We arrived in Paris on January 12th. It was a good flight; even our dog Toby made it without incident.
After we took off, the flight officer sent us a note saying, "We check on Toby's compartment every 20-30 minutes. He is currently warm and comfortable at 70F/21C".
Checking in at the airport in San Francisco, there was a lot of concern over Toby's health certificates, but when we arrived in Paris, they just patted him on his head and said, "Welcome to France." No one ever asked us to see his required paperwork. We located a colossal luggage cart, loaded our bags on, and set off to find our leased Peugeot 605 station wagon. Our friends and family who had seen us off at SFO had wondered if all of our luggage would ever fit into our European car. It had taken two large SUVs to get us to the San Francisco airport. It was tight. All of our bags filled up every square inch of the wagon with the seats down, but we got everything in. The only hitch was that Toby had to squeeze upfront with us. We drove out of the Paris airport and headed to a nearby hotel, knowing that we would be too tired to travel.
The following day we were ready to begin our adventure. We are now barge shopping in France, Belgium, and Holland. We will post a photo as soon as we have purchased our barge.
This is "Marco", the barge that we hope to turn into our new home. After looking at many barges in France, Belgium, and Holland, we decided to purchase a boat that we looked at in France on the very first day of our search. It's the unique layout of this barge, with its wonderful back deck and the kitchen and dining area in the wheelhouse, that helped us decide that this was the barge for us.
We are feeling pretty good about the way that things are moving right along. We have been in Europe for less than one month, and we already have a barge in dry-dock that is passing inspections and will soon be ours. We have a home in a small village with friendly neighbors, a bank account in the local bank, a French teacher, and a daily routine.
We are happy to be staying here for a few months while the barge undergoes remodeling/painting and a name change as soon as we think of the right one. We are getting acclimated to life in France. Fortunately, we are starting in a village with a slow pace. With everything being foreign, it could be overwhelming living in a big city. It has been part good fortune and part research and planning that has helped everything fall into place so quickly.
It certainly was good fortune that brought us to our guest house. We are in the small village of Saint-Symphorien-sur-Saône, located in the Burgundy region of France, 30 minutes south of Dijon. It is just a 10-minute drive to Saint-Jean-de-Losne, where we bought our barge from the boat broker, H2O.
Georges and Nathalie, the owners of our Gîte, live next door, and they have been extraordinarily kind and helpful to us. Since it is winter, and we are the only guests staying in this beautiful old farmhouse, they have allowed us to take over the gîte telephone and to use the whole house as our own.
Their ten-year-old daughter has agreed to give us French lessons. Nina is a great teacher, very well prepared with books and lesson plans, and she tries very hard not to giggle at our pronunciation, but sometimes she can't help it.
She has also been teaching Toby to sit and stay in French, and she's looking forward to dog-sitting for us when we go to Paris next week to meet friends.
Spring has sprung, and while our barge is undergoing a make-over, we have time to enjoy the warm weather by exploring our neighborhood. We are close to the Canal du Rhone au Rhin, and it is one of our favorite walks.
We usually stop to talk with one of the American or English couples that are wintering there at Bourgogne Marine harbor. It is nice to speak English again, and we have learned so much from these conversations. They have given us many remodeling tips and helpful advice about living on a barge.
Toby enjoys this walk because he can be off his leash most of the time. When we stop to talk with other boaters, he has plenty of time to stop and smell the French countryside.
We don't always hang out in the country; sometimes we go to Paris to sit in a café and people watch. We love the hot dogs at the Madrigal on the Champs-Élysées, and a rainy day is a good excuse to linger longer while enjoying the passing parade.
Toby loves Paris too. He is turning into quite the sophisticate, and he is even beginning to look a bit French.
The good news is that we are not going to sink. The bad news is that we caught on fire.
We have just spent a couple of busy weeks in dry dock, out of dry-dock, and then back in again, as we tried to determine the thickness of our hull. The first ultrasound survey showed high numbers indicating a very thick hull, which was good. Because of some doubts about the first survey, we had a second survey done. The second ultrasound survey showed a few low numbers indicating some problems with the hull, which was bad. We didn't know which survey to believe.
