Before and After

When we visited my brother Alan last summer, he asked us for some ideas to spruce up his cabin in Strawberry, AZ.  I picked out paint colors and he fixed up the bathroom on his own.  This trip we planned to update his kitchen in 3 days.  Skip and I love this stuff!

A family project
Me and my little bro enjoying the finished project.  (The cabinets are blue, not purple!)

He sent me some pictures and we did some planning ahead of time.  I have to say that I was a little skeptical that we could pull this off.

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This is the ‘before’ shot. The room was very brown and looked dated.  It also needed some major Harriet-style cleaning!

Big improvement
Here’s the ‘after’ shot. A big improvement, so much brighter.

Kitchen project underway
This is what the room looked like when we arrived. Alan had already painted the walls and removed the cabinet doors.

Alan sands the doors
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On the first day Alan and Skip sanded the doors and cabinets

Cabinets painted, primer coat on the countertop
By the end of day 1 we had the cabinets painted, sink removed and primer coat on the countertop

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On day 2 we hung the cabinet doors after Skip installed new hardware. Alan and I did a faux finish on the countertops to make them look like granite. The Giani paint kit was very easy to do and came out better than I expected. We applied 3 different colors over the black base coat using crumpled plastic bags. Then we used small brushes to paint veins. The last coat was a clear topcoat. It was very easy and fun to do.

Second coat
Countertop with 2 coats of faux granite paint applied

Looks like granite!
This is after I applied the topcoat. Looks pretty good compared to the ugly formica!

Bailey is interested
Alan hooks up the new sink. Bailey is interested in the flashlight!

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Day 3 – Skip and Alan install new lights and fan.

Alan's spruced up kitchen
Just about done. Alan installed the blinds after we left and hung up some pictures. It looks so much better!  He found the hutch at a local shop.

New rug
We even got a new rug. Alan is going to look for new chairs and paint the door blue.

It was a tiring 3 days but very satisfying.  Alan was so enthusiastic and not daunted by any task.  He also was not too proud to let his sister clean his kitchen!

Taos treasures

I love the southwest.  For one thing, it’s dry and cool here.  What a difference from Florida and Texas! Oh, and the food is Amazing.

View on the high road to Taos
View along the high road to Taos

On the drive up to Taos we saw the temperature drop to 61 degrees.  Haven’t seen that in a while!  The high road winds through pine forests and between mountains.

It’s pretty much a single road through town.  Our hotel is within walking distance of the central plaza where most of the shops and restaurants are.  It’s fun to stroll around and visit the many art galleries and shops selling local crafts.

Taos Pueblo
One of the most interesting attractions is the Taos Pueblo. It’s considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the US.

An Indian guide gave us an excellent tour of Taos Pueblo. It was fascinating to learn about her community from her perspective. I can’t help feeling bad when reminded how much native people lost when we took over their lands. Her tribe has lived there over 1000 years. They don’t have a written language so their culture is passed on orally. The artisans in the community do beautiful work.

Newer church
The ‘new’ church combines Catholicism with the native religion

Ovens
Ovens used to bake bread

Original church
The original church was built in 1619 and destroyed in 1848 during the US war with Mexico

Taos Pueblo
People still live in the adobe homes without any modern conveniences

Red willow river is the life blood of Taos Pueblo
Red Willow creek is the life blood of the community.

Original church at Taos Pueblo
Taos Pueblo is surrounded by mountains

Another amazing site near Taos is the bridge over the Rio Grande gorge. You’re just driving along until you come to a huge gash in the ground. Walking over the bridge is dizzying!

It's a long way down
It’s a long way down

Rio Grande gorge bridge
Rio Grande gorge bridge

Overlooking the Rio Grande

Hollyhock
Hollyhocks blooming in town

We drove out to Arroyo Seco to explore and have lunch. It’s a small artist community about 7 miles from Taos. We found some excellent pottery there and some of the best burritos in recent memory at a place called Abe’s. The chicken burritos with both green and red chile sauce (Christmas!) were awesome.

Dinner at the Taos Ale House was also a winner. The green chile burger was delicious as well as the local brews. They had both duck fat and truffle fries on the menu. A double whammy!

