For those who don't know, the Canal du Midi is one of two canals that start at Toulouse and together link the Atlantic Ocean to the West with the Mediterranean to the East. Midi, the one heading for the Med, is supposed to be prettier (although we haven't seen much of the Canal Latéral yet) and is famous as a route for walking and cycling trips. So here was finally a chance to do something we'd been promising ourselves to do for the last couple of years.
Earlier in the week, we went looking for cycling gear - and being the cheap-arses we are we managed to spend only 17 euro for two sets of "bike-paniers"! (In fact, a panier is a basket - the English actually use the wrong word. In France these side-bags are called "sacoches".) Jazz had the bright idea to try fixing ruck-sacks on the back instead of proper bike things... and since it's the season for buying new school equipment these can be picked up for next to nothing at the moment.
So come Thursday night, we spent a slightly stressy evening fixing the bags onto the bikes and arguing about who carries what. But eventually it was all squeezed on and the bikes didn't collapse under the strain.
Friday morning we left at about ten, and had finally made it to the first lock at Castanet by lunchtime. We sometimes jogged or cycled up to here back when we were living in town, so it was a bit disappointing to have spent two hours on the road yet feel like we hadn't really gotten anywhere. Anyway, large beers at the cafe helped us to feel better about ourselves!
After another couple of hours, we passed our previous record distance at
So after about six hours in total we reached a lock near Avignonet-Lauragais, where we stopped to refill our empty water containers, and luckily I realised this was where our campsite was before we went storming off up the canal again. Unluckily, I pissed Jazz off by ignoring the sign to a campsite she spotted since Google had quite firmly placed "our campsite" on the other side of a railway. Luckily again, she spotted another sign next to the railway naming "our campsite" back in the direction we'd just come from...
A couple of minutes cycle back over the canal and we arrived at a nearly empty campsite! No-one at the reception either... so we hung around for a few minutes looking at potential sites before I managed to rouse the receptionist at her mobile home. Negotiated a booking (note: French campsites want ID, when I'd deliberately left my passport etc. behind) at a ridiculously cheap 16 euros for two nights, then set up our tent under our own private tree in our own private field.
After this we decided to check out Avignonet-Lauragais, which is dominated by a very distinctive church tower and windmill-park, both very visible from the motorway to Carcassonne. The hillside town is very pretty, the church is remarkably ostentatious for such a small place, and the views were very nice, but unfortunately it was totally dead - so we weren't able to get ourselves a snack for the evening. We headed for a motorway stop on a nearby lakeside to see if that would offer us anything, but that was only serving full meals. Slightly disappointed (and having been yelled at by a grumpy cyclist for turning round in the road) we went back to camp... where we were also disappointed to find that someone was camped in their car just a few steps away from our tent! When they had acres of the rest of the camp to choose from... very weird, and a bit of an invasion of privacy. Still, we were tired, and crashed out after some peanuts, a game of dominoes and a shower.
The next day we took up the bikes again for a trip further along to Castelnaudary. Took coffee at a canalside cafe, after which the roads became mud paths and everything was a bit more quaint and rustic. Suddenly, we noticed that the locks had switched from going uphill to downhill... so we'd unwittingly passed the highest point of the canal. (More on that later.) Eventually we reached civilization again, since Castelnaudry turns out to the first real town since Toulouse.
After stopping a moment to picture the view of the "bassin" (a reservoir) we went searching for lunch. Again, the town seemed totally dead... with the tourist information not opening again till three! So, with friction and tensions rising, we had a quick look at the windmill at the top of the hill before finding what seems to be the only normal restaurant that opens for lunch (and was full of tourists). But they did the best cassoulet that Jazz has had so far, and we totally gorged ourselves by ordering far too much food while on empty stomachs!
After that it was a quick trip to the supermarket for a bit of re-stocking, then down to the canal for the journey back to camp - with cake and ice-cream melting at a furious pace under the 30+ degree sun. We couldn't save the cake (I ate a tray of cherry and chocolate flavoured sludge for breakfast the next day) but we stopped near a lock for a feast of almond Magnums. Jazz managed one and a half, and so I was forced to eat the other two and a half myself (forced, I tell you!). All this while watching otters swimming around and telling the local gang of ducks that there was nothing for them to eat.
