Blog
October 2000

the Port of Roanne

We are moored here in Roanne, all snuggled in for the winter.  We won't have to worry about cruising until we leave in the spring.

This is a nice mooring with friendly neighbors and a small café just across from our boat. We have stopped in there a couple of times, and we plan to go back often for the Plat du Jour and the ambiance. The owner is kind enough to converse with us, and it is a good way for us to practice our French.

She normally just serves lunch, but she made dinner for us one night when it rained so hard all day that we didn't want to ride our bikes to the market. She also helped us call a cab the other night to take us to Roanne's most famous restaurant, Troisgros.

We dined slowly, and enjoyed a delicious meal, perfectly served. It was our birthday treat, and we would be happy to make it a yearly tradition. The restaurant was as wonderful as its reputation, and we wish that we could become regular customers, like the people that we saw coming in greeting the staff with kisses, obviously it was not their first time there.

Troisgros is a restaurant that people fly into Roanne to visit, because it is one of the best restaurants in France. Watching the other customers, and the skill of the staff as they anticipated everyone's next wish, was part of the entertainment. We dined without feeling the eyes of our waiter watching us, but whenever we were about to want some water or more wine in our glass, he was there performing the task before we had completed the thought.

The atmosphere was comfortably elegant, friendly and not at all pretentious. Just after midnight, we asked them to call us a caour barge moored in the port of Roanneb, and we were told that it was too late to find a taxi in Roanne. "Pas de probleme", they said, and one of the staff drove us home.

The days go by quickly here in our new port, they are getting shorter, or course. We are up every morning to see the sunrise, and it is nice to be able to stay up long enough to see the sunset.  During the long days of summer, while we were working hard all day on our barge, we were going to bed when it was still light, and it would be light in the morning when we woke up.

Bikes, walking and trains are our main means of transportation this winter. We want to try doing without a car this year, and then we can decide next year whether we want to buy a car or not. The surrounding countryside is beautiful and full of small villages to explore, and we have been lucky enough to go exploring with friends who have cars.

We have already had quite an adventure driving on the small country roads with our friends from backblue sky over a green valley home, Candace and Tom.  We drove out into the countryside in their rental car, with the intention of just getting lost to see what we would find.

We followed a little wooden sign on one country road that pointed the way to a village with an appealing name, Dancer. After we turned at the sign, we traveled along on a small road, and soon we were going downhill. We went down, down, down, and the road continued to get smaller and smaller. It had begun like a road, but by now it was looking quite a bit like a hiking trail. Unfortunately, we were already committed. The only way out was to back up, and we all agreed that would be too difficult. We crossed our fingers and continued traveling forward hoping that the road, which was now deep in a forest, would not completely disappear. We drove through a tunnel of branches, as the trail became even steeper. The situation was getting so ridiculous that we couldn't help laughing. The worse the road became, the more we laughed. How did we find ourselves in such a silly situation?

At last, we came to more small wooden signs at a crossroads, picked what looked like the bigger road, and we set off down another very steep, narrow and rocky trail.  It is a good thing that we were in a little car, because we were able to keep our wheels on the tiny path, and finally we emerged from the forest anda man pouring wine for us in a tasting room found ourselves in the middle of someone's vineyard. We followed the signs to the tasting room.

It was an adventure that we are still giggling about.

 
November 2000

Lauren, our granddaughter, and Toby, our dog, are great backseat traveling companions because:

#1 They don't fight with each other.

#2 One of them makes great observations and funny jokes.  The other one wags his tail and smiles. We enjoyed every minute of our travels with them.

Our adventures began early one rainy morning when a friend was kind enough to drive us to the train station. We took the train to Lyon where we boarded the TGV to Paris.  It was a very pleasant trip, with only a slight glitch catching a cab to our hotel, because most of the cab drivers did not want a dog in their cab. (See the full story on Toby's page.)

Michele, Ian and Lauren arrived at our hotel from the airport just a little after we did, and we took Lauren out while her mom and dad got settled.  Our first stop was to see the captain of the port at the Paris Arsenal.  We introduced ourselves and made sure that we are on the waiting list for a winter mooring next year. Once again were told that we may get a spot, we hope so, but we now know that it is not very likely. There are only a few moorings for barges of our size and the requests are numerous.

Eiffel Tower Over the next few days we toured around Paris with Lauren during the day, meeting her parents each night for dinner. We hit all of the high spots on Lauren's list, la tour Eiffel, l'Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, le Métro, and of course we stopped in at our favorite café on the Champs-Élysées for a French hot dog.

Everyone likes the same sites in Paris, even kids, but this trip, because of Lauren, we also stopped to look at the skate board and scooter stores as well. That was something that we had never done before.

