Archive for February, 2008

Happy 22nd birthday, Mom!

February 29, 2008

I’m 50, and my mother turns 22 today. Hey, is this some kind of joke? Here’s a hint: her last big birthday bash was Feb. 29, 2004, when she turned 21. Finally, Mom could order a margarita at the bar, although she still can’t rent a car on her own until 2020.

Mom, aka Kitty Daniel, is a Leap Year baby. Most of us think Leap Year comes every four years, but is anything ever that simple? Here’s the formula: A leap year is any year that is divisible by 4, but not divisible by 100, except when the year is divisible by 400. (My non-mathematical brain is spinning.) So 1600 and 2000 are leap years, but 1700, 1800, 1900 and 2100 are not.

Mom faux-blowing out her birthday candles; CLICK TO ENLARGEOf course we celebrate Mom’s birthday every year, on Feb. 28, but her “real” birthday has always been a bit more festive. In 2004, we threw her a grand 21st birthday bash. Here you can see her faux-blowing out her birthday candles. She’s on oxygen, so we didn’t think it was a great idea to light the candles or it would have been a true birthday blast.

Mom with her roommate Callie, her Maine Coon cat; CLICK TO ENLARGEUnfortunately, I’m with her only in spirit this year, but I’ll be down to see her in Seminole, Florida, in a few weeks. She lives at The Vineyard Inn, which sounds like a swank B&B, but is actually a wonderful (non-corporate!) assisted-living facility. Her roommate is Callie, her Maine Coon cat, and sometimes she’s treated to visits by her granddog, Roxy the Doxy.

Unfortunately, Mom won’t be able to join the hundreds (thousands?) of Leapers who will gather this weekend in Anthony, Texas/New Mexico, the self-proclaimed Leap Year Capital of the World. Since 1988, the town has grabbed its 15 minutes of fame by sponsoring the Worldwide Leap Year Festival and Worldwide Leap Year Birthday Club, a clever act initiated by the Chamber of Commerce. Partiers celebrate with a parade, hot-air-balloon rides, a carnival, and a gathering of people born on Feb. 29.

Today, Google has gotten in on the act with one of its always-creative special graphics on its homepage. The Internet in general has given Leaplings a place to gather online. So party on, youngsters!

And Happy 22nd/88th birthday, Mom! Or, as Wessel would say, Van Harte Gefeliciteerd!

Peel back the concrete for Calgary’s surprises

February 28, 2008

I stayed in Calgary for a couple days for a Boston Globe “Close-Up” destination story (to run May 5) before heading off to Lake Louise in Banff National Park. This city, built, and still building, on oil and gas hasCalgary skyline with Saddledome hockey arena surprised me in that it’s a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. It’s a pretty big city, with a metro population of about 1 million and a fair number of skyscrapers. This view is from Scotsman’s Hill in the Ramsay community. That’s the Saddledome in the foreground, home of the Calgary Flames hockey team. (I know, like I care about hockey.)

Although on the surface, Calgary is a concrete jungle on a grid system (ugly and boring looking), underneath it’s a collection of interesting neighborhoods, like so many cities. I’m staying at the Lions Park B&B near funky/artsy Kensington. One night I tried to eat at the very cool Globefish sushi restaurant, but it was so crowded that I moved on. I picked up a bottle of wine for later at Kensington Wine Market and then ate at the bar at Niko’s Bistro.

Ship & Anchor patio at 40 degreesOn Saturday, I joined a bunch of hipsters bopping along Fourth Street and 17th Avenue.  One of my favorite scenes was a packed patio at the Ship & Anchor Pub. The temperature? A “balmy” 40 degrees! In North Carolina, we’d be sitting around the fireplace. 

If I lived here, I’d want to have a home in the city’s oldest community (early 1900s) of  Inglewood.

