Sunday, June 9, 2013

Commencer le canal

Taking advantage of the last nice day before yet another rainy week, Ken and I, along with our next door voison Philippe, loaded up the bikes and drove an hour to the village of Le Mas d'Agenais. Our short-term aim was a leisurely ride, but the day turned out to be the just the first step of a goal Ken and I will pursue in the upcoming years: to ride the entire Canal des Deux Mers

France's 270-mile shortcut between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic is comprised of two sections. The southern portion, which runs from the Mediterranean to Toulouse, is the Canal du Midi, built in the 17th century. Two hundred years later, the Canal de Garonne, along with the Garonne River, connected Toulouse to the Atlantic near Bordeaux. This amazing feat of hydraulic engineering has a fascinating history, some of which I will share here as we continue our journey.

A peniche docked along the canal
Tranquil is the word that best describes our maiden voyage. The shady quiet flat path along the canal was a welcome change from the hilly country roads we usually ride on. After parking in the tiny village of Le Mas d'Agenais, we rode north for a dozen kilometers. The slow pace allowed for plenty of time to stop for photos and to wave at the vacationers passing by on the decks of their rented bateaux.

We quickly realized that the canal path will take on a different feel in the summer when the tourists descend, but on this day, the only crowd we encountered was a family of ducks taking an early afternoon nap.

With lunch back at the car, we decided to turn around after an hour. I brought the grub: ham and butter sandwiches on baguettes, crudeties, oranges and homemade peanut butter cookies. Philippe brought beer and wine, with a '92 poire calvados (pear brandy) to top it off. As usual, the more we drank, the better we could understand Philippe, and, we fancied, the more graceful our French became.

A little later, a little drunk, we headed south on an unsuccessful quest for coffee. Even though we didn't find an open cafe, we explored le Mas d'Agenais'' massive church and pretty lavoir before heading home.

What a perfect start to our canal quest.

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