Follow the ongoing travels and adventures of Rob and Marlane as they cruise the Canals of the UK and Europe aboard their narrow boat 'Oo-La-La', read the monthly account of their travels and view photos documenting those travels. Follow the adventures of Rob and Marlane as they cruise the canals of England and Europe aboard their narrow boat OO-LA-LA
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Travelogue: France - 2003

France Map - showing our current area of travels, click to view larger version
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(All photographs can be viewed at a larger size by clicking on the image)

The Yonne River is a lovely stretch of wide and calm waters that measures 108 kilometers with 26 locks. France is in the midst of one of the worst heat waves in history with temperatures soaring well above 40 degrees Centigrade or 100 degrees Fahrenheit daily. So cruising along this cool river it is commonplace to see bathers on the shore and leaping from high pontoons, originally built to accommodate large peniches. Gaggles of teenagers frolic happily in the water and wave to the boats passing by. In the evening sometimes we join them to take the edge off the crushing heat. The water is surprisingly cold and very refreshing. But when will this heat go away? It seems each day is worse than the day before.

PenicheThis encourages cruising in order to enjoy the breeze the boat makes. The locks on the Yonne River are a challenge since the lock walls slope inwards. With two propellers on each side, Oo-La-La has to be careful not to scrape the boat. This is how we meet new friends, Josie and Berri of Yatagan. Having one center propeller, they kindly allow us to moor onto them as we lock through together. A merry and interesting Dutch couple we enjoy some convivial evenings together. They have been cruising every summer for several years and moor in Holland during the winter during which they stay in their house. For several days Oo-La-La and Yatagan cruise up the Yonne and onto the Seine River. The scenery remains enchanting as the river passes through deep valleys with beautiful tall trees that frame impressive mansions.

Barry JoseIts very exciting as well for the great city of Paris is just around the corner. Hard to believe since the countryside is still prevalent, and one day’s cruise away from the city there are rolling farmlands on each side of the Seine.

MansionIt’s a brilliant sunny morning as Yatagan and Oo-La-La pull out of the evening mooring at Juvisy sur Orge, where there is an excellent marina in a protected harbor. These moorings are precious since there are few facilities on the rivers. I am so excited about arriving in Paris; Josie has to give me a little pinch so we know it’s not just a dream. Coming from the south on the Seine, the city arrives with an industrial presence, it’s not the most picturesque entry (that happens later coming from the other side) since there are mostly construction companies and shopping malls. Eventually they give way to the classical beautiful mansard buildings and one feels finally, this is Paris.

Pont ParisThe bridges are numerous and ornate, many with gold painted carvings and each has impressive sculptures decorating the parapet that only water travelers can observe completely from their vantage point. But appreciating the artwork is dangerous; the water is full of all kinds of boats and we’re trying to keep eyes open for the entrance to the Arsenal Marina, located right next to the Place de la Bastille. It’s easy to miss, a very discreet opening with modest brown lettering above the lock gates that say Port Arsenal de Paris. The traffic light is red, but with a call on the VHF radio the lock starts to operate and eventually the gates open. In company with Yatagan, Oo-La-La sails inside and everyone is grateful that the lock is in a small tunnel, giving some shade from the strong sun as it fills up. Even here, there are gongoozlers watching the whole time, about 20 minutes, as the boats rise up. Finally the gates open.

French GongoozeIt’s amazing that Arsenal exists at all. To have the luxury of a full service marina in the heart of one of the greatest cities in the world; there are very few others that can boast of this. The welcome quai is just ahead and the boats are docked. Inside the modern (and air conditioned) office we meet with Bernard and Bruno, two of a charming team of three, the third being Guillaume. This will be home for the winter.

Marlane EiffelOo-La-La is lucky to have air-conditioning on board and no time is wasted finding the electrical connection and plugging in. It is the beginning of the second week of August and the crushing heat shows no sign of retreat. So people move slowly or not at all, if they can help it. But nothing can dampen our enthusiasm and the sidewalk cafes still beckon along with some of the classic sights such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower.

castallaneHowever, the year’s cruising is not yet done, we’re just here to check out the new winter base. After a few days, Yatagan departs to pick up their daughter and husband as guests. We’re reluctant to unplug until the heat relents, but eventually pull up stakes and head out to do a circuitous route of the Ile de France.

OO-LA-LA EpernayA body of land surrounded by rivers and canals it is possible to turn left on the Seine River leaving Arsenal and make a big circle, turning onto the Marne, then the Oise River, which turns into the Aisne and then back on the Seine, arriving back in Paris from the other side. Ile de France is a land packed with historical battles, chateaus and vineyards. Special vineyards, for these grapes are the ones that go into the making of champagne and the caves are packed along the river banks. A champagne tour is perfect for celebrating the season’s cruising.