To solve the problem, we used the old fashion method of drilling holes in the hull. Drilling found that our hull was good, not quite as good as the first expert's report, but that it was much better than the second expert had reported. We only needed one small 6 mm plate welded onto the hull.
On Saturday, April 1st, in the area where the welding was in progress, the wiring inside our hull caught on fire. It was a small fire, more smoke than flame, but we will have to replace the newly installed electrical system, and there was some interior smoke damage.
Between the hull problems and the fire, we haven't been sleeping too well, and we're feeling a little stressed. It now looks like our projected cruising date will be delayed.
When everything settled down again, we looked at each other and said, "We need a vacation." We decided to go to Barcelona to visit friends.
When the fire started, we did discover that our French improves under stress, so that was good, and we met many new people from the town who came to see what was on fire.
When we stopped by the next day to thank the firemen for putting out our fire, they gave us a tour of the Saint-Jean-de-Losne firehouse. It is a volunteer department, so now we know the pharmacist, the butcher, and the baker.
Before we left for Barcelona, friends from San Francisco came to visit, and we were happy to go sightseeing with them. We drove along the Burgundy Canal and visited a few small villages that we remembered from our first rental barge trip. We went to Dijon, Dole, and Beaune to see the sights and enjoy long French lunches rather than our usual trips when we went shopping for light fixtures, carpets, or tile.
In Saint-Jean-de-Losne, our old friends met our new friends, and everyone had fun; it was a delightful change from all of our recent worries. We were ready to drive to Spain for a few days of sun and relaxation in Barcelona.
Even the donkey looked happy again.
Barcelona was a fun and relaxing vacation, and we were able to help our friends at the same time. We used our big station wagon to help them move from their 42-foot sailboat in Barcelona to their newly purchased 22-meter barge here in Saint-Jean-de-Losne. They are Americans who we met over here when we both bought barges from the same broker at the same time.
We stayed on their sailboat in the beautiful Barcelona harbor, built for the 1992 summer Olympics, and it was such a lovely mooring that our friends arrived for a short visit and had stayed for over three years. They pointed out other boats on their dock that had started their adventures with plans to circumnavigate but got stuck in this fascinating city as they had.
During the day, while they were busy packing boxes, we strolled through the city,
relaxing, sightseeing, and café sitting with Toby trooping along. It was great to be in the sun and warm temperatures again.
In the evenings, we all went out together, and they introduced us to some of their favorite places, like the Champagne Bar on a back street that we would have never found on our own. It was a lively bar crowded with locals. They served Champagne and tapas, and we sampled eagerly before moving on to a restaurant for dinner.
When it was time to leave, we made many trips up and down their pier carrying boxes from their boat to the cars, until we couldn't fit in another thing. Then we followed along behind them on the drive back to France.
Arriving in Saint-Symphorien, we were greeted by blue skies and yellow fields.
In Saint-Jean-de-Losne, the window displays, especially in the pastry shops, were so enticing that we decided to invite friends over for Easter dinner.
We had had a wonderful time roaming around town buying all kinds of good things to eat, and our dinner looked, smelled, and tasted so delicious that everyone cleaned their plates, and Toby couldn't take his eyes off of the table.
Barcelona was a fun and relaxing vacation, and we were able to help our friends at the same time. We used our big station wagon to help them move from their 42-foot sailboat in Barcelona to their newly purchased 22-meter barge here in Saint-Jean-de-Losne. They are Americans who we met over here when we both bought barges from the same broker at the same time.
We love our walks by the river, being able to hear the sheep from their pasture just across the road, and waking in the morning to church bells instead of alarm clocks.
We have seen more sheep and cows since moving here than we saw in all of our years in San Francisco.
From our kitchen window, we enjoy the parade of tractors chugging along the road from early morning until late evening.
Our next-door neighbors and landlords, Nathalie and Georges, have been so kind to us. They are helping us learn about and adjust to life in France. This month we were invited to Nathalie's birthday party. It was our first social event where we were the only foreigners.
