Europe 2009: The Aftermath

So its been a week and a bit and I’m still in North America…

1. I caught a cold immediately after arriving home. Blech!. Its almost better now, but now Carmen has the sniffles and Zak and Leslie are also sniffing and blowing.

2. I took 1700 pics plus another 160 with the phone. Carmen added a couple of hundred in the mix as well. I currently have it carved down to 1651 but I’m still working on it. Boring night watching slides anyone? (Zak has another 1200 I have to sort through…)

3. I’m still tired. It’s likely half trip, half cold. Good news is I’m not waking up spontaneously at 6 am anymore. Blech!

4. Luggage is unpacked, laundry is done but we still haven’t sorted through souvenirs and mementos. Still, it gives the living room a “lived in” look…

5. Work. Nuff said.

6. I’ve been thinking about 2010 already. Too soon? Europe is likely out but I’d love to go sailing again. I wonder if Carmen knows how to reef a sail?

7. No, we haven’t touched the wine yet, but it sure looks tempting…

Day Twenty Three: Enjoycarmen.com

Carmen says: I can’t think in the morning. I don’t have to write until Monday. Zak’s zipper is down. Ow… Mean!

This and much more will be found on our new project when we get home: www.enjoycarmen.com It will the home of all things Moosh. Mostly unauthorized things so Carmen can feel teased and maligned without having to travel to France in the company of hooligans.

This morning starts with breakfast and packing. We are 9 bottles over our limit. Hopefully the weight won’t be a problem.

10 minutes and we catch the bus to CDG and the homeward journey begins. Sigh.

Waiting at CDG with perky blonde girl. I hate perky blonde girl. And I don’t care about anything to do with perky blonde girl and yet I still know everything about her. We are currently arguing about the legality (under french law) of stuffing used socks in her mouth. The bus ride was quick today and the line ups short. I wonder if that is just luck or a function of traveling on Saturday…

We will be boarding soon and I suspect the plane will be rather empty. I have noticed on this trip that there are too many people in the world. I guess it’s a good thing that Carmen’s misanthropic streak matches mine. Still I can’t help imaging travelling with other people more happy… happy people are annoying in their desire to share the joy. As of this moment, Carmen is now apparently “going to hell on a lightening bolt”

Alas no, the 777 is full and the seating arrangements are of course screwed, separating a young mother from her kids. Much to C’s chagrin, half of the perky couple is behind us albeit the less chatty half. But of course she’s found new chat partners… So we get to hear it all again…

One of the things I failed to mention yesterday was the glory and grandeur of Versaille so overwhelmed Carmen that she asked me to rip her clothes off. Being the gentleman that I am I could hardly refuse.

So after I had ripped the ribbon for holding her sweater onto the hanger off she thanked me. She’s so polite.

Montreal. 3 movies later and we’re here. Now we see what happens with the booze. I also noted that my magret is on the restricted list.

Duty is 66%. We had the nicest custom agent ever.

I just lost my original version of this post and now I have to remember all my witty remarks. Anyway, it’s a good thing the agent was nice. She let Zak have his allocation even though he’s still days away from 18 and then charged us for the cheapest wines in the bunch; considering one was worth .95€, that’s pretty cheap. All in alm the total for the wine was $15 and the duty with taxes came to $13. A hefty percentage if that was applied to my armagnac or one of the 20€ wines.

Later when we were coming back through security, Boingy Bunny cast an odd shadow and Carmen’s carryon (the second of her two bags) was subject to a thorough search. Out came 3 weeks of dirty laundry in a heap for all and sundry to gawk at. The bras got hastily shovedbunder the rain coat by the agent which only served to draw all eyes to the unfolding (pun intended) drama… snicker.

One last flight and a drive home and we’ll be done. I’ll likely post this tonight when we hit home.

Ok it turns out this flight also lands in Ottawa. There is no indication on any paperwork that this is so but… AND the movie set is different so I’ll never find out what happens in Transformers!