I think the whole Calgary Stampede thing is interesting. It’s a big-ass 10-day rodeo, and more, around the city every July. From my perspective, it sounds pretty redneck/Hooters (I’ve never been and don’t plan to go), and I wonder over time how it will reconcile with the ever-increasing sophistication of the city. The Calgary version of town and gown.

One of the places I found most inspiring was downtown in Olympic Plaza, where the medal ceremony was held in the 1988 Olympics, held in Calgary. Two of the Famous Five from statue near Olympic Plaza, CalgaryAlso inspiring and nearby is Barbara Paterson’s lovely statues of the “Famous Five,” a group of Albertan women who challenged the Supreme Court of Canada to determine if women were people under the law in 1927, clearing the way for female leaders and politicians. Oct. 18 in Canada is Persons Day, the anniversary of the 1929 judicial ruling that indeed declared Canadian women to be “persons” under the British North America Act. FYI, Manitoba in 1916 became the first province to give women the right to vote and hold provincial office. Perhaps I need to visit there next!

In N. Korea, politics and pride on parade

February 26, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Feb. 24, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: This trip fascinated me, what with all the propaganda, especially at the Mass Games.  I had no idea tours were offered there until Jim and Jon contacted me. Coincidentally, the New York Times ran a short piece on a couple tours behind North Korea’s iron curtain the same day this came out, and on Monday, this piece about the New York Philharmonic orchestra playing in Pyongyang. I guess the Communist country is all the rage now. 

WHO: Jim Augusto, 41, and Jon Cramer, 38, of Melrose, Mass.

WHERE: North Korea.

WHEN: Three days in October.

WHY: “We’ve been intrigued by the whole mystery around it for years,” Augusto said. “Several years ago I’d tried to find a tour company, but Americans weren’t allowed in.” The couple traveled with British-owned Koryo Tours.

WHY NOT: “Most people thought we were really crazy to go,” Cramer said. “People would jokingly say, ‘They’re never going to let you back out.’ Some people said, ‘How can you go support a country that treats people horribly?’ But I think it’s still important to go. By maintaining no contact, there’s no incentive for them to change.”

BEIJING BRIEFING: Augusto and Cramer visited North Korea in the middle of two weeks in China. “People said North Korea is like China was 30 or 40 years ago,” Cramer said. They met their 28 fellow US tourists in Beijing, where they were told the basic rules: no laptops or cellphones allowed, no taking photos without permission, and no going anywhere without a North Korean attendant.

Jim Augusto and Jon Cramer in front of statue of Kim Il Sung in PyongyangSPIN CITY: They flew to Pyongyang on a late ’60s Russian jet, and “the propaganda started in the airspace,” Cramer said. “They said something like, ‘You’re now entering the Great Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,’ and all this stuff about ‘our dear leader Kim Jong Il, our great leader, Kim Il Sung.’ ” They were greeted by a huge portrait of deceased leader Kim Il Sung on the runway, and later saw images of both men (father and son) in homes, public buildings, and on citizens’ lapel pins.

STAYING PUT: The US contingent was divided into two groups of 15 and each had two North Korean guides. “We’d all come together for meals and at the hotel,” Augusto said. They stayed at Yanggakdo Hotel. “It’s a huge hotel with a revolving restaurant on top, on a little island,” Augusto said. “It’s only for Western visitors. You’re not allowed to go onto grounds without a guide.”

GAME FACE: North Korea’s annual “Mass Games” fascinated the Americans, both for its dazzling display of acrobatics and its propaganda. The stadium performance, which runs three to four Jon Cramer after the finale of the Mass Games in May Day Stadiummonths a year, involves about 100,000 performers, including thousands of children in the stands flipping color-coordinated cards with political messages. “It was like an Olympic opening ceremony on steroids,” Cramer said. “It was 80 minutes long and I think my jaw was down for a good portion of it.” “It was all about national pride and reunification,” Augusto said. “There’s a whole section where tens of thousands of little kids, 8 to 10, are doing all these synchronized acrobatics. It’s amazing to see, but terrifying to think that they are forced to practice half the year.”

