Blog
June 2002


Eclaircie cruising along on a river on a beautiful day

This year we promised ourselves that we were going to travel slowly. No schedules, no deadlines, no hurry.

We planned to cruise north to Nancy, then west through the Champagne region to Paris, before we headed back home to Roanne.   So far we have certainly been following that plan. We have not been able to keep a schedule because of a series of small problems, no deadlines because we can't even get started, and we definitely have not view of Eclaircie in dry dock with a beautifully new black bottom and a red rudderhurried.  We are only a little more than 2 hours away from Roanne by car. Still, we are having a wonderful time.


We left the Canal du Centre and sailed smoothly up the Saône heading for Saint-Jean-de-Losne to wait for a spot in one of their dry docks.  We had a minor problem, but it could only be repaired out of the water.

It has been two years since we have been in St. Jean with our barge. It felt like we were coming home when we cruised into port.  We lived in nearby St. Symphorien from January to August 2000, and during that time we grew to love this town. We bought our barge here, had her remodeled here, renamed her here and learned to drive here; this town is full of memories for us. We called Nathalie, the owner of the gîte where we lived, to tell her that we were on our way and that we looked forward to seeing her again.

After we arrived and moored, we walked into town to do some errands. What a treat, everywhere we looked we saw familiar smiling faces. Mme. Breuil at the bakery smiled in recognition when we walked into her shop. She wanted to know what we had been doing since we cruised away two years ago.

Nelly working behind the counter in their hardware and decorating storeNelly and Marc at France Decor, gave us hugs and kisses and remembered that Toby loved the duck flavored dog cookies that they keep behind the counter.  They said, "You can talk now." in reference to our French. They are as funny as always and only their shop looked different.  They remodeled it last year.

We went across the street to buy a newspaper, and Joel greeted us, and gave us the news that he had sold his shop and was retiring the next week. He commented on our French also and we told him that Toby was learning French too.  We had Toby do some tricks in French to the delight of Joel behind the counter in his newspaper and magazine storeeveryone in the shop.  "Il est bilingue.", they all exclaimed.

Later, walking up the main street toward the river, we heard someone calling our names and turned around to see Nathalie running up the street, waving hello to us. That made us happy to be back, even if we had hoped to be well on our way north to Nancy by now.

Since Saint-Jean-de-Losne is a crossroad on the inland waterways and the largest harbor on the Saône river, you can almost always count of finding boating friends here or nearby at Bourgogne Marine on the canal du Rhône-au-Rhin.  A bike ride around town will take much longer than would be expected as you stop to say hello to friends that you have met before on the canals. The boating community is like a small floating village.  Everyone is so friendly and in a foreign country if you meet another boater who speaks your language, you are almost always immediate friends.  If we have to be stranded somewhere for awhile, this lively litbottle of Champagne with a full glass next to ittle town is a good choice.

For over a year, good friends from San Francisco were planning to visit us while they were vacationing in Paris. As luck would have it, the timing of their trip found us still under repair.  Knowing that we would not be able to cruise while they were here, we hopped on a train and went back to Roanne to pick up our car.  We kept our fingers crossed that we would not still be in the dry dock when they arrived, and luckily we came out just after we met them at the train station. Getting out of dry dock and seeing the familiar faces of old friends from home was reason enough to celebrate with our favorite champagne.

In between our work projects we were able to be on vacation with our friends. We did things that we never had time to do two years ago while we were remodeling the barge.  Dole, Beaune and Dijon all have lively markets on different days of the week and we had been to them all before, but this time we went as tourists and stayed to enjoy café  lunches.

A couple standing in front of a scene of a french villageSince we were just minutes away from the Côte-d'Or we toured the wonderful wine villages. One of our best days was spent in Meursault, wine tasting before and after a leisurely lunch.  When we moved from our mooring near the dry dock to the gare d'eau, we went through the lock, and then we took a cruise on the river just because the sun was shining and it seemed like a good idea at the time.  That's what vacations are all about, doing what you want when you want, just because.

Who needs a schedule anyway? Right now there are so many people that we know and like in this town, that we might just decide to stay for awhile longer. After all, this is what we were looking forward to during those months of hard work two years ago, to have the time to enjoy the sunset from our back deck with good friends and good wine.

 

 

                                         sunset photo

 

 

 

 
July 2002

people in a very small steam powered boat, the size of a rowboat, cruising lazily on a hot summer day

 

 

 

The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer in Saint-Jean-de-Losne reminded us of some of the resort areas near San Francisco that we knew as kids, like the Russian River or Lake Tahoe, where the days were long, full of simple pleasures and time passed slowly.

