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Enjoying the Canal du Midi in France!
Video appears to go very slowly, but that is the pace in the Midi, so just enjoy the music and the view!
Soon after moving to Austria, some friends told us about going on boat cruises in Europe, but I was not interested in the idea at the time, as we had two small children then and I was scared of them falling overboard! We did get to go on a boat eventually, but not until the youngest was thirteen years old! That trip was so fantastic that we even went on another cruise a couple of years later and now we keep dreaming of doing it again!
Considering that we were going on a big boat and that there were only two adults, we decided to look for other people and the first one that came to mind was my brother Will, who is single and lives in New York City. We wrote to him and asked him whether he would be interested and he loved the idea, but he would come with his friend Ivanna. We went on the first week of August and agreed that our family would drive from Austria, while Will and his girlfriend would fly from NYC and that we would meet at Cassafieres, our port of departure in France.
We booked our holiday from h2O, which used boats from the Crown Blue Line. Ours was a Crusader and it could fit 6 people comfortably. There were 12 different cruises available and we opted for the Midi cruise, a World Heritage site, so we bought the corresponding Waterways Guide, which had detailed maps, pictures and general information in 3 languages. Included were distances, cruising times, lock names and opening hours. We also bought a Captain’s Handbook and studied it all before leaving. We were supposed to pick our boat from 4-6pm the first day and return it before 9am the last day.
Map of the boat
Our boat had three cabins with toilet and shower, one for my two children in front, and two in the back for Will & Ivanna and one for my husband and myself. There was also a sitting area next to the kitchen in the mid section, with stairs to go to the top part of the boat. We also rented some bicycles to take along with us on the boat.
On the way to France!
We drove past southern Austria, crossed over to Italy, and then drove along the Mediterranean coast, past Monaco to France. It was a beautiful day, but very hot, so we stopped in Menton on the way, which is famous for its lemon and orange festival, for some drinks.
We drove some 1,000 km (almost to the border with Spain) and slept in Mougins, which is in Provence, Cote d’Azur before meeting my brother and picking up our boat. Cassafieres was no port really, but just the place used by the boat company for pick up and delivery of their boats. We greeted Will and his girlfriend Ivanna, had a quick pizza and then boarded our boat. We were shown how to operate it and about 6pm we on our way!
Enjoying the Midi
It's no wonder that the Canal du Midi is a World Heritage site, as the first projects for a canal to link the Mediterranean and the Atlantic date back to the beginning of the 16th century! The canal was finally completed and filled with water in 1681 and since then it has operated without interruption for more than three centuries!
We soon found a routine on our boat and every morning my husband would go out on a bike to buy some fresh fruit and croissants for breakfast and some baguettes for lunch. When he returned, the table would be set upstairs and the coffee hot, ready to enjoy a relaxing breakfast surrounded by nature and the waters of the Midi! Once breakfast was over, then we would turn the motor on and we would be on our way. My daughter Gisela was in charge of the timetable, controlling lock closing times and calculating where we could stop for lunch. We used our stops to get rid of rubbish and to load water and electricity. The water was needed for cooking, washing up, the toilet and showers, while the electricity was used to load our computers, which we then used to write our diaries, or send and receive emails.
When 11am came around, it was time for us to have our Happy Hour, which was either soft drinks, or pastis with ice and some munchies to go with it. A couple of hours later it would be time for lunch, so we had to look for a shady spot on the side of the canal, where we could tie the boat, take the boat table and chairs down and serve lunch on shore. Lunch usually consisted of baguettes with whatever French produce we had been able to find, like different types of cheese, sausages or pate, which we served with some fresh tomatoes.
The maximum speed limit on the Midi was only 8kph, which meant that our boat was slower than joggers and cyclists passing us on the side paths! It was most relaxing cruising along under the shade of the many old trees around. In the afternoon we usually went on walks in the villages and used the time to go and buy the International Herald Tribune, go shopping, buy the occasional ice cream, taste some local wine, drink a cup of tea, or visit some historic site or art gallery.
In the late afternoon we watched the sunset from the boat and then later we would go out searching for a place to eat. Food was always good wherever we happened to go; after all we were in France!
It was always quiet on the canal, so we had a good night sleep every night! People on the other boats always greeted us when they went past and there was a spirit of camaraderie around! We found many ducks swimming in the canal and we used to feed them our leftover bread everyday.
We had to be careful when going under bridges, as one could easily hurt one’s head! We had to watch the wind too, as it could easily take our yellow umbrella away and a few of our hats suffered the same fate. When trying to clean the boat my daughter fell into the water, but her brother came to the rescue and threw her a lifesaver, except that he forgot to tie onto something first!
After the week was over, we returned the boat and then took Will and Ivannah to the airport to take their flight back to NYC. Our holiday was over, but we all had a fantastic time and felt very relaxed, ready to start the new school year in September!
I would recommend the Midi cruise to any group of adults or to a family with teenage children, as there is some work involved with the ropes when one goes through the locks. My son was 13 at the time and he was actually the one who did most of the driving! It is a good idea to take a flag, as that way people know the country you come from.
And, just like fellow hubber Donna Bamford writes:
The Canal du Midi
Umbrella pines and escargots
Hard work but the rewards
Endless and immeasurable!