Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Biesbosch Makes People Smile

After the lock of Ocean at Naurouze, the highest point of the Canal du Midi, we started our descent towards Toulouse. Locking down is always easier than locking up, especially if you are alone in the lock. We have been most of the time since we started our descent. This part of the canal has a beautiful bike path that goes along the canal past Toulouse. The bikers, walkers and joggers that pass by smile and wave at us sometimes saying things like: "THAT IS a vacation for you" or "That is a beautiful way of life". It is always delightful to see and hear people's reactions when we go by. Soon after Port Lauragais, on the east side of the canal, the small village of Avignonet, a jewel of medieval architecture stands out perched on a hill. The landscape is gorgeous and the vegetation varied. We continued to Gardouch where we moored for the night, and the next day took a bike ride along the path to the town of Villefranche where we met some Pilgrims from Quebec who had left from Arles to do their Camino. It was, as always, great to meet them and get lots of information and pointers from them. The next day, wewent as far as Castanet, a bedroom community of Toulouse, not to interesting, but the mooring at the lock was lovely and rural, despite the fact that the city was only kilometers away. On May 20, we arrived at Port Saint Saveur in Toulouse, where Sylvianne, the Port Captain had reserved a place for us, just in front of the Capitainerie. As always, coming into a town or city in your boat is very exciting, and this was no exception. Our stay in Toulouse was of ten wonderful days and having brought the car from Castelnaudary was a great thing to do, since it allowed us to explore the areas around the city. In Toulouse we walked everywhere and got to see the city quite thoroughly.

One of the things I wanted to do while in Toulouse was to get my Pilgrim Credential from St. Sernin, one of the main stops of the Camino of Compostela. After having visited this magnificent Romanesque church, I was able to get not only my credential from them, but also the one for Libia, my sister in law, with whom I am doing the walk to Compostela. This was the "first step" and one that made me realize how close I was to doing my walk. The credentials have seals from the Bishop of Toulouse and the Association of the Friends of Compostela. While in Toulouse, " The Red CIty", we visited the superb museum of the Agustins, The Capitole with its beautiful square and market, The Bemberg Foundation Museum with an eclectic private collection of art and furniture housed in an exquisite chateau, and of course discovered some charming little squares and parks everywhere. In the covered market of Victor Hugo, we met an incredible Colombian girl who has a roasting chicken business called Poulet Tcha Tcha Tcha. She had delicious Colombian empanadas, so we had lunch there and invited her and her friend Veronique to have drinks with us on Biesbosch. We had a superb time with them and before we left, they treated us to an AIOLI, a typical southern dish of shrimp and oysters served with a garlic mayonnaise, a perfect dish to accompany with beer on a hot day. Luz Stella, the Colombian girl had just sold her business and is moving to Sevilla. Spain with her 10 year old son, Mateo.

At the port we met an American couple from Texas, Bud and Joyce of Hoop Doet Leven, a beautiful Dutch Peniche with whom we had some lovely times on both boats before they went on a vacation to Spain. They will be traveling north and staying near Paris for the winter. After 10 days in Toulouse, we moved on along a not so interesting stretch of the canal. We moored for the night after Pompignan and continued to Montech, a lovely town we had visited by car and where we wanted to spend some time. We moored in the port, only to find out that there was no electricity nor there will be any until after the weekend. We had lunch on the boat and decided to try the newly restored branch of the Canal de Montech up to Lacourt St. Pierre. It was only a few kms away, but a gorgeous stop with all the facilities, a park and picnic area and a great bike path to go to Montauban. We stayed there 2 nights and biked to Montauban, another impressive city over the Tarn River. We visited the fabulous Ingres Museum housed in a Chateau whose lower floor was built in the XI C. The Place National, a beautiful work of brick arches, is one of the most charming I have seen. Our next stop was in Castelsarrasin where Bill had brought the car from Toulouse. The port is a lovely basin full of geese and ducks, and is run b a very nice lady called Maite. Thursday is market day, and one of the best in the region. People come from all over for this market which is held all over town. This area of The Tarn Garonne is known for its fruit, cherries and plums, and for its Fie Gras and Armagnac.

While in Castelsarrasin, Bill and I did a lot of exploring and saw some unbelievable medieval towns such as Auvillar, Lauzerte, Cordes sur Ciel, Bruniquel, St Antonin Noble-Val, La Romieu, Larresingle, Condom, Fources and others. Of these, most of them are classified among THE MOST BEAUTIFUL FRENCH VILLAGES with good reason. Some of them are official stops on the Camino of Compostela. We spent one day in Albi, a larger town and one that houses the Toulouse Lautrec Museum and one of the prettiest French Gothic Cathedrals I have ever seen. It is an impressive town built on the edge of the Tarn River surrounded by beautiful hills and lush vegetation.

To prepare for my 279 Km walk from Astorga to Santiago de Compostela, I did a full equipment first trial 18 km walk from Castelsarrasin to Moissac. To get used to my backpack, I had to do some adjustments, but had no trouble at all with my boots or anything else. I have been wearing them regularly and treating my feet with a special cream to keep them from blisters. Moissac is another main stop in The Camino, so having taken my credential with me, it was stamped before I came into the Abbey to visit. The Abbey's church is incredibly beautiful, especially the Romanesque sculpted door, but most impressive is the Abbey's cloister with its beautifully crafted arches and capitols.

After an 8 day stay in Castelsarrasin, we continued on to Malause where our friends Mark and Celia and Steve and Kit have been moored for quite some time now. It is a quiet mooring with a little park and picnic tables and the path is part of the Camino, so you see pilgrims walking all day, some stopping to take a break at the tables. I have met so many of them--most of them French in this area-- From here their next stop is Auvillar, 7 kms away. From here we have been doing a lot of sightseeing as well, although we have done a bit of painting on the boat as well. We added a red pinstripe to the bow of the boat, which we think livens it up. We also painted the top deck and are preparing to do the side decks also. Our friends Earl and Anneke came to visit with their daughter Kristina. We met them at Moissac and cruised with them to Malause. We were able to take the lock from Moissac to the Tarn River, always exciting to navigate, tied up for lunch and came back up to the canal to go over the river on the Bridge Canal. We turned around and came back To Malause with them. Since they had a rental car, they went back to Carcassone and we met them there on their last day. It was great having the Spencers with us as a family, and we hope they can do it again.

A raclette on board Biesbosch

Moissac on The Tarn

Navigating The Tarn

Earl at the helm

With Dany at Le Jardin de la Cite

View of La Cite from Dany's place

La Cite de Carcassonne at dusk

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