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Continuing on the Canal du Midi

Shake, rattle, let's roll - litterally!


Friday 11th October 13 (day 41)

It was cold last night, really cold. And the trains did sound like they were travelling through the middle of our tent, not 20 meters away from it. The fact that we were surrounded by water at the lock did not help the cold situation or the need to pee when I first woke up. Hardest thing about free camping on the side of a well used track, trying to time a bit of privacy between the passing traffic is a little tricky. But when you gotta go you gotta go and that guy on the bike could have just as easily looked away instead of copping an eyeful.

Anyway, we managed to scratch together breakfast, most importantly hot tea and coffee and we were on our way at about 11. Yeah I know, but still no rush.

The sky was blue-ish, but always cloudy, however we had no rain overnight and turned out all day it was dry also.

Our destination today was to get to Toulouse which we figured was less than 20 km away from our free camp as we had ridden a long way yesterday. The path again was good, but not very exciting, not much to look at and very soon we were in the outskirts of Toulouse. Like any bigger town the outskirts are industrial so like I said not much to look at.

In just over one hour of riding we came to the intersection of the canals ie Garonne and Midi. Lucky for us someone had hand written a name and arrow to show us the way to go. We don't really have the urge to go to the centre of Toulouse and know that the cheaper hotels are on the outside of the cities usually.

Cycling along the pathway next to the canal and the busy city traffic who do we run into but Frank - our Canadian friend we met a few nights ago. He had made it to Toulouse yesterday and was on his way out to find a tent pole he needed to replace. He told us about a cheap F1 hotel he was staying in about 10km out of town and this is where we decided to head to.

The cycle path through town did not go directly through the centre which suited us but was good enough to keep us out of the traffic. We just had to dodge pedestrians and other cyclists. Riding along I spotted a Velo shop (bike shop) and suggested we stop to see if they stocked the size tube we needed for Sofia and Fonsi but were having so much trouble finding. To their credit they did and we purchased 2 so that we had a back up in case of a puncture or flat tyre in the days to come when the track gets rougher. This was a relief to finally get them.

We rode and rode, stopping to get some lunch supplies as we started to head back out the other side of town. Frank had said the hotel was about 10 km out but we were starting to think we had somehow missed it. We stopped just before a highway underpass and Lyn asked a roadside food van if they knew where the F1 hotel was. Ironically it was on the other side of the underpass and had we continued on for another 20 meters we would have seen it for ourselves.

It was only about 2pm, but we had finished cycling for the day and yes they had room and it was a cheapy at only 32 euro - with shared bathroom facilities. But this was fine, after the last 5 nights free camping all we wanted was an indoors bed!

We had lunch in our room and basically rested the rest of the day. I went out at some stage to look for milk and bread for the morning. I rode for about 30 minutes back in the direction of town trying to find a supermarket which I eventually did after riding through a giant university campus. Wow this was the size of a small town.

We caught up with Frank later and we all had dinner together at Buffalo Grill an American restaurant that was next to the hotel. Not very French I know but it was all that was around and it was ok for a change. We had no problem chatting the evening away with Frank, nice bloke.

Returning to our room (which smelt like smelly cheese due to our breakfast cheese waiting for the morning consumption) we went to bed.

Saturday 12th October 13 (day 42)

Lucky we put the alarm on this morning as we had closed the blind which made the room very dark. Outside looked cloudy and cold and it was cold. Seems like the temperature has suddenly taken a nose dive. Not only the night temp but the day time temp also seems to have dropped dramatically.

We loaded our bikes, via exiting the bags out the window, great when we get a ground floor room. Riding off this morning was the hardest day yet due to the drop in temperature. The sky was cloudy with blue trying to come out. It had not rained overnight and did not end up raining all day, but we had a fair bit of wind which also added to the chill factor.

Path was good this morning and we were starting to wonder what everyone was on about that the path on this half was shit. Trees lined the canal most of the way which hid the sun from us but did make for pleasant outlook. Fields and fields of dead sunflowers just made me wish even more we were here earlier in the season to see them all in bloom.

We were making good time and stopped for lunch at Gardouch. With no end destination decided on for today we were just going to ride until we found somewhere suitable to stay.
Just after lunch around 2pm we hit the shit track at Avignonet-Lauragais. Suddenly our wonderful wide bitumen pathway turned into a goat track. 10 minutes later it got even worse as it turned into a very narrow dirt walking track. Tree roots and stones some of which were impossible to miss made for a very uncomfortable and bumpy ride. Enough to make our teeth shake loose. 20 minutes after we had hopped off the bikes our wobbly bits were still giggling around. OMG here was the pathway from hell that we had been warned about. There was no way we would be able to ride the rest of the canal on this sort of surface.

After about an hour it did get better much better. Not as good as the previous pathway but certainly enough to keep out giblets intact. And we had a long stretch that was on road shared with cars (although we only encountered a few) so it was manageable.

