Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Germany by Accident

The Howse family from Wolfe Island arrived in Strasbourg on June 17, having spent a few days exploring Paris first.  After wandering Strasbourg we set out up the Canal de la Marne au Rhin connecting Strasbourg with Nancy.  Unfortunately, the canal had sprung a leak several locks up the system and was unable to keep enough water in lock number 47 to actually lift the boat.  Several commercial boats, a few vacation rental boats and a handful of cruisers and barges were stuck in the system.  After consulting with a variety of folks tied on to the canal banks in a wonderful mix of French, English and German, we decided not to wait around for the lock re-opening which might be a whole week away.  The other option available to us was to head for the mighty river Rhine flowing fast through Germany. 

Serendipity.  After eight months travelling in France we have discovered that Germany has just as much to offer!

The Howses are now on their way back to Canada and we are heading north on the Rhine, dodging cruise ships, heavily laden barges and rocks in the middle of the river.  The Rhine will take us to the Netherlands via German cities such as Bonn, Cologne and Dusseldorf. 

Had we turned east a while back, we could be heading to Berlin and Budapest.  Maybe next year.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

A Minor Eggsident

We were motoring along happily.

Tom passed the helm over to me so he could eat his lunch.

I wobbled the boat out of the channel.

A rock was struck. The boat lurched backward.  The eggs went forward. 

No injuries.  No leaks.

Lesson learned. 

Even when you can barely see them, the channel markers are there for a reason.

And put the eggs away after you've taken what you'll use.

Time Flies

Long story short, the girls attended school in Marseillan for a total of 34 days.  It was an experience that they will look back at with a feeling of...well, something positive I hope. 

They finished up on April 25th and we moved out of our apartment and back onto the boat the same day.  On the 26th we drove to Marseille where we picked my parents up at the airport. 

We stopped at the medieval walled city of Aigues Mortes for lunch on the way back to the boat and used the rental car the next day to do a circuit of the lake/etang. 

South of Carcassonne, in the Pyrenees foothills
La Cite at Carcassonne from the graveyard across the valley
Tuesday morning after market we set off up the Canal du Midi.  This is a much written about canal in France and is populated almost entirely by rental boats.  It was pleasant, but not earth shattering, and after about 60 locks we decided to stop at the town of Carcassonne rather than go all the way to Toulouse as planned. 

Carcassonne was excellent, both the real city and the medieval walled city/tourist attraction.  We rented a car to explore the Pyrenees to the south, including natural hot springs, and the Central Massif to the north, including a town devoted to used book shops.  Book lovers heaven!!!

On May 10 we drove to Toulouse, wandered around a bit and had an excellent Asian meal before leaving my parents at their hotel to catch their early flight next morning.

We returned back down the canal (always more relaxed going down than up) and set out for the wide open sea.  Ultimately, we spent one lovely day swimming in the brisk waters of the Mediterranean among the rocks a little to the west of Marseille.  Then we headed back north, braving just a couple of extremely sea sickening hours to get off the pitching sea.

Rennes les Bains where the water runs hot
Going north on the Rhone means working against the current, but in our case the wind was on our side (which is to say at our stern) and it took five days to get from the sea to Lyon.  At Lyon we stopped long enough to get City Cards these amazing inventions that allow you to pay a flat fee for entrance into any and all museums and many attractions.  This means two things: one, you go to museums you wouldn't normally dream of because they are all "free"; two, if you aren't interested, you turn around and leave.  In addition to wandering the Roman ruins on Fourviere hill and walking through the Gallo-Roman museum, the girls and I did the Textile museum, design museum, museum of miniatures and cinema, and the puppet museum.  We also fit in a funicular ride, a couple of cathedral viewings (Georgia and I check out stained glass windows and organs wherever it's convenient), and a narrated cruise.

Above Lyon the river is called the Soane, rather than the Rhone, and after a few days of that we moved to the east onto the Canal du Rhone au Rhin which follows the River Doubs.

