Thursday, September 29, 2022

COVID in France?

All ready to travel during COVID

Since it first struck, we have been very careful about the COVID virus. We were among the first to get our vaccinations and we wore masks when shopping or when there were crowds. It really seemed to work; all those around us caught the virus and we escaped. Flying over here to France, we wore the best masks available on the plane and kept them on the whole time. We took a taxi to the train station and wore masks in the cab, and kept them on in the Train station and on the train. We felt we were being careful for ourselves and considerate to others since we had just arrived off a crowded international flight. 

However, we were really the only ones wearing masks once we landed in France. There were a few people in the train station, but I suspect they were newly arrived tourists like us. In fact, on the train, the two young men sitting across from us got up and found other seats rather than sitting with the two masked English speaking tourists. 

No masks here in Narbonne at all

Our first trip out to get supplies and groceries, was done with masks ready in our pockets, and we wore them in the stores and market. When our landlady arrived to greet us the next day she did not have a mask and when questioned about COVID, she replied, “No it is all over with here. No need for masks or restrictions!”

For the first few days, we did still take our masks, but when no one else is wearing them, it is difficult, so even Regis, “the cautious one” quickly seemed to forget her mask back in the apartment when we went out. After the first couple of days, we simply went with the majority of the populous here and went about our new French lives as if COVID was all over. In fact, today while walking down by the Market we did see a fellow wearing a mask and Regis commented, “When I saw him, my first reaction was that he must have COVID and is protecting others.”

No masks in Toulouse either

Now, when we head back to Canada in a couple of weeks, we will probably wear masks on the plane or at least have then ready, but so far we have had no issues, no coughs, no fevers, nothing, so all seems good, and I must admit it does feel good to go about your daily lives as if “Life is back to normal.”

SO . . . dinner inside out of the wind and rain is possible. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Taking the Bus

We flew from home to France, rode in a taxi to the Gare de Lyon in Paris, took a train down to Narbonne and another to Toulouse on a day trip, had a fun auto tour of the countryside with French friends, we took an electric boat down the canal, and have walked over 150 km during our time here in France. Yesterday we used another form of transportation and took a bus down to the seaside to a little town called Gruissan to spend the day. 

Arriving in Gruissan

It took a while to understand the Buses here in Narbonne, and the actual people who run them were not so much help. The Tourist office told us that bus 8 would take us down to Gruissan and back, and we were able to buy tickets for the bus, but finding it was not so easy. We were told that the bus stopped right out in front of the train station, so while Regis checked on times and schedules, I walked down the street to find the stop. There are two types of buses in Narbonne, the local ones that serve the town itself, labeled with letters, and the ones that go to other towns use numbers. I walked up and down both sides of the road and found three bus stops with letters and numbers, but no number 8 was listed. Regis came back with the information that the stop was “Right in front of the Train Station.”, but it was not. We asked some locals who pointed us in both directions where I had already looked. Then I noticed one of the larger inter-city buses turn and go down a side street, and a short walk down there was a stop with the schedule for bus 8 posted. 

Nice to be down by the seaside

A short wait and a big bus with a number 8 on it pulled up and the driver assured us, that yes, he was headed to Gruissan. But just to make it a bit more confusing we seemed to have to get off one bus 8 and then get on another bus with the same number to actually get into the town. Fortunately when the bus from Narbonne pulled into the stop, there was another bus 8 waiting for us.

We weren’t the only confused tourists and when the bus got to the end of his run and no one got off, the driver questioned everyone and found out we were all visiting for the day and he explained where we should have gotten off and looped around and let us off a short way from the old town with instruction on how to get there. 

Great view of the town

Gruissan is a lovely quiet little town on the coast with a ruined castle/fort towering over it. However, it was quiet because it was mostly deserted. Obviously catering to the summer tourist traffic, most of the town was closed and shuttered. We explored empty streets and looked in windows of closed shops. We needed lunch, so the many interesting closed restaurants caused us some concern. We were able to climb up to the ruined castle tower in the centre of town and visit the church at its base. 

Where is everyone?

We did find a couple of restaurants open, but the prices seemed elevated due to their rarity and Regis had found a place she wanted to try that was about a fifteen minute walk away. Google Maps reported it was open so we decided to take the chance. On the walk to the restaurant the helpful bus driver passed and gave us a friendly wave. As it worked out we had a lovely meal with a friendly server and the location gave us a nice view of the Marina and hundreds of sailboats.

Rather than taking the local bus 8, we explored more of the town by walking back to the stop where we got off from Narbonne and discovered the same people we arrived with waiting at the stop. Back in Narbonne, my pedometer reported another 10 km added to our walking total, and we retired early, tired from another adventure in France. 

Slippery steps to the tower

A view down over the town

Walking back to the bus

Interesting Gruissan style boat

Inside the church

Bottles on a ledge - no one home!

