We left Castelnaudary with a heavy heart after having lit a candle for our beloved little Bonnie at the collégiale de Saint Michel. We had always planned to make our way back down to Toulouse, and then on to the canal de Garonne for rendezvous with friends at the end of the month. We enjoyed our last days on the Midi and then had a few days in Toulouse to catch up on shopping and unvisited sights.
We decided to go on the so-called Pastel tour. Our guide was a very knowledgeable lady who told us all about the trade in woad in the 16th and 17th centuries which made Toulouse into an extremely wealthy city with some fine mansions built with the proceeds. The leaves of the woad plant undergo various processes before being used to make a rather foul-smelling liquid which in turn dyes natural fabrics to various shades of blue. When the fabrics are in the liquid they remain a rather murky colour, but once exposed to the air the beautiful indelible blue colour is revealed. It made for a rather dramatic demonstration by the Pastel expert. Unfortunately, once trade in indigo was established in the 19th century woad became a less popular form of blue dye and the fortunes of Toulouse altered. The current trend in woad is just a small cottage industry, and the dyeing process is so long that the cost of the dyed items is quite high. More recently the grains from the woad plant have been ground to make an oil which is used in cosmetics. We were taken to the cosmetics emporium and indeed the products are lovely...
And so, back on to the canal de Garonne where we saw some of our Garonne friends who were still making their way towards their winter moorings. We made our own way, and managed to stop at one or two places we had missed on the outbound journey. Eventually we were in situ for friends to join us at Le Mas d'Agenais. David had planned a fantastic week for them starting with Le Mas which is beginning to look like a village worthy of a surprise Rembrandt painting in the church. The church and the Halle are both splendidly restored buildings now. We then made our way to Meilhan where we attended the last night market of the season. Somehow we have managed to always be in the wrong village on the wrong evening, so this was actually our first marché nocturne too. We all thoroughly enjoyed it! Oysters, snails, canard, paté de foie gras, charcuterie and lots more were all on offer and indeed consumed by us. The next day we made our way to our home port of Castets-en-Dorthe for some last advice from the capitaine, Bruno, before heading off down the Garonne with the ebb tide towards Bordeaux the next day.
Arriving in Bordeaux by boat was such a thrill. We had been apprehensive about the Pont de Pierre, so we were all holding our breath as we swept through one of the many arches with the still falling tide. We then carried on through the city and saw the quays, the cité du vin and the fab new lifting bridge over the Garonne before turning back upstream at the suspension bridge. Skipper had timed everything perfectly so that we were tying up at the ponton d'honneur in the centre of Bordeaux at slack water. This was just as well because we were to discover that the Garonne currents are very strong and many other boats incurred damage whilst manoeuvring at any time other than the few slack minutes at low tide.
We all loved Bordeaux. It is a beautiful elegant city with a fantastic vibrant atmosphere and several distinct districts to explore. We visited grand buildings, interesting museums, and the very newly opened cité du vin! It is a very modern wine experience with lots of high tech ways of accessing the information about wine from all over the world. There is everything from virtual dinner party conversations with experts to smell tests for bouquets! We struggled a bit with some of the technology, but mostly it was very accessible and enjoyable. There was a small glass of wine to choose from as part of the experience and this we enjoyed as an apéritif on the top floor of the building with a wonderful view of the Garonne and Bordeaux.
One of the unexpected views from Cassandra at the ponton d'honneur was the sight of the Airbus barge waiting patiently laden with Airbus parts ( we saw two parts of Airbus 380 fuselage). Then, as the tide turned to flood, the barge would take off and sweep through its dedicated arch under the Pont de Pierre and upstream to Langon where the aircraft parts are transferred on to lorries and travel the remaining journey to Toulouse as a convoi exceptionnel at night.
Back at home port we succeeded in attending our second marché gourmand in a fortnight, and also managed to buy some local (Graves) wine to take home. Now there is a lot of cleaning and sorting to be done. This year our statistics have been unimpressive, but we have had some unforgettable experiences.