Day Nine: Sail Ho

9:30. I awake
9:38. I shower
10:00 I bike into town

Leslie and I write a note for the slugabeds and go in search of dish soap and sundries. After a bit of a wander we arrive at the marché. Lots of water, orangina, coke and fruit and we bike back.

Captain C casts off for the first 3 locks out of Montech while Bruce mans the aft rope and Zak sleeps. After 3 of 5 locks it’s lunch so the lock keepers call a halt.

We decide to have a lockside picnic in the shade. After it’s time to start up again. The sun is hot but the breeze is cool. The lock systems here are varied: sometimes they are controlled by a keeper, sometimes by twisting a rod in the middle of the canal, and sometimes a keeper scoots up and down between many different locks.

Today had some very beautiful locks. But no gnomes, nary a one. After passing through Castlesarrasin we traveled a few more kilometers before we crossing on an aqueduct that passed over the Garonne. Wild. 3 more locks brought us into Moissac where we tied up for the night. Carmen threatened Zak and I with couscous but we’ll see.

The Moet Chandon is tied up here. It is an English narrowboat that I am sure I was reading about on their blog. I’ll add the link later. It’s a beautiful boat.

Moissac port has wifi and some friendly English portmasters. Dinner was great although I will admit it’s the first time I’ve had enough garlic to literally burn my mouth. Carmen hated my 1,60 euro red wine: Vega Cristina Crianza 2006 – snob.

The wind has blown up and the temp cooled so all is good. Hopefully the rain will leave tout suit but we’ll walk anyway. I’ll probably post this early and catch up tomorrow. There is a market in the morning and we will like stay over here a day.

BTW Al, did you recognize the mysterious figure outside the Toulouse rail station?

Day Ten: Moissac Market and Cloisters

To begin with, last night ended in a bit of a rain storm, a bit of a cribbage slaughter and a bit of a crunk. The rain cooled everyone, the crib proved once again that experience beats beauty and the wine disappeared at a prodigious rate. No matter, because Sunday is market day and we stocked up readily.

Last year we missed every market day so today was our first. Rugs, antiques, monster paellas, dressed roosters with their heads on, wine, clothes, produce and breads unending and fruits of all description.

We loaded up on small fruit and bread and Carmen bought her third bunch of bananas in as many days (or so it seems…). Raspberry tarts for a late breakfast rounded of the purchases (and a couple bottles of wine of course, so we won’t have to raid our Spanish stock any further).

Returning to the boat we woke the Zakmeister, consumed the delicious ancestor of the poptart, and got ready to leave.

We walked back up through the market where a quilt seller caught our eye. Once again C proved she was capable of good taste even though it doesn’t extend to lamps. She picked up a gorgeous purple quilt to adorn her new place.

At the end of the market is the abbey St Pierre. Built from the 11 through 15 centuries it was part a large Benedictine Monastery. We toured the cloisters which were breathtaking and climbed to the belfry that overlooked the church proper.

The abbey is built on foundation that date from the 600s. Some of the nave and crypt have remains of these early bits while the church proper has an original structure of romanesque walls consecrated in 1065 with a 15 century gothic restoration. The interior has been painted with an elaborate geometric pattern to try and unify the architectural styles.

There was also a christian sarcophagus dating from the 500s making it the oldest thing outside of a museum that I have ever been in proximity to.

I truly love these old churches. They teach the meaning of scale and reverence and time. I will probably never have much use for the formal church but I think we need more edifices like these to remind us of our place in the larger scope and I am truly grateful for the role of the church in reminding us how small we are and how much we aspire to.

After we all got our fill of soaring architecture we headed back to the canal. Carmen and Leslie opted for a nap, Zak decided the boat would offer some solitude and I went for a walk. Moissac is a neat city with narrow twisty alleys and block upon block of old homes. As of now I sitting in a cafe, nursing a Stella and enjoying the afternoon.

Now, I guess, is the time to wax poetic. I am much more comfortable in France and certainly in the rural areas. Neither Leslie nor I enjoy crowds and I felt much better when I can relate, however poorly, to the language and the culture. I like Barcelona, but the experience didn’t differ substantially from New York or Paris. You follow the crowds, eat with the masses, line up at the ‘must see’ sights and generally spend a lot of time moving from one place to another in order to absorb as much as possible. And really in the end you have to. Unless you can move there, you owe it to yourself to experience all it has to offer.