Somehow today we ended up riding the distance I thought would take us 2 days to do, because before we knew it we had arrived in Castelnaudrey - which meant we had come about 50km today without even noticing the distance, rough track and all. So as a reward we found a nice hotel - although we have a 3rd floor room without a lift (20 euros cheaper than a 1st floor room). The day was so cold we didn't even want to think about camping tonight.

We settled in (leaving our camping luggage on the first floor) and then went for a look around the town. Lyn was chatting with a fellow on the street while I was checking into the hotel who claims there are a lot of Australians living here but we did not encounter any. There is a large basin here where a lot of the hire canal boats depart from, a huge church and an old windmill - which are the major sites of Castelnaudrey. We walked around the basin, found some unusual passionfruit growing on someones fence which we sampled, soft orange skin and bright red inside, but the distinct taste of passionfruit. Wandered up to the old windmill, where there was also a great panorama looking out over the countryside, and then headed back to hotel.

We have a TV but of course no English channels. Surprise, surprise the Simpsons can speak French!

Sunday 13th October 13 (day 43)

Our room was cold but no way as cold as it would have been if we had been camping. Not sure if the tent is going to get another airing, but we will carry a little longer just in case. Of course being October the hotels have not yet turned on the heating which we would have had cranked up last night if they had. But the quilt was enough to keep us warm.

As is our usual routine, we woke around 9, had breakfast etc and let on the bikes around 11. The day looked blue skied, sunny and a little warmer than yesterday.

We rode out of Castelnaudary with a mission as I booked a hotel in Carcassonne for tonight, so this is the first time we have to be somewhere at the end of the day. Was not a hard task as the distance was only 45km which we have covered in a day easily, however we did not count on the poor state of the cycle path.

Our exit along the canal was not too bad but it was not long before the track turned bad and we were soon bumping our way along at a slower pace than usual to try and avoid damage to us and or the bikes. Less than a hour in we passed a fellow Aussie cyclist going the opposite way who gave us welcomed information regarding what to expect on the path ahead. He advised there was a particularly bad patch of track between Bram and Carcassonne which he seriously suggested we take the road instead. We did get to this part and there was a sign which actually said the walking/cycle path had ended. When we looked at the thin path that continued alongside the canal we decided to take the advice given and we rode along the road for about 5 km.

Lunch stop was at a roadside picnic stop near a village called Villesequelande. About another half hour on the road and we came to a bridge that crossed the canal again. The path looked passable again so we decided to take it for 2 reasons. The road ahead looked hilly and the pathway was shaded from the sun that was now beating down.

Another hour or so of bumping, dodging and weaving (our bike handling skills growing with ever near miss of a rock or tree root) and soon we were riding on a road on the outskirts of our destination town - Carcassonne. The hotel I booked was on the canal and opposite the port so easy for us to find. We glided in at about 3pm with bums and knees feeling the last 2 days ride.

Checked into the hotel, Lyn did a bit of sink washing and then we went out to explore the town. Being a Sunday afternoon of course everything was closed, but that was fine. We walked up to the old medieval city. This is an amazing sight with its giant walls and ramparts which were built to protect the city inside. The buildings inside are now tacky tourists shops and restaurants, so it is better to see it from the outside as the narrow cobble streets lined with these shops do the medieval city no favours. Although the giant basilica did have some awesome gargoyles. We did however have a wander around and a peek in a couple of the shops. Tomorrow we will explore the outside more extensively as we are having a rest day (not sure if our old bones can take another day in a row of rattling around on bumpy tracks) and will spend another night here.

Monday 14th October 13 (day 44)

Lyn went out for this mornings baguette, to the supermarket just across the square. We had a very comfortable night in the hotel.

Rest day is the plan for today, with washing hanging in the bathroom that also needs the day to be able to dry.

Mid morning we head out to go explore the medieval city that we had visited yesterday.

We were walking down the main pedestrian shopping street which was very quiet due to it being Monday not many shops are open until the afternoon. No idea why, but Monday seems to be just half a day, it was the same in Holland.

We were heading in the direction of the tourist office first to find out some information about a hire car, when who do we bump into but our mate Frank. He had just rolled into town - funny how we keep catching up with each other. So we walked together to the tourist office as he was looking for maps for this onward journey. We then all walked up to the old city walls where Frank bid us goodbye as he wanted to get his maps and get on his way.

The day was giving us another beautiful blue sky as Lyn and I walked around between the two ramparts of the town. I would guess that a bit of this has been resorted and is kept up but it was still pretty impressive that something like this was built in the 12th century. Deciding not to do another round of the tourist shops inside the walls we started to make our way back to the hotel at a slow leisurely pace. I must admit it was nice to have a full day off the bike to be able to get our bums back into normal shape (extra large) and to give time for the wobble to subside.

