’t been too hard, but we’ve gotten into a routine on our Canal du Midi cruise.  Our days – of which a few remain – include at least one visit to a vineyard or winery where we taste and buy the region’s delightful offerings.  They are shockingly inexpensive given how good they are; we’ve not paid more than 10€ for a single bottle (and usually no more than 12€ in a restaurant), and often less than 5€.  That makes it easy to walk away with one or three bottles, which rarely remain full until the next day.

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One of our visits was to Domaine du Tresor, which has a lovely unwooded (pas de bois) chardonnay, and a unique rose made from a “gris” grenache grape, meaning that they could make it from the whole grape instead of using red grapes and tossing the skins.

We also do some exploration of the towns.  If you’re a sailor, you know the time-consuming effort of stopping a sailboat and going ashore:

-          Pick a likely spot;

-          Anchor;

-          Make sure the anchor sets;

-          Check again to see if the anchor has set;

-          Gather your belongings;

-          Climb into the dinghy (assuming it’s launched and ready to go);

-          Dinghy to shore;

-          Find a dinghy dock and tie up;

-          Make sure you’re tied up;

-          Go a ashore.

With the exception of our last misadventure, going ashore here is much easier.  With bow-thrusters and joystick maneuvering, it takes moments to sidle up to the edge of the canal, toss some lines over a bollard or around a tree, and go ashore.

Thus, if we see a likely town we’d like to explore, we simply get off and wander.  Most villages have a church or a tower or a square to anchor it.

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Capestang, which has a lively square and an imposing church.

There are alleys of ancient buildings.  Occasionally, you run into an angry troll who’d prefer you didn’t take pictures of his beautiful flower boxes, but generally, everyone has been friendly.

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Why make your house so pretty if people taking pictures of it offend you?

Most people’s dispositions have been sunnier than the weather, which hasn’t been sunny at all, but cold and rainy and blustery.

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Rick and Skip, braving the weather.

Midday, we stop for lunch at a local restaurant, of all which have had beautifully prepared food and friendly service, happy to help us out with efforts at speaking French.  (I speak only menu French, but it has been good enough.)  Each meal has been accompanied by that lovely rosé wine.  Because it’s all been organic and free of sulfites, we’ve been able to indulge with no hangovers.

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Today’s lunch in Poilhes, which featured scallop carpaccio with roe and braised pork cheeks.  And, yes, rose wine.

Along the canal, the scenery continues to be the same, but we’ve not tired of it yet.  Aqueducts, incredibly low and narrow bridges under which we have to wedge the barge, alleys of plane trees, a tunnel, and the rolling countryside.

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Alleys of plane trees or evergreens.

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One of several aqueducts; it’s a real trip to have a canal go OVER a river.

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Going through the tunnel at Malpas.

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The French countryside; can’t wait to see it in the sunshine!

The forecast is calling for some actual sunshine in the coming days, so we’re hoping to see it all in the brightness of sunlight.