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
Click map to view larger version


(All photographs can be viewed at a larger size by clicking on the image)

The cruising season is still on, officially, until the beginning of November. Then work on the locks begins, closing off many waterways for sections of the winter. It is still possible to cruise but planning ahead of time is an absolute must so as not to get caught in front of a work stoppage. This year, however, several canals and even rivers have been made impassable due to the lack of rain. Already the Canal de la Marne au Rhin, the Canal des Vosges, Canal de Bourgogne and Canal du Centre are shut for the year. Our cruise over the Canal de Bourgogne was scary as we Bateauxwatched the water levels drop perilously low and the mud churn up from the bottom in the wake of the boat. At times we thought we weren’t going to make it and have to turn back. In addition to the closures, the Canal de la Meuse, Canal des Ardennes, Canal de la Marne-Rhin Ouest, Canal de la Marne-Rhin Est, Canal des Houillieres de la Sarre, and Canal Rhin-Rhone are all on restrictions by mid-August. This means that traffic is bundled up for each lock to reduce the amount of water usage. It can slow cruising down quite a bit as boats wait for others to arrive so that they can go through together. It turns out it was wise to move as quickly as we did up from the Canal du Midi – traveling is now tricky.

Gold BridgeThe first day of September marks Oo-La-la’s re-entry to Paris and the end of this season’s cruising for her. Coming up the Seine to Paris is the most exciting way to enter the city (as opposed to coming down) so the adventures of 2003 end with a mighty flourish. After leaving the Oise River (wahz), the Seine flows for about 70 kilometers before reaching the city limits; peniches appear regularly on the banks of a leafy hillside suburb.

Lady BridgeRF BridgeGilded bridges lined with wrought iron street lamps welcome us to central Paris and pedestrians wave as the boat passes underneath. In this lane of water the bateaux-mouches (tourist boats) parade daily.

Eiffel TowerTraffic is thick squeezing in between the numerous peniches and guide boats as the Seine goes through the heart of Paris, gliding by their Statue of Liberty; the Eiffel Tower looms just beyond and the river seems to go right under it. Passing by the enormous base, there is no better view of the monument from sea level beneath its foundation to the very top. The gateway to Arsenal is quite discreet but by now we’re familiar with the way in and happily make the re-entry – this time for the duration of the winter.

Street BralliesLast month the best part of Paris during the murderous heat wave was the famous ‘beach’ on the banks of the Seine. Several pictures of Parisians enjoying this manmade paradise are included here – there’s no question of its tremendous success during the month of August. Its not just some sand poured on the quai for people to sit on. It’s much, much more than that.

Rob & WaterFor parching the thirst, drinking water springs from numerous temporary fountains that jet several steady streams under which people gladly park a water bottle to be filled. People crowded around these spring points refilling empties and even dipping their heads under for relief from the hundred degree weather.

HammocksSand SculptureThere were also misting showers, kiosks, restaurants, bars, pretty blue beach chairs to sit on under matching umbrellas, hammocks slung under trees (always full), sand castle building competitions, musical concerts, petanque and, yes, lots of beach sand that went on for about five kilometers in total along the Seine River. The heat wave is over now, thankfully, and the weather is cool, about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a real pleasure to be here even if ‘la plage’ has gone away.

Arsenal GenieArsenal is located directly under the watchful eye of the golden ‘genie’ perched on the high verdigris pole of the Place de la Bastille; the outdoor metro station (Bastille) overlooks the entire marina. With the cool weather its now possible to run around and do more enthusiastic exploring. Every Sunday there is a large open-air market on Rue Lenoir, just a short walk away. There the merchants come together to sell an extraordinary variety of goods.

Sundays find us lugging a large straw ‘panier’ full of fresh produce, fish, spices, cheese and meats, much of it at a substantially lower price than the commercial supermarkets. But its not just good shopping – its good fun too. The merchants are very personable and personal, making wisecracks about each other and the buying public too. They work hard, enticing people with artistic displays and vocal entreaties to come forward and taste, touch, smell or see their wares, whatever they may be. In addition to food there are clothing, kitchenware, jewelry, fabrics, tablecloths and cushion covers for sale.

The first Thursday of every month the yacht club at Arsenal sets up a barbeque that starts at 8:30 in the evening. People come from the boats with platters to lay on the barbie, wine is supplied by our hosts. Its an excellent opportunity to meet the neighborhood and have fun. By 9:30 there are about a hundred folks milling about, you never know who you’re going to meet. The group consists of people from all over the world. Truly an international crowd, everyone mixes in with each other despite language difficulties. In fact many use this as an opportunity to practice French, English or whatever other language they would like to learn.

The ancient walls of the marina at Arsenal are getting a facelift. Monday to Friday from 8AM to 3PM an army of workers arrives to redo the mortar and replace stones where needed. They are a cheerful team and hail from many different countries in Europe. There’s an Italian masoner who often sings as he works, even during the rain. Portuguese and Spanish are also discernible and some one likes to whistle and does so very skillfully, sounding like a bird perched high in the scaffolding. The work is moving quickly and it looks like they will be finished by the time winter arrives.

On September 13th, a Saturday, there is an enormous party taking over the Place de la Bastille. Several stages for a hairdo competition have been set up and hairstylists are creating wild concoctions on people’s heads with the help of stiff hair gel and spools of multi-colored ties. Music booms down to the Arsenal and there must be thousands of people milling about having a good time. Its called the Techno Parade and this is the fifth year its been on. Seems to be a success.

Dinner - CharlesCharles invites us to a soiree at his beautifully renovated place in the 2nd arrondissement. He completely gutted the building and even put the floors in; the results are worth it since its now a fabulous living space. With Marie-Alice and Carol we enjoy a great Indian supper.

Last year, in Montpellier, we were able to take advantage of the yearly wine fair at all supermarkets in France. This year in Paris we get some excellent Cote du Rhone with high marks from Wine Spectator and a Chardonnay that was stored in oak barrels giving it a lovely flavor. You don’t need to spend more than a few euros to get very good bottles. We find the wines from the south are still the best buys, avoiding Bordeaux and Burgundy that tend to get highly exported and thus over priced. But Faugeres, Gaillac, Minervois, Corbieres, and Buzet are still amongst the favorites and relatively undiscovered.

Rob & MumMonday, September 22 we wake up to the unusual sound of loud automobile noises. Arsenal is an oasis from the traffic, being in a basin with high walls to buffer the sound. But this morning there is a non-stop claxon of impatient horns. We find out later that it is No Car Day and to encourage alternative transportation several streets have been blocked off to cars resulting in traffic snarls. Apparently not enough folks took heed of No Car Day and suffered for it. Better luck next year.

CatsWe welcome Betty O’Neill, Rob’s mom, from Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri to Oo-La-La this September. She has just finished a trip to Ireland, tracing family lineage and has come to see us in Paris. The weather is cooperating, sunny and cool and we’re looking forward to having fun with her exploring Paris in the first days of October, a terrific way to kick off the autumn season.

.....on to October


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