Stopping at a supermarket we bought some supplies for lunch and sat in a park to eat and watch the passing of traffic - auto and pedestrian. Who should roll up next to us but Frank! Having found his necessary maps and had a restaurant lunch he now decided it was too late to depart today when we spied us. Knowing we would have the best hotel deal in town he came over to ask where we were staying. As our hotel was just around the corner we pointed him in the right direction and made arrangements to meet up for dinner later that evening.

We relaxed the rest of the afternoon, enjoying the only English channel we could get on the hotel tv. BBC world where everything is repeated every 30 minutes, but at least it was in English. The hotels wifi was non existent, so there was little else to do.

Dinner time came around quick enough and Frank came knocking on our door. We chose a restaurant just around the corner from the hotel as earlier in the day we had spotted a flyer on a car that advertised mussels and chips for 5 euros. What a bargain, and they were very yummy. The portion size was a lot more than we expected also. It was a most enjoyable night, we all had a few laughs. Frank bid us farewell for the last time as it is doubtful that our paths would cross again as he was now heading inland over the mountains and we would definitely be sticking to the flat ground of the canal. Although we are going to be taking a few days off the bike as tomorrow we are going to hire a car for a few days to visit a friend of mine who lives near by. I met Noelle when we were both living in Azrou, Morocco and she is now living in a yurt not far from here. Seemed crazy to come so close and not go visit her and have a bit of a drive around the country side here.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 13:29 Archived in France Tagged canal du midi Comments (1)

Dune du Pilat - largest sand dune in Europe

very civilised steps to the top

Sunday 29th Sept 13 (day 29)

I was first woken by the sound of birds chirping - noisy little bastards. The second time by the campers next door arguing about if it was going to rain or not. The third time by the sound of rain drops on the tent - but they were only light so no panic. We had the best nights sleep in the tent to date - mainly due to the mildness of the night. Much easier to sleep camping when it is not so cold.

Being Sunday we had a cooked breakfast of poached eggs. The day does not look too promising for no rain but we potted around and then finally headed off for the afternoon on our bikes to explore around a little. We rode about 6km south out of town to Dune du Pilat. This is the largest sand dune in Europe - 3km long by 117m high - and would you believe there is a staircase for you to climb to the top. Hats off to the French! Much easier climbing 160 steps (although a bit lopsided) to the top of a sand dune than trying to struggle up the slope of the giant sand mound. Pretty cool from the top we could view out into the Atlantic Ocean and inland across a great forested area. We saw parasailers jumping off the dune and riding the thermals over the sand and ocean.

Back down at sea level we had just ducked inside a touristy shop - one of many which line the pathway to the dune - when it started to rain. Came down heavy-ish for about 10 minutes then when it had just about stopped we decided to brave it and head back to the bikes for lunch was waiting in one of the panniers. Well we thought it was, but alas we had forgotten the bread and all we had was a round of very smelly cheese. Don't be put off when I say smelly cheese cause the smellier the better tasting. But it would have to wait until we returned to camp as being a Sunday afternoon there was no hope of finding any kind of shop open to buy bread. Luckily we also had a banana each - which had been sharing the bag with the smelly cheese and although tasted alright did have an aroma which did not relate to banana! Much the same as our jumpers which shared the same bag. Which I guess was transferred to our bodies when we donned the jumpers. Oh well, there are worse things to smell of than smelly cheese, isn't there???

It was still raining when we wanted to leave so we just put on our rain capes - which are still keeping us dry but really do need replacing as all the tape inside on the seams has come away - and rode back towards Arcachon. The rain soon stopped and we were able to dry our capes in the wind as we stood beachside watching the many kite surfers do their stuff.

The bike paths here a fantastic - would be even better if people did not use them for walking when there is a perfectly good footpath right next to it. But so far we have not hit anyone, very close a few times, but if you choose to walk on a velo path, ignore my bell and me yelling 'hello, get off the bike path' well then you deserve to be hit my me on Fonsi - whose brakes are not what they used to be.

We rode along the shore and boulevard and up to the port for about an hour. The rain had stopped so there were lots of people out walking also. Around 4pm hunger got the better of us and we rode back to camp to eat our left behind bread and smelly cheese (which was magnificent by the way.) It rained on and off for the rest of the afternoon and evening with the sun showing its face at about 6pm like it always does. It's like a little tease to say hey maybe you will see more of me tomorrow! We have taken shelter on the veranda of one of the cabins (which are not available for use due to them being closed for the season) as there is nowhere else for tent campers to be out of the rain unless we want to sit in our tiny tent or stand in the toilet block. We decided we will cook dinner here as well until someone shoos us away. So hot shower, cook dinner then bed - should be dark by then - gets dark around 8pm. Not much else we can do and we need the rest after our strenuous day.


Posted by Cindy Bruin 12:09 Archived in France Tagged du dune arcachon pilat Comments (2)

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