Blog
April 2003

Port neighbors in the Roanne lock

 

 

Our little village is on the move again. Friends whose company we have enjoyed all winter are once again heading north, south, east and west.

Almost everyday we go to the lock to wave goodbye and say, "See you in October." to another boat. The port is beginning to look a bit empty.

 







friends


We're not lonely though, because good friends from home just arrived to cruise with us and help us get our canal legs again.

 

 

 

 

 
May 2003

 

 cruising by houses along a canal

 

 

We could almost forget, during the winter months while our boat is moored in Roanne and acting like a house, how enjoyable it is to cruise along the canals in our home when it has become a boat again. But every year, the minute we pass through that first lock, we remember exactly why we choose this life.

 

 

 

 

Sunny, spring days and friends on board made our first week especially fun. There is only one canal in and out of Roanne, so we have traveled it several times before, but this time with enthusiastic friends on board, we saw the canal with new eyes.

Their trip over from the states was a quick one. They just needed a short break from their busy lives back home, and they enjoyed the fact that along the canals keeping track of time means occasionally asking, "What day is it?".

At Digoin, we waved goodbye as their train pulled out of the station. Then we walked back to the boat, cast off, and continued along on the canal du Centre.

Our destination this season is Strasbourg, near the German border. We are in no hurry to get there, which is fortunate, because our speed of travel is unbelievably slow.

One day as we were cruising along, we noticed two young women pushing baby carriages. They were walking along on the tow path that runs parallel to the canal. They had been keeping up with us for awhile, but then we found a straight stretch and we were able to speed up a bit. This made us happy, because we didn't want to think that we were traveling at baby carriage speed. We have often said that we travel at butterfly speed, which is actually just as slow, but somehow it sounds so much more romantic.

Eclaircie moored in a beautiful village

 

Canals twist and turn their way through the countryside, with the tight turns and narrow bridges acting like speed bumps, while the locks are forced rest stops. Because of the turns, the bridges and the locks, the women with the baby carriages eventually caught up with us. We waved to them while we were still in the lock, and they waved back and laughed as they passed us up again.

 

 

 

 church tower against a blue sky

 

 

 

Paray-le-Monial is a pilgrimage site in modern-day France, a town whose spirituality began during the Middle-Ages, so we thought it was appropriate to stay here for a few days over the Easter weekend to enjoy the beauty of the village.

 beautiful village

 

 

 

 

 





 

 

 

 

vegetable stand at the village square

 

 

 

 

On market day, we rode our bikes into town and filled up our baskets and saddle bags with wonderfully fresh produce, local cheeses, homemade sausages and regional wines. Our friends, who also winter in Roanne, were coming to moor behind us, and after our trip to the market, we had all of the ingredients to make them dinner on our back deck.

 

 

 

 

 A springer spaniel and a woman on their barge deck, greeting us as we arrive

When we went out to catch their lines, we saw that their dog, Malcolm, was on deck hand duty, running along behind Jadel everywhere she went. He looked like he really wanted to help.

Like us, Festina Tardé, took 4 days to cruise from Roanne to Paray. Later when our friends from Eleanor drove up from Roanne in their car, we all commented on the fact that by car it only took them one hour to make the same trip.

Everyone was staying for the weekend and we had already reserved a table for six at Hostellerie des 3 Pigeons for Easter Sunday lunch.


After a great weekend with our friends, we moved on to Montchanin, at the top of the canal du Centre, where we moored in our mechanic's boat yard.

old fire truck

Jeff had a surprise for us. He gave us the mooring spot next to his newly acquired a 1954 Andre Citroen, type 55, series U, No. 912320, fire engine.

He uses the fire engine around his yard, mainly to lift boats out of the water.

When the local fire department learned that Jeff had a working fire engine, they asked him if they could use it in their volunteer fire department as a reserve unit.

