Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The South of France is glorious!

Dear Family and Friends

There’s hot and then there’s South of France hot!! August was absolutely glorious – blue skies everyday and temperatures in the high 30’s and low 40’s. The only downside is that when we were either in the locks or waiting to enter the locks, the sun was merciless. One day, Phil and I both thought we were going to pass out – we were dizzy, nauseous and sweating buckets. We drank water by the gallon to keep hydrated. However, we have reached the Canal du Midi – our long awaited and much anticipated goal!
The Canal du Midi is as pretty as we had imagined. Sadly though there were a number of places where the fungus attacking the plane trees have left them leafless and stripped bare. They’ve cut down the worst affected and are beginning a replanting of disease resistant trees in their stead. It’s seriously sad to see that trees planted in the 1600’s when the canal was being built by Pierre-Paul Riquet are now in peril. Much of the charm of the canal will be changed and of course the much needed shade that they provided is gone.
 Beautiful plane trees line the banks
Sadly some are blighted and will soon have to come down
       What a bored lockkeeper does in his spare time!
Capestang was very pretty and is famous (to fellow boaters) for its very low, arched stone bridge. It was a hoot sitting on our aft deck watching some of the hire boats bounce from side to side as they negotiated their way under it. The underside of the bridge is scarred with various colours of paint and rubber left behind by boats that missed the centre path. We, of course, were brilliant!! No prob.
Our next major port of call was Narbonne – an ancient city that was founded by the Romans in 118 BC and was the capital city of Gaul. They’ve excavated part of the Via Domitia - a road that crossed through France from Beaucaire (which is near Arles) to the Pyrenees. The Canal de la Robine splits the city into two sides, with a dramatic difference between them. The north side was very prosperous and well kept while the south side was run down and quite grubby. Interestingly, the south side has the best restaurants! One day we tried to have lunch at a lovely little restaurant near the main square. After waiting forever, the waitress finally took our order. Not complicated – we just wanted an omelet! We waited and waited and were somewhat dismayed as food was delivered to tables whose patrons had arrived after us. Phil was making faces like a person dying of starvation and had a little girl at the next table in stitches! The waitress finally cottoned on to the fact that we weren’t eating and were desperately trying to make one glass of wine last a lifetime. She took our order again and gave us a free glass of wine on the house which on a very, very empty stomach went straight to our heads! Needless to say we staggered back to the boat – a habit that is becoming all too familiar.
      Capestang’s  famously low arched bridge
Narbonne – houses and shops over the canal
       Narbonne’s lovely mooring
While we were there we had a delightful visit with Robert and Christa - our Dutch friends who took Phil up in the airplane (Blog 1). They had friends who have a summer place nearby so they were able to nip into Narbonne. Poor Phil wasn’t feeling at all well, so we weren’t able to take them out to dinner to say thank you for hosting us in Holland but we hope we can reciprocate when they visit us in Canada.
Leaving Calypso in Narbonne, we hopped the train to Perpignan, a lovely Franco-Spanish city that once was the capital of French-Catalonia. It is quite a prosperous city with well-to-do visitors wandering the traffic-free red marble tiled narrow streets filled with shops and stalls and, of course, the ever present restaurants. It was our first opportunity to try Catalan-style food. We lucked out again and arrived during a summer music and dance festival which was fabulous but it also meant that with thousands of extra visitors, the menus were set and we weren’t able to try paella at the recommended restaurant. But we did have their featured menu and it was great - especially the cold gazpacho with its amazing flavours.  Our hotel for 2 nights – once a 15th century mansion - was right in the centre of town and we could walk to all the major sights.