After we'd got going again we decided to check out "the obelisk" that was supposed to be on the other side of the canal from where the dirt track replaced the nice bike paths. This turned out to be near where the canal is fed with water from the "black mountains" (Montagnes Noir) where there is an odd park ringed by water next to a large mill which regulates the water flow. The chief architect, Pierre-Paul Riquet, had planned for ships to come into this ring and exchange loads before heading back to the two seas again. This area was supposed to become an important port town, but the ring kept silting up and the cargo exchange idea was abandoned. The ring is now split into two and water circulation controlled by an additional modern sluice gate. This is the highest point of the canal, so from this point, the "splitting of the waters", the canal flows down to the West on one side and the East on the other. The obelisk was erected nearby as a tribute to Riquet.
By the time we got back to camp it was evening already, so following another very necessary shower we spent a couple more hours playing games and drinking wine, until we had to move inside and finish the game by torchlight.
The next day we got up late, with a slight hangover (not helped by the noise from a disco having been carried on the wind to our camp during the night), and found that we were literally the only people left on the site! So we took it easy packing up and getting ready to go, expecting to be back in Toulouse in the early evening.
As it turned out, the wind was in our favour and we seemed to be much fitter than before since it only took us four hours to get back instead of the six it took to get there! And this included another stop for lunch plus an extra stop close to Toulouse because our bums were sore. We also passed that same grumpy bastard who had yelled at us two days before! The path round Toulouse was exposed and scorching hot, and at this point Jazz realised her shoulders were badly burned. But after stopping at our local petrol station for some beer and coke, we were back well before evening - and could take it easy while unpacking and clearing up. Leaving us in perfect mood for a relaxed evening before heading for bed. Where, thank goodness, we could switch on the air-conditioning for our first cool air in three days!
Pictures with more description can be found here...
... and slightly spooky.
Now I've listened to them a bit, I'm thinking that the Bravery might be the one to go for. You can vote for your own preference in this poll...
In the middle of a serious scene (it's a very intense movie) the leading lady lifts the corner of the curtains to see who's arriving at the door. The leading man, who is both the woman's lover and at the same time a very bad guy, is walking up to the steps and the woman is probably feeling a mix of hatred towards the man she has to kill and excitement about the passionate sado-masochistic sex she expects to have to engage in to secure his trust (I told you, it's a very intense movie!).
At that moment, the subtitles suddenly shout...
(rewinds, checks again)
It seems that whoever transcribed the subtitles is a bit of a dog lover and decided to comment on the occupant of a kennel outside the window!
It had nothing whatever to do with any visible text or what anyone was thinking or saying... but it brightened up my day a little...
Happy New Year!
I'm back at work after quite a pleasant time off... although it wasn't as boring and lazy as I'd expected (or hoped?! ) since it turned out to be more than a week of party/recover/party/recover...
22nd: visit Christmas Market then get in the week's food shopping, 23rd: lazy day, 24th: last-minute shopping then spend evening getting stuffed to the gills at friends' (just catch last metro home!), 25th: wake up late and laze around before visiting canal then Christmas Market again, 26th: quick visit to friends' followed by guest for dinner, 27th late brunch and watch movie at home with same guest, 28th: laze around then go for walk and end up visiting nearby mall for the first time ever!, 29th: dinner (plus dancing and screaming) at friends', 30th: wake late and laze around, 31st: quick shopping trip (while JazzMoss prepares food) before going to friends' for New Year's dinner, 1st: wake late and laze around - not looking forward to work.
So those were my holidays in a nutshell. Hope everyone else out there had a good time.
wassup?! How's everyone?! Is Neo doing well? ;)
I must have removed mine at some stage in the past as there isn't one on my blog.
Total waste of time, this shout box thingy, if you ask me...
That Miles Davis was saying hello to W*stock too.
Which album do you think I should get for my birthday?
- Hot Chip - Made in the Dark
- Queens of the Stone Age - Era Vulgaris
- the Bravery - the Sun and the Moon
Total: 7 votes