Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Le Canal de Garonne, Aug. 20-24

Saturday morning we made our way through the center of Toulouse, completing the three locks in about 2 hours as we had to wait about 45 minutes for the peniche in front of us to complete the cycle. About 11 am we made the sharp right turn to enter the Canal de Garonne.

After completing the Canal du Midi in the late 1600's, the famous military engineer Vauban designed a canal along the Garonne connecting the Midi at Toulouse to the western coast of France in Bordeaux. The river itself was too shallow and rocky to provide efficient navigation. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century that his plans were approved and construction begun under the direction of Jean-Baptiste de Baudre. Work was completed in 1856 although the canal stopped well short of Bordeaux, leaving the last 40 k in the river. Unfortunately, management of the canal was given to the railway company that already had a similarly situated rail line. The rail company favored the trains and traffic on the canal was modest until the 1970’s, the main cargos being grain, wood chips for paper, wine and fuel. In the 1960’s the canal was modernized; the locks were electrified and enlarged to meet the standards of the rest of France but, as the Canal du Midi locks were never enlarged, the Garonne canal was essentially cut off for commercial traffic from the rest of the network. Now it’s a pretty, quiet, pleasure canal, traffic equivalent to the smaller northern French canals, i.e. not much. It's also used to generate electricity with several of the locks hosting small hydroelectric generators.

There are two rivers with navigable sections that connect with the canal, the Tarn at Moissac and Montauban, and the Baise at Buzet sur Baise. The Lot also used to connect but now the crossing is not navigable, although there is supposedly work in progress to reconnect it to the Garonne canal.

The first 40 k of the canal from Toulouse are not very pleasant; straight, the few village moorings choked with derelicts and “liveaboard” boats and right alongside a major freeway and the railroad. We shared the first 29 k with the 19 meter barge that preceded us through Toulouse, including the 9 locks. By about 5 pm we had had enough and found a reasonable bank where we could moor. Luckily the road and the trains quiet down at night.

Sunday morning we set off to find something better and found a pontoon about 11 k down the canal in the Foret d’Agre, just 2 k before the town of Montech. We were tied up at the small pontoon about 11 am and cycled into town where one of the French boat clubs, Association Nationale des Plaisanciers en Eaux Intérieures, the National Association of Pleasure Boats on Inland Waters, was having a fundraising fete.

Not sure why a boat club has a display 

of antique Citroens but there you go.

We’d already had lunch but we enjoyed a beer, listened to some of the music and then returned to the boat.

Monday morning we were off to our next stop, Moissac. 16 locks later, about 2:30, we were secure in town. We’d visited here last year so we already had the lay of the land but it was going to be hot again so we wanted to be on the river Tarn for shade and swimming.

First, however, we had to pay a visit to the famous cloister at the Abbey of Saint Pierre. The Abbey was founded in the 7th century, destroyed in the 8th, rebuilt and then pillaged during the French Revolution. Each time it underwent a careful restoration and is now one of the most beautiful religious monuments in France.

Each one of the 76 pillars is topped by beautiful stonework. Half of them tell some biblical stories while the other half are called “decoratives”.

The entrance door to the church is topped with a famous sculpture representing Christ surrounded by the 24 old men of the Apocalypse of St. John.

Tuesday about 10 we headed into the two locks that drop boats down onto the Tarn River. Shade and swimming were in order.


Friday, September 9, 2022

Toulouse, August 17-20

 Since our idea for next year is to backtrack partway on the Canal du Midi and then return to Castelsarrasin, we will be visiting Toulouse twice. This visit would be a short one, just to get our bearings.

With a population of about half a million in the urban area and about 1 1/2 million in the metropolitan area, Toulouse is the center of the European aerospace industry (Airbus and the CNES Space Center) as well as the home of one of Europe’s oldest universities (founded in 1229) and several other prestigious institutes of higher education.

The first historical mention of Toulouse is in the 2nd century BC as Tolosa. The city was the capital of the Visigoth Kingdom in the 5th century and the capital of the province of Languedoc in the late Middle Ages, making it the unofficial capital of the cultural region of Southern France. It is now the capital of the region of Occitania, the second largest region in France. 

We left our bankside mooring just before the suburbs around 9 am and were in the city center just before lunch.There is a marina but we didn’t need any services and there’s no shade there so we stopped just a little before it; a free mooring along the well shaded bank.

Max Gerrard, the broker who sold us the boat back in St. Jean de Losne, 

happened by when we weren’t there but took a picture and emailed it to us.

Our first stop in town was, of course, the tourist office at the Capitole.

The entrance is around the side.

We loved the tower.

After the tourist office, we made our way to the Place Victor Hugo and it’s covered market. The second floor is all small restaurants where we had lunch. It was loud and chaotic but Cathy Jo was the winner with a great plate of fresh fish.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets, getting our bearings and examining shop windows.

Tutus! A store of tutus!

They had a window of toe shoes, too.

We also took a look inside one of the many churches in the city, this one the Cathedral Saint Etienne.

Thursday it was off to Les Abbatoirs, the Toulouse Museum of Contemporary Art. We walked all the way across town, crossing the Garonne River on the Pont Neuf. The main exhibit when we were there, Orlan, Corps et sculptures, is no longer at the museum but you can get a look at what it was all about here . It is a museum of Contemporary Art. The other exhibitions were pretty interesting and in the basement, Picasso’s Le dépouille du Minotaure en costume d’Arlequin (The remains of the Minotaur in a Harlequin costume), painted in 1936 as a stage curtain for Romain Rolland's play Quatorzejuillet (July 14) dominated the room.

(Photo from France 3)

Friday we spent more time walking the streets, visiting two more churches, the Basilica Saint Sernin and the Jacobins church and cloister.

The basilica was built to honor Saturnin, the first bishop and martyr of Toulouse who was killed in 250. A small church was built in the 5th century but became and important stopping place on the Campostela pilgrim route. The current building was constructed in the middle of the 19th century after the original larger church, consecrated in 1096, was destroyed at the beginning of the 19th century.

Speaking of Compostela, along with the many bicyclists, the path alongside the canal is very busy with hikers, their backpacks decorated with the scallop shell indicating they are on a Camino.

Buildings have a very different look in Toulouse. Stone was (and is) expensive here so almost everything is constructed of the pinkish Toulouse bricks. It makes the appearance of buildings very different than what we’ve seen in northern and central France.

That tall thing is the facade of the Eglise Notre Dame de Taur

facing the street where St. Saturnin was dragged to his death by a bull. 

Reconnaissance complete, we shoved off Saturday morning to head for the Canal de Garonne. Unfortunately, just as we were about to pull away, a peniche (30 meters long) passed by. He also informed us he was being closely followed by another barge, this one 19 meters. We had three locks through the center of Toulouse before we would enter the Garonne canal and we would have to share locks all day with the 19 meter barge. It would be a tight fit with our 16 meters but, as they were all down locks, off we went. It was going to be a very long day.