(37) Agde, Etangs and Aigues-Mortes – May 2012.

As on previous occasions, returning to a mooring you have stopped at before was rather like coming home. Our spot on the River Herault had already been ‘home’ three times.

The nearby ‘Aviron’ (rowing/skiff/canoe club) was still frequented on certain days by school groups or individuals taking advantage of the river to pursue their particular water sports. The adjacent Boulodrome also opened for competitions on certain days and was occasionally used by lone ‘boulers’ practising their techniques. The two large passenger boats tripping out from Le Grau d’Agde continued to cruise by quite quickly each day but the river is wide enough here for their wash to have little effect. Even so we are careful to moor as securely as possible.

I was pleased to find that the gym in the park hadn’t been vandalised and I went there several times for some gentle exercise

Our resident coypu still swam past each evening, but the kingfisher stayed mainly on the opposite bank where it was joined by some rather pretty yellow birds (according to Peter……I never saw them as my eyesight isn’t as good as his and I never seem to be able to get the binoculars focussed in time.)

The day after arriving at Agde I went to Lidl to stock up with essentials, as Adam would be driving the Micra back to England later in the month. This would leave us reliant on foot and pedal power for future shopping trips (the motorbike having been left in the garage at the flat in January.)

To my delight, in the middle rows which hold household, car and gardening products, I spotted a 6kg powder fire extinguisher for 29,99 euros. We needed two more for our certification and had given up on our search in Beziers when they cost between 125 and 150 euros each.

A ‘Lidl’ bargain !

So the bird crapping on me earlier in the day had proved lucky after all! I looked in vain for a second extinguisher to no avail and then drove around Adge’s environs for forty minutes in search of the elusive second and third Lidl which I knew existed. With perishables in the car on what was the first hot day for ages, I returned to the barge brandishing my find and after studying a local map, Peter and I went out again and tracked down a second Lidl and fire extinguisher.

In improving weather we enjoyed an 18km cycle ride to the lighthouse at the edge of the Etang du Thau which marks the entrance to the Canal du Midi, passing through a nature reserve on the way. On the return trip we stopped for a couple of beers at the quirky restaurant above the stop lock and hoped to return there with Adam in a couple of weeks.

The lighthouse at the Etang de Thau which marks the start of the Canal du Midi.

Riding back through the nature reserve.

Johan duly arrived to inspect Peter’s alterations to the barge which had consumed our waking hours over the last few months, along with a good deal of cash.

Happily all of Peter’s hard work had paid off and reached Johan’s high standards, especially the electrics which had proved to be a huge challenge. In the end our Achilles Heel was the gas hob and oven, neither of which have the required flame safety devices. Short of beaming down replacements there and then we would have to wait a little longer for the certificate. Fortunately, all of the alterations are ‘in the bank’ as it were and once we sort the cooker out we can complete the job.

Unfortunately, the unseasonable and unsettled weather continued and it definitely felt more ‘Southend-on-Sea’ than the ‘South of France’; but we weren’t alone as the whole of France seemed to be experiencing similar conditions, not to mention the UK, parts of which were on flood alert.

Thursday is Market Day in Agde and we went there a couple of times as it is quite a big one. We bought reading glasses, sun glasses, asparagus, strawberries, vegetables and peas………..the latter purely because I remembered podding peas as a young child, before the advent of the freezer. They tasted more bean-like than pea-like…………….but then maybe I didn’t cook them for long enough? We paid another visit to the Melrose Café, enjoying a couple of beers before returning to the barge.

Essential after a troll round the market !

After lunch we craned ‘Joey’ the dinghy off in anticipation of Adam’s arrival and hoping to do a spot of painting on the front deck. Sadly, the wind started up again and blew all the dandelion-type seeds off the nearby trees onto us and into the river. It continued for several days and we shelved that idea for the time being.

Peter did manage to repair to the mast spar which he had discovered was a little rotten on the top whilst fitting the new mast light.

