Death on the Canal, Pagan Crossroads and Medieval Laundries - Mysteries Around a Canal Boat

Living here, on the Canal du Midi, there is time to solve mysteries. I like that.
There are plenty of things we don't understand. Mysteries.

For example - this building, just across the canal from us.

Maggie May is the second boat - the dark blue one. That's ours.

What in the world is it? A nautical bus stop?

Turns out - when the canal was built, in the 1600's, (!) they provided laundry areas, or "lavoirs" along the way, as a service to the villages. The villagers were cranky about the canal taking up so much valuable agricultural space. Plus, they had to help dig the canal, whether they wanted to or not. Thus, the lavoirs as an appeasement.

Now, they are used occasionally by local fishermen.

Here's what they might have looked like - back in the day:

Now - every evening, the doves come down to drink unsuspectingly from the lavoir.
 However, there are large catfish lurking underwater, waiting for prey.

Suddenly, a fish GRABS the bird as it drinks - and it's gone!
Not a feather left!
The first time I saw it, I thought I must have imagined it.
Then - we both saw it.
- No wonder not many ducklings make it to full duckhood.

Then - there are cormorants. They dive smoothly to the bottom - and catch the fish.
They bring it back to the surface, swing it in the air and swallow it - in one gulp.

-Poetic justice in the world of eat-and-be-eaten.

A poor photo of the cormorant eating a LARGE fish.

(I might add - I have NEVER seen anyone else catch a fish here.
In spite of the number of fishermen, complete with all the latest equipment:
 - boots, gear, chairs and multiple poles. Nary a fish.)

Another mystery:
We  found these round metal disks - on bridges, churches, towers.
Were they a sort of inventory system?

No decent map of France existed until surprisingly recently.
The hinterlands of France (which includes Languedoc, where we are) didn't care much for Paris.

 - If they even knew it existed.

We're in Languedoc-Roussillon. WAY south - on the Mediterranean.

Back in the day, strangers running around with odd instruments, peering through strange eyepieces. This was bad news. Plague, pestilence, two-headed cows - anything was possible.

The safest thing to do was - obviously - kill the mapmaker.

It took decades to complete the map.

Turns out - these round disks are survey markers - and are still there.

Mystery solved. Cool.

The next mystery we found in the engine room of the boat.

Under the floorboards, between the huge engine and the huge generator, there were 2 spiffy looking jerrycans and a heavy duty dolly. What for?

After we owned the boat for several months, we asked: 
Where are the nearest fuel pumps on the canal?
The answer: There aren't any.

Really? All these boats - and no fuel pumps?
Pretty much - no.

So where do you get fuel?
-At the supermarket gas station.

-With the dolly. And the jerrycans.

The other option is to call a fuel truck.
You share 1000 liters with another boat. Or two.

-No wonder you have to get along with your neighbors.

However - the tanks on the boat hold 900 liters (about 240 gallons) of diesel.
I got to thinking - 900 liters of diesel - that's over $2000 to fill your tank.

-No wonder they do it a bit at a time!

The steps up from our boat to the road. No dolly here.

Then: We got bicycles.

Tour de France, here we come - well, maybe not.
(There are a LOT of bicyclists here, and they take it seriously. Up and down mountains.)

We're just exploring the countryside.
Trails along the canals are flat.

(Although we DID go up one pretty good sized mountain, and I cycled to the top. 
Well, actually, I took a long break or two part way up. Then cycled up the rest of the second half. 
A passing Tour de France type saw me and gave me a surprised thumbs-up. I didn't really deserve it-!)

The winding canals - and the vineyards - provide good trails.

En route, we find odd markers - tree trunks, carved into the shape of crosses.
Stone monuments at corners of fields, with an old iron cross on top.

Even dolmens with crosses.

So what's the story?

Apparently, when Christianity came to France, it wasn't very popular.
Most people were strongly pagan.

The Church used the existing sacred sites - trees, stones, menhirs - where the spirits already lived. And simply added the crosses.

That way, the locals wouldn't destroy the monuments.
Over time, the ancient sites became conveniently "Christianized".

Maybe everyone was happier that way.

And then -- the bikes go back onto the boat.

 - In just the right place, over the propane locker .
And - that's another story - until next time.

And the next mystery.

Sailing the Grenadines - How this Sailing Stuff Got Started

Somehow, this doesn't look - or feel - like France. 
It's not.

But this is kind of where it all started.

We're sailing in the Tobago Cays. 

Tiny islands. Amazing colors. 
Sea turtles. Eagle rays. Dolphins. 

A trail of starfish leads us back to the boat underwater after a snorkeling expedition. 

 We find a sailboat, a 57' catamaran, that needs another couple on it. 

We volunteer. 

