|Ghostly finger rustle the leaves of the sycamore trees as our luxury barge, the Anjodi, glides slowly down the canal to the next lock. 'Hear that?' I ask. 'Brushing against the leaves.'
'It's the breeze coming from the vineyards,' my wife Lynda, says. Yet she eyes the shifting branches curiously. Reflections of the warm afternoon sun, filtered through the thick foliage of the trees overhead, glitter on the surface of the water. The smell of autumn is scented and soft on the nose, like an aged wine.
'Perhaps it is the ghost of Pierre Paul Riquet' I say. He built the Canal du Midi more than 300 years ago to link, the Mediterranean with the Atlantic. The canal skirts the sun-bathed shores of the Med before curving inland and winding its way 256 kilometers (around 165 miles) through France to Bordeaux,then on to the Atlantic.
'But we don't barge that many miles,' Lynda interjects. Correct, the Anjodi travels the southernmost 70 kilometers of the canal, passing-as the brochure says-'medieval villages, cloistered abbeys, Roman fortifications, and the vineyards that sweep across the heartland between Beziers and Carcassonne.''And the trees?' she asks, gazing at the parade of sycamores lining the towpath on each side of the canal. Forty-five thousand trees-poplar, willow, elm, cypress, olive and sycamore are planted along the canal.
'Duck! yells Mark the barge pilot, interrupting the history lesson. We turn to face the bow in time to see the arch of a stone bridge looming ahead. We bend down as the Anjodi slips quietly through the shaded channel. Mark, who told me he has piloted barges on the canal for 15 years, says the bridges aren't as much of a hazard as passing other barges in the narrow waterway.
The Anjodi, refurbished in 1994 and named for the owner's three daughters, Anne, Joanne, and Diane, is privately owned. The largest vessel navigating the Canal du Midi, the Anjodi is of classic Dutch design and measures almost 100 feet from bow to stern.
There are staterooms for 10 passengers (small but pleasant, each with a private bath) and quarters for a crew of four. The salon, where formal meals are served, is located amidships and has a fully stocked bar.
|Each night before dinner Lynda and I slip down to the salon for an open-bar 'happy hour.' Breakfast and lunch are served on the sun deck, weather permitting.|
There are eight passengers aboard the Anjodi on this late October barging trip, all Americans, ranging in age from 45 to 70. One couple, Sam and Lois, are from New York. Sam and I have something in common: We are both retired military pilots. Over cocktails in the salon, Sam tells tall tales about flying B-17s in 'The Big War.' In return, I brag about my exploits of derring-do landing at night on carriers in the 1960s.
Another couple, Al and Andrea, who are in their 50s and happily call themselves the "A Team," are from Hawaii, where Al grows exotic fruit.'I was watching television,'" Al relates, when asked why he decided on a barge trip, 'and saw an ad that proclaimed, 'Just do it!'The next morning I got on the phone and scheduled a barge trip on the Anjodi.''It was an invitation I couldn't turn down," Andrea says with her ever-present smile. 'I'm enjoying it because there are so many fun options: strolling along the canal, biking into canal towns, exploring medieval villages. I'm never bored.'
A mother and daughter team Ruth and Maria, are here to 'walk and talk,' Maria says.
The eight of us 'walkers and talkers'" boarded the Anjodi late one afternoon after a pleasant trip from Nice. We travelled through Marseille by rail to Beziers, where the boat's captain met us at the train station with a van.
'That's our captain?' Lynda whispered in my ear. 'He looks like a child'.'Everyone looks like a child,' I countered, reminding her of our 'chronologically advantaged' status.
The "captain" was a bit of a surprise. I had expected someone wearing a gold-braided nautical cap-or at least a beret. Definitely a French-man who spoke with an accent.
Our captain wore a burr haircut, pleasant smile, white T-shirt, and jeans. 'I'm Dave, your, ah, captain,' he said in perfect English. Then, almost apologetically, he added, 'I'm an American, from California. I speak pretty fair French, so I hired aboard'. Over glasses of champagne we met the rest of the crew. Besides Dave, whose job is to look after the wishes of the passengers, there are Mark, the 40 year old French pilot; Helen, the hostess, a young English woman; and the chef Christine, a vibrant French woman from Burgundy.
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