This post is my effort to fill some time and lift my spirits as we all go through this weird turn of events together,
Let's be honest all our lives really amount to are the experiences we have, the people we meet along the way, the things we see, hear, feel, none of us are taking anything with us when we check out, this post is about one of the best holidays I've ever had.
Thanks to my two travelling companions Keith and Sue with whom I shared this memorable journey.
In July of 2017 I was fortunate enough to travel along a stretch of the Canal Du Midi in France on a boat with two friends, a fantastic week which was a mixture of navigating our way through many locks, having a laugh, and soaking up the scenery.
I'd always wanted a holiday on water so this for me was a very exciting prospect, a new experience in a part of France I'd not been to before,
I flew out to Carcasonne and stayed overnight there and met my two friends the following morning, I remember that night in my hotel being very hot and the fan in my room stayed on all night. It was a very basic hotel but for one night well what the hell ?.
From Carcasonne we drove to our starting point which was Castelnaudary, where we were to pick up the boat, having stopped on the way to buy up provisions.
On a trip like this its best to make sure you are well stocked up, especially with bottled water, this was to be a hot week and we got through copious ampounts of it.
The place was not easy to find but eventually we got to where we needed to be and checked out our floating accommodation, two single bedrooms at the stern and a larger bedroom at the bow, a nice little kitchen and a deck area
Our boat was docked in the Grand Bassin a large area of water, in fact the largest area of open water on the canal.
We took the boat out for an exploratory run so each of us could get used to steering and generally maneuvering it safely, we had many locks ahead of us and I think we were all secretly wondering how we would get on with getting through them safely.
We spent the night on the boat and the next day we set out on our trip from Castelnaudary to Port Cassifieres one week away.
The route - First five destinations
Pexiora - 26 kilometres from Carcassonne
Villepinte - 23 kilometres from Carcassonne
Bram - 19 kilometres from Carcassonne
Villesequelande - 10 kilometres from Carcassonne
If you're a foodie like me France is a wonderland, each region has its own speciality dishes and if you watch any of Rick Steins programmes about his travels in France he often says it's the most unassuming places that you should check out.
Places you would walk past without a second glance serve the most simple but delicious food, I watched a programme recently where Rick spent a weekend in Bordeaux, that convinced me it's a place I must visit at some point.
That gives me a target to help me get through this very surreal situation we are going through, because to be able to freely travel will be so exciting when this is all over. Something we have taken for granted for such a long time but will really appreciate once we can do it again.
Rick also says a lot of people say the food in France is not what it was, there are the usual ubiquitous fast food outlets but there are some great little restaurants serving food that you won't find anywhere else, and it doesn't have to be expensive.
It's always worth checking out where the locals go to eat, I particularly like fish and the French can make even a simple fish dish look and taste superb.
The first time I came across Cassoulet I was delighted, this was not in Castelnaudary but further north, it's basically a stew but ingredients can differ from region to region, Castelnaudary is the home of Cassoulet.
This is one of the little gems we found on our journey, there was rugby playing on the television in a corner of the bar and at first glance I think none of us were sure what the food would be like, but when it came it was fabulous.
The service was superb, so friendly and just a great way to spend a few hours.
Passing through a lock.
Cruising along a canal in the sunshine all sounds very relaxing right ?, but when you have so many locks to negotiate you have to assign roles and really take care, my role was on the stern, Sue on the Bow and Captain Keith at the helm.
The first lock was a nerve jangler, but we soon got into a routine and generally found it to be ok, there were larger locks though where we weren't the only boat going through and that was when things could get a bit hairy.
Lock keepers maison.
Some of the locks were manned and the lucky lock keeper would have a maison nearby, some even had little stall where you could buy watermelons and other fruit, on the wall you can see a sign showing distances to the next port of call.
I often thought what a great job that was, sitting in the sun until the next boat came along, and at night the quiet would be amazing.
One thing we had to take into account was that when lock keepers were on their lunch break we had to wait until they had finished, so we would tie the boat up nearby and have our own lunch ready for the afternoons workload :)
After Carcasonne our next five destinations
Argen Minervois - after passing through the lock here we would have a long stretch ahead of us with no locks to negotiate.
As we travelled sedately along it was great to see what other people had done to boats to make them livable and like a home from home, because the canal is wider than our own in the UK it can accommodate wider boats like Dutch barges
Our final destinations of the trip would be -
Ecluses De Fonseranes
Villeneuve Les Beziers
As you travel along the canal the fields are either filled with Sunflowers or vines,
Not your average eatery
Lunch stop on a hot day.
The French have a great way of taking simple food and making it look so good, presentation is everything. They also know how to garnish food which can make even simple ingredients a taste sensation.
You are probably thinking "that looks an expensive place to eat", ? it really wasn't. and the view from the terrace …..
The region of France we were passing through is full of Vineyards and some of the Rose produced there is on another level, and of course relatively cheap, a nice chilled Rose on a hot Summers evening is one of life's great pleasures.
I'm going to drop this into the mix.
I don't want to give the impression that all we saw was natures beauty, we need some balance at this point, and there are two points to take note of here.
Point one, as already alluded to, all was not beautiful.
Point two, the Captain makes decisions which the deckhands don't question and to illustrate first a picture.
Yes seen below, our illustrious Captain moored us here, next to a fuel pump, and in the background can be seen a rather large industrial building, a cement factory no less.
That night sleep was hard to come by as the factory was lit up like Times Square and huge lorries trundled in and out continuously, and it was hot, however the Captain makes the calls, the crew .........
Lessons learnt, choose your Captain carefully, interview him / her to get a feel for their suitability before the cruise commences.
Don't ask, just don't ask.
There are sections of the canal where you pass close by to roads and in those places you can get some noise, but on other stretches peace reigns supreme apart from the gentle throb of the boats motor.
Another day, another lunch stop.
Low bridges, this one is at Capestang
The 7 locks of Bezier
This was towards the end of our journey, we arrived the day before and moored up, we had been advised that boats have to queue to get through.
That evening was Bastille day in France and we were treated to a brilliant firework display which we watched from the boat.
On the way to Bezier