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France

Monks of Mont St. Michel

Mont St. Michel, France

Today we are off to see Mont St. Michel, which is a 3+ hour drive from Paris. We had no issues getting our rental car and were soon out of the city.
The road to Mont St. Michel is mostly highway that runs through Normandy. There are tolls every few miles. I think we must have paid about 20 Euro in tolls one way, but it's hard to know as they come in odd amounts- 3.7€ here, 5.7€ there. The scenery is mostly flat farmland with scattered forests, but not midwest-see-forever-flat, more of a flat enough you can't say there are hills, but there are gentle slopes and rolling waves in the land. It's very green here and the scenery is only occasionally broken up with a tiny industrial zone, village, or rest stop.
When there is some point of interest, the sign for it contains a sort of drawing for it in addition to the name. So even if you don't recognize the name, you can tell that it's a church, or park, or castle, or World War 2 beach.
We knew we were hungry and that food at the actual tourist site would be super expensive, so we agreed to stop somewhere before Mont St. Michel.
We attempted to stop at the first place I found, but the waiter came out to tell us that they were having a private party and he couldn't seat us. We passed some restaurants that were rejected, and found ourselves already in the Mont St Michel tourist site. We parked and decided to see if the part of the town not on the abbey island would have cheaper food. The first restaurant we ducked into was empty, but the guy told us he had no room for 2. I thought he was joking as it was pretty empty. But he was serious as they were set up for groups that were just arriving.
Mont St. Michel

Mont St. Michel


We continued on our way towards Mont St. Michel, and ended up walking the whole way there. I'm glad we walked it instead of taking the shuttle bus. The walk gave us a chance to view the island from multiple angles, to look out over the grassy area and watch the sheep munching away, and to just absorb the scenery.
sheep near Mont St. Michel

sheep near Mont St. Michel


There was also an option to take a (paid) horse carriage ride with some of the most loudly clopping horses.Horse ride

Horse ride


As we approached, I spied what looked to me like a Shinto arch. We speculated as to what it was- maybe a high tide marking, maybe showing where the 10-year flood level would be (it said 10 years on it). Later, we found out that it was exactly what we thought- a Shinto monument at the monastery because their twin city is in Japan.
Shinto Arch

Shinto Arch


We walked through the city gates, still looking for food, and resigned to the fact that prices just doubled compared to anything we would have found outside. The first restaurant we saw had a large group in front of it. The tour guide explained that the best omelettes in the world were made here and we could look through the window to watch them do it. The lady making them just looked like she was whisking away, and they came out huge and looking more like a highly risen pancake than eggs, so we checked the prices. It was 40€ for one omelette. We were sure we could do better than that.
streets of Mont St. Michel

streets of Mont St. Michel


As we walked along the cobblestone streets past the old buildings, we noticed that a lot of the restaurants featured the "Mont St. Michel omelette." When we finally settled on a restaurant, I had to order it to see what the fuss was all about, (but paying only 16€, which felt like quite the deal.)
The omelette was too huge for it to be a one-person meal. It's best split. The outside is sort of like a skin, and the inside is foamy and somewhat runny. All of the flavor has been beaten out of it, which I didn't mind too much as I'm not a fan of eggs. But it really needed to come with something in order to make it edible past a few bites. Fortunately, the table had a powerful French mustard that helped. Still, no variety in a dish that large wasn't very appealing, even if the texture was nice.
After lunch, we continued on our way up to the abbey. The streets are steep and narrow, lined with tourist shops every step of the way. It's very uphill, and just when you think you've arrived, you start the stairs. This is a mountain after all, and I suppose we should have expected multiple flights of stairs.
Abbey

Abbey


We had timed our abbey visit for the afternoon English tour. The guide was very knowledgeable and really helped us understand the abbey. She explained that the abbey was built at the very top of the mountain by a monk who the Archangel Michael came to in a dream and told to build it. It has been damaged and rebuilt several times over the more than millennium that it has been around. So, there are sections built in the Roman style, sections built in the Gothic style, and sections built in more modern styles.
Roman style section