 

same boat further away

 

 

 

Relaxing on our back deck one day, we watched a small parade of bateaux vapeurs, steam engine boats, glide by looking very Monet-like among the lily pads.

The lazy pace established during a record breaking heat wave meant that the biggest event of the day was strolling into town to find a café with a table in the shade. Going to the café almost always included bumping into friends who had the same idea. The coolest café in town was L´Amiral, with a breeze from the river on one side, and its outdoor tables shaded by the constant shadow of the church on the other. From there you could see who was coming and going on the river and on the main street in town. The atmosphere in St. Jean was so pleasant, that even though everyone talked about leaving, no one ever did. We were not the only boaters who came for a week and stayed for six.

costumed country line dancersBlessing of the boats poster

One festival after another filled the warm evening air with music and laughter.  Sitting by the river during a performance of Le Club Country, the local line dancing group, we all tried working on the lyrics for a country western tune with the title of Stuck in Saint-Jean-de-Losne, Again or The Boatyard Blues.

With a large group in attendance at L´Amiral for dinner one night, the St. Jean chapter of the Hotel California Club was formed.  Many of us had completed our work, but still remained in town.  We decided that, like the song said, you could check out, but you could never really leave.

When we were kids we never wanted to leave the summer resort either, but back then we had our parents to tell us when it was time to go. We set a "get out of town" deadline for ourselves, and then changed it when we realized that we would miss the blessing of the boats by only one week.  Staying also meant that we could also enjoy La Fête de la Musique with friends.

People, some on their balconies, watching the band play
Man standing in front of the band playing a trombone
band playing in front of the church

One of our favorite nearby towns is Dôle, and we decided to go there for the national music festival which is held in every city, town and village each year on the summer solstice. Just like last year in Paris, music was around every corner. The European champion youth brass band played in front of the church, and people listened from their balconies. There were rock bands and jazz groups everywhere. As in Paris, everyone was out enjoying the evening.

Rock group playing in front of a restaurant
rock band on stage viewed from behind the stage

Barges moored bow to quai during the blessing of the boats festival, every boat is flying many decorative flagsThe next evening, we moved out onto the Saône to enjoy yet another festival on the eve of the blessing of the barges.  There was a local contest for selecting Miss du pays Losnais, baton twirlers, carnival booths and a country fair atmosphere.


Sunday was a bright and sunny morning, thankfully not as hot as it had been. Everyone was in place on their barges with all flags flying and sun umbrellas in place, awaiting the morning mass that preceded the blessing of the boats.


We had never seen a priest saying mass in a captain's cap before, and the alter boys providing shade during communion service added to the festive feeling of the day.

 

Priest wearing a boat captain's hat while saying mass on the deck of a barge
Alter boys holding large umbrellas over the heads of those coming to receive communion

 

Priest blessing our barge from a boat on the river

 

 

After mass on the local restaurant boat that was serving as the church, the priest, alter boys and choir, along with local dignitaries boarded a launch.  They sailed out onto the Saône behind us and with his hand raised the priest sent a good sprinkling of holy water flying towards us.  He blessed our barge and our flag as well.  We gave a sigh of relief and immediately felt better, confident that we could continue cruising without having any new problems.

 

Sunset over the river

 

 

 

Back in the harbor that night, the sun set on a beautiful day, we said so long to our friends, and the next morning we cast off and began, yet again, our summer cruising adventure.

 
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".
 
September 2002

 Moored on the Marne River

 

 

 

Damery, a little Champagne village on the Marne River, is so pretty that we almost forgot to leave.







 

 

 

While we were there, the days were sunny and warm with big puffy clouds in the sky, and the nights were peaceful and moonlit.  Or maybe it was just the overwhelming beauty of the river and the rolling vine covered hills that made it seem that everyday was perfect.  The swans constantly gliding by and the fact that the village is filled with small champagne houses did nothing to dispel the illusion that we had caught a bollard in paradise.

   
       

The days drifted by as quietly as the swans. We waved at boats passing on the river and pontoon neighbors came and went, but we just stayed because it was too beautiful to leave.

We worked a bit on the boat, took walks, and rode our bikes through the vineyards. We became regulars in all of the shops in town, and the friendly café just a few steps from our mooring. 

Friends rode their bikes over from where their barge was moored on the canal above Reims. They left in the morning, and they arrived looking pretty peppy after a five hour bike trip. They came to spend the weekend visiting and to watch the end of the Tour de France with us. 

When life is this pleasant, time passes very quickly and we were actually surprised to look at a calendar one day and realized that we had already been moored in Damery for a month. For the second time this summer, we found that we had fallen into a time warp. It was time to move along.

A couple of days before we left Damery, we went on one final champagne tour with our pontoon neighbors, an American couple on a sailboat who were making their way to Tunisia for the winter. We didn't really need to buy anymore champagne, but it is always fun to go tasting with friends.

