Barging into the South of France - Page 3

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After a few imperfect attempts we mastered the locks, though we could have used one more adult—of either gender—to help. And though we loved the burst of energy and teamwork locks required, it was the quiet Canal du Rhône à Sète we came to love most.

With just two locks and a profound sense of peaceful venturing, the Canal du Rhône à Sète is a journey into both nature and history. Long stretches with few other boats made this the part of the trip where the kids could easily satisfy their passion for driving. From youngest to oldest they all relished their turn guiding our home through lazy afternoons.

Windy Etang de Thau is the only open water of the journey and home to several inviting ports. Marseillan and Méze on the north shore have bustling marinas ringed by cafés and pastel-colored buildings with flowers spilling from window boxes and balconies. We lingered late into the evening in one of Marseillan's waterside cafés and the kids never even got antsy, and in Sète, on the southeast shore, we discovered the French love of ice cream topped with sparklers and flowers.

While canal towns all differ, our routine was much the same. We'd find a sidewalk café and have a long meal, then walk around, stopping for groceries or browsing at local markets. The kids liked wandering the narrow streets and intriguing alleyways and willingly tried a variety of foreign foods, though the shrimp—served with eyes intact—is discussed with revulsion to this day. In many of the towns we took our cameras in search of interesting doors in the old buildings and were never disappointed. Language was rarely a problem.

Some days we didn't go into any towns, mooring instead on the canal banks. We savored these quiet times. Dinner at sunset after walking to the sea. Wandering the paths that run almost continuously beside the canals. Sometimes we didn't even know where, exactly, we were, but it never mattered.

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