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

The weather is beautiful, clear azure skies and very hot, in the 90s Fahrenheit, and it’s a heat wave. The air conditioner is taken out of storage and turned on for the first time this year. Despite sunscreen and hats we tan thoroughly within a couple of days so Rob rigs a canopy above the back deck to create some shade.

BeziersJune on the Canal du Midi is humming with holidaymakers from all over the world; at the Seven Locks of Foncerannes near Beziers about 21 boats wait to ascend and the last boat has a few hours of waiting before he gets his turn. Beziers supposedly has electricity and water at the quay near the city so we tie up to moor for the night. After the boat is plugged in I notice someone has scribbled on the electric box “Forget it!”. A look inside confirms the verdict: the interior is gutted and empty. A walk along the rest of the dock reveals that all the boxes are useless despite their new looking exterior.

On the last visit Beziers didn’t appear to have the same conviviality as the other towns along the Midi and this just re-enforces the impression. So after leaving for another town to moor the next lock keeper is asked what happened? “Betises” is the French word for “stupid things” that he says happened to the moored boats, so the VNF just took out the electric to discourage overnighters from staying. Why Beziers? Nobody knows.

So the next stop is Villenueve, a friendly place with all the conveniences in working condition. The electric is actually provided by a campground for a small fee. French campgrounds are extremely well run and this one is particularly so. Mercedes and other high-end vehicles are amongst those who drive through the gates of “Les Berges du Canal” (The Canal Banks) where they pay about ten euros per day to enjoy a beautiful new swimming pool and vacation in a peaceful and pretty tree filled park complete with little bungalows in case you didn’t bring a tent. There’s a man made beach for volleyball, a sauna and evening soirees. Lots of kids and dogs frolic about as well as ducks and geese; Nikita is constantly enthralled with entertainment.

But they don’t have Internet access yet. So when the cheerful manager, Christian, is asked where to check email he graciously offers his secretary’s computer. She’s a bit startled at first but is also a sweetheart and helps to log on. Even though I have to print out several pages and stay about a half an hour (during her lunch) they won’t accept any payment for the service. So here is the website address for a great vacation:

It’s a good thing we are here, because the following day all transportation services are on strike again and the ‘grevistes” (strikers) mean business. ‘Black Tuesday’ everyone has warned not to expect anything but the most basic of transport services, including the lock keepers. So no canal travel on the Midi. But this is not the end of it: Black Tuesday turns into almost a week of no locking through. Inexplicably there is minimal bus and train service but the lock after Villenueve doesn’t open once in four days. Oo-La-La is managing fine and we explore the quaint village of Poitragnes to wait it out.

But the sad hire boats have lost their week of exploring the canal. Many of them are French and one lady in particular goes out every morning to harass the lock keeper who leaves in his car to attend a meeting instead of opening the lock. This Madame is quite irate and gives him a daily lecture about ‘holding us hostage’ but he is unperturbed. Eventually the boaters that are trapped on each side of the lock meet and let off steam by cursing the strike and hoping that all the locks get automated so they won’t have a job anyway. Luckily this is a rare occurrence, actually the first of its kind on the canal. Hopefully the last.

AgdeSaturday morning the locks finally open and they set everyone free. Oo-La-La cruises through the round lock of Agdes and turns onto the Herault River off of the Canal du Midi; its time to paint the bottom of the boat and change the anodes at Chantiers Allemande, a highly recommended boatyard.

Mike, Dan & RobThe Herault is a lovely and very mild river. There is little current as we cruise by the numerous sidewalk cafes, restaurants and ancient buildings. At Chantiers Allemande there are new friends: Danielle and Michael of sailboat Pegasus are also in the yard to paint their black boat white. They emailed us from the USA a year and a half ago on the suggestion of mutual buddy Clyde, of Key West. Michael plays a mean guitar and sings as well so the first evening in the yard turns into a really great time.

Boatyard PartyCoincidentally, others we have met before are also here; Julian of narrowboat “Santanna” is painting the bottom of his boat, Chris and Ivor are stepping the mast on “Cariad” and Arend of “Convivio” passes through. So there is a great atmosphere of sharing tools, paint and advice. One night everyone gets together for a potluck and we meet Steve and Dierdre of “Raffa” who will travel in company with Pegasus along the coast of Spain.

