By mid July, we were back in northern France, ready for some rest and relaxation. A month in the boat yard got us thinking about a vacation, and we decided to hurry down to the Marne.
We wanted to sit on our back deck and watch the swans float along with the current.
We thought about the grapes ripening in the sun,
and friends that would arrive to become our neighbors for a time.
So we pointed the bow in the direction of the Marne.
Along the way we met Chris and Charlotte, a Swiss couple who had written to us about barging before they retired and bought their barge, "Kinette".
When we were about to moor on the quay in Rethal, a small town above Reims, they recognized the name "Eclaircie", and came out to catch our lines.
We were both traveling along the canal l'Aisne a la Marne, moving slowly toward the Marne, so we met often in different ports. We shared meals together in Reims and in peaceful country moorings along the way, until we finally became next door neighbors in Damery.
Their enthusiasm for everything was addicting, and we loved watching them enjoy every minute of their new adventure.
If you can read German, you can read their web site, and if not, you can enjoy their photos.
Once we moored in our favorite Champagne village, we called our friends, Michele and Daniel.
Daniel has recently retired from the Epernay Fire Department, and he is also a Champagne vintner. He makes one of our favorite Champagnes, "Legrand-Mondet".
We met him at the July 14th parade in 2002, tasted his Champagne, became customers and friends.
During a great Sunday lunch at Le Vieux Puits in Ay-Champagne, we amused ourselves by simultaneously taking photos across the table.
As Champagne producers in Dizy, a small town near Epernay, they took us on a personalized tour of the Route de Champagne. And, a dinner out at an Epernay restaurant with some of their friends included an after midnight Champagne tour and tasting at their friend's cave.
Our vacation was full of nice surprises, as people kept giving us gifts.
Every conversational encounter seemed to end with us receiving a present. From lock keepers giving us tasty tomatoes fresh from their gardens, to these little boys who made us boats.
We gave them a tour of the barge early in the afternoon after a conversation with their grandmother as they were passing by our back deck.
They returned later in the day with these boats, and their grandmother brought us a bottle of Champagne and some of the crepes that she had made for the boys dinner.
We gave Yoan and Luka San Francisco Fire Department pins to thank them for their boats.
From the Marne, we moved on to the Seine and entered the Port de Plaisance, Paris-Arsenal, a gift we gave ourselves, because in that port, we consider it a real treat to be able to make ourselves at home right in the middle of Paris.
We put on our city clothes, picked up our pace, and went out to enjoy Paris.
After Paris, we returned to the Lateral a la Loire, where we made a habit of quiet country moorings.
To make our summer vacation end on a perfect note, we moored in the peaceful village of Beaulon with Barry and Karen, our barging friends who love their bikes.
They had been enjoying the area for a week or so, and we followed their lead to the best lunch spots, super markets, and a country store that sold everything, and was well worth the long bike ride to reach it. We found things there that we had been looking for all over France.
For our stay in Beaulon, the sky was blue, the breeze was warm and light, and from our peaceful country mooring, we could ride off in several different directions.
With Karen and Barry as our guides, we rolled past farms with frolicking goats and fuzzy lambs. They knew all of the peaceful back roads, where curious cows watched us pump uphill past their pastures, and where we coasted downhill enjoying the beauty of rolling farm land, and ancient farm houses. The air was fresh with the scent of rural France.
We were pleased to be able to keep up with them, even knowing that they had slowed down their pace for us. By the end of the day, we were ready to follow their lead and make longer bike trips, like the bike trip they made in June from Roanne, France to Barcelona, Spain.
Well, maybe we'll ride shorter distances, and maybe we'll walk up steep hills, but while we were riding through the French countryside with our friends, we felt 12 years old again. We were cyclists who could climb any hill, or ride any distance.
Pedaling along peacefully with the wind at our backs and smiles on our faces, those summer days belonged to us.