Our guest author, Martha Hepler, took over our Instagram feed during her family’s recent boat trip on the Canal du Midi. We are happy to include her story and photos here as we participate in Instagram Travel Thursday.
It was a fine early May day in the south of France as a new captain and his crew of three set off from the Le Boat station at Trebes. They were nervous, as they weren’t overly familiar with the ways of the water, and the party consisted of my husband, myself, our five-year-old, and our two-year-old. It felt daring and vaguely hair-brained, since we’re generally overwhelmed by our kids on land. But it also felt like a once-in-a-lifetime chance. The Canal du Midi seemed like a civilized sort of waterway, a staff member had given us a good lesson, and our Royal Mystique could only go but so fast–plus it conveniently had bouncy rubber things all around it for playing bumper boats!
We all ducked to clear the first bridge with minimal bumping and no head injuries. That stone arch glided over us like a harbinger of success.
The first lock was what really intimidated us, but after reading our instruction book over and over, tethering the two-year-old to the deck next to my husband, and receiving help from a neighboring boat that had experienced crew to spare, it went perfectly and we relaxed a bit. The second lock was a three-stepper: no worse because of that, and photogenic to boot.
We settled into a rhythm of relaxed cruising interspersed with focused lock maneuvers. By the time we reached our goal port of Carcassonne that night, we were feeling downright casual about the whole thing—with a side of accomplished self-satisfaction, of course. We spent two nights there, giving us time to visit the castle and the Tuesday morning market.
By then, we were all itching to cast off again.
Our days thereafter were filled with floating downstream (and learning lock maneuvers in that direction), waving at other boaters, breaking for lunch in the sweet canalside silence and riding bikes through the countryside, spotting wildlife in the water and the air overhead, strolling through sleepy towns in the cool evening, and obsessively cataloguing every adorable lock house. We even found the occasional playground. Our nights were filled with sleeping really, really heavily wherever we happened to moor.
According to Instagram, the kids played nary a video game and watched not a single movie, so that must surely be the truth. In fact, we spent all our free time in educational pursuits.
The two-year-old insisted then and still does now that his favorite part of the trip was standing on the sun deck and staring at the bikes strapped at on the stern—he will forever call it “da boat wiff ow bice’cles on da back”.
My husband was spared his usual case of the Vacation Ants in the Pants because he always had piloting to do. Eventually I was enticed to put my camera down long enough to learn how to drive the boat myself. It was easier than it looked.
Our turnaround point and accommodation for night number six was Le Somail, a town with no shortage of charm. After a delicious dinner out, we cuddled on the top deck under a blanket and watched the sun set as we read bedtime stories.
The final cruising day was hot and sunny as we turned back upstream. With snowy Pyrenees to our left, exotic birds flitting through plane trees to our right, and vineyards all around, we soaked in every precious moment.
Too soon, we glided into port and stretched our legs before one last night in our bunks.
It almost feels like a joke with no punchline: two rookies, a flighty five-year-old, and a burly toddler set off on a boat…and no one and nothing fell in, no crashes happened, the boat didn’t get hung up on the side of a lock, we didn’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere with no drinking water or run out of clean clothes or suffer from a stinky boat bathroom…in fact none of my fears came true! And I’m perfectly fine with not having or being a punchline; we are already dreaming about our next canal cruise.
Disclosure: We were guests of Le Boat, which offers houseboat rentals in Europe. They provided us with a complimentary week on one of their boats. All opinions are emphatically my own.
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