Montpellier days trips to Béziers

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June 14th 2017
Published: June 15th 2017
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Everywhere. They certainly don't plan to forget.
We didn’t plan to go to Béziers twice but, as with all good holidays, not everything goes according to plan.

The City tour

As I probably have said before, Montpellier is a great town in itself but is also well located for visiting other places. Béziers is one of those. A sort train ride dropped us off right at the edge of the old city. One of the things Google maps don’t give you is an idea of what the hills are like. I should have been suspicious after looking at a picture of the cathedral on the internet. We knew where the tourist information office was located and made a beeline for it. Uphill almost all the way.

But they were very helpful and our visit to the old city was very successful. It started with an examination of the map while we were standing in the square outside the office. A man came up and asked if we could use some help. We said we were looking from the cathedral. He looked up, and behind us. There was a big sign with an arrow pointing to the cathedral. “Merci”, we said and had a good laugh.
The entrance to the cityThe entrance to the cityThe entrance to the city

When you come out of the station you enter this very restful park. Nice despite the climb up to the old city.

The location of the cathedral on top of the hill gives a fantastic view of the countryside. You can see for miles. And watch the trains come back and forth. If you know what you are looking for, you can even spot the Canal Du Midi. Unfortunately, we didn’t know what we were looking for.

The map showed us where the canal should be. On the wrong side of the train tracks. There were only two ways to cross the tracks and neither was convenient. Hmmmmm. We decided to go down the hill and take one route there and the other one back. It was a hot walk but we finally got under the tracks and started along the river. Mercifully in the shade. There are several bridges across the river that we had seen from the look-out at the cathedral. Two were very busy car bridges and the other didn’t seem to have any traffic. We took the path under it then the stairs up to the bridge deck level.

The reason there was no traffic was that this was a canal bridge! I had heard the term but never thought about what it meant. It
Lending libraryLending libraryLending library

We see these in Canada. Nice to see them elsewhere.
means a bridge over the river that carries the canal over the river. The canal is dated from the 1600s but the canal bridge wasn’t added until the mid 1800s. It was designed to eliminate the need to navigate across the River Orb which could be treacherous due to the fluctuations in the water levels. It really looks spooky to see a canal on top of the bridge over the river.

The locks on the Canal Du midi are supposedly the third most visited site in Languedoc and we could see them on the map, not too far up the canal from where we were. But it was getting late, we weren’t sure how far it was to walk and there was little shade in this area. We decided to content ourselves with looking at the two locks that were right there. The bad news was that no boats went through until we decided to walk to the remains of a Roman Forum. The good news was, we found out later, that the walking trails around the locks were closed as there was a massive renovation going on to all the surrounding area.

Again, the map failed me.
Pierre Paul RiquetPierre Paul RiquetPierre Paul Riquet

The engineer responsible for the building of the Canal du Midi. An incredible story of ingenuity in the 1600s. Worth a read. A very prominent citizen of this town, he also put his personal fortune on the line to finance the project.
The walk wasn’t that far but it was all uphill. The remains of the forum weren’t that spectacular until you read the history of Béziers and realize what happened during the Albigensian crusade in the early 1200s. It’s amazing anything is left. When we left the site we realized we had climbed back up to the square when the tourist information office was. At least there was a nice café nearby for our daily cappuccinos. The walk back to the train was through a beautifully shaded park.

The boat cruise

Over the next few days, we reviewed our choices for things to do before we went home. We discovered that, although the walking paths were closed, the canal itself was open and boat cruises could be taken through the locks. This sounded pretty interesting.

Surprisingly, the company we chose didn’t have an online reservation system. You could phone (our French isn’t that good) or you could email. When our email wasn’t answered we decided to just show up early to buy a ticket for the 9:00 am cruise. If we couldn’t get on that, we’d take the afternoon run.

The address given appeared to be the
A full lockA full lockA full lock

We waited but no boats came through.
boat itself just sitting there waiting for the crew to show up.

When one fellow showed up, he told us we could just buy a ticket on board. By the time the ticket seller showed up, so had at least a million (perhaps I exaggerate) others. There was no way we could get on this boat. After some frantic negotiation in a combination of French and English, we determined the afternoon cruise was full but there was a promotional cruise leaving at 10:30 from another place. The very helpful young lady was about to tell us how to drive to the starting location when Dianne said we were walking. “OK”, she said, “Wait 10 minutes and you can come with us”. In due course, we were loaded into the company van and, with three employees, hurtled off into the sunshine. I was glad they were driving because I am not sure I could have kept the instructions straight. The boat was tied up on the bank of the canal down a winding path made treacherous by all the construction. We wandered up and down stream while they got the boat ready. When the time came to board, our young
An empty lockAn empty lockAn empty lock

Waiting to lift a boat up the canal. Just after we left a couple of boats entered the lock but we were too tired to go back and watch There will be another day.
lady friend marked our names off on the reservation list. Since she hadn’t got our names, she had recorded us as “Canada”.