Rural areas, on the other hand, have fewer tourists, and most of them are actually from France. The pace is slower because there is less to see, you spend tons of time ‘listening carefully’ to try an understand what you are seeing and generally have to engage to a larger degree. In the end, while I want to see Versailles, I am much more satisfied that I’ve seen Vezelay or Abbey St Pierre and haven’t gotten around to Notre Dame. I challenge anyone to experience a gothic cathedral properly being shuffled through with the crowds. Even the Picasso museum in Barcelona was hard to stomach with the frenetic pace of the tourists. Go to Clamecy, and be the only visitor in a tiny 14th century local church… And just breathe.

Tonight we have roast chicken from this morning’s market and apparently the abbey is lit up so we’ll take the time to visit.

Leslie and I took a turn around the town trying to really get a handle on the differences between a culture based on lots of people and lots of history crammed into Alberta. Everything is related to population and history when making infrastructure choices. Anyway we made it back to the canal and the hire boats are starting to appear, so we no longer feel like we are the only ones afloat.

Just talked to the portmaster; seems we have Poles, Russians, Spaniards and Englishmen in port tonight.

It also seems my website is down. I can’t log onto the blog nor vnc in so I’m guessing it’s the Internet connection. I emailed Doug so hopefully we will be up and posting soon.

Dinner was French bread, cucumbers, roast chicken sans tete and tomatoes with my .95 euro rose. Mmmmmmm.

After dinner we played a bit more crib but unfortunately they didn’t improve and just extended their losing streak. After we walked back to the Abbey and enjoyed the night air before retiring. One glass of red had us in our beds and ready for tomorrow.

Not sure about Internet for the next few days.

Day Eleven: Onwards nondenominational, mostly agnostic soldiers

Day 11: Rain. The inmates are restless. Must buy more baguette and move on to prevent mutiny.

We started the day in the rain, slowly meandering down the canal. Not many locks so far as we drove from inside. Outside Malause, dozens of fisherman were out with their poles. It was a gorgeous stretch of canal. Fishing consists of poles on excess of 15 feet with bobbers floating in the middle of the canal. The rods break down as you bring them in to change bait or get the fish. Some well-equipped fishermen have little saw horses behind them to rest the butt of the pole on. Others have these long tubes that have one end in the water so they can drop the fish down them from the side of the bank; a lot like those garbage chutes on the side of construction sites.

Just before Pommevic we came upon a lock out of order so it was time to break for lunch. Carmen fried up some hotdogs, sliced up some baguettes and voilà. Even more interesting, she had some…Mmmmmm, mystery meat!

The sun is out now so L and C are off for a bike ride while we wait. So far no one has fallen off. The boats waiting are starting to stack up.

Well after Leslie came back (with Carmen) the lock reopened. The next 3 locks were in tandem with a Spanish group who arrived at Valence d’Agen just ahead of us and took the last slip at the harbour. Since the is a grand historical festival taking place right in the harbour, we had to move on a couple of hundred yards down the canal to find a place. The banks here are pretty steep but we’ll survive. The Polish family pulled in behind us and the sight of the 20 something daughter in her bikini was offset by the sight of her father in his mini speedo. I think the girl watchers among us came out ahead. Luckily for Carm’s sensibilities, they had decided to move on by the time we were back from our walk.

A beer and a rest followed by a chat and a plan set the agenda for the next few days. Then we set off to explore. Mondays are a traditional closed day so not much was open. Even the church was off limits due to a funeral. Still it’s a pretty French town, an example of a bastide or King’s town. Tomorrow is the market day so we will probably head up again. We also want to bike to Auvillar, 6 kilometres away, so we’ll see.

Valence is famous for it’s washhouses, so Zak and I tried to convince the girls to do our laundry at the one we visited, but they kept muttering something about feminism and independence and some sort of not-so-veiled threats which we manfully ignored. Anyway, they were quite beautiful and a sign of how much things have changed in the last hundred years.

We picked up some batteries at a tabac and a couple more loaves of backup baguettes and some patisseries for dessert at the only open boulangerie. I blew the heel strap on my sandal but I think I can make do.

Back at the boat C started in on her famous French toast and we opened the last bottle of cava to tide us over. Dinner=good.

Tonight it is my choice Le Vin Noir (2004), a Cotes de Brulhois specialty which I enjoyed and Carmen’s Chateau de Grezels Prestige Cahors (2005) which in typical Carmen overachiever style was wonderful.

