2009

Winter in our port

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New pontoons

 
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The good news is that we are getting new pontoons in the port, and they are superb. Still, the bad news is that since our telephone lines run through the pontoons, we, the residents on the side of Boulevard Bourdon (the Boulevard de la Bastille side of the port went through this last fall), have lost our phones and Internet connections and won't have them back until............

 

It has already been three weeks, and it seems like an eternity. No longer can we pick up the phone and call family and friends in other parts of the world without thinking about the cost. We still have our call back service, but it is not cheap on a cell phone, and we were used to the convenience of making long-distance calls without charge. When you are paying for the call, and you have to wait 20 minutes at long-distance rates for a company in San Francisco to pull you out of the wait queue finally, it feels like torture.

 

When our pontoons went away, we had to leave too. For one week, we lived in front of the captain's office on the other side of the port way down by the lock. It was like moving to a new neighborhood. Suddenly, we were no longer in the 4th arrondissement; we were in the 12th. The Bastille métro station and the shops that we frequent were much further away, and we had to add an extra 15 minutes to our estimate of how long a métro trip or a quick run to the bakery would take. Without our land telephone line, we had to go to the captain's office with our computers to check our email or do projects. While we whined about this at first, the captain and his team could not have been more pleasant, offering people who were there to use the Internet coffee or juice and letting us use one of their desks when we had a big project to complete. People came and went, and we saw neighbors from the other side of the port that we usually don't run into in the course of a day. So we realized that it was a fun place to hang out, and now that we are back in our Boulevard Bourdon side mooring waiting for our phone line, we pack up the computers to make the trip down to la capitainerie, just for the fun of it.

 

Ireland with 7 in a mini-van

When we heard that five assorted family members were going to Ireland, we said, "We want to go too!" So plans were made to meet in Dublin.

 

We all arrived in Dublin on different days. Walking to meet the last to arrive and the minivan with a chauffeur who had picked them up at the airport, we heard a horn honking and looked up to find several hands and heads sticking out of the windows, waving and calling to us. Their plane had arrived early, so they were ahead of schedule and found us as we were walking toward our arranged meeting place. We stowed our bags in the back and piled into the van, trying to hug and kiss everyone over the seats. We were siblings, in-laws, and one son/nephew in a minivan with a storytelling, singing retired Irish cop as our hired driver.

 

Now seven different opinions of where to go and what to do could have been a problem, but we all recognized that very first day, on the drive from Dublin to Blarney, our first stop, that our driver Jim knew every little corner of the counties that we wanted to explore. We all turned the trip over to Jim, our driver, without even discussing it, and he never let us down.

 

Jim led us to some great restaurants for delicious lunches after mornings of sightseeing, and he knew all of the best pubs to stop in for refreshments when our eyes were tired from seeing green rolling landscapes and stone castles. In one of the many small out-of-the-way villages that we visited, he met someone he knew when we walked down the street; a pub owner, wouldn't you know. And when we had spent too much time visiting an old church and exploring the cemetery, he called the Jameson distillery to hold the last morning tour for us, so we could taste some of Jameson's finest before we went to lunch. After the second day, we started inviting him to have lunch with us, and by the end of the week, we felt like old friends. When he dropped us back at our hotel in Dublin, we were all sorry to see him go. We are spoiled now, and the next time we go on a trip, we might call Jim and see if he wants to come along.

 

It was a memorable vacation. Our hotels were excellent, we never had a bad meal, and our traveling companions were family; what could be better than that.

Tulips in Bloom

 

One of the advantages of living in a moving village like the European barging community is that you often have friends moored in places you want to visit. This year, our Dutch friends Henk and Jacqueline spent the winter at their mooring near Amsterdam, and they were kind enough to invite us to come to Holland to see the tulips in bloom.

 

Living in Paris makes it easy to hop on the train, and the trip between Paris and Amsterdam is direct, takes about 4 hours, and is inexpensive if you buy the tickets in advance. Henk told us that it would be best to come mid-April, so we did, and just as we had been lucky with the weather in Ireland, we were blessed with sunshine every day during our stay in Holland, something that our friends said doesn't happen very often.

 

Une Sortie Guinguette 

Friday, May 8th, we left port with a flotilla of yacht club boats to make our way to Neuilly-sur-Marne for "Une Sortie Guinguette." It was a great weekend with a shared meal on the decks of boats moored together Friday night and a great dinner at le Bar de la Marine on Saturday night. Fifi, the restaurant owner, was a great host, and he and his wife even found the time to do a line dance with Alain, our yacht club commodore.

 

Cette guinguette a une ambiance festive et bon enfant.

