Blog
August 2001

Do you remember your first car trip after learning how to drive? Instead of just driving across town, imagine that you drove from San Francisco to New York. And instead of driving a car, imagine that you were driving an 18 wheeler. You would be sure to have an exciting trip.  That's how it was for us.

Our first night in Namur, Belgium, when we saw the fireworks, we felt as though that was a fitting welcome for beginning drivers who had come a long way, and learned so much during their first voyage.
A view overlooking Namur, Belgium

 

 

 

It took us about two months to reach our destination in Belgium, and there is not room enough on the Internet to tell all our incredible adventures.  Over dinner some night ask us to tell the story of the optical illusion that caused us to think we were sinking.  Can two people qualify for mass hysteria?

 

 

 

 Colorful tall, narrow buildings along the river in Namur

This was a storybook adventure, and when we arrived in Belgium we found it to be a storybook beautiful country.  Namur is located at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers.  There is a citadel overlooking the city, and from there the views are magnificent. We happened to arrive on July 21st, their Independence Day, hence the fireworks. There was also a huge flea market along the river, music in the air and a festival atmosphere.

Dinant, Belgium from the citadel

 

 

The next weekend we traveled to Dinant.  Another ancient city along the Meuse river, and they also had a citadel to protect the city.  While touring the citadel, we learned that in this case the citadel didn't provide too much protection.  Over the centuries, this town was brought down more times than the New Year's Eve ball in Times Square.

 

 Our barge moored near the cathedral in Dinant

On this particular weekend though, the sun was shining in this resort town and summer was in full swing.  There was a live band playing under the bridge for full acoustic effect and smiling people strolling along the river soaking up the sun and the atmosphere.

We found a great place to moor along a row of outdoor cafés.  Dinner was just two steps away and the people watching was fantastic. Resort towns attract people from all over, so it was fun to sit on our back deck and try to identify the country of origin of all of the passing tourists.


Mission accomplished. We had our barge completely measured in Dinant, and we now have wonderful detailed drawings depicting our widest, narrowest, longest, highest, deepest points.

The Meuse river from the bow of our barge as we head back towards France.

 

We traveled south on the Meuse, a river with one pretty little village after another. We passed many extremely large and beautiful river front homes. The weather was hot and the river was cool.  It was a great vaA chateau along the Meusecation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our next destination is the Champagne region of France.  We hope they will chill a couple of bottles of Champagne for us, after this long trip, we'll feel like celebrating.

 
September 2001

Photos of our summer vacation

 

 

Cruising through an arched bridge
Cruising in a heavy summer rain
two barges moored together on the Marne
Camel performing in a circus Shop sign View of the valley from Hautvillers
Cluster of grapes Friendly waiter taking our order in Reims Champagne bucket and 4 full glasses
Champage tour Metro sign pony ride in the Luxembourg Gardens

 

 

American Flag on our back deck

September 11, 2001

Our thoughts and our prayers are with the victims and their families, and especially to the members and families of the Fire Department New York "the bravest of the brave". We mourn your loss.

Nancy and

Bill Koenig, retired

San Francisco Fire Department

 
October 2001


Canal cruising in a barge is like playing a game of miniature golf.  Just as you finish with one tricky section and congratulate yourself for getting past the hazard, you find that there is another hazard just ahead. On the canals each obstacle is waiting to scrape your paint or dent your hull, and if you are not careful going under a very low arched bridge, you would not be the first person to peel off the wheelhouse roof. Canal scene on a blue sky morning

Most of the time cruising on the canals is peaceful. The pace is slow, and on days when the sun is shining and the birds are singing, it is heavenly. But the canals are narrow, and even though you follow a chart you never really know what you may find just around the next bend. It seems that every time you are lulled into daydreaming and have your head spinning with the beauty that surrounds you, opps! Hazard ahead!!!Pont Canal Eiffel


Even if you know that a canal bridge over a river is ahead, it is always surprising to see how narrow it can be.  Just as in miniature golf you need to drive straight to avoid bouncing all over the course.

Tunnel entrance coming up on the canal, and it looks pretty small
 

 

 

 

And while canal bridges are narrow on the bottom and low arched bridges are narrow on the top, tunnels are a bigger hazard.

 Our barge in the narrow arched tunnel

 

 

In a tunnel the fit is so tight that you worry that you might damage your boat from top to bottom.  Seeing a tunnel ahead on the chart makes people with freshly painted barges very nervous. And emerging out the other side without any new scrapes or dents is cause for celebration.

Drawbridge on the canal lifting

 

 

 

Drawbridges are yet another hazard waiting for you. They pop up occasionally along the canals, and it seems that no two are alike. Their operators don't seem to think it is necessary to lift them up all the way, and this makes passing through very exciting.

