A Travellerspoint blog

June 2010

Locks of Languedoc

The Locks of the Canal-du-Midi

sunny 30 °C

As we steam serenely along the Canal-du-Midi aboard Carmen we are greeted by a chorus of birdsong, and we watch ducklings scampering under their mother’s wings, while curious fish leap into the air to see what’s disturbing their watery world. This must surely qualify as one of the world’s most tranquil places…
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However, the canal is home to several fleets of rental boats and many of the amateur skippers are more accustomed to tearing around the M25 in a Jag, or barreling down an autobahn in an Audi, than driving a boat. These speed merchants are so determined to get their money’s worth that they squeeze a fortnight into a week and all they hear is the roar of their own engine and all they see is a green blur. The only thing that puts a brake on these maritime mavericks are locks like these…
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As the canal winds its way across Languedoc it gradually climbs a range of hills in a series of locks; each one a minefield for an unschooled skipper and crew. The entrances are narrow, the lock keepers are impatient, and the waters churn as the gates open and close. Here is David at the wheel of Carmen as she enters a lock….
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Jim hangs onto Carmen’s ropes to stop her from crashing into the gates …
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…then a wall of water cascades towards him, while Sheila takes a breather before cycling ahead to catch the ropes at the next lock. It’s great fun, though serious work – but, as Captain David says, “Someone has to do it.”

The gracefully curved locks, built in the late 1600s by Louis XIV’s stonemasons, are surrounded by pretty gardens maintained by the lockkeepers.
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We have had many culinary delights on our trip, including Toulouse sausages, Collioure anchovies and Mediterranean sardines. And, in the town of Bram, we ate Gallette – giant round biscuits that purportedly represent the shields the locals used as weapons to fight off the Roman invasion.
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Today’s lunch, taken in the wheelhouse between locks, was bouillabaisse with homemade bread, several Pyrenean cheeses and tapenades of olives and aubergines…
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And tonight, in Castelnaudary, we will eat the famous Cassoulet.

Posted by Hawkson 10:38 Archived in France Comments (1)

Life is just a Bowl of Cherries

sunny 30 °C

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The vines of Languedoc-Roussillon may sag under the weight of grapes in the fall, but at this time of the year it’s the cherries that take the cake. And here is the most traditional of French cherry cakes.
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This cake is called Clafoutis and Jim made it as dessert for a dinner that began with a Salade Caprese, (using marinated cherry tomatoes and mozzarella) followed by a local Languedocien rabbit dish called, Lapin au soupiquet; rabbit cooked in a pot au feu with thyme and garlic and garnished with a pate made from the rabbit’s liver. Round courgettes stuffed with mushrooms topped it off and here’s the result …
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As we meander gently along the canal in Carmen we are constantly reminded of the beauty and bountifulness of this land. Ancient planes, oaks, cherries, and trees of all kind, line the banks like a guard of honour, their giant green parasols shading us from the hot Mediterranean sun. Beyond the trees, vistas of verdant landscape roll across the hillsides to the distant Pyrenean mountains. Vineyards and fields bursting with all manner of crops blanket the countryside and are punctuated occasionally by quaint villages of traditional stone houses clustered around a medieval church.
Here is the laverie, (a communal wash-house), in the canal-side village of Villesequelande….
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Most French towns still maintain spring fed laveries as historical artifacts, (although we have seen them used), but this one is unusual because the women laundered their finery directly in the canal.

The ever changing panorama of the canal make us constantly dash for the camera. Here are a couple of views…
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While the views are stunning, the scents and sounds of this beautiful land give it life. How we wish we could bring you the songs of the nightingales and skylarks and the swish of the water as we cruise along. And if only you could smell the scent of these roses…
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Posted by Hawkson 01:24 Archived in France Comments (4)

Dining Afloat

semi-overcast 24 °C

Jim started his working career as a chef aboard a cruise liner so it’s no surprise that he has taken over the galley aboard Carmen and is working a little culinary magic for the delectation of the captain and crew.
Last night’s dinner began with a salad of local greens tossed in balsamic vinaigrette, loaded with herbes de Provence, and topped with Pyrenean goat cheese and avocado.
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For the main course we had saumon aux amandes, (sautéed salmon fillets with almond slices tossed in nut-brown butter), together with a macedoine of fresh vegetables and Jim’s special hollandaise sauce.

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And for dessert – la piece de resistance – this tarte aux fruits frais…

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For this evening, we have perhaps the quintessential Mediterranean food – fresh sardines.

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We would like to say that we are going to cut down on our eating – but why lie. We are surrounded by markets and stores selling the most wonderful foods. So we will do what everyone else does on a cruise… and hang the consequences.
And now a little bit of local colour for non-foodies.
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Carcassonne castle is a magnificent sight as it towers over the new city, (“New” being a purely relative term – it was built in the 14th century). The castle itself was originally Roman and was gradually added to until the mid 13th century. Its massive walls encompass an entire city, with houses, shops, hotels and even a cathedral, and had a population of many thousand in medieval times.
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Today the city within the walls is a tourist mecca catering to visitors of all types. There are plenty of sandwicheries offering lunch for a few dollars, but at the other end is La Barbicane where set dinners run up to $200 a head. Here’s the cheapie menu – about $100.
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Bon appetite!

Posted by Hawkson 04:52 Archived in France Comments (2)

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