The party was held in their back yard until the thunderstorm started, then it moved under a roofed area along the side of our house. Thunder and lightning did nothing to slow down the party, and the conversation got too fast for us early in the evening. At midnight the dancing started, and the party was still going on when we were upstairs with our heads on our pillows.
On quieter evenings, we often sit on our balcony watching the sunset and the trails of all the planes heading toward Paris. We have learned that the best prediction of the date when our barge will be ready to cruise is - Someday.
Paris will be our first cruising destination. We hope to arrive in July when friends are coming to visit; we have asked the Paris Arsenal, the port in Paris, to return there in October as we hope to spend our first winter on Eclaircie in Paris.
Since January, we have been learning about France while shopping. You can tell a lot about a culture by shopping in the home furnishing and remodeling stores. We are amazed to find that sales clerks always say, "À votre service," and prove it by providing exemplary service with a smile.
We searched through all of the lighting fixture stores for just the right light fixtures for our wheelhouse. When we finally found what we were looking for, we asked the young sales clerk for four of them. He searched the shelves and didn't find any. The computer listed them as being in stock; apparently, misplaced. Instead of just taking the lazy way out by telling us that it must be a computer mistake, he spent at least 30 minutes looking for our lights, and he finally found them. We were impressed.
In January, when we bought a mattress for ourselves, we purchased a comforter, and they told us it would be suitable for all seasons. By March, we found that it was already too warm. When we returned to the same store to purchase our guest room mattresses, we mentioned the comforter problem just in passing. With no receipt and the comforter still back on our bed at the gîte, they told us to take two other comforters home to try, at no charge, and then bring back the ones that we did not want. We were impressed.
On our first trip to the dentist, no one asked anything more than our name, and they told us not to pay until our work was complete. No forms to fill out? No questions about our insurance? They didn't even ask for our address so that they could send us a bill.
Despite the problems caused by being strangers in a strange land, like not knowing which stores sell what items, or having to pantomime what we are looking for because we don't know the right words to ask for it, we have enjoyed shopping in France. We love the farmers' markets, but we also go to the enormous hypermarchés. These markets are so big that their price checkers are on rollerblades. Our favorite, The Carrefour in Dijon, has a circular cocktail bar near the checkout stands. You can push your cart over and park it next to your barstool if the stress of shopping has made you feel the need for a drink. Good wine is so inexpensive here in France that when we stock up on food and wine and then see the total bill at the checkout stand, we always think that all of the food must have been free at that price.
We moved out of the gîte last week, and we gave up our car yesterday. We are sad to leave our farmhouse and our wonderful neighbors, and we will miss our Peugeot, but we are happy to be moving onto our barge finally. There are only a few finishing touches to complete, and we will soon be cruising away from this peaceful village that has become home to us in France.
We have been dreaming of cruising away for quite a while now. We thought we were ready to go last month, but we found out we still had more work to do before we could leave.
We have had the same dream so many times now; we know it well. When the day finally arrives that we are ready to cruise, everyone that we know in Saint-Symphorien-sur-Saône and Saint-Jean-de-Losne will come out to wave goodbye to us.
In fact, in our dream, we are surprised to see that the whole town of St. Jean turns out to say, "Bon voyage," as we cruise under the bridge.
The shopkeepers, who have been so kind to us, come out to see us as we cruise down the main street of Saint-Jean-de-Losne.
We float past our favorite hardware store, France Décor. The owners' Marc and Nelly Lesaulnier, are out in front, and Toby hops off the boat to see them.
They put in our kitchen floor, did all of the wallpaper, and laid the carpet in our barge. None of them easy jobs with all of the curves on a boat. They always smile when we come into their shop; they seem to enjoy listening to us struggling with French. Toby likes going there because they give him lots of duck-flavored dog cookies. If he ever runs away, we'll know where to find him.
We wave goodbye. We will miss Marc and Nelly's friendly smiles and their funny jokes.