Currently, it is June 6 and we have left the boat at a marina in Montbeliard, a week's motoring from Strasbourg.  We rented a car and drove just under five hours to get to Versailles, just outside Paris.  Yesterday we spent a full 6 hours wandering the Palace of Versailles and grounds and some of us will return today to wander a little more with Tom's neice, Becky, who arrived by plane and train from England yesterday.

Bathing beauties in the Mediterranean calanques



Monday, 7 April 2014

Photo Book

When we hit the 5000 photos mark after March Break, I decided I'd better figure out what to do with them.  I found shutterfly, and have spent the past week designing this photo book.  I am now at the mercy of this organization.  I want to photo book everything!!!!! 

Click here to view this photo book larger
Shutterfly photo books offer a variety of layouts and cover options to choose from.


Wednesday, 26 March 2014

March Break Part Deux

So far we've found that what stands out in Emily and Georgia's minds are events like visiting the Tower of London and hearing its many gruesome stories, hearing about the life of Corrie Ten Boom at her home/museum, and exploring museums like the historic dockyards and the museum of design in gent, Belgium.  What doesn't seem to impress them is scenery and the daily routine of finding food. 

The Mir space station at Toulouse
As a result, when we were planning for our 12 year old cousin guest, we figured we'd better make sure there was a good dose of weird museum events on the list.  Two hours from our apartment in Marseillan, is the city of Toulouse, home of Airbus, the commercial plane builders and the cite d'espace, an extensive space museum.  We didn't get to see airplanes being built but we did walk through the MIR space station, watch a French IMax film about space, and experiment with cool museum technology. 

Intersection performers in Toulouse

Super astronauts
On our way out of town we were treated to intersection panhandling acrobatics.  Cool. On the way home from Toulouse we stopped at the medieval walled town of Carcassone for dinner and so that the kids could stock up on medieval weapons like cross bows and bow and arrow sets.

A couple of days later we headed north of town to hike through a cave and try to remember which are stalagmites and which are stalactites.   (If it helps, stalagMites monter up, while stalacTites tomber down). 

Funky lighting in the Grotte de Clamouse
Stalagmites or stalactites?
Pretty street in St Guilhem le Desert

In addition to seeing lots of cool cave formations, we had the pleasure of lunching by the Devil's bridge and walking through the nearby town of St. Guilhem le Desert, definitely one of the most charming French towns we've come across.

The Pont du Diable

Captain Benjamin
The Sunday before the guests left, we finally ventured out on the boat.  It was too windy to go across the etang to Sete, as we had hoped, so we just motored up to the first lock on the canal du midi.  This gave Ben a great opportunity to drive the boat. 

The crew of the good boat Jason



Friday, 21 March 2014

March Break

Swan shaped towels in the guestroom
After three weeks of school, the girls started their first two week school break on March 1st.  (There was a similar break in the fall, one at Christmas, and there will be another at the beginning of May.)  The first week was pretty quiet with some meandering in the local market, a couple of trips to the beach and some time spent preparing for guests.
The Mediterranean patio welcome

At the end of the first week, my brother, Rich, his wife, Barb, and their son, Ben (aged 12) arrived from Kanata via Air Canada and the TGV to Montpellier.  Tom rented a van for the week so we would have the ability to explore far and wide.
Crazy Canadian kids in the Mediterranean on March 8
For the first couple of days we stayed close to home, letting them work out their jet lag and getting a sense of their surroundings.  We introduced Ben to the beach (and like any good Canadian he felt the need to get in the freezing cold ocean).   We've been to the beach four or five times since we've been back and only once has it been busy.  Usually, it's almost as unpopulated as Big Sandy Bay, but easier to get to and a little warmer.
Pretty market food photo
We wandered the market at Marseillan-Plage where Ben considered spending 5 euros on a carved stone chess set but declined when the price went up to 40 euros.  This particular market has a modest number of food stalls and a tremendous number of "garage sale" stalls.  Since Emily has been diagnosed celiac and can no longer eat the Baklava, we've decided we'll seek our markets elsewhere from now on.
Having not found anything that everyone could eat at the market, we drove to the town of Sete for an extremely slow French lunch.  Emily and I adventurously ordered the mussels done in the local style, which turned out to involve stuffing them with sausage meat.  Surprising, but very good. 

