Day 39: Toulouse to Moissac - Grampies Tour de France - CycleBlaze

May 4, 2018

Day 39: Toulouse to Moissac

Out in front of our hotel, in the shadow of St Sernin, I thought about how lovely a hotel building this was. A little earlier, though, I was not quite so smitten as we jockeyed ourselves around in the room, little bigger than the bed.  "Well, it's bigger than a tent", we said - our standard analysis. "Yeah but, with a tent once you wake up you have the whole great outdoors", I offered. "Unless it's raining" replied the practical Dodie.

Here  outside the hotel there was stuff you would not see outside a tent. First, there was a constant stream of students on their way to the lycee. Though their school may be called a "lycee", they looked to me like high school students anywhere back home. But next there was St Sernin. We sure do not have that back home! I looked at it more closely, because I read that it had been started with stone but due to cost constraints it was finished with brick. Actually, it looked like mostly brick to me.

Our elegant hotel
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Students on their way to lycee St Sernin
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St Sernin, with its brick tower
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It is slowly dawning on me that this brick thing is not just a case of cost cutting at one church. Rather, Toulouse is famous as the "pink" city, and this does not only come from stone, but also from a lot of use of brick.  We would soon see more of this phenomenon as we cycled down the Garonne canal.

To get to the canal we passed through a certain bit of the city, but we have by no means gotten an overview of the whole thing. We did, however, bump into a street market, something our daughter Joni who lived here for a year mentioned as a daily occurrence.

Toulouse is where the Canal du Midi (mercifully)  ends, as it dumps in to the Garonne canal, which is lateral to the Garonne River, on its way to the Atlantic. At the canals' junction there are some bridges and some explanatory signs. We naturally stopped to absorb these. But Toulouse is a busy place in the morning, and local cyclists have places to go. Two gormless tourists reading signs are an obstacle.

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A small market, installed on the sidewalk
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Waah, cycle tourists in the way!
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From the junction we set off happily on the Garonne canal  part of the Veloroute des Deux Mers, knowing that this would be good and safe cycling for something like 250 km. We immediately encountered some ducks, who entered my "are these ducks in a row?" contest.

This is a very good route
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...and its ducks are fairly in a row!
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In our travels in Western Europe we have almost never encountered what would be easily recognized as "poverty" and the same for "squalor".  But there was a bit of this along the canal, close to Toulouse.  It's important to put this in perspective. Perhaps 40 people may have been living in the spots we passed. That is very very few in percentage terms, and certainly fewer than what we see in North America.  For example our little town of Duncan, BC has about 5000 people and 100 homeless. The population of Toulouse is 1.3 million. Admittedly they may be hiding some homeless elsewhere, but proportionally they would need another 26,000 to live up (down?) to our standards.

Canal side residences
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Canal cycling, no matter how serene, can be boring. So distractions like oncoming or receding long distance cyclists are eagerly embraced. Very few will stop to talk, so one game is to analyse everything about them in the time it takes for them to flash by. Then we will say  "Hmm, out for a week's ride, maybe. One had no handlebar bag. That couple had quite unequal loads. That's a rear hub motor - sounded relatively quiet, etc."

One thing that is evident to the student of passing cyclists is that cycling couples are often colour coordinated, and also have similar equipment. Later, you may recognize the "red" or "yellow" couples, or the ones on folding e-bikes with silver batteries.

This is the context for looking ahead to two "red" cyclists with fluorescent green stripes and Platypus packs. They had passed us earlier without comment, but after a time for some reason, we began to pull even.

I went up and greeted the unfortunate one who was in the rear. I felt a little sorry for her. As the one that brings up the rear in our couple, I am the one who gets addressed first by anyone coming up and wanting to talk. If they are speaking French I often feel trapped into a French lesson. I am then relieved when they decide I am too boring and move up to talk to the more scintillating Dodie.

But here, Elaine as she turned out to be, was from England. I quickly learned of the tour that she and husband Dave were doing, from Bordeaux through to the Med on a northern route and back along the Canal du Midi, ultimately to La Rochelle and Normandy. It means we may cross paths on some future days as well. Finally Dave came to the relief of Elaine and rolled the whole caravan to a stop. Then the four of us had a good chat about, yes, yes, routes, bikes, GPS's, Rolhoff hubs, and so on. Finally it was time to move on, and we sent them ahead. Even fully loaded, unassisted cyclists are generally faster than us.

They seemed to quickly disappear down the trail. But ha ha, we walked in to the bakery in Montech, just as they were leaving.

This seems like a nicely matched set of cyclists...
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Elaine ShepherdI see you're still on the move, hope you're warmer now you have visited Decathlon. Safe travels.
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1 year ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesThe fleece tops from Decathlon have made a real difference in our comfort levels. They are warm without being heavy-just perfect on a cold rainy day.
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1 year ago
..but actually Elaine and Dave had some subtle variations in gear - like check the colour shades on those jackets.
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We had stopped in Montech to eat lunch, but with a bit of a twist. We had been freezing all morning, with continuing high winds and temperatures of about 13. We were just too chilled to sit down and eat the salad we had bought yesterday. So we were looking for a sandwich (or eclair!) better adapted to eating standing up. Fortunately Dave and Elaine left some for us in the bakery.

