Back in Roanne
Our California vacation was fun and easy on our brains because we could speak the language and understand the culture. If we wanted information, we could ask without having to look up words in the dictionary first. The day after we arrived in San Francisco, we went shopping for a prepaid SIM card for our French cell phone. We asked many questions, explaining that we were visiting from France; we said that we just wanted to buy a card that would allow us to make calls on our tri-band phone during our visit.
As we were paying for the card, the salesman said, "Where did you learn your English? You speak it very well".
One language down, one to go. In the hope that someday someone might tell us that we speak French well, a few weeks after we arrived back in France, we repacked our suitcases and drove toward Lyon to a small village in the Beaujolais region. We settled into our room in the farmhouse at Fondvielle Language School and went for a walk around the nearby town of Saint Vèrand. That evening we met our classmates, teachers, and some of their neighbors and friends at a cocktail party before dinner. Since only French was allowed, it was like diving into the deep end of the pool on your first day of swimming lessons.
We exchanged stories about why we chose to live in a country where we had to learn to speak a new language, and we tried to find the words to express what makes France such a lovely place to live. We have had this conversation many times with friends in the boating community.
After they cleared away the breakfast dishes, our classroom appeared, and our school day began. We were seven, eight if you count Toby, divided into two classes by our ability level, with one group in the farmhouse and one in the main house.
We had morning and afternoon classes, and we did our homework in the hours in between. Our plans to walk in the countryside each afternoon usually gave way to the greater need to finish this task. Writing an essay is a slow process when you have to look up some words' meaning and check the spelling on most. Each night as dinner time approached, we brushed off the eraser dust before heading to the main house to enjoy a delicious dinner of traditional Lyonnaise dishes served with a generous supply of the local Beaujolais wine.
French was the language of choice at dinner, and with a teacher at each end of the table and a full day of speaking French already behind us, it was easy to relax and enjoy the evening.
Like when we were kids, the school work was hard, and we complained about the amount of homework, but we also laughed often, and we're pleased to be in the company of our teachers and classmates. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
When our week was over, we said our thank you's and goodbye's and drove to Lyon to do some errands. We marched up to salespeople full of new confidence and described what we were looking for with more ease than ever before. We were in and out of each store in a flash, proving that paying attention in class and doing your homework helps you succeed in life. We rewarded ourselves with a nice lunch.
Our little village is on the move again. Friends whose company we have enjoyed all winter are again heading north, south, east, and west.
Almost every day, we go to the lock to wave goodbye and say, "See you in October." to another boat. Unfortunately, the port is beginning to look a bit empty.
We're not lonely, though, because good friends from home arrived to cruise with us and help us get our canal legs again.
During the winter months, we could forget, while our boat is moored in Roanne and acting as 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 journey 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 travel speed is unbelievably slow. One day as we were cruising along, we noticed two young women pushing baby carriages. They were walking along the towpath that runs parallel to the canal. They had been keeping up with us for a while, but then we found a straight stretch, and we were able to speed up a bit. That 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 just as slow, but somehow it sounds so much more romantic.
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 tight 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.
Eclaircie Moored in Paray-le-Monial
Paray-le-Monial is a pilgrimage site in modern-day France, a town whose spirituality began during theMiddle 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.
On market day, we rode our bikes into town and filled our baskets and saddlebags with wonderfully fresh produce, local cheeses, homemade sausages, and regional wines. Our winter neighbors from 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.
When we went out to catch their lines, we saw that their dog, Malcolm, was on deckhand duty, running behind Jadel everywhere she went. He looked like he 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 laughed that it only took them one hour to make the same trip by car.
Everyone stayed for the weekend and enjoyed a delicious Easter Sunday lunch at Hostellerie des 3 Pigeons.
After a great weekend with our friends, we moved on to Montchanin at the Canal du Centre summit, where we moored in our mechanic's boatyard.
Jeff gave us the mooring spot next to his newly acquired 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 calling a few friends. Who knows, maybe we could even win a trophy.
Our dear sweet dog Toby (March 19, 1994 - May 7, 2003) was our constant companion and goodwill 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. Toby helped us meet people wherever we went and 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, his vet in Roanne, 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 quiet and empty.
So, what do you do when you're sad and miss your sweet dog? We decided to take two French teenage girls on board for a short cruise, hoping they would distract us, make a little noise, and fill up all of that vast space where Toby used to be.
Nina had been our French teacher when we first arrived in France. We were next-door neighbors living in her mom's gîte in St. Symphorien. We had initially booked our room for two months while 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 tried her best not to laugh at our mistakes. She was ten then and 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 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 helpful for our French, we thought 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 Saint-Jean-de-Losne for a couple of weeks, and when it was time to leave, we 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 them to hop on board there.
Nathalie came with the girls, and after they settled, 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 they liked. Then, speaking slowly in English, we set the table on the back deck together, naming each item we laid out. We made potato salad to go with barbequed hamburgers. We had sodas for them to drink and ice cream for dessert. We didn't know what they would want to eat, but we decided on typically American meals to show our cultural differences.