RED-COLORED GLASSES: The groups were taken to several Jim Augusto and Jon Cramer with North Korean tour guide at DMZcommunist monuments, including a huge statue of Kim Il Sung as well as his mausoleum. “We also got a tour of the USS Pueblo, on display as an example of US imperialism,” Augusto said. “We visited the DMZ, but you couldn’t see a single soldier on the South Korean side.”

ICE-BREAKING BABY: They were allowed one ride on the metro, which doubles as a nuclear fallout shelter. “Inside are lavish propaganda art mosaics,” Cramer said. “The metro is where we got closest to citizens. One couple in our group, who live in Shanghai, brought their 6-month-old baby. The North Korean women’s faces would light up. They were going crazy over the American baby.”

Dispatch: Curling and skiing in Canmore

February 25, 2008

I came to Canmore in Alberta, Canada, to cross-country ski. So Ladies-league night at the the Canmore Golf & Curling Clubhow did I spend my first evening? Curling! No, not my hair, and, OK, I was only watching it and not doing it, though one new Canmore comrade practically pushed me onto the rink. (Having gotten up at 5 o’clock that morning in North Carolina and with a two-hour time difference, I was too darned tired to even try it out.)

Here’s how it happened. When I got to this charming town, surrounded by the Canadian Rockies, I kept seeing signs leading to “Curling Rink.” I was intrigued. I’d seen a brief demonstration of curling when I was in the Northwest Territories in 2002 [Click on image to read story], but Ladies-league night at the the Canmore Golf & Curling Clubhadn’t recalled much about it. I stopped at the rink, combined with a golf course (!) and learned that local leagues would be playing that evening. I returned to the Canmore Golf & Curling Club later that evening and had a fascinating time. Not only was it ladies-league night, but the viewing area is behind glass in a room where you can have a great dinner and sip a brew. I got a great rundown on the sport from some friendly curling women, and we all went outside to watch the lunar eclipse.

The next day (last Thursday) I hit the slopes at Canmore Nordic Centre and Provincial Park. A friend had told me about it a few years ago, saying it was an amazing place to cross-country ski for people of all skill levels. Being a weenie skier, I’m always on the lookout for places that have more than a windswept golf course for novices.

Diane skiing the slopes at Canmore Nordic Centre and Provincial Park; CLICK TO ENLARGEAnd what a day it was!! The sky was bright blue and it warmed up to about 45 degrees, balmy for these parts.  The easiest trails still had some ups and downs, but for the most part I was fine. I did have to fall at one point to avoid careening over a hill when I couldn’t make a turn. This is a typical Diane ski move, witnessed by many friends. Sigh…. The scenery was freakin’ amazing, especially when the trail came to a meadow surrounded by snow-capped mountains. And speaking of snow, it was perfect. Wow, I wish I could visit there every week.

Of course my time there wasn’t all fun and games. I stopped to interview several people, Couple from Washington state skiing; CLICK TO ENLARGEincluding a couple from Washington state; local realtor Laurel Dupuis, who was kind enough to take my photo; and a woman from New Jersey who was overcome by the beauty of the place. In the late afternoon I popped into stores along Main Street, taking notes for my story. I really like this town!

The day ended on not the best note, when a water main broke near my motel and the very, very, very loud construction crew worked to fix it from 5 p.m. until 4 a.m. Argh… Meanwhile, we were without water. Luckily, I always travel with a bottle of water and earplugs! I loved that the nearby Grizzly Paw Brewing Company was pouring until it ran out of glasses, as none could be washed.

On the road in Canada’s cowboy/girl country

February 22, 2008

I heart Calgary and Canmore. So far anyway. I’m in Canada for a travel-writing meeting in Banff (yes, it’s a tough life) and have several stories lined up, because that’s the way it’s done. Go one place and milk it for all its worth. (I really do work hard.)