Champagne maker drinking his private stash of pinot noirAs we were walking into Damery to start our tour, we passed a small champagne house that caught our eye because there was an old American flag hanging on the back wall of the courtyard. We peeked in but no one was around. We lacked the nerve to tap on the door, because it looked more like the door to a house than a business.  We continued on into town and found tasting rooms that were a little more formal, and we spent a pleasant afternoon sampling and buying champagne.

On the way home we again passed the courtyard with the American flag, but this time we were braver. We walked in and found the family busy putting labels on bottles.  We didn't want to disturb their work, bWine tourut the owner and father of the family, Maurice Gonel, stepped forward and said he would be very happy to open a bottle for us, which he did. He poured very generously and took a glass for himself.  He then said we must try a different blend, and again poured full glasses for everyone including himself.

A friend of his stopped by and joined our tasting, which was taking place in the courtyard. A truck pulled in, Maurice signed for the delivery and invited the two guys from the truck to join our tasting.  He brought out more glasses, another bottle and refilled everyone's glass. Then he asked if we wanted a tour of his cave.  "Of course!", we all said and the tour began.

The caves were under the family home. During the war the house was destroyed, but not the caves.  When he was young, Maurice helped his father expand the caves by doing the digging himself. 

Maurice isn't a very big guy, but his personality is huge. His jokes are funny and he is a firm believer in never leaving an empty glass empty. 

He explained the whole process of champagne making in a small family business. They don't freeze the neck of the bottle to disgorge the sediment like the large champagne houses do. Maurice demonstrated his technique which was all skill. He lifted one of the bottles from the rack, gave it a gentle shake and popped the cap expelling the sediment without loosing a drop of champagne. 

It was amazing, and we all had a drink from that bottle to toast his skill. When his champagne tour was over, he mentioned his pinot noir, a private supply, not for sale.  Did everyone want to try some of that?  That brought out a big, "bien sûr!" from the two French guys. Hopefully they didn't have any more deliveries to make that day. Off we went to the back of the cave.

Along the way, Maurice pointed out private cellars for himself, and for each of his two sons. He told us that it is a French tradition to purchase wine from the year a son is born and then present the collection to him upon his marriage. One son was born in a good vintage year, and Maurice had laid down a full range of the very best French wine labels from that year. The other son, born in a poor vintage year, had bottles from the year before and the year after. The collections were fabulous. We asked Maurice if we could be adopted into his family. 

When we reached an area lined with barrels, Maurice used a glass siphon to pull the wineFrench guys lifting a glass of red from an oak barrel and pour it into our glasses.  First we tasted the 1999 vintage.  It was as good as he had promised.  Next, we sampled the 2000 vintage which was different but equally good. 

Suddenly, standing there in cool air of the cave with our glasses full of pinot noir, we realized that this was one of those special moments, the kind that happen when you have the time to relax and let the day go in any direction it wants to take.  Looking over at Maurice and his friend, and the two delivery guys standing behind them, everyone smiling and clearly enjoying themselves as much as we were, we knew that this was one champagne tour we would never forget.





After we finally pried ourselves off the dock at Damery, we cruised along the Marne to ChâteauPretty bridge over the river Thierry to meet our niece and her boyfriend who were coming to visit us. It was great to see them again.  We began a leisurely cruise toward Paris, stopping at rural moorings along the way.  The summer weather cooled off, the skies turned gray and we brought out our jackets and umbrellas. On our last stop on the Marne River, before moved onto the Seine and entered Paris, we spent a rainy but pleasant day in Meaux.

We had called ahead and received permission to enter the Arsenal, the plBike lane near Les Invalideseasure boat port near the Bastille. After settling in and spending a few days taking care of business, we could once again enjoy Paris.

Last year we discovered that Paris had really improved the bike lanes throughout the city, and we couldn't wait to hop on our bikes and go sightseeing.

The bike lanes are clearlBike traffic signaly marked, some have barriers to protect you from the traffic, and they have their own traffic signals. We were amazed to see how much ground we could cover by breezing along with the Paris traffic. We flew around Paris enjoying the sights and stopping whenever we saw something of interest.  After making a circuit along both sides of the Seine, we found that by simply following whatever bike lane was in front of us, without caring where we were going, we saw neighborhoods that we had never seen before. And this year, just like when we were kids in San Francisco, most of our bike trips ended up at the beach.



Someone in charge in Paris was very darinParis Plageg this year. They closed off more than three kilometers of a busy Paris roadway along the Seine with the sole purpose of creating a beach.  Paris Plage was open from mid-July to mid-August along the right bank, starting near the Bastille. The normally busy street became a long promenade filled with happy pedestrians, bike riders and roller bladers.  On either side of the roadway they brought in sand and created a beach complete with palm trees, beach chairs and sun bathers. 