 

Le Monde

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We have finally made it into Le Monde. I don't think that we ever expected to be mentioned in a story written in one of France's most popular daily newspapers, even though we have often made it into smaller papers. Most notably, when one of the Roanne papers did a story about our Thanksgiving dinner in 2001 or the time that we ran over a car in the middle of the Canal du Centre and made the local newspaper's front page.

 

This time though, we are not mentioned by name, and our boat's name didn't make it into the story either, but we are still happy that Paris has noticed our comings and goings. They almost mentioned us when they wrote, "les mariniers," which was enough for us.  On a les chevilles qui enflent!

 

 

 

Canals of Paris

For more than a week now have been enjoying life in the 19th Arrondissement at the Mairie de Paris' invitation. What a difference from the upscale 4th, where we exit the port to do most of our errands, and the arrondissement we think of as "our neighborhood" with rue Saint-Antoine and Place des Vosges just a few blocks away from our barge.

Being Paris, at least 5 of the ten days that we have been here for the DBA Rally have been rainy, so this weekend when the sun came out, so did everyone else. We have never seen a more animated area. In the 4th Arrondissement, we have tourists with maps and puzzled looks, but here in the 12th, there are mostly locals. It is a working-class neighborhood on its way up, with more young families and fewer problems than when we were here for the last barge rally in 2007.

 

We rode Vélib bikes around the basin last Saturday evening, and we were amazed at all of the activity going on; the joint was jumping. There were elbow-to-elbow picnics along the quays, some groups were students or friends from work getting together to share a night off, and others were young families from the apartments surrounding the basin. People played boules; little kids ran around the playgrounds, and crowds were overflowing the trendy bars, like the Bar Ourcq on Quai de la Loire. It was quite a scene, and when we settled down on our back deck for dinner, we had front row seats for people watching. 

 

With the two movie theaters on opposite sides of the water linked by a "floating bridge," a 38-meter barge that offers concerts, operas, or just a drink overlooking the water, electric boats that you can rent to putter around the basin or off-road bike paths that will take you along the Canal de l'Ourcq almost all the way to Meaux, plus the Parc de la Villette and the Paris Plage, summer at the Bassin de la Villette offers more things to do than you can shake a stick at.

 

While still enjoying this neighborhood's atmosphere from our deck at 11:30 that night, we heard a woman singing traditional French songs, and the sound of her voice was coming closer and closer. A trip boat exited the lock, and we realized that the woman was singing from the front deck. Her voice was lovely and floated out onto the night air. There weren't more than ten people on board counting the crew, and those that had bought a 15 euro ticket had enjoyed a private cruise along the Canal Saint-Martin with street scenes of Paris rolling by at a snail's pace on a warm Saturday night. This is a new cruise that Canauxrama just started. They leave the Arsenal at 9 pm and get to La Villette at 11:30. It would be a lovely way to spend an evening in Paris.

 

La Fête de la Musique 

We were so busy having fun on the first day of summer that we didn't take many photos, but the ones that  we took, we gave to Animoto to set them to music and give them some style.

 

La Fête Nationale 

There is no such thing in France as Bastille Day, even though most anglophones call it that, but there is Le 14 Juillet or La Fête Nationale, and it is a fabulous time to be in Paris and a great time to have friends come to visit.

 

Jim is an old San Francisco childhood friend, and his wife Evelyne is French. It was fun to take them around Paris, a city they have been to many times, of course, but over the last few years, mostly just when changing trains as they go between their home in the Haute Savoie and their property on the Atlantic coast in Bretagne.

 

The 14th fell on a Tuesday, but everything had gone into holiday mode as early as the Friday before, and there was a festive mood throughout the city. When they arrived, we went out to lunch and then came back to sit on our back deck. We discussed "culture shock," life in France vs. life in the States, etc. We introduced Jim and Evelyne to friends that we have made here in Paris. We had an interesting conversation over drinks and dinners, flipping back and forth between English and French and talking about the differences and the similarities in our cultures. Everyone was enjoying the exchange of ideas as the sunset on the Bastille monument.

 

The holiday events started on Monday night with "les bals des pompiers," and as always, we went to the Marais because it is close and fun. Friends met at our boat to have a light meal and some Champagne before we walked over to the firehouse. After dancing, drinking more Champagne, laughing, and talking, our group's older contingent went home at about midnight, but our younger friends stayed on to drink more Champagne and smile a lot.

 

The following day, on "le 14 Juillet", we were on the move early, hoping to get a place on the barrier on the Champs-Elysées, but getting four people out the door is never easy. By the time we reached our destination, many others had come before us. We arrived at about 9 am, and we had to settle for sneaking a peek through the glass of a bus shelter while standing on tiptoes, and we envied the people who had great views because they had friends in high places.

