Bicycles, bread balls and Bastille Day

The Canal de la Garonne is no Leeds-Liverpool canal.  For a start, it’s much, much wider, far more beautiful and immaculately well-kept.  When I say this, I mean no offence to the Leeds-Liverpool canal which, don’t get me wrong, has its moments, but you don’t often see yachts like this pootling through Hebden Bridge.

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Cycling along the massive canal, passing stunning boats and rustic old lock houses with orchards lining the other side of the tow path made for a pretty peaceful bike ride, which we enjoyed for a while before ruining the serenity with some motivational tunes blasting out from our phone, complete with singing as loudly and badly as only we know how.

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We passed over some stunning aqueducts including this one, just outside Agen, which is apparently the longest in France.

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After about 30 miles, we arrived in Agen and cycled about for a bit trying to find the tourist office.  On the way, I managed to fall off my bike whilst trying to mount a kerb in front of a queue of traffic; highly embarrassing but no major injuries.

It turned out that there were no campsites in Agen.  Feeling a bit sorry for myself after my fall and with the excuse that we wanted to stay in town for the Bastille day celebrations, we reluctantly got the first hotel of our trip.  It was the cheapest we could find but I’ve never been more thankful for air conditioning, our own shower and a bed with purple faux-silk covers.  After all our tramping about, it felt like the height of luxury.

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Agen was a great place to stop.  There were strange knitted bikes dotted about the town and the street lamps all sprayed a strange mist out of the side which I’m sure chem-trail conspiracy theorists would have a field day with.

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Next, one of my favourite French activities: patisserie desert-only lunch.

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And, though it might seem a strange choice whilst in France, we went to an Indian restaurant called Sindu for tea and had the best curry either of us have ever eaten, which included some super tasty banana chutney.  It’s actually making me drool just writing about it; I’d defo return to Agen again, just for that curry.  Slurrp.

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Later, walking through the town, a crazy band called “La Cie du P’tit Velo” rocked up out of nowhere on the back of a tiny car and caravan.

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We watched them for a while then sat on the river bank to wait for the fireworks, which were pretty bloomin spectacular.

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Oh, and I got a nice Bastille day hug from a duck, which rounded off the day quite nicely.

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The next morning, expecting everything to be closed for Bastille day, we sampled France’s most famous and finest cuisine, a Croque Mc-do and Diam bar cappuccino.

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Only to discover a bustling market right outside! (Mc) Doh.

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Back on the canal for another 20 miles or so, we came across an old abattoir next to the canal that had been converted into a resting stop for campervans and cyclists, complete with showers, toilets and a kitchen.  We chatted to an English couple who told us we’d be fine to just camp there for the night, even though the official campsite was a few miles away.  We took the strangers’ passing comments as authorisation and set up camp right outside to make the most of the free facilities.

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Investigating the town of Valance-de-Agen, everything was closed.  But we did come across something even more exciting than the chip vending machine we’d come across in Spain: a BREAD vending machine outside the local boulangerie.  Clearly, the town’s people cannot be without bread simply because the shop is closed!  We bought what I can only describe as a ‘ball’ of bread for the princely sum of 1EURO.

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Later, we discovered some curious wooden scenes being set up next to the canal, which were apparently for an upcoming parade and looked amusingly similar to the set from Blazing Saddles.

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We headed back into the town at about 7, thinking everything would still be closed but looking for some kind of fun regardless… and we found it! Another Bastille day party being set up, with banquet tables all lined up, a crepe stall, a wine stall, a cheese stall, a band setting up and people making paper lanterns.

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We got crepes and the wine started flowing, unlike the conversation we were having with some lovely French ladies who sat at our table.  They didn’t speak English and our French is fairly crappy so we didn’t get very far, although when they asked me whereabouts in England I was from, something happened that my 16 year old self would not have believed ever possible: I got to use the most quality of all GCSE French phrases, “J’habite a Halifax, c’est une ville industrielle dans le nord de l’Angleterre”.  I’m not sure the fact that Halifax is an industrial town was really of any concern to them, but they seemed impressed nonetheless.  After that, we just couldn’t stop the GCSE-level French from coming. Nev even managed to tell them he was an “office worker” when they asked what he did for a living.  A bit nondescript, but it was the best we could do.

Later, we danced with the locals to some live accordion music, watched the firework display and went back to play on the strange sets we’d seen earlier, which looked spectacularly creepy in the dark.

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