Today we visited the Millicent Rogers museum which houses an eclectic collection of southwestern history. The exhibits covered southwestern jewelry, ceramics, weaving and art. It’s too bad we missed the Fred Harvey exhibit that’s scheduled to open in a few weeks since Skip’s grandmother was a Harvey girl. We still have a Navajo blanket that she got when working in a Harvey House.

Tomorrow we head to Strawberry, AZ, home of cogdog (AKA, my brother Alan)!

Finding the blues in Austin

We were here
Visiting Austin

Our focus of the Austin stop was to check out the music scene.  Luckily, we found a LaQuinta (dog friendly) within walking distance to 6th street where all the clubs are located.  It reminded me a lot of Bourbon Street, maybe a little less smelly.

The street is lined with clubs and bars, most with live music starting in the afternoon and lasting until the wee hours of the morning.  Of course we had to find a good barbecue place for dinner and Stubb’s fit the bill.  I had seen Stubb’s  listed as one of the top music venues in the country.  They didn’t have anyone interesting when we were there but the barbecue was awesome!

We started our next day with a visit to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library a short distance away on the UT campus.  The library underwent a major renovation a few years ago.  The exhibits were interesting and very well done.  The 60′s were more Skip’s era than mine but so many things brought back memories for me as well.

LBJ's pens
LBJ’s pens

Studying the presidents and their wives
Studying the presidents and their wives

LBJ
LBJ

Signed by Abe
Signed by Abe

Favorite memories of my youth
I loved Spirograph. My sister had white patent leather gogo boots that she let me wear sometimes. I have a picture somewhere…

Loved Twister too!
I loved Twister too.

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Here’s the evidence – playing Twister in our backyard with neighbors Peg and Doug and disinterested Alan.

We just read her book
What a surprise to see this display. We just listened to her book about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail on the way to Austin.  It was very entertaining.

We also visited the State Capitol building where most of the rooms were closed for renovations. Once inside I remembered that I had been here before, years ago when I went to Austin for work. I was not thrilled about that trip since I would be away for our 3rd wedding anniversary. The staff in the office I visited were very gracious and took me around after work to see the city.

State Capitol - largest in the US
Impressive Capitol and beautiful grounds

Rotunda floor
Rotunda Floor

Looking up
Looking up

Yes, we're in Texas
In case you have any doubt where you are

Old in new reflection
Old mixed with new

In the evening we heard a blues band play before heading over to Moonshine for dinner. Thanks Dan & Donna for the recommendation – it was great. Skip tried the cucumber mint moonshine. I stayed safe with white wine!

Today we drove to Clovis, NM. Tomorrow, Taos!

BTW, thanks to Chris and Janet who are staying at our house and keeping our pool from getting too lonely!

Road Trip 2014

We’re off again on our 2nd annual summer road trip.  Our first stop was Pensacola, FL, the new home of our beloved Moondance.  When I contacted Mark and Mary, the new owners, they graciously offered to meet up and have drinks on the boat.  I had mixed feelings about seeing the boat.  I still miss our sailing adventures and have great memories of living aboard.  In reality though, I don’t miss the maintenance and anxiety of dealing with the weather!

We originally planned to just stop for one night in Pensacola but when I did some research and discovered that the #1 attraction was the Naval Air Museum, I knew we had to extend our stay.  As a real treat, Mark offered to give us a tour of the museum.  He’s a former Naval pilot and gave us so much more insight to the museum.
Naval Flight Museum
The museum is loaded with planes from the earliest days of flight through modern times. The large plane in this photo is the first plane to fly over the Atlantic.

Naval Flight Museum
Flying Tiger

Home of the Blue Angels
This is the home base for the Blue Angels. They were having a show the day we left. Oh well, we just saw them last month when they flew over our house for the Vero Air show.

Mark shows the F14 - He used to fly them!
Mark shows us his ‘baby’ – the F14 – He used to fly them!

Painting the Pensacola Lighthouse
We also got to see the Pensacola Lighthouse getting a new paint job

Pensacola
And of course we had to see the beach!

