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Day 9 - Monsieur l'Inspecteur
March 11, 2010                                Bram to Castelnaudary                                     11 miles
Castelnaudary canelot
Road crossiing e of Castelnaudary
I liked walking without a backpack yesterday. Indeed, it made a 14-mile day seem like a 10-mile day. That wait on the station platform in Bram had told me that there was train service to my next destination of Castelnaudary. It didn't take ol' Hobson long to figure out that he could leave his pack in his Bram hotel today, too, if he returned by train after walking to Castelnaudary. (Tomorrow, he could take the train back to Castelnaudary and start hiking from there.)

I left the hotel after breakfast, because today's distance was modest.

Conditions on the walk to Castelnaudary were very similar to yesterday's. It was bitterly, teeth-chatteringly cold in the morning (-2 degC, 28 degF plus some wind chill), and the sky was somber. It warmed to "merely cold" in the afternoon - about 5 degC, 40 degF.

I started on the road. There are three somewhat parallel highways in my direction, which may explain why the D33 (the oldest of the three, in fact it's a Roman road) isn't busy. I left the D33 after just a few miles anyway, and found the canal walk a special pleasure. In fact, here the canal towpath is part of GR7, and is thus one of the famed French hiking trails known as Grandes Randonées. Here and elsewhere, the trees that line the banks of the canal are as much as three hundred years old. They must have somewhat shielded the towpath from snow on one side - conveniently the better-surfaced side - because I had little trouble with snow.

Nearing Castelnaudary, I was passed by a procession of joggers, running to the west on one side of the canal and to the east on the other, obviously on a circuit of some kind. All were in green track suits, and I was finally able to read the lettering as something like Légion Etrangère. It's clear that the French Foreign Legion has a base here. Later, I read that it's a training center for new recruits.

The locks came up at short intervals, possibly a steepening of the terrain. I also haven't mentioned it, but all the locks so far this hike have been "up" ones - in my direction of travel. So I haven't reached the continental divide yet, which will occur between the last "up" lock and the first "down" lock. That's a milestone scheduled for tomorrow.

Castelaudary has a distinctive, quite large canal basin known as the canelot. There are surely canoes and sailboards on it in the summer.

Nearing the end of the hike was a city street under construction and banned to all through-traffic including pedestrians. I was wearing an orange vest as pictured here, while the workmen were wearing mere yellow ones. They waved me through. Even without a hard-hat and a clipboard, they could recognize Monsieur l'Inpecteur when they saw him.

About the Hôtel Clos Saint-Loup. It's a relatively characterless country motel with restaurant. But my room is generously-heated, sensibly-furnished, spacious, with a large, modern shower and instant and copious hot water. The restaurant is nirvana to a hiker. I am on the demi-pension rate (dinner, bed and breakfast) which limits my dinner options, but dinner is still excellent. In icy weather, even if I've stayed in, I devour the hot soup as if it's 100-octane fuel in a racecar. There's a starter-bar with interesting salads. The main course on an all-inclusive rate can be basic, but I'm not fussing because I've pretty well had my fill by then.

Except for an out-of-town location - but within walking distance of the station - it's been really convenient. There's a nice casual atmosphere. Unfailing politeness. No payment in advance. They haven't asked for my ID or a credit card. Hotels in France often still accept checks.

Canal e of Castelnaudary
Snowy bench
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