Sunday, January 30, 2011


Christmas to 30 January 2011

Following a relaxed but really enjoyable Christmas Day which consisted of the usual cooked breakfast and exchange of gifts, we had agreed with two other couples to share Christmas Dinner duties so Celia and George from “Snow Goose” prepared an entrĂ©e of prawns and lots of nibbles and Rosy and David off “Suki” cooked a magic main course of chapon (large fowl) with all the vegetable trimmings while Rhonda and I did the desserts of mince tarts, chocolate log ice cream etc plus Celia added her special plum pudding which was entering its first birthday from storage. Everything was really delicious. This was followed by a range of delightful cheeses etc. What a great meal and as usual I have to admit we probably all ate far too much but it was so enjoyable and one we shall remember for a long time. So much better than going off to a restaurant which was what we had originally planned to do.

After a good sleep like over stuffed hibernating bears we walked with Harry along the canal to try to push back the effects of that great meal.

Well as they say, “time waits for no man” and how true this is and also how time slips by faster and faster every year so the New Years Eve get together at the port of Moissac was a focal point for about 12 couples who are staying at the marina as winter over residents and who gathered on Tom’s hotel barge “Easyvie” to celebrate this event. It was a beaut night of celebrating, eating and of course drinking plus we were entertained by folk singing along led in the main by George off “Snow Goose” and his dulcet tones were a leader for all particularly when singing My Way.

Rhonda's Comments: We had two guests of honour at the New Year's Eve Party - William and Kelly (should be Kate, I reckon).

At the magic time of midnight we were led into the Auld Lang Syne by a Scotty foursome who sounded out loud and clear so a really nice night was had by all. Most of us managed to stay erect which was an achievement on its own considering the amount of liquid refreshments consumed on this special evening. With the New Year celebrations now behind us we can look forward to the rest of this winter followed by a whole new cruising season.

Since the start of the year we have enjoyed most unseasonable weather by all accounts. No wind, little rain and only a slight snow drop on one day which was gone by early afternoon. It has been cold at times for sure but we have also enjoyed temperatures as high as 18 and lows to 5 below at night but nothing like what they have had in the north of France and of course Europe and the UK. I guess we can still get a change but we will take this milder weather any time that Mother Nature wishes to give it to us.

As we haven’t moved “Somewhere” since berthing up here in October, life has been at a much slower pace and in some ways we have been similar to the bears and have enjoyed a lot of hibernating or similar. Odd jobs get done but due to the outside cold, painting is really out of the question but I have drained the residue in the bilges using a borrowed Wet Vac which was just great, varnished a panel in the hall, valeted the engine room, cleaned and polished whatever needed doing and to be honest very little else.

We were forced into buying another car as the Citroen finally gave signs that it could self destruct at any time through all its electrical faults and transmission leaks so after getting a quote for €1300.00 to repair the main fault, we felt we should move on to another unit but wouldn’t you know it, we bought a Renault privately and it too has problems which are being attended to as I write this. Talk about being a dummy when it comes to buying second hand cars is concerned, I have to take the prize I guess but I am very angry that people are so ready to rip others off but as they say “let the buyer beware” so hope I have learned a lesson for all time now. God help the next seller that tries to sell me something as I am sure whatever it is will get the most thorough grilling and going over before I hand over any cash.

Well the car has been returned and seems to be just fine so fingers and legs crossed for the future. Since getting it back we have done some visits to other towns in the region and still rate this area as our favourite as it is so pretty and interesting with great farmlands and forests and wineries and orchards all on clean rolling country and plains.

Some photos of the areas visited are included in this blog which only just give the reader an idea of what is on offer. Even though it is the heart of winter it is still lovely. No wonder that so many English folk move to this region to retire and none I have spoken to have any regrets at all.

We have always wondered about the huge amounts of orchards which are now espaliered for mechanical picking but are also covered with white netting which we are told protects the fruit from bird strike and hail storms. There are thousands of hectares grown under cover like this. So similar to the way grape vines are being protected back in New Zealand but we sure aren’t used to it being strung out over the trees which are growing up to 5 meters so as you will see by the photos just how much of a structure is needed to support the trees and to carry the mesh. I would think you would need a big bank balance to be able to afford such protection but perhaps the French government is still dishing out subsidies like confetti.

