Apart from going to the Old Cité, the other thing I’d been looking forward to was a Canal du Midi ‘experience’. It’s 240km long running from Sete on the Mediterranean coast right through to Toulouse where it joins the Garonne River then continues on to the Atlantic Ocean. Involving a complex system of lochs, it was the brainwave of salt-tax baron Paul Riquet. Completed in 1861, it encouraged Languedoc trade and created a short-cut without having to go around via the coast of Spain.
So many people had told me that I must go and see it and preferably be on it. I’d even been corresponding with the owner of a huge barge, the Mirage, moored on the canal not far from Carcassonnne, with a view to staying on it and using it as a base to explore Carcassonne – maybe even go for a motor up the Canal! However the price was prohibitive so that idea was shelved. But, not to be deterred, I spotted the tour barges moored near the bridge and within 24 hours had Heather and myself planted on the good ship Helios along with another 30-odd people, puttering up the Canal. How exciting! We were here! I was here! Excitement beyond belief!
Our young female tour guide, who doubled as a deckhand, spoke French, Spanish and English. Pity we could understand very little of the English. Along with the spluttering of the engine and the fact that the speakers were down the back of the barge, she rattled along in a monotone ridiculously fast holding the microphone so close to her mouth that most of what we heard was a muffled drone with the occasional pop. Combine that with a deadpan expression hiding behind sunglasses, we had the impression that she’d done this job probably one too many times. But who cared! We were on my canal trip!
It suddenly became obvious that most of the other people had been looking forward it just as much as me – well probably a little more because within 30 seconds of departure they were on their feet photographing every conceivable thing – a duck! a lizard! A leaf! There was a mass arising with cameras clicking wildly like the sound of a tap dancer’s shoes. Anything that moved was photographed. Anything that didn’t move was photographed. Then, the first lock came into view. You can’t imagine the photographic frenzy and hysteria this caused. The clickey clickety clicking of cameras was deafening. And then there was a boat waiting to come out of the lock! Aaah! This was history in the making! The silly thing was that most of their photos are going to be of other people taking photos.
At a point about 1½ hours along the Canal it was time to turn around and return to Carcassonne, with a brief stop for those who wanted drinks or a WC-stop. The trip lasted nearly 3 hours. The frenzy and excitement subsided somewhat on the return journey. Everyone was worn out from the adrenalin rush. Same old ducks and ducklings. Not another lock ho hum. Been there done that. It was very easy getting pictures of the lock changing at this point!
Next day I decided to see it from the side – a bicycle ride along the bank. With backpack and camera off I went for 2 hours. I’m afraid I had to leave Heather at home fiddling with the blog as she was concerned she’d get sunburnt and wasn’t sure she would last 2 hours.
The things I noticed were how quiet it actually was except for the birds chirping, the sound of the train passing in the distance, the sound of the gravel beneath my wheels as I clattered along and the occasional ‘Bonjour’ to other cyclists. There were farms and acres of pastures with vines or other crops. The other thing I noticed was how filthy the water is.
It resembled a carton of caramel ice cream with swirls of various shades of brown (presumably the oil from boats and barges). There were bits of torn up black plastic breaking up the monotonous sludgy brown. How those ducks survive I don’t know. I saw people fishing! Eat fish from this swirling river of bilge? You must be joking! I hoped that the many people who holiday on this Canal didn’t dare go in it.
But despite this realisation that the famous Canal du Midi was only picturesque if you didn’t actually look at the water, I did enjoy my 2 hours on my bike. I knew that after not having ridden a bike for about 5 years there were parts of my anatomy that were in for a rude shock. The constant pulverising of the bike seat, combined with thigh muscles that hadn’t peddled in that long meant that the next day was going to be a very slow one.