Marlane on the beachAfter working hard each day, the reward is walking about 15 minutes to the beautiful beach of Grau d’Agde to take a swim and shower in the excellent public facilities. Then beckons the temptation of all the great seafood restaurants serving oysters, shrimp and fish. One in particular is incredibly good: Poum-Poum is set on the water and for 12 Euros serves a three-course seafood lunch to die for. Also, in the town of Agde not far away, the Restaurant de la Promenade serves fresh oysters, 12-15 for six Euros.

Marlane & OystersFinally the boat is painted and looks beautiful so its time to rock ‘n’ roll and get out of the yard. All the sailboaters have left for Spain, and Santanna has already started his trip up the Rhone River in his narrowboat. We are following him, a tremendous irony, following in the wake of a narrowboat up the Rhone River.

Marlane - EtangThe wind is blowing hard and the Etang (salty lake) de Thau has white caps on it. Crossing over is a bit bumpy and Nikita expresses her dismay a couple of times but finally settles down to accept the pitch and roll of the boat. Mooring for the next couple of days is in Palavas, a beach town where we watch boat jousters knock each other off like knights on horses, and then the village of St. Gilles. Just outside of St. Gilles is a huge lock that releases vessels onto Le Petit Rhone (The Little Rhone) which continues to Arles and The Rhone River itself.

Jousters At Arles there is a waterside gas station to fill up on fuel and moorings on a convenient pontoon not far from town. In company is a gorgeous yacht, “La Bella Lisa” owned by Gre and Jop from Holland who invite us onboard to enjoy a wine and cheese happy hour that stretches into dinnertime and beyond. Their hospitality and great cheer is memorable.

Gre_jopLeaving Arles the next day puts Oo-La-La on the Rhone River. The current is palpable, but we are making an average of five knots, so progress is good to the city of Avignon. It’s June 21, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year so all over Europe everyone is prepared to party all night. Avignon has prepared musical venues in dozens of places all over the city and we stay up very late enjoying the wild street scene and variety of music.

AvignonAvignon is a beautiful and ancient place and several days are passed in view of their famous bridge that has been immortalized in song and dance. But the task of crawling up the Rhone looms ahead and so Avignon is left behind for the picturesque village of Viviers and the first of several river locks to come.

AvignonThe Rhone River is caught after the lock of St. Gilles at Kilometer 299 and the navigable section ends in the city of Lyon at Kilometer marking number One. So almost three hundred kilometers of river travel lies ahead. If the current and weather hold up (meaning no rain) we should be okay. Big black and white signs announce the kilometer number on the bank to correspond with the river guide.

Big LockRiver locks are immense. The Bollene Lock, for example, is 23 meters deep and so the bollards move with the rising (or falling) water enabling the boater to moor without climbing a ladder to the top. The moving bollards create an eerie sound, like whale calls. Sometimes there is another pleasure boat to lock through with; other times one of the gigantic barges will come along. They take priority so pleasure boats just have to wait if one is coming up. The Rhone River is very different from the Canal du Midi – wide, with mountains in the distance, the architecture slowly transforms from the provencal clay barrel tile roofs to the peaked colorful enamel painted ones of Burgundy. River cruisers ply the waters as well; they are hundreds of feet long and carry about 200 passengers.

AndanceIn Lyon the navigable Rhone ends in the center of the city. Beyond the city center the water is too shallow for anything but very small craft. So Oo-La-La makes a U-turn in Lyon to go onto the River Saone: she has completed a big mission successfully and traveled UP the Rhone river!

Adge - BeautyIn France summer means music concerts and festivals so we celebrate in Macon, with the hottest French band, Alexis HK, five handsome guys who sing and play original tunes on guitar, accordian, bass, drums and harmonica. The weather is much cooler now, the evenings are breezy and the days full of fresh puffy clouds that decorate the evening sky. Goodbye Provence, welcome to Burgundy.

.....on to July


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