Sunday, September 15, 2013

Cruisin for a bruisin

We spent the last weekend in August cruising along the Canal Du Midi in the South of France! We flew out to the medieval walled city of Carcassone early on Friday morning and by three o'clock that same afternoon were gliding past fields of sunflowers and vineyards on what was undoubtedly one of the best holidays of my life!

My Dad and sisters, Florence & Phoebe, had been there since the Monday which meant we hit the ground running and helped us make the most of our long weekend (by this point they knew the ins and outs of the boat and were a dab hand working the locks!). Poor Flo had sprained her ankle the previous day (top boat tip, don't run down the ladder as though it's a stair case!) and was hobbling about on crutches so we arrived at just the right moment!

Dad hired the boat through Le Boat and it was perfect! Technically it could sleep up to eight people (with two people sleeping in the living space). I would err on the side of caution - the boat was just right for the five of us but I wouldn't want to pack any more in. You can add on extras like bikes (which we did) and a BBQ (which we also did). It's a lovely feeling being totally self sufficient and having the freedom to cruise the canals to our hearts content! Dad and the girls flew into Carcassone then took a taxi to the Le Boat basin at Castelnaudary. After being shown the ropes (literally) they set sail and worked their way up the canal towards Toulouse before turning round and heading back to Carcassone to pick us up. We then spent a merry four days cruising back to Castelnaudary, stopping off at some lovely little restaurants and towns along the way!

A couple of weeks before, Flo ordered a chefs hat to give to a friend on their Birthday. Serendipitously this captain's hat turned up instead!

Captain Dad running 'tings on board ship!

After dropping off our bags and admiring the boat for a couple of minutes we hopped on board a bus to check out the medieval part of Carcassone. It's a pretty little town hidden away behind high walls. It's definitely worth having a look but you do have to train your eyes to see past the hoards of tourists and the ever present shops selling tea towels, fridge magnets and the like. With the winding cobbled streets and tiny doorways you can still get a sense of what it would have been like to live in the city 1500 years ago.

There's even a medieval channel down the middle of every street for the medieval piss to run down!

 One of the parts of the city I really liked was the cathedral - so old and beautiful!

After a busy few weeks I was happy just to sit on top of the boat with my book and watch the landscape around us gently change. The view from up there was really incredible with beautiful fields in the foreground and the Pyrennes rising up in the distance! Every 10 minutes or so though, the cry would go out of 'lock!'. I then had to spring into action and man the rope at the front of the boat!

The locks were really intense. Phoebe's job was to hop off the boat before we reached the lock and stand up top, ready to catch the ropes which Ciaran and I threw to her. Some of the locks were really high and it took me two or three goes to throw the rope up, all the while trying my best not to loose my balance and get crushed to death between the side of the boat and the wall of the canal. Phoebe would then loop the rope round one of the posts and throw it back to me. As we were going back upstream by this point it meant we would sail into an empty lock, then the doors would close behind us and the operator then let the water in at the front of the lock.

It was strange standing in the damp empty space just before they let the water in. The water streamed in with such force - to fall into the swirling, bubbling depths would have been to drown instantly!

As the lock filled with water I had to keep holding the rope tightly to pick up any slack and keep us steady as the boat gradually bobbed higher and higher. It was such a funny experience going from the murkey depths of the lock to suddenly being back out in the open as we were brought up level with the land again. One of my favourite parts of the trip was seeing all the beautiful little lock keepers cottages along the way!

Each lock was accompanied by one of these sweet houses - decorated with little wooden shutters in a sophisticated palette of Farrow and Ball blues and greens. Some of the houses seemed to be closed, others were being lived in and as you can imagine I loved catching a glimpse into peoples kitchens and living spaces - a flicker of blue and white gingham curtain here, the top of a four poster bed there. Most exciting by far though were the cottages that had been turned into canal side restaurants!

Do you ever find yourself abroad in a cool shop or cafe thinking 'this is ace, I'll definitely remember to tell everyone/blog about/check this place out online (delete as applicable) when I get back' and the name of the place is right there, at the very forefront of your mind, clear as day...until you get home and then you can't remember it for love nor money? Recently I've started snapping photos of shop signs, restaurant menus, leaflets and signposts as a way to remind myself of the name when I get back and it's really handy!

Le Rive-Belle was one of my favourite places we ate at on the trip. The restaurant was in one of the adorable lock keepers cottages which had been converted  - isn't it pretty? I ate amazing salmon sashimi for starters, then I had a huge plate of prawns, cooked with lots of garlic and lemon mmmmmm.

On our first evening aboard ship, we moored up near this amazing floating canal boat hotel! They had a hot tub on the roof and little tables and chairs where the guests could have breakfast in the sunshine. You can see more info on the Chambre d'hotes Peniche Mirage here on Trip Advisor! 
These photos of letterboxes and doorways were taken at our final destination of Castelnaudary - they really go in for these Belle Epoque mouldings and iron work here, isn't it beautiful?

Such lovely memories! Thank you beautiful France!

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