Time for lunch

Sunday, September 25, 2022

On the loose in Toulouse

Toulouse Train Station (At last)

I had heard that trains in France were slightly unreliable due to strikes, and we discovered that it is true. On Thursday, we bought tickets to go to Toulouse, and when we got to the train station (Gare de Narbonne - practicing my French), the departure board had our train flashing with “supprime” beside the train number. My first reaction was “Supreme”, we must have gotten an upgrade, but Google Translate disappointed me by translating to “deleted” which we figured out meant it was cancelled. Apparently the workers in the one stop before Toulouse were striking so the train could not get through. 

The wheels on the Bus . . . .

Plan “B” was to go on Saturday instead, and this time the trains were running, so after a relaxing ride through the French countryside we did get to the city of Toulouse. The train ride was interesting, because the change in scenery was striking; around Narbonne and the surrounding areas, the only crops we saw growing were grapes for wine, and the vegetables & fruit in the market all come from Spain, so I wondered if France only grew wine grapes (Not that  would be a bad thing!), but once we got closer to Toulouse I started seeing all sorts of other crops including large fields of sunflowers and no grapes. Interesting if not really fully understood . . .

Walking the City (It did not really rain)

Toulouse is a bigger city than Narbonne and was much busier with large crowds on its many pedestrian streets. It is an extremely well designed city with many large wide boulevards with well designated bike lanes, parks, gardens and wide pedestrian areas. There are still the typical narrow alley and streets I love in these old European cities, but when a serious fire destroyed a large area of the city, they added these open boulevards and pedestrian areas for safety. They also redesigned the riverfront, so that it is mostly public friendly parks and walkways rather than industrial. I saw this in Glasgow, Scotland as well and it is a pleasant way to make these areas more attractive to people. It also reminded me of the very tourist friendly Halifax waterfront. 

Lunch in Toulouse

We took a city tour and saw most of the highlights through the bus window, and then went out exploring on foot to see the things we saw that interested us. After a stop for lunch, we visited markets, the “capital”, three churches, the riverfront and the Canal de Midi. By then my phone had decided it had done enough and ran out of power with the Pedometer reading 16 km walked, so we found a friendly bartender and sat with drinks while we watched the citizens of Toulouse enjoying their Saturday and waited for our train back to Narbonne. 

And now some photos from around Toulouse.

Chess match - one against eight

The Canal de Midi

The red apple-head man?

La Garonne

Its been a long day - time for a drink!

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Boating in Narbonne

This will be our 'craft' in France

Although I am enjoying my time here in Narbonne, I am really looking forward to the canal boat trip we have planned after we leave here. We have a week-long adventure on the Canal de Midi and our son and his partner are joining us for some of the time. I discovered that I really like canal boating and enjoyed the four trips we took in Narrowboats in the UK, and this trip in France will be on similar canals but in a different style boat. 

Down the Canal de la Robine

We discovered that there was a little business down on the Canal de la Robine here in Narbonne that rents little electric boats that you can take out on the canal. Yesterday we booked one of the boats for an hour’s tour of the canal. We had walked down the canal in both directions, and hoped to venture a bit further down the canal on the water. 

The boat was very easy to operate, with a steering wheel and a forward/back adjustment. It took the attendant all of two minutes to give us instructions on the boat operation. The speed on the canal is a maximum of 8 kph, so it was no speedboat; more of a walking pace down the canal. 

Full speed forward!

After an initial weaving back and forth as we got the control of the boat figured out, we enjoyed a relaxing cruise on the canal. At the low speed, we did get past the distance we had walked but not by much, before we had to turn back to return the boat to the dock. I piloted the boat down the canal, turned it around and handed to wheel to Regis who brought us back into Narbonne. 

After this little boat trip here in Narbonne, I am now more keen to take the rental boat out for a week on the Canal de Midi. Look for some posts about this upcoming travel adventure in a weeks time. 

Friday, September 23, 2022

Support Local

The local grocer

During COVID, the idea of supporting local business was a big thing, as many local businesses stayed open to provide services needed by people in the neighbourhoods, but to be honest “Support Local” is not really working in most places in North America, People seem to prefer shopping at Costco and Walmart to small local shops, and most neighbourhoods do not have many local shops. We do not have a butcher, or a bakery in our neighbourhood. Vegetables and fruit usually come from major grocery chains even though we do have a few fruit & vegetable stores around. The only bakery is a national chain, and there is one good local butcher but I have to drive to support her. 

Great pastries & bread always available

Here in France, support local actually works, because they have good local shops within walking distances selling anything you might need at competitive prices. We have a friendly butcher and a wonderful bakery just around the corner. There is a little neighbourhood grocery store selling most essentials, and he stocks some of the best vegetables we have tasted, and there is a pharmacy around the corner as well. And you can always get a French coffee at any of the little cafes in the area. 

My butcher was closed 

And if your local butcher, baker, or grocer is closed (they do sometimes have very odd hours), there is always another one a few streets away. Although there is a Dominos Pizza down the road, there is not McDonalds, Burger King, or Starbucks anywhere close, although I hear there are franchises in the suburbs. Here in Southern France we really are supporting local. 

