We’ve been chasing spring ever since we left the Bahamas, with varying degrees of success. In Carcassonne, it looked like spring, but there was still a bite in the air – especially when the breezed kicked in. But one thing that was definitely in the air was POLLEN.
Flowers — and pollen — everywhere!
And that left us all sneezing vigorously. As a last resort, I took Benadryl before bed, assuring a night of deep sleep. But getting up in the morning was challenge, since I was left groggy.
But rise I did, excited to start the next leg of our trip: a self-driven barge trip on the portion of the Canal du Midi (which runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea) between Homps and Port Cassafieres in France. Having spent months and months living aboard a relatively small sailboat, this was going to be sheer luxury, with roomy cabins, a huge upper deck, and no rocking, rolling or heeling.
Our barge, parked along the Canal du Midi.
These barges are designed for people with no boat experience, so it should be a piece of cake, right?
But life is never that easy. In the village of Paraxa, we tied up alongside the Canal, driving in stakes on the shore and tying lines to them. We went off exploring, and then had lunch at a canal-front café (where we and our server struggled to make ourselves understood in French, only to discover that we were all English speakers!) A man walked in and said a canal boat was on the loose – somehow, our stakes had pulled out and our boat was straddling the canal! Luckily, we got it under control, but left wine on the table at the café.
Canal towpath, outside Paraxa.
Harriet and I had decided not to do a big provisioning. We’d be going from village to village on the canal, so we’d just go shopping from day to day, picking up fresh baguettes, croissants, pates, and cheese. And so far, we’ve established a pattern of eating out for lunch, so we’d have all day to recover from the incredibly delicious, dry rose wines of the region that we drank with lunch.
Lunch at La Guinguette in Argens-Minervois. We only drank 2 liters of rose.
Naps follow. For dinner, we just nibble on the goodies we pick up along the way.
Some of our first dinner aboard.
Curiously, though based in France, our barge is ill-equipped for cooking. The collection of knives is especially sad, which led to a misadventure involving saucisse seche — dried sausage. We could not hack our way through it. I put a steak knife into my thumb in pursuit of the cause; we ultimately had to microwave it and attack it with a paring knife. Today, as we shopped at the floating epicerie in Le Somail, I made the mistake of asking the proprietor if his saucisse was hard. Except I gestured for “hard,” since I haven’t a clue how to say it in French. Picture the scene. C’est la vie.
The floating epicerie, and the narrow bridge, in Le Somail.
Yesterday, we were “stuck” in the pretty town of Argens-Minervois, since the lock-tenders had decided to go on strike.
A handwritten sign informing all boats that the lock at Argens is closed due to the strike. A line of boats heading upstream waits for the lock to open.
Although the morning was rainy and cool, it lent atmosphere to the fortifications in the village.
Argens-Minervois under cloudy skies.
We visited the winery (Domaine des Maels) and bought a few bottles – a pattern that will likely continue as well.
The tasting room at Domaine des Maels. Yummy rose wine.
Compared to our travels on the ICW, this barging business is slow and leisurely, allowing us time to sleep late, sightsee, ride bicycles, dine languidly, and relax as we travel a dozen or so kilometers a day.
Rick and Harriet and the bikes.
Although the weather is grey and cool thus far, the French countryside is pretty in a rustic way. Hills and vineyards line the canal, with villages every few kilometers to break up the view.
Sunsets and vineyards.
Trees and wind turbines line the canal.
An aqueduct going OVER a river.
Everything is antique and crumbly, yet there is a picturesque disarray to it all.
Rick prepares to duck under a bridge; we call our barges Midi-Max — since they barely fit under the narrowest and shortest of bridges.
Perhaps it’s all the wine.