We spent the night on deck enjoying the fading light, the company and the essence of France. There is nothing like sitting under the stars and absorbing the moist night air with a good philosophical discussion made slightly ridiculous by red wine. The night ended with a lovely sense of calm.

Day Twelve: Slave Drivers Make Interesting Travelling Companions

Morning started early. Blech. Once we were up and about, we pumped up some tires, unloaded the bikes and headed off. About a hundred yards in Leslie started the excitement by taking a header by trying to do too many things at once whilst going down a hill; a few scrapes and gouges resulted but overall everything was good.

Auvillar was beautiful, perched up on a hill overlooking the valley and river. You could see the reactor at Golftech and the church towers of the surrounding towns: quite the contrast. The church was once a Benedictine abbey dating from the 12 century and it had quite a few of it’s original bits left. Once again the simplicity and grandeur mixed together to create something so much larger than us. Leslie said that most art and architecture these days is humanist and human centric; these old churches are anything but.

Auvillar was full of friendly cats so everyone got their kitty fix. C unfortunately tried to smuggle one out of town, but we got her straightened out. We also took in the view and checked out an art gallery before stocking up on wine and heading back. The 6 kilometres went faster since there was no uphill.

Back at the boat, we fired her up almost exactly at noon and slipped away. Lunch was French bread and jam on the run. There were only three locks on the leg to Agen so things went smoothly. We passed through some pretty hilly terrain and some gorgeous countryside. The last bit was more industrial but still fairly pretty. We decided to finish in the city and backed into our slip at the Locaboat base almost exactly 4. We filled up with water, had a cool shower and are about to head off to find a nice traditional dinner.

Wifi is again iffy so I might post this early.

Day Thirteen: 30 Minute River Crossings of Doom

Last nights dinner at Le Perigord was lovely. Having sorted out the menus we all got something that we expected and there was delighted appreciation all around. Leslie and I had the specialty of the house for dessert, a caramelized filo with apple and Armagnac. Zak and Carmen went for the chocolate crepe. Carmen’s white top especially enjoyed the chocolate sauce. Our perfect waitress swooped in with a spray bottle of stain remover and voilà, the evening was saved. As it was so hot, we had a bottle of Buzet rose with dinner but otherwise kept to the endless supply of cold pitchers of water which kept appearing.

The port at Agen is on the other side of a shady area of town from the sights, so we decided to call it a night and walked back. After a bit of star gazing we hit the sack with the agreement that tomorrow was a ‘sleep in’ day.

That was foiled by the garbage/recycling truck dumping a whole bin of glass about 50 feet from the boat. Quite effective as an alarm. We all manfully tried to put in a extra hour or two but 9:30 found us up and about (except for Zak of course). Carmen and Les headed into town for fresh baguette: warm baguette, mmmmmmm.

Leslie is a bit bruised and sore from her tumble and might be on the sick list for crew duties today. She also has a monster bruise on her arm from a stumble getting off the boat. This puts Carmen solo on the stern line.

The trip began with the second biggest viaduct in France over the Garonne. It was followed by 3 automatic locks that you have to make it through in 30 minutes.

Leslie walked the bridge to get some pictures but rejoined at the first lock. Carmen disembarked to have a look at the bridge but we had to leave her behind. She walked to the next lock only to find we had tied up on the opposite side. Luckily we pointed out to her she couldn’t walk on water so she crossed over after the gates had closed.

After the last lock you hang a hard right and then kilometer after kilometer of huge trees, blackberry thickets and high banks. It was very Amazonian. After a couple of hours (and no locks) we hit Sérignac-sur-Garonne. The port was full of boats resting during the hot part of the day. We had tomato salad and ham baguettes for lunch with a nice cool white.

We took a walk into town, visited the air conditioned info office and passed through some half-timbered homes on our way to the church. The church featured a unique spiral bell tower. Inside it was spartan but beautiful. The floor was wood inlaid in a beautiful pattern. As we were standing in the church the bells rang causing the nervous among us to start. A few minutes later Carmen dropped her sunglasses and, since her other pair was already ruined, she cursed out loud at the thought of having wrecked them. Enough of the Catholic remains in her to send her scurrying from the church immediately after.

After a wander around town we picked up some Heineken and headed back to the boat. We immediately got underway to try and generate a breeze because it’s that hot.