Peaks of the Rocky Mountains as seen from Banff centerWednesday I landed in Calgary and headed for Canmore, with a quick detour to Banff. The drive was gorgeous.

Here are some first impressions.

A Welcome to Calgary host greeted us when we got off the plane. She was in her 70s, with a red and white understated cowgirl get-up and white cowgirl hat. I loved that! (In the US, I’m sure she’d be under 30 and showing cleavage.)

I felt left out because I was toting a skis in a bag.

The man at the Dollar rental car didn’t try to “upgrade” my economy car. This is a first!!! He did offer me extra insurance coverage and tank-fill-up option, but didn’t push either. This is a first!!!

Calgary has bicycle paths leading to the airport. Woo-hoo!

My little Toyota Yaris (like it a lot) comes with an ice scraper (of course) and an electrical plug-in to keep the battery heated (how heck do you use it?).

People here (including moi) are thrilled that the weather is in the 40s for a couple days after a frightening cold spell. Of course I saw a dude in shorts. The bad side of the warmth is it brings avalanches. Which makes me think of my seatmate on the plane from upstate New York. He’s with three buddies from Vermont and they’re off to ski downhill and backcountry for two weeks.

Road leading to Banff, AB, CanadaThe view driving from Calgary reminded me of Denver. Modern city with majestic mountain views in the distance.

You know how in places with harsh winters, cars get very, very dirty? Here, I’ve seen cars that are almost black with grime, so much so that I wonder how they can see out their windows.

Alberta has a great community radio station CKUA (93.7 FM), which was established in 1927.

On Highway 1A, the TransCanada Highway, I saw a fully loaded cyclist. (Not drunk, but laden with panniers.) Saw a couple racer dudes too. In February! Passed “Elk Crossing” signs but no elk in sight.

More on Banff and Canmore later. I gotta hit the slopes! (Nordic, that is.)

That was a splashy book tour

February 20, 2008

Diane with dachshund Roxy in kayak on creek in southern Virginia; CLICK TO ENLARGEWessel and I like to do a little paddling, especially in Florida and at “Chiggerville,” our little patch of woods on the water in southern Virginia near Lake Gaston. But the most we’re usually in the boats is a couple hours.

My travel-writing colleagues Mary and Bill Burnham, on the other hand, are a bit nutso about kayaking. It’s one thing to live with your spouse or work with your spouse, but spending days on end in a tandem kayak with your spouse? That’s gotta be love. (They do seem pretty darn happy together.)

authors Bill & Mary BurnhamAnd now, after about a year of research, Bill and Mary came out with their nifty and very comprehensive “Florida Keys Paddling Atlas” (Falcon Guide, $34.95). To promote it, they went a little nutso again. This month they paddled 100 miles along the Keys, from Key Largo to Key West. They stopped at many bookstores during their two-week tour, as well as led “paddle-with-the-authors” tours.

Bill and Mary make their final stop (by car) at Cover to Cover Books in Key Largo, or Tavernier to be precise. If you’re in the area, stop by! It’s Friday February 22nd from 5:30 to 7:30, at 91272 Overseas Hwy, 305-853-2464. If you’re not free for that bit of merriment, you can share in their adventure by checking out the blog they kept along the way. It’s got great stories and beautiful Florida photos!

Sicily: one island, many cultures

February 18, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Feb. 17, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: I loved how Lisa and Mary Ellen’s fellow students, mostly young Germans, hit the beach every day while the older Americans took in much of Sicily, seeing the sights and eating the most amazing dishes. I was glad I wasn’t hungry when I did the interview. The meal descriptions were mouth-watering. 

WHO: Lisa Bryant, 70, of Lexington, Mass., and Mary Ellen Kiddle, 68, of Arlington Mass.

WHERE: Sicily.

WHEN: Two weeks in September and October.

