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 - 2003

France Map - showing our current area of travels, click to view larger version
Click map to view larger version


(All photographs can be viewed at a larger size by clicking on the image)

February is the coldest month we have had so far on the water in France. Temperatures are close to freezing many days but the canal glazed over just once and very lightly. A large peniche, our neighbor Samsara, promptly broke up the ice the same day it formed. On board we keep toasty with a very effective Eberspacher diesel heater.

NabucodochonWe’re working hard at improving our French and meet regularly with interesting friends who help. Jacky, a talented artist, has taken Rob under his wing to give him special lessons at the “Nabuchodonosor”
( the name of the largest wine bottle size) wine bar (15 rue du Coq d'Inde, Toulouse) along with the owner, Roland. They are ensuring that Rob develops a strong Provencal accent along with a characteristic growl when it comes to pronouncing his ‘r’. His progress improves with each glass of Roland’s local wine from Gaillac or Buzet, wine-producing villages in this region. Roland also smokes meats in the cellar of the café; occasionally enticing aromas of spices and smoke waft up to the bistrot.

Roland - NabuDinner parties are still great fun for us and one particularly cold and stormy night we enjoy the company of Jacques, Odile, Maud and Jake. Jacques brings a delicious home made terrine. Jake, who arrives late, calls to say he is bringing a soup but there is so much food already we all say “no more!”

February also livens up with the enormous sales that occur all over France. The first two weeks of this month are dedicated to tremendous markdowns everywhere from the designer boutiques such as Yves St. Laurent and Givenchy to big department stores. Huge “Soldes” signs in the windows indicate “Sale” in French. The shopping crowds are enervated and it boosts the economy for the cafes and restaurants as well.

Which brings us back to food, always a serious matter in this country. With admiration we have observed that the local street people, the folks that panhandle small change on the same corner daily, disappear between noon and 3PM to break bread together in a plaza away from their working corner. There they have a proper meal with baguettes, cooked takeaway food and wine. It’s all very civilized, no McDonald’s for them.

Rob & Marlane NabuValentine’s Day brings out amazing confections in the chocolate shops. Elaborate heart boxes, entirely made out of chocolate, are filled with a variety of delicious goodies made with fresh cream, nuts or fruit. They come in all sizes and can get very large. The quality of the chocolate is such that they do not last long no matter how big they get.

Domi - FebruaryTo top the month off there were extremely high winds for several days in a row. Reaching speeds of 130 kilometers per hour, they create havoc all over town and on the water as well. Several unattended boats break loose from their moorings and covers that were lightweight simply get blown off and away. The canal is whipped up with white caps and small waves. We get pushed around a bit but have no real problems. Luckily there are no roof tiles on the boat or nearby; the streets have plenty of terra cotta pieces lying around. One day Domi comes by driving a small tourist boat; he drives right up to us just to have a chat. The high winds blow him about perilously and he waves goodbye as a gust gets him sideways and propels him down the canal.

During one windy night we go off to hear an incredible guitar player in a band called “Mr. Swing”. They played at Le Griffon Bistrot, a place close by the marina. While enjoying the music we make friends with one of the locals, Jose, who lives in an apartment building next to the port. He invites us over his place for a true French ‘pot-au-feu’ that is really delicious. He speaks no English at all and makes us work hard at our French, which is good.

The last day of the month, Jacky has a get together at his ‘atelier’. Odile brings a delicious selection of saucissons, hams and salamis to go with rich red wine from Gaillac. There we meet another artist, Eva Kristeva, who is also an architect. She is visiting Ireland in a month and, since she speaks no English, is exchanging beginning French lessons for English with Rob. It is touching to see so many people interested in helping out and also in learning or improving their English.

The howling wind finally stops and warm air from the south comes after it: Spring is definitely in the air. Boat owners are appearing to reclaim the water, suddenly people loaded with boxes of cleaning supplies come to scrub down the hulls and polish the windows. We are no exception and enjoy the de-winterizing process as well. It’s also time to introduce Nikita to life on deck. Every bug fascinates her and she loves playing with ropes and boxes. Sometimes her desire to be part of the scene is too much and she has to go back inside so some work can get done.

Toulouse HouseAs the weather warms we are eager to continue the voyage, but patience prevails. Although Toulouse has palm trees and the parks are still green with flowers in bloom, it is too chilly to drive the boat comfortably from the outside steering station. Toulousans promise us, however, that it will be very pleasant and comfortable by the end of March. In the meantime we are checking all systems inside and out in preparation to visit some of the smaller villages that were passed on the way up the Canal du Midi.

.....on to March 2003


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