The canal from here on was more of the same. Dense trees and no places to stop with only 3 locks total. We picked a gentleman following solo who’s lock-handling put ours to shame. The last set of locks was after we passed over the Baise, which we will pass under tomorrow. This set of locks needed you to flick the switch to set off the lock and then hit it again to open the doors. After which you have only 3 minutes to exit the lock or be trapped.

We pulled into Buzet sur Baise around 7. We tied up opposite the port because we didn’t need water and went for the free docking. Leslie and I took a quick peek in town while Z and C rested. After we got back we had quick cold showers, while Carmen toiled in the hot kitchen making French toast. Dinner was on deck with a super sweet bottle of white. Cribbage followed and then chat and a red Buzet to watch the full moon rise.


Day Fourteen: River Pirates for a Day

It was a hot and muggy evening but we all drifted off to sleep. Morning found me up and about first so I grabbed a shirt and went into town for fresh baguette and some OJ. When I got back all was still quiet so I boiled some water and read for a bit. Eventually Carmen stirred insisting she’d been awake for hours on account of the noisy bonjour bird (that apparently only speaks to her, but is louder than me clanking around the galley?).

I was anxious to get the first locks over with so I roused Zak and settled in for bageuette and coffee. Soon he was up so I fired up the engine, cast off and headed for the locks just up canal from Buzet. There was a mechanical problem with the lock so we waited for about 6 minutes to get it sorted then followed a boat in. The boat in front is manned by a couple and the woman seems rather nervous. That leaves the gentleman trying to manage the boat and the ropes. He hasn’t seemed to master boat handling enough to realize he should stay at the helm rather than jumping off and trying to handle it with ropes. In the 2nd lock I gave him a hand with the stern line while he got the bow sorted out.

After the two consecutive locks we had descended into the Baise. The next two days are river travel but the Baise is very slow. The banks are lush and much more natural than the canal and generally more shady. We passed under the canal which is a neat experience and slowly made our way upstream. The river is a bit busier as this seems to be more locaboat territory; we’ve passed four boats already, more than we’ve done in entire days. There go 2 more…

Leslie’s been at the helm mostly this morning and I’m enjoying the shade. Zak is spending his time sleeping and C is mostly draping herself elegantly over various bits and pieces of furniture.

Vianne was gorgeous with it’s weir and old mill. We’ll stop on our way downstream. Also in the river are small day boats that you can rent in Buzet. They look a lot like the jungle ride boats at an amusement park. The locks are controlled by key card. So if the lock isn’t ready we let Zak off and wait for him to start the cycle. Since we were going upstream and the locks were deep, the crew got their practice throwing ropes up to Zak.

We passed some old mansions, lots of mills and locks and some peaceful, peaceful scenery. We pulled into Nerac around 2:30. The last lock leads to an ancient bridge with the port right on the other side.

About 10 seconds after docking we head for beer. Leffe blonde d’Abbeye is our current beer after this stop. Mmmmm, Carmen and Leslie tried for witty Bruce bashing but failed miserablely. After a 25 cl we moved on to a 50 cl. Cold. Beer. Good.

After Carmen failed to drink Bruce under the table we paid our port fees and walked up to the info centre and picked up some info. We will stay the night and likely the day tomorrow so we picked up some more wine, coke, tomatoes, onions etc. And headed back to the boat to absorb the beer and wait for the restaurants to open. So Carmen made salad.

A quick snack of bread and tomato salad and we retired for some quiet time. Leslie had a nap, Zak read inside, I read in the bow and Carmen read in her pajamas.

7 rolled around and we headed up the hill for pizza. About 5 minutes in we heard a tremendous crash of glass and dinnerware. A few minutes later the hostess brought out four drinks: une cadeaux! Seems dinner was going to take a few minutes longer. About 6 or 7 minutes later a car pulled up and the hostess and driver hauled in stacks of new plates from the trunk to a laugh from the patrons. The pizza was delicious with a pichet of rosé. Stuffed, we left content for a stroll around town before settling back at the boat.

A bottle of medoc and a quick cribbage slaughter which saw Zak and Les being handily skunked put the polish on the evening.

Day Fifteen: In Search of Armagnac

Many years ago I had read a science fiction novel in which the lead character, one of those mischievous and clever anti heroes, who succeeded more by coyote-like cleverness than derring do — always my favorite type of character — always drank armagnac. Even the villains knew of his preference and no matter where he went, he was always able to order it. I’ve never seen it anywhere. Little Do Carmen, Zak and Leslie know, but this whole trip has been about my search for armagnac which comes from Condom (about 20 kilometres upstream from here). I had contemplated booking the trip from the Condom base but was unable to swing it. Thus I have driven my crew like dogs (basset hounds I think…) for 6 days of hard sailing to achieve my objective. This detour down the Baisé was little more than the fulfillment of my master plan. Today I achieve my ultimate goal: a cask of amontillado… I mean a bottle of armagnac!