After lunch we drove up the hill at Sete and enjoyed the views of the Etang de Thau on one side (our village is down the other end) and the Mediterranean on the other.

On Monday, we loaded ourselves in the van and headed toward Spain.  Once again, we were suitably impressed by the view of the Pyrenees as we headed south. 

In Barcelona, we rented an apartment for two nights, allowing us a full day in the city to make use of the hop on hop off bus tour.  We started at the Park Guell where most of us appreciated the funky Dr. Seuss-ish architecture of Antonio Gaudi, though one of our party wondered repeatedly and aloud how such CRAP could ever get built. 

We wandered La Rambla, Barcelona's tourist shopping avenue, where I invested in some colourful artwork.  We also meandered through the Poble Espanyol (the Spanish Village), a collection of building facades chosen to represent architecture from all over the country and filled with shops, restaurants and a few working artisans.  Tom wandered the port a bit and spent some quality time on his own going through the maritime museum.

For the record, I have to say that it was much easier and more pleasant to feed ourselves on a diabetic gluten free diet in big city Spain than in small town France.  For lunch a few of us wandered a covered market where we found an excellent crustless spinach quiche, rice with vegetables, chick pea salad and ratatouille.  For dinner we found Turkish food that included kebabs and an extremely excellent stuffed eggplant. 
When we departed Barcelona we were assured by our master planner that a) it would be very valuable to visit the solar furnace at Font-Romeu and that b) the country of Andorra was on the way.  This would save us from returning to Marseillan the same way we came (to be avoided at all costs) and would only take an extra hour or two.

This turned out to be somewhat true.  The country of Andorra is on the way to the solar furnace and allowed for several hours of spectacular mountain scenery viewing.  Andorra, however, is somewhat limited in the personality department, having developed itself primarily for the purposes of low tax shopping.  

The solar furnace, when we reached it after what seemed like several more hours of mountain scenery, was very interesting.  The sun's rays hit  an array of 64 reflective panels that rotate with the sun.  They reflect the sun back to the concave array of mirrors on the building that you see in the photo below.  These all send the rays back to a single focal point that can reach as much as 3400 degrees celcius.  They say they use this to do research, but really it's just a bunch of guys who like to set stuff on fire.  In the demonstration we watched the guy was able to set a stick on fire in just a couple of seconds using just one set of mirrors.  (Check the link at  The Solar Furnace at Odeillo   if you want a more complete explanation.)  

At about five we had to head away from the solar furnace because we foresaw switchbacks in our immediate future and wanted to get the heck off the mountain.  This turned out to be a good idea as the switchbacks were pretty dodgy, and although some people continued to enjoy the vistas, the individual with the pathological fear of heights had some difficulty coping. 

Eventually we made it off the blessed mountain having stopped only for a few minutes for the requisite people-wearing-t-shirts-holding-snowballs photo opportunity.


Thursday, 27 February 2014

Riding to Sete

After I dropped the kids at school this morning, I got on my bike to head toward the Mediterranean town of Sete.  I wasn't sure how far it was, so I decided to ride for an hour out before turning around.  In fact, it turned out that Sete was almost exactly an hour away and instead of riding on a dirt road by the railway tracks as I had expected, it was a two lane paved bike path all the way.

Bike path to the hill town of Sete

In my world, it was stunning.  The entire way from Marseillan-Plage (the beach town that shares its name with our home of Marseillan-Ville) to Sete there is uninterrupted beach along the south side.  That's about 20 km of sand.  The bike path itself is bordered by stick fencing to hold the sand back and tall grasses.  Being the end of February, the path is not yet swarmed with beach-goers, though I can see that it will be in a few months.

Sand dunes on the Mediterranean

The best part, however, after 60 minutes of hard peddaling (I was determined to get all the way to Sete in a hour once I realized it was achieveable) was when I turned around and discovered that for a large part of the path, the snow capped Pyrenees are in view. 

 The view from Sete toward Marseillan plage - squint for mountains