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Or helpful parents

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After the parade, we walked away with thousands of others and finally settled in a café for lunch to take a break and let the crowds disperse. Young men and women in uniform came in to sit and enjoy a meal with their families, and they sat up very straight in their full dress uniforms, and of course, we couldn't help but smile at how proud their families were of them. 

 

After more conversation and a leisurely lunch, we continued our walk across the city to the Bastille and arrived back at the boat at about 5 pm, just in time to see the finish of the day on the Tour de France. We couldn't have been home more than 20 minutes when friends that we had recently met in Paris arrived, and we suddenly had another party on the back deck, this time with other friends from Paris, Manchester, and Montreal.

When everyone had to leave for dinner engagements, we set out to find a dinner spot ourselves, and after a couple of false starts, we settled on Chez Margot, which might become a new favorite as the atmosphere, food, and prices were great. Then we squeezed ourselves on the very crowded métro and went to watch the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. 

 

In the confusion of the day, we forgot to bring our camera, but someone else on youtube did an excellent job of capturing the evening's splendor. So thanks to Vandicla for this great video.

 

La Côte d'Or 

We are renting a car and going away for the weekend. 

 

We are happy to be heading back to the Côte-d'Or, where our French adventure started in January of 2000. Not only do we love department 21 for sentimental reasons, but it is also one of the most beautiful areas in France. 

 

The purpose of the trip is to go to an event called "Savigny en Tous Sens" that our friends on "La Lavande" went to a few years ago, and have been raving about it ever since. Hiking, wine tasting, lunch, and dancing sounded like fun to us, so we signed up a few months ago and planned a weekend around it.

 

Funny, it is much easier to prepare to go away on the barge because when we cruise, we take the whole kit and kaboodle with us. Packing one tiny suitcase, getting rental car and hotel reservation confirmation papers together, gathering up chargers for the camera and phone, and trying to make sure that we don't leave anything else at home took us all day.

 

Savigny en Tous Sens 

Our weekend away started with an upgrade to a pretty jazzy little rental car, and after a few wrong turns in Paris, we got on the A6 with what looked to be a massive traffic jam ahead, but we soon flew past all of the cars as the backup was going off on the exit. Lucky us.

 

We drove to Savigny-lès-Beaune to find out where we should meet for the Savigny en Tous Sens hike on Sunday and then took the scenic route up to Nuit-Saint-Georges.

 

Driving slowly along the Route des Grands Crus from Savigny to Nuits, we didn't mind the pace as it was still faster than we travel on our barge. The view had us exclaiming about the beauty of the villages and the ancient vineyards.

 

We drove through tiny passages between stone walls, wondering if we would fit, and that reminded us of the narrow stone bridges that line the canals. Driving on France's back roads is a great way to get lost and have lots of adventures. Still, this time we made it to our destination without more than a dozen wrong turns, and we found that our random choice of the Domaine de Pellery on the Internet turned out very well indeed, and we would love to go back and spend more time there.

 

In one of those six degrees of separation moments, we learned, as we were checking in, that the French husband and English wife of our B&B had owned and worked on hotel barges and that we have many friends in common.

 

A local restaurant for dinner and a great breakfast with the other guest the following day set us up for a day of hiking. And, it was a great day. We met up with barging friends who had wintered in Paris, and it was the most fun that we have ever had on a hike.

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Croisement Difficile

Cruising along on the canals is not always simple comme  bonjour.

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See how the pros get out of this one.

And, if you can read French or Dutch, this charming site about life on "Picaro" will answer all of your commercial barge questions.

 

Plouarzel, au bout du monde

Ten years ago, while still in the planning stages of buying a barge, we made contact again with a childhood friend from our old San Francisco neighborhood. Jim had married a French girl, Evelyne, and they had two children and lived in France. They were home visiting Jim's dad when we became reacquainted.

 

Jim and Evelyne bent over backward to help us sort out our French visa, gave us advice about living in France, and invited us to come and see them in the Haute-Savoie. While we were wintering in Roanne, we were practically neighbors, but it wasn't until this year that we finally got together when Jim and Evelyne came to Paris to stay with us for le quatorze Juillet. We had so much fun while they were here that we made plans to visit them a couple of weeks later at their vacation home in Brittany.

