Travel by barge may be slow, but when you finally arrive at your destination you have your home with you. There are no suitcases to unpack and nothing forgotten "back home". Because home is wherever you go on a barge, this summer our home was in the 4th arrondissement of Paris.
We arrived at the end of June to find gray skies and rain storms, but we were still happy to be back at the Port de Plaisance Paris Arsenal near the Bastille. Our friends who have lived there for the past year greeted us with sunny smiles and helped us get acclimated by introducing us to their favorite shopkeepers.
We fell in love with their wine guy, and we were very disappointed when their tomato vendor at the covered market at Place d'Aligre went on vacation in August. He had almost as many varieties of tomatoes as the wine shop had bottles of wine.
The market days on Boulevard Richard-Lenoir helped us keep well supplied for picnics at jazz concerts in the Bois de Vincennes or dinners with friends on our back deck.
We fell into a comfortable daily routine and the days flew by full of pleasant surprises. The weather improved. We took long walks to balance out the lunches and dinners we were sharing with friends. Our Australian friends introduced us to Le Chartier, a restaurant that has rubbed elbows with three centuries, served more than 50 million meals and has been named a national monument. We had so much fun there, that we went back often to share a meal with visiting friends or boating neighbors.
Like our hometown of San Francisco, Paris has great parks where you can take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life. Le Jardin du Luxembourg offers everything from pony rides to art exhibits and is a great for people watching. We love the fact that they have a coat rack on their boule court, and that the people playing chess actually make it interesting to watch. They think so hard that you can see the wheels turning in their heads as they plan their next move.
After a stroll through the park it is not too far to our favorite café, Les Deux Magots.
We like watching the Parisians and the tourists, and there is no better place than a comfortable front row seat at a café. With a noisette and a newspaper, you can lose a morning there. And if you don't have any plans for the day you can order un crottin chaud pain Poilâne et un petit blanc and stay for lunch.
One of the items on our list this summer was to find just the right painting for our salon, and walking along the main street on the Île Saint-Louis, a painting in a gallery window drew us in. After meeting the gallery owner and then the artist, after sharing Champagne with them on our back deck, and after making the rounds of the other galleries all over town to comparison shop, we returned to the Île Saint-Louis to Galerie Amyot and bought a painting from Richard de Prémare. He is a contemporary French impressionist, and we debated about his beautiful paintings of the French countryside, like the one that had originally attracted our attention, but finally decided on a painting of Les Deux Magots. That way, with the painting hanging on our wall, we can visit our favorite café whenever we want.
The next item on our list for our summer in Paris was to see all of the Bastille Day events. In the past we have always been in small towns or villages on the 14th of July, so being in Paris was a real step up in the event department.
On the eve of this national holiday there are dances at firehouses around the city, and the mood anywhere around those casernes de pompiers is very festive. We went out to dinner with friends that night, and by the time we arrived at our neighborhood firehouse the party had spilled out onto the nearby Place du Marché Saint-Catherine where all of the cafés were overflowing with happy people celebrating the storming of the Bastille.
On July 14th we woke up early, took the métro to the Place de la Concorde and followed the constantly increasing crowd. Everyone was searching for the best place to watch the parade. People in the know brought stools or step ladders, but even without something to stand on, we had a good view and only slightly envied the people sitting comfortably upstairs at Pino's Pizza just across the street. They had a great view of the parade, comfortable chairs and pizza. Outside on the street leaning on the barriers, we were, however, right up front where Jacques Chirac could see us wave at him as he rolled by standing up in his Jeep waving to the crowd.
We were lucky enough to have friends at Port Grenelle on the other side of town who had a great view of the Eiffel Tower, so we went over there to watch the fireworks on the night of the 14th. Their port captain had organized a pot luck barbecue and everyone put their barbecues, tables and chairs on land and we had dinner with fireworks bursting over our heads and LaTour Eiffel as background lighting. The party was fun and it was a special night. We stayed so long that the métro was closed at our last transfer point, and we had to walk the rest of the way home. It was late, but the weather was warm and we savored the day as we walked home along the Seine.
There was now only one more event on our list. We wanted to be on the Champs-Élysées to see Lance win his sixth Tour de France.
