Sun 9 May
A few km. Sunny with late downpour. Travelling day again. We had realized that none of the flash trains in either Spain or France were going to take our bikes. Fortunately there are plenty of 'regional' type trains that are beautifully set up for bike haulage, especially in France, where there are ceiling hooks in part of the normal seating area, such that you can either seat a person on a fold down seat *or* a bike - very cool. A series of 4 trains got us in a fairly direct way from Barcelona to Toulouse, via Cerbère, Perpignon and Narbonne. The brief layover in Narbonne allowed ud to establish that the French do bread about a bazillion times better than the Spanish (sorry Pep). There were boulangeries every 50-100 m or so, and they all displayed a wide array of breads - the 'artisan' bakery (of which there were many) had an even more amazing range of seeded and wholemeal breads in the French style, as well as many slighlty exotic breads, with lemon or almonds or one of many tasty additives (including lardons - calm down Andrew!). I could be here for months!!
Found the campground about 6 km out of Toulouse, and had a 'first ever' language experience for me - i understood a joke that someone told in another language (the campground owner asked if we would like sun or no sun with our booking)! Was quite an epiphany (and quite fortunate that the joke comprised some of the few words of French I understand). Even more amazing for me, i was able to reply with a joke of my own (by asking how much the sun was - very expensive, he replied...). Excuse me for making a big deal out of it, but it was quite an empowering experience...
In a rare moment, I cooked and Andrew had to eat it... As a general observation of campgrounds we have visited, the showering facilities have generally lacked a little something - pressure, temperature, or draughtproofing. Andrew has been forced to wait for the nights when we are at B+Bs to shower. This hasn't caused too many probems of odourousness - in fact it is me who has thrown out two shirts for reasons of general stinkiness due to old age. Am gradually lightening my panniers, but will be cycling in my undies by Norway at this rate!
Mon 10 May
90 km. Beautiful spring day in low to mid 20s. As we cycled into the centre of Toulouse for a bit of a look, an interesting clicking/grinding noise started to emanate from my front hub. Guessing that a small sliver of a bearing had sheared off and was being shunted around between the other bearings, we headed for a bike shop - Ii didn't have spare bearings with me. A door to door survey of 5 bike shops however revealed that they all shut on Mondays! Highly unfortunate (and slightly curious). On the plus side, the noise came and went a bit, so we decided to press on and hope for not too much damage. I was planning to splash out on some new wheels soon anyway! The canal was incredibly picturesque with trees lining it the whole way today.
The first 45 km or so were paved, and we shared it with runners, walkers and other riders (although mostly day riders), but after it turned to hardpacked earh, we saw hardly anyone. Weather was perfect - blue skies, mid 20s and shade from the trees... Andrew took a liking to the locks and to watching the boats go up and down through them. We went as far as Castelnaudary, where we found the campground closed and so had to slum it in a local hotel (80 E for dinner, breakfast and the room - with double bed...).
Tues 11 May
88 km. Beautiful spring day after overnight heavy rain. Had dinner at La Maison de Cassoulet last night. A had the signature dish - complete with strips of added pork fat that even *he* left aside. Other than that, was a good cassoulet. For rhe first time ever, i tried beef tartare (minced uncooked steak, for those not in the know - like me until recently). Came as a sort of patty with four separate garnish piles - ground parsley, ground asparagus, ground capers and diced onion. Also provided were ketchup, mayo, tabasco, mustard and Lea and Perrins. I mixed up a number of combos,which were all ok, but in the end, i think i prefer my steak cooked. Worth trying though... Today we pedalled from Castelnaudary to Carcassonne in thw morning, had a pleasant lunch in the lower town there, and then spent a couple of hours at the old fortified city. An amazing place all right. Extremely well preserved/renovated and amazing stained glass in the church.
Andrew had said that visiting a church was never going to be the same again after La Sagrada, but even he was impressed by the window-work here... In the arvo, we trundled on to Homps - another 40 km. We are now about 140 km along the trail. Since about 50 km, it has been unpaved. Largely, it is fine,and we can do 20 km/h comfortably, but some patches are a bit rooty and rutted. You wouldn't want to be on a road bike, but our bikes are spot on. Scenery was again beautiful - they must have planted thousands of trees some time after they built this canal (in the 1600's, amazingly). Further examples of superb bread were purchased as the day proceeded, including a particularly splendid olive baguette stuffed with whole green olives. Camping options were non-existent - except for the nudist canpground up the road, but I couldn't convince Andrew to go for that - so it was a room in a place right on the canal instead...