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PROLOGUE: In 2010 we cruised the Canal Lateral de Loire with Paul and Linda and Robin and Steve. This cruise on the Canal Lateral de la Garonne in Bordeaux was the reunion cruise of our crew.
August 20-25, 2018 Fredericksburg, Texas to Bordeaux France:
After over a year of planning, we departed for France to begin our “barge” trip on the Canal de la Garonne also known as the Aquitaine region of Bordeaux. Our flight from San Antonio made an intermediate stop at Dulles airport and then continued to Charles de Gaulle in Paris. There we boarded the TGV train for the 3 hour train ride to Bordeaux. A taxi delivered us to the AirB&B at 5 Rue de la Rouselle in the heart of the historic district of the city. We met our host who introduced us to the 3 bedroom apartment and offered suggestions for lunch places and directions to the cell phone store. First on our agenda was lunch and a beer and next to find a prepaid phone sim card for my phone. With these 2 items checked off, we let Google Maps guide us to the bicycle shop where we rented 2 e-bikes for the next two days. We rode the bikes to the tourist office to get information for planning our bike excursions for the follow 2 days. The first day we rode along a very pleasant converted rail trail to Créon and Savre-terre to visit the town and wineries in the Entre Deux Mer Appellation. We found Trucard winery with a very pleasant hostess who gave us an excellent tasting experience of their wines. We determined that we could carry two bottles with us in the bicycle basket which we would enjoy later on the boat. The next day we thought we would tour in a different direction ride toward the Medoc region…this proved to be more challenging due to the lack of bike lanes leading where we wanted go. We managed to reroute and find a winery, but arrived during the lunch hour and they would not accommodate us. At this point we decided to return to Bordeaux and return the bikes. We did stumble onto a nice restaurant along the way for a pleasant lunch. The return route was much friendlier than the outbound route; we found the bike shop and happily gave up the bikes and walked back to our B&B. After a welcomed shower and a change of clothes , we rested and waited for our travel companions Paul and Linda, to arrive. They had flown in earlier in the afternoon and were exploring Bordeaux. They soon appeared at our front door and we visited until it was time to strike out for Mama’s Shelter Rooftop experience…but alas the place was overcrowded and they could not accommodate us. Undaunted we discovered a nice Brassiere a block away on the square of the Cathedral where we sat outside and enjoyed a nice French dinner and 2 bottles of Entre deux Mer white wine. The next morning we were met by our wine tour guide who drove us to the Haut Medoc region to visit 3 second classification vineyards and wineries. The Classification dates back to 1855…only 5 wineries qualified to be in the 1st Classification…wineries like Lafitte Rothschild and Margaux; these of course are out of our price range and they do not offer tours anyway. The wineries we visited were huge producing close to a million bottles a year. The tour guides were knowledgeable about the process, but lacked on the engineering aspect of the operation particularly when it came to the glycol chilling units. Each of the wineries produced only two or three wines which we were allowed to taste. To our humble Texas trained palates, these wines were not pleasant and certainly not worth 150 Euros a bottle. We did convince our guide to take us to a wine shop where she showed us the 10 Euro bottles which she typically purchased. We bought 6 bottles for the boat and these proved to be much more enjoyable than any we tasted on the tour. We finally arrived back of the B&B around 6 with plenty of time to shower and change for the evening. We had dinner reservations for 8:30 at a local wine bar/ tapas restaurant to complete our agenda for the day.