Just across the street, Joel is outside of his shop, La Maison de la Presse, where we buy our newspapers, maps and bought our giant French-English dictionary. He has our newspaper and hands it to us. We wave to him and tell him to give his dog a little pat for us.
We turn hard to port to sail past our favorite bakery lady, Madame Breuil. She is always so lovely to us, and she has the very best croissants. She taught us all about how you should use small coins to make exact change in the bakery, and she patiently helped us learn how to ask for each item. She was always surprised to see that we were still in town. Most boaters don't stay here for seven months. Now we are finally saying goodbye.
Now a turn toward starboard so that we can say goodbye to Les Morais. They have the very best meats, cheeses, and patés. They also make wonderfully prepared dishes of Coq au Vin, Porc Provençal, and other tasty recipes. It was great not to worry about what to make for dinner when we were painting the boat all day.
We see Madame Linda from the Laundromat in Dole, a town 30 kilometers from St. Jean de Losne. In our dream, she has moved her shop to St. Jean. She has helped us do our laundry once a week for the past six months until we moved onto the barge, where we have a washer & dryer. She was so sweet that when we brought her a present on our last visit, she already had a present ready to give us.
Suddenly we are back in our Dentist's office. But we don't mind because Dr. Nowak and her assistant were always amiable, and they never caused us any pain.
Then instead of cruising on the river, we float right along our favorite road on our way to St. Symphorien. We drove this road every day going from our gîte to our barge and back, and we watched the scenery change with the seasons.
The little pony that lived in a field along the road was all by himself during the lonely winter months. In the spring, when we cruised by, we were happy to see that another pony was standing next to him.
The fields themselves, barren in the winter, looked beautiful in the spring and summer.
We come to the little bar that is the only business in the village. We went there one night with friends, even though Nathalie had told us that the patrons gossip about strangers. We tried not to make any faux pas; we didn't want to be like the two English guys that caused a stir in town because they each ordered a beer and a pastis to drink at the same time. We didn't stay long. The locals may not have even known that we were there because we could barely see across the little room for all the cigarette smoke.
We are on our way to see the owners of our gîte, Nathalie, Georges, and their daughter Nina. They live just across the street from the bar. We use the bow thruster to make the tight turn into their courtyard, then cruise around to the backyard and moor in their swimming pool.
We come down the gangplank from the barge to find that they have arranged a going away party for us. Nathalie has prepared the food, and Georges has selected the wine, so we knew that everything would be delicious. It is a great party, and as evening approaches, everyone climbs on board, and we all sit around the table on our back deck. Our dream ends well because this is what we have been looking forward to for the past seven months. Soon we hope to make our first real cruise, and at the end of that long-awaited day, we look forward to enjoying the sunset from our back deck with good friends, good food, and a nice bottle of wine.
Our last few days in Saint-Jean-de-Losne were hectic. We finally left even though we still had a small list of jobs. No matter how long we stayed, we realized that H2O would never stop finding new projects to keep us there.
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 neighbors helped us, and we were overwhelmed by the kindness of 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 recently invited us to dinner and showed us once again that French people are warm, friendly, hilarious, and most of all, they know all about food, wine, and hospitality.
Friends 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 cruising, locking, and mooring lessons. Other friends drove down from St. Jean to be there in Chalon to welcome us into port after our first day of cruising. A spontaneous dinner for eight on the back deck that night, complete with delicious food, plenty of wine, great 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, and we enjoyed 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. 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 all enjoyed dinner on their 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, the port near the Bastille. Luckily we had already placed ourselves on the waiting list for the port in the city of 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, taking it slow and easy, 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 an active section of the city with many joggers, dog walkers, and daily strollers of all ages.
Some friends 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 pleased with our new home. Roanne is a lovely 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 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.
We are moored here in Roanne, all snuggled in for the winter. We won't have to worry about cruising until we leave in the spring.
This is an excellent mooring with friendly neighbors and a small café just across from our boat. We have stopped in there a couple of times, and we plan to go back often for the Plat du Jour and the ambiance. The owner, Martine, is patient enough to converse with us, and it is a fun way for us to practice our French.