Lauren bought a kids Polaroid camera at the Virgin Megastore on the Champs-Élysées, and she was able to take some great photos that she pasted into her travel journal.

She loved the old buildings and she thought that the métro was very cool. She decided that she could definitely live in Paris.

After spending several days together in Paris, we picked up our rental car and headed out with Lauren and Toby, while her parents stayed on to enjoy their vacation alone in Paris.

Our main destination was Normandy and a tour of the D-Day beaches. On the way, we stopped at GivernyMonet's Garden to see Monet's home and the beautiful gardens. We toured the house, strolled through the garden, and Lauren spent time in the gift shop picking out gifts for her mom and dad.

Lauren liked the house and the gardens, and she decided that she could live there.


Pond in Monet's garden
chateau

 

We arrived at our first destination, a chateau near Bayeux, in the late afternoon.  Chateau Vouilly was the site of the American Press Room during the Normandy invasion. It is a beautiful chateau with large grounds for our traveling partners to run around on.



moat around the chateau

 

 

 

 

Our suite was big and comfortable, and we all thought it was cool that this chateau had a moat. Lauren liked it and decided that she could live there.

 

 

 

Breakfast was served in the dining room each morning. This was the same room where Ernie Pyle, Andy Rooney and many other reporters typed out their stories of the invasion for their newspapers back home. There was a nice display of war time artifacts and photos, and one desk with a typewriter that had been used by the reporters. It brought the history to life, and it was a good base from which to see the D-Day beaches.

We started our first day at the nearby German Military Cemetery, which was chilling with its black monuments. Instead of headstones, there were groupings of five black crosses placed in a pattern throughout this cemetery of over 21,115 German soldiers.

From the German cemetery, we toured the D-Day beaches starting with Arromanches les Bains. There we saw the remains of the Mulberry Harbor and visited the museum. At Omaha Beach, we paid our respects to the 9,387 Americans at American Cemetery in Normandyrest and to the listed 1,557 MIA's in the Garden of the Missing.

The beaches are very different, Omaha beach is very steep immediately off the water's edge, and Utah is flat with a very long distance from shoreline to land.

We all agreed that the Utah beach museum was the best museum that we toured. It is built over and around a German bunker. There were many personal artifacts there with stories and photos of the men who fought and died during the invasion, and more than in any other museum the stories brought the history to life.

One photograph showed Brig. General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., another general and a colonel with battle maps spread out before them in the sand of Utah beach. General Roosevelt's actions that day would posthumously earn him the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was 56 years old, had already suffered a heart attack, and he was the son of the late president. He had to obtain a stack of dispensations and special orders to be able to go ashore on Utah beach with his troops, as he hadTheodore Roosevelt, jr's grave marker at the American Cemetary requested. Only a few hours earlier, we stood in front of his grave at the Normandy American cemetery, now we had a better understanding of who he was and why he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

We were constantly surprised by Lauren's interest in all of the invasion history. She read the displays at the museums, and her eyes did not glaze over when we explained what we knew of how the invasions were set up and put into action. Visiting the cemeteries, it made us sad to look at the grave markers and realize that most of the soldiers were only about 10 years older than the innocent child that was standing there with us.

The Bayeux tapestry was next on our agenda.  Another war in another age, clearly illustrated by a wonderful tapestry, and described in one of our books as a lively comic strip justifying William the Conqueror's invasion of England and offering insights into 11th century life. Again the history came to life. We all liked the smiling horses riding in a boat across the channel better than the battle scenes with lots of heads lying on the ground and headless soldiers sitting on their horses with arrows piercing their bodies.

After the museum we went back to the car for Toby. We took a walk around Bayeux before we looked for restaurant for lunch. Lauren liked the town and thought that it would be a nice place to live.

We happened by a restaurant that we had read about in one of our tour books, the Lion d'Or, and went in to ask if Toby would be welcome.  The answer was a somewhat surprised, "But, of course". We entered the restaurant and found it to be comfortably elegant.  A little poodle raced out from under his table to bark at Toby, but Toby kept his cool. He walked straight to our table and took his position underneath.
Toby posing with the waiter in a restaurant
It was a memorable lunch with all of us on our best behavior. The food was good, the conversation lively and the service excellent. Toby was given a drink under the table from a special guest dog bowl.

We didn't want to leave, so we lingered as long as we could over coffee and desert.  Finally, it was time to head south to Brittany and our next stop, a farmhouse near St. Malo.

We found our way to our farmhouse even though we had been given the directions over the telephone in French, and we had to pat ourselves on the back for that achievement.