This morning, for the first time ever, Carmen made me breakfast before we awoke. And for something completely different, she decided to go for baguette. After we had our fill, we set off on the walking-tour-of-doom sans Zak (who remained comatose).

First stop was the remains of the Chateau of Henri IV (1570s). It was 3/4 destroyed a few years after the French revolution but the wing that remained was pretty amazing. There were rooms dedicated to the history and family of this king of Navarre who became king of France. Down the spiral staircase of the remaining tower were rooms dedicated to ancient France and it’s gallo-roman past.

The walking tout then took us past a few old mansions/homes that weren’t open to the public. The neo classic Church of Holy Nicolas, built 1758-1856 was a nice architectural contrast to the gothic churches we’d seen. It’s purely decorative facade with gestures to all the classical elements gave way to an interior that was leaving the baroque behind but not yet the over ornamented indulgences of full out roccoco. The curved, painted ceiling left behind the pointed arcs of the gothic churches in favour of the stylized Greco-roman feel. The stained glass was gorgeous and a level of detail above anything we’d seen so far.

After we left the church we split up with C and L going for baguettes and heading back to the boat and me off in search of my armagnac. I asked at the info booth and they directed me to the big marché by the market square. Unfortunately it closed just as I arrived. On the way back I stole some wifi long enough to post the last 2 days sans pictures. Hopefully I can add the pictures later.

Lunch was waiting aboard and it was baguette dogs again with Carmen once again indulging in the sweet mystery of meat by-products. We set off again and Zak elected once again to remain behind.

First up was the pont vieux which we of course had seen already. It was apparently first erected in the 1600s and has been repaired according to the original specifications since. As we sat on the bridge we noticed a boat that had neglected to let of a crewman to open the lock before passing under the bridge. I got him to toss me the key card so I could start the cycle and another boat was crowding his stern and be couldn’t reverse.

After the cycle started a huge clang startled all the pigeons on top of the mill house and for a moment the sky was covered by a cloud of wings. Meanwhile the second boat was trying to negotiate the narrow lock. Two older gentleman and their wives. The wives might as well have not been there as all they provided was being in the wrong place and giving unneeded and unheeded advice. The fellow at the helm did a wonderful job of bumper boating his craft of the various pylons and walls to get it into the lock while the remaining crewman ran back and forth with a line in his hand but not actually doing much. Unfortunately the helmsman didn’t grasp the principle of controlling the boat first and kept ramming it into reverse and running for a line, only to have return to the helm in order to steer the boat back into the lock.

Eventually the gyrations ceased thanks to the help of a few of some fellows standing on the locks. I think it was the women who bothered me most. They didn’t lift a finger big there is one thing that 40 years of women’s lib have brought, it’s the expectation that however coddled a women may be, she should at least aid in whatever task is at hand to the best of her ability. Maybe it’s all the farm wives I grew up around, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone of any gender remain that inactive in an uncertain situation due to privilege.

The next stop was blocked off because of a huge limestone boulder which had fallen from the retaining wall above. I would have hated to have been in the next door home when it happened. Carmen’s’ incredible map skills (insert gentle and loving mockery here) were sufficient to get us back on course to the viewpoint high above the Baisé. Here Carmen stole some plum-plum-plums from a nearby tree and violently forced me to suck on one. Next was a few encounters with French cats. I think I would like to be a French cat.

The Church of Our Lady was across the river from Nicolas. It is a neo gothic construction that was actually built much later (1866-1878) but had all the familiar elements we’d been seeing for the last 10 days. On closet examination you realized that the buttresses and stone work were more decorative than functional. They built this church to look gothic even though they were no longer retrained by that level of architectural technology. Inside it was stunning. Hone was the painted ornamentation of Holy Nicolas. The stained glass was incredible although they had generally forgone the method of leading in favour of incredible detailed painting. The vaulted ceilings and massive columns evoked the great gothic churches without having to have the closed in feeling that 13th century building methods necessitated.

