Sunday, 14 May 2017

French Holiday Part 7 - Marseillette to Bram

Monday 4th July 2016
Marseillette to Trèbes
9 Kilometres, 3 locks

There were to be no locks until we reached the triple staircase at Trèbes.  We were about to set off at 09:05 when a large boat went past, so we waited 10 minutes before we set sail.  We caught up with them after a while as they were much slower than we were.  Thankfully they pulled over for a break and we were able to continue at our own pace.  I hasten to add we were well within the speed limit of 8kph. 

The sky was incredibly blue today, but there was still a breeze when we set off, so light fleeces were required.

By 10:25 we were approaching the locks at Trèbes.  There was one boat moored waiting, but not right by the lock, so we moved ahead of them, moored up and I went up to have a look.  This is yet another well tended lock.


There were four boats waiting to go down, the first one went in on this side and left a huge amount of space, 

Only leaving room for this boat with floating patio to join the boat on the other side.  We were surprised that the lock keeper did move the above boat forward.

At 11:00 we were heading into the lock with a mad rush of boats moving behind us.  By this time there were 5 of us waiting.  

Three of us made it.

This lady had hurt her back so the éclusier did step in to lend a hand.  Now I thought that a knotted hanky on your head was a thing of British seaside postcards, but maybe when you are French and the hanky is red it is okay?!  

I mentioned PK (kilometre markings) a while back and said we had never seen anything other than on the map.  Well now we are almost at the end of the trip Chris noticed the PK indications on the lock notice board (top right)!!

Out the other end to find at least five or six boats waiting to go down – we timed it well as this is a very busy set of locks and can be a bottle neck.

We were moored by midday in the Le Boat basin in, had paid our dues, filled up with water, connected to electricity and put the air conditioning on and 

we went across the other side of the canal for a beer and a light tapas lunch with a great view of our boat – a somewhat easier mooring than when we were here last time – no more climbing over the back rail to get on and off.

Some four hours after we moored a Le Boat employee asked us to move (we were put in position by one of their employees in the first place), so we now stern in again, but still have access to the quay along the side of the boat.  The only problem is we are now being battered by the breeze!  We hired with Le Boat in northern France some years ago and we were not that impressed then (the boat was tired and worse still we had booked and paid for a one way trip only to find when we got there that the information had not come through, so we had to return to our start point) and they don’t seem to be covering themselves in glory down here either.


Today is the first day that we have been uncomfortably hot and sweaty.  Yes I know I am supposed to glow, Chris to perspire and it is only pigs that sweat – well today I am definitely living up to my maiden name of Gammon!  Thank heavens for a good supply of ice cold water.

Having been for a short wander round the town, done a little bit of shopping and posted a couple of cards we headed back to the boat for a quiet afternoon.  We were both taken by this Art Deco style Marie (town hall) which we missed last time, possibly because there were cars parked around it.  We had hoped to find the church which apparently is noteworthy for its 325 wooden beams, but it was just too hot.  

We ate our dinner on the back deck and just as we were about to get our bowl of fruit I felt the first spot of rain.  In everything went closely followed by us!  The heavens opened, the sky lit up and the thunder erupted.  It was fairly short lived (and much needed), but we guess it did some damage as the pompier (fire men) raced along the street with the blues and twos going.  Only one other thing of note this evening – the peace was shattered by loud panicky screams.  We looked out to see a young lad of around 7 or 8 in the water along with a man.  Whether the boy fell or was pushed we will never know, but whichever it was he was not a happy chap.  He was safely retrieved and returned to dry land and the man continued to enjoy a swim.  Very cooling I am sure, but I do wander if he knows just what goes into the water from all the boats?  The toilets have no holding tank – it just all goes straight into the canal!

Tuesday 5th July
Trèbes to Carcassonne
13 Kilometres, 5 locks
We have friends who live in Spain and many a time she has complained about ‘dirty rain’ and having to clean the patio and windows.   Well we now know exactly what she means – our boat was mostly a lovely cream colour, but this morning it had developed a bad case of freckles!  


 We left Trèbes at 08:45 after the initial morning rush.  We met this hotel boat coming out of one of the locks – they really are very large, but never seem to have many passengers!


You can really see the damage the cancer does to the plane trees – definitely a battle they are still waging.


Then we came to the three locks at Fresquel which look quite impressive from below.  The éclusier is safely tucked away in the little box to the right of the house.  We had a green light as we approached, so Chris dropped me off and made his way into the lock.  So far so good, but we were still securing the boat when whoosh the paddles opened!  Thankfully we were okay, but I would have preferred a couple of minutes more before the action started!  

