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)

After a rainy start March warms up quickly and it feels like winter is finally over; spring arrives by the first week with temperatures in the high 60s. It’s glorious to walk around and sit outdoors in the sidewalk cafes again and very good news for Carnival in Toulouse.

CarnivalThe second week in March the Place Capitole turns into bedlam as it fills with thousands of people ready to party hard. Wild, brightly painted, sparkly costumes and faces parade as they sing and dance the week before Lent. There are giant costumes worn by people on stilts, parodying the mayor and other political figures. Bands carrying musical instruments try to march in time but generally fall into confusion as onlookers swarm into the parade, dancing enthusiastically with the music. It’s definitely an ‘audience participation’ event and continues way into the small hours of the morning as the parade winds all over the old town section of Toulouse.

JaneAt the local concert hall, Jane Birkin is appearing as part of her world tour for the new album called ‘Arabesque’, a collection of music by Serg Gainsbourg, France’s iconic songwriter. She just appeared on a television show and was stunningly good so it’s a ‘must see’ since the venue, Halle Aux Grains, is only a ten-minute walk away from the boat. The show is beautiful and showcases the most famous songs in this country. Despite the fact she is English, Jane is one of France’s cultural treasures and sings delightfully in French.

OO-LA-LA 3Oo-La-La is now ‘official’; her name was finally put on the transom and bow, it looks really good. Soon it will be time to get moving again. The engines were run and we thought something could be caught on the propeller. So, who you gonna call? The pompiers! (Firemen)

PompiersIn France the pompiers are used to help out in any situation and boaters use them frequently to dive under the boat if there is something on the prop or if the hull needs examination. Since they are just across the street it is easy to make a casual visit and see if they can be of assistance. Within a couple of hours three of them are alongside in a large inflatable dingy; the station captain and two divers covered from head to toe in wetsuits. Even though it’s warm outside the water is very chilly. Cheerfully they complete the job within a half an hour. To thank them for their work we present a bottle of Ricard Pastis, a popular drink in the south of France. The captain does not want to accept, but the two shivery divers do so enthusiastically.

HamburgersPeople are coming from many different countries back to their boat here in Port St. Sauveur. The first one to return and actually get out on the canal again is a family of four from Hamburg, Germany. Their little craft is only about twenty feet long at best but they obviously get the most out of her; they had a week of vacation long before any of the bigger boats even saw their owner.

DiamondsIts great fun to meet our neighbors. We enjoyed a charming soiree on board Floraposte with Patsy and Andrew Diamond from England. Their boat was built there and has a narrowboat feeling but is much wider and spacious. It’s also lovely inside and out. A Dutch couple owns Convivio, a good-looking motor-yacht with black hull and red topsides, their website is: They have already been up and down the Rhone on her so we’ll be looking for any helpful tips they have to offer.

Chateau LinardieThe third week of March the locks are officially open and the canal is back in business. The look of the marina changes suddenly with the appearance of several sailboats and an ocean going bright yellow tug. The sailboats vary tremendously in size and appearance; the smallest being a beautiful wooden wherry from England to the largest, an impressive steel yacht of Swedish origin. All of them have their masts unstepped and lying across the deck lengthwise; the bridges on the Canal du Midi are too low to accommodate any mast at all.

David MarshallOdile and Jacky invite us to attend an art opening near Gaillac in the village of Senouillac. The host is David Marshall; he has renovated an impressive estate, Chateau de Linardie, which has many different unique rooms for displaying paintings from diverse artists. The opening is a grand success; at least a couple of hundred attendees fill the gorgeous stone rooms and mill about with glasses of robust red wine in hand.

Mas De DoatIt is a good opportunity to visit Gaillac, a town well known for its wine. This is where the first vines were planted in France, back when the Romans occupied the area. Since the season is not yet fully ‘on’, we knock on the door of the family that owns the vineyard, ‘Mas de Doat’. It is a picturesque place, with an original stone bread oven and a properly chilly cave with huge vats of ‘vin ordinaire’ and AOC (Appelation Controllee, meaning a better quality than ordinary). The vat wine is sold by the liter; the proprietor himself pours it into a mylar bag with something that resembles a garden hose. It is then boxed, the same way any boxed wine in the grocery store would be. Except this is really fresh, almost bubbles on the tongue when first tasted at home. The price is low: about 80 cents a liter for ‘ordinaire’ and $1.20 for the AOC. They also have bottled wines to keep in the cellar for a few years.

NikitaThe south of France is the country’s biggest red wine producer. So there should be many more visits to these cellars in future travels. Oo-La-La will soon be continuing down the Canal du Midi toward Buzet, another wine producing town. The plan is to continue to the end of the canal and then turn around. The season is open so let the games begin.

.....on to April


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