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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.
This 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.
Its 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.
It’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.
The 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
It’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.
Oo-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.
However, 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.
A 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.
The 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.
The 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
The 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.
Touring 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.
Cergy 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.
We’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