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Life through rosé colored glasses

I discovered the recipe for the perfect vacation:

1 part France.

1 part boat.

Mix with 6 liters of bagged wine – enjoy!

After mingling with the bros in Punta Cana last year, we opted for culture, serenity, and independence for this year’s spring vacation. Weezie and I are rabid Francophiles, so our vacation planning often goes something like this:

Reid: “We could go to the Balkans…”

Weezie: “Or France.”

Reid: “Don’t you want to go to Poland?”

Weezie: “Maybe, but we haven’t been to France in awhile.”

Reid: “I read an article that says Montenegro is absolutely beautiful and completely undiscovered.”

Weezie: “France?”

Reid: “France.”

And so we found ourselves in Port Cassafières, a small port barely a kilometer from the Mediterranean, receiving a brisk introduction to our 29-foot Cirrus B canal boat.

Cirrus B

This was to be our home for a week-long, self-drive cruise along the Canal du Midi, the canal that links the Mediterranean to the Atlantic across the southwest corner of France. After a laughably short introductory cruise and a long orientation to the galley kitchen (this is France, after all), we were wished “bon voyage” and sent on our way.

Several incredulous friends have asked, “Don’t you need a permit to pilot a boat by yourself?”

The short answer is “no”. It seems crazy, I know. If somebody tried to do this in America, you’d have to sign a disclaimer the size of a phone book and personal injury lawyers would hand you their business cards as you boarded your craft. I’ve always admired how Europeans don’t feel compelled to legislate against stupidity. And, to be honest, they’ve idiot-proofed these boats.  The hulls are festooned with rubber bumpers and the top speed is limited to a leisurely eight kilometers an hour.

For me, this vacation was a sublime blend of relaxation, physical activity, and sight-seeing. With the exception of the locks, which were nerve-wracking the first few times through, the unhurried pace, breathtaking surroundings, and fully self-supported vessel made it easy to de-stress and concentrate on enjoying the journey.

Our boat was equipped with everything necessary for a comfortable voyage, including a cozy double bed:

Cirrus B bedroom

 a bright dining and living area:

Cirrus B dining

a full galley kitchen:

Cirrus B kitchen

and a tiny, but tolerable loo:

Cirrus B bath

With our creature comforts satisfied below deck, we were free to spend our days at the outside steering position, puttering from port to port. A typical day went something like this:

Wake up.

Cruise down impossibly picturesque canal lined by allées of plane trees.

Canal du Midi

Canal du Midi

Canal du Midi

Lock up or down.

locking up

locking up 2

lock

The locks were never boring. Some locks were automatic, while others were run by lock-keepers. Occasionally, we went through alone.  More often, we were shoe-horned in with several other boats, bumping and bobbing as water rushed into (or out of) the the gates.

Eat lunch, à la française.

lunch 2

lunch 1

lunch 3

escargot

Just kidding!  We didn’t eat the snail. We did, however, eat a bunch of his buddies at a bistro in Paris. Escargot: proof that absolutely anything is edible if it’s served in a piping hot pool of butter and garlic.

 Lock up or down some more.

locking up 3

locking up 4

fonserannes

The photo above is of the back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back locks at Fonserannes, just outside Béziers. This seven step staircase lock takes your boat up or down 70 vertical feet over the course of an hour. We tackled this lock on our first full day of cruising, gazed upon by hundreds of curious, camera-toting tourists. After that trial-by-fire, every other lock seemed easy by comparison.

Take a cultural excursion.

Like a bike ride through a vineyard:

bike ride vineyard

poppy

or a tour of the the winding streets of a postcard-perfect hill town:

capestang

french village

or of a quiet canal-side village:

lesomail

or ogle the colorful buildings of a port city:

narbonne port

or hike to an awe-inspiring site like the Étang de Montady, where a bunch of overachieving 13th century monks decided it would be a good idea to drain an entire valley full of wetlands by dividing it into pie-shaped wedges that drain to a single center point:

etang de montady

or to the Malpas tunnel, excavated BY HAND over eight days in the year 1679:

malpas tunnel

Park the boat.

in a sleepy hamlet, surrounded by other boaters:

lesomail2

or in the middle of nowhere, with a view to a hill town in the distance:

sunset 1

or smack dab in the center of a bustling city:

narbonne port 2

Watch the sun set:

sunset 3

sunset 2

narbonne sunset

Repeat.

This is my happy place, at the wheel of our Cirrus B.

driving boat

New life goal: acquire a French canal boat, even if it’s this one:

sunken boat

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. chris highley #

    hell yes.

    July 13, 2015
  2. Anonymous #

    Wow. Freakin’ wow. Perfection.

    July 13, 2015
  3. Hope that was NOT your canal boat at the final destination.
    Never knew how locks worked…Very fascinating. Hope you had alot of vintage wine!

    July 13, 2015
  4. Yer wife #

    I think that boat could be yours for the low low price of $0.00. Great, another rehab project. To give credit where it’s due, the trip was your idea. You did, however, suggest Colombia at one point, remember?

    July 13, 2015
  5. Leslie #

    Oh, Reid, I loved this glimpse into your perfect vacation. The pictures were beautiful. Of course Tom would have issues with your use of “park” the boat, but otherwise would agree there’s nothing like a boat trip!

    July 14, 2015

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