There is a short pound between the bottom lock and the second lock (bottom of a double staircase).  There were two boats in the lock above us, Chris moved out of the bottom lock towards the right expecting the two boats in the second lock to move to their right and enter the lock we had just left.  Well they did move to the right, but as I walked round a gentleman from one of the two descending boats came towards me waving his arms and shouting.  I was not sure what he was saying, but we think it might have been ‘patience’.  He seemed to want to move his two boats to the side, moor up whilst he thought we should wait in the bottom lock until they were tied up and then move through!  There was room enough for two hotel boats to pass in complete safety never mind us and two cruisers!!  We got through in complete safety and it was as they tried to enter their lock when the fun began (well for the spectators at least!).  The first boat proceeded when there was a shout – one of the crew had fallen in (you can just see a head and an arm stretching up at the stern on the boat)!  She was retrieved; the boat was eventually moved against the side and the second boat joined them.  We can only assume the victim fell because the boat bumped against the side and unbalanced her.  The lock keeper was presumably keeping a good eye on what was going on as he did not fill our lock until she was safely back on the boat.  We were nearly full before the other two boats were both secure and ready to descend!  I am very glad we did not have to share a lock with them, but it was fun to watch!


We had been the only boat going up in all the locks we did today until we reached the last one before Carcassonne when we were joined by the trip boat.

What were they all taking photos of?

This

In the UK on the canals it is sometimes hard to get away from traffic noise.  This road is the nearest we got to a motorway in the entire trip – the N161 into Carcassonne.  

Then past the Medieval Cité and on into Carcassonne.

As advised when we were here at the beginning of the trip, we had phoned a few days ahead to book a mooring below the lock this time as we would be against the side rather than stern in as we had been above the lock.  We wondered whether it would work and if it did how easy it would be to know where we should stop.  There was no problem!

An good mooring and easy to get on and off.

We had thought about getting the bus up to the Medieval Cité, but it was not that warm with spits of rain around, so we decided against it as we can visit in the car from Bize Minervois.  We had a light lunch and went for a wander.  The town square that had the market last time we were here was transformed.  There were cafés all around the square that now had tables, chairs, sunshades and diners.  A rather splendid scene, but one I failed to capture!

I think I was too absorbed by this – such an efficient way of moving house/office.  We saw similar in Amsterdam once, but have never seen anything like it in the UK.


There were also signs of what is about to pass through this region in the next few days.

We went back to the boat for a quiet afternoon – well that is what we hoped for, but we discovered why our ‘great mooring’ was not so great – it is very noisy.  The bridge behind us is a rail bridge and the station is just across the other side of the canal.  The road and train noise were manageable, but an almost continual ‘Madame Bing Bong’ (as we christened her) – the station announcer drove us round the bend!  



To escape the noise for a while we returned to the square in the evening for dinner, but somehow the atmosphere was not the same – a place for lunch not dinner.  We did, however, have a good meal.  Chris had a Caesar Salad whilst I opted for a Thai salad that was very interesting and one I will try to replicate if I can – shredded white and red cabbage, grated carrot, tomato, chicken, crevettes and peanuts with a soy, lemon and ginger dressing.  It was delicious. NB - it is almost a year later I have still not got around to trying this - yet!

Wednesday 6th July 2016
Carcassonne to Villesquelande
12 kilometres, 5 locks

We survived the night, but it was rather noisy – above the lock is the place to moor in Carcassonne.  This was definitely our worst mooring.  We did some house work in the cool first thing and headed off around 10:30.  

 The boats coming down the Carcassonne lock had some clever ideas of how to dry the laundry.

Out of Carcassonne through the imposing bridge

We got to below the double staircase at La Lande without anything of note and had to stop there as it was lunchtime. Not the easiest of moorings – we had to deploy the gangplank for the first and last time.

Very close there was a bar in the shade advertising snacks and crêpes – an unscheduled meal out, but it looked so inviting.  Foolishly we ordered a drink before asking for the menu – they only served full meals and sweet crêpes – we had hoped to have either a crocque monsieur or a savoury crêpe.  We had to be ready when the lock opened at 13:30 so we opted for a crêpe suzette citron.  Sadly the worst crêpe either of us has ever had!  

At the top of Lalande locks there is this rather lovely sign. Another reason for more crew – I needed someone to go round the other side to see where else the signs point to!

We had hoped to find some shade to moor up for the night as it was very hot, however, it was not to be.  We moored near a village called Villesquelande

The only bit of shade had been taken by a narrow boat.

Still there were some bushes affording shade for me, my book and my chair with a great view. 

It is a wonderfully peaceful place with the only sounds being the birds in the trees, the odd ‘faster, higher’ from children around the corner who had constructed a tyre swing beside the canal and the occasional passing cyclist.  Bliss.

We enjoyed dinner on the stern deck with plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.


Just to round the evening off this chap came past! A novel way to travel.

Thursday 7th July 2016
Villesquelande to Bram
12 kilometres, 1 lock

What a wonderful peaceful night we had and a lovely slow start in the morning as we such a short journey to do with just the one lock and we were not expected in Bram until after 3pm.  After a leisurely breakfast we walked into the village to find the shop which was much bigger than we had expected. Our only purchases were bread and croissants, but it allowed us to look at this village.

