This may be becoming a habit – same armchair, another perfect warm sunny day, another selle of lamb, this time with a bottle of Buzet, and another round, this time the final, of the French presidential election. On May 7th we were comfortably moored up in the little Halte Nautique cum Locaboat base at Negra (PK 33) connected to water and electric but finding the office unmanned.
Since May 1st, we had not travelled far – some 10 km and 3 locks from Renneville (PK 42) following the A61 Autoroute. On Labour Day the locks had been closed (1st Jan, 1st May, 11th Nov and 25th Dec on the Midi) and so, in view of our ‘getting desperate’ food shortage, we decided to cycle the 2 km, between rain showers, in to Villefranche de Lauragais. We thought that there was a sporting chance that one of, either the Spar, Super U, or Aldi supermarkets might be open at least in the morning but not even the McDonald’s showed any sign of life. However, there was a butcher/deli in the town centre open and we joined the ever long queue to stock up on duck aiguillettes and pork chops and for good measure stopped off at a bakery opposite for some Turkish sweet treats for tea.
The following day we moved on to Gardouch (PK 39), mooring up to trees on the S bend before the permanent moorings and the town quay (on four previous visits we had never found a space on the quay but this time it was empty for most of our stay), and liked it so much that we stayed for five nights. We had good TV reception, OK mobile internet, bright sunny spells, heavy rain, and gale force winds during our stay but none of this stopped some charming nightingales from serenading us, night and day.
We had not previously visited Gardouch village and cycled in for a look-see. There are a pizzeria and two bakeries – the church was closed but I was intrigued to notice that the War Memorial was commemorating those killed in Indochina 1945-1954 and in North Africa 1952-1962 – and we came away with only a bag of ten ‘chouquettes’ (delicious little sweet choux pastry puffs).
More serious shopping had to wait for two more trips into Villefranche de Lauragais – first to the retail park Super U (nearer to Gardouch than Renneville) and then on Friday, Market Day, to the town centre and Spar (not a bad little shop with a very friendly butcher who cut us the selle lamb joint). The outdoor Friday market was excellent too.
Our larder anxieties now assuaged and with another Bank Holiday weekend coming up (VE Day, May 8th) we moved on to Negra where we needed to find water – it had been ten days since we last filled our tank. On Monday the little port came to life with a couple of hire boats appearing and change-over routines being enacted, and we were able to pay our dues and get permission to stay another night (€14 a night including water and electric).
Having cycled up the steep hill to Montesquieu-Lauragais (old capital of the pastel trade) on our visit here last year we opted for a cycle ride this time to the north (passing first under the A66 motorway and then over the A61 – they connect here) to the lesser known village of St-Rome.
At the end of the C19th the Marquis de la Panouse had his vision of an ideal town built, in a range of unusual architectural styles, with the idea of bringing together farmers, craftsmen and agricultural labourers. One can only get glimpses now of a curious mix of Moorish, Palladian, Flemish, and Neo-Byzantine styles from the road around the Chateau. I’d have loved to have been able to see more inside but all the gates were firmly closed.
Unlike May Day, which had been wet and cold, VE Day was glorious and we enjoyed the luxury of being in port with all mod cons – a full water tank and fully charged batteries on the mains.
But back to the business of everyday living we needed to move on and make a pit stop on the overgrown bank, non-tow-path side at about PK 26, where there is a well-hidden but direct access on foot across the minor road straight into the car park of a little retail park – Lidl, Super Intermarche, bank and Brico, car repair workshop and petrol station. I got a bit over enthusiastic in the Intermarche on discovering that the last bottles of goat’s milk were right at the back of the top shelf and could only be reached by dint of standing in my shopping cart. There was no problem getting up there to reach the milk but on the way down I managed to fetch up on my back in the bottled water section in the opposite aisle; fortunately on plastic bottles for a softish landing! Although a little bruised, and severely reprimanded by Pam, I was still able to complete the other domestic chore for that day – 500 manual pumps to empty the black water tank – before moving on sharply to the high stone quay just above Montgiscard lock (PK 25, water only, 4 stone bollards, free) beside quite a busy road.