St.Malo was bathed in the light of a beautiful sunset when we arrived that evening. We enjoyed walking around the walled city and tasting the regional specialties at a crêperie. The next day we burned a few of those calories climbing billions of stairs up to the top of Mont-St-Michel. One of us complained a lot. Someone had told us that Mont-St-Michel is a whole bunch of steep stairs up to a lot ofMont St. Michele empty rooms.  One of us might have agreed with that statement, but we had fun anyway exploring the ancient abbey. The original structures on Mont-St-Michel were built as early as the 8th century and looking at the view from way up there we all agreed that even without binoculars you could see an enemy approaching long before they arrived.  Lauren decided that with the proper furnishings she could make it a comfortable place to live.

At the end of our vacation, we met Michele and Ian back on our barge. Lauren had never seen our new home before and she loved it. She and Toby slept on the sofa bed together, and Lauren thought that our barge was so nice that she decided that she could definitely live here.

 
December 2000
Being permanently moored for the winter, with more time to do as we please, we decided Thanksgiving would be the perfect opportunity to renew a favorite hobby, cooking.
Toby at the butcher's
The week before Thanksgiving, with our American friends from the port back home for the holidays, we invited our English neighbors for dinner. We told them to come hungry so we could feed them tons of food in the true tradition of Thanksgiving.

We hoped to serve turkey, of course. We looked high and low, in town, and in the small villages nearby, but we never found any whole turkeys. Toby helped us shop, and he found a cow at the butcher shop in town, but he couldn't find any turkeys either.  Maybe we could have ordered one, but it was just a little beyond our current French, and we feared that might end up with a live turkey. Checking the local market places for other traditional items, we could notvillage rooftops find any yams or cranberries. What to do?  We would need to be creative.

We worked out a menu, and went to the market place with a shopping list complete with notes on changing ounces to grams and pounds to kilos. We had a grand time walking around town trying to find everything we needed for our recipes. The butcher does carry boned turkey breast and he cut them in slices for us for our main dish. At our favorite cheese store, we found large bowls of fresh light and heavy cream that can be purchased by the gram.  We could see and taste what we were buying. This is much better than trying to select the correct containers by their foreign names in the grocery store.  At the vegetable stand, we carefully selected each item. We would have an endive salad with Roquefort, and mashed potatoes along with our turkey and broccoli casserole.

We visited a local wine maker to select our dinner wines, but finding sherry for our turkey casserole recipe was more difficult.  After being sent from shop to shop, we finally found some Spanish sherry in a wine shop on a side street, it was expensive, but we needed it for our recipe, so we bought it. Then we decided to buy a nice bottle of port for an after dinner drink.

Thanksgiving morning we went out early looking for our dessert. All of the stores were open on kitchen sceneThanksgiving Day, and that reminded us that we were far from home. We looked in a couple of pastry shops and finally decided on a beautifully decorated cake. Then we went to our favorite boulangerie for fresh bread before heading back home to begin chopping, peeling and cooking.

That afternoon while working together preparing our non-traditional Thanksgiving meal, listening to BB King's "Riding with the King", we realized how much we missed playing in the kitchen. It has been a long time since we have tried out newkitchen scene recipes, because most of this year we have been way too busy to cook just for fun.


Our friends arrived with a freshly baked mince pie. We started the evening with champagne and appetizers. And in a fine Champagne and glasses on the side board Thanksgiving tradition we kept bringing dishes out of the kitchen all evening. It was raining and cold outside, but we were cozy in our kitchen enjoying our tasty, if non-traditional, dinner.

We missed our family at the table, but it was a very pleasant day, and we enjoyed the whole process of shopping, cooking and sharing our meal with friends.

We are thankful for all of our blessings.
 
January 2001

 

 

New Year's Eve day we decided that it would be a good idea to go to the Horse for a giraffe.

arch de triomph

White Christmas lights on the trees along the Champs-Elyées

man in a bar drinking a very large beer

We had already established our command post at Horse's Tavern, which was right across from our hotel. The Postons met us in Paris to help us celebrate, and the giraffe, the French version of a pitcher of beer, had been calling Dudley's name since the first day he saw one served.


It was late afternoon, and we weiffel towerere just back from the Champs-Élysées, where by 3pm the people were already shoulder to shoulder, and 2001 anticipation was electric.  Walking along the boulevard, we heard every imaginable language being spoken. Paris was bursting at the seams with tourists who wanted to bring in the New Year in the city of light.


On the metro ride home, packed in with all of the other tourists, we watched as young couples from all over the world practiced kissing in preparation for midnight.


Back at the Horse, we made a few new friends when we offered glasses of beer from our giraffe to neighboring customers. Conversations with other travelers are always fun, and we asked everyone where they were planning to be at midnight.  It seems that Paris just attracts people, and most of them had no pre-planned ideas of where they would be as 2001 rolled around.  It was enough just to be in Paris.