Since we’d seen the final items on list but one we headed off route to find my wifi again and, at last, my armagnac. The internet seemed to have vanished, but the store was open. I eventually found a bottle of 40 year old armagnac for 30 euro or so. I wait with anticipation being able to open it once we are home. We also picked some groceries and some wine. If for some reason Carmen fails to return, it will be the fault of the wine in the stores. This supermarket featured 2 aisles of French wine sorted by region and vineyards. A chart on the wall gave a 1-5 rating for each region, colour and year. FYI 2005 and 2000 were the best years across all regions of France. Carmen offered to lift her shirt while I stole the sign, but in the end we decided she’d left the flashy bra on the boat and it wouldn’t distract enough genders.

We hauled our loot back to the rabbit hole and unshipped the bikes for a ride through the royal park of Garenne. Next we checked out a few art galleries, and I captured some excellent Carmen video footage. Be sure and ask to see it when we return.

When we got back we decided to pause for a cold beer but alas all the places had closed in preparation for dinner. Back at the boat I cracked open a few Leffe bruin and caught up on my blogging. Leslie and Carmen started to relax in the bow but then Carmen, in an unusual fit of inability to chill, lept into the kitchen to start on dinner. Don’t know what came over her… : )

It’s now 7:58 and dinner is served and wine awaits. Stolen rosemary in tomato sauce with orange tomato salad. Carmen had ‘appropriated’ the rosemary 2 days earlier from a hedge outside a private residence. I had thought she had been raised better than that, but apparently you can only teach a H-chuk so much before the stubborn kicks in. Still it was tasty and when the suretè take her away, I’ll inherit her half of her imaginary twin brother’s wine cellar… Woot. A bottle of rose for dinner; Carmen actually like my pick this time.

Crib ensued. B&L vs Z&C. Z&C scraped up a bare wine in game one/bottle one. For game 2/bottle 2 Carmen changed into her cherry pjs to help her chances. She won. Sigh.

Next hand involves tea lights and crunk cards. C&Z were totally skunked…hah. But no one would dare Bruce to jump in the river… Sigh. In the end B & L triumph; third game; they were skunked.

Day Sixteen: I Am My Own Wench

Today started with Leslie and Carmen up before me. Yet I still had to fetch my own fresh baguette… Carmen says that makes me wench number 3: the tertiary wench. Since C is the secondary wench of the primary set, she oughta know.

Breakfast was baguette and then we turned our boat in the port and headed back downstream. Leslie’s back on duty so we hum along like a well oiled boating machine. The first couple of locks went fine but number 3 closed up and then wouldn’t drain. We reinitiated the cycle a few times but nothing. I picked up the phone and called the emergency number only to encounter someone who had no English. After repeating the same words a couple of times we both established that we knew there was a problem but we had no idea how to communicate it. Coincidentally at that point the lock started to cycle properly; so I said bien, thanks and bye.

Just before noon we pulled up the quay between Lavardoc and Barbaste. We tied up, greeted the neighbourhood goats and walked into Barbaste. There we espied the old roman bridge and the 12 century fortified mill. We all picked up some souveiniers for various of you readers, briefly contemplated a very expensive lunch in a cave, enjoyed the view and headed back to the boat.

On the way we stopped at the Super U to pick up some bread, ham, beer, wine and ice. This was sort of the European version of Walmart albeit much smaller as befits all things Continental. I grabbed some pictures of the booze section; seriously why are we so uptight about booze? I do wonder however if the French, or the Spanish for that matter, ever learn about good Australian or American wines. I haven’t seen any in the stores; there is usually a small selection of foreign wines, but they are usually bordering countries. Maybe in a way our system has an advantage, but oh the plethora of good wine…

Back aboard we cast off and started on lunch. 6 kilometres or so later we pulled into Vianne, ate, took on water and shuffled the boat down the pontoon for some privacy. At this point we realized to our horror that we were out of red wine. We’d been concentrating so hard on replenishing the white that we were down to out ‘take-home’ stock in the reds. After we awoke Carmen from her swoon we determined to head into this lovely walled bastide in search of wine sustanence.

Vianne was originally an English village built in 1284 under Edward 1st just before the start of the Hundred Years War. There are still 1250 metres of original walls and 2 out of 5 towers. All 4 gates are still extant. It is also home to Joël Gallo, a glass blower who makes some gorgeous sconces and glass vanity sinks among other things.