Roman style section


Also, we're really only seeing the bones of the building. In the medieval times, the walls would not have been bare stone. They would have been whitewashed and painted with the colors of the day. To make an equivalent, we're seeing the studs of a modern house, after the wallpaper and drywall has been torn out.
inside the abbey

inside the abbey


Knowing that paints quite a different picture in the mind of what it would have been like as a pilgrim here. The monks have always accepted pilgrims and tourists as it was popular to come on a pilgrimage in order to see if you could get the Archangel Michael to put in a good word for you with the guys in charge of heaven. We saw where the rich pilgrims would be put up with fireplaces and space, and where the poorer pilgrims would be put up in a slightly lesser condition. But the monks didn't have heat at all, so they were worse off, especially in winter. Except, they did have heat in the infirmary.
Abbey church

Abbey church


So the monks were doing their thing, accepting pilgrims (who brought donations), selling souvenirs of the pilgrimage, and adhering to a Benedictine code, when the French revolution happened and made them all flee. The French revolutionaries took over the abbey and turned it into a prison.
We saw the equipment they installed and used to haul up all of the supplies needed for the many prisoners kept here. A couple of prisoners would hop inside a big wheel and walk. That would pull a rope that raised packages of food and other supplies.
big lifting wheel

big lifting wheel


The history of the Abbey continues without monks through the time when the Germans occupied it in World War 2 (but didn't damage it), until more recent times when a group of monks and nuns were invited back. They live here today, although they aren't Benedictine per the guide.
ramparts

ramparts


We walked the city ramparts back down to the entrance. They have a great view of the plain surrounding the abbey. At the time we were there, the water level was low, and the abbey was basically in a mudpit and wasn't really on a detached island. Hundreds of people walked across the mud towards the abbey, many barefoot. People still do this today as part of their pilgrimage. (We had used the bridge.)
pilgrims walking to the abbey

pilgrims walking to the abbey


The ramparts were much less crowded than the city streets and had souvenir shops and restaurants on only one side. It was a pleasant walk.
At the bottom, we bought what they called a beignet, but it didn't taste any different than Dunkin to me.
The tour guide had told us to be careful with our snacks as the seagulls in the area were known to snatch sandwiches straight out of people's hands. We got to witness this first hand as a seagull made an attack. The stories are true.
Watch out! He's dangerous!

Watch out! He's dangerous!


Having walked the half hour from the village to the abbey, we didn't feel the need to walk it back, so we grabbed the shuttle to the parking and headed back to Paris.
About when we wanted to switch drivers, we pulled over into a random small town that had some restaurants currently open, at least according to google. It was still a bit early for the French to be eating dinner, but we were hungry. Half the restaurants in town were closed and didn't even open until 7, so we got a nice view of the town, their pretty church, fountain, and town hall before we found a place to eat that was open. But we were able to get dinner and get back on the road.
cute town

cute town


As I drove in the dark, I realized the impact of light pollution. The roads here (including highways) are not lit at night. So as I was driving through the countryside, I mostly just saw black and car lights. But periodically, we would come across a town that emitted a red glow into the sky. It would soon pass and we would be back to darkness.

Posted by spsadventures 01:09 Archived in France Comments (0)

Euro Disney Princess

Paris, France

We're staying at a proper hotel and not a hostel, but the breakfast is basically the same. Good thing I had some veg left over from last night.
We got on the metro during rush hour, and the trains were packed. As we moved out towards the suburbs though, they cleared out. By the time we were a few stops from Disney, there was one other family in our entire car.
You may be wondering why out of all of the fabulous French things to do in Paris, I'm going to Disney.
1) I've been to Paris 4 times in the past 4 or so years, so I've already seen (and still remember) many of the wonderful sights there are to see. (See here, here, here, here, here for those blog posts.)
2) The friend I'm travelling with really wants to go.
So, we're going to have a fun day riding rides and taking pictures with Disney characters.
The train to Disney is mostly above-ground, so I got to see a wide variety of neighborhoods and architecture. Some areas contained neat little rows of quaint houses that were probably around when Les Miserables took place. Others contained funky modern factories and schools with rooftop gardens.
Disney Entrance

Disney Entrance


We arrived at Disney and the lines began. A line for security, a line to get in, a line to have your picture taken with a character, a line for the rides, a line for food, even a line for the bathrooms. Fortunately, I brought a book. While standing and reading isn't as nice as sitting, it's still an enjoyable enough day. And every once in a while, I got a reading break to go on a ride.
The rides are more or less the same as other Disney parks, but the Pirates of the Caribbean here speak French instead of English. The castle is Sleeping Beauty's instead of Cinderella's. It's smaller. But it's got the same teacup ride and same character-shaped waffles (I got mine Darth Vader-shaped).
Villan Show in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle

Villan Show in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle


Our real adventure came on the Dumbo ride. It started. Whee! And then it stopped midair and we sort of dropped a few inches. An announcement was made to just stay there, as if we had a choice, and we were lowered to the ground. As unexciting as the ride is, I admit that I would be a little upset if we had waited 20 minutes just for it to break while we were on it. They started it up again, gave us a super-short ride, and kept on as if nothing was wrong.
Another difference is the I don't remember so many people dressed up last time I was at Disney in the states. Here, tons of kids are wearing character costumes and approximately 1/3 people have some sort of Mickey/Minnie ears on. I've seen them in every color of the rainbow, every fabric from sequins and velvet to plastic and knit, and with tons of different themes. Pumpkin ears are popular, but I've seen rasta Mickey, plenty of sorcerer's hats, and even ones spouting chipmunks.
Disney does know how to entertain. Theme musicians played at the lunch spots during lunch. We got caught in a parade, and we saw a show featuring a bunch of villians (half French and half English). For those of us who are a bit older and less entertained by the same song on repeat and dancing wheat, it was interesting to admire the craftsmanship and engineering that goes into it all. It was like watching a magic show and trying to figure out how they do it.
Disney Parade

Disney Parade


The only particularly bad thing was the food. I got a "Hakuna Matata salad" with zero flavor. I couldn't tell if the orange chunks were squash or mango, and they had the exact same flavor as the lettuce, onions, and peanuts- none.
We rode most of the rides, although we didn't ride the Peter Pan ride, despite it being #1 on my friend's list because the wait varied from 70 mins to over 110 minutes and she wasn't interested in it enough to wait that long. We also got our picture taken with Pluto and Darth Vader (who also speaks both French and English here). Here is one place where I feel this Disney excelled. You don't just catch the character and get a quick photo and autograph. The characters actually spend time with each visitor, hugging and dancing and teasing and having fun appropriate to the personality of the character.
I admit I didn't have high expectations for the day, but I had fun and came away satisfied.
Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower


Once back in the city, we decided to check out the Eiffel Tower at night, as it was a 10 minute walk from the hotel. It is very different at night than in the day. They lit it up with lights that blink and sparkle and really make it stand out. It feels more decorative and fun at night, while during the day it seems more like a serious piece of engineering.
For dinner, I got a salad with goat cheese rounds and mustard dressing that would count as delicious any day, but compared to lunch, it was amazing. I'm not looking forward to leaving all of this amazing French cheese behind.

Posted by spsadventures 01:04 Archived in France Comments (0)

More French Food and Wine

La Redorte, France

I feel like we should be getting up earlier based on our bedtime, but I think the sleep isn't as good since the mattresses are hard and pieces of the bed that were pushed together keep moving. Also, the bed is too short for people our size. So we're spending way more than 8 hours in bed, but still waking up a bit tired and sore.
Still, we were up and moving before a lot of the other boats that were parked at Le Somail. Once we got through the town, I made a simple breakfast that we ate up top. I had cheese, bread, and the honey we picked up in the town by the abbey and my guys had scrambled eggs with veg and cheese and then some fresh veg and meat. Also the white wine we picked up yesterday, because we're on vacation and wine is totally legit for breakfast.
Breakfast

Breakfast


I got showered and dressed inside as he drove for a while, then popped back out to take some pictures.
Canal Town

Canal Town


At the first lock, we switched and I drove. It's so soporific. The engine provides a white noise hum. The canal water laps a bit in a slow, calm manner. The scenery moves slowly, but doesn't really change. Vineyards roll by on one side as trees roll by the other. There are very few flowers to add any other color to the scenery and so far, in all 3 days of driving, I have seen 1 squirrel and only a handful of birds. There is nothing to break the monotony until you get to a town or bridge, which are few and far between.
Bridge

Bridge


We passed through 3 of the 4 sets of locks before noon, but the 4th was closed for their lunch break when we arrived. We parked and took our own lunch break. I made the ravioli we bought at the Roquefort caves, but I couldn't really taste the blueness of the cheese.
Triple Lock