It was a bar that serves lunch, but we didn't know that when we ran over one evening after it had rained all day thinking we could eat dinner there since we had not been able to walk into town to shop. She explained that she only served lunch but offered to cook for us anyway.
The other night, she helped us call a cab to take us to Roanne's most famous restaurant, Troisgros.
We dined slowly and enjoyed a delicious meal, perfectly served. It was our birthday treat, and we would be happy to make it a yearly tradition. The restaurant was as fantastic as its reputation, and we wish that we could become regular customers, like the people we saw coming in greeting the staff with kisses; obviously, it was not their first time there.
Troisgros is a restaurant that people fly into Roanne to visit because it is one of France's best restaurants. Watching the other customers and the staff's skill as they anticipated everyone's next wish was part of the entertainment. We dined without feeling the eyes of our waiter watching us, but whenever we were about to want some water or more wine in our glass, he was there performing the task before we had completed the thought.
The atmosphere was comfortably elegant, friendly, and not at all pretentious. After midnight, we asked someone at the front desk to call us a cab. Explaining that it was too late to find a taxi in Roanne, he said, "Pas de probleme," and found a young employee to drive us home.
The days go by quickly here in our new port. As winter approaches, they are getting shorter, of course. We are up every morning to see the sunrise, and it is nice to stay up long enough to see the sunset. During the long days of summer, while we were working hard all day on our barge, we were going to bed while it was still light, and the sun would already be bright in the morning when we woke up.
Bikes, walking, and trains are our primary means of transportation this winter. We want to try doing without a car this year, and then we can decide whether we want to buy a car or not. The surrounding countryside is beautiful and full of small villages to explore, and we have been lucky enough to go exploring with friends who have cars.
We have already had quite an adventure driving on the small country roads with our friends from back home, Candace and Tom. We went out into the countryside in their rental car, intending just to get lost to see what we would find.
We followed a little wooden sign on one country road that pointed the way to a village with the appealing name of Dancer. After we turned at the sign, we traveled along on a small road, and soon we were going downhill. We went down, down, down, and the road continued to get smaller and smaller. It had begun like a road, but it looked quite a bit like a hiking trail by now. Unfortunately, we were already committed. The only way out was to back up, and we all agreed that would be too difficult. We crossed our fingers and continued traveling forward, hoping that the road, which was now deep in a forest, would not completely disappear. We drove through a tunnel of branches as the trail became even steeper. The situation was getting so ridiculous that we couldn't help laughing. The worse the road became, the more we laughed. How did we find ourselves in such a silly situation?
At last, we came to more small wooden signs at a crossroads, picked what looked like the better road, and we set off down another very steep, narrow, and rocky trail. It is a good thing that we were in a tiny budget rental because we could keep our wheels on the narrow path, and finally, we emerged from the forest and found ourselves in the middle of someone's vineyard. We followed the signs to the tasting room.
It was an adventure that still makes us laugh.
Lauren, our 10-year-old granddaughter, and Toby, our dog, are great backseat traveling companions because:
#1 They don't fight with each other.
#2 One of them makes excellent observations and funny jokes. The other one wags his tail and smiles. We enjoyed every minute of our travels with them.
Our adventures began early one rainy morning when a friend was kind enough to drive us to the train station. We took the train to Lyon, where we boarded the TGV to Paris. It was an enjoyable trip, with only a slight glitch catching a cab to our hotel because most of the cab drivers did not want a dog in their cab. (See the full story on Toby's page.)
Michele, Ian, and Lauren arrived at our hotel from the airport just a little after we did, and we took Lauren out while her mom and dad got settled. Our first stop was to see the captain of the port at the Paris Arsenal. We introduced ourselves and made sure that we are on the waiting list for a winter mooring next year. Once again, they said that we might get a spot, we hope so, but we now know that it is not very likely. There are only a few moorings for barges of our size, and the requests are numerous.
