Imagine a fine spring day. The air is cool and fresh. The sun shines a gentle warmth on your skin. A slight breeze stirs the surface of the water in front of you. To read this, you are plugged in. However good my description may read, there is no substitute for the experience of being there.
Your virtual life may be rich and absorbing with amazing contacts, a wealth of information -- literally at your fingertips, easy and even inexpensive access to friends in any part of the world. It is too tempting to go no further than the computer on your desk, or the iPhone in your hand, to have access to whatever you want to arrest and engage your attention.
What about other aspects of your life you are "plugged in" to? Your job, the roles that you play, projects you are engaged with, teaching, learning, directing, caring, entertaining, driving, persuading, selling, etc.. We are focused. We are switched on. And we are not machines. This human being benefits from a regular recharging of the senses, and the "batteries" that sustain me.
Having enjoyed stay-cations for a number of years, I was asked to join a friend this spring on a six day barge cruise on France's Canal du Midi. I checked. No wifi. I could leave the computer at home. I decided to leave the phone as well. Enough people knew where I was in the event I needed to be contacted for anything important. I did not even take a book to read. I went to immerse in a new experience.
I wanted to see, feel, touch, hear and smell and taste a different world from the one in which I normally live. More than that, I wanted time to savour the moment with all of my senses with no other distractions; to be absorbed in the joy of simply being.
Cruising the Canal du Midi on the barge Anjodi did not disappoint. Anjodi because she was named after the three daughters of one owner: ANna, JOanna and DIana. Built in 1929 in Holland, she carried grain between Amsterdam and Paris. In 1982, she was converted to a hotel barge. Last winter, she was refurbished. Her wood panelling and brass fittings were gleaming. Brightly coloured flowers and herbs decorated the borders of the deck.
The friendly crew of four could not have done more to ensure we had the best possible cruise experience, both on board and on our daily tours into the Languedoc Roussilon area we were sailing through. It took a couple of days on board for me not to have a reflex action of wanting to get up and help to lay or clear the table.
The Canal du Midi is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. Barges travel slowly so as not to damage the banks. The tranquility was tangible. Over 300 years old, the Canal was the conceived and built by the inspired and passionate genius of Pierre Paul Riquet. He recognized the economic sense in providing a canal route between the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of France. His vision and achievement were inspirational to me. Now, as then, there are individuals who step forward to make a positive difference in our world.
Our thoughtfully guided tours with Christophe to the old towns of Sete, Pezanas, Minerve, Narbonne and finally the majestic Carcassonne, opened our eyes to the rich history of the region; the sad burning of the Cathar communities in the 12th and 13th centuries and the gracious stillness they seemed to have left behind them. There were excellent books on board to fill in any historical gaps we still wished to explore.
If exploring the region gave us good appetites, our talented young French chef Marie more than satisfied them. A great meal has many dimensions to it. First of all, presentation of colour, texture and aromas stimulate your appetite. Then the combination of flavours and texture, with what a friend calls taste sensations, makes a dish special. A few grains of rock salt, an usual herb or spice, the light touch of inspiration that reflects the chef's creativity. We were treated to a variety of local rose wines at lunch, white and red local wines at dinner, with an explanation of the grapes used and growing conditions. Each evening, a different pair of cheeses were presented on an olive wood platter, decorated with fruits and nuts -- the cheeses described by our knowledgeable hostess Rozy. Desserts to go to heaven for completed the meal.
One of the aspects of fully enjoying a delicious meal is taking time with it. In this the French excel. To appreciate the care that has gone into the planning and preparation of dishes; to enjoy to a rich conversation with your companions, is to honour the chef and her passion to give pleasure to those who eat at her table.
Our final night's dinner with our barge Captain, Rupert, gave us a chance to review the riches of our week together. A final glass of champagne brought closure and completion to a very memorable, relaxing and revitalizing vacation with a difference.
Now more popular than ever, it seems that barge cruising on the French canals offers a very welcome re-charging for those of us willing to unplug and leave our computers at home.
Do you ever have difficulty letting go of the habitual plug-ins? Have you discovered any destinations that have enabled you to unplug and re-charge? What are the best ways you know to re-charge when your "batteries" have gone flat?