After approximately 3 months since crossing the E’tang de Thau (inland sea) and entering the eastern end of the Canal du Midi, we have reached the famous city of Toulouse at the western end. We have travelled some 240 kilometres passed through 63 locks on this wonderful waterway which is known world wide as being the great cruiser’s holiday location with hire boats galore particularly at this time of the year plus numerous leisure craft. Along the way we have had some great experiences and some not so good as reported in earlier blogs but for sure it is a “have to visit and see” for all canal boaters.
Our arrival in Toulouse aroused all sorts of thoughts as to what we would see and be able to do so planned to stay in the port for a week which while being an expensive place to berth, was very central, secure and where of course you get to meet many other boaters with common interests.
Rhonda's Comment: Just in case we did not know which way to go!!!!
This is art!!!!!!
Being such a huge city, we used our car, our scooter, our pushbike and of course our feet to get to cover as much of the area as we could. This city is a real mixture of really old as it was substantially built in the 15th century and onwards with a mixture of Spanish as well as French architecture and new. It is often referred to as the “pink town with the green waters of the Midi”. The pink is due to a predominant use of a slight pinkish mortar and/or render plus the bricks which also carry this tinge as well so it gives the city a warm or welcoming look in so many suburbs.
As it has huge university complexes with students attending from all over the world plus a very large itinerant population so many suburbs are just row after row, street after street of high-rise apartment buildings. They seem to go on forever. Despite the number of flats and apartments with so many people living in close proximity, we all noticed how quiet the areas were and if there were small children in these buildings they were not heard. So different from any similar development back in New Zealand.
In contrast to the old sectors of the city it is also a super modern city with ultra new thinking companies offering employment to some of the best brains in the world particularly in the aeronautical arena. Companies like Airbus, EADS European space research centre, Zodiac with so many of its subsidiaries and so on attract so many outstanding companies and those wishing to have access to staff and the latest facilities are also drawn to Toulouse making this the 4th biggest city in France.
Some of the building designs are quite breathtaking with a feeling that here, architecture has reached every boundary. You can spend days looking at the myriad of old churches and cathedrals (however I have to admit to now being churched out) as well as museums of every type. Old historic famous buildings, halls and libraries are also numerous and the city is softened by using some magnificent park complexes to break down the concrete jungle effect so morning strolls or cycling, which we did every day, are a real pleasure.
At regular intervals along the streets there are ranks where you can hire bicycles for a very cheap day rate so there are thousands of cyclists using them and making the most of the dedicated bicycle lanes which seem to be everywhere. The heart of the shopping district offers every choice of every product as you can imagine and as the shoppers generally appear to be comfortably off, the stores are quite busy.
On the darker side is the high numbers of homeless or rough living folk who beg on the streets and sleep in the parks or under the bridges or anywhere where they can find a cubby hole. Under one bridge we counted around a dozen sleeping in rags, blankets or cheap sleeping bags with their possessions strewn around them. It is surprising to see how many of them have dogs as company and maybe protection and most of them appear to be skinny but are loved by their owners in their own way. Drugs, like in most cities today is a major problem but as it is rare to see any police on foot anywhere, I guess society will have to put up with the results.
We had hoped to visit the Airbus plant as they run daily visitors tours through some of the buildings but as it is the main holiday month including school holiday time it is hard to get tickets to an English speaking tour so we will have to leave that treat for another time and as we will be wintering only some 6o kms from Toulouse in Moissac it will be something to look forward to. There are really too many attractions to list in detail here but rest assured that if any of you are intending to visit the area, allow at least a week to really get the feel of it.
Rhonda's Comment: Do you like my new car? Harry loves it!!!
While in Toulouse we joined a number of other boaters on the dock from our marina and had nibbles and drinks followed by a BBQ which was just great fun and we enjoyed the company of another Kiwi couple, Jan and John, (Paprika), Jill and Peter from South Africa (Angelique), Elaine and Tony also from South Africa (Dreamboat) and Keith and Louise from England (Saltire). So when all the food was added for all to eat it was a grand feast. The sausages we threw on our little bbq weren’t as good as they could have been but that was the cook’s fault. The cook just happened to be me.
Rhonda's Comment: We found a parking spot at the Gare (Railway Station)!!!!
On 11th August we moved off along the remaining few kilometres of the Canal du Midi which runs through the north western suburbs so it is unusual to be pottering along side a motorway or similar with all the traffic tearing past and at times we were at a higher level than the traffic as the canal was really a concrete trough type structure for quite some distance. We are now encountering down hill locks which are nice to manoeuvre through as they are automatic and straight sided so we can control our own speed etc.
There is little or no traffic on the canalat this time despite it being August holiday time and we have been told that west of Castelnaudary is not frequented like it is the other way so we can look forward to a nice quiet cruise by all accounts. We changed onto the Canal Lateral a la Garonne which as the name suggests runs parallel to the Garonne River which we will get onto after Moissac.
Rhonda's Comment: How about this for a cash crop - a field of hemp.
After 5 hours of pottering along and passing through 8 locks we had enough so pulled into the bank to rest and stay overnight. The weather has been perfect as far as I am concerned with beautiful fine warm days and nights but tomorrow we are supposed to get rain so who knows. Well the promised rain turned out to be a few light showers so we set off again for the 30 km journey to Montech which offers port facilities according to the Fluvial Guide but due to Somewhere’s size we have been forced to tie up outside the town without power or water but the town looks to be interesting enough for a couple of nights stay so we will go and look at some of the listed sights and see if they match up to the promotional material we have gathered.