The Templars were based here in the 1st century and built a small romanesque church at that time. It was quite serene with wide roman vaults defining the tiny nave. Outside we had a chance to clamber over the ramparts. Next on the walk was the mid 19 century bridge: tiny; I didn’t believe a car would fit on until I saw one barrel across. We walked almost completely around the town. What makes a bastide unique is that they were built rather than evolved. Thus they are more like a town we are used to with streets a right angles to each other and the lots being of similar size. All in all, it is a lovely town missing only a bank.

We ended our tour a a small market where we replenished the wine stock with a local 2000 that the owner recommended, oh and one Carmen picked and everyone will “love” and shower praise on and Carmen will make that self-satisfied smacking noise and she’ll be the wine buying hero ‘again’… Sigh…

I picked up a mini armagnac there that I can open here and not have to wait until we’re home before I too become a character of mysterious foible.

Next it was across the street in the town square where we stopped for a couple of pression, a coca, et un vin blanc. Afterwards it was back to the boat for quiet time until dinner. We’ll likely head back to the market square and eat outside. The weathers been cloudy all day but it’s still been warm. Unfortunately people have docked fore and aft of us so our privacy disappeared, but we are the loud drunken ones (or at least Leslie and Carmen are) so it’s their problem. Actually as time passes more and more boats pull in so it looks like it might be a full port tonight.

We had dinner in town: gambas, magret pasta, seafood soup and steak with a pleasant Sauvignon blanc. Desert was sorbet for them (Carmen’s was bitter lime and vodka… blech) and chocolate cake with hot chocolate sauce for me. We retired back to the boat to find our hopes for an early bed time for the screamy kids was in vain and it was too dark for cards on deck.

Still, a bottle of rosé, some tea lights, and a headlamp in a bamboo holder and Leslie and I triumphed in a lightening round of cribbage.

Day Seventeen: My Crew is Losing their Minds

It is raining, so Carmen trudged off in the rain to fetch bread. Then she proceeded to bribe the ducks with yesterday’s bread. At 9:48
a discussion of CBC broke out. Luckily I distracted them by staring at Carmen’s blue plaid clad knees. Works everytime.

We settled on cruising to Buzet and stopping at the winery before ending the day in Damazan. We set off in the rain, piloting from indoors. Thankfully ther was just the initial locks and the double set as we rejoined the canal at Buzet. The cruising was pleasant ad we retraced our path and eventually moored at the dock. Unfortuneately it was closed until 2 so we couldn’t get our wifi and even worse, the winery was closed on Sundays. New plan… we go down canal to Damazan for the afternoon and come back to Buzet for the night. So lunch was catch as catch can before we hit the waterways again…

Laundry broke out sporadically as Carmen proved that she had a unique ability to waste clean towels; no sense of towel conservation at all. We backed into a slip at Damazan 40 minutes later and wondered of Zak would shrink since he was the only one without rain gear.

Damazan is another ex-English city. It features a real well that you could look alm the way down and see water. Of course we through in centimes. There is covered square, a couple of towers, one of which was a pigeon house, and a church. Pigeon towers were places that pigeons roosted and deposited their soon to be fertilizer bits at the base. It also provided a place for easy gathering of squab.
L’Eglise Notre Dame de Damazan was built in the XVI century. After the revolution it was Used as storage (after 1794). Restored in 1850s to a church it featured beautiful wooden doors and a gorgeous dark wooden entrance way.

We wandered around town and came across some French outhouses. French modesty is interesting. We stopped by some wash houses and headed back to the boat.

We travelled back to Buzet and pulled into the base. We paid our fee, got some wifi and posted a couple of days of blog. Bruce made a delicious dinner while Carmen criticises and Leslie tried to keep my spirits up under alm the pressure. Who am I kidding, she was totally on the evil C’s side…sigh.

We also booked our hotel in Bordeaux because it was the last thing left undone. Our first choice was full but the second had room.

A bottle of white with dinner and a Buzet red after leaves us with a walk through the evening sun (first time today we’ve seen it) and some Skipbo to come.

We walked around town although it was all closed up. I stole some grapes from a public garden so Leslie and Carmen in a show of typical one-up-manship, stole grapes from a home for retired nuns. I think some serious penance will be due when we get back. On the wag home we encounter a chocolate point that was willing to put up with stupid Canadians so we got some kitty quotient in. I’m off for some cards so gonna post this early.

Night night.

Day Eighteen: Winding down the …

A beautiful sunny morning follows last night’s Carmen-Skipbo-Powerfest in the dark. Someone should have suggested tealights… A few more bottles of red Buzet (which once again were not up to snuff for our resident wine snob) and we hit the sack after an evening filled with pretzel innuendo.