After much trial I got to watch XMen: Origins. The stopover on Ottawa was too long and for a while we thought weight lose our semi private seats to some boisterous soldiers. Now I’m just hungry.

10:18. YEG Woot and man is it ever cold…

Home, cats and sleep

Day Twenty Two: Pretty People in the Metro

Breakfast, primping and the metro to Versaille. Actually it’s the metro to the RER station and the RER to Versaille but those are just details.

On my first wander through HUB Mall at the U of A, at the age of 24, I was astounded by the number of pretty girls. It’s all a matter of points of reference and coming from Brooks I had fewer points than many. As I ride through Paris at almost twice the age, I am again struck by the same thoughts. It’s not that the people have chnaged, but my perspective sure has and the slight shifts in attitude and dress just draw your attention to it. Suffice it to say that the metro is a good place for people watching.

We are tired today (our last day) and I expect that Versaille will not get the attention it deserves. However my attitude towards the Rococco opulence has never been entirely positive and I suspect after weeks of the grandeur of gothic, that the over ornate elegance of Louis ego might just seem like trying too hard.

***

10 hours later… I’ve changed my mind a bit. First off the main structure was built by Louis IV. Way too early to be rococco for one, way too much history to be all ego for two. I’ll likely write about it later as it’s late and we have to pack.

I paid 9.60€ for 50cl of beer, by far my most expensive beer ever and we had pizza and wine for dinner. Postcards, packing and a quick game of crib round out the night.

Until tomorrow.

Day Twenty One: Surrounded by WooHoo Owls

Breakfast began by meeting Carmen and her naming all the birds she could be. I admit to becoming worried when she decided she could be her own prey. And the die was cast when her owl was more WooHoo than Who…

Our taxi ride involved the requisite too many bags with a women driver who drove stick, cuddled her dog, booked rides on her radio and negotiated French traffic: impressive…

Our wait for the train was relatively stressfree and soon we were aboard. The train was relatively empty so Carmen did not have to face 4 hours of backward travel. Carmen and I played footsie for a cour of hours, mostly due to her ‘hot’ ass and my cold feet… long story.

After a while I finally finished my book and mosied down to the bar car. I picked up some limonade and Schweppes for the lazy girls. Back in my seat I finally caught up the blog and decided to grace L and C with my charming wit.

Now I’m bored.

So Paris Montparnasse. Our third Parisian train station. Taxi to our hotel and discover that Carmen is finally sick of us. Or of Paris. Or of wine… No… Couldn’t be the wine. Anyway, she decides to bail on our plan to invade Les Invalides. We arrange to meet and strike out for our friend, the metro.

I picked the wrong stop and we got turned around until a helpful native pointed out the way. Les Invalide is a 17 century hospital for soldiers built by Louis IV. It houses a beautiful church for the soldiers and the architects build a spectacular gilt-domed chapel for the king on the other side of the altar so he could attend the services without offending propriety. In the 19 th century the chapel was converted to Napoleon’s tomb after his body was brought back from Corsica. We afe back in the real crowds now and it is much more of a chore to care about what we are seeing. Still and all it’s certainly helping me define grandious.

There is also a a series of army museums there. Since we had limited time we opted for modern and traced the French military from their defeat in the Franco Prussian war through to WWII. Unfortunately they kicked us out before D Day so I don’t know how it ends. : )

As when I was taught my military history class by an ex British marine, I am struck by how much of our sense of what happened is coloured by our American influences. This museum didn’t tell a different story so much as emphasize aspects that aregenerally ignored on our side of the pond. For that matter, it also dispense with much of our British influences as well. I would love to go back if I had time.

We scurried back to our hotel and met up with C for pizza and pasta. The place we picked was run by a strange strange fellow who definitely hadn’t heard of the sexual revolution and who’s idea of service was to make bizarre references and whisk things on and off the table. Needless to say we didn’t stay for desert.

