This tale is also known as The Hungarian Banana Law.
The plan was to get from Toulouse to Carcassonne. My friends had decided to take the more traditional route of the French Regional Railway, SNCF, the short trek south. In 100km, even the slower moving trains can make the journey under an hour. I had heard about a bike path that followed the Canal du Midi from Toulouse, all the way to the Mediterranean, passing Carcassonne along the way. As I was unable to bring my bike to Toulouse, I was fortunate to have made friends with a Hungarian student living in Toulouse, who had just finished updating his second road bike. A time and rendez-vous was set up for the morning. It would take us the majority of the day to pedal south and reach town, so I made plans to have dinner with my friends upon our arrival.
Carcassonne itself is a medieval fortified town, the walls surrounding the town still stand and much of the town was restored by Eugène Viollet-de-Duc in 1853. As Americans, who have no castles or medieval fortresses to visit, this UNESCO World Heritage site was one we were eager to see. However, my Hungarian friend, Lukács had described an alternative route to arrive, the Canal du Midi.
The Canal du Midi was an engineering marvel when it was finished in 1681 under another name, the Royal Canal of Languedoc (it was renamed after the Revolution). It features 65 locks between its highest point connected to the Garonne at 189 meters (620 feet) and where it dumps out into the Étang de Thau (Thau Lagoon), the second largest lake in France. You can even reach the Mediterranean through the lagoon by passing through the gateway town of Sète. I wouldn’t be traveling that far, Lukács would finish the journey after spending the night in Carcassonne with us.
We would have arrived earlier than our 19h arrival had we been better prepared for our travels. We were first delayed by getting a flat shortly after quitting Toulouse that could not be repaired by a flat fix kit. Lukács rode to the nearest bike shop to stock up on inner tubes for the rest of our journey. The tires on our bikes were already well worn, and being that our bikes were made for the road, they were not ideal for the gravel path along the canal. The plane trees lining the canal, as well as the flowers, fields, and plants made up for our error, providing an excellent background to our delay. The canal is mainly used for recreation and tourism now, and the locks are still maintained, with small villages set up next to each one. We decided to have lunch next to one of these locks.
We had sandwiches and water packed, as well as bananas. I was reminded of a story my friend Annika had told me about bananas, and decided to share it with Lukács. Annika insisted that the best way to open the bananas is like a monkey, and not from the stem, but the black base. Pulling the base off will also remove the black part that is in the bottom of the banana on the inside. Lukács looked at me like I was the crazy one, not Annika. He informed me that there is a story all children are told in Hungary.
A man eats his fruits and vegetables every day, but somehow he falls sick despite being active and generally of good health. Every doctor is called to heal, the man, but no one can cure him, or even figure out what the source of the illness is. Finally, one day, a doctor sees the man eat a banana and realized he is eating the black part at the bottom of the banana.
The moral of the story is that you should open your banana from the bottom because it removes this part of the banana which can be poisonous. I picked my jaw up off the ground, and never ate a banana the same way again.
We had another ill prepared moment, about 60 km down the canal. The gravel path along the canal had even bigger stones and we were unable to take our bikes down the canal any further. This was in 2011, before every person had a smart phone with a map in their pocket. We also didn’t have a map, and were forced to try and find our way along country roads and small auto routes. Also, once you move away from the Canal, you leave the shade of the plane trees lining the canal, and find yourself in open fields in the middle of the afternoon. It also isn’t flat anymore and our bikes were fixed with one gear. The last 40 km were harder than the first 60 km and we survived even our last hiccup. We had one more flat tire in the vineyards just outside Carcassonne. Once we finally arrived, we collapsed along the river next to teenagers drinking beer. We tried to buy beer from them, but they were so impressed with our story, they gave us the beers for free and we watched the sunset as we awaited our friends.
The story of a perfect evening outside Carcassonne in Montreal, France, is for another time.