Being so close to the sea, I managed to persuade him off the barge again for a drive to Le Grau d’Agde and an ice cream. The town was quiet, but the ice cream parlour open and we enjoyed ‘deux boules’ each as we strolled out to the lighthouse. He was glad to have come though as we were able to get a closer look at a little seaplane. I had seen it trying to get airbourne when I was at this beach last year. It is kept and flown by the 80 year old owner of a small boatyard whose other mode of transport around the yard is a golf buggy steered with a ships wheel – quite a local character.

Amazing home made seaplane with it’s own slipway.

Would get a young pilots heart racing let alone an eighty year old, good on him !

Whilst awaiting Adam’s arrival, Peter caught some more huge carp and I read several free books on my Kindle. I also spent a pleasant afternoon sunbathing at the Tamarissiere beach where I had last been in October. Rather too breezy to swim, but the water seemed reasonable for a paddle.

A fine River Herault carp.

I also ‘did’ the ‘Circuit Touristique’ in Agde having failed to follow it on two previous occasions as some of the signs disappear at strategic points on the route. This time I followed a map and found passageways and squares hitherto unexplored.

Adam arrived having finished his finals a couple of days before. The weather which had been improving took a turn for the worst and despite a couple of fishing sessions, the carp weren’t biting. He enjoyed taking ‘Joey’ for a spin and on one occasion almost ended up swimming when he left it in gear as he started it.

Recovering composure after nearly going in !

Having sorted out Adam’s car insurance online, we went for a drive to Le Grau d’Agde so he could get the feel of driving again, not having done any for a couple of years.

Another visit to Le Grau d’Agde, too windy for the beach though.

After a lovely roast beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner on his first evening (cooked by Peter) and with our chosen restaurant closed owing to the bad weather; we decided to dine the following evening at a Chinese restaurant we had spotted en route to the shops. This boasted a ‘buffet volonte’ for 15,90 euros and we were well up for a Chinese by now.

First impressions are normally very helpful and we should have left as soon as we saw the buffet. This was flagged as a ‘buffet volonte’ and you could eat as much as you wanted. Everything was laid out in a chilled cabinet and as a result none of it (except perhaps the salad) looked at all appetising.

Having filled our plates, we were somewhat puzzled when the waiter asked for them and took them out the back. We had visions of steamy salad and cooked sushi being brought back.

A few minutes later, our smiling waiter (who bore an uncanny resemblance to ‘Odd Job’- minus suit and bowler hat) returned with our food. To our relief the salad and sushi were still cold and only the other items had been warmed up.

Never mind, we did have a reasonable bottle of red wine and a jug of warm water to quench our thirsts!!

After the buffet you could choose from four main dishes with rice or noodles. Peter chose the pork, Adam the caramelised beef and I the fish. Peter bravely had a second go at the buffet, but it was so unappetising that Adam and I passed up the chance for more.

Our main course was heralded by a strong smell of garlic which brought tears to the eyes. The rice and noodles seemed to be ‘old’ and the rest of it simply variations on slop. Slop with pork, slop with beef and slop with fish…………..mmm yummy.

Adam and I did our best, but Peter, who detests garlic at the best of times couldn’t eat a thing. Our smiling waiter asked if everything was ok Peter said no refusing the offer of an alternative knowing it would not get any better. When I said there was too much garlic, he smiled, shrugged and left. He lit up some powerful smelling josticks nearby which were so strong that they managed to overpower the garlic, but made another awful stink with their smoke going right down our throats.

Meanwhile, the water was still warm and the wine bottle nearly empty!

Law of averages would suggest that at least the dessert would be edible. How hard is it to cook apple, banana and pineapple fritters? – but that too was awful and we could barely eat any of it and there wasn’t even ice cream.

By now, our waiter had been replaced by a smiling waitress, who brought our bill and the offer of a ‘gratuit’ saki. Lovely, we thought. At least we will cleanse our bruised palettes with a nice drop of hot saki, on the house.

She returned and with an exaggerated flourish poured three small porcelain shot glasses with saki from a small flask…………alas it was COLD and very sweet. I tipped mine into the jug of  warm water. Oh that the saki could have been as warm! To our amazement, the bottom of each shot glass sported a rude miniature picture, magnified by the fluid above.