WHY: “I went to language school there last year and wanted to go back. I mentioned it at bridge group and Mary Ellen wanted to go,” Bryant said. “I was a Spanish professor at Boston College, and since I retired I’ve wanted to study Italian,” Kiddle said. “I figured with the location, I couldn’t go wrong.” The school, Solemar Sicilia, is in Cefalù, a historic resort town on the island’s northern coast and 30 miles east of Palermo.

Mary Ellen Kiddle & Lisa Bryant enjoying terrace life at Villa CaterinaBETWEEN A ROCK . . . : “The school offers students a wide range of accommodations,” Bryant said. “We stayed in Villa Caterina, in a spacious three-terrace, two-bedroom apartment.” From the front terrace they saw the Tyrrhenian Sea and from the back, the villa’s gardens and La Rocca, or the rock, an enormous limestone formation.

BACK IN TIME: Their classes, which met in the morning, were small and informal. “There were a lot of German students, and every day after class they’d go to the beach,” Kiddle said. “For us, the beach is not a big deal; it seemed counterproductive.” “We’re history buffs as well as language buffs,” Bryant said. “Sicily has a past of five or six different Lisa Bryant & Mary Ellen Kiddle at Greek theater in Taormina, Sicilycultures – Greeks, Romans, Normans, French, Arabs, Spaniards – that have influenced dialect, culture, geography.” After class they would either go to Cefalù’s medieval historic district or on short trips by train and bus. In town, “the duomo [cathedral] dominates the historic district,” Bryant said. “It has both Arab and Norman influences, then the Spaniards came in later and did a little Rococo. Medieval fishermen’s quarters line the ocean and turn ochre” at sunset.

DOWNHILL COURSES: One outing was to Castelbuono, a village in the hills above Cefalù, to have lunch at Nangalarruni, run by a star chef. “The first two courses were magnificent, but it trailed off after that,” Kiddle said. “The pasta dish was filled with too much sauce and meat.” Before leaving, they visited the town’s Norman castle, which had been used in the filming of “Cinema Paradiso.”

WATER WITH DINNER: Their favorite restaurant, in Cefalù, was Villa dei Melograni, named after the pomegranate trees around it. “We ate there three times, and the food was better than at the high falutin’ place,” Bryant said. “We always ate outdoors and looked down over the city. Sometimes we ate by the water. At one, such a big wave crashed that it drenched the people at the table next to us and they had to leave.”

Lisa Bryant & Mary Ellen Kiddle in Villa Comunale in Taormina, SicilyCHANGING TIMES: Another special meal at the home of a local family was organized by the school. “Almost everything the senora fixed us was picked by herself: fried eggplant, zucchini, bruschetta with ripe tomatoes, olives she had cured from her farm, sausage,” Kiddle said. “We learned that people from her generation – she was in her 50s – are lamenting a changing Sicily. The rural way of life is rapidly eroding. Because of the global economy, Sicily no longer produces oranges. They all come from Spain now.”

ANOTHER TIME: They are ready to go back. “The wonderful serenity, the cultural stimulation, the visual beauty, I don’t know when I’ve gone to another place that gives you all that,” Bryant said.

Love at Logan’s luggage carousel

February 14, 2008

Would you believe that the most romantic place in the world is the Wessel & Diane at Delta luggage carousel where they met a year earlier; CLICK ON PHOTODelta baggage carousel at Logan Airport in Boston? Well, it was for me, anyway. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I feel compelled to reprint this ditty, which ran on Jan. 7, 2007, in the Boston Globe to commemorate five years of my Where they Went column in the Globe travel section. I selected my 10 favorite columns and gave updates on them. Here was the final entry, referring to the column I wrote on March 16, 2003. Here’s what I said:

“Most of the trips I’ve highlighted have been from several days to several weeks long, but one lasted less than 24 hours. That was Wessel Kok and Frans van Dinther’s whirlwind visit from Boston to Lake George, N.Y., Frans & Wessel on Lake George in front of Hotel Sagamoreand back for a mere afternoon of ice-skating on the lake. I had by happenstance met the two Dutchmen at the Delta baggage carousel at Logan Airport, when Kok, working and living in the area, was there to pick up van Dinther. The fact that they drove five hours each way to skate around a big, bumpy lake in freezing weather still amuses me. But that’s not why their story remains my favorite. It’s because it became my story, too. After I interviewed Kok we started dating. We’ve been married for two years, and that indeed continues to be a wonderful journey.”