Rob MoetThe weather finally cooperates and by the middle of August the heat wave has broken – cool weather is back and what a relief it is. Within four days leaving Paris the famous Champagne village of Epernay is in sight. Here sit the stately and famous champagne houses such as Moet et Chandon, Mumm’s, Veuve Cliquot and many others. But the one that tugs at us is Castellane, a champagne known mostly only in France since it is not exported much. Their ornate water tower can be observed from all parts of town. We last visited their cave nine years ago and decided to do it again along with a visit to the lovely lady whose hotel and restaurant we frequented on two separate point visits to explore the French waterways by bicycle and then mopeds. Madame Prejent is always welcoming and a fabulous cook to boot.

Port EpernayThe moorings at Epernay are a delight, a great example to other towns as to what a village marina should be. On arrival we rejoin Yatagan and enjoy complimentary champagne cocktails in the marina bar. Well, the first one was complimentary, but we had to have several more. They introduce us to another Dutch couple on motorboat Santro, who spent a lifetime as professionals working their own peniche. So what do they do in retirement? Well, cruise in their motorboat of course. The waterways never lose their sparkle; it’s a pleasure to see.

Prejent DoorThe second morning in Epernay we visit the little hotel hoping to find it the same. Sure enough, it is still there, but a sign on the door tells us sadly that it is closed for reasons of health. There are people inside so we knock. A young woman opens up and I ask if Madame is still around. She is, and she comes over to say hello. While she is physically not well she still has the same sparkle in her eyes and stands upright, her spirit is strong. We thank her for all the good times we had and how touching it was that she remembered us when we returned, the first time with bikes and the second two years later with mopeds. The photo of her at the bar shows a great lady with a talent and love of the art of hospitality. Epernay will not be the same without her.

Mmme ProjentTouring the caves of Castellane, we decide to make the climb up the water tower for a spectacular view of Epernay and the river – Oo-La-La is visible, a vision of a dream come true, to be waterborne in the heart of Champagne. After the climb there is no time lost in enjoying some of the delicious bubbly.

After a couple of days, it is time to leave and say goodbye to Epernay and Josie and Berri of Yatagan. We’ll be seeing them in Holland some day soon. Oo-La-La continues cruising on the Marne and then, after a couple of days, turns onto a canal that brings her to the cathedral city of Reims. The marina is handy to visit the city from, being very close to the center. Champagne is everywhere, there are even bars that serve only champagne. We enjoy the sights of the city, its cathedral and museums.

Leaving Reims, the canal travels between two busy roads. The city eventually gives way to rolling farmlands and the peace of the country again. There are no maps of the Oise River to be found in the bookstores, so thanks to a couple of neighboring cruisers, copies of their guidebooks were made. It’s a good thing too since the facilities on the water now become very scarce indeed. The second day finds Oo-La-La traveling up a river backwater to a secluded mooring in the midst of a national park. Campers on the riverbank run to say hello and watch the boat dock.

There is also a lot of peniche traffic along the Oise and the Aisne. Many of these large boats are heavily laden with grain or sand, so they can’t move very fast. Luckily they are all kind enough to wave us on past them. But in the evening the boat rocks with their wake. In the town of Maxence the water is particularly bouncy, but by 7PM the traffic stops since the locks are closed. The last bargee goes by and we give him a friendly wave. Despite the fact that his wife is all dressed he is stark naked and not too shy to give a wave back along with a big smile. We have to smile as well, he’s not the first ‘naturalist’ seen on the waters – that was a fisherman who wore nothing but his hat and some wading boots.

Approaching Paris again, the town of Isle d’Adam (Adam’s Island) is a delight. Beautiful gardens, an island beach and ornate bridges this was a retreat for the writer Balzac who called it paradise. It still is.

Port CergyCergy has a first rate marina surrounded by new condominiums and theme style restaurants and pubs, Disney-like in atmosphere. Nice, but artificial style, it’s a handy stop. At Reuil sur Seine the moorings marked in the guidebook are ruined in reality, the pontoons in disrepair. But happily, on the other side of the river, is a swank office/hotel development with excellent (and free) mooring that’s not mentioned at all in the guide.

Lib EiffelWe’d love to continue cruising but canal and even river closures are widespread due to the heat wave and lack of rain. The water levels are too low for most boats to cruise safely. So we’ll park in Paris at the end of this journey, the season over for this year. September 1 marks Oo-La-La’s re-entry via the north end of the Seine, a glorious homecoming. Stay tuned for September and Paris.

.....on to September


canals, cruising, boats, travel   canals, cruising, boats, travel