After thirty years as a San Francisco fireman, and many years of mustering as members of the California Firemen's Muster Association, we felt right at home with the fire engine parked next to us.

It has been several years since we have been to a muster, and musters were always so much fun that we're wondering if they have them in France. If they do, maybe we could enter Jeff's engine in the motorized events. And since all boaters have at least one bucket on board, we could probably put together a pretty good bucket brigade team by just calling a few friends.

Who knows, maybe we could even win a trophy.

 
June 2003

 Toby sitting beside the table in a nice restaurant giving his please feed me look.

Toby was our constant companion, and our good will ambassador. Taking immediately to his new life in France, he learned the language, nobody could say more with their eyes than he could, and he quickly acquired the savoir-faire of a native. He helped us meet people wherever we went, and he became known as a bon vivant along the French canals. He adored fine dining, and because of his impeccable restaurant manners, he was always warmly welcomed.

Dr. Isabelle, who had been taking care of Toby during his illness, said about him, "C'était un chien tellement attachant et Toby restera toujours pour moi la gentillesse incarnée du golden retriever.". We agree, he was the most endearing dog, and his gentle presence added so much to our lives. Now, we miss him, and our boat feels so quiet and empty.

 two young french girls

 

 So, what do you do when you're sad and lonely? We decided to take two teenage French girls on board for a short cruise, hoping that they would distract us, make a little noise, and fill up all of that empty space where Toby used to be.

 

 

 

Nina had been our French teacher when we first arrived in France. We were next door neighbors when we were living in her mom's gîte in St. Symphorien. We had originally booked our room for two months, whileNina at 10 years old we made some changes to our newly purchased barge, but since remodeling projects always take longer than expected, we ended up staying there for seven months. We hired Nina to come over a couple of evenings a week to help us learn French. At the time, she didn't speak English, but she would come over with a blackboard, chalk, children's books and sometimes a shopping bag full of items from her kitchen that she would show us and ask, "Qu'est-ce que c'est?". She was always very well prepared for our lessons, and she tried her best not to laugh at our mistakes. She was ten then, and now she is thirteen and studying English in school. She needs to practice speaking English, so we thought it was only fair to pay her back for all of those evening lessons three years ago.

After several discussions over dinner with Nina's mom, Nathalie, we worked out the details for a short test trip with Nina and her friend Emilie, to see how it would go. Since having them on board to learn English would also be good for our French, we thought that maybe they could cruise for a week with us later in the summer, if all went well this time.

We had been enjoying the social scene in St. Jean de Losne for a couple of weeks, and when it was time to leave, we simply cruised up the river for one hour, went through one lock and moored at Bourgogne Marine for the night. Nathalie and Nina live within walking distance of this marina, so it was convenient for the girls to hop on board there.

Nathalie brought the girls over, and after they got settled in, they went for a swim in the river before dinner. They came back refreshed and giggling, and we showed them our CD collection so that they could choose some music that they liked. Speaking slowly in English, we set the table on the back deck together, naming each item that we laid out. We barbecued cheeseburgers, and showed the girls how to prepare their burgers American style. We made potato salad and stocked up on sodas, and we had also bought some ice cream for dessert. We didn't know what they would want to eat, but we decided on typically American meals. Fortunately, we had also stocked up on lots of fruit, yogurt, milk and cereal. It was interesting to see what they chose to eat during their visit. They preferred water to sodas, and they ate more of the fruit and yogurt, than the American style snacks that we had bought just for them. They did eagerly raise their hands, however, when we asked who wanted ice cream for dessert.


Nina and Emilie sitting on the bow as we cruise

Early the next morning we cast off for Dole. The girls took their positions up on the bow, and we were treated to the pleasant sound of their conversation and their laughter.

We were impressed when they brought out their schoolbooks, and we worked on their English pronunciation as we traveled along on the canal. Then they told us that they really wanted to learn to talk like Southern California surfers, so we put on a Beach Boys CD, because that was the best that we could do to help.