Well, now we’ve been married three years and today is our five-year anniversary of meeting. It’s been an adventure in so many ways, but since this is a travel blog, let’s keep it to that. Here’s some of the places we’ve traveled to since meeting, with me writing away and Wessel snapping photos: Ecuador, Indonesia, Chile and Argentina, England, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, California, Colorado, Arizona, Florida, New England, the US East Coast, and of course all over North Carolina, where we live. This year’s itinerary will take us to several US states, including Colorado, Texas, Vermont, and Florida; and to the Netherlands, as Wessel & Diane make a shadow heart at the beach; CLICK ON PHOTOusual. Our big trip will be to Norway in June. Our favorite mode of transportation is by bicycle, one of the things we connected over right off.

So, Happy Valentine’s Day to my favorite travel partner and the best life partner I could imagine. Lieve, jij bent mijn nummer 1! Jij bent mijn ideaal. Jij bent de beste!

A little Valentine’s Day update: After I posted this I saw that Wessel had put little messages to me in the Snap! photo function, which you can see when you move your cursor over the photos. Very sweet and sneaky. Which reminds me to add that this blog has been a labor of love between us!  

They’re loving London, aren’t they, love?

February 12, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(published Dec. 23, 2007, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: This is a little catch-up piece, as it ran before I started posting my Globe column on the blog. I wanted to make sure I added it because I think it’s a great example of family travel that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Well, maybe just an arm. It is London, after all.

WHO: Scott Weighart, 44, and Ellie Boynton, 46, and their children Hannah, 11, and Timmy, 8, of Brookline, Mass.

WHERE: London.

WHEN: One week August.

WHY: The family initially planned to visit Edinburgh, as Weighart is of Scottish heritage, but their passport applications were caught in the national backlog, and they had to cancel the trip. “They came two days after we were supposed to leave,” Weighart said. “I’d worked in London for three months after college, and we thought there would be a lot to do there for the kids. It was their first international trip.”

LOSING POUNDS: “It was a challenge trying to do a fun family vacation in a city where it’s easy to hemorrhage money,” he said. “Maybe we’d pay $8 for hamburgers here that would be 8 pounds there, which was $16.” They rented a flat in the South Kensington neighborhood. “It was near two kid-friendly museums, which were free, and near three tube lines.”

GAINING POUNDS: “We’d have breakfast at home, and take snacks for the night,” he said. “One of the fun things is going Timmy in grocery storeto grocery stores. We’d go to Sainsbury’s every morning for fresh and relatively cheap croissants and have fun trying new things, like rhubarb yogurt. Also, the English do unhealthy food really well. The kids loved Cadbury bars and the funny flavors for crisps, like prawn. We ate dinner at pubs a lot. There’s no smoking now, but you can smell the residue of decades of smoke.”

WEIGHING OPTIONS: Weighart packed a kid-friendly London guide, and with his laptop he also would check out activities beforehand on TripAdvisor. Hannah and Timmy on Platform 9 3/4One day they went to the Camden Lock Market and took a canal boat ride to the London Zoo, but skipped the zoo because it would have cost the family $100. They also passed over the Tower of London for the same reason. Also deemed too pricey was a black-taxi Harry Potter tour. “It would have been $400 with a tip. We couldn’t stomach it,” Weighart said. “We went on our own to the rail station at King’s Cross, where they have Platform 9 3/4,” the fictional embarkation point for the train to Hogwarts (there is now a sign at the station but not a true platform).