       Perpignan – gorgeous hotel once a mansion
Perpignan – beautiful gardens
                                               Every inch of space is used - even the side alleys
              Later, our first gazpacho – yummy!!!
Then we continued by train the short distance to Collioure – our very favourite place to date, although Villefranche is a very close second. Phil especially wanted to visit Collioure as it has been a magnet for artists since Matisse settled here in 1905. Phil wanted to wander the streets where Matisse and his disciples painted the harbour, the colourful fishing boats, the mighty Chateau Royal built by the Knights Templar and the Église Notre-Dame-des-Anges. Thousands – well not really but it felt like it – of restaurants. We chose one that was one street back from the beach – it was out of the very hot sun and just a little less hectic. Phil ordered the plat de jour, a gambas and calamari (gross!!!) dish that he loves. I asked the waitress what else was on the menu and she rattled off something in very rapid French. The only word I got was porc – great, I’ll have that. It arrived and was seriously delicious – amazing flavours and textures. After the meal I asked the waitress to tell me what it was – slowly – so I could understand. It turns out it was pork cheeks!!! YUCK. Thank goodness I didn’t know that beforehand or I would never have ordered it and would have missed out on a fabulous dish.
         Collioure – fabulous harbour on the Med
Collioure – view from the fort on the hill
After 4 delightful days off the boat, we headed back to Narbonne to continue our journey back up the Robine to the Midi. Some celestial formation must have crossed our moon in whatever house, as things started to go wrong from day one! Heading toward Gailhousty lock, we were cruising nicely behind another cruiser when a hire boat coming out of the lock and driven by a Russian suddenly veered at a 90 degree angle right into the other cruiser amidships and bent the steel railings right over! He then veered towards us! I grabbed onto the railings for dear life while Phil had the presence of mind to steer gently into the boat’s stern and push it away before it could damage our little Calypso. My hero!!!!
Then the next day, while going through a triple lock, the engine overheated and we had to shut her down – in the lock! – and wait until she cooled off. This happened several times over the next few days. Add this to the ongoing saga of the battery charger, the unbearably hot sun and we were seriously frazzled. And worried of course. Phil tends to go to the worst possible scenario first and I of course try to think positively even in the middle of a major disaster. When we arrived in Trebes, the hire base mechanic came aboard, and bless his little heart, after determining that the impeller itself was fine, he resealed the casing and – Ta da – Calypso is sailing right through those locks now. Simple solution but vital as when air gets into the system, then water can’t cool the engine and things go downhill from there. Luckily it didn’t overheat to any extreme. We were able to catch it just as the temperature began to rise so no damage to the engine.
Now – all we need to sort out is the charger! Piece of cake as it turns out. When we arrived in Carcassonne, we took the train to Moissac, picked up the battery charge, returned to Carcassonne and hired a local mechanic to install it. As Phil was telling him our tale of woe, he asked, “What kind of charger?” Phil told him it was a very good and expensive Waeco – actually, the third one! “Aha” says Loic, our mechanic. Apparently Waeco chargers are famous for not liking the engine being started up while plugged into shore power. And of course for 2 years running, that’s exactly what happened. Each time we arrived to pick up the boat in the spring, we would plug into shore power as we live on the boat while the spring maintenance is finished off. Then of course, the mechanic starts up the engine after the servicing to make sure all is well and promptly blows up the charger!!!! We always unhook the power before we take off (it’s embarrassing to sail away while still plugged in as we’ve discovered to our dismay!) so it is a very easy fix that didn’t involve any expense other than to hook up the new charger that they provided under warranty. When we get home, we will send a scathing letter to Waeco asking them why they don’t at least warn you in their manual – would have saved everyone a lot of grief. We are learning that boats are renowned for niggling problems that can be easily fixed.
             Beautiful Carcassonne  - La Cité is amazing
                                             Le Vieux Pont leads to La Cité – walker’s only
So, as you can tell we are in Carcassonne. The next blog will extol its beauty and virtues. We decided that Carcassonne was as good a place as any to sit for awhile. Cruising in the distressingly hot sun was too much, so here we sit awaiting Keith and Margaret’s arrival and then we will continue cruising to Toulouse and beyond. Including a much anticipated stop at Castelnaudary so we can compare cassoulets de maison!
À bientôt
Much love to all
Captain Worry and his cool calm Matelot

1 comment:

  1. Hi;
    TY once again! I have Sarah over for a sleep. Could hardly wait till she was in bed to read the blog. Will read the Nov. one tomorrow as I'm pretty tired and Sarah is still awake.
    Love to both.
    Barb oxxo