On the recommendation of a Parisian, we had made reservations at what she referred to as a traditional French restaurant in our neighborhood.  We wondered whether that was a good choice. Would we regret missing the activities at la tour Eiffel, Place de la Concorde or on the Champs-Élysées?

our delicious desserts
La Petite Cour is an elegant restaurant and we had a wonderful 7-course dinner with spectacular wines. We were happy as the hands of the clock approached midnight, but we still wondered if we should get the check and head out to celebrate with everyone in the streets of Paris.  We had walked to dinner in a hailstorm, but maybe the weather had improved. The couple at the table next to us got up and left at about 11:30. Should we leave too? We were so cozy that we decided a quiet, delicious dinner with family was enough for us.  Midnight came and we exchanged toasts and kisses.


Suddenly, all of the waiters came out from the kitchen in a long line, and holding trays over their heads, they marched around the room delivering a party sack to each diner.


In an instant this very French, very fancy restaurant was like a high school cafeteria on the last day before summer vacation. The mood went from subdued to playful as the quiet background music changed to disco, and everyone donned silly hats and blew their horns and noisemakers.


The fun began as everyone found the best toy of all in their sacks, the 21st century version of the peashooter, with little Styrofoam balls the size of marbles. These little colored bullets began flying through the air like confetti. Feeling something hit us in the head, we would turn to see a sophisticated, well dressed couple waving and laughing, very proud of their direct hit.everyone is up and dancing


A conga line started weaving its way through the restaurant, the music was good and soon everyone was hopping up to join the line. We felt sorry for the couple who had decided to leave just before midnight, because of the fun that they were missing.  We danced, followed along with the woman leading the Macarena, blew our horns, scored hits across the room with our peashooters and enjoyed being silly in such an elegant setting.


Walking home through the streets of Paris in the early hours of the morning, it was cold, but there was no hail, and we giggled our way back to the hotel full of goParty hat and horns on the table at the end of a great nightod food, wine and fun.

 

 

We think that our New Year's Eve party in Paris has set just the right tone for the year 2001. We hope to have a very happy and playful year, and we hope that you do too.

 

 

 

BONNE ET HEUREUSE ANNÉE

 

 
February 2001

 

Photo of the restaurant Le Petit Prince

 

 

 

Julia Child said that eating is the national sport of France, and we feel like major league players when we visit our favorite country restaurant, Le Petit Prince.

 

A photo of a delicious entrée, Moules au saffron

 

 

 

Many Sunday afternoons have disappeared there, while  enjoying a delicious meal with friends.

 

 

 

 

We learned of this restaurant from a French friend, a cousin of the owner. Beautiful main dish of Magret de canardThe restaurant has been in the same family for generations, and the story of the restaurant's long history is written on the front of their menu.

We love bringing friends here, because everyone is always amazed by the food and the superb service. It is so wonderfully French to care so much about the quality of the food, its proper preparation and presentation, even in a restaurant in a village as small as Saint-Alban-les-Eaux.

 

 

A plate of several small yummy desserts



We have been here so often for lunch that when we ask for a reservation, they just say that they will make a note. They never ask our name, and we suspect that they just write down, "the Americans with the dog".

 

 

 

On the way home from our last leisurely lunch, we stopped by our local gympeople working out on machines in a gym to inquire about membership.

We were with our neighbors from the port, and we had all been talking about joining the gym for months. Going into town, we would walk by and look, but all alone we were a little intimidated to enter and ask about joining. We didn't know if we would feel out of place or be unwelcome because we are foreigners.

We gathered up our nerve that afternoon since we were all together, and we walked in and signed up.  We are glad that we did.

 

people sitting around a table having coffee and talking

 The first morning that we went to work out, everyone immediately made us feel welcome by introducing themselves and asking how in the world a group of Americans happened into their gym. We told them that we are wintering on our boats at the port, and a whole group of people stopped what they were doing to ask us questions about where we were from in the U.S. and what brought us to France. The members are an interesting group of fun loving people, whose desire to stay fit is somewhat challenged by their love of conversation and morning pastries.



We have noticed that there is always more conversation than exercise going on in this gym. There is quite a handsome couple from the gyma bit of joking going back and forth during the workouts, and then someone turns the joke into a longer conversation, and it is not unusual for the one and only treadmill in the gym to be tied up while the person who was working out gets into a long and interesting conversation that soon attracts a crowd.  No one ever seems to complain or interrupt the group, they just wait until the story is over and everyone has stopped leaning on the treadmill and gone back to their respective exercises.


We have never belonged to a gym before where everyone greets us with kisses as soon as we walk in the door. Christian and Gisele go out of their way to make us feel welcome, and we are becoming friends. They give us restaurant advice, tell us where to find the best produce markets, where they shop for wine, and we do all this while working out. Since food is what everyone else working out around us is talking about, we feel like we fit right in.

 
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