Eventually a couple of busloads of people showed up (capacity of the boat was 120) and off we went, up stream. You don’t go anywhere fast on these boats. In fact many cyclists passed us on the rather tricky bike paths along the route. And when two boats had to pass, some experience was necessary. There were the odd bump or two but lots of smiles and waves.

Passing under the bridges and through the Malpas tunnel were very interesting events. As was the point where we turned around. The pilot had to find a place where the canal was wide enough to turn a long, skinny boat. As soon as we turned, the announcement was made that it was lunch time and everybody went below decks to be fed. Not sure what was in the soup (something fishy; I mean seafood, not weird) but it was tasty. I can no longer say I have never eaten cuttlefish which was the entree. Dessert was delicious and there was plenty of wine.

The boat tied up
Roman ruinsRoman ruinsRoman ruins

Even though the remnants of Roman times weren't too impressive in themselves, it was interesting to see an example of "modern" buildings built on top of a Roman base.
in the shade while we ate. It was interesting to see the young gal who helped us so much in getting on the cruise. She sold the ticket, made the announcements, helped seat everyone, served the meals, bussed the tables and even jumped ashore to loop the lines around a tree to hold us in place. All with a big smile on her face and a ready laugh.

She did have one last task which wasn’t so pleasant. As we were heading back down the canal to where we would go through the famous nine Locks of Fonseranes, she had to tell everyone the bad news that the people who run the locks had gone on strike and the ship couldn’t finish that part of the trip. That was the part we had come to see. Luckily we had really enjoyed the trip to this point. She said we could call the office in the morning and discuss what could be done about this but we really had no options open to us. I guess we just weren’t destined to see the Canal Du Midi Locks in action. Sigh.

What else?

It’s not like we hadn’t had
Not sure about these umbrellasNot sure about these umbrellasNot sure about these umbrellas

Apparently they are another example of street art (according to info on Google)
fun both days. And the holiday wasn’t over so it is still ToBeContinued

Additional photos below
Photos: 23, Displayed: 23


The cathedralThe cathedral
The cathedral

From the river bank. Pretty impressive from any angle.
The Bishop's gardensThe Bishop's gardens
The Bishop's gardens

Beside the cathedral, the panoramas from these gardens were spectacular.
More umbrellasMore umbrellas
More umbrellas

These umbrellas line the seating area of all the canal tour boats. I imagine they can be used if it is raining but their main use is for protection from the sun. It gets really hot out there.
The boat will be tied up on shoreThe boat will be tied up on shore
The boat will be tied up on shore

they told us. They weren't kidding. At the main loading area there was at least a dock. But this was part of the fun.
Off we goOff we go
Off we go

There was quite lot of boat traffic going both ways on the canal. But no one goes anywhere fast.

More than a few bumps as boats try to pass each other. It was really neat to watch the long boats such as ours weave their way past each other.
Some didn't make itSome didn't make it
Some didn't make it

We passed four or five boats in this condition. One gets a sinking feeling when you ponder what happened.

The tour went up stream to this town where we made the turn round. The boat is almost as long as the canal is wide so the turn was bumpy.

First kayak we have seen for a while. I think we put ours to better use.
Low bridgeLow bridge
Low bridge

It was fun watching the boats in front of us scramble to lower canopies etc to get under the bridge
We had problems of our own.We had problems of our own.
We had problems of our own.

I was sitting in the middle of the boat and didn't have a problem but Dianne had to duck. On the way back we dislodged one the speakers like the one in the picture,
Malpas tunnelMalpas tunnel
Malpas tunnel

Built in 1679 the tunnel was built in 8 days! It had to be done in secret because the powers that be thought going around was a better choice. Riquet liked the tunnel idea better. One example where poor communications allowed him to get away with his secret project.
Umbrellas in useUmbrellas in use
Umbrellas in use

It was hot.
The canal bridgeThe canal bridge
The canal bridge

The canal flows on top of the bridge over the river L'Orb. Pretty weird. Built in the 1850s it apparently solved a problem where the people using the canal had to navigate across the river and that had all kinds of difficulties in high and low water.

This is why we couldn't walk along the canal and look at the locks but it was the strike that prevented us from having pictures of the locks. I guess there wasn't to be another day. As one of our friends said, if you have seen one lock you have seen them all. And we have seen one.

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