Barge Trip End
Beziers Travel Blog› entry 20 of 29 › view all entries
May 27th, 1997 – by: jsbuck1
The next day was fairly uneventful. We stopped at the famous bridge where the canal goes over a stream, built in 1686, it was the first of its kind. We were ready to be impressed but were underwhelmed. On to a closed wine store. Linda and Sage saved the day by walking back into Trebes where they found a lively little town and they stocked up on goodies. Evening found us in Marseillette.
Before we had begun, I set up a schedule of where we have to be each night in order that we would do about the same number of kilometers each day, which I calculated to be about twenty.
What was not “on schedule” were the bikes we had rented. Only three worked at all and they weren’t great, but the fourth didn’t really have its rear wheel attached and we had no tools. I had checked the bikes when we picked them up, but I’m afraid, a little too cursorily. So, we sent the bike riders from the center of town to follow restaurant signs to find the best one. There was a restaurant in town but it looked like a pizza joint. I found one at the other end of town and made reservations for four and bicycled back to the others. Dawn and I cycled and Linda and Sage walked to the place and had another great dinner.
The next morning we followed signs for a cave (wine cellar) to do some wine tasting but were unable to find it so we headed out for our next destination. Our lunch spot was decided for us by the lunch time closing hour of all the locks, from 12:30 to 1:30. This is, of course, France and nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of the sacred lunch. We headed for the nearest town which turned out to be Puicheric. It was the first part of the lesson “If the locks close for lunch, so does everything else in a small town in Southern France with no cafés, restaurants or bars.” Here they are serious about their lunch hour, not reopening until four or five o’clock. It makes sense. You open up in the morning so that people can buy things for breakfast and lunch and then you open up in the evening so people can buy things for dinner. You don’t sit around all day in your store for no reason. So the village was deserted. Life is not Disney World. No one had hired them to be “ a cute photo op” for us and they weren’t. They just went home for lunch.
So we made our meal back on the boat and continued on our way, arriving in Homps when it was time to stop for the day. We stopped short of about the first ugly thing we saw on the canal, a new metal blue pedestrian bridge that crossed the canal to a new marina built by one of the boat rental companies. It was just a mooring pond cut into the canal and had only a trailer as an office. Later, I found out that the canal had recently been made a national monument and I surmised that the marina had been built to beat a deadline on making changes to the canal and they would add the buildings later. A case of getting a grandparent.
Linda, Sage and I went off looking for a market and followed signs to what really was a seven eleven on the highway. There were people putting gas in their cars, traffic was racing by and we felt as if we had been time warped of couple of centuries forward from our eighteenth century existence. We walked back into the village and found a mom and pop grocery where it looked as if they had been selling vegetables for a half a century but still couldn’t quite agree on how to do it. It was a little point and shoot without our star linguist but we did fine.
One of my favorite moments was a bike ride that I took alone along the towpath at Argens-Minervois. I went down to the next lock and then returned by riding through the vineyards as the sky was getting pink. It was a stunningly beautiful experience, perhaps made more special by my solitude.
Saturday was a short day. We traveled all of six kilometers. We had a leisurely breakfast, stopped the boat for a recommended climb up an escarpment for the view, had a leisurely picnic lunch, and when we stopped in Argens-Minervois we pulled next to a portable restaurant where I had a crankiness attack that started over a perfectly terrible landing that I made and continued with the arrival of a DJ and his loud equipment. I got over it eventually, especially as we decided to move the boat away from the music, and Dawn took me for a walk in the vineyard to show me the pink sky. Yet the intensity of my attack and my inability to control it surprised me.
Later, we gathered for wonderful paella dinner and dancing on the parking lot. I love to dance. I love to dance with Dawn. We danced to the music that we liked and sat down otherwise. Dawn and Linda danced together when Sage and I wouldn’t follow their wild ways. The place gradually filled up, some of the people we recognized from either the locks or other restaurants. A vague, small, floating community was forming even if we didn’t speak each others' language.
We had been promised “flamenco” by the woman who was running the restaurant but it never happened, except for a little canned flamenco music. I was waiting for castenets, mantillas, boots, fans and guitars to appear in the parking lot...with a lot of hot, steamy dancing. Apparently the hot, steamy part was up to us.
