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After cycling a section of the Spanish Meseta on mountain bikes, we arranged to rent cruising bikes for France. Our next goal? …. To transverse France via the Canal des Deux Mers.

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What is the Canal of Two Seas?

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“The Canal des Deux Mers” or “Canal of Two Seas” is a waterway located in France that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. This seaway is composed of two man made canals. The Canal du Midi was first to begin construction and was completed in 1681. It’s length is approximately 241 km and runs between Toulouse and Etang de Thau, France. The building of this canal was under King Louis XlV and is considered one of the greatest works of the 17th century. In contrast, the Canal de Garonne was built in 1856. This latter canal is approximately 193 km and runs between Bordeaux and Toulouse, France. The construction of these canals was originally motivated for development of the wheat trade.

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Traveling from San Sebastián to Bordeaux

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Traveling in Spain from San Sebastián to Bordeaux, France can be challenging since there are no direct trains between these two cities; so here is how it is done. First you need to catch the Euskotren from the Amara train station (not the RENFE from the San Sebastián station) and take the train to Hendaye ( Spanish/ Basque spell it Hendaia). The ticket machine will say Irun, ugh! So BUY the ticket for Irun which costs around 3 euros and takes about 40 minutes. The ticket agent may say Irun and Hendaye are the same. Actually Irun is on the Spanish side of the border with Hendaye (French spelling) being on the French side. When you walk out to the train with your Irun ticket the train will say Hendaia. Part of the confusion arises from the Spanish and French rail lines. They have an agreement that Spanish trains can go as far as Hendaye in France while French trains can go as far as Irun in Spain.

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Next, after arriving at the Hendaye station in France you can continue on via the TGV train to Bordeaux. The travel time takes about 21/2 hours at a cost of 30 euros. Easy!

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Welcome to Bordeaux!

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It was early morning when we arrived at the Amara train station in San Sebastian. We needed to purchase tickets to Hendaye in order to make our next train @ 9:45 leaving from Hendaye to Bordeaux. Also, like many transportation hubs this time of day, it’s not so unusual to encounter thieves looking for unsuspecting tourists. So, as we attempted to operate the ticket machine one questionable young lad insisted on helping us. Allan shewed him away, but he swooped in between us anyway and changed the language from English to French. He then wanted to take our money to put in the machine. Although we didn’t give it to him, he probably was just a nice young man helping out a couple of tourists. Maybe.  I’m not sure if we were paranoid or just being cautious.  For now I’ll  take the latter. 

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Soon afterwards we befriended an English speaking couple Curt and Rosa from Brisbane, who had questions about getting to Hendaye. They were frustrated with the language barrier since Basque is more prominently spoken here. We soon realized that we were all on a similar route going to the Hendaye station and then changing to the 9:45 SNCF train. We however would be getting off at Bordeaux, while they would be headed farther south to Toulouse.

While on the train we swapped travel stories and adventures. It was about then that I had misplaced my train ticket. This was important because I needed it to put in the turnstile in order to pass through to the Hendaye station on the French side. As I fumbled in my backpack I noticed two more dubious young fellows behind us. Neither passed us ….because…. They didn’t have tickets. I really felt vulnerable. Finally after finding my ticket and passing through the turnstile, they took off. Again I can’t over emphasize that as a traveler, especially in unfamiliar places, you need to be aware of your surroundings.  

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Once in Bordeaux we headed for the apartment where we would be staying for the next two nights. The proprietor Laurence gave us excellent directions, requiring only a 10 minute tram to the city center. Our stop was at Place de la Bourse, where Laurence met us a short distance away.

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We booked our accommodations Apparts en ville de la Bourse through Bookings.com. It was a good price in an excellent location. However, it was smaller then expected with low ceilings and a tiny spiral staircase. Typically this wouldn’t be a problem, but dealing with bikes the next day could be an issue.

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But tomorrow is tomorrow. So instead of dwelling on the logistics of our bikes, we embarked to explore this beautiful city and hopefully find a laundromat!

Sauveterre-de-Guyenne to Meilhan-sur-Garonne 46 km

After a great nights sleep we awoke to rain. So to wait out the rain we sat down to a wonderful breakfast prepared by our charming French hosts Nicollete and Francois. We started with the cafe ole as ordered the night before. In addition to this we had fresh fruit of plums and strawberries, croissants with marmalade, a basket of sliced baguettes and homemade yogurt. When it was time to leave the rain had let up a bit…. but only for awhile.

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Upon our departure we decided to double back to the office of tourism, just to make sure we had the best route to Reole. The town of Reole was our half way point today and also would connect us back to the Garrone canal. This was wise since there are very few road signs. Also this stage is considered one of the most difficult. Navigating even with directions and the physical endurance required to get up the hills makes this section challenging. We made it to Reole in good time even with a few wrong turns. Once in Reole we visited their Office of Tourism to help direct us to the canal.

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After Reole we headed to Meilhan-sur-Garonne with a headwind and even heavier rain. Part of the route was by canal and part by road. Also, since there was so much rain the night before and our laundry had not dried …. We attempting to dry our fine delicates off the back of our bikes. This did not work well!

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We arrived in Meilhan-sur-Garonne around 2:30. We had time to kill since our accommodations at Gite Au Jardin would not be ready until 6:00pm. A Gite is like a small guest house that is rented out. We had difficulty locating the place and found ourselves once again asking for directions at the local post office. The postal clerk gave us accurate directions. The Gite was located through town to the left of the bar, going over the bridge, passing the campground, to the right, down the street and then making a left on a “petite rue with a tiny sign”…. and voila ……there we were!

