There are kids on our block PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill and Nancy   
Thursday, 12 November 2009 17:57


We live in a unique French port.  Most of the boaters here are French people who live on their boats and work in Paris.  When we wintered in Roanne, the port was 10% French and 90% International.  English was the default language among the boaters, who were mostly retired folks enjoying life on the French canals.  In Paris, it is just the reverse; the port is 90% French and 10% International.  We are one of the few couples here who are retired, and French is the language spoken here.

We live in the big boat area of the Arsenal.  Our neighbors are French families, some of whom we have known since 2001.  Our neighbor’s son, who is now 10, used to play with a wooden sword that his father made for him when he was little.  Dressed in his cape and sword, we would play on the quay.  We watched from our wheelhouse as he would fight off an army of imaginary soldiers who were trying to conquer his homeland.  One year, when he was about seven, he got a broom handle horse for Christmas.  As the family went off to Grandma's house, he had on his cape and sword and he carried his trusty steed across our boat to the pontoon where he swung his leg over and galloped off after his family.  We couldn’t help but smile.

Our friends who live a bit further along the pontoon have a son who just turned seven.  He has always been good about correcting our French pronunciation, and now that he is starting English class in school, we help him with his English.  His parents can tell he if he is here by the bike parked at our front door, so they only come looking for him when they think that he may have overstayed his welcome.

Recently we heard a knock at the door early on a Sunday morning.  We looked over, but couldn’t see anyone at the door, so we knew that it was our little tiny French teacher.  He came in and we talked of this and that.  He told us that his parents had sent him to invite us to have lunch with them at 1pm, and we told him that we would be happy to come.  Then he took the helm as he likes to do, and said that he would take us to Chez Fifi, a cruise on the Marne that we have made with his family a couple of times, and he often pretends to take our boat there.  These imaginary trips are always exciting.  Boats appear out of nowhere, and rocks pop up in the middle of the river.  He pretends to spin the wheel to avoid the hazard that only he can see, and thanks to his skills, we always arrive safely.  He was just looking for something else to do when his parents came to the door to say that they had been waiting for him.  He was supposed to ride his bike down to invite us to lunch and then come right home so that they could all go shopping.  Oops!  He got so busy saving our boat from sinking that he forgot that he was only supposed to come down to ask us to lunch.  In the end, he stayed with us while his parents did the shopping, and everyone was happy with that arrangement.

Both boats moored behind us belong to young couples.  One couple is expecting their first baby in February.  Recently we heard construction noises coming from the inside of their boat, and when we asked they told us that they were building a cabin for the baby.

The other couple has two children and a very charming cat called Nina.  We have always been amazed by Nina and her, “je ne sais quoi”.  She is different from other cats in that she has the ability to make people stop and pet her.  It happens all of the time, and we always wonder just how she does it.  About six months ago, an adorable Jack Russell puppy, Dude, was added to the family.  He was smaller than Nina in the beginning, and now they are about the same size.  Nina does not spend much time with her family as she seems to be more interested in how many strangers she can attract, but the children love running up and down the quay with Dude.  Dude is very quick, has a mind of his own, and never comes when he is called, so we often hear not only the kids, but sometimes the parents calling out “Dude” with a bit of frustration in their voices and a French pronunciation that makes us smile as we turn to each other and say, “Duuuude” is loose again.

Down the pontoon a bit, another young family has a nine year old son and they are expecting their second child in January.  When their son was little and went to school for the first time, he asked his classmates, “What is the name of your barge?” He thought everyone lived on a boat.

Halloween never really caught on in France, so last year we were surprised when a couple of our little neighbors came by in homemade costumes looking for a treat.  While we were busy trying to put cocktail peanuts in a bag for them, they threw a handful of confetti on the pontoon in front of our boat as a warning to other kids that this house is a waste of time.  You won't get any candy here!  That was a social faux pas that we didn’t want to repeat this year, so we searched high and low before we found anything that resembled Halloween treats at our local market.  We paid dearly for the mini candy bars, but at least we would not have to suffer the stigma of confetti this year.