Sunday was a long twisting canal to Capestang made easier because by 9 AM we had gone through our last lock. We were in the “Grand Bief”, a level impoundment of water 54 kilometers long. The need to follow the topographical lines accounted for its twistiness. Dawn drove most of the afternoon. As I suspected, after five minutes she drove as well as any of us. It probably helped that I retired to the roof of the boat while she figured it out. I guess I can be a little too “helpful” at times. The view from the roof is slightly but wonderfully different. The increase in altitude is just enough to widen the perspective of the trip. I don’t remember having any revelation about this, but hey, I got to see more.
We had another wonderful dinner in a wonderful town. It was in the courtyard of a winery. I had calamari stuffed with sausage. The same family had been here since the sixteen hundreds, producing wine. The owner pointed out the wall from the middle ages that had been built on a Roman foundation. There is a lot of that in this part of the world, churches on top of churches on top of churches. I suppose it makes sense. If I was going to build a farmhouse, I might find a ruin, knock down its walls to use the stone, but certainly not go the all the work of building a foundation when there was a perfectly good one right there. I also assume that the Romans built foundations to last forever as never having heard of a Roman building falling down because of a faulty foundation.
Speaking of churches, Capestang had a church with the altar end almost solid stain glass. And it was all original, which is rare in France because of all of the religious turmoil. The bottom six feet of windows in Ste. Chappelle in Paris was destroyed by people with poles during the Revolution. It came with a very gentle man who explained it all to Dawn. Our first visit was shortened by closing time so we made another visit the next morning. We also returned to the winery to buy a couple of bottles of their product.
The church in Capestang was one of my favorites, partly because of its simplicity, but perhaps largely because of the personal guided tour I got from the old man who was its guardian. He told me all about St. Roch who was the big hero of the region, and walked all around the church, explaining what he knew about the artwork in every chapel. He asked if I was Catholic, and I felt apologetic about having to say that I was brought up Protestant. He didn’t seem to mind and said that he wished he could speak English half as well as I could speak French. He said something I have never heard before when we were looking at a painting of the Nativity. He said, “That’s Joseph, the father of Jesus.” I have never heard anyone, much less an octogenarian, French Catholic, refer to Joseph as the “father” of Jesus...what a radical idea!
Anyway, he was totally charming, and the church was big and airy enough that his typically European body odor didn’t ever quite exceed the level of acceptability. I suppose we Americans are fastidious in some respects such as frequency of showers and use of deodorant. Stephen and I remember a very beautiful young Czech woman, for example, who managed the tourist information office at the castle in Prague, whose aroma made it almost impossible to hang out long enough in the office to read the map! Ah, the vagaries of custom and culture!
Monday is our last travel day. The long windy trip to Capestang had recovered our 6 kilometer day, so we had an easy trip with only the Malpas tunnel to provide a challenge. Sage handled it with ease. Only a 150 meters long, but built in such a way as not to provide very good sight lines of oncoming traffic. It’s a one-way tunnel.
Before the tunnel, we had stopped at a three star restaurant, but it was closed. Probably luckily for us as it was pretty pricey. As we sat on the side of the canal, which is becoming more and more Mediterranean as we move along, we had a small conversation with a boy on the bow of a boat moving up the canal. He was practicing his English on us and I have never heard everyone of the syllables of conversational pleasantries that way I heard them come out of his mouth. Sage matched him as best he could, syllable for enunciated syllable.
So suddenly the barge trip is over. Dawn, Linda and Sage had a last dinner together. I pass on it to rest my digestive tract. Then it is a flurry of finding, packing, cleaning, reporting, negotiating, paying balances, breakfasting, taxiing and then we are in front of the train station at Bézier giving hugs good-bye all around as the taxi driver surveys all, waiting to take Linda and Sage on to their rental car.
Linda and Sage, thank you and good luck on the rest of your stay in France, and now you know something of the truth gap between trip and travelogue.
Dawn and I missed our train by ten minutes and had an hour and a half wait for the next one. We put it to good use in getting money out of machines, buying tickets, etc. Finding a wall outlet into which to plug the laptop, which had been stored powerless in a compartment in the barge for the past ten days, I began to catch up on the writing which had been going along as jottings in a notebook. Before long the train came along, and we began the “Tale of Two Cities, Montpellier and Arles” . . .
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