Thousands of tourists charter canal barges every year to travel up or down sections of the Canal du Midi in southern France. By packing a few extra items, boaters can make their canal voyage even more enjoyable.
Gloves for Handling Dock Lines in the Canal Locks
Regardless of the time of year, a pair of sailing gloves or rubberized gardening gloves will make handling dock lines much easier. In the locks, the dock lines from the boat are looped around fixed stanchions and held in the hands while the water in the lock is lowered or raised. The lines are often wet, and can be pretty abrasive to hands. Gloves make the whole process much more comfortable.
Small Gifts for Lock Keepers
Lock keeping is a paid career position. No one is required or expected to tip a lock keeper, however, lock keepers sometimes go above and beyond the call of duty, and it is very nice to have a little thank you (or a gosh-I’m sorry) gift on board. Of necessity, gift items need to be small, and packable. Use zip lock-style sandwich bags and put a picture postcard from home with the word “merci” written on the back into the bag. Then add a couple small trinkets, such as:
- A few individually wrapped candies
- A pen or pencil
- A small pack of sticky notes
- A key ring
- A pack of flower or herb seeds (Most lock keepers have a garden around their lock keeper’s house)
Gifts items can range from the practical, such as a small packet of safety pins, to the whimsical such as a toy slide whistle or an egg of Silly Putty.
Purchase Small Gifts in Route
Small gifts can also be purchased from local markets along the way. Food items like an oranges, or apples, or small jars of jam or honey can also be given in appreciation to lock keepers or other helpful folks along the way.
Don’t Forget the Lock Keeper’s Dog
Just about every lock keeper has a dog. Carrying medium-sized dog biscuits is another way of saying thank you. Be sure to ask the owner before giving any dog a treat. Fluent French is not required this. Simply hold up the doggie treat and say in a questioning voice: “pour votre chien, OK?” (For your dog.) The question is almost always met with a smile and a nod indicating that it is fine.
As with any trip, the best things to take on a cruise along the Canal du Midi is a kind heart, an open mind, a spirit of adventure, and a sense of humor.