Back at the hotel it was blog posting time and a couple of hands of crib. Tomorrow: Versaille!

Day Twenty: Mon Dieu, Seriously

The day started with breakfast. After digging Zak out of bed we headed off for our wine course. For two hours we sat and listened to the history and nature of wine, generally French and specifically Bordeaux. Grapes, terroir, as well as colour, smell and taste were all covered.

The course was taught in a special classroom where we had our own lights and sinks for spitting and also rinsing our glasses. Other than the fact it was at 10 am and only Carmen was willing to admit to drinking that early, it was a great experience. The instuctor was a young Hugh Grant clone who was quite knowledgeable and didn’t toe the pro-Bordeaux line as much as he could. I actually loved his description of the differences between Burgundy and Bordeaux. Essentially burgundy is all about the terroir, while bordeaux is reliant on blends and savior faire. One thing we did learn was the reason that Carmen had enjoyed the sweet white we had tried the day before was not because it was ‘short’ but because of the balance between sweetness and acidity. The acidity helps cleanse the sugars.

Zak had sat the course out in a nearby park, enjoying the French shade. We met up after and headed off for a walk in a generally southern direction. Leslie and I grabbed a baguette sandwich while Carmen opted for a wierd rice mix with veggies.

At about the third shop, Carmen finally broke and started lingerie shopping. I have to say they have a beautiful sense of colour in their choices. Carmen emerged last, denying have bought anything, but patting her bag smugly.

Apparently the French like to be good at their jobs; the shop girl had flicked Carmen’s sweater aside and nailed her size in one glance. Interesting skill to have and one I might try to acquire in case I need a second career. Also in favour of that particular career, is the privledge of barging into the change rooms to ‘help’. I’m not sure C properly appreciated the quality of personal service she was getting.

A few twisty, narrow streets later we came across an olive oil shop with free degustation. We tried a few oils and moved on to balsamic vinegars, mmmmm. I wanted to get the 75 Euro bottle of vinegar, but mean old Leslie made me settle for the € 25 bottle.

Next was the scarf and india fabric shop. Beautiful silk but we moved on sans purchases.

Around the corner we found the Catherdral Saint-André. It was begun in the 11th century, built mostly in the late 12th century with most of the construction complete by 1340. In the 16 century they added monsterous flying buttresses. Inside it had everything a cathedral needed, but I especially liked the green tone of the choir from the stained glass.

We spent some time soaking it in, but after having so many churches to ourselves it was hard to share it with tout les touriste. Still the beauty of a cathedral is that it’s big and it would take a massive amount of tourists (read Notre Dame de Paris) to make it an obnoxious experience.

Inside was a statue of St Anne and a baby Mary. Apparently one of the first references to the mother of Mary (and by conclusion, the grandma of Jesus). There were also some medieval paintings that had been rediscovered in 1990 under the plaster.

The Pey-Berland Bell Tower was built in high gothic style in the mid 15th century but, to minimize vibration, it was constructed as a separate building. We waited in line (only 19 people allowed up the tower at a time) for quite a while in the hot sun. The longest wait of the trip.

While we waited I spotted a t-shirt: “Life is Sailing. The rest is just details”… a good philosophy for life, although this particular trip was more of my Quebec City t-shirt: “La vie en simple: manger, dormir, boise du vin”

The tower is 230, narrow, spiral steps up to the first balcony. Passing people on their way down was, well, interesting. No one died although Carmen and Leslie’s worry gene got some exercise. The resulting view was awesome and the signage about the history of the city was informative. The sign desigenrs decided to put the 14 panels facing the area of the city they referenced rather than in order. This meant panel 3 and 11 might be on the same board, while 4 or 12 might be in complete opposite areas of the tower resulting in a haphazard learning experience.

