Follow the ongoing travels and adventures of Rob and Marlane as they cruise the Canals of the UK and Europe aboard their narrow boat 'Oo-La-La', read the monthly account of their travels and view photos documenting those travels. Follow the adventures of Rob and Marlane as they cruise the canals of England and Europe aboard their narrow boat OO-LA-LA
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Travelogue: France - 2002

France Map - showing our current area of travels, click to view larger version
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(All photographs can be viewed at a larger size by clicking on the image)

Port St. Sauveur is located near the center of Toulouse, a couple of blocks from an impressive park called Le Grand Rond (The Big Circle). From there the streets fan out to the different districts of the city. It is a very convenient spot to moor for the winter during which time there are ‘chomages’ or work being done on the locks. This means that there can be no traffic on the canal until March and we are basically stuck here until then. So as we did in London last year, we will spend the winter in Toulouse and it looks like a great place to be.

OO-LA-LA, SauveurLocated in the south central France, between the Garonne River and the Canal du Midi, Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France. It is also called La Ville Rose for all the pinkish-orange stonework in the buildings and on the sidewalk. The buildings are mostly barrel-tiled roofs, and most of the city was built in the 17th and 18th century. This makes for great walks through narrow, romantic streets. It’s also a busy city, always full of people and events. The marina is very reasonably priced, as is the norm for marinas in France, and we are plugged into electricity and water. There is also a gate for security and it feels like we are living on an island in the middle of the canal.

BirkThe first day we arrive, we introduce ourselves to our neighbor. Birk is from Norway and a jazz fan like us; he lives aboard his boat ‘Bird’, a tribute to famed jazz musician Charlie Parker. A citywide jazz festival is in full swing when we arrive and we chat about music; Birk is ahead of us on the scene and fills us in to some local venues.

The first week in Toulouse there is a traveling fair in the Grand Rond and this makes this popular spot even more crowded and festive than normal. It wasn’t until it left a week later that we could really see the lush gardens, statues, pavilions and fountains in this refined city park.

Wine is big business and a great excuse to socialize. An excursion boat, Le Capitole, is run by one of our neighbors in the marina and he invites us to enjoy a ‘degustation’ (free wine tasting) aboard the boat on a brilliant crystal clear day on the Garonne River. We attend with Birk and have a fabulous time trying wines and learning about them as we cruise the beautiful Garonne. Our host is originally from Britain, but he speaks perfect French, and is very entertaining.

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Music at the market Roasting Chestnuts Olive stand * *

During the weekend we discovered that Saturday and Sunday are big market days. The Saturday market is only fruits and vegetables while the Sunday market is an assortment of vendors selling baskets, sweaters, cheeses, wine, flowers, local pottery, books, artwork, etc. It is also a venue for street artists to perform. The first Sunday we watched a talented juggler along with a couple of hundred other people. Then an acrobatic troupe of three young guys came along and constructed scaffolding in time to some rap music and then somersault and dance on it. It is an entertaining Sunday morning and we don’t get back until around 1:30PM.

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Market street Market Tarts * *

The weather is extremely variable with crisp sunny days mixed in the foggy rainy ones. It makes it difficult to dress for the day since we never know what to expect. The weather is very similar to Northern California coast south of San Francisco.

Just after we install ourselves at the marina it is great to see Charles and Michael from Paris. We rendezvous at the Place Capitole, a huge square surrounded by elegant cafes. While sitting at the Café Albert an enormous demonstration bursts into the square. Banners held high, TV cameramen in tow; a group of demonstrators makes a lot of noise about their cause. Fireworks explode, confetti fills the air (I suppose to make a point about something) and conversation ceases until the uproar subsides. We never did find out what it was all about. From the news on the radio, it sounds like there is a strike about something in France, by some group, everyday and the French Revolution is still a work in progress.

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Riot Riot *

We all meet up later to dine at VG, an elegant restaurant that also has an artist exposition. It’s a great find, especially on a rainy Monday night when most of the restaurants are closed or empty. A French artist is in company and we are treated to champagne and hors d’oeurves while enjoying a collection of original paintings of Morocco. The crowd is in a festive mood and upstairs the restaurant is completely full and buzzing with a merry sound. We’re lucky to get a good table by the window overlooking Place St. George. The food is excellent and so we have a great time catching up; Charles has just made his acting debut in the movie ‘Tadpole’ with Sigorney Weaver.