Triple Lock


Chicken at the lock house

Chicken at the lock house


After a short nap, we passed through the lock and headed back towards the Le Boat Homps base. We were out of water and needed to stop in to fill up. It was easy, although it took much longer than expected. We suspect that we didn't start with a full water tank as it seemed that we were filling up way more than we could have used. It didn't matter too much because the fill up was free, but we got lucky that we ran out doing dishes and not showering.
View

View


Since we had already seen what was to the east, we headed west. It was more of the same. We stopped just short of the first lock because we were finally going to get of the boat for more than 10 minutes and we needed to be on the Homps side of the lock. The boat is due tomorrow at 9am, but the locks don't open until 9.
Vineyards

Vineyards


We hiked along the canal through the vineyards. I was surprised at the number of grapes still on the vines this late in the year. The ones that remained were mostly low down and half smushed, but the one I sampled was plump, soft, juicy and delicious.
grapes

grapes


Occasionally, a small forest broke up the vinyards. I noticed a lot of fig trees in them, although none had any fruit on them. At one point, a forest blocked the path and we had to turn inward. We'd seen a lot of people biking and hiking the paths as we boated by, so we had assumed that the old towpaths just continued on infinitely. They don't.
Aqueduct

Aqueduct


But we found the town anyway. The entire area smelled like grapes fermenting. We saw the processing plant where they were squishing grapes from the nearby farms, which was part of the source of the smell. But it pervaded throughout the town, far from the factory walls.
Grape Processing

Grape Processing


The town was cute, although like most of the other towns we visited, there wasn't a whole lot to do. I suspect that these towns would be crawling with tourists in summer, but this is the off season, and they're pretty sleepy.
We saw a boulangerie/patisserie, so my guy decided he was hungry. He picked out a croque monsieur and I got some chocolate-looking thing. He wanted it heated though. And my method of trying multiple languages didn't work. There was only one person working there, and she was very apologetic about not knowing any of our languages. I do happen to know what the word for hot in French is- chaud. But I only know it in written form. I have no ability to correlate letters on paper with the sounds that come out of French speakers' mouths. My best attempt at pronunciation was butchering the word so badly she questioned me with a very puzzled look as she pronounced it properly in French. Enthusiastically, I said yes (about the only French word I don't completely mangle), glad to be understood and get him a hot sandwich.
I can't speak for the sandwich, but my own dessert was good enough I want to try to replicate it at home. It seems simple enough- make a swirly meringue cookie, coat it in chocolate whipped cream, and sprinkle chocolate shavings on top. The taste belied the simplicity. It was divine.
The only other shop that seemed to be open this afternoon was the grocery store. We didn't really need anything, but we went in to check it out. At the deli counter, they had samples out for customers to try. Not really of meat though, they were "future food." Now I get that it's much better for the environment to eat insects than mammals, fish, or birds. But come on, at least grind them into burgers or something. The deli just had dried whole bugs on the counter. I was pretty grossed out, but my guy not only tasted them, but decided to buy a tin for later. The only thing I got was mustard, as I had leftovers from yesterday and saw a second chance to make it better.
Took the short way back to the boat and arrived in time to flip its direction and cook in the light. For my guy that meant I had to translate some directions on the back of a package. But I just had to reheat my leftover celeriac potato cheese dish. It was much better with mustard!
Since tonight is our last night on the boat, we got organized for tomorrow. The boat is due back at 9am, so we have to get up early in order to get everything done by then. We still had time for one more game of Carcassonne though, which I'm excited to see in person tomorrow.

Posted by spsadventures 07:31 Archived in France Comments (0)

French Wine is Fabulous

Paraza, France

So I was up in the middle of the night and I don't know why. Maybe I'm not used to the nature sounds. I can hear the wind blowing. There is something that sounds like a plastic bottle being thumped against the side of the boat periodically. (It's probably one of the bumpers.) Maybe the moon is really bright and it reflects off the water, so it's not quite dark. Maybe I didn't move about enough yesterday to be tired. For whatever reason, my body doesn't think it's sleepytime, so as soon as I fall asleep (my super power), I wake up again.
Now that I'm up and on my phone, it's telling me that there's a meteor shower that's supposed to be happening now, per what I put in my calendar. Maybe I somehow remembered that and my body really wanted to see it?
I'm sitting outside on the back of the boat. It's dark enough that I can't see what kind of animal just made that big splash in the water, but bright enough that I can see the outline of the trees and the moonlight reflecting off the water. It's not very cloudy, so I can see tons of stars, but no meteor shower. Although it's interesting that the stars all seem to be flickering and wobbling. I'm assuming that's some sort of effect due to the boat bobbing gently + what clouds there are, but maybe I'm just seeing things.

