Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday on the Midi

The obligatory bread run for breakfast took an ugly turn Monday as the bakery is closed. However Pointchaud (the town's little grocery store) is open but we are too late to get croissants - they're all sold out. We have to settle for pain au chocolate (croissants with chocolate baked inside of them). I know, I know, it is not a huge sacrifice.

The day's plan has us driving over to le Somail, a small town on the Canal du Midi, from which one can rent bikes. This tiny town about half-hour away from Thézan owes its entire existence to the canal. There seem to be no shops or services, several bed and breakfasts, a couple of restaurants, and several boat rental places along the canal. Oh and there is a large used book store claiming 50,000 volumes.

We arrive at noon as scheduled in spite of a misdirection by Olga the GPS. We chose the "optimized" route (whatever that is) which puts us for the last kilometer on one of those one lane paths. We can see we are headed between vinyards right for the canal, however, as we get close there are boulders painted white and red which block the car from traveling (although one could continue on foot). All is not lost however, as we see 2 new birds, one of which is a Houpoo and really a silly looking thing. Turning around is a bit tricky on the narrow path, but we make our way back and enter le Somail by a more traditional route - the road.

We park along the canal and are charmed by the ambiance of this little corner. An original bridge crosses to the south side of the canal and we walk to the yellow building where bikes can be rented. As I'm apologizing in rather bumbled French for my difficulties with the phone call we made yesterday to reserve the bikes, the gentleman says, "Or we could just speak English"

Barry and his wife came over to France from England 10 years ago to run this boat business, Belle du Midi. The connection we had yesterday on the phone was so bad that I couldn't hear them telling me I could speak English.

Barry sets up the bikers and they head off along the canal tow path with their packed lunches. Barry and I chat for a few minutes and he shares several of his favorite places and how best to visit Monpelier. All the Brits we've met so far have been charming and so willing to share with us what (in their opinions) is worth seeing and how best to do it. All of which has been incredibly helpful. Barry now locks up shop and heads off to get his wife's car fixed promising to be back around 2:30.

I walk back along the canal to what seems to be the only restaurant in town that is open. The sun is warm, but the wind is blowing quite strongly, so it is cool if not in a sheltered spot. There are several tables set outside and most have people eating lunch. I am seated at a small table in the sun sheltered from the wind. I order the "formule du midi" choosing the pork which comes with a crunchy but soft in the middle brown rice and local vegetables. For dessert I have a decadent gâteau au chocolate, a pie-shaped wedge of a cake which must have very little flour in it as it is creamy with just enough texture to know it is cake. It is my first real French dessert since arriving, and it is exquisitely delicious. A "pichet" (little pitcher) of wine with the meal and coffee for dessert surrounded by the sights and sounds of the Canal, warmed by the sun. What could be better?

After lunch, I wander the "hameau" (hamlet) as the map at the bridge indicates. It is indeed just that. There is one street on either side of the canal lined for a block or so with buildings, mostly to do with the tourist trade. There is a boat docked on the Canal that is a floating "épicerie" - that is, small grocery store. It is closed for the lunch "hour" (in reality 2.5 hours). There is a small street leading south from the town with one row of houses on either side before the start of the vinyards. By 2:30, I've seen all there is to the town and get my needlework from the car. I find a bench near the canal and the bike rental shop and stitch away happily. It occurs to me that it's the first time I've actually had the leisure to work on my stitching since arriving in France.

Barry appears shortly after 3 PM and he brings me a map where he's listed his favorite restaurants of the region. He tells me about his boats. Turns out he has a little boat that can be rented out for the day or half day. It's not allowed to go through any of the locks, but there are 56 km of canal between le Somail and the first lock and since the speed limit is 8 km per hour, you can easily be amused for a day or half-day. He has 2 larger boats that can be rented out by the week as well. He seems to be doing a great business, but as this is still early in the season, we wouldn't have any problem renting. We pencil in the Tues Wed or Thurs of the last week in April, weather permitting, to take out the little boat for the day with Ron and Chris. What say you two about a trial run on the Canal?

The bikers reappear about 3:45 all complaining of sore butts from the ride, but smiling from the adventure. We walk back to the restaurant for snacks and to catch up over beer, cassis ice cream and especially for lactose-intolerant Christie, a sheep's milk ice cream.

The bikers had passed a winery and we decide to see if we can find it on the way home. Domaine du Trésor produces 4 kinds of wine, a red Merlot, a Cinsault rosé, a grenache called gris de gris, and a Chardonnay. It is a vin de table, quite good, and 3 Euros a bottle. We bring home a dozen bottles.

We get home around 6 PM and while Katie and I start dinner (pasta with red sauce and salad), Christie and Dave go to the grocery store for fruit, OJ and yogurt. We have time for aperos before dinner and miracle of miracles, finish dinner while it is still light. Christie and Dave make reservations for a hotel in Barcelona for picking up Mike and Browen on Wed night. My computer is in use figuring out the next logistics, so I go to bed early. Another successful day.

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