Saturday August 25, 2018, Bordeaux – Castlesarassin – Moissac:
We began the morning with a short walk to a local bakery to buy breakfast pastries and croissants; also stopping at a green market for fruit. After breakfast we packed and prepared for the transfer to the train station and the ride to Montauban. There we found a taxi to take us to the Yacht Basin at Castlesarassin with a stop at the Intermarche to pick up supplies for the boat. Each of had an assigned list of groceries to buy for the boat and we blitzed the store in less than 20 minutes returning to the taxi with our purchases. 10 minutes later we arrived at the Base of Le Boat to check in and begin our cruise. We had some paper formalities to sign and deposits to pay, then the technician gave us a one hour long instruction on boat operation as well as demonstration of handling the boat through the first lock. Soon he bid us farewell and we were cruising by 5:30 in the direction of Moissac. The boat is a 53 foot cruiser with 3 en suite cabins, a full galley and salon. There is a sundeck and two control positions; one on the sundeck and the other is the salon. The boat is totally self contained with a generator and gas range, oven and refrigerator; there is even a gas grill on the sundeck. We will have to take on water at least once during the cruise. We started cruising passing through 3 sets of locks before we had to stop for the evening…there was still plenty of daylight, but the locks close at 7:00 and the canal is closed to navigation. We managed to sail within 2 kilometers of Moissac which meant we had only a 25 minute walk along the tow path to get to a restaurant for the evening. The last point of interest before shutting down for the day was crossing the aqueduct over the Dordogne river. We found a quiet location to drive some stakes into the ground and tie up for the night. Now it was time to open a bottle of wine and settle in. We discovered that all of the restaurants in town were located on the square of the Abbey. Linda had learned of a typical dish of the region from our wine tour guide called Cassoulet which she was determined to find. We looked at the menus of all of the restaurant but none listed Cassoulet. One waitress suggested we try one place across the square but we would have to ask because it would not be on the menu. Linda walked across the square and to her delight discovered they would make Cassoulet for us. They found a table for us and warned us it take 15 minutes for a prepare the dish which wasn’t a problem as long as we had some bread and wine. Soon 4 steaming bowls of a white bean stew appeared garnished with a pleasant side salad. The stew had sausage and pork and a lot of white beans. We described it as a dockworkers meal…very hearty and filling. Relieved that Linda had found her quest and satiated we returned to the boat for the evening..
Sunday August 26, 2018, Moissac – Valence d’Agen:
Our crew was not fully functional until after 9:00, but we wanted to get an earlier start so we would have plenty of time for the market in Moissac. Paul pulled the stakes out of the ground and we started through the first of 3 locks between us and Moissac which was less than 2 kilometers distance. We ate breakfast as we passed through the locks arriving at the marina in Moissac by 10:30 in the morning. The harbor master directed us to an open space and helped secure the boat. We made arrangements to use the space for 4 hours while we visited the market buying supplies for the cruise including meats, cheese, olives, fruits and vegetables. Paul and I also found a vendor selling belts for 5 Euros each so we now have new belts. We then walked on to the Abbey where Sunday services were just ending. Because of its age dating back to the 10th Century, this structure seemed to have a Moorish influence. The most important feature of the abbey was the entrance portal and the tympanum surrounding the doors. We then toured the cloister which is alleged to be the oldest in the world. Each of the columns around the cloister has a capital which is symbolic of a biblical story. With the aid of a printed guide, we could follow the story of each of the capitals. Soon it was time to return to the boat because the meter would soon run out and I needed some time to fill the water tank. Our first obstacle was a narrow channel through a draw bridge…the bridge operator opened the bridge for us allowing easy passage through the narrow cut. The sun was brilliant and we wanted to raise the bimini top to shade the upper deck…only problem was the bridges were so low we couldn’t pass under without lowering the top, so many times during the cruise we practiced raising and lowering the top. We arrived at the marina at Valence d’Agen about 5:00 in the afternoon having motored about 21 kilometers and 3 more sets of locks. There were plenty of available slips and we had no problem securing the boat. We attempted to purchase shore power and water using the automated kiosk…it took our money but we could not get the shore power to function. In frustration I gave up on the shore power and fired up the generator so we could have some air conditioning for the evening. Now it was time for happy hour on the deck and a chance to enjoy some wine from the Medoc and purchases we had made earlier in the market. During happy hour we searched the internet for suitable restaurants in town and there were only a few open on Sunday night. We found one which seemed suitable and placed our order. The service was so slow it was almost comical as we started placing bets on when the food would arrive. After 45 minutes waiting, we were finally served our shrimp salads and chicken brochettes. The food was only mediocre but probably as good as we could hope for in this tiny town. We returned to the boat after 10 to enjoy a cup of coffee and some chocolate before going to bed.