On our previous visits we had not thought to stop here but I was keen to see if there really was a working water tap, as marked in the du Breil guide, and Pam spotted the chemist just across the road. The TV and phone reception were both good and we found that the high stone quay protected us somewhat from the nearby passing traffic and made for quite a comfortable and private berth. We wandered up into town the next morning (post office, newsagent, baker, two restaurants) before an early lunch on board and set off again at 1pm when we discovered that the lock was operating during the normal lunch hour (12.30-1.30) closure time. The weather forecast for that Wednesday was continuing high winds and for rain and thunder storms and higher winds the following day.
We were not due into Toulouse until Friday, so we decided to sit Thursday out just above Castanet lock, the last before entering Toulouse, and we managed to tie up with a combination of pins and a well-placed tree root in the relative shelter of the plane trees at PK 16. Again, we were driven partly by wanting to visit somewhere new, this time a lock-side restaurant recommended to us by fellow boater David Rothery.
It has been a few years since David visited L’Ecluse Restaurant at Castanet so I checked on TripAdviser where the latest review was not complimentary. It was a dull rainy day and we decided to go anyway and opted for the €16 Menu du Jour (3 courses) which turned out to be Salad (frisee lettuce with lardons, croutons, gouji berries, and a poached egg), turkey kebabs with a hint of curry spice, grilled tomatoes, and a small portion of dauphinoise potatoes, and a choice of dessert – we opted for the chocolate mousse. It all washed down well with a bottle of local white (€16, the cheapest on the menu but you could do a degustation of the choice of wines before committing). Inside, there is a pleasant rustic atmosphere with some nice pictures of barges and drawings of an old ‘poste’ barge design. I think the restaurant has changed hands since David’s visit but it seems to have remained a ‘good value’ restaurant in a nice spot – although their machine failed to process my credit card (why does this only ever happen to us ,very infrequently, in restaurants?) so I had to cough up the €60 in cash.
Whilst checking up on all our travel arrangements for our trip to England I came across a pamphlet ‘Let’s Visit Airbus’ that I must have picked up on our last visit to Toulouse. I had heard good reports and that it was possible to book a tour in English and fortunately decided to call ahead. Tours were only available on Wednesdays and Saturdays (and you need to book two days ahead and bring your passport) which left us with only the Saturday tour during our planned stay.
On Friday 12th May, our 44th wedding anniversary, we cruised a leisurely two and a bit hours from Castanets into Port St Sauveur (PK 5), shouting quick hellos to Serge, busy working on someone’s barge at Ramonville, Lady Sue (Paul and Sue) and Busted Flush (Alex and Sue) both leaving town and heading east. No doubt we will catch up with them later in the season.
Although getting to the Aeroscopia Museum, departure point of the Airbus tour, proved to be relatively easy on public transport (Tram T1 from Palais de Justice to Beauzelle (40 mins €3.20 return and then walk 15 mins across wasteland/park/building site), it took a bit of research to work this all out. In the process I realised that there was a Museum to visit in addition to the tour so thought we would do this before the 3.45pm tour, but I realised there were no eating facilities on site (I confirmed this by phone!) and so we packed a couple of baguette sandwiches bought from the nice bakery opposite the port. As it turned out there was a small hot dog van in the car park and we sat in the sunshine on a picnic bench before entering the Museum, which indeed only had a vending machine by way of providing refreshments.
We had allowed more time than we really needed to go round the Aeroscopia Museum so we did this at a leisurely pace, particularly enjoying looking round inside a Concorde. There were plenty of aviation facts on history boards all around as well as an interesting collection of aircraft.
For the ‘Let’s Visit Airbus’ tour we were ushered onto a coach and with a high level of security driven into the Airbus assembly compound and taken to a viewing platform, no photos allowed, in the main assembly shed (rather larger than a shed, actually, with room for three Airbus 380s) and given a very good explanation of the whole process of building a plane and delivering it to a customer. All fascinating stuff and involving mind boggling amounts of money – but good to see a joint project set up by European government partners, France, Germany, Spain and United Kingdom, to challenge US dominance in the aircraft market, that has succeeded.
Before setting off for England we managed to fit in ‘aperos’ with Danial and Brigitte aboard Tsarine, a bit of retail therapy in town, a visit to the Basilique St Sernin, and some rather good Vietnamese street food from the ‘kiosk’ on Allees Francois Verdier by the Grand Rond.
Can’t help wondering how the general warm dry ambience here will compare with our Wiltshire picnic experience this Saturday!