I was ultimately able to get back to sleep.
When I awoke, we checked at the lock house and saw that it didn't open until 9am. So we had plenty of time to get organized. Fortunately, it had been cold at night and the food still seemed ok, although it won't be by the end of the day if we don't do something.
For breakfast I threw some butter in a pan, added sliced leeks, and then some boxed bechamel sauce after the leeks had cooked. Finally, I threw in some eggs. I didn't have good temperature control, so it didn't turn out exactly how I wanted, but when they were done, I plated them and threw a chunk of stinky French cheese on top to melt in. It was heavenly. I usually cook much bolder food, but the ingredients here are so good that even subtle food is delicious. My guy even commented that he didn't think we would have been able to get something this good any anything short of a super-fancy restaurant.
Lock Filling

Lock Filling


After breakfast, he showered as I got everything organized for the day. By the time he was done, the lock was open and we went through. It was only a few minutes to the next town, Argens-Minervois, which was where we had tried to get to last night. But it was just enough time for me to take a quick shower and hop out to tie the boat up.
Argens-Minervois

Argens-Minervois


We popped in to the little grocery market, hoping to buy bread and ice, but they were all out of ice. We got some frozen potatoes to help keep our fridge-turned-into-a-cooler cold temporarily. I called Le Boat and they said they'd send a technician to fix it, but it would be about an hour.
We took advantage of that hour to wander through the town. There's not a whole lot to see- an abandoned castle, a tall church, and some wine tasting place that was closed when we arrived. It is pretty though.
abandoned castle

abandoned castle


We rested on the boat a bit as we waited for the technician to show up. When he was a half hour late, I called Le Boat, but didn't get an answer. At an hour late and leaving 2 messages, we took off. The lock was reopened after the lunch break and we wanted to get through it so that we could keep going.
This time, the lock keeper had us fit into the lock with 2 other boats. It was a bit cramped, but he managed. One of the other boats was "normal" and one was super interesting. It wasn't a mass-manufactured boat at all, but more of a house built on a floating platform. The house even had plastic roof tiles that imitated the red corrugated ceramics that are typical on Mediterranean roofs.
Left is the house-style boat

Left is the house-style boat


We passed Roubia for now, but may stop there if there's time on the way back. We did stop at Paraza though. This cute town has a very fancy docking area. Small cafes and restaurants line the "promenade" for the docking area, and one had some customers. They sat outside drinking and singing.
Canal Town

Canal Town


We hiked up the hill to the winery, Chateau de Paraza. We didn't really find the entrance, but we went in through the factory side. I enjoyed seeing the machinery they used to transport the grapes, the big fermentation vats, and the industrial equipment.
Wine Machinery

Wine Machinery


I also enjoyed the wine tasting. It was free and they were generous. But most importantly, the wine was GOOD. I've had wines before that people insist are good because they're expensive. And I am usually unimpressed. I don't like wines where you can taste the alcohol strongly like they just mixed grape juice with rubbing alcohol. The wine we bought the other day (Languedoc region) and the wines here aren't like that at all. They've certainly got alcohol in them, but you can't taste it. You just get various grape flavors, although not necessarily sweet like grape juice. We both really enjoyed the white. I enjoyed both reds we tasted, although my Guy only appreciated one of them. I find reds too spicy to just drink though. They're much better for adding a lot of flavor to cooking, in my opinion. In comparison, the rose was just ok, even though it was better than 99% of the wines I've ever had.
We got a bottle of white to bring back to the boat.
Around this time, Le Boat called to apologize that the technician was running late and ask where he should meet us. I get that he has other things to do and am not at all upset at the timing of his arrival, but they should have called hours ago to say that he'd be late. We met him at the boat, he went in to check the fridge, and boom. It worked. Apparently, pressing the on button (which we tried) wouldn't turn it on, but holding it a long time would. (We did try holding, but I guess not long enough.) I knew it was something stupid like that, but it's just sad it took us so long to figure it out.
View