Mark and Mary - New owners of Moondance
The highlight of our visit was having happy hour on Moondance with Mark and Mary. They plan to go cruising next year and I can’t wait to read her blog!

Bailey makes himself at home on Moondance
Bailey makes himself at home on Moondance. He even chased the birds away!

We left Pensacola this morning and ended up in Lake Charles, LA. It’s just a stop-over. Although we found a great restaurant and took a peek at the lake, it seems the highlight of this town is gambling (ugh!)

Tomorrow, we’re off to Austin, TX.

Luberon Villages

We spent our last day touring in Provence in the Luberon hills.  This is a beautiful area of countryside filled with small villages perched on high hills, vineyards, lavender fields and orchards. Perched village of Gordes Gordes sits in tiers on the hillside overlooking a vast valley Luberon Valley Roussillon Roussillon is known for its red ochre. You can see the various shades of ochre in the buildings Red ochre hills of Roussillon Red ochre hills Many different shades of ochre Many different shades. I bought some watercolor pigments here to try! Painted door Roussillon Beautiful colors on the church Roussillon Olive picking ladder

Olive picking ladder Roussillon Provence Julien Bridge Julien bridge – The only remaining Roman bridge on what was once the main road from Italy to Provence. It’s over 2000 years old and used until 2005. We had lunch in Lourmain and continued on to Cucuron which has a lovely lake surrounded by 200-year-old Plane trees. Cucuron Cucuron Laden cherry trees Cherry trees  loaded with fruit Ansouis Castle in Ansouis

Ansouis church

Ansouis church

Ansouis

I took so many pictures of windows

Our last stop was the Val Joanis winery near Pertuis. It’s one of the largest in Provence. We walked around the gardens before tasting their wines. We bought a bottle for dinner. I’m hooked on Provencal wines! Garden at Val Joanis winery near Pertuis Garden

We’ve been home a week now and I’m almost adjusted to the time difference. I loved everything about France – the food, wine, scenery, culture, art and people were wonderful. I can’t wait to go back!

Here are some notes I took about our trip (in case you want to follow in our footsteps):

Boat notes:

LeBoat was a very good charter company. Our boat was a newer model and everything worked well. Although they advertise that non-boaters can easily manage their boats on the canal, I think that it would be a challenge for someone not familiar with living on and handling boats.

We purchased the starter provisioning package which had a decent supply of food, water and wine. I was surprised at some things that were missing – soap (dish and hand), dish sponge, trash bags, only 1 roll of toilet paper per head, cutting board, a knife that you could actually cut something with! We ended up buying a corkscrew because the one on the boat was not very good and we were exercising it often.

It was chillier than I expected in May and very windy. We had 3 days of cool, rainy weather. Forget the hat and sandals and bring more jackets!

Provisions were good in Homps and Capestang. Sketchy in many small villages when you could find a store that was open.

We used the laundry in the Capestang marina. Don’t waste your money on the dryer – it didn’t work.

We paid extra for wifi on the boat and it was good in most places.

Secure your bikes in a place that would be difficult for someone to step on the boat and help themselves. The locks provided aren’t the greatest but you can make it difficult for thieves.

If you use the stakes to moor your boat on the side of the canal in high winds, go to the leeward side.  Even if your boy scout captain secures the boat, you may return from lunch and find it on the other side of the canal.

The cruising guides aren’t great.  I’m used to the abundance of information available when cruising the east coast and Bahamas.  LeBoat provides a book with some information but you should try and supplement it with more details about the various towns, locations of grocery stores and restaurants.  It would be nice to know where things were their operating hours.

Don’t be freaked out about the locks and bridges.  Once you do one, you’ll quickly get the hang of it.  Boats can’t go any faster than 5 knots and they’re surrounded with bumpers so you can’t get into too much trouble!

Aix-en-Provence and Cassis

The second day of our Provence tour included a walking tour of Aix and a visit to Cassis on the Mediterranean coast. In Aix we walked the narrow cobblestone streets of the medieval section. There are several markets to explore. We also visited the newer side where Cezanne was born, lived and studied.

Flower market
Street markets are open several days a week and are full of lush flowers, fruits, vegetables and local items. I wish I could shop like this back home!

