About Michael

Founder of Visual Itineraries, Michael lives in Portland, Oregon.

Exploring Canal du Midi, Southern France

Sunset on the Canal du Midi


I’ve just returned from a very different kind of vacation–exploring the Canal du Midi in southern France on a rented, liveaboard canal boat. I went with 2 friends from Toronto, and took my 8 year old son Benjamin. We spent 7 nights on the boat, traveling between Argens and Negra (south and west of Toulouse). It was a terrific experience, and I’d recommend it to couples and to families.


Cyclists along the Canal du Midi


The scenery was fantastic, and it was a really fun way to explore the region with friends. You pilot the boat yourselves (after a few minutes of lessons)–it’s not difficult, and the boat doesn’t go very fast, so there’s no need for any heavy experience with boats.


Mother duck and her ducklings


There’s a fair bit of wildlife to see: herons, tons of mallard ducks, beavers, geese, and swans. In some areas, we saw geckos as well, which surprised me–it was warm (in the 80’s Fahrenheit most days), but not really tropical.


Bikes on the deck


We rented bikes from the boat company, Locaboat, and they stowed on the front deck nicely out of the way, and gave us the opportunity to explore and to get groceries in the little towns we passed through. And those baskets on the front? They’ll hold 2 bottles of Minervois red wine, a six-pack of beer, a whole chicken, and more :-).


Ben cycling


The company even had kid-sized bikes so my son could ride too.


Heading for dinner on the bikes


Some of the little towns are right next to the canal, so you can dock and just walk to restaurants, boulangeries, patisseries, epiceries, and all those other fancy French words that mean Incredible Food Made Here. There are a few towns worth visiting that are a bit of a hike to get to, and having the bikes meant we explored a fair bit further than we might otherwise have done.


Carcassonne and the walled city and castle


The town of Carcassonne was probably the most interesting stop, with a walled city a short taxi ride from the canal, and within the city, a castle, an amphitheater, and a fantastic cathedral that felt like a 1/2 sized Notre Dame.


Inside the walled city of Carcassonne


The walled city is still in use–it’s not just a display. The shops are a mix of food, wine, and souvenir stores, plus a handful of restaurants.


Castle at Carcassonne


The castle was pretty incredible, and you could tour really the entire thing, including the turrets and various high walkways.


View of city of Carcassonne


The views in all directions were incredible. With the ubiquitous terracotta tiled roofs, it did remind me a lot of Florence, Italy.


The boat


The boat was pretty big, with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms (including showers…of sorts), and a pretty usable kitchen/dining room area. With the bow thrusters, it was actually not too difficult to maneuver, either.


Navigating the locks


Navigating the locks was really a lot of fun, and a bit of exercise as well. Locks ranged from single locks to sets of as many as four in sequence. Each lock would hold up to 4 boats, although with 4 in the lock you had to be on your game with the bow and stern lines to keep them from bumping as the water was rushing in to fill the lock.


Saint Sernin tied up beside the canal


All in all, a really terrific kind of vacation. Fantastic food, brilliant wines from the Minervois, Corbieres, and Languedoc regions we passed through, wonderful friendly locals, and super helpful lockmasters who refrained from giving us amateurs a hard time when we made stupid mistakes in the locks.

Here’s a 360 degree panoramic view from the top deck:

Some of the coolest hotel designs in the world

Found a terrific article on Hative (a design and inspiration blog) with photos of some amazing hotel architecture. Pictured here is the Ocean Flower in the Maldives, which apparently is for sale:

The Ocean Flower, Maldives

Other properties featured include the nearly-invisible Mirror Cube house in a forest in Sweden, Hapuku Lodge treehouses in Kaikoura, New Zealand, the Bubble Hotel in France, the Poseidon Undersea Resort in Fiji (not yet open), Ubud Hanging Gardens hotel in Bali, and Loisaba in Kenya (where I had the pleasure of staying in 2005). Here’s one of my photos from Loisaba:

Loisaba Star Beds, Kenya

Loisaba Star Beds, Kenya

Internet Travel Leads – Best Practices

Yesterday I did an hour-long webinar for members of the Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists Association (DWHSA) on best practices for travel agents for working with internet leads (as opposed to brick and mortar walk-in clients, referrals, repeat clients, etc.). Essentially I shared what we’d learned about how travelers shop on the internet, how they tend to work with agents and OTAs, common misconceptions they have about working with travel agents, and statistics on what works and what doesn’t, gained from my experiences with both Visual Itineraries and TheBigDay Honeymoon Registry (which I co-founded in 2001). Continue reading

Diving and snorkeling in the Seychelles

The Seychelles has a special place in my heart–I went there on my honeymoon in 2005, visiting Mahé, Praslin, and Desroches islands. Fabulous destination, especially if you’re a scuba diver, like me. Biggest, densest schools of fish I’ve seen anywhere, and I’ve gone diving all over the world. Tons of octopus too, which is pretty cool–I saw 8 in one dive alone. Continue reading

Selfie in a Volcano in Vanuatu

OK, I think I’m a bit of an adventurer…and have done my share of rappelling, too. And I’ll admit to taking the occasional selfie.

But I’m not in this guy’s league.

volcano in Vanuatu
Sam Crossman and documentarian George Kouronis drop into crater of Marum volcano in the South Pacific’s Vanuatu, one of 5 places on Earth that have persistent lava lakes.

Check out their stunning video here on Wimp.com.