It was interesting to see what they chose to eat during their visit. Fortunately, we had also stocked up on lots of fruit, yogurt, and healthy French treats. They preferred water to sodas and ate more fruit and yogurt than American-style snacks, but they did eagerly raised their hands when we asked who wanted ice cream for dessert.
Early the following day, we cast off for Dole, a lovely old city in the Jura department in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region in eastern France.
The girls sat on the bow, and we enjoyed 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. They told us that they 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 shopped in town. Later, we joined them at a café, where we spoke English together, and they had to find the words to explain what made them giggle as they watched people walk by. Sometimes it was someone's flowery purse or an unusual pair of shoes. They had to stretch their English vocabulary to explain some of the things that they found funny.
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 because the girls were speaking English to us, and we were speaking French to them, and we were all speaking our native language to correct each other's mistakes.
This odd arrangement must have puzzled everyone within earshot.
Nina and Emilie were amusing, very well behaved, and a delight to be with, just like Toby always was. With their smiles and the sound of their laughter, they helped us begin to heal.
The transportation workers in France were striking at least one day a week during June. The strike was over important issues, but the workers must have also been happy to have time off because it was too hot and humid to work.
We cruised slowly up the Doubs River and down the Rhine River on our way to Strasbourg. We planned to stop early on the days that we moved, 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 bikes in the morning, and in the heat of the day, we 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 in it 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 often returned to the city park's shade. When we missed the little train that leaves every hour for the citadel, we decided to ride up on our bikes. From the guard tower at the fort, we could see our barge moored just below. It was a long and challenging climb up, but we created a nice breeze for ourselves on our speedy descent.
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 would show up for work until they did or didn't appear at their scheduled starting time. So several mornings, 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.
Backing up maneuvers and going through tunnels are two things that made us very nervous. However, every cruising season, we realize that our skills have improved when we find ourselves calmly doing something we would have been afraid to attempt in our first year. In Mulhouse, we impressed ourselves by making a smooth 90-degree turn, backward, 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. So, 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's window. On the street with several restaurants, people enjoyed American rock and roll from the '60s 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 a drum beat. 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 of music lovers, and teenagers dancing in the park. The music and the people were still going strong.
The following day, Sunday, we took the train to Switzerland, just because both the train station and the country were 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 make ourselves understood, and we had no money.
It was another hot day, and we found the city practically empty. It was too hot for the natives, and the only people 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 a while, we realized that we were seeing the same wet people walking purposefully by wearing their swimsuits and shoes. Some of them carried what looked like flotation devices, but we later discovered that these were waterproof packs for their clothes and towels. The current was flowing swiftly. Once we started watching these people, we found 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 upstream, and jumping in again. They did this over and over again. It looked tempting.
Leaving Mulhouse, after about ten days, we were rested and ready for the challenge of a trip down the Rhine River. For the past three years, we have heard many times that you should hire a professional pilot to take you through the traffic on this big river with a strong current. This portion of the Rhine was not 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. They convinced us 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.
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 cabin cruiser.
Thanks to our German charts, we had the phone number of a port we were approaching at the end of the day, and when we called, they said they had space for us. Following the chart, we turned right at the top of an island and circled 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 making our exit in the morning, as there was no room to turn around. We would have to develop another brilliant 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 we did all our mooring jobs, 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 motorboat. We happily agreed and suddenly found ourselves racing toward the city of Breisach am Rhein.
The 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 had 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 ask 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 phrasebook we left back on the boat. Instead, with help from our waitress, who spoke a few English words, we asked for something typical of the region. We ordered a local wine without knowing whether it would be dry or sweet. We could have ordered glasses of beer the size of Texas, like our neighboring German diners, but since we felt 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 could pay with our Euros. We decided to call a taxi about three hours after our German experience began. 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.
Our little adventures in Switzerland and Germany helped us appreciate our progress in our French struggles. Spending time in countries where we didn't know more than a few words of the language helped us recognize how large our French vocabulary has become.
We now look at our French language skills as a glass half full instead of half empty.
On July 14th, we were in Nancy when Le 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 past 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 past, leading a parade of bright, shiny red trucks. A fire department band finished up, exiting the square and disappearing onto waiting buses. Then, just as suddenly as it had started, the parade was over. This parade was as short as the July 14th parade we watched last year in Epernay. That parade marched around a roundabout, and this parade marched in one corner of Place Stanislas and out the other. As the crowd dispersed, we followed the locals' lead and strolled over to a nearby restaurant for lunch. While enjoying our meal, we pondered the differences between French and American parades.
At 8:30 that night, we returned to Place Stanislas for a program of music and fireworks. When we arrived, all the cafés were full, 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 would have a good view of the fireworks too.
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 the activity 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. New tables and chairs kept appearing, spreading the café further out into the square. We were captivated by the scene when suddenly all of the lights went out, and KABOOM! An explosion filled the sky.
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 the overhanging roof protected us from most of the falling flames, we could see the crowd staring over our heads with their mouths open. Then, cautiously, we looked up and saw the fireworks 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.
Photos from our summer vacation