During the cruising season we met a lovely couple, Pat and Malcolm Hipple who live in the outskirts of Moissac so we agreed to meet up when we were next in port. After them visiting us onboard in October they kindly asked us to visit them at their home. This we did and found that they had built themselves a beautiful home with delightful gardens up on the hills behind Moissac. Both of them are accomplished artists and they proudly hang some of their works. Pat uses paints and Malcolm with pencils and ink. The photo above is one of Pat's works and due to her ability she has been commissioned on serveral occasions to paint people's pets and animals. Malcolm's pen and ink works are of the highest quality and would grace any lounge wall. We live in envy of people with skills like they have.

As we were to celebrate our wedding anniversary last week, Rhonda had heard of a well rated restaurant some 30mins drive out of Moissac, so as it was a gorgeous day we set off for another cross country drive and eventually found this restaurant called Aubergue de Bardigues. It was the only commercial operation in this tiny country village and when we arrived it was empty and in fact looked deserted so fearing the worst we gingerly entered only to be really welcomed by the proprietor and his wife and chef and as they had seen us walking about outside with Harry, insisted we should bring him in too.

The restaurant was modern and tastefully decorated and as soon as we sat at our allocated table, water was brought for Harry and we were talked through the menu in very good English by the wife. We had a delightful meal with great service and no, we weren’t the only ones there as by the time we had our entrees, the restaurant had filled with folk from all over. It seated around 100 people so just as well we did book. Rhonda and I kept wondering that if a restaurant like this stuck so far out in the “wop wops” as we say in New Zealand and was so well patronised, why can’t so many others follow suit rather than sit with empty tables every day.

January has been a great month weather related and apart from a couple of rain showers, the sun has kept shining, the wind has been only a light breeze and the temps have varied from 3 below in the early morning to 20 degrees one day. This did not stop a skin of ice creeping along from the closed lock gates however, so with the lower water levels the canal took on a whole new look. This ice only lasted for a few days before melting away and everything returned to normal, however, we are advised that the full water flow will not restart until the 3rd March so just as well we are in this “pound” and port until then.

Also last week we were visited by a company with their state of the art rubbish removal boat so as there isn’t a lot to gain attention at this time of the year this event became a real attraction for the locals and the “boaties”. The rig was craned into the canal and with due attention from the local officials and mayor etc, it proceeded to sweep the canal with its special net showing how easy floating rubbish could be cleared which would be great but at a cost of €50,000.00 per craft I can’t see too many local councils or VNF’s buying one.

There are parts of the canal which have been closed off so the VNF marine authorities can do maintenance work on the banks etc leaving just a small creek in the centre to keep the fish alive and to stop the water becoming stagnant etc.

Rhonda's Comment: Hello there, Kaz, Ziggy, Irene and Iain. Out for an early morning walk down by the Tarn River.

We drove to Toulouse last week (3 days by boat and 1 hour by car) to where we will get the boat into a dry dock so that we can inspect the bottom and have her water blasted and re-blackened and anodes replaced if need be, so that will be an exciting start to our cruising season in April but as usual here in France, while we spoke to the VNF office and asked for a firm booking date, the contractor who carries out the blacking and so on has failed to give us a confirmed date despite promises to do so. With 2 follow up phone calls from us seeking that news, it is like the old army saying “Hurry up and wait” so that is what we will just have to do.

OK, there are some tiny signs of spring coming so we wait expectantly for the first bud burst but it cannot be too far away. In the meantime we say farewell for now wishing you all, kind regards and great boating for those lucky enough to be out on the great waterways of this country and we look forward to meeting up with so many of you over the next cruising season and to meeting so many more great folk as we travel along. To those who aren’t lucky enough to do as we have done, oh well good luck and enjoy the dreaming.

Talk to you soon.

Regards Ken, Rhonda and Harry

We do have a Postscript: We have become grandparents again. Rhys Adam Kelly was safely delivered by c-section on 26th January (Australia Day) weighing in at a very respectable 5.05kgs (11lbs)!!!!! Michelle, Tom and brother Hayden are all doing well.