DOUBLE FUN: The kids loved the double-decker bus rides,” he said, and they saved on public transport by purchasing a discount booklet. “We had to have seats at the top front, of course. The kids started counting all the double-decker buses they saw; my son got to 1,000. Our book recommended taking bus No. 15, which goes all through downtown.” The kids enjoyed watching traffic on the left, and found the accents interesting, as well as names for things, like “toastie” for toasted sandwich.

MANY MUSEUMS: They visited the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, which they reached by boat, as well as the Science Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood. “It’s in East End London and has games, toys, and dolls from the last 300 years.”

Hannah on the London EyeAN EYEFUL: The family splurged on the London Eye, about $80 total. “It looks like a Ferris wheel but is these huge glass pods that hold about 20 people. You book time in advance. You wait about a half hour and ride a half hour. From there I could even see the office I used to work in.”

Lock by lock, they cruised southern France

February 11, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Feb. 10, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: Navigating all those locks would drive me crazy, too, but it did sound like a great trip. What Mary Heller said, which I hear from travelers time and time again, is that although she saw wonderful sights, the highlight of the trip was connecting with people from all over, especially during an impromptu world cocktail party. 

WHO: Mary, 68, and Bart Heller, 65, of Canton, Mass., and Madeline and Michael Trotta, both 61, of Sharon, Mass.

WHERE: Southern France by barge.

WHEN: One week in September.

WHY: Mary Heller learned about the weeklong barge trip along the Canal du Midi when she saw a photo exhibit by someone who had done the ride. “I planned the same trip,” Mary said.

THE CREW: The Hellers, Trottas, and three others, from Chicago and Oregon, shared the barge. “We’re all motor-Lock in St Roch on the Canal du Midihomers, so we’re used to living in 600 or 800 square feet,” Mary said. “Several of us had had boating experience, and Michael had owned a boat.” He served as captain, and everyone had assigned roles. “That made it very easy. There was not one moment of discontent.”

STRAIGHT AHEAD: “The canal was fairly narrow and the sides were sandy banks,” Bart said. “The boat could go only 8 or 9 miles an hour. All you had to do was go forward, though parking takes a little learning. There were no turns, so you couldn’t get lost. We embarked from Castelnaudary, near Toulouse, and ended at Port Cassafières. Most of where we went through was very rural, quaint French villages and lots of vineyards. Sometimes we went through the towns and other times you could see them in the distance.” They took bicycles to use in town and on the gravel path that runs alongside the canal. Along with French tourists there were many international visitors in the country for the Rugby World Cup.

WATER WORKS: The barge, rented through Crown Blue Line, had two bedrooms in the front and two in the back, with three bathrooms and a small kitchen. “It was a bit disconcerting to realize there’s no sanitation system,” Mary said. “What you put into toilets and sinks goes into the canal. I put on rubber gloves when I was handling ropes.”

Castle at Carcassonne, FranceMEDIEVAL MAGIC: “Our main stop was Carcassonne,” Bart said. “We tied into the little port area for two nights. We walked up to the medieval walled city high on the hill, their major attraction. They have a castle that’s been magnificently restored. ”

LOCKED IN: “We had to go through about 60 locks all week,” Mary said. “Each lock has a lockkeeper. They usually hold two to four boats. You tie up, they lower the water, take the ropes off, open the gates and you go through. You learn to do that quickly, but still it could be half an hour.” At first they were fascinating, Bart said, “then it got to be work. If you got to go an hour without tying or untying, locking or unlocking, you were lucky.”

World Happy Hour in Bèziers; CLICK TO ENLARGEWORLD HAPPY HOUR: In Bèziers, they struck up a conversation with a couple from Cape Cod. “We said, ‘Come have a glass of wine,’ and we all sat down,” Mary said. “Then along comes a couple from South Africa, then another group, mostly from Australia, with several from England. There we were on the side of the canal, watching the sun going down. For me, that was the highlight of the trip, meeting people from all over.”