I just had the very great privilege of spending the past 12 days as a guest on a 110 year old river barge that is docked on the Canal due Midi outside the village of Capestang in southern France. It was one of the most relaxing times I have had - ever! To fall asleep with no other noises than the gentle rocking of the boat and awaken to the sounds of birds singing and fish splashing is truly a little bit a heaven.
For those who don't know, the Canal du Midi means the 'canal between two seas.' It is 150 miles long and was originally called the Canal Roayl en Languedoc, but the name was changed to the Canal du Midi in 1789 by the French revolutionists.
The canal connects the Garonne River to the Etange du Thau on the Mediterranean, and with the 120 mile long Canal de Garonne, forms the Canal du Deux Mers, joining the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
It is considered on of the greatest construction works of the 17thcentury and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
Today the canal is home to barges, sail boats, houseboats and numerous pleasure rentals that motor slowly up and down the canal. The small towns and villages that abut the Canal are great stopping points to tie up for a night, a week or years. There is a walking/biking path running alongside the canal almost its entire length. Bonjour is the greeting heard dozens of times each day as you wave to passing boaters, nod to runners, walkers and bikers and now an again offer band aides for blistered feet or water for a parched throat.
The people that make their homes on the boats are ex-pats from all over the world. During the time I was visiting, I met Germans, French, Australians, New Zealanders, and many, many British.
The pace of life they lead is slow with a trip into the market at the center of the nearby village the highlight of the day or week. Of course, one must gather several times a week at the local pub in the square for a 1/2 liter of wine to discuss the latest gossip, boat repairs being made, or EU politics.
The view of the surrounding countryside is one of 1000's of grape vines with the spires of cathedrals of a century old chateaux in the background.
Each vineyard has its own tasting room and you bring a plastic jug (think gallon milk jug) to fill with your favorite red, white or rose. If I remember correctly, a jug was €9. Cheaper - and a whole lot better - than 3 Buck Chuck from Trader Joe's.
There are walled cities built by the Romans (Carcassonne) nearby to explore and centuries-old cemetery's to wander through.
Enormous cathedrals whose gloriously-colored stained-glass windows sparkle down on visitors and parishioners alike still stand. You can only marvel at how these edifices were built so many hundreds of years ago without the knowledge or the modern tools of today.
And least you think that living on a 110-year old barge is 'roughing it' just take a look at the lounge and kitchen. There were 2 full bedrooms and 1 large bathroom with tub and shower.
I really didn't want to leave and was thrilled to be invited back to a attend a WIC picnic the end of June. (WIC stands for Women International Club and there are over 100 such clubs all over the world. Being a member of International Women Associates in Chicago gives me entrée to all of them - and I have been welcomed with open arms so far in Athens and southern France.)
I did finally have to bid adieux to canal living on Tuesday (June 2nd) and enjoyed my first European train ride(s) from Beziers to Barcelona. I overnighted in Barcelona at a fabulous hostel by the airport before catching a flight to Lisbon yesterday morning to meet up with my good friend Nancy, from Raleigh, NC. We will be here for 2 more days, then down to the the Algarve for 3 days before heading to Madrid and our stint of teaching English for a week up in the mountains near Salamanca.
So until next time......