Pretty garlic

PotteryLove these!

Lush cherries
We saw heavily laden cherry trees in the countryside

Look at the variety of fish
Look at the variety of fresh fish

Delicious sausages
Yummy

Melons
These small melons are delicious with Serrano ham

Tomatoes
I yearn for tomatoes like these

Entrance to the old city
Entrance to the old city – small for protection

Cathedral Saint-Sauveur
Saint-Sauver is a 4th century cathedral with ancient roman columns. It was built on a Roman site. Inside you can see the remains of a Roman road.

Cours Mirabeau
Cours Mirabeau is the central avenue and hub of the city. On market days the streets are lined with vendors

Heading to the Mazarin Quarter
Walking through the newer side of town, the Mazarin section was built during the time of Louis XIV for the wealthy to live

Fountain of natural ground water keeps the moss growing
This curious fountain is covered with moss because it’s fed with ground water

On the way to Cassis we stopped to gaze at Mont St. Victoire from the spot where Cezanne painted it many times. I still remember standing in front of his painting in the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Standing where Cezanne painted Mont St. Victoire

Mont St Victoire
What an inspiring view

When Sarah said that we were going to visit Cassis on the Mediterranean coast and take a boat ride my heart did a little skip. Boat ride? Oh yes!

Cassis
Cassis is located on the quieter end of the Mediterranean coast, away from the bustle of the Cote d’Azur.

We had lunch at one of the seafood restaurants that line the shore. I had to have mussels and fries again. This time, Rick-style with Roquefort cheese!

Lovely white wine
Lovely wine from a local vineyard

Mediterranean shoreline
I had to walk down to beach and stick my feet in the water. Chilly!

We took a boat ride out to visit the calanques, rocky inlets along the coast.

Safe harbor

Calanque
Secluded beach

To end a perfect day we stood on the top of the highest maritime cliff in Europe.

Beautiful shoreline

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This is hard to beat!

I’m in love with Provence!

Sunflowers

We spent 3 wonderful days touring Provence with Sarah from Discover Provence.  She picked us up each day and introduced us to the beauty of Provence.  Talk about no stress!  We didn’t have to figure out where to go, how to get there, where to park and what to see.  Plus, we were only with 2 other couples, not a herd of people.  We learned so much about the history, art and culture of Provence. I can’t wait to go back and see more!

Enjoying our tour with Sarah - Discover Provence
Enjoying our tour with Sarah. We highly recommend her tours!

Our first day’s theme was Van Gogh and the historical sites in Arles.  We visited places where Van Gogh painted and lived.

Van Gogh's Yellow House
Yellow House

Roman Arena
Roman Arena – They still hold bull fights here

Love the colors of Provence
Love the colors of Provence

Van Gogh painted here
Courtyard of a local hospital where Van Gogh was taken.

These are the only Van Gogh Paintings you'll see in Arles
Sadly, these are the only paintings you’ll see in Arles. Van Gogh became famous after his death and most of his paintings ended up in The Van Gogh museum in The Netherlands

We visited an olive mill and learned how olive oil is made.

Tasting olive oils
After a few tastes, we had to bring some home!

Roman Arch near Glanum
Roman arch near the archeological site of Glanum

Glanum
Glanum was discovered in 1927. Hard to believe they uncovered a 7th century B.C. Roman city that lay below the surface for a few thousand years. It’s only partly excavated because they ran out of money.

Glanum

Reconstructed columns that show the original height of buildings
Reconstructed column that shows the height of the original city

Glanum
It’s humbling to walk on an ancient site and think about the people who lived there

St. Paul Monastery
This is St. Paul Monastery where Van Gogh lived and did most of his painting. His painting career lasted only a few years but left a huge impression on the world

Van Gogh
He was not a happy man

View from Van Gogh's bedroom window
View of the gardens from Van Gogh’s bedroom

Poppies

Enjoying Van Gogh sites
We really enjoyed learning about Van Gogh today!

Here Comes the Sun

After a few gloomy rainy days, we finally saw the sun again on Thursday. Being on the water is so much better with the warmth of the sun!