 Commercial barge exciting a lock

 

 

Locks are exciting too.  Big ones, small ones, short ones, tall ones, usually with boats of all sizes maneuvering in a small space waiting to enter and exit.  Passing port to port is not always the case. Again, like miniature golf you must weave your way through the moving hazards of the course.   

 Barges exiting lock

 

 

 

Moving hazards are complicated by their unpredictability.  While seeing a large commercial barge come around the bend can make your heart beat faster, they almost always follow the rules. It is the summer rental boats who will, more often than not, do something wildly unexpected. They are on a weeks vacation and haven't had the time to learn how to drive.


A commercial passing us on the canal

 

Boat traffic, though, is generally more predictable than cows.

 

 A cow standing in the middle of the canal

 

 

 

Cows don't read the canal navigation rule books.  When you come around a corner and see a cow in the middle of the canal it is hard to know which way to go. On a miniature golf course you would probably aim the ball straight through the cow's legs, but with a barge it is best to go around.

The sun setting over a river

 

 

Whether you have had an exciting day cruising along the French canals or playing a game of miniature golf, it is always nice at the end of the day to sit on your back deck, put your feet up and toast your success.

 

 

 

 

 

 
November 2001

One of the most enjoyable aspects of our barging adventure has been the absence of daily news. We listen to French radio stations, but they talk so fast that we can only catch a sentence here or there.  Life is much more relaxing, and you sleep better at night without the constant input of new things to worry about. How blissfully our summer passed. There was nothing to worry about except difficult locks, strong river currents or where to buy bread when all of the village bakers were on vacation in August.

We always knew that if there were a major world event, we would hear about it right away. After all bad news travels fast.  On September 11th we had just arrived in Briare, and we were still in the middle of mooring along theOur new station wagon with Toby looking out the back window quay, when someone ran out of the boat next to ours and said that a plane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers.  Like so many other people in the world, our blissful summer ended for us on that day, and we began heading back to Roanne.

Friends from the port were waiting to catch our lines, as we moored in our old spot across from the Café Santa Monica.  We plugged back into our city electric box, reconnected our land line telephone, renewed our membership at the gym, and began to snuggle down for our second winter here.

The sudden loss of so many lives on September 11th, and the continuing threat of terrorist attacks reminded us that life is short, and that each day should be lived to its fullest.  We decided that we could do that best in a new car. We biked out to the local Peugeot dealer, and found just the car we wanted right there on Toby looking out the rear window of our station wagonthe lot. We haggled in our best French, enlisted the help of a French friend for the tricky bits, and drove home in a brand new car.

We bought a station wagon so that everyone in the family could have a comfortable seat with a good view.

 Hilltop village off in the distance

 

 

 

 

 

Now the beautiful countryside surrounding Roanne is ours. Within a ten minute drive from our boat, we can be out on country roads exploring hillside villages and admiring the scenery as the colors of summer change into the colors of fall.

Visits to Lyon and long lunches with friends at small country restaurants top our list of things to do this winter.  Also on the list, visiting all of the farmers' markets that Valley vieware held on different days of the week in the surrounding towns, and enjoying local events like the Christmas fair in Saint-Haon-le-Vieux.

Last weekend we invited friends along for a Sunday drive. We were McGooing around the back roads, admiring the scenery, when we stumbled upon a Beaujolais wine fair. We peeked in to see what it was all about, and ended up staying for hours chatting with people, tasting and buying great local wines, cheeses and sausages.

Our quality of life has already improved, and we haven't even left the area yet. If we want, this winter, we can take a trip to Southern France, Italy or Spain. Or we can just drive around the local back roads, as we did the other day, looking at horses and cows.

A close up of a white cow who is giving us the eye

Like the other day, some of them will look back at us and some of them won't.  Either way it will be great fun.

A white hores who will not look at us, he turned his head away






 
December 2001
Our Thanksgiving dinner made the local news.A photo of all of our Thankgiving dinner guests that was published in the Roanne newpaper

Thanksgiving is our favorite American holiday, and back home we always cooked for a crowd.  We had planned to invite our American friends here in the port over for dinner, but when we learned that they would be away, we knew that we needed to come up with another idea. After all of the tragic events in America, we did not want to be alone this year.

This winter, Wednesday night happy hour at the Café Santa Monica Our French friend, Otila, dressed up like an American Indianacross the street has become a very popular port event. We decided to invite all of the people from the port who are regulars at happy hour for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  Since that would mean dinner for about 25 people, we asked Martine and Otila, the café's owners, if we could use their place for our party.  They agreed and said that we could take over their kitchen as soon as they finished serving lunch that day.  We told them that we would do all of the cooking and cleanup, and that they would be our guests.