The pharmacy is right around the corner

Thursday, September 22, 2022

French Friends

Exploring the town

When we arrived here one of the first things we did was to purchase a phone card for our phone so we had one phone ‘just in case’. The SIM also provided data so it allowed us to use Google Maps and Google Translate while away from the apartment’s excellent internet. This SIM worked perfectly and the phone was instantly up and running. Unfortunately the extra data we bought did not automatically get added; you had to register, identify yourself, provide passport information, etc. Then however you had to call and connect the extra data to the SIM. Of course the phone was automated and all in French, and we could not figure it out. Fortunately the apartment owner, Patricia, had English speaking friends who were happy to drop in and sort out the problem. 

An old salt lagoon

Enter Bernard and Fiona, a couple from Victoria Canada, who now live here outside of Narbonne where they are renovating an old French house and were only too happy to come help some fellow Canadians in need. In 30 seconds Bernard had the phone up and running fine. You just had to press “1” at the appropriate prompt and all was good. That day we spent a pleasant afternoon chatting with them about France and Canada, and they offered to come back and take us out for a drive to show us some of the French countryside.

French Countryside

We received an e-mail from them and with a few back and forths via e-mail and phone calls, they arranged to come pick us up and show us around. Bernard is originally from Canada, and Fiona is from the UK, but they lived for many years in Victoria. However in his happy-go-lucky younger days, Bernard spent time in this region of France and always wanted to return. The urban sprawl was threatening to spread to their house outside Victoria and with retirement, they decided to “go for it”, and came to France looking for a house to buy. After renting various houses including some from our landlady they found a place they liked and have begun making it their French dream house. 

Sort of a 'Castle'

We spent an enjoyable afternoon driving around the countryside outside Narbonne. Not having a car, we would have never had a chance to see some of the beautiful scenery in the area. We visited a lovely little town on the coast with old salt lagoons which provided a great walk, both through the quaint town and around one of the lagoons. We then went from the seaside into the hills and stopped at a ruined castle where we did not see the “DANGER - NO ENTRY” sign before we explored the ruins of a “Castle” overlooking the town and acre after acre of grape vines. 

Back at the apartment, Regis displayed her growing skills in French cooking as she made Ratatouille for dinner and we consumed some of the delicious French wine the region is known for. A lovely afternoon with our new Canadian/French friends.

Selfie with French Friends

Oops, did not see the sign . . . . . . .

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Narbo Via

This is how the museum is presented?

When you ask about “attractions” in Narbonne, you are presented with the Archbishop’s Palace, the Cathedral, The Horreum (The underground warehouse), and the Narbo Via museum. We visited and really enjoyed the palace, the cathedral, and the Horreum as well as the Archeological site I wrote about previously, but to be honest the Narbo Via museum just looked like a big modern building with rows and rows of metal shelves holding pieces of stone from the vanished Roman city that was once Narbonne, so I was not so keen on going there. 

The Main Entrance

However, the nice little English guide at the Archeological site told us that many of the art works and interesting pieces she was telling us about that had been found at the site were now housed in the Narbo Via museum, so we revised our plans and decided to visit.

First impressions are good, as it is a spectacular modern building of glass and steel, unlike the old buildings we had been experiencing in the central part of town, and as you approach, you have to walk down a long wide walkway to get to the entrance which instead of being on the front, is on the side. 

One of the 760 stones

Now, the main part of the museum is indeed, a wall of stones, but it is really amazing, 76 metres long and 10 metres high, holding 760 blocks from the ancient Roman city. Just walking down and looking at the ancient stones is interesting, but you can also go to video terminals and pick many of the stones to examine closer via vivid photos that can be manipulated by spinning and turning then 360°. The booklet & map also explains that they have adapted an industrial robot crane that is able to pull any of the stones out for further closer study by the archeologists.

A bigger stone block
Once you finish with the wall of stones, you enter a series of rooms and digital alcoves that explain the history of the Romans in Narbonne, from earliest, to the decline in Christian times. These rooms contain larger stones and statues that do not fit into the wall of stones, and really gave a good picture of the splendour that Narbonne was in Roman times. One of these rooms displayed all of the artifacts that had been unearthed at the Archeological site we visited and rooms from the two houses that had been discovered were recreated to display the artifacts. 

Another headless Roman

The digital video alcoves were particularly interesting because here many of the buildings of Roman Narbonne were digitally recreated. I found it interesting to see the houses we visited at the dig site recreated in video. One alcove provided a video tour through the Roman city. One section showed a 3D map of what it was thought the ancient Roman city would have been like. All of what is now central Narbonne was part of the old Roman city and from what I could interpret the apartment we are renting is built over one of the major buildings in the Roman city. 

In many cities the actual remains of Roman structures have survived. Rome had the Coliseum and many other structures, we visited the old Roman baths in Bath, England, and the walls in Chester, England, but nothing remains above ground here in Narbonne. The Roman history is here, but you have to visit the museums to experience it. The Narbo Via Museum really was an educational and enjoyable way to spend a Narbonne morning.

Recreation of one of the Roman rooms

A video tour of ancient Roman Narbonne

A beautiful tiled floor found at the dig site

A bearded tourist examines the "Bearded Roman" stone