Once in dole, we settled into the mooring where we would stay for a couple of days, while the girls went to shop in town. Later, we joined them at a café, where we spoke English together and they had to find the words to explain what was making them giggle as they watched people walk by. Sometimes it was someone's flowery purse or an unusual pair of shoes. They had to really stretch their English vocabularies to explain some of the things that they found funny.the girls standing on the side deck with Dole in the background

 

 

 

 

People seemed to find us amusing too. We noticed at lunch one day that people at neighboring tables were turning around to take a peek at us.

We had decided that the girls would speak English, and that we would speak French, and this clearly puzzled everyone around us. Because of our accents, you could tell that they were wondering how we came to be together, and why we were speaking different languages to each other.

 

 

 

 

 

the girls at lunch

 

 

Nina and Emilie were clever, amusing, very well behaved, and a pleasure to be with, just like Toby always. With their smiles and the sound of their laughter, they helped us begin to heal.

 
July 2003

cruising on a river on a sunny day

 

The transportation workers in France were striking at least one day a week during the month of June. The strike was over important issues, but the workers must have also been happy to have the time off, because it was too hot and humid to work.

Our plans for the month were to cruise slowly up the Doubs River and down the Rhine River on our way to Strasbourg. We planned to stop early on days that we cruised, staying a few days when we found a mooring that we liked, and not rushing at all. Usually, something comes along to change our plans, but this year the hot weather and the strikers help us keep a slow pace.

The weather was hot every day, and during the early part of the month, the one day strikes sometimes expanded into three or four day strikes. For us it was lovely, like a vacation within our vacation. We rode our bikes in the morning, and in the heat of the day, relaxed in the shade on our back deck. We had time to read books, and take naps. If we had a hammock, we would have been there almost every afternoon.

In Besançon, we rode our bikes everywhere in search of a cool breeze. The path along the river was pleasant, and we returned often to the shade of the city park. When we missed the little train that leaves every hour for the citadel, we decided to ride up on our bikes. It was a long and difficult climb up, but all that work was rewarded when we created a nice breeze for ourselves on our speedy decent. From the guard tower at the citadel, we could look down and see our barge moored just below.

a merry-go-round in set in the middle of a park with tall treesview of the city from above


Because of all the strike days, we were in constant contact with the VNF offices. VNF stands for Voies Navigables de France, they are the people who control the French waterways, and we began each cruising day with a phone call to them to make sure that the locks ahead would be open. The people who answered the phones in the office would never know if the lock-keepers were going to show up for work until they did or didn't appear at their scheduled starting time. There were several mornings where we made all of our casting off preparations and had our engine running when we called, so that we could leave as soon as we got the word, only to learn that no one had shown up for work that day. It took a few false starts before we backed away from our Besançon mooring and entered the tunnel on our way to Mulhouse.

Eclaircie moored in Mulhouse
Backing up maneuvers, and going through tunnels are two things that used to make us very nervous. Every cruising season, we realize that our skills are improving when we find ourselves calmly doing something that we would have been afraid to attempt in our first year. In Mulhouse, we really impressed ourselves by making a smooth 90 degree turn, backwards, into our shady mooring.

La Fête de la Musique, France's national music festival, on the 21st of June, is one of our favorite events. On the longest day of the year, all over France, in the big cities and small villages, music fills the air, and everyone is drawn out of their homes to enjoy the summer evening. After a barbecue with other boaters at the port, we went into town to see what Mulhouse had to offer.

Walking through the park, we passed a loud band that was attracting all of the teenagers. Turning the corner the lead singer of a rock band was prancing in front of what looked like his backup singers in the dress shop window. On a street with several restaurants, people were enjoying American rock and roll from the 60's with their dinner. In the main square in town, in front of the Hotel de Ville, a group of native dancers from Reunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean, performed to the beat of drums. There were gospel singers in the church and an excellent youth orchestra in the cathedral. There was something for everyone.