They were very enthusiastic about our party. They wanted us to decorate with American flags, and they said that we definitely needed music for dancing. Martine said she wanted to learn cowboy line dancing, Otila decided she would come dressed as an Indian.

Our friends and barge neighbors, Peter and Jane, owned the best French restaurant in Cape Town for My mom's famous applesauce spice cakemany years. Peter is an excellent chef and as Jane makes fabulous desserts, so we asked them to be our head chefs. They also thought our party was a great idea. The four of us began planning the menu and trying to solve the problems presented by cooking this traditional American meal in France.  This year we were also determined to find all of the ingredients to make mom's famous applesauce spice cake, a family tradition at Thanksgiving.

canapesOur invitations were extended and eagerly accepted.  It would be an international gathering with our Dutch, Swiss, English and French barge neighbors as guests. We were happy when Jacky, our port captain and his wife, who live about an hour away, accepted. We only asked that each couple bring an hors-d'oeuvre for the cocktail hour before dinner, and we would provide the rest of the meal including the wine. For the week before the party there was an air of excitement around the port.  None of our guests had ever been to a Thanksgiving dinner before, and they all felt that this year it would be an especially important event.The bar before our party with all of the tables set and ready to go

We had several very enjoyable recipe testing lunches with our chefs. After we set the menu, we gave them carte blanche to do the shopping and cooking, since that is their expertise. Even though they were doing most of the work, we still had a long list of rather complicated chores.

close up of the table decorationsTrying to buy decorations for the café was more difficult than just a trip to the local Hallmark store to pick up turkey and pilgrim decorations. We used our American flag, flowers, paper table cloths, leaves that we collected on our walks around the port along with fruits and nuts that we bought at the market.

Everyone is at the tables eating their Thanksgiving dinnerThe seating arrangements were a real challenge.  Even though we are all friends, many of our guests speak only their native language, Dutch, German, French or English with just a few words in the other languages. It was important to put the bilingual people in the right locations to help the conversation flow. We put a group of English at one end of the table, next to them we sat some Dutch who also speak English and then a Dutch couple who also speak German. They were seated next to the Swiss couple who speak German and French and a bit of English. Next to the Swiss we sat another English couple who both also speak French and then a French couple who speak some English and then the French only speakers.  We, all of the cooks, sat at the French only end of the table near the kitchen so that we could hop up when needed.  With this seating arrangement, if someone at either end of the table said something important, it could be transmitted back through all of the languages to the other end of the table.

The day of our party we prepared some of the dishes in our own kitchens. The turkey went into Peter and Jane's oven in the morning and Jane put the finishing touches on the desserts that she had made the day before. We made the stuffing and mom's famous cake, because we were the only ones who knew how they should taste. Then we peeled the potatoes and yams, and prepared the vegetables for our chef to cook and season to perfection. After lunch we went to the café and set the tables, decorated and began cooking in their kitchen. Our guests soon arrived and just before we were ready to serve dinner a Reporter interviewing the chef reporter showed up to interview us. Our chefs explained the menu, and we all had trouble trying to explain the cranberry sauce. The word for cranberry in our French/English dictionary did not mean anything to the French and they did not recognize it by sight or flavor. That explains why we could not find any fresh cranberries here, and had to ask English friends to bring us cranberry sauce from England.

A beautiful roasted turkey on a serving trayBecause of the many skills of our chefs, our dinner was absolutely delicious. The buffet table abounded with good food and the turkey was wonderfully moist and flavorful, a real American dream.  The conversation and wine flowed easily around the table and almost everyone came back for seconds. Since this was the first Thanksgiving for all of our guests, there were many questions about all of the dishes, especially the stuffing and the cranberry sauce.A table full of side dishes

After dinner we set out the desserts.  We had a pumpkin pie, a mince pie, a fudge cake, a chocolate mousse cake and our applesauce spice cake.  Even though, in true Thanksgiving tradition we had all eaten too much, the desserts looked so tempting that everyone wanted to sample a bit of each.  Mom's cake was a big hit, and people are still talking about all of Jane's wonderful treats.

A table full of dessertsAfter dinner, as we turned up the music for dancing, our guests surprised us with a gift. A beautiful travel book that is full of good ideas for interesting trips to all corners of France. They all signed the book and wrote, "For the 1st Roanne Thanksgiving, thanks for a great day.".

Our guests are right, it was a great Thanksgiving Day. This must be how traditions begin, everything starts with a 1st.
 
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