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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
June 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: www.lesbergesducanal.com.
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
Saturday 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.
The 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.
Coincidentally, 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.
After 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.
Finally 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
The 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
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.
Leaving 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.
Avignon 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
The 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.
River 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.
In 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!
In 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