 

Jim is frugal and loves a good bargain, and his influence rubbed off on us while he was here. To take advantage of the best price on the TGV from Paris to Brest, we bought tickets that left Gare Montparnasse at 8:30 am. And since we were getting up early to save money, it didn't make any sense to take a cab to the train station, so we packed light and took the metro. We had to pass through Châtelet and Montparnasse-Bienvenüe stations, which both have moving sidewalks because you could almost count the distance between connections in kilometers. We dragged our luggage up and downstairs, weaved through tunnels only to find more stairs, and walked fast because the moving sidewalk was not moving, finally arriving at Gare Montparnasse about 50 minutes later.

Once settled comfortably on the train, we were pretty proud of our money-saving adventure, but we already thought that on the way back, maybe a cab would be the better way to go. Indeed, after this experience, traveling on the metro after a long international flight will never be on our list of ways to save money. Jim had inspired us, and we agree philosophically with living frugally, but we were already having doubts about saving a few bucks on train tickets.

 

In Brest, because the bargain ticket didn't match up with the Brest to Saint-Renan bus schedule, we looked for a nice restaurant to try to pass the time with a leisurely three or four-hour lunch. The suitcase limited our range, so we ended up at a Moroccan restaurant near the station. With its comfy cushions, it was a good choice for a long lunch. Sometime about dessert, even though we were enjoying our meal, we realized that if we had spent the price of lunch on the tickets, we could have slept in and maybe even taken a cab to the station. We are not big spenders, but we are not particularly thrifty either, so all of this was pretty new to us, and we were becoming aware that cheap tickets have some inconvenience built into the price.

 

Our lunch was great, and we had a delightful, lengthy conversation with the owner and staff as we were paying our bill, and they were closing up, but even with that, we still had time to kill before the bus came. We ordered a beer and a wine at a brasserie for half of the price in Paris. We looked at each other, both thinking at the same time that if we wanted to save money, we should move out of Paris. In silent agreement, we ditched frugality in favor of living well.

 

The ride from Brest to Saint-Renan was pretty; then we boarded a 15 seater jitney for Lampaul-Plouarzel. We rode down small country roads heading for the beach, and the young driver liked his music loud and American. All of the other passengers were locals, and even the little old ladies didn't complain about the thumping bass or foreign words bouncing off the walls of the little bus. We couldn't help smiling.

 

After about 10 hours of travel or waiting to travel, we arrived at our destination, a local bar called La Chaloupe. While waiting for our friends to pick us up, we looked across the dunes to the ocean, and even though it was the Atlantic instead of the Pacific, we felt right at home.

 

It was a great week. Our hosts were so generous. For six days, we were part of a French family. Evelyne's parents came to stay at the end of the week, and it was a real privilege for us to be in the same house with three generations.

 

Jim and Evelyne are incredibly active people, and their kids take after them. We tried to keep up, and we felt like we were doing pretty well in the beginning as we strained to keep them in sight on gently sloping bike rides and held our own hiking along the ocean trails. Still, by the end of the week, with their early morning ocean swims or kayaking and bike rides that even Lance would have found fun, we decided that the only way we could compete with this sportive family would be in the "enjoying a meal" competition. We had many great meals around their family table, and that was the one place where we kept up without a problem. We may not be as athletic as we would like, and we are a flop at being frugal, but we do know how to have a good time, and on this vacation, we did that well.

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Chez Fifi 

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This photo was our view from the back deck of our neighbor Gilles' boat, "Lisa-Belle," as we headed off towards the Marne, destination Chez Fifi for another "Sortie Guinguette" where we would celebrate Gilles' birthday.

We were a flotilla of 3 yacht club boats, each carrying a group of friends and stopping along the way to pick up others. The boats were small enough to enter the locks together from the Arsenal to Neuilly-sur-Marne, where we arrived late afternoon. The video shows what happened next.

 

There are kids in our neighborhood

We live in a unique French port. Most of the boaters here are French people who live on their boats and work in Paris. When we wintered in Roanne, the port was 10% French and 90% International. English was the default language among the boaters, mostly retired folks enjoying life on the French canals. In Paris, it is just the reverse; the port is 90% French and 10% International. We are one of the few couples here who are retired, and French is the port's language.

 

We live in the big boat area of the Arsenal. Our neighbors are French families, some of whom we have known since 2001. Our neighbor's son, who is now 10, used to play with a wooden sword that his father made for him when he was little. Dressed in his cape and sword, we would play on the quay. We watched from our wheelhouse as he would fight off an army of imaginary soldiers who were trying to conquer his homeland. One year, when he was about seven, he got a broom handle horse for Christmas. As the family went off to Grandma's house, he had on his cape and sword, and he carried his trusty steed across our boat to the pontoon where he swung his leg over and galloped off after his family. We couldn't help but smile.