We didn’t know how many kids might come out Trick-or-Treating, but we knew the kids next door were planning to dress up for candy, so we asked their mom what time they might be coming by so that we would be sure to be home.  While we were out, we ran into our little friend's mom and reminded her that it was Halloween.  We told her that we were prepared for Trick-or-Treators this year, and she said that she hadn’t thought about it, but that she would come up Halloween-Tjobawith some kind of a costume for her son.

Just after dark we heard some ghostly noises, they got louder and louder and then there was a knock at our door.  We looked at the window in the door, but we didn’t see anyone.  Another knock, more scary noises and we got up to investigate.  We opened the door and gasped in fear.  Two little ghosts were at our door.  We screamed and they giggled.  Their mom watched and smiled as her cute little kids tried to figure out what to do next.  Halloween is not a tradition that has been handed down from parent to child here, so they didn’t know what to say, but they had heard that candy could beHalloween-LisaBelle had if they came prepared with a big sack.  The little ghost was so busy giggling that it was up to her big brother to push forward his sack so that we could toss in several little candy bars.  We were still smiling when we closed the door and waited for the next knock.

Our little buddy the barge pilot/French teacher was the only other French kid trying out an American tradition.  His mom had rummaged through the closet, and he was wearing an Irish hat, a Canadian shirt, swim goggles, and he was trying to look scary.  We gave him most of the candy that was left, and closed the door for the night.

There were a couple of mini Mars Bars in the candy bowl, and we realized, as we ate them with great pleasure, what a treat it is to have kids on the block again.





Chez FiFi PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill and Nancy   
Tuesday, 13 October 2009 10:12





This was our view from the back deck of our neighbor Gilles' boat, Lisa-Belle, as we headed off towards the Marne, destination Chez Fifi for another "Sortie Guinguette" where we would celebrate Gilles' birthday.

We were a flotilla of 3 yacht club boats, each carrying a group of friends, and stopping along the way to pick up others.  The boats were small enough that we could enter the locks together from the Arsenal to Neuilly-sur-Marne, where we arrived late afternoon. This is what happened next.



Plouarzel, au bout du monde PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill and Nancy   
Saturday, 15 August 2009 15:13

10 years ago, while still in the planning stages of buying a barge, we made contact again with a childhood friend from our old San Francisco neighborhood.  Jim had married a French girl, Evelyne, and they had two children and lived in France. They were home visiting Jim's dad when we became reacquainted.

Jim and Evelyne bent over backwards to help us sort out our French visa, gave us advice about living in France, and invited us to come and see them in the Haute-Savoie.  While we were wintering in Roanne, we were practically neighbors, but it wasn't until this year that we finally got together, when Jim and Evelyne came to Paris to stay with us for le quatorze juillet.  We had so much fun while they were here, that we made plans to visit them a couple of weeks later at their vacation home in Brittany.

Jim is frugal and loves a good bargain, and his influence rubbed off on us while he was here.  So, to take advantage of the best price on the TGV from Paris to Brest, we bought tickets that left Gare Montparnasse at 8:30am. And since we were getting up early to save money, it didn't make any sense to take a cab to the train we packed light and took the metro. We had to pass through Châtelet and Montparnasse-Bienvenüe stations, which both have moving sidewalks because the distances between connections could almost be counted in kilometers. We dragged our luggage up and down stairs, weaved through tunnels only to find more stairs, and walked fast because the moving sidewalk was not moving, finally arriving at Gare Monparnasse about 50 minutes later.

Once settled comfortably on the train, we were quite proud of our money saving adventure, but we were already thinking that on the way back, maybe a cab would be the better way to go. Certainly, after this experience, traveling on the metro after a long international flight will never be on our list of ways to save money. Jim had inspired us, and we agree philosophically with living frugally, but we were already having doubts about saving a few bucks on train tickets.