We did wonder why someone has painted over the ‘V’?

There really was not a lot to see.  There is a certain charm to the place


There is a restaurant, but it eluded us and the only other point of interest is the Musée de la Chevlerie, but we did not feel the need to part with 12€ for a guided tour in French, especially as we already know quite a bit about the history of the Cathares.  It does seem a funny place to have such a museum, but we can only assume that people do come and visit.

Now this road name just demanded a google search – which confirmed that it was the date of the ceasefire after 8 years of the war with Algeria.  Why here in this village we have no idea.

So it was back to the boat for lunch before setting sail for the last time this trip at 13:50 and oh boy was it hot!  

We passed another hotel boat that appeared to have no passengers, however the table was laid for dinner for five or six, so they were either out or having a siesta – the latter would have been the most sensible as I am sure their A/C is a lot better than ours which is worse than useless.  

I have to say it was a good spot to stop.

We just had one lock to do that had an ancient piece of farm equipment which we both missed on the way east – it had then been our first lock and we were probably too traumatised trying to get off the boat etc to notice anything around us!

And a very helpful éclusier who, after helping us, retreated to the shade of a tree. I was very envious.

He did have a little dog as his assistant who, despite the heat, was insistent on a game of ball.  I failed to capture her I am afraid.  On the subject of dogs we have seen a lot and even though no one picks up after their dogs there is not a lot of mess all over the place.  Also this little dog was only the second we saw who was female – all the rest were un-neutered males.

It was so hot we got our ‘neck coolers’ out.  These were given to us by a friend and fellow blogger, Brenda from nb Jannock.  This was the first time we have ever used them and it won’t be the last – they really work, so thank you Brenda I think you saved the day for us today.

You will have to believe me, but Bram is right at the end, so our trip was nearly over.  It took a good 15 minutes to actually arrive after I took this photo. 

And so here we are moored up and the trip is over.  

Priorities must be obeyed – as soon as we were moored we went to the quay side restaurant where we had lunch the day before we set off nearly three weeks ago - it was a beer for Chris and a Perrier water fro me.  I also thought I would have a sorbet to try and help cool me down, however they only did ice cream – the salted caramel was to die for!

We had a very quiet afternoon reading as it was just too hot to do anything else.  Dinner was enjoyed on the back deck watching all the diners enjoying their meals.  We had a table booked for the next night.  It seems to be very popular with the locals which is always a good sign.

The man behind the bar in green is the patron.  If the meal we had at the start of the trip is anything to go by we are in for a good time tomorrow. 

Friday 8th July
Bram

A day of packing and cleaning - oh joy, but it had to be done.  The meal was brilliant and the end of our trip was marked with yet another stunning sunset.

  Summary

Did we enjoy it?  Resoundingly YES.  This was our holiday of a lifetime, but we need another lifetime as we want to go again in a few years time!  We have learnt a lot.  We got the time of year right, but the boat was wrong.  We will have a fibre glass cruiser (probably from Locaboat), hopefully we will have more crew and we want to do a one way trip from Lattes (near the Med) to Negre (east of Toulouse).

Locaboat at Argens Minervois had said we could look at a couple of boats on a Saturday which is their changeover day.  We asked Le Boat and Nicolls, but they both declined to let us look at any boats and just handed over a brochure and told us to look on the website.   You can only see so much on a website however good the photos are.  They really are not endearing themselves to either of us.  

We have a list of things we need to bring with us which includes knicker elastic.  I am sure it is not really called that any more, but if you are of a certain age you will know what I mean.  So why on earth do we need elastic?

To stop the guide book pages blowing over to the wrong page as we motor along!  The book was supplied with the boat - we did buy a copy when we booked the trip which was very useful for forward planning, but this ring bound, laminated copy was definitely the one to use whilst on the move.  They also supplied a book with all sorts of useful information about where to stop, shops, restaurants and places of interest as well as a boat manual.

I bought some gloves in Trèbes on our way to Capestang on day two of our trip?  Well they served me well, but are definitely only a one holiday pair of gloves!  Probably only one week if I am honest!  There are actually two holes – this one at the thumb of my right hand and the other along the side of my right hand ring finger.

Looking at them both you can see how many of the white grippy bits I wore away.  So our locking gloves for rope handling will also be packed next time.  Another lesson – fewer clothes – it all dries so quickly it makes for a fast turn around – well it works as long as you don’t hang a t-shirt on the rail by the air conditioning vent – I managed to turn one of Chris’s t-shirts from pink to a fetching shade of rust!

So watch this space in a few years time!  If we have a larger crew we may be able to do more of this 
However I rather suspect that neither of us would enjoy sitting around when there is work to be done, so we will be fine on our own - we will just have a smaller boat.  We can do longer days than we did and will be able to 'wild moor'.  

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