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 people 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 who we met in St. Jean this spring put us together with a barge instructor. On the momentous day that we finally cruised away from Saint-Jean, they rode along to make sure that we made it safely to Chalon-sur-Saône, where we would meet our instructor for five days of intense cruising, locking, and mooring lessons. 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 following day 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.