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Sunny canal day

We had a few adventures on Wednesday. After stopping at a vineyard for tasting and purchasing, we stopped for lunch in Argeliers. As we wandered the streets it seemed like the town was deserted. The first place we tried for lunch was closed.

I stopped to take a picture of flowers growing in front of a house. As I was walking away a man came out shouting and waving his arms. Of course I didn’t understand what he wanted. He came up to me and tried to grab my camera. That’s when I realized he was mad because I took a picture of his house. Guess I discovered the ubiquitous French troll!

We finally found a restaurant that was open and enjoyed a delicious lunch. The proprietor only spoke French and was very expressive and pleasant. The filet with mushrooms was superb topped off with tart tatin (apple tart) for dessert.

We moved on to Capestang for the night. It was our only stay in a marina. We stopped there mainly to refill the water tanks. I was happy to find a laundry. It rivaled Bahamas prices and the dryer was useless but at least we had clean clothes.

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Medieval church looms over Capestang

Tight squeeze
Tight squeeze

The next day we stopped in Poihes for lunch at a wonderful gourmet restaurant. Just as we left the sun appeared!

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The sun!

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Another low bridge

We tied up just after the Malpas tunnel for the evening. The tunnel is quite an engineering feat for its day. Trains also run through underneath the waterway. We could hear them coming.

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Malpas tunnel – one way only

After resting a bit and relishing the sunshine we hiked up the nearby hill to visit Oppidum D’Enserune, an archeological site dating from 800BC.

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The Gauls lived here amongst many other inhabitants

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Fantastic view of the Montady riverbed that was drained in the 13th century

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We had happy hour on deck for the first time this week.

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The sun returned on Friday. Yay! We continued on to Colombier and scouted around for a winery and/or market. No luck on finding a winery open but we did score some at the market.

The cruising guide is lacking a lot of useful information like what’s in each town and hours of operation. We’re spoiled by having such great cruising guides for the east coast and Bahamas.

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The bridge routine

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My view

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The canal is very peaceful. It’s not busy season yet. We only shared locks with other boats on the first day.

Before reaching our evening destination in Beziers we had to go through the Fonserannes staircase. It’s a series of 8 locks that work like a staircase bringing the boat down 45 feet in total.

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View from the top of the Fonserannes locks

If you look up Beziers in Trip Advisor the #1 attraction is the Foserannes locks. Since we were the only boat traversing the locks, we were the main attraction. People were all around watching, photographing and filming. I handled the lines ashore and had to yell at people a few times it get out of the way. One guy with a video camera wouldn’t move until I practically looped a line over his head.

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Our boat in the lock

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Water rushing in. We went through all 8 locks in 1/2 hour – very efficient!

Everything went smoothly – you won’t see any embarrassing videos of us on U Tube!

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Ominous clouds as we leave the locks

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View from the aqueduct. Yes, we’re in a boat on a bridge crossing a river!

After the locks we traversed an aqueduct and a really deep lock. We tied up at the municipal dock. It was not very impressive and looked rather seedy.

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Settling in for happy hour – Serrano ham and melon

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And wine!

I heard some noise in the middle of the night which turned out to be some hoodlums trying to steal our bikes. Rick and Eva heard them and by the time he turned on a light and hollered at them they got away with one bike.

Our first stop in the morning was to the police station to file a report. The charter company required it and thankfully, they didn’t charge us for the stolen bike.

After lunch we made it through 4 more locks and stopped one last time for wine before turning into the LeBoat base in Port Cassafieres. We had plenty of time to clean up and pack before pouring the wine. There’s no telling how many bottles we drank and we certainly didn’t keep count!

Today (Sunday) was a travel day. We took a taxi back to Beziers train station where we parted with Rick and Eva. Our train took us to Aix-en-Provence while they went to Paris.

The Hotel Cezanne in Aix is lovely. It’s one block from the train station and only a few blocks from the central boulevard. We’re taking a 3 day tour of Provence. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s going to be very nice.

Sorry I couldn’t face loading any more pictures. Apparently Flickr believes that everyone has a high speed connection and doesn’t see the need to let you upload smaller sized photos. Grrrrr…

Cruising the Canal du Midi

We awoke to a gray morning but at least it wasn’t raining. The driving station on top of the boat doesn’t have any protection from weather. When you see the size of the bridges we drive under you’ll know why!