Our friends Karen and Barry are avid cyclists and our personal Tour de France experts. We called them and invited them to come and stay with us during the last few days of the Tour.
They left their barge at a safe mooring on the Canal du Centre, and hopped a train to Paris. Along with Jim and Beth, our old friends and now Paris port neighbors, we watched the last couple of days of the race on TV. We visited while we watched the riders approached Paris. We shared meals, toasted our reunion, and decided to decorate the boat.
On the final day of the race we went to the Champs-Élysées. Karen and Barry came with us, but Jim and Beth wanted to stay home, at our home actually, because they don't have a TV. They offered to cook dinner for all of us that night and since they are great cooks, a deal was struck. We would go off to fight the crowds and they would watch everything on our TV and feed us when we came home.
We had done some reconnaissance of the Champs-Élysées, got some good advice from a cousin who had gone to the race the year before, and made a plan. We would arrive early, choose a spot on the barrier in front of Le Madrigal, (another favorite café and handy bathroom stop) and wait for the race to begin.
We arrived at 10 am, with our back packs full of supplies to keep us going all day. The first thing that happened after we claimed our spot was that we met a very charming Frenchman, Fabien, who lived in Paris and had been to race several times before. We talked with him about the race and about his life in Paris. We enjoyed his company and we followed his lead as he sat on the sidewalk with his back to the barrier. It was pretty comfortable sitting like that and we had a great view of all the people walking along the boulevard. Around noon we got hungry and dug into our back packs. We have had lunch on the Champs-Élysées many times before, but never sitting directly on the sidewalk. It wasn't bad. The day flew by as we watched race fans walk by and talked with our new barrier friends.
The crowds kept increasing all day and by the time Lance and his team came into view, people were ten deep at the barriers. Excitement was pulsing through the crowd. It was worth the wait to be there.
It was thrilling to see the racers fly by exuding muscles, skill and joie de vivre. They were beautiful. They were fast. Fortunately they made six laps, otherwise it would have all been over before we knew what happened. Each time that they passed by, Barry and Karen helped us by pointing out who was who and what was what. They we our own personal color commentators.
Lance Armstrong won his sixth Tour de France, and we were so excited to be there. On the victory lap, the teams waved to the fans and called greetings to each other. They were joyous at having finished the race and the mood was relaxed and happy. Some riders had their children riding with them on their handlebars; one French rider hopped off his bike to kiss a group holding up a sign that said they were his fan club. Lance and the U.S. Postal Team rode by last and the crowd jumped up and down and cheered their victory.
We waved and clapped and cheered and cheered. When it was over we melted into the slowly moving crowd, and pressed from all sides, we made our way along the Champs. We walked home, there was no other choice with some many people leaving at the same time, picking up speed finally when the crowd thinned out along the Rue de Rivoli. At Rue Saint-Antoine we called Jim and Beth to let them know we were almost home. And when we finally walked in the door at around 8 pm, they handed us each a glass of Champagne, and we toasted a great day.
That night dinner on the back deck, with Paris as the back drop, was delicious because of the food and the friendship.
By the time August rolled around, many neighborhood shops and market stalls were closed for vacation, our friends from San Francisco had come and gone, leaving good memories behind, and we knew that it was time to begin our journey back home to Roanne.
We spent our last few days in Paris enjoying a quiet morning at a café here and a pleasant dinner at a neighborhood restaurant there. We went to the beach and strolled along the river. We savored the pleasures of living in Paris. Then one morning we got up early, entered the lock and took our home back out onto the Seine.
Summer Photo Album
Paris Plage - a wonderful summer event created by the mayor of Paris in 2002.
The city closes a busy two lane roadway along the Seine during July and August and converts it into a beach.
Two hundred tons of sand make up the beach, which is then decorated with palm trees, lounge chairs, hammocks. All this work, just for fun.
A card game - Luxembourg Garden
On our way home, at Briare, we cross over the Loire River on the 662 meter pont canal built by Gustave Eiffel in 1890
The village church at Montbouy
On the back streets of Ouzouer-sur-Trézee we found this house, and we fell in love with its personality
Mist on the canal as we get an early start on the day
A peaceful country scene at a lock - it reminded us of the Tour de France