View


We moved on from Paraza, past Ventenac-en-Minervois, which seemed to also have a winery as the main thing to do in town, and on to le Somail.
The scenery here is dominated by vineyards. I'm hoping that we can hike through some tomorrow. I'm anxious to sit on my butt less and get off the boat more. While there's a great view from the top of the boat, driving it is a bit boring. The scenery is nice, but repetitive. And I want to be in it and touch it and experience it rather than just float through it.
Le Somail is a bigger town that was much busier than the others. We struggled a bit to find boat parking as the spots were already taken by dozens of boats.
Store-on-a-boat

Store-on-a-boat


After parking, we went into town to visit the boat grocery store I had heard about. It's really just that- a store that is on a boat. It's small, but had a surprising selection, including vegemite. We just got a baguette.
We had pre-dinner dessert at an ice cream shop. I got a crepe that was decent and my guy got 3 scoops of ice cream. The caramel butter salt flavor was really good, but the pistachio and nougat weren't particularly impressive.
We also stopped at a huge bookstore. It seemed bigger than some of the towns we passed. If only I could fully understand written French, I would have picked something up. Still, I enjoyed looking at the wide variety of books in the shop. They had antiques under glass, an entire Agatha Christie section, and modern cookbooks.
Book store

Book store


As we left town, we heard the church bells toll. It was as if they were saying, "go home, your day is done now."
Since we need to turn around tomorrow, we changed the direction of the boat, although in a somewhat unconventional way. We didn't really steer it, we just kind of used the ropes and push pole to manually turn it. It's probably not what they'd recommend, but it worked since our boat is so small.
For dinner, I continued enjoying my French ingredients. I had picked up a pomela-sized celeriac root. My original intention was to do something au gratin style with some potatoes, but we don't really have an oven pan. Also, the knives here suck. I wish they had published a list of what the kitchen contains and then offered some sort of "chef package" we could rent that contained proper cooking knifes, a peeler, a grater, an oven pan, a whisk, and other cooking utensils that might help someone who likes to cook. I would have paid extra for that since I'm really just here for the food. Peeling and cutting a huge celeriac root with an unsharpened paring knife was not an easy task. I have the blister to prove it. Still, I eventually got it and the potatoes and onions chopped, got them cooked in a pot with some deglazing wine, the rest of the boxed bechamel sauce and some cheese. It was good, although had I had just a bit of salt or mustard to add, it could have been great.
After dinner, we chilled on the boat. We played Carcassonne, which is fitting as we're headed there in a couple of days.

Posted by spsadventures 05:16 Archived in France Comments (0)

Cheese and more French food

Roquefort, France

We woke up with no alarm. Yay! Vacation!
After packing up, we made a quick grocery stop for breakfast at a Lidl. At the cash register, one of the people there apologized for the other workers, saying "Sorry. We only speak French and Arabic." I did happen to notice that a lot of the ladies shopping at the store had head coverings, but it hadn't quite occurred to me that we might be in a part of town with a heavily middle-eastern population.
surprise turns in little towns

surprise turns in little towns


Today, we had decided to head to Roquefort, where they make Roquefort cheese. The drive had completely different scenery than yesterday. The mountains we drove through were craggy and rocky, as if pushed up haphazardly as opposed to worn down and smooth like the rock surfaces yesterday. The coloration was also different as they were darker and not tan.
View by Roquefort

View by Roquefort


At some point during the drive, we had almost whiteout conditions due to mist and fog. It made driving along the roads that twisted and turned through the hills and forests somewhat challenging and I had to drive much slower.
Eventually, we reached Roquefort. I think that there are several different companies that do cave tours, but we ended up at the one near where we saw parking- Societie.
The tour is in French, although they gave us papers in English to explain each room to us. First, we saw a short video that explained how the caves were formed geologically due to some volcanic activity breaking up mountains and depositing rocks a bit haphazardly. As a result, there are long, narrow passages where the air continuously flows through the mountains. The "cheese masters" can block off or open these passages in order to control the air flow, which controls the temperature and conditions in the caves. There is no artificial air conditioning needed. We got to look up and down some of the air shafts.
We then visited an area where they explained a bit about the mold used. Roquefort uses a penicillin mold that they grow on bread and scrape off in order to dump into the (sheep) milk. It's fully mixed in so that it can be more evenly veined, as opposed to some other cheeses that just inject veins of mold into the already shaped cheese.
Cheese Cave