After midnight when we began to head back to the port, we passed young families pushing sleeping babies in strollers, outdoor cafés full to capacity, and teenagers dancing in the park. The music and the people were still going strong.

band preforming for la fête de la musique
another band
 gospel singers in a church youth orchestra playing in the same church


The next morning, Sunday, we took the train to Switzerland, just because both the train station and the country were so close. Once in Basel, we found that they speak more German than French, and we had forgotten all about the fact that they still use Swiss francs. Suddenly, we couldn't speak and we had no money.

It was another hot day, and we found the streets practically empty. It was too hot for the natives, and the only people that we saw on the street seemed to be tourists, like us. We headed for the Rhine River, and found the people. They were enjoying the restaurants, biking or strolling along the river. We found a table on a pleasant shaded terrace, in a restaurant that accepted our credit card, ordered lunch, and watched as the people and the river flow passed. After awhile, we realized that we were seeing the same wet people walking purposefully by in their swim suits and shoes. Some of them were carrying what looked like flotation devices, but we later discovered that these were waterproof packs for their clothes and towels. The current was flowing swiftly, and once we started watching these people, we discovered that they were walking upstream, jumping into the river, riding the strong current downstream, coming back into the shore where the river curved, getting out, walking back upsteam, and jumping in again. They did this over and over again. It looked tempting.

Rhine river in Basel, Switzerland
 people floating down with the current


Leaving Mulhouse, after about 10 days, we were rested and ready for the challenge of a trip down the Rhine River. For the past three years, we have heard so many times that you should hire a professional pilot to take you through all of the traffic on this big river with a strong current. This portion of the Rhine is not covered in our French charts, so it also had a mysterious air about it. In the port of Mulhouse, we asked questions of the boaters who were familiar with the trip, decided that we would not need a pilot, and armed with copies of the German charts from one particularly helpful French boater, we set off, feeling more confident, but still with some apprehension.Huge commercial barge on the Rhine

Maybe because it was a Sunday, we did not encounter as much traffic as we had expected, but the barges that did fly past were 100 meters long, and they created ocean waves in their wake. We rocked and rolled a bit and thought of our American friends who made the same trip a few days before in a very small boat.

Thanks to our German charts, we had the phone number of a port that we were approaching at the end of the day, and when we called they said that they had a space for us. Following the chart, we turned right at the top of an island and circled around to the other side to find the Port de Plaisance de L'ile de Rhin. We carefully entered the port, and moored along a pontoon. It was easy to moor, but we knew that we would have to think about how to make our exit in the morning, as there was no room to turn around. We would have to come up with another clever backing up maneuver to get us out without bumping into small boats or the large rocks that narrowed the entrance.

Sitting on our back deck relaxing after all our mooring jobs were done, we looked across the river and saw a German city. We looked further along and saw a bridge that we could walk over to get there. We couldn't pass up the idea of dinner in Germany, so we dressed and prepared for the long walk. The port captain and his wife were sitting in the shade near their office, and when we asked them some questions about how to best walk over, they suggested that it would be easier if the captain took us across the river in his motor boat. We happily agreed, and suddenly found ourselves racing toward the city of Breisach am Rhein.

The port captain shuttling us over to Germany in his motor boatThe captain delivered us to a German yacht club on the other side of the Rhine, from where we could easily walk into Breisach. Walking into town, we realized how familiar we have become with life in France. Suddenly, we wondered whether any stores would be open on Sunday, what time a restaurant might begin serving food, or even if the restaurants would be open at all. How were we going to asked directions to get home again, since we couldn't expect to get a boat ride back? Suddenly, we were foreigners again. We have a German phrase book, but we forgot to bring it along. It was getting late and we were hungry, so we went directly in search of a restaurant. Along the pedestrian street, we found several to choose from, and we chose the one that had a shaded courtyard and the most customers.