Some of the most beautiful and creative shop windows are in Toulouse. The locals take pride in their fantastic array of individually owned boutiques and they look like a work of art in themselves. We’re looking forward to redoing the curtains and accenting the boat interior with some of the colorful Provencal fabric to be found.

The days are getting cooler, so after a final brunch on our ‘conservatory’ it is time to take it down and batten the hatches. Now that it is down, the boat looks more nautical and sleek, but we’ll have to wait until Spring to enjoy dining al fresco again.

Port St. Sauveur is a stopping point for boats coming in from the ocean, through Bordeaux and down towards the Mediterranean before the ‘chomages’ closes the canal. Since it is about to close around the 8th of November, a flurry of boats pass through, eager to make the passage. Many of them bear the wear and tear of the ocean and the tides; one boat in particular draws a lot of curiosity.

It is a 40-foot wood vessel, completely open with no interior. It has a distinctly Viking look; a boat that one would normally consider for day fishing but it does have a small boatman’s cabin at the stern. The captain is a young Scandinavian and looks a bit like Brad Pitt. He has traveled from Sweden to the Isle of Man where he lived for three years. He and his crewmember have just made passage from the Isle of Man to the Canal du Midi and are intent on spending the winter on the coast of Spain. In Bordeaux, the tides caught him unaware and the prow of his vessel was smashed against the dock. He is working in a great hurry to make repairs for he only has a few days left before the locks will close. We are all in awe of his ability to sail this boat so far and through such rough seas but he is sanguine and modest. He gets the job done and takes off early one day so it looks like he will get to his Spanish coastline for the cold season.

A variety of other sailboats also cruise through, mostly young travelers out for adventure on the open sea; thus they travel on the Canal du Midi also known as the Canal Entre Deux Mers (the canal between two seas). It’s definitely not the sort of traffic we would normally see on the canals. They have the weather-beaten look of riding out wild and salty conditions and always look relieved to find a safe port for a night or two. We know, we’ve been there.

SkeletonOn our walks around town we have been passing by a construction site for a new metro line. However, something is different about this site. The bulldozers are still and there are no hard hats. One day we take a peek over the edge to see about a dozen people bent over in extreme concentration, carefully brushing various parts of the ground; as our eyes study the scene we recognize two skeletons, completely intact, lying in what look like old graves. It is an archeological dig, apparently an old settlement was found whilst breaking ground for the metro. The photo shows this remarkable scene in detail.

DragonOne doesn’t need to look at a dig to see old Toulouse (which used to be named Tolosa). Just observing the present day buildings, I spot details such as a dragon’s head used on the end of a drainpipe. It is beautifully cast bronze. There are several on this particular building, but many are half buried in the sidewalk which has risen since the building was constructed. This head has not yet been buried in time and I manage to get a good photo of it during a moment of bright sunshine.

Beaujolais NouveauThe end of November marks a national event in France: the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau. But we are not in the Beaujolais area, so here it is simply called the arrival of the vin nouveau as the local vineyards bring out Gaillacs, Cote du Rhones and Minervois ‘new’ wines, amongst others. It is not our favorite type of wine, but we enjoy the street scenes of people trying it on the sidewalk in front of various wine cellars. The cellars simply put out a table with a blackboard announcing that the ‘vin nouveau est arrive!’ along with several different bottles and a box of glasses. Anyone is invited to sample, and they do so, along with plenty of commentary and discussion.

Marlane sampling the wines!The next weekend we visit the Salon des Vins, a three day event where we meet with the owners of vineyards selling their wine and explaining the different qualities of the region and ‘cepages’ or grapes. About a hundred vineyards are represented and we learn a lot about the industry just chatting with them. There are also champagne and cognac makers along with a booth from Australia called ‘Kangaroo Wine’. It is actually popular with the attendees who seem to harbor no resentment to the intruder and in fact warmly praise the wine, which is very good. We stick with the French wine and find some excellent Cote du Rhone de Villages, 1994. Red and rose wines predominate in this region; there are very few whites, which are normally found further north in chillier climates.

Rob with the cognacs!It is the end of November and the air smells of wood burning fireplaces; fog coats the canal many chilly mornings. People often ask about the boat in cold weather; there is a diesel heater on board, our first, and it keeps us toasty and warm. The streets are festooned with elegant holiday lights and we’re looking forward to the winter season in La Ville Rose.

Foggy day We wish everyone the Best of Holidays and a Happy New Year.

.....on to December


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