Monday August 27, 2018, Valence d’Agen - Agen:
Paul fixed omelets for everyone this morning…we had purchased fresh bell pepper and onions and cheese from the market in Moissac so we had all the ingredients necessary. Due to the passing of time breakfast morphed into brunch, but we pulled away from our mooring about 11:00 with plans to stop at La Ministere about 6 kilometers further down the canal. We only had to go through one lock before arriving; Paul drove some pins into the bank for us to secure the boat to. We unloaded the bicycles and found our way to the town one kilometer away. This was an old port town on the banks of the Garonne River, but today is was a sleepy little village completely closed for the noon lunch period. We realized that nothing would reopen for 2 hours so we returned to the boat to continue our cruise to Agen. Linda and Becky decided to ride the bike to the next lock while Paul and I managed to navigate the boat without their help. The girls did arrive and we loaded the bikes back onto the boat and continued on the cruise with a 4 minute stop at Bruzet to empty our trash cans. We only had 3 locks the entire day so we could cover more than the normal distance. We found the marina in Agen and tied up and connected the shore power. We had decided to stay here 2 nights which allow us plenty of time to see all of sights in the town as well as resupply the boat…mostly we wanted to be here on Wednesday morning for the market. We soon figured out all the nuances of running on shore power and settled in to begin happy hour. We had determined that we needed some fresh bakery items for the next morning so walked to the nearest bakery, but being late in the afternoon it was almost totally sold out…not a problem because it would reopen in the morning at 6:00. The Carrefour market was just a few feet away where we bought some needed supplies and snacks. Back on the boat we continued the happy hour waiting for the sun to drop below the horizon before started to prepare dinner. We had purchase some chicken breast earlier so we would have an emergency provision should we ever be somewhere without a nearby restaurant. Our boat has a grill on the deck so while I grilled the chicken, Becky and Linda prepared fresh broccoli and mashed potatoes. Soon we sat down to a fresh hot dinner accompanied by a nice red wine from the Haut Medoc. After dining we returned to the salon to wash the dishes and then started a bridge game which continued until 11:30. We enjoyed some coffee and chocolates while playing cards, but soon decided it was time to return to our cabin for the evening.
Tuesday August 28, 2018, Agen:
We had decided to stay 2 nights in Agen so we would have time to see the sights of the city and visit the market and Fine Arts Museum which were only open on Wednesday. We had an excellent mooring with shore power for air conditioning which we truly enjoyed given the 94 degree temperature on Tuesday. Because we had a very relaxed agenda for the day we enjoyed a late breakfast before starting our discovery of the town. Becky and I did make a quick run to the bakery so we would have fresh croissants to go with our yoghurt and cereal. We found the major pedestrian street and strolled along looking in all the store windows and eventually wandered into the tourist information office where we got all the information we needed to complete our visit as well as a dinner reservation for the evening. We visited all of the historical streets observing the architectural styles of the various periods. We went into a couple of churches and then saw the last remaining gate of the original city wall before going to the Cathedral of St. Caprais. This interior was covered with large colorful paintings of various biblical stories. The stained glass was good, but I couldn’t determine if the glass was new or old. Later we stopped for an ice cream and a place to sit in the shade until the museum of the Jacobins opened at 2:00. The exhibit was of old architectural pieces from Roman times when the city was much younger. Following the museum visit we walked back to our boat for an afternoon pause. Later we enjoyed happy hour on the deck and played a few hands of bridge before getting ready for our dinner reservation at 8:00. The restaurant (L’espanade) was nothing exceptional but we did enjoy and good veal brochette accompanied with a salad, French fries and followed with cream brulee. It started to rain as we were leaving the restaurant so we made a hasty walk back to the boat for more bridge and coffee before retiring for the night.