Another couple of hundred steps further up brought us to the high point, with even better views, narrower pathways and some intimate aquaintence with protruding stonework. Descending the dark staircase was not the disaster that the less visually apt among us feared, although Leslie opted for barefeet over flipflops and Carmen did it in her sunglasses. Luckily passing people on the way down was way easier.

Next was some sorbet, a bottle of Clairet (which we had discovered in wine lessons and had never previously encountered: basically a more red rosé), and an discussion about the state of aboriginal relations in Alberta in which I had the only reasonable position no matter what Carmen and Leslie would tell you. I know this because Carmen picked up the stick with bits of tinsel on it and, while waving it around, she pretended, not to be a beautiful fairy as we were all expecting, but an S&M gnome with her magical fairy flogger. Really, could you take her seriously after that?

Afterwards the walk took us to the Art Deco museum but it was closing as we arrived: once again the girl’s boozing caused problems. I think they are going to have to go into a program when (or if…sigh) we return.

We turned back north, trying all the shops searching in vain for pickle and mustard chips. This search culminated in the big grocery store near our hotel that once again disappointed the girls, but found me exercising my newfound knowledge of wine. The problem with the tiny hotel living is that our purchasing has now vastly outpaced our consumption. I begin to fear the duties as we are way over our allowances. Three or four bottles up we dropped our loot at the hotel and made for the Church of Notre Dame. Alas the wine problem once again interfered and it was now also closed. So Carmen sat astride a giraffe to console herself. Leslie opted for the more traditional moment of sitting on her ass.

Unfortunately for them the old carousel had also just closed, extending our streak of “missed it by that much…” Pizza ensued. Pretty damn good pizza with a sangria apperitif and a Cabernet blanc for dinner. Carmen continued in her carnivorous creed and used the thin crust as an excuse for ham and mushroom.

One thing we learned in booze school was that the predominence of apperitifs was due to the fact that the French almost always had wine with food. Therefore our barbaric custom of drinking wine before eating was not practiced, and the hard core boozers need something while they wait.

More walk ensued, this time north along the quay. And, out of the blue, the friendly natives decided to pit on a display of country line dancing. Carmen wouldn’t dance with me. Leslie tried but polka, flipflops and cobblestones made it less than examplary of our native Albertan talent.

Across the street was the quinceconce (sp?) and a massive monument with larger than life bronze statues. Beautiful but we were tired and strolled by after spending a few moments. Back at home we fired up the fan to move the moist air and I attempted to finish my book. Didn’t make it before I … Zzzzzzzzz…

Day Nineteen: Goodbye Wavy Blue Road

Carmen got up in the middle of the night and rocked the boat. Just sayin’…

I got up to a quiet boat so I put the water a boilin’ and read for a bit. Eventually C showed up with a chocolate breakfast and the obligatory baguette. After we got our ducks in a row (not literally this time) we started packing. I’m not sure how we collected so much wine but there it was. Eventually all was contained but we did find out later at the train station that Carmen’s underwear was playing loose and fancy free.

We dumped our bags in the office, filled out the obligatory paperwork and headed up hil into town. For all that people said there wasn’t much in Le Mas, we found one of the nicest washhouses of the trip, a wonderful old covered square and a fantastic example of a XII century romanesque church (probably my favourite so far…).

The church’s main advertised feature was an original Rembrandt. While beautiful, I believed it paled in comparison to the huge barrel arches and vaulted windows that characterized the interior. Most of the interior walls dated from the 12 century, unlike previous churches that had only naves or columns remaining. The light in this paricular church was beautiful as it illuminated various statues, carvings and alcoves.

Afterwards we headed through town in searchnof the elusive pickle and mustard chips that had been much advertised but never seen. Once again foiled, C settled for a pear at one of the markets. Eventually we made our way back to the port and our taxi arrived to rake us 15 kilometres into Marmande and our train.

The luggage is getting heavier. I had booked first class tickets on an express, so the trip should only be 30 minutes or so with no stops. Our hotel awaits in Bordeaux so hopefully it will be an afternoon of walking and enjoying.