We didn't recognize many words on the menu, and we could have used that phrase book that was back on the boat. With some help from our waitress, who spoke a few words of English, we asked for A shopping street in a German townsomething typical of the region. We ordered a local wine, without knowing whether it was going to be dry or sweet. We could have ordered glasses of beer the size of Texas, like our neighboring German diners, but since we feel now more French than German we chose the wine.

Dinner was good, not too strange considering that we didn't know what we were ordering, and we were able to pay with our Euros. About three hours after our German experience began, we decide to call a taxi. We began to doubt that we could find our way back to our port in the dark, and we were already pretty exhausted from just trying to communicate. Since we only know how to say please, thank you, good morning, and God bless you in German, we thought it would be better to have a taxi take us back to the French side of the Rhine River.

Our little adventures into Switzerland and Germany helped us to appreciate the progress that we have made in our struggles with French. Spending time in countries where we didn't know more than a few words of the language helped us to recognize how large our French vocabulary has become.

We now look at our French language skills as a glass half full instead of a glass half empty.

 
August 2003

 

Standing behind French military people waiting for the parade to start in Nancy

 

On the 14th of July we were in Nancy when their quatorze juillet parade started with a bang.  Air Force jets appeared suddenly, flying low over the buildings. They filled the air with noise, and were gone before you could tell what was happening. Boom! Whoosh! The ceremonies had begun.

The army band began playing, and military units marched passed the reviewing stand followed by a long line of tanks, missile launchers and other pieces of military might. The crowd was still vibrating from the jets, when helicopters gently followed their path.

The veterans were honored during a brief ceremony, and then the fire department appeared. The crowd applauded and the military saluted as les pompiers marched passed leading a parade of bright, shiny red trucks. A fire department band finished up the parade, exiting the square and disappearing onto waiting buses.

Just as suddenly as it had started, the parade was over. This parade was a short as the July 14th parade we watched last year in Epernay. That parade marched once around a roundabout, and this parade marched in one corner of Place Stanislas and out the other.

As the crowd dispersed, we followed the lead of the locals and strolled over to a nearby restaurant for lunch.  While enjoying our meal, we pondered the differences between French and American parades.


Sitting at a café waiting for the 14th of July festivites to begin

 

At 8:30 that night, we returned to Place Stanislas for a program of music and fireworks. When we arrived the cafés were already crowded, and we felt lucky to find a table. We thought that our seats were pretty good, as we were sitting next to the wall of the café, a little higher than everyone else, and we had a view of the whole square. We were hoping that we were going to have a good view of the fireworks too.

 A very crowed place stanislaus

 

 

 

 

 

 

We watched the square fill up as darkness fell.

The band was good, but we had to laugh when they began their show celebrating France's national holiday with Mac the Knife. They played for a long time before we heard their first French song.

 

 

 

We were happily ensconced at our table, enjoying the music and watching all of the animation, while the waiters were busy trying to keep up with the crowd which kept expanding. Friends found friends, carrying extra chairs from one table to another to squeeze in together. It was fascinating to see how accommodating everyone was to the latecomers. New tables and chairs kept appearing, spreading the café further out into the square. We were captivated, and didn't even realize that it had become dark, when suddenly all of the lights went out, and KABOOM! A huge explosion filled the sky.


Fireworks over the square
What was happening? Everyone around us was suddenly running for cover. Burning embers were falling from the sky. Our ears were still ringing from the noise of the explosion, as we watched the waiters race to crank in the awnings before they caught fire. From our seats against the wall of the café, where we were protected by the overhanging roof from most of the falling flames, we could see the crowd staring over our heads with their mouths open. Cautiously, we looked up and saw that the fireworks were exploding directly over our heads. We should have been afraid, but we couldn't stop laughing. It was all so daringly French, and so different from our American fireworks experiences.


Like Dorothy in Oz, we knew that we weren't in Kansas anymore.

 
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