Wednesday August 29, 2018, Agen – Serignac:
Wednesday morning there is a market in Agen. We were running low on some supplies and decided we should see what was available. We knew that the restaurant possibilities for that evening in Serignac were limited to pizza so we went in search of items to cook on the boat. At the pork vendor we purchased a kilo of pork loin. Next from the green grocers we found zucchini, broccoli and potatoes. We also bought fruits and cheese to complete our purchases. We had to make a quick stop at the Carrefour to resupply beer and dish detergent. The girls had wanted to visit the museum of fine arts but Paul and I wanted to return to the boat to make everything ready for the afternoon cruise. When Becky and Linda arrived to cast off and headed for the aqueduct over the Garonne River and to negotiate the chain of 4 locks immediately downstream of the river. Crossing the longest masonry water bridges was quite fascinating but we soon encountered a problem at the locks as it would not open to allow us to pass. We called for help and very soon a man appeared who know exactly what to do and we were underway again. We needed almost 2 hours to pass through the 4 locks mostly due to the malfunction which held us up. The remainder of the afternoon cruise was easy sailing with a few bridges to pass under and only one more lock. The canal was grown over along this stretch with many tree branches extending out over the banks creating a narrow channel. We arrived at Serignac about 4 in the afternoon and found the marina. This quay was the best we had see thus far, but the automat for shore power and water did not function and the tourist office where we could check in was closed on Wednesday. But this was not a problem since we had just topped off the water tank earlier in the morning and we had a generator if we needed to run the air conditioner. Fortunately a front had passed through the previous day and the evening temps were cool enough that we didn’t need to run the AC. We enjoyed happy hour and then started to fix dinner. I grilled the pork chops and potatoes on the deck while Becky and Linda prepared the squash and broccoli in the galley. We sat down to the feast accompanied by a nice white Bordeaux wine we had purchased earlier on our wine tour. After dinner and KP, we sat in the galley playing bridge until midnight.
Thursday August 30, 2018, Serignac – Buzet sur Baise:
We wanted an earlier start today so we could arrive before noon in Buzet, which was about 15 kilometers of sailing. Becky and I took an early morning walk to the bakery for fresh croissants and then returned to the boat to begin the cruise. Serignac was a very nice mooring spot with water and electricity, but the tourist office where we could buy tokens for the meter was closed and we were unable to have shore power for the evening…fortunately the evenings were cool enough that we didn’t need air conditioning. We did have to run the generator for a couple of hours because the lights in the galley would turn off we think because of low battery power. The cruise was through heavily overgrown section of the canal although just pass the tree along the banks was cultivated land with fruits and grains ready for harvest. We had 3 locks to pass through and multiple bridges to pass under before arriving at the port of Buzet sur Baise at 11:30. This was the best port of the trip with a manned captainerie where we could get tourist information and pay for the mooring which included water and electricity. Becky and Linda got the information for visiting the wine cooperative and discovered that we needed to be there before 12:30 when it would close for the noon lunch break. The facility was a 20 minute walk away, but we arrived with enough to time begin a wine tasting. When we asked about a tour they invited us to return at 2:00 for the complete tour which would then be followed by a complete tasting. So we reserved 4 places for the afternoon tour and returned to the boat for lunch. On the return walk we stopped at a a 5 star restaurant just long enough to make dinner reservations for later in the evening. We arrived at the Wine Cooperative just as it was reopening for the afternoon. We met our guide and began the tour. The coorperative makes wine for over 100 local growers none of which produced enough grapes to justify an individual winery so they have joined together in this huge coop which has its own appellation and produces more than a million bottles a year. The tour provided some new information particularly in the production of organic wines and environmentally sensitive production of wine. During the tasting we were served 7 different wines which we all enjoyed excepting the first white which was sweeter that we could appreciate. The winery produced primarily reds, although there were also whites and roses. The wines were amazingly inexpensive with prices ranging from a 5 – 10 Euros. If we had our own container we could have purchase bulk wine for 2.20 Euros a liter. Following the tour and tasting we returned to the boat for the afternoon and to rest. At 8:00 we walked to the restaurant for dinner which proved to be the best meal of the trip. The menu was very limited with a 3 course meal with 2 choices of appetizer, 4 entrees and dessert. The meals were delicious and the portions generous…a truly pleasant 2 hour dining experience. We managed to find our way back to the boat for a brief bridge game before retiring for the day.
