Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Part 2

Three days after our friend Ken left, my niece, Sylvia and her husband Laurent came to spend a week with us on Biesbosch. We were so looking forward to their time with us, a time of relaxation, of "far niente" that they so much needed. As young parisians, they lead very stressful lives, so a week on the boat was the perfect way to get away from it all.

We picked them up at the train station in Narbonne on a very hot August day. It was lunch time, so we found a little brasserie near the station and had a quick lunch before we drove back to Le Somail were Biesbosch was waiting for them. The last time they had seen the boat was in Briare, in the Loire region for the Christmas celebration we had with the family. They had not seen the finished wheel house nor the new bathroom. They were soon settled and on a full vacation mode ready to enjoy every minute of it. They started by taking their books and sitting on the deck under the shade of the plane trees to read and enjoy the lazy life of the canal. Duck flocks are plentiful here, and they are a source of amusement as well.

The next day Laurent and Sylvia needed some cash, and in view that the little hamlet of Le Somail dos not have an ATM, they decided to take the bicycles to Argeliers, the closest village, and the one we were told would have a bank. I fixed them a picnic lunch, and off they went. The ride is very beautiful along the tow path, so they took their time and stopped to enjoy their lunch somewhere along the way. When they came back a few hours later, they arrived empty-handed. Not only was there no bank, but the entire town was closed. They waited until past two o'clock and they say they never saw a human being. This, we have observed is not uncommon in the hot summers here in France and also in Spain. It seems like between noon and four or five in the afternoon, everyone retrieves to their homes. All shutters are closed and not a soul is seen on the street, except for the occasional cat napping under a parked car.

During the time that they were here, we had some lovely meals on board, sometimes cooked outside in the barbecue and accompanied by great chilled rosé wine from the region. In The South, people prefer a chilled rosé over any other wine. So in Rome, do as the Romans do. . .

We moved from Le Somail the next day past the Canal de Jonction, direction Poilhes under the bluest of skies and a gentle breeze. For Sylvia and Laurent, this was the ultimate relaxation. We arrived at the lovely village of Poilhes and moored the boat just past the bridge below the Tour Sarracine, a restaurant where we had eaten with my brother and his wife a couple of years ago.
After lunch,we all drifted off into a pleasant nap which was rudely interrupted by a loud bump at the rear of the boat. A rental boat had suddenly hit us while trying to tie up behind us. Needless to say, after such rude awakening we all went out to asses the situation. Their boat had broken our flag pole and our flag was floating on the water! The people did not as much say they were sorry, reason for which we all go upset. Bill demanded they pay him 30 euros for the replacement, and they were very reluctant to do it. They took what was left of the flag pole with flag and all, gave Bill the money, but Bill insisted upon getting the flag back. Since they refused to return it, Bill walked over to their boat and took their boat hook. This, he believed would then be a fair trade. Two of the men started pulling on the hook and ready to have a fist fight, when I said: "I am going to call the police" and then walked to get my phone. Immediately, they gave us the flag back and "sugar would not melt in their mouth." It was very obvious that they were all drunk and did not want the police involved. You really have to watch some of these rental boats. Many of the people start drinking from the moment they get on the boat and you can see them in the distance zig-zagging along, getting in the way and causing problems.

After this very upsetting incident we decided to put it behind us and continue to relax. We walked around the town, found a little market where we bought some drinks and went back to the boat. This time we would be going back to Capestang where we would be arriving before dinner. An interesting thing we have noticed about these canals, is that no matter how many times you repeat the same area, it is always different. The light changes, the direction of the wind, the colors, all seems totally new every time.

We arrived in Capestang and moored before the bridge, a very convenient spot near the access path into the town. We walked into town and went straight to a little Italian restaurant in front of the square where we had eaten before, and where pizzas are very good. The place was full and the woman told us they could not serve us, "desolée." Laurent then asked if twe could come later on after a table would be freed, so she gave us the specific hour of 9: 10 PM, " no later than that." That gave them time to walk around the town and explore and at ten after, sharp, we were directed to a table in their lovely patio where we had a delicious dinner and some very good wine.

The next day we had a leisurely breakfast and a late lunch, and we continued on to our favorite mooring spot, the one where we took Ken on the highest spot on the canal with the view of the Collegiale in the distance. We made it there at sunset, had our appéritif on deck and then I made a great dinner which we enjoyed by candlelight and good conversation.