In Brest, because the bargain ticket didn't match up with the Brest to Saint-Renan bus schedule, we looked for a nice restaurant in order to try to pass the time with a leisurely 3 or 4 hour lunch.  The suitcase limited our range, so we ended up at a Moroccan restaurant near the station.  With its comfy cushions, it was a good choice for a long lunch.  Sometime about dessert, even though we were enjoying our meal, we realized that if we had spent the price of lunch on the tickets, we could have slept in and maybe even taken a cab to the station. We are not big spenders, but we are not particularly thrifty either, so all of this was pretty new to us, and we were becoming aware that cheap tickets have some inconvenience built in to the price.

Our lunch was great, and we had a very pleasant, lengthy conversation with the owner and staff as we were paying our bill and they were closing up, but even with that we still had time to kill before the bus came.  At a little brasserie across from the bus station, we ordered a beer and a wine for half of the Paris price.  We looked at each other, both thinking at the same time that if we really wanted to save money, we should move out of Paris.  In silent agreement, frugality was canceled in favor of living well.

The ride from Brest to Saint-Renan was pretty, then we boarded a little 15 seater jitney for Lampaul-Plouarzel. We rode down small country roads heading for the beach, and the young driver liked his music loud and American. All of the other passengers were locals, and even the little old ladies didn't complain about the thumping bass or foreign words bouncing off the walls of the little bus. We couldn't help smiling.

After about 10 hours of travel or waiting to travel, we arrived at our destination, a local bar called La Chaloupe. While waiting for our friends to pick us up, we looked across the sand dunes to the ocean, and even though it was the Atlantic instead of the Pacific, we felt right at home.

It was an incredible week. Our hosts were so generous. For six days, we were part of a French family. Evelyne's parents came to stay at the end of the week, and it was a real privilege for us to be in the same house with three generations.

Jim and Evelyne are extremely active people, and their kids take after them. We tried to keep up, and we felt like we were doing pretty well in the beginning as we strained to keep them in sight on gently sloping bike rides, and held our own hiking along the ocean trails, but by the end of the week with their early morning ocean swims, kayaking, sailing, surfing and bike rides that even Lance would have found fun, we decided that the only way we could compete with this sportive family would be in the "enjoying a meal" competition. We had many great meals around their family table, and that was the one place where we kept up without a problem. We may not be as athletic as we would like, and we are kind of a flop at being frugal, but we do know how to have a good time, and on this vacation, we did that really, really well.

Croisement Difficile PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill and Nancy   
Sunday, 02 August 2009 15:58
Cruising along on the canals is not always simple comme  bonjour.
And, if you can read French or Dutch, this charming site about life on "Picaro" will answer all of your commercial barge questions.
Savigny en Tous Sens PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill and Nancy   
Tuesday, 21 July 2009 17:01
Our weekend away started with an upgrade to a pretty jazzy little rental car, and after a few wrong turns in Paris, we got on the A6 with what looked to be a huge traffic jam ahead, but we soon flew past all of the cars as the backup was going off on the exit.  Lucky us.

We drove to Savigny-lès-Beaune to find out where we should meet for the Savigny en Tous Sens hike on Sunday, and then took the scenic route up to Nuit-Saint-Georges.

Driving slowly along the Route des Grands Crus from Savigny to Nuits, we didn't mind the pace as it was still faster than we travel on our barge, and the view had us exclaiming about the beauty of the villages and the ancient vineyards even though we had driven along that same road many times before.

We drove through tiny passages between stone walls wondering if we would fit, and that reminded us of the narrow stone bridges that line the canals.  Driving on the back roads of France is a great way to get lost and have lots of adventures, but this time we made it to our destination without more than a dozen wrong turns, and we found that our random choice of the Domaine de Pellery on the Internet turned out very well indeed, and we would love to go back and spend more time there.

In one of the those six degrees of separation moments, we learned, as we were checking in, that the French husband and English wife of our B&B had owned and worked on hotel barges, and that we have many friends in common.

A local restaurant for dinner, and a great breakfast with the other guest the next morning set us up for a day of hiking.  And, it was a great day.  We met up with barging friends that we had spent the winter with in Paris, and it was the most fun that we have ever had on a hike.

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