 

Our friends who live a bit further along the pontoon have a son who just turned seven. He has always been good about correcting our French pronunciation, and now that he is starting English class in school, we help him with his English. His parents can tell if he is here by the bike parked at our front door, so they only come looking for him when they think that he may have overstayed his welcome.

 

Recently we heard a knock at the door early on a Sunday morning. We looked over, but couldn't see anyone at the door, so we knew it was our little tiny French teacher. He came in, and we talked of this and that. He told us that his parents had sent him to invite us to have lunch with them at 1 pm, and we said to him that we would be happy to come. Then he took the helm as he likes to do and said that he would take us to Chez Fifi, a cruise on the Marne that we have made with his family a couple of times, and he often pretends to take our boat there. These imaginary trips are always exciting. Ships appear out of nowhere, and rocks pop up in the middle of the river. He pretends to spin the wheel to avoid the hazard that only he can see, and thanks to his skills, we always arrive safely. He was looking for something else to do when his parents came to the door to say they had been waiting for him. He was supposed to ride his bike down to invite us to lunch and then come right home so that they could all go shopping. Oops! He got so busy saving our boat from sinking that he forgot that he was only supposed to come down to ask us to lunch. In the end, he stayed with us while his parents did the shopping, and everyone was happy with that arrangement.

 

Both boats moored behind us belong to young couples. One couple is expecting their first baby in February. Recently we heard construction noises coming from the inside of their boat, and when we asked, they told us that they were building a cabin for the baby.

 

The other couple has two children and a very charming cat called Nina. We have always been amazed by Nina and her, je ne sais quoi. She is different from other cats in that she can make people stop and pet her. It happens all of the time, and we always wonder just how she does it. About six months ago, an adorable Jack Russell puppy, Dude, was added to the family. He was smaller than Nina in the beginning, and now they are about the same size. Nina does not spend much time with her family as she seems to be more interested in how many strangers she can attract. Dude has a mind of his own and never comes when called, so we often hear not only the kids but sometimes the parents calling out "Dude" with a bit of frustration in their voices and a French pronunciation that makes us smile as we turn to each other and say, "Duuuude" is loose again.

 

Down the pontoon a bit, another young family has a nine-year-old son and expects their second child in January. When their son was little and went to school for the first time, he asked his classmates, "What is the name of your barge?" He thought everyone lived on a boat.

 

Halloween never really caught on in France, so last year, we were surprised when a couple of our little neighbors came by in homemade costumes looking for a treat. While we were busy trying to put cocktail peanuts in a bag for them, they threw a handful of confetti on the pontoon in front of our boat to warn other kids that this house is a waste of time. You won't get any candy here! That was a social faux pas that we didn't want to repeat this year, so we searched high and low before finding anything that resembled Halloween treats at our local market. We paid dearly for the mini candy bars, but at least we would not have to suffer the stigma of confetti this year.

 

We didn't know how many kids might come out Trick-or-Treating, but we knew the kids next door were planning to dress up for candy, so we asked their mom what time they might be coming by; we would be sure to be home. While we were out, we ran into our little friend's mom and reminded her that it was Halloween. We told her that we were prepared for Trick-or-Treaters this year, and she said that she hadn't thought about it but that she would come up with some sort of costume for her son.

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Just after dark we heard some ghostly noises, they got louder and louder and then there was a knock at our door. We looked at the window in the door, but we didn’t see anyone. Another knock, more scary noises, and we got up to investigate. We opened the door and gasped in fear. Two little ghosts were at our door. We screamed, and they giggled. Their mom watched and smiled as her cute little kids tried to figure out what to do next. Halloween is not a tradition that has been handed down from parent to child here, so they didn’t know what to say, but they had heard that they might get some candy if they came prepared with a big sack. The little ghost was so busy giggling that it was up to her big brother to push forward his bag so that we could toss in several little candy bars. We were still smiling when we closed the door and waited for the next knock.

Our little buddy, the barge pilot/French teacher, was the only other French kid trying out an American tradition. His mom had rummaged through the closet, and he was wearing an Irish hat, a Canadian shirt, swim goggles, and he was trying to look scary. We gave him most of the left-over candy and closed the door for the night.

 

There were a couple of mini Mars Bars in the candy bowl, and we realized, as we ate them with great pleasure, what a treat it is to have kids on the block again.

 

 Mise en bouteille sur le quai 

Gilles, the vice-commodore of the Yacht Club Paris Bastille, organized yet another fantastic port event. Neighbors gathered together on Saturday morning in front of the captain's office and worked until dark to bottle, cork, cap, and add personalized labels to about 1000 bottles of wine. Everyone worked hard, had a great time, and made a bit of money for our yacht club.

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