This morning Leslie enjoys the last few bowls of her chocolate covered chocolate cereal; they sure like chocolate here. Then it’s off for the boulangerie to fufill her French morning duties.

After breakfast we grunted at sleeping Zak and unshipped the bikes to go to the vigneron (the local wine cooperative). When we got their we tagged on to a French tour that explained little but was interesting nonetheless. We saw their oaking facilities, storage and bottling areas. Afterwards we sampled many many wines. They had a great machine which would keep the reds sealed and at 16 degrees and dispense a small portion for tasting. Carmen, under Leslie’s good influence managed to restrain herself (that and the bikeride laden with booze that lay ahead). In the end we picked up a few 37.5cl for tasting tonight and three bottles destined for Edmonton–we will see if they make it.

We pedaled back by a different route, passing ripe wine grapes everywhere. We stopped to pick up a few more supplies at the small store and Leslie mailed her letter. I went on ahead to check my mail one more time to ensure the next couple of days were arranged and then met up with the others.

Back at the boat Zak crawled out of the sack and headed off to check his mail. As he failed to be expeditious about it, I cast off and left him to his ingenuity. As we swung around the base, he popped his head up and we gratiously bumped the dock to allow him to reboard. Since we were in the port with a posted speed of 3, I naturally wasn’t using any throttle. One of the hire boats came barrrelling up on my ass and decide he needed to blow by. This elicited one of my many ‘stupid tourist’ comments, but even better he created so much wake as to piss off one of the local boats. Their skipper was much more frank and louder about his opinion. Seriously, how hard is it to realize that slowing down is to everyone’s benefit. And don’t get me started on the idiots ignoring the 6kph limit on the river where evidence of eroded banks is everywhere, especially in the huge trees now half blocking the navigable route… selfish morons are everywhere from alpine switchbacks to ancient French waterways.

Soon we were on our way down the canal on our final leg. I had booked the boat cleaners and a late arrival so we were pretty care-free, excepting I’m rarely carefree about schedules. After the first lock we pulled over for lunch. Baguette dogs again: I think C is addicted!

We started up again and at one of the listed stops, someone had gone to great lengths to create an inviting place to pull in with signs advetising some sort of musee. At the last minute Leslie and I decided to stop and called the crew to attention. After Zak had the bow rope ashore and as Leslie made her way forward, the was suddenly a big splash. She had lost her footing and all I could see was her hair floAting underneath the canal water and the stern of the boat moving in to squeeze her.

Luckily the boat was almost at a stop and she popped right up. I jumped a shore, grabbed her upstretched arms and hauled. The banks right ther are a sort of corrigated iron and she had no purchase to get out. So a thouroughly soaked and mucky Leslie emerged from the murky depths, sputtering, laughing and apologizing: quite the combination. For some reason she decided a shower was in order so we paused for a minute or two to let her primp.

Anyway, at the top of the bank there was a French gentleman waiting to show us his museum. He and his wife were rockhounds and had thousands of samples they had collected from around the world. His English was pretty good although he kept apologizing. He insisted on giving us a tour of his samples; and he ended his 20 minute exposition and an apology stating (in his broken English) that otherwise we would have spent the time looking at the pretty yellow rock and ooooh the pretty green rock. He was right.

Anyway, it was a fascinting tour and I learned more from him about geology than I did in from my formal education. He took us through all the major mineral groups, identifiying their chemical and molecular composition and the metals that granted them colour. In the end, I recommend the Musée de La Falotte run by Colette and Jean-Pierre as an amazing place to stop. I picked up a Chalcopyrite that originated in France as a souvenier.

Back on the water we pulled into ? For an icecream and some Internet and moved on to ? to stop for the night. While we enjoyed a beer (a couple of small heinys for me and a Leffe for C). After Zak returned from his recon, Carmen decided that our present location at the side of the bank was too far from a boulangerie. So we moved the last 2 kilometres to Le Mas d’Agenais and pulled into the harbour.

We explored some of the other boats including the Asteria we had originally booked and decided for the sake of late night crunk manuevers, we had got the right boat. Dinner ensued (French toast and tomatoes) and a bottle of the Buzet white took me to my armagnac. Mmmmmm. The boat was parked beside a leaky faucet so I singlehandedly moved it to a new mooring to mild applause.

Tonight shall be cards again I suppose and the 37.5cl samplers of red