August 2002

 canal cruising


The joy of summer cruising is never knowing what you will find around the next bend.  If you worry too much about sticking to your original itinerary, you may rush right past the most interesting little village or an opportunity to make new friends.

Studying our charts told us that we should save our plans to travel on the Canal de l'Est to Nancy for another season, and that instead we should take the Canal de la Marne à la Saône. That would get us to where we wanted to be mid-suTwo hay rolls in a fieldmmer without having to hurry.



Since we were also in need of time to regroup after all of the events and dinners with friends in St. Jean, this rural canal fit right into our new plans.  The weather was lovely, and for a week or two, we were out in the middle of nowhere enjoying the peace and quiet of nature.  Cruising past farmland, seeing more hay rolls and cows than people, we slowly made our way north from the Saône river to the Marne river.
Firemen getting ready to parade




After leaving the canal, we entered the Marne, arriving in Epernay the day before Bastille Day.  We learned that the parade on the 14th of July was to begin at 10 in the morning at the Place de la Republique. We went there early with our friends who were visiting from San Francisco, found a table at a café and watched, over coffee and croissants, as the parade started forming.Soldiers marching



Band members sat at the next table, and we relaxed until we saw them leave. Then we followed them out. We had time to say hello to some of the firemen, and then we settled in to enjoy the parade.

From two blocks away we could hear the voices of the soldiers singing as the Army marched in, signaling the beginning of the ceremonFrench noseies.



The Veterans took their places in front of the war memorial, each carrying the flag of their unit, and the band began to play. Metals were presented to men in uniform, the band played La Marseillaise, and everyone paraded off down the Avenue de Champagne.

Not only did we have front row seats, but after the ceremony ended one of the firemen was kind enough to find us in the crowd and invite us back to the firehouse for champagne.

Firemen greeting us as we entered the firehouse


We dashed back to the port, hopped into our friends rental car and checking our map found the caserne de pompiers on the outskirts of town.

As we walked into the social hall, we were announced as visiting San Francisco firefighters.  All of the pompiers applauded and offered us glasses of champagne. Toasts were made to both fire departments, and everyone made us feel incredibly welcome.  We were given a tour, some T-shirts and other gifts, and we left with big smiles on our faces.

Champagne logo

The Epernay fire department is a combination paid and volunteer department. Daniel Legrand, a volunteer for over 30 years and also a local champagne producer, took us under his wing. Because of the fire department brotherhood, a friendship was quickly formed.

That night he came by the port, bringing two bottles of his champagne.  We sampled a bottle and placed an order for a case.  We explained that we needed a special champagne to serve our friends in Roanne at our next Thanksgiving party.  When we went to Daniel's house to pick up our order, we met his wife, Michele, and they invited us in and opened bottle of champagne. We visited for awhile, and they invited us back the next day for their family barbecue.

Sunday lunch is one of our favorite French traditions, but usually we have to enjoy ours in a restaurant.  Being invited to the home of new friends made the day very special for us.  AFamily barbecue French stylerriving at noon, we were introduced to the family and everyone went out of their way to make us feel comfortable.  Daniel mixed up a Champagne punch, fired up the barbecue and Michele started bringing out the food.

The pace of the day was slow and relaxing. With liberal amounts of delicious food, wine and lively conversation, the day progressed. Time was pleasantly lost.  We returned home at 8 pm, full of appreciation for the Legrand family and their hospitality.




To the Epernay Fire Department, "Merci et soyez prudents".