Our last few days in Saint-Jean-de-Losne were hectic. We finally left without all of our work being completed, because we began to doubt that some jobs would ever be finished, no matter how long we stayed.
The barge instructor that we had hired months before was on vacation when we finally were ready for our lessons, and we had to scramble around trying to find another teacher. Many people helped us, and we were overwhelmed by the kindness of the people in the boating community. We found a barge instructor and set off on our adventure.
Before we left, we biked over to our gîte to say goodbye to Nathalie and Georges. We promised to come back to visit them next spring, and to send Nina postcards. Then we stopped in at the hardware store in town to say goodbye to Marc and Nelly. They had invited us to dinner at their home a few nights before, and had proved to us once again what we had already learned from Nathalie and Georges. French people are warm, friendly, very funny and most of all, they know all about food, wine and hospitality.
Friends who we met in St. Jean this spring put us together with a barge instructor. On the momentous day that we finally cruised away from Saint-Jean, they rode along to make sure that we made it safely to Chalon-sur-Saône, where we would meet our instructor for five days of intense driving, locking and mooring lessons. Friends from the states were staying with us, and some other boating friends drove down from St. Jean to be there in Chalon to welcome us into port after our first cruise. A spontaneous dinner for eight on the back deck that night, complete with good food, good wine, good friends, and a beautiful sunset will always be one of our favorite memories. Our long awaited dream had finally come true.
We cruised with our instructor along the Canal du Centre from Chalon to Paray-le-Monial. The weather was good and the scenery beautiful.
We left early each day, never stopping for lunch, and cruising until the locks closed at night. We wanted as much experience as we could get going through the locks and making it safely through the narrow passages under the bridges. We were traveling slowly, because that's what barges do, so we were able to enjoy all of the sights and sounds of the countryside.
Our teacher left us as planned in Paray-le-Monial, and then we were on our own. We took it easy that first day out on our own. We went very, very, very slowly, and we only cruised to the next town, Digoin. There we ran into friends that we had met during the winter, and they invited us over to their barge for dinner. Once again, our old friends who were traveling with us met our new friends, and we had another great dinner on the deck.
The next morning we cruised on a pont canal, a water bridge, over the Loire River. As beginners we crossed very cautiously. We certainly did not want to go over the side here.
Our winter reservation did not materialize at the Paris Arsenal this year. Luckily we had already placed ourselves on the waiting list for the port in Roanne, just in case.
We could have lingered along the Canal de Centre for the whole month of September, as everyone arrives at their winter port about the first of October. Instead we opted to head straight to Roanne on the most direct route, deciding not to press our luck with our newly acquired driving skills.
Here in Roanne, we are now busy settling in for the winter, finding our favorite bakery, cafés, restaurants and learning our way around town. The port is a very active section of the city with many joggers, dog walkers and daily strollers of all ages.
Some friends who we met last winter in Saint-Symphorien-sur-Saône and Saint-Jean-de-Losne are here in port, and others will arrive soon. Our small group has already set up French lessons, and we are looking into the local gym, swimming pool and ballroom dancing classes.
We are very happy with our new home. Roanne is a nice little city with about 40,000 people. We have already been to the train station to find that we can get to Lyon in less than an hour and to Paris in three. We have plans to visit Paris, and maybe Rome and Geneva will also be on the winter vacation list.
With all of the port activities, we'll see if we can find the time to make those trips.