It was really well done. There were snack bars with tables and chairs under the shade of the trees next to the river.  The cool air and the good acoustics under bridges drew street musicians and an ever changing audience as the crowds strolled by. At the beach, you could rent a bike, take roller blade lessons, or play boules on the courts they had created.


Paris PlageA long cool traffic tunnel, now closed to cars, became a very popular place to bike or roller blade, especially on hot days. If that didn't cool you off enough, there were misting stations full of wet little kids no matter what the weather. 


Bateaux Mouches, full of tourists, flew by on the river creating waves slapping on the shore and adding to the beach illusion.


We always returned to the beach at the end of our bike rides because of its playful atmosphere.  Even on days when the sun barely broke through the clouds, we never saw an empty beach chair and everyone always seeParis Plagemed to be enjoying themselves.


The beach and the bike lanes are just two more reasons why we love returning to the city known throughout the world for its savoir-faire. 










 
October 2002

Toy boat pond in Luxemburg Gardens

 

When it was time for us to leave the comfort of the Paris Arsenal, the pleasure boat port near the Bastille, and cruise out onto the busy Seine River, we did so with the same reluctance that we always have when it's time to leave Paris.   No matter how long we stay, it never seems long enough.



 

 

 

 

 

 Barge traffic on the Seine



Out on the Seine, we once again marveled at the huge barges that cruise so gracefully along, families working and living together, flying through their day on their way to pick up or deliver their payload.

They have priority in the locks, and we know to wait patiently aside until they enter the locks first. Even if the rule books didn't say so, it wouldn't take too much to convince you to give them the right of way. 

 

 

 

 Moret-sur-Loing


It took two days on the river to arrive at Moret sur Loing on the Canal du Loing. Moret is a charming medieval village that attracts many visitors.   Riding along on the bike path to town we saw people fishing, boating, enjoying a picnic, swimming or just walking along the river.  Families being together or couples being alone, everyone was out enjoying a sunny day in very pretty surroundings.

Entering town and riding along the narrow cobblestone streets was a bumpy but pleasant experience.  We made a tour around town, and then settled into comfortable chairs at a sidewalk café to watch the world go by.

After a few days, our friends on Pelican arrived to join us once again. We had been meeting them on and off all summer, as we were all following the same route.  Meeting friends always requires cocktails on the back deck. It is a boating rule. Heading back to our home port in Roanne along this canal, we knew that we would be seeing old friends all the way home.


Hotel Barge going by us on a canal

 

As we cruised closer to the towns of Montargis, Rogny and Briare, we started passing all of the hotel barges that travel in the upper Loire valley. They travel with vans to take there passengers to Renaissance châteaux, medieval towns, the beautiful aqueduct at Briare and famous wine villages like Sancerre; the same places that we like to visit. 

Another hotel barge

 

 

 

The crews on the hotel barges are good sources of information about what to see and do in the areas that they cruise.   They also usually know about any problems ahead in the canals. 

We love waving to the mostly American passengers as they cruise by, and surprising them by saying "Hi, where are you from?".  They are always so friendly, and when we moor near them at night, they often come over to ask how we came to be living on a barge in France.

 

This is the same canal that we took home last year, and we were happy to know that good moorings were ahead. We wanted to stop again in Ménétréol to make the long trip up the hill to the wiEclaircie moored in a French villagene village of Sancerre. Since we stopped here last year, we knew that to plug into the electricity here, we would have to knock on the door of the little lady who lives across the street and has the key to the box. 

The pressure was on because we were arriving just before noon, and we know better than to tap on her door during her lunch. She is French after all and lunch is sacred. We hurried and moored as quickly as we could. We were pleased to see that it was 15 minutes before noon. Lucky us, we thought, until the little lady scolded us for interrupting her lunch. She said that we would have to wait until after she finished her lunch before we could plug in our electric. We quickly jumped into the, "We have a little problem, please help us.", mode that seems to work best for getting what you need in France. We added our most pleading looks, she stared at us for awhile, and then she very reluctantly agreed to come over and to open the little door to the electrical box. 

  Sancerre Sancerre  
       


That problem solved, we were free to explore Sancerre, have lunch at one of the outdoor cafés on the square, and to stock up on some of the town's famous  wines.
Crusing
Back on the canals, heading to Roanne for our third winter there, nothing much happened and that was fine with us.  We relaxed and enjoyed the scenery.

 Eclaircie moored on a country pontoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Moored near a nuclear plantMoored near horses in their field

 

 

 

 

 




 

 
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