Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Canal du Midi--Canal of Two Seas

The day begins with a sunrise off the balcony giving us a clear sign that this is the day to revisit the Canal du Midi.
Sunrise in Canet-Plage
Heading northeast from Canet-Plage, we take the peage (toll road) until the sign warns us of a "bouchon" right after "Sortie 41" (exit 41).  We must go beyond to exit 38.  Just before the exit lane, it's clear that to stay on the highway would be foolish.  So we exit at 41 and travel the rest of the way to Bezier on a non-toll road.  Looking back at the highway, we agreed the decision was sound.

As we exit the toll both, we see a gaggle of "Douane" (border patrol) checking the traffic as it enters.  While France does not have the police presence we see in the United States, we've noticed more interest on this visit.  And since we're near the border with Spain, it isn't unexpected.

On the southern edge of Bezier and within sight of its cathedral, we veer toward the east and the canal and stop at the Ecluses de Fonserannes, or the Neuf Ecluses.  (Please note there are accents belonging to several of these words including "peage" and "ecluses" but which I cannot seem to figure out on the blog, so for you francophones, please excuse.)
Looking up the locks

The Canal was built during the reign of King Louis XIV in the 17th century and opened for operation in 1681.  Originally called the "Royal Canal," it was changed in 1789 by the Revolutionaries to the Canal du Midi--more proletariat in keeping with their political interests.  It was considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the 17th century and has been in continuous use since then--for commercial purposes as late as the 1970s.  The canal is 360 kilometeres long and drops 620 feet in elevation from Toulouse to the Mediterranean.  There are 69 locks that adjust the height of the water between the Canal de Garonne and the Mediterranean.  The Canal de Garonne flows into the Atlantic connecting the canal from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

L'Ecluses de Fonserannes includes seven basins and eight gates and the change in height is astonishing to watch.
Trying to control the boat
A canal boat operated by a couple from Great Britain was in the bottom basin when we arrived.
The crew tying off the boat
He handled the boat, she the rope.  She walked along beside the boat tying up at each level while he tried to control the boat in the basin against the powerful surge of water flowing from the next gate up.
Filling the basin
Then the water levelled off and the upper gate opened and he moved the boat into the next basin while she carried the tether to the next tie-off.

Success despite his self-confessed white knuckles

On the opposite side of the canal, the lock lady shouted instructions and handled the locks.
Lock lady
As spectators, the whole process was fascinating.  As lock lady, I'm not so sure.  She goes from gate to gate shouting instructions and waiting, shouting instructions and waiting the whole day long.

At the top we found a plaque dedicated to Thomas Jefferson honoring him for his friendship and appreciation for France and its riches.
Thomas Jefferson--friend of France
He traveled the full length of the Canal when was in France in the 18th century--a hundred years after it was built.  This plaque is identical to the plaque facing the Mediterranean in Nice that I discovered on our trip in 2012.  I told the woman in the tourist office that it touched my heart.  The inscription is so generous, it even got me choked up a bit.  

After that dramatic view, we moved on to the Pont-Canal de l'Orb--a bridge which carries the Canal du Midi over the Orb River.
Canal du Midi over the Orb River

Standing on the Canal bridge over the Orb River

This bridge was built in 1856.

The Canal is very muddy and full of debris from the recent significant storms in the Herault area of France not far from Beziers.  During our previous trip, the Canal was a whole different color and sat lower on the banks.

Tomorrow promises to be another sunny day.  Perhaps we'll head up into the Pyrenees or pay a visit to Andorra.  

No comments:

Post a Comment