On the way to Montech we saw one of the biggest motor vehicle disbursement yards I have ever seen. There were thousands of cars, vans and trucks of the main brands, Peugeot, Citroen and Renault all parked out in very neat rows over several hundred acres of tarmac yard with trucks loading up with vehicles for the dealers etc. If the holding stock levels are any indication of how the motor vehicle sales are going in France then I would hazard a guess that they are struggling.
Because of the more temperate weather experienced here the region is also a great fruit growing area and we saw some huge cool stores alongside the main road and rail links and on the other side of our canal, fantastic apple, nectarine and other fruit orchards are to be seen. Picking of the nectarines is in full swing and the fruit looks beautiful and is large and very juicy. Ones mouth watered as we pottered by in “Somewhere” and while we were tempted to stop, climb a fence and do an orchard raid (something I haven’t done for so many years) we were restrained by the looks on the picker’s faces so we will have to continue buying in the markets or shops.
As the area enjoyed some good rain a few weeks ago and is slightly behind the crops further east the Sunflowers are also still standing waiting the harvest time due next month so the colour is still vibrant and a delight to look over as it seems to go on forever in some places.
Montech came into being in 1134 when the town was constructed as a completely fortified village for protection of the local community and has prospered ever since. Apart from the old churches, museum and public halls, they have built a full roofed but open sided market building in the centre of town which is very busy a couple of days each week offering a large range of local produce and clothing etc.
One of the vital attractions to see should be the special canal which contains a water slope with a 3% incline to allow commercial boats only to negotiate a 13.30 metre change in the level of the canal and to replace 5 locks which are placed fairly close together. It is 443 m in length and the water is trapped then moved by a pair of rail tractors, one on each side pushing a dam type door behind the boat or boats inside retaining enough water to keep the boat/s afloat throughout the traverse. Sounds exciting so we are looking forward to seeing it working if at all possible but as there is so little commercial traffic we may miss it being used. Typical of a French design and build which is obviously very expensive to run and to maintain.
This town is cute and fills a real rural need but while we have enjoyed our couple of days here we will move on tomorrow to Castelsarrasin which is 22 kms away so we should be able to enjoy a bigger town and all it promises before we make the last leg to Moissac.
Ok, we arrived in Castelsarrasin after a really nice cruise along the canal which was almost deserted and as I mentioned earlier, being man-made, it is set in long straights so it was an easy trip and we arrived at lunchtime to get the last open berth alongside the quay with power and water for €2.50 per day. It is crazy that the variances in charges apply so much for this site is as good as it gets and the cost is really minimal. It is a port where the Maire (Mayors Office) take pride in what they have so the park like grounds running along side the waterway with a nice road with safe parking behind. There are many art features mounted on plinths plus the bridges and walkways are filled with the most magnificent tubs of glorious coloured flowers which are watered and fed every day.
At one end of the quay lies the large peniche “Rosa” which was made famous by Rick Stein in his video programme The French Odyssey which was a major factor in making us decide to take on our current way of life. Sadly after the programme was completed “Rosa” was left in a state of sad repair for a few years before another tour operator took her and cleaned her up and now operates her again as a small hotel boat on this section of the canals.
We have met some fellow bargees again whom we first met in Toulouse and who are working their way along similar canal paths as we are. Despite them being South African, Tony and Elaine are good fun and we hope to keep in touch with them as time goes by. We have also met up with Alan Filby “Nordland” who is single handily working his lovely 8m cruiser across this territory for about the 5th time. Alan is a real boatie from away back and has travelled most of the canals in France and has been out on the Mediterranean and despite losing his wife to cancer some 12 months ago has continued to push on regardless and has now met a new lady who will soon join him as company for the travels. I only refer to him as he is to be admired as a real adventurer despite the difficulties.
We wish him and Margaret all the very best in their new venture.
Today we travelled back by train to Toulouse (40mins) to pick up the car and to drive it to Castelsarrisan so on the way stopped off at one of the major supermarket chains called Carrefour’s who you would have seen much signage of as one of the major sponsors of the Tour de France. These supermarkets are superb so we shopped till we dropped or at least the bank balance did, however, we are fully vitalled for the next week at least.
After unloading we decided to motor to Moissac which is only some 8 kms from Castelsarrasin to meet the Capitaneries who will be looking after us for the winter period. They are an English couple, Iain and Kaz who seem to be very friendly and helpful and he is also a mechanic with a strong leaning in marine electrics so this could be of real value. The port is very nice and we believe we will be very happy here over winter so today we moved “Somewhere” down from Castelsarrasin which took 3 hours as there were 7 locks to negotiate but arrived in good spirit and here we are rested and relaxed and can explore the town over the next few days before we go towards Valence d’Agen which is the prune capitol of the world. We actually called there in 2008 while looking for MV “Whio” which is a Max Carter 20m barge built in New Zealand and shipped over for a syndicate of owners and while in the area we had the opportunity to visit her and to meet some of the Kiwi owners and this visit was another reason why we chose this way of life. It was only a brief stay then so we will sure make up for that this time around as it offers a lot to see and do.
Locks for the season: 142