Cheese Cave


Since this is not the season they take milk from the ewes, we didn't get to see that process, just the room they do it in. But we did get to see the process of aging in the next area. They salt the cheese and wooden shelving and let the wheels all stand on their ends as they age in a big aging room. Since they have 3 different molds they use, it sounded like they had 3 aging rooms, although we only saw one.
Finally, the tasting! We were given 3 different products to try- one extremely creamy, one saltier, and one sweeter. Even though they were made with the same milk in the same facility, they were so different from each other.
As the car told us it was low on gas just before Roquefort, we headed off to get gas at the nearest open gas station (according to Google maps). It was 15 km away, requiring us to pass through a couple of surprisingly gas-station-less small towns.
St. Africa

St. Africa


We ended up in St. Africa, which appeared to be a cute little town, so we parked and took a look. The town was small, and the roads that wound through it were pretty narrow, as we have been getting accustomed to in all the small towns here. Roads seem to pop up out of nowhere between two buildings. And there is rarely any "yard" or curb or ground space between the wall of the building and where the car is supposed to be on such roads.
We seemed to have arrived during their lunch time as not a single shop was open except for the restaurants. We tried to get a table at one, but they said that they were not seating anymore as they were about to close for the afternoon. We tried another and got the same result, so we ended up eating from our stock in the car.
In searching for a grocery store between us and Homps, our next stop, I noticed that some of them weren't open- probably also on lunch break/afternoon nap. But, we did find a full-size store to stock up on food for the boat.
In Homps, we easily found the Le Boat docking area and got all checked in. Our boat is a tiny housebarge, but I'm finding that it's plenty big for what we need. We moved all of our stuff to the boat, got some explanations from one of their staff, and then went out on our practice run. We experienced steering, turning, and parking before he let us go off on our own.
Good luck to us!
Canal Du Midi

Canal Du Midi


The day is rather windy, so the boat drifts a bit, but for the most part, it's not that difficult to steer. The real challenge comes when trying to fit into the locks. The openings are pretty narrow and you have to be lined up well ahead of the lock. At one lock, we had to move to the side in order to let someone out from the opposite direction. I think the lock master took pity on us, as he started yelling commands at my guy, telling him how to turn in order to get lined up so I could tie us up.
Lock

Lock


Going down the locks is a feat of 18th century engineering, but since everything is electronic these days, it seems pretty simple. The lock master just presses a button and the doors close. He presses a button and the water starts draining. He presses a button and the doors open. Done. We're on our way.
We made it through 2 locks, knowing that there were 3 between Homps and a long stretch of the canal without locks. We had been told that the lock houses were manned until 8 pm or something like that. Despite being earlier, nobody was at the 3rd lock. So, we parked in front of it for the night. We tied ourselves up to some posts at the side of the canal, and settled in.
Lock House

Lock House


It's so quiet out here because we're not at one of the towns, so there are no people. Occasionally, we can hear a car pass by on the road, but even that's not regular.
The light started to fade as we set up for dinner, so we used the lights inside the ship to see. They aren't very bright, so we regularly found ourselves using our phones as flashlights. The kitchen comes equipped with dishes and basic cooking implements, although the knives aren't so great.
I was able to chop onions well enough though. Tonight, I made some not-quite-caramelized onions and threw in some blue cheese. It was delicious scraped up with chunks of bread. I also had salad. My guy made some sort of wine-glazed sausage. And we had fig jam with a cheese that looked like and had the texture of brie, but tasted nothing like it (much blander) for dessert. We were trying to use up anything that wouldn't hold well overnight as our fridge doesn't seem to be working. We're using it as a cooler, but we don't have ice yet, so it's just keeping in the cold of the food already have. We're hoping to get ice at the town in the morning, once we're past the lock, and also take advantage of the cold outside air at night.

Posted by spsadventures 04:29 Archived in France Comments (0)

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