With Isabelle, the French chef, and Frédéric, the captain. 
We don't even have to do the sailing - or the cooking - ourselves. 
Three others, a couple from England and one Swiss fellow, complete our crew.

It's very windy - 25 knots - but oh, the colors of the water!

We visit Carriacou. Saltwhistle Bay, Mayreau. Mopion. Union Island. Eat lobster on Petit Bateau. 
Petit Tabac. Petit St. Vincent. Everything very "petit". 

Between my feet and that white beach are sea turtles. And fat starfish.

 After a sandy salty week, we return to our rented house in Grenada.
We've been here over a month.

Feels almost like home by now. 

We'd been here before. 

Spice Islands.
Near the end of the chain of Caribbean islands. 

Closer to Venezuela than to Miami.  

Originally, a few years back, we thought we'd wind up buying and living on a sailboat. 

Two years ago, here in the Caribbean, we began seriously learning about boats. 
We read. Practiced knots. Took training courses.

We passed numerous exams, and got our licenses for bareboat chartering and coastal cruising, inland waterways, monohull, catamarans, navigation, and probably a couple of others. 

We hold licenses from the UK, the US, from Ireland, France, and from the EU. 
Countless books and hours of work. 

-Not that it really meant we knew what we were doing - by any means. 

We spent time on boats in Thailand, in Greece, in France, in Myanmar, in Laos, Indonesia, and all over the Caribbean.  I counted 50 islands we'd visited in the Caribbean alone! 

(See where Grenada is on my map? WAY south.)

But: At one point, we realized that - living on a sailboat, even a catamaran, isn't for us. 
Plus,  the idea of dealing with hurricane season - that just made the decision easier. 

So we began to look at canal boats in Europe. 

We considered over 500 boats (!), mostly online. 

Once in France, we inspected 30 boats from the inside, (here's THAT story) and eliminated another 30 from the outside. 

I made spreadsheets.
And lists.

And - you know the rest of the story.

When I was a kid, we lived in the Virgin Islands. 

Once, I was invited to a friend's birthday party on her parents' boat. 
I was probably in first grade. 

I remember being SO impressed! 

That memory has stuck with me over the years. 
I don't think I could swim yet, but man, I wanted to jump off that boat with the other kids. 

So I did. Jumped off the boat (still a favorite thing to do-) and started swimming. 

Yep. That's when it all started.

Brittany - The Wild Western Coastline

Heading south from Ireland.
By train and ferry.

To the furthermost corner of Brittany.
Land's End.

Celebrating my 65th birthday - in Brittany.

Like Ireland - a beautiful western coast.

And - there's an EXCELLENT walking trail around the coastline.
Maybe one of the all-time best anywhere.

It's rocky. Dramatic.

400 km long. The GR 34.

And as usual in France, there are good restaurants everywhere.

Signposts are in French and Breton. 
Dolmens. Rock circles. There's a Celtic - air - about the place.

Asterix and Obelix country.

Dolmens - are all over.

Just - standing out in corn fields.
Among the cows. Or behind someone's house.

How wild is that? 
A prehistoric stone structure - towering over your clothesline.

Brittany has miles of beautiful sandy white beaches.
But - no crowds.

It IS August, after all.

It has almost 3000 km of coastline.
That's twice as much as California.

-Guess that means there's plenty of beach for everyone.

Natural harbors. Tidy sailboats. Crashing waves.

And - the tide goes WAY out.
So it looks different every day.

You KNOW - it's got to be fierce here in the winter.
Raging winds and storms. Howling.

Like most Atlantic coasts in Europe.
Cornwall. Connemara. Canaries.

The wind has time to gather speed across the entire Atlantic Ocean.

As they used to say in Ireland, the next parish west - is Boston.

But in summer, it's pretty wonderful.

View from our bed in the cool tiny house we rented.

The seafood is - of course - excellent. 

First stop as usual: Moules frites and a pitcher of rosé.

Steamed mussels and French fries. 
Mussels. Scallops. Oysters. Fresh fish.

The place is FILLED with flowers. 
Particularly hydrangeas.
In almost ridiculous profusion.

There are also canals.

With barges and locks and flower-filled stone cottages.

Occasionally we venture into the towns.

Brittany is actually pretty busy in summer.
It's "the season".

Ice cream stands. Tourists.
The popular Breton crêpes everywhere.

But - the coast is what it's all about.
That's where the magic is.

After about 3 weeks wandering Brittany, it's time to get back onto the trains for us.
Heading back down to Maggie May.

Thru Paris.
Crowded in August with all the foreign visitors.

The Parisians themselves?

They're all on vacation.

Probably - in Brittany.

Why travel? HERE is a good reason.  Want more trains? Try HERE.  Swiss Glacier Express HERE

Boats, ships - they're great. But - if you have to take a plane, the best is flying your own. Like THIS.