We paid our bill and left laughing at the absurdity of it all. Typical English!

The next day, Adam’s friend George (Turbo) arrived and unfortunately the weather remained windy and dull. They made the best of things though, playing boules,drinking Desperados and taking Joey out to explore the river.

Sunday dawned and although rather dull, the wind had reduced enough for us to consider crossing the Etang du Thau.  After dropping the Micra at Agde station, we left mid morning and headed off on our last section of the Canal du Midi. The threatening rain held off and the sun even poked through for a while. We negotiated our last oval lock and were soon entering the Etang. Here Peter was able to test out the speed of the barge using our sat nav as a speedometer. We made it up to the required 13km per hour and took photos of the sat nav as proof.

Leaving the Herault for the trip across the Etang.

Preparing for the arduous sea crossing !

Ahhh !

Trying to outrun the dark clouds during a welcome break in the weather.

The crossing was very pleasant and as we went through the yellow marker buoys marking the entrance to the smaller etang we headed to what we thought was the entrance to the Canal du Rhone a Sete, as it was the only obvious one. Fortunately, we realised it was wrong and Peter managed to turn the barge around and head back out onto the etang. Later at Frontignan we met a barge owner who had made the same mistake but had been unable to turn around in time. He had smashed into the low railway bridge and sustained serious damage to his wheel house. There can be quite a current flowing where the etang empties into the Med. even though the rise and fall isn’t huge.

After negotiating several fishing poles (in the ‘Interdit a Plaisanciers’ area,) we were still no nearer to finding our route and I regretted not taking a bearing from the last buoy. Fortunately we were pointed in the right direction by some locals in a small launch and were soon in the correct canal and heading to the port at Frontignan.

Subsequent days were quite windy and we were glad that we had taken the opportunity provided by a day of relative calm. Once moored, ‘Joey’ was craned off and Adam and Turbo enjoyed a short trip before dinner and a Led Zep DVD evening.

The following day, Adam and I retrieved the Micra by train, while Turbo sorted out the electrics for the flashing light in our new blue board (the only task which Peter had not yet been able to do.) After lunch Adam and Turbo ventured out into the Med in ‘Joey’ returning quite damp as it was drizzling again. Our planned visit and meal out in Sete was abandoned and we hoped for better weather the next day.

At Frontignan there is a lift bridge that is raised twice a day to enable the passage of boats on the canal; so we were up early and made it through in the 8.30am slot the following day.  After a couple of hours we had reached Villeneuve-les-Maguelone where we had spent several hot and sunny days two summers ago. It looked very different in the gloom of another dull day.

Some ‘barge press ups’ as we moor up in order to get tyres lowered into place.

A resident German self-styled ‘capitaine’ of the mooring in a tatty wooden cruiser shouted at any hire boats that tried to moor in the passenger boat space. With three large men on ‘Aurigny’ he never said a word even though we were part moored in that special place.

Peter cycled to the local station to get the train to Frontignan so that he could collect the Micra, and we wondered at the poor weather here compared to the heat wave now in the UK.

Having abandoned our meal in Sete, we still hoped to enjoy a seafood meal at nearby Palavas-les-Flots and also do a spot of wine tasting. We managed the former at the cave in the town – a first for Adam and Turbo. However, after walking around Palavas (which resembles several southern seaside towns with its canals, port and beaches) realised that we wouldn’t manage the latter. Our mooring could only be reached by a passerelle flottante (floating bridge operated by a guy with outboard motors) which stopped operating at 8.30pm and most of the restaurants only started serving at 6.30pm. We didn’t fancy the swim across the canal if we were a few minutes late!

Adam and Turbo’s first authentic wine tasting.

‘Oh yes, I’ll take twelve cases of this one’…well maybe just the bottle for now !

Undaunted, we did some shopping and made our own meal, enjoying a Dave Gilmour DVD session afterwards.