I think we all agree that it’s sad to leave the canals behind. There is a lot to be said to being away from the crowds and the pace and cultural immersions certainly suit the adults of the party. We’ve got 4 days of cities and hotels again, and as Carmen said, if it wasn’t for Versaille, we could skip Paris alltogether. Still, the entire city of Bordeaux is a world heritage site and it is in the heart of some of the oldest wine country in France.

First class is nice and we resolved to give it a try on the way to Paris. Little did we realize that Paris to Bordeaux 1st class was 600+ Euros… So much for that little dream. I guess we are doomed for proletariat class.

Bordeaux station is big and busy. After we’d got the Paris tickets we went in search of a taxi; we found a tram. The lrt system here is above ground slower moving trains called trams. They have no barriers and run through the middle of busy plazas and there is the occasional curb to indicate a station.

A stop a the info booth scored us a map and the location of our hotel. We grabbed a cab, or attempted to. The first cabby rejected us outright once he saw the 4 of us and all our luggage. Our accumulation is starting to cause problems. Once we found a willing taxi, he had no idea where we were going. Granted, Rue Franklin has to be the single shortest street in the city, but it is disconcerting. Luckily I had the map from the info booth and he had his gps.

The Hotel de France was small and tucked down a tiny alley-like street. Unfortunately it was so small it had no elevator and more unfortunately we were at the top of three flights of spiral staircase with suitcases stuffed full of wine. I only made it 2 flights and abandoned the case for zak.

Leslie elected for a rest and a shower while C, Z and I headed for another tourist centre. Bordeaux is very 18 century. Long streets of elegant buildings. We came across a huge wine map and a stranger walked by and pointed out the best regions for vin blanc. We popped into the building and it was a strange mix of bar, wine collection and office. Turns out it is a wine school and wine bar.

Across the street at the tourist place we found all the days tours for tomorrow were full and the Colbert (the battle ship Zak wanted to see) was gone. That took care of most of our reasons for coming to Bordeaux. After gathering some info we headed out and heard the call of the wine. Carmen and I sat in the wine bat and had a glass of Sauternes Chateau Laville. It was a super sweet wine but, as Carmen said it didn’t stay on the palate so it wasn’t as cloying as you’d expect.

After we swung by and picked up Leslie we headed for the old quarter and wandered. We found ourselves on the busy shopping street (St Catherines) with thousands of people and high end shops. A quick glance at the map and a quick left took us away from the hustle and bustle. After a while we stopped for a lemonade and some maki. L’s bottle had a small glass ball in it for fizzing the soda. We found another church which helped settle our jittery ‘city nerves’ and resumed our meandering. Around 6 we found a restarant we liked and resolved to walk a bit before it opened. Around the corner we ran into Place de la Bourse with is huge line of 18 century buildings and mirror pond. Thus particular reflecting pool only has about 2 cm of water in it which drains to a couple of milimeters. Pretty cool (with all the waders, that was a double entendre.

Oh and kites. There I am staring at architectural masterpieces and object d’arts and Carmen and Zak are staring the otherway, enraptured by a kite. Sheesh.

Afterwords we headed back for dinner. At 7 we approach our choice only to be rebuffed: “after 7:30…” So we headed back down the alley to have a pre-dinner sorbet in the shadow of the church. When we finally headed back we were the first diners to arrive. Dinner was more shrimp. It was advertises as scampi so o thought finnaly I wouldn’t have to shell the stupid things, but no… More finger food that was more effort than food.

After dinner we headed back to Place de la Bourse to see it all lit up. The quay was crammed with young people and beer; quite the happening place. A nice walk back to the hotel took us by the the Notre Dame all lit up and beautiful.

We agreed to meet at 9:30 for our wine course and said goonight.

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

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 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. www.souffleur-verre-fusing.com

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.