I was so happy to see boats coming down the canal because that meant the strike was over. I did a little happy dance as the first boat went by and the Germans aboard looked at me like I was a crazy lady!

Our boat tied up on the canal
Our boat moored on the canal using stakes pounded into the ground

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In the lock. We are ‘locking down’ on our trip meaning that we are going from higher to lower water levels.

Cruising on the Canal du Midi
Driving along. The boat has 2 steering methods, the wheel or a joystick, and also a bow thruster.

Watch out for tree branches
You have to stay alert for low branches and bridges

Duck!
Duck!

We stopped for lunch in Paraxa by pulling over to the side and tying up to our stakes pounded into the ground. As we left, Skip said “At least we don’t have to worry about dragging anchor”. Hahaha. As we were leisurely finishing lunch a guy came into the restaurant and said that a boat came loose in the canal. Merde! Rick and Skip along with the help of the restaurant’s chef quickly got the boat tied up again. The only things we lost were one metal stake, our last few sips of wine and a little dignity!

The food here is amazing. Every meal, even the ones in the airport and hotel, seems more fresh and wholesome than our usual fare back home. Even the wine is different. I won’t say how many bottles we’re averaging per day but I haven’t had a single hangover. I could get used to this!

Lunch at Guinguette in Argens-Minervois

Wine tasting - Minevois
Wine tasting

Rose for lunch
Rose for lunch. Yes, the ‘pink stuff’ is really good here!

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Asparagus tart (quiche) and salad for lunch

We continued on the le Somail to stop for the night. I love walking around the small towns and seeing old walls with painted shutters and lots of spring flowers blooming.

She was very lovely,
She was lovely!

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Wandering the streets of Argens-Minervois
Walking in Argens-Minervois

Bridge in le Somail
Bridge in le Somail

Canal du Midi at le Somail
Canal spectators

Pate
Pate

French cruisers
French cruisers

Vineyards
Vineyards everywhere

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Our first aqueduct – a water bridge!

A Different Kind of Cruising

We’re in the south of France on a barge canal boat with our friends Rick and Eva. Yes, it’s a boat and we’re on the water but it’s a wide, squatty modern boat on a narrow strip of water.

The Canal du Midi was built during the time of Louis XIV and crosses from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. It’s an amazing feat of engineering with many (many!) locks that help you traverse the waterway.

We started our journey by driving to the Miami airport through terrific thunderstorms only to find out that our flight was delayed. The airport had closed because a tornado touched down nearby. The plane we were supposed to be on had to land in West Palm.

We were finally on our way 4 hours later which resulted in missing our connection in Madrid. Leaving much later from Madrid and arriving in Marseilles, we tried to make the last train to Carcassonne. Despite the valiant efforts of our taxi driver, we missed the train by about 10 minutes.

After a restful night in Marseilles and a leisurely 3 hr train ride we met up with our friends in Carcassonne.

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View from our B&B in Carcassonne

We stayed at a lovely B&B called La Posada del Castillo situated just below the massive walls of the medieval castle. The hosts were so friendly and helpful, not to mention the fabulous tapas dinner served on the patio with the view above!

We toured le cite and when we had seen enough, stopped at a wine bar to refresh.

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Cassoulet for lunch

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Eva and I bought matching espadrilles

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Tapas dinner

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The next morning we took a taxi ride to the charter boat basin at Homps. After a grocery run and boat review, we were off! Our first lock was just a short distance away. We were a little unsure the first time but caught on quickly. Rick drove the boat while Skip and Eva handled the lines. I jumped off to wrap lines around the bollards and push the boat away as the water went down.

We made it through 5 locks before stopping along side the canal just before Argens-Minervois.

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We celebrated Skip’s birthday with a fine dinner of wine, cheese, pate, salami, bread and apple tart. After only a few days here I’m amazed at the quality of the food. It’s all fresh, local and not terribly expensive.

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It’s raining this morning and the lock tenders are on strike for the day. Guess we’ll hang out here…c’est la vie!