Over the next few days, we toured around Paris with Lauren during the day, meeting her parents each night for dinner. We hit all of the high spots on Lauren's list, la tour Eiffel, l'Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, le Métro, and of course we stopped in at our favorite café on the Champs-Élysées for a French hot dog. Everyone likes the same sites in Paris, even kids, but this trip, we also stopped to look at the skateboard and scooter stores because of Lauren. That was something that we had never done before. Lauren bought a kid's Polaroid camera at the Virgin Megastore on the Champs-Élysées, and she was able to take some great photos that she pasted into her travel journal. She loved the old buildings, and she thought that the métro was very cool. She decided that she could live in Paris.
After spending several days together in Paris, we picked up our rental car and headed out with Lauren and Toby while her parents stayed on to enjoy their vacation alone in Paris.
Our destination was Normandy and a tour of the D-Day beaches. On the way, we stopped at Giverny to see Monet's gardens. We toured the house, strolled through the grounds, and Lauren spent time in the gift shop picking out gifts for her mom and dad.
Lauren liked the house and the gardens, and she decided that she could live there.
We arrived at our first destination, a chateau near Bayeux, in the late afternoon. Chateau Vouilly is a beautiful chateau with extensive grounds for our traveling partners to run around on. The American army's press camp was housed in this chateau from June 10 to August 10, 1944, during the Normandy invasion.
Our suite was comfortable, and we all thought it was cool that this chateau had a moat. Lauren liked it and decided that she could live there.
Breakfast was served in the dining room each morning. The same room where Ernie Pyle, Andy Rooney, and many other reporters typed out their stories of the invasion for their newspapers back home. There was an excellent display of wartime artifacts and photos and a desk with a reporters' typewriter. It brought history to life, and it was a good base from which to see the D-Day beaches.
We started our first day at the nearby German Military Cemetery, chilling with its black monuments. Instead of headstones, there were groupings of five black crosses placed in a pattern throughout this cemetery of over 21,115 German soldiers.
From the German cemetery, we toured the D-Day beaches starting with Arromanches-les-Bains. There we saw the remains of the Mulberry Harbor and visited the museum. At Omaha Beach, we paid our respects to the 9,387 Americans at rest and the listed 1,557 MIA's in the Garden of the Missing.
The beaches are very different, Omaha beach is very steep immediately off the water's edge, and Utah is flat with a very long distance from the shoreline to land.
We all agreed that the Utah beach museum was the best museum that we toured. Built on a German bunker, the museum housed many personal artifacts with stories and photos of the men who fought and died during the invasion. More than in any other museum, these stories brought history to life.
One photograph showed Brig. General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., another general and a colonel with battle maps spread out before them in Utah beach sand. General Roosevelt's actions that day would posthumously earn him the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was 56 years old, had already suffered a heart attack, and was the late president's son. He had to obtain a stack of dispensations and special orders to go ashore on Utah beach with his troops, as he had requested. A few hours earlier, we stood in front of his grave at the Normandy American cemetery; now we had a better understanding of who he was and why he earned the Medal of Honor.
We were surprised by Lauren's interest in all of the invasion history. She read the displays at the museums, and her eyes did not glaze over when we explained what we knew of how the invasions were set up and put into action. Visiting the cemeteries made us sad to look at the grave markers and realize that most of the soldiers were only about ten years older than the innocent child standing there with us.
The Bayeux tapestry was next on our agenda. Another war in another age, clearly illustrated by a beautiful tapestry and described in one of our books as a lively comic strip justifying William the Conqueror's invasion of England and offering insights into 11th-century life. Again the history came to life. We all liked the smiling horses riding in a boat across the channel better than the battle scenes with lots of heads lying on the ground and headless soldiers sitting on their horses with arrows piercing their bodies.
After the museum, we went back to the car for Toby. We took a walk around Bayeux before we looked for a restaurant for lunch. Lauren liked the town and thought that it would be a nice place to live.
We happened by a restaurant that we had read about in one of our tour books, the Lion d'Or, and went in to ask if Toby would be welcome. The answer was somewhat surprising, "But, of course." We entered the restaurant and found it to be comfortably elegant. A little poodle raced out from under his table to bark at Toby, but Toby kept his cool. He walked straight to our table and took his position underneath.