Before "dining" we checked out the church, which also had a tower like St Sernin and also was built of brick. In fact lots of the town houses were made from brick. Brick is definitely some kind of "thing" in this region.

Montech, brick church
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Inside the church, gloom gives the impression of great antiquity
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Montech, stained glass
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Buildings in Montech using brick decoratively.
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Montech also offered two other sights. One was a family of cyclists, in which we guess the youngest to be about 10 or 11. While eating the sandwich I had been observing the "meat grinder" functions of the roundabout. I was nervous to see the 11 year old going in for a spin. But surrounded by his family, he was fine.

Family of cyclists, on road.
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The second Montech sight is a can't miss, because the cycle path is routed right by it. It's the "water slope", and scheme in which boats are pushed up an inclined trough,floating on a wedge of water. This is an alternative to five successive locks. The pushing is done by two modified locomotives that are tied together on either side of the trough. The thing was built in the 1970's and abandoned in 2009 after an engine failure. There was a sign in the distance that seemed to say a plan was afoot to revive the thing. However we think that sign has been there since we first passed this spot, in 2013! Read more about it, here.

The Montech "pente d'eau"
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There comes a point where the canal crosses the Tarn river. Here they have a "pont canal", a minor engineering marvel where the canal is carried on a bridge above a river. It just always puzzles me slightly how the canal and the river can be flowing, at different levels and in different directions.

As we set out to cross this one we found the walking/riding surface to be made of very rough cobbles. We also did not feel like falling into the canal, so we walked the bikes. In the middle, coming the other way, we encountered a man pulling a wheeled shopping cart, as you often see in a French market. As he drew abreast of us, nonchalantly walking on the canal edge, he asked us in perfect French "Are you tired?" We explained that no, we just did not want to go for a swim.  The man then asked where we were going and where we had come from - standard questions for the start of a touring cyclist chat session - but this man was  "riding" a little shopping basket.

Well we learned that he had walked from Bordeaux. We can not remember what his destination was this time, but previously he had walked Rome to Santiago and Paris to Russia. He had then crossed to North America - maybe  to Alaska, and walked to Montreal.  The man offered us a tip on where in Moissac (which we were approaching) to find the Chemin St Jacques hostel. But we explained that we had done that last year, and so did not feel right about claiming the cheap bed and food this time.

Then we learned that the man was actually Italian, and that his perfect French was just one of the languages he spoke, including English. We did not try him out on English, though, because he said that the great French language used to do fine for international communicating, but that now English had grabbed the spotlight, probably due to the effects of the Internet.

In parting, the man noticed the "Canada" key ring dangling from my handlebar bag, and offered to trade for one of his native Florence. He set about digging for it in his shopping bag, setting his stove and gear precariously (I thought) by the canal, on the bridge.  So we successfully made the trade. The man now has a  key ring with images of two kinds of Canadian bears, and I have a to me priceless souvenir of this encounter with a far greater adventurer than we can ever be.

The pont canal over the Tarn
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The international walker
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We were not quite done with meeting interesting international people, for on the other side of the bridge we encountered an Australian couple riding hub motor ebikes. Following what seems to be my pattern, I addressed the lady, commenting about her having no luggage on board. I learned that they were camped at Moissac and were just out for a spin. So I asked about the bikes and was told the the Mr. was the expert of technical subjects and that Mrs. was only concerned about whether it moved when she pedaled. I learned from Mr. (we never did get their names) that they have Kalkhoffs back home, but had picked up these ones in England for 900 pounds each. The fellow was glad that for such a low price they still worked, in their own rear hub, cadence sensored, way.  They were not trying to tour with them, anyway, since in the campground they had a motorhome. Off they went into the town, having a whale of a time. I was buoyed by their exuberance. As you can see from the photo, Mr. had some certain claim to being "jolly".

A jolly cyclist
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The town of Moissac helped to continue the upbeat theme, by being beautiful. Here, the brick construction was much in evidence, and the spaces seemed open and accessible. Our hotel (Hotel Napoleon) was great too.  It is built (of brick) in a round shape to match the roundabout just before a brick bridge. All date to 1808, with construction mandated by Napoleon. Napoleon stayed here too, in that year. I could imagine (for better or worse) that he slept in our room, but since we are on the second floor that is not so likely.  On the other hand, when trying to take a shower I found the shower head permanently installed at neck height, to me. Just how tall was Napoleon, anyway?

We have found that Moissac has an old town that we have not seen yet, and market that will happen in the centre, tomorrow. This time it will feature strawberries. We'll be there!

Hotel Napoleon
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The brick Napoleon bridge
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A street in Moissac
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Looking out our window
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Postscript:

Near our hotel is a building with an interesting history. It succeeded as a shelter for Jewish children until 1943:

The story
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The house (second one in).
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The children
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Today's ride: 72 km (45 miles)
Total: 2,570 km (1,596 miles)

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Anne LnYour journal entries are so interesting! History, trail conditions, inner thoughts, interviews with those you meet, hotels, etc. Carry on the good work :-)
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1 year ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Anne LnThanks for the kind words. G;ad you are along for the ride.
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