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Since it was still too early to check in and the proprietors were not available, we left our bikes in their garden then walked back to town to eat. Unfortunately all three of the local bars and restaurants were closed… again…. So we went to the “marche” and loaded up on provisions. As we walked and gobbled up food, we came across a park with an incredible vista over looking the Garrone canal and the Garrone river running paralleling to each other.

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Agen to Moissac 52 km

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Today we had a late start from Agen, but we needed to find a market for provisions. We couldn’t find one that was open so we settled on a bakery who sold sandwiches. After a quick cup of coffee and a couple of miniature croissants we made it to the bike path by 1030. No worries since Moissac is only 52 km down the canal. A leisurely ride with a hotel booked at the other end.

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On the canal we kept passing another couple, Marilyn and Warren from Ottawa, whom we eventually befriended. We bonded even closer when we encountered Marilyn with a flat tire. Allan helped them fix the tire while I gawked in amazement at my husbands skill and expertise. Between the 4 of us we had all the tools and patches required for the operation.

While chatting with Marilyn we swapped stories of our lodging the night prior. It was difficult finding accommodations in Agen even though I had booked months in advance. Marilyn explained that there was a Firemans conference where the French president would be in attendance. As a matter of fact, most accommodations within a 40 mile radius were booked. That would explain why so many of the streets were closed off. The Ottawa couple found shelter in a farmers tear shaped camper. Suddenly our nights stay at “Le Secret 47” sounded like a mansion.

We also befriended another couple from England who were biking the canal by renting a car and staying at gites. They would transport their bikes to the section of the Garonne canal that they wanted to explore for the day. When done they would pack the bikes back on the car and return to their gite.

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We took a brief stop at a campground near Valence to eat our sandwiches. Marilyn had given us one of their tomatoe and brie sandwiches that the farmers wife had packed for them. She also had loaded us up with grapes from the farm. We ate that first and it was honestly one of the best sandwiches that we have ever had!

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After lunch we explored the campground which had a building Abattoir Public (public slaughterhouse). The date on the structure said 1882. The building now seems to be used as a refuge for campers and cyclist. Inside was complete with big red meat hooks.

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We made it to Moissac around 4:00pm. Our accommodation at Le Pont Nepoleon was wonderful. This hotel is a small family run business with only nine rooms and a restaurant downstairs. It was very easy to find right off the canal. Also we were only charged 63 euros including breakfast.

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We had time to explore the town of Moissac in the early evening. We headed toward the Saint-Pierre Abbey ( Abbatiale Saint-Pierre). We did a quick look and see then settled in for dinner at a nearby cafe.

A Day of Rest in Toulouse

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Arriving in Toulouse one day early has given us an extra day of rest. Today we will eat, sleep and be merrily entertained by a city bus tour.

So to begin the morning right, we opted for breakfast at the hotel…. more croissants, more pastries, more coffee, more jam, more butter….more…..more….more!

We then scurried outside to explore the city. But first we would need to do a little clothes shopping. Several days prior I had lost a shirt. Usually this would be no big deal. But when you pack extremely light it does make a difference. So we each upgraded our wardrobe a bit.

We then searched for a tourist kiosk to purchase city tour tickets. We found one close by. For 14 euros we were able to schedule an afternoon bus tour.

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This gave us ample time to venture through our hamlet since the old town of Toulouse is actually rather small and easily explored by foot. In addition to Toulouse’s many beautiful brick buildings and landmarks there were quite a few parks. Also we found several different event happenings such as “Taste of Toulouse”,a “Senior Fair”and a protest of some sort.

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After an uneventful city tour we took in an American movie “Protage” with French subtitles. A bit of dinner afterwards and we would be off to sleep….

Lunch Date in Paris!

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We were tired from our train ride the previous day, but we needed to get up and going to meet our friends for lunch. Gayle and Bob are two great people that we met walking on the French Camino de Santiago two years prior. They do quite a bit of traveling and happen to be spending several months here in Paris. In addition to Gayle and Bob we were introduced to Sylvie and Alan from Canada. Another interesting couple whom we had a lot in common. Sylvie also practiced the same profession as myself. We all ate at a cafe near to us which specialized in crepes.

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After lunch we continued on to the museum L’Orangerie with Gayle and Bob. What a fantastic museum. So often we focus on the largest museums and pass up some real jewels. The building was originally constructed in 1852 to shelter the orange trees of the garden of the Tuileries . It also served as a place to house soldiers during France’s Third Republic.

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This museum is now best known for housing Claude Monets “Water Lillies”. These large paintings are presented in two oval gallery rooms. The rooms, which were redesigned specifically for Monets work, contained four panels each. Monet donated the panels to the French government as a monument to the end of World War 1.

In August 1944 five shells fell on the rooms during the battle of the Liberation of Paris. Two of the panels were slightly damaged.

Another interesting fact is that you are now allowed to take photos. Evidently the policy changed when the French Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin took a picture of a painting by artist Pierre Bonnard. The Minister then posted the photo on her Instagram. The public went into an uproar. Why can’t we take photos? The president of the Musee L’Orangerie and d’Orsay then immediately reversed the decision to ban photography as long as it did not pose a threat to the artwork. Flash photography and selfie sticks are still forbidden.

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Travel to New York

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We arrived in New York one hour early. It was a good flight. Our eldest daughter flew in as well to get that New York experience. Timing also was perfect as we met up in terminal C at the Newark airport. We will be spending the next three nights in “The Big Apple” to adjust before returning to California.

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