It was a memorable lunch with all of us on our best behavior. The food was good, the conversation lively, the service excellent. Toby was given a drink under the table from a dog bowl for special guests.
We didn't want to leave, so we lingered as long as we could over coffee and dessert. Finally, it was time to head south to Brittany and our next stop, a farmhouse near St. Malo.
We found the farmhouse even though we had been given the directions over the telephone in French, and we congratulated ourselves for that achievement.
Saint-Malo was bathed in the light of a beautiful sunset when we arrived that evening. We enjoyed walking around the walled city and tasting the regional specialties at a crêperie. The next day we burned a few of those calories, climbing billions of stairs up to the top of Mont-St-Michel. One of us complained a lot. Someone had told us that Mont-St-Michel is a whole bunch of steep stairs up to many empty rooms. One of us might have agreed with that statement, but we had fun anyway exploring the ancient abbey.
The original structures on Mont-St-Michel were built as early as the 8th century. Looking at the view from way up there we all agreed that even without binoculars, you could see an enemy approaching long before they arrived. Lauren decided that with the proper furnishings, she could make it a comfortable place to live.
At the end of our vacation, we met Michele and Ian back on our barge. Lauren had never seen our new home before, and she loved it. She and Toby slept on the sofa bed together, and Lauren thought that our barge was so comfortable that she decided that she could definitely live here.
Being permanently moored for the winter, with more time to do as we please, we decided Thanksgiving would be the perfect opportunity to renew a favorite hobby, cooking.
The week before Thanksgiving, with our American friends from the port back home for the holidays, we invited our English neighbors for dinner. We told them to come hungry so that we could feed them tons of food in the true tradition of Thanksgiving.
We hoped to serve turkey, of course. We looked high and low, in town and the small villages nearby, but we never found any whole turkeys.
Toby helped us shop, and he found a cow at the butcher shop in town, but he couldn't find any turkeys either. Maybe we could have ordered one, but it was just a little beyond our current French, and we feared that we might end up with a live turkey. Checking the local market places for other traditional items, we could not find any yams or cranberries. What to do? We would need to be creative.
We worked out a menu and went to the marketplace with a shopping list complete with notes on changing ounces to grams and pounds to kilos. We had a grand time walking around town, trying to find everything we needed for our recipes. The butcher does carry boned turkey breast, and he cut them in slices for us for our main dish. We found large bowls of fresh light and heavy cream sold by the gram at our favorite cheese store. We could see and taste what we were buying, which is better than finding the correct containers by their foreign names in the grocery store. At the vegetable stand, we carefully selected each item. We would have an endive salad with Roquefort and mashed potatoes along with our turkey and broccoli casserole.
We visited a local winemaker to select our dinner wines, but finding sherry for our turkey casserole recipe was more difficult. After being sent from shop to shop, we finally found some Spanish sherry in a wine shop on a side street; it was expensive, but we needed it for our recipe, so we bought it. Then we decided to buy a nice bottle of port for an after-dinner drink.
Thanksgiving morning, we went out early looking for our dessert. All of the stores were open on Thanksgiving Day, which reminded us that we were far from home. We looked in a couple of pastry shops and finally decided on a beautifully decorated cake. Then we went to our favorite boulangerie for fresh bread before heading back home to begin chopping, peeling, and cooking.
That afternoon while working together preparing our non-traditional Thanksgiving meal, listening to BB King's "Riding with the King," we realized how much we missed playing in the kitchen. It has been a long time since we have tried out new recipes because most of this year, we have been way too busy to cook just for fun.
Our friends arrived with a freshly baked mince pie. We started the evening with champagne and appetizers. And in a fine Thanksgiving tradition, we kept bringing dishes out of the kitchen all evening. It was raining and cold outside, but we were cozy in our kitchen, enjoying our tasty if non-traditional, dinner.
We missed our family at the table, but it was a pleasant day, and we enjoyed the whole process of shopping, cooking, and sharing our meal with friends.
We are thankful for all of our blessings.