Friday August 31, 2018, Buzet sur Baise – La Mas d’Agenais:
Today would be our last full day of cruising on the canal; there were 2 places of interest we wanted to visit before arriving at the Le Boat base later in the afternoon. We had learned that we needed to be underway fairly early if we wanted to visit and sights before noon realizing that everything in France (or at least this area) closes for 2 hours at noon. After breakfast and one lock we arrived at Damazan which was an old fortified city overlooking the Garonne river. We had time to find the ancient Anglais Fountaine and then see the church on the town square. There were several other historical buildings dating back to the 16th century, Becky wanted to find a bakery for some fresh croissants and a small baguette. With that accomplished we ambled back to the boat to continue our cruise. We had read in the ships log that there was a cloister at St. Christophe which had began in 707. We passed through the lock and pinned the boat to the bank and set out to find the cloister, but Google maps did not have it in its data base and for good reason…only the site of the cloister was somewhere in the area but none of the locals had a clue about its existence…perhaps the guide book led us astray. At this point we only had one more lock before we would arrive at the base. There were a couple of nice looking restaurants situated on the banks of the canal as we approached the base which we thought might be a possibility for our last dinner on the cruise. We found a good berth at the base and backed our boat into the mooring for the final time. The man who had checked us out in Castlesarassin met us as we tied up and was curious about our experience. We chatted for a while and he suggested that we go ahead and check out at the office to avoid the crowd which would certainly be wanting to check out in the morning. While we were checking out, we tried to make a dinner reservation at the restaurant we had seen but unfortunately it was fully booked. Since there were no other restaurants in La Mas d’Agenais, we resigned ourselves to the takeaway pizza joint adjacent to the lock. We had time to walk into town want to visit St. Vincent’s church and see the Rembrandt painting there, but there was a wedding in progress which prevented our visit. We stopped at a small grocer for some chips and omelet ingredients for breakfast in the morning. Walking back to the boat, we stopped at the pizza shop and placed our order to be picked up at 7:00. Now time for the final happy hour on the deck and to enjoy some of the Buzet wine we had purchased the day before. The pizza was only mediocre but the Rose for the Entre deux Mer was excellent. We decided to pause to shower and pack for departure before starting the bridge game which continued until midnight and required another bottle of wine to top of the evening and the cruise.
Saturday September 01-04, La Mas d’Agenais – Paris – San Antonio:
With the cruise finished we had time to fix a huge breakfast of frittata to clean out the refrigerator before leaving the boat at 9:30. Our taxi was waiting at 9:30 to carry us to the train station in Marmande for the quick trip to Bordeaux with our continuation to Paris. The TGV train was very fast reach speeds of 180mph during the 2 hour ride to the Montparnasse Station in Paris. We took a taxi to the Grand Hotel des Gobelins and then started a tour of Paris on the Isle de la Cite where we visited the Conciergerie. We returned to the hotel for the remainder of the day and scouted local restaurants in the Latin Quarter. On Sunday we toured the Louvre, the Tuilleries and the Petit Palace with stops along the Seine for drinks and lunch and ending up at the Trocadero to enjoy a bottle of Rose while viewing the Eifel tower. Finding a place to eat dinner is no challenge as there seems to be a restaurant every 100 yards. On Sunday we took public transportation to Chantilly to visit the Chateau…this is a destination we can highly recommend on your next visit to Paris. This was a full day outing so all that was remaining was to pack and enjoy our final meal in Paris. Tuesday morning we caught a bus to the Gare de Lyon and then Le Bus Direct for the 35 minute ride to Charles de Gaulle Airport for the flight home.