Wednesday dawned bright and sunny – Sod’s Law! Adam and Turbo were beginning their long drive back at midday. While Peter and I took advantage of the car for a final shop, the chaps took the little white train to the beach and enjoyed a paddle in the sea.

Turbo bemused by the free road train to the beach about a mile away.

‘Aaaargh, like this on the day we leave !!!’

Driver/Navigator team for the long drive back to England and no more Micra for us !

After they had gone, the barge seemed very empty and I took advantage of the change in weather to visit the beach and enjoy a swim! A flock of Flamant Rose (flamingoes) were swimming on a nearby lake and we saw several formations flying nearby.

We stayed at Villeneuve-les-Maguelone for one more day as mooring in salt water with fresh water anodes is not to be recommended. I took the opportunity to cycle to the Abbey which stands proudly overlooking the surrounding lakes. It is quite austere and set in pleasant gardens surrounded by a vineyard. The presence of a beautiful white peacock also explained the strange bird song emanating from that direction. Later that day we both went to the beach and I enjoyed another swim, my last in the Med for a long time I suspect.

A white peacock in the nearby Abbey.

Sorry Adam but it really was like this the day after you left !

Another white thing, this time on the beach !

We were invited onto an adjacent hire boat for aperros as a thank you to Peter for the loan of his fishing rod. This had been used to recover their parasol which took a swim and sank during one of the frequent gusts of wind.

Makes a change from carp and catfish I suppose.

We left quite early the next day and cruised through more lakes and wetlands to Aigues-Mortes. Instead of going into the town as we had previously, we moored on one of several wooden pontoons in the main part of the canal to the north. The more settled warm weather was a pleasant change to that of recent weeks. Late in the afternoon we had our first ever Gendarme inspection. They were very pleasant and checked all the ship’s papers as well as our passports and confirmed that we would be okay to moor there for a couple of days. This pleased Peter as the Monaco Grand Prix and Golf would be on at the weekend and there was a good signal for the tv.

Last sunset at Villeneuve-les-Maguelone .

Flamingoes on the adjacent Etang.

On our way through the long salty stretch towards Aigues Mortes.

Wide enough here for Nicci to feel confident.

The only downside of the mooring at Aigues Mortes was that one of the two passenger boats always passed by at speed taking no account of moored boats. It even managed to bend one of our large mooring spikes!

Our mooring just outside Aigues Mortes where we were boarded by the Gendarmes.

I took a couple of cycle rides into the town as I didn’t think I had explored enough on our previous visits. The supermarkets were en route too which was a bonus. Walking along the edge of the wrong side of a dual carriageway is not to be recommended however. Nor is lifting a bicycle over the barriers of a central reservation! The town was vibrant but not too busy and the Sunday market very good.

The round tower at Aigues Mortes.

Our wild mooring was adjacent to some freshwater lakes and every evening a herd of white and grey horses came by to drink and graze. The bird life was also interesting and I wished we had a bird book so we could identify them.

Local Pony club.

We continued our journey along the canal to the St Gilles lock. The etangs had given way now to wetlands and marsh and we spotted our first Carmargue black bulls. At the lock onto the Petit Rhone, we donned life jackets and readied our ship’s papers for an inspection which wasn’t forthcoming. We were hoping that the wild pontoon mooring just beyond the road bridge which we had used previously would be available and it was. We were soon moored up and pruning off the overhanging branches.

I did a bit of ‘Poohsticks physics’ –  inconclusive as Peter reckoned the flow was twice as fast as I had estimated. Whatever it actually was we knew it would be worth waiting till it calmed down a bit before beginning our trip up the Rhone.

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3 Responses to (37) Agde, Etangs and Aigues-Mortes – May 2012.

  1. Myriam says:

    Very beautiful blog. We are very happy for your visiting to our Melrose Cafe Agde.
    We hope you enjoyed your trip in our old city.
    Best Regards
    Myriam and Christian

  2. Anonymous says:

    Superb Blog, We have a holiday home in La Creuse, Limousin. No canals in our area because of the terrain but have drooled over the barge and the fish pics!
    All the best
    Pete

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