On the way back from Capestang we made a left turn onto the Canal de Jonction, where almost immediately one finds the first lock. For this canal, Laurent got off at the waiting pontoon before each lock, worked the mechanism and helped us tie up the boat in the locks. He is quite a natural with the ropes, having spent a lot of time on boats in his native Brittany, when he was a child.

There are five locks before you get to the town of Salleles D'Aude, just past Amphorallis, a Roman amphora factory from the III century AC. We arrived in Salleles and tied the boat on the left bank of the canal, just accross from the Quilt Museum. There was no electricity available, so just like the prior night, we would be using our generator, which thankfully is extremely quiet. Sylvia and Laurent went out for a walk to explore the lovely town, which has lgreat architecture, and as we remarked, a lot of beautiful houses, many of them for sale.

We had dinner and retired for the night and after breakfast we sailed off direction Narbonne. The second lock after Salleles, used to be a double one, now made single, a beautiful work of engineering. After this lock, you get to navigate the river Aude for about a kilometer and you have to watch the channel no to get too close to the weir on the left bank. Soon after, the lock of Moussoulens iisthen the start of the Canal de la Robine, which after Narbonne takes you all the way out to Port la Nouvelle on the Meditteranean.

As soon as we entered this canal, we noticed how low the water level was. The boat gets difficult to handle and it drags bottom in areas. At about km. 4 and just at the point where there is a rather large inlet for an irrigation canal, the boat was pulled by the current of this canal and turned its rear into it on a mount of silt and we were stuck!! Bill could not get it to move at all! Luckily, we were close enough to the bank, so that Sylvia, Laurent and I were able to get ropes from the bow and stern ant tie them up to an ancient bollard we found in a very strategic place.

I walked to the lock and told the lock keeper our problem. He did not seem surprised, since this probably happens often. He told me to wait about 10 minutes. He was going to close the flood gate for the irrigation canal, which would not only stop the current from pushing us farther, but it would raise the water level so we could continue. Said and done! Bill was able to get the boat afloat and by the time we made the lock, there were some people from the VNF (canal maintenance people) waiting at the lock in case we would have to be towed. We gave the lock keeper a couple of beers, which he was delighted to get, and said good bye.

The trip to Narbonne on The Robine, is only 10 km. long to the main port. The entrance to the city is very beautiful, all bridges decorated with colorful flowers. As you enter the town you go under the very low Merchant's Bridge, one of the few left in France lined with houses. The arch you go under is the ancient arch which carried the Via Domitia, a Roman road built over the Aude River. At the time of the Romans, the River went through Narbonne, but changed its course in The Middle Ages. We arrived at the port in the very middle of town and across from the covered market, one of the prettiest in France. After resting a while, Sylvia and Laurent went into town to explore a bit and returned just in time to have an appéritif. We had made reservations at a restaurant on the Rue Droite. The restaurant specialized in meats grilled on hot stones and other local specialties, so after our drinks, we changed and walked to it. We were seated outside in the shade, on a cobble stoned street, on a cool night and great service. The food was excellent, as was the wine, and of course the best, the company of my dear niece and her wonderful husband. This was to be their last night wit us, since the next day they would be taking the 4:30 PM train to Paris.

The last day of their stay, Sylvia and Laurent decided to take a bike ride along the Voie Verte, a beautiful bike path that takes you between the Etang de Bages and the Etang de l'Aryolles, all the way to the Mediterranean. It was a very hot day, so I packed a lunch with drinks for them and off they went. Bill and I went to the market and did some work around the boat and decided to move it away from the center of town by the hire Le Boat base. When Laurent and Sylvia returned from their little adventure, they met us there, had time to change, so we all walked to the train station to drop them off. Saying good bye to them was very hard for me. I so loved having seeing them relaxed, that I guess I hated to think they would soon be back to working, and I just wanted for her vacation to last forever.

Busy in the kitchen

Going to Argelliers

Grilling by the side of the canal

Biesbosch at Le Somail

Leaving Le Somail

Chilling on the deck

It doesn't get any better.

Mooring at Poilhes.

Navigating on the River Aude.

Canal de La Robine

In Narbonne

Merchants Bridge, Narbonne.

Sylvia and Laure and special couple.

No comments: