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Travelogue: France - 2003

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Winter in Paris 2003-2004

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

SnowThe end of Winter in Paris and the beginning of Spring, we understand now why so much is said about ‘springtime in Paris’ – the winter is cold! But, having said that, it is still Paris and the gothic charm that descends upon the city during these months makes cozy fireplaces, hot chocolate, and the heat lamps on the sidewalk cafes very wonderful. Those who stayed the entire time at Port Arsenal formed a merry band; there are quite a few live-a-boards from all over the world. Several couples from California, a few others from the Eastern Seaboard of the USA, an entire family of five from Denmark, a New Zealand pair of gals who have sailed their boat for the past 9 years together and two English couples, one of which live aboard their pretty bright red narrow boat!

Rob & Neighbours But above all it is the French who live here all year round at Port Arsenal who provide the welcome and warmth.Al & Joan Most of the boaters in the marina are French, probably more than half. They live in a great variety of vessels, from luxury-converted tjalks, to motor yachts and ex-hire fiberglass cruisers. There are even a few beautifully restored wood sailboats that look lovingly cared for, even in the midst of the most wintry weather. We all continue to congregate monthly at the barbeque and then separately on each other’s boats.

ClaudIt snowed on New Year’s Day in Port Arsenal, creating a magical scene in the marina. However, snow was rare and it never lasted long. Mostly there was rain and it lifted the level of the Seine River almost to the top of the Arsenal lock that keeps the boats safe from the rising river. Many times we walked over the lock, observing that mere centimeters created the difference in the level of the canal versus the river. Once that level is even, the lock ceases to operate and is left open until the water comes back down. It happened two years ago, the water level of the river rising several feet above that of the canal.

Za ZaPort LockArsenal was flooded, the quays submerged and the floating docks inched up the pilings creating discomfort. The water this year stayed low enough to keep the lock working, but just. Our walks over the various bridges of the Seine such as the Pont Neuf and Pont Marie would find us pointing out various parts of the banks that had disappeared under the rising water: park benches, lamp posts, even roads were affected. Sometime in February these items reappeared to stay for the rest of the year. Whew!

Let’s start at the beginning of the holiday season: Thanksgiving. In France? But of course! There are enough Americans in this French capital to enable a store called Thanksgiving to cater to their every whim. It is only a few minutes stroll away from Arsenal and they stock everything from canned pumpkin to Pepto Bismol. The adjoining restaurant serves on Turkey Day as well just in case you are not into cooking. We were lucky enough to be invited on board Nooit Gedacht, a 23-meter (about 70 foot) long tjalk and a lovely home. Patrick and Lynn, from the San Francisco Bay area, created a luscious meal with turkey rotisseried by the local butcher and Lynn’s recipe for maple cream pie – divine.

Patrick BoatThe Paris Wine Salon took place the end of November and it was absolutely huge. Hundreds of vintners covered a space the size of a football field – we quickly admitted defeat faced with bottled armies from Burgundy, Champagne, Bordeaux, the Rhone valley, etc. - virtually every wine region in the country. The sheer size of the salon daunted the most dedicated taster from battling across. Since it was still morning we enjoyed testing a few champagnes, then retreated to lunch. It was a memorable experience and taught us to stick to the smaller wine tasting events.

Fest VinWe continue to enjoy wines from the south of France, especially from the region around the Canal du Midi. Paris has proven to be an excellent place to buy these wines at very low prices, much to our surprise. Many of our friends enjoy wine as well and we exchange bottles regularly, it is a great excuse for a happy hour or dinner. The best deals are found not in the wine shops, which are often very warm and a poor climate in which to store wine bottles. It’s the chilly grocery stores that stock excellent buys. However there is no wine expert around to counsel one on what to buy and the variety is daunting, to say the least. So Rob wrote up a guideline that he calls “Marlane’s Rules for Wine”. We’d like to share this with you, let us know what you think!

Marlane’s Rules for Wine by Rob

  1. Start with the bottle itself
    The bottle should be heavy with a deep dimple in the bottom.
  2. Now look at the label. A.O.C. = Appellation Origine Contrôlée
    The wine was produced and the grapes blended within the regional control.
  3. Mis en Bouteille au Château or Propriétaire
    Means the vintner, not a cooperative or factory, bottled this wine.
  4. Fut en Chene, is French for Oak barrel which adds a nutty or woody flavor, a taste we like.
  5. Numbered bottle.
    Some vintners number each bottle they produce, a sign of extra care in the production.
  6. Vintage, two or more years old.
    The year the wine was produced but not necessarily bottled.
  7. Medailles (Medals)
    The wine won high rank at a wine festival and the medal is usually a sticker not printed within the label. Beware of labels that have a design that looks like a medal but, on close inspection, is not. The real medals are gold, silver and bronze and say what city and year the award was given as well as the name of the wine fair. They are independent stickers on the bottle.

It would stand to reason that a medaled bottle of wine should be expensive…but this is not so! This might sound surprising, especially if you're used to buying wines in classy hotels in the mold of the brighton hotel, but it's true! Great bottles of wine can be had for less than three euros (about $3.60 as of this writing), in fact several of our favorites are about two euros thirty ($2.80). It doesn’t take a lot to get great quality; often price is just a factor of popularity and publicity – nothing to do with taste! Surprisingly some of the biggest disappointments in France are in the famous wine regions such as Bordeaux or Burgundy where the best bottles are exported around the globe for small fortunes.

DickinsonWine gives one a great warm glow inside but as December rolls around Rob gets serious about the heating – he installs an Antarctic Dickinson Diesel stove made in Canada. Made of shiny stainless steel it’s large fireplace gives off tremendous heat and looks good enough to warm on the coldest day; it was designed for the fishing boats in the North Pacific. The installation went well, easier than getting the stove into France through customs. It sat in customs for weeks as we received various bills for exorbitant duty charges on every little part. Finally we told the shipper to send it back. On a trip to Key West, Florida we had the manufacturer ship it to us there – taken as luggage it sailed through French customs despite the enormity of the packaging. The stove heats the radiators that are spread around various areas in the boat and is lovely.

Marlane & BettyLouvreTo while away some of the winter evenings in front of the fire it was a delight to read “The DaVinci Code” by Dan Brown and explore some of the many Parisian sites that played a part in the book. Church St. Sulpice is particularly eerie and The Louvre took on a new significance. It is said that special guided ‘DaVinci Code’ tours are springing up in Paris as the old becomes renewed.

Maye & MarlaneMarlane’s book “Living the Dream on the Canals of England” was published the end of 2003 and is available on as well as A few weeks later she had the great fortune to meet Mr. Peter Mayle author of “A Year in Provence”. His new book, “A Good Year” has just come out as well. We have admired his work for a decade and first learned of petanque through his stories.

CF GuitarRob & LouisHowever the books are closed for serious partying with new friends, the agenda for December, and everyone enjoys a round robin of dinner parties and happy hours. Sailboat Sugar with the two Kiwi gals, Chris and Millie, share a great and simple recipe: dates wrapped in bacon and sautéed – yum! Their boat is an Amel and they entertained us with stories of staying in Venice, Italy for several weeks. Their previous boat was a Westsail just as the premier Oo-La-La was as well. A few days later Joan and Al from ‘Dol-fijn’ took us along on a road trip to Belgium where we followed some of their past voyages along the beautiful Meuse River. Belgium may speak French but is very different from France in architecture, landscape, food and personality. It really felt like we went farther than a three-hour trip would normally take one. Christmas Eve was chez Charles in his duplex near the Pompidou – it was a toasty evening spent with his partner Michael along with Carole and Marie-Alice. Christmas Day found us aboard Dolfijn with numerous friends from all over the port and the world.

* *
Arsenal Party New Years New Years 2 Lynn NY Happy New Year!

The days get chillier and the holidays see some of the coldest temperatures yet. By New Year’s Eve it is freezing but Fabian and Ting host a semi-outdoor party; at least 50 people attend and all are merry until the wee hours. There is even a Scotsman in full dress with bagpipes; he and his French wife have a place in Paris and keep their boat ‘Andante’ in nearby Nogent. The photos say it all.

Even though the website has now converted to seasonal from monthly editions, we still receive mail from all over the planet and love it. Google can translate the site for non-English speakers and the reports are that it does a pretty good job. The guestbook has over a hundred signees; we only post messages expressly written for the guestbook, never private mail to us through the ‘contact’ button or otherwise. Some very exciting and wonderful stories have been shared – but we respect the privacy of your communication to us. We enjoyed hearing from handicapped readers who dream of exploring Europe’s waterways. Many sailors with physical challenges successfully cruise on narrowboats, motor yachts and sailboats; often hireboats are especially designed for easy access to all. We say go for it.

Web FriendsWeb Friends 2We also had the great pleasure of meeting several readers of the website who dropped by to chat in person! One couple, Diane and George, have just converted their hard copy magazine “France On Your Own” to cyberspace. It is a great read and guide to the pleasures of France. Marlane was honored to contribute to the first Internet issue, a truly beautiful creation and it’s free! Click on and enjoy. Speaking of Magazines, our website was very favorably reviewed by “Living France” a glossy and prestigious hardcopy magazine dedicated to France and French property in particular. They give the site a 10 out of 10 and say the only thing against it is “It may tempt you to weigh anchor and set off down the Canal du Midi at once!”

Rob & MarketMeanwhile Rob valiantly continues to attend daily French classes, he is a trooper. It is true that most Parisians speak some English now, much more than they ever did before, but he is determined to ‘parler’ with the best of them.

Winter MarcheDespite the cold the outdoor markets flourish and now feature winter vegetables. Several new varieties of potatoes appear; one of them is a deep purple color. France has dozens of potato types, having discovered them as a delicacy in the new world; there are potato marchands who offer bins with an array of colorful choices. Zucchinis, squash, nuts, spices and cured meats are plentiful along with steaming pots of ‘choucroute’; home-made sauerkraut with sausages and ham that are only available in winter. Fresh oysters and mussels are everywhere and the merchants hand out free samples. We also discovered another daily outdoor market in the Place Aligre, only a few blocks away. It is an Arab market and the prices are even lower than in the French market that is already about half the price of the supermarket. It tells us a lot about what we pay to shop through large chain stores: the cost is dear not just to buyers but to the sellers as well. Everyone wins buying direct from the producer and it makes good sense to resist the monolithic Carrefour, Monoprix, and Leader Price stores. Maybe we are becoming French!

Speaking of shopping, the ‘soldes’ or twice yearly big sales roll around end of January. We speculate the countrywide sale of clothing originated with the high-end haute-couture retailers. These six week sales occur just before the new line of high-end fashion rolls out on the cat walks; everyone wants to empty their stores of the old season to bring in the new. The discounts are up to 80 percent on some of the most unique designer items in Paris. The streets are full of shopping bag laden people taking advantage and the cafes do a brisk business as well.

So February rolls in with some bright sunshine and hopeful thoughts of spring. The dollar is shrinking against the euro but living in Paris is not as expensive as New York or London. Lunch at an elegant Parisian restaurant averages about 10 euros for a ‘prix fixe’ and the museums are free on the first Sunday of every month. So there are ways to make up the difference and not feel the pinch.

Around mid-February we attended the Democratic Caucus at the American Church in Paris. The turn out is astounding and there is not enough room to hold the over 2,500 ex-pat Americans. It is a record crowd and we are moved into the main part of the church; they spill over the sides of the pews. We leave after a couple of hours, feeling we did our duty as voters, but happy to be living outside of the fray.

Talking about politics, the French are still up in arms over many issues that affect their economy. Most important of all, workers from all professions are protesting budget cuts and attempts to reduce the amount of holidays (the most in Europe and perhaps the world). Even the lawyers went on strike for a couple of days. Manifestations (strikes and demonstrations) are abundant in Paris; one day the pompiers (firemen) created a huge scene at the Place Bastille, stopping traffic with numerous trucks and blowing up flares and other fireworks, enough to create a gigantic cloud of pink and gray smoke that floats over the Arsenal. The days of the Revolution live on!

Marlane & NikitaVenicianMarch brings delightfully warm and sunny weather for at least two weeks. People stroll around in T-shirts and shorts. Lovers loll on the still-green grass and families picnic in the parks. The trees start to bud and the daffodils are in full bloom. People appear in boats that have lain quiet and lifeless all winter. Tarps are taken off and hoses are all over the docks, boaters washing off the winter to get ready to go. Many boats depart, taking advantage of the warmth to get an early start. We say good-bye to Al and Joan of ‘Dol-fijn’, the Kiwis on ‘Sugar’, the Danish catamaran family on ‘Tango’ and Harry of London. New boats come in as well, but are only on a short stopover. The tide has turned. Winter is officially over and to celebrate there is a special event at Arsenal: Venetian Carnival!

Venice 2French ClassMarlane is in French class now and invites fellow students to partake in the colorful celebration at Arsenal. The weather is clear and warm so Parisians fill the basin. The costumes are spectacular as dozens of masked persons elegantly float about on the quay, graciously allowing their photo to be taken by hundreds of onlookers. Some chilled white wine with friends aboard Oo-La-La completes the beautiful day. These photos are particularly lovely.

Cafe BlueIn the evening we meet with fellow boaters for a celebratory dinner at Le Grand Bleu, the restaurant located in the marina. Everyone is tired but happy with the fun and festivities of the day and we find energy to dance and party until the wee hours.

SharonCarlosA few others poped in for a visit this winter, Rob’s sister Sharon and friend Doriane and Cuban artist Carlos Tamayo

Now it is the middle of April and Spring is here to stay. During the winter we kept in touch with friends we made along the way while cruising. One couple, Gerard and Odile, are very interested in buying Oo-La-La. While we don’t really want to give up the lifestyle, we realize she is a lot of motor for the rivers and canals. She is truly built and equipped for the sea and Gerard is excited about the opportunity to cruise France’s coastline. Rob and Marlane are still dedicated to inland waterway cruising and would like a boat with just one (quieter) motor that is purpose built for European canal cruising. We agree on a price that, along with cash, includes Gerard’s 20-foot cruiser, Ti Punch. We will either sell her or, if not, cruise remote canals and lakes since she is delivered on her own trailer. After an initial meeting onboard in February, they declare their interest to be serious. We make a rendezvous with the boatyard in Meaux to have her surveyed and inspected. If all goes well then Oo-La-La will have new owners.

Train BlueOddly enough one of Rob’s long time and dear friends from St. Louis, Ted Reisinger and his friend Mary Kate visited us as well. The real strange part is that we had lunch with Ted in New York City the day the QE2 took us to England. Again, the last day we were in London before coming to France. The day after selling the narrow boat, we had lunch together at the Engineers Pub. Now the day before we leave Paris on Oo-La-La, we meet again that afternoon at the famous restaurant Le Train Bleu at the Gare de Lyon in Paris. We wish them both very well, Ted proposed to Mary Kate that evening at the Eiffel tower and she accepted. Cheers!

ZazaLater that night ZaZa has a farewell dinner for us on board ‘Aphrodite’ – she makes a wonderful dish of tuna tartare. In company are Chantal and Christian of sailboat Danae and Patrick of Nooit Gedacht. It will be sad to say goodbye to our neighborhood.

LayoutIt is a beautiful sunny day motoring to Meaux. Once we arrive, Francois, the owner of the marina, greets us. Gerard and Odile arrive the next morning as Oo-La-La is hauled out of the water. After a long and thorough inspection, the boat passes with flying colors. Oo-La-La now belongs to Gerard and Odile from Sezanne in Champagne.

Grd OdileThe next day Gerard brings his boat, Ti-Punch, to Meaux. Francois asks if it is for sale since he has a buyer looking for a boat like this. We reply that it is. Mr. Denis is selling his lovely English wide-boat called ‘Sweety’ and wants a fast little speedboat. Ti-Punch is aptly named since it carries a wallop in the 90 horsepower outboard motor. It fits his bill perfectly. Oops, we just sold another boat.

We accompany Gerard and Odile for their first day onboard Oo-La-La. They will keep the name. It is a cloudless sky that joins us the entire day. For lunch we all celebrate with champagne, smoked salmon, Odile’s delicious roast pork and homemade cherry tart. They also bring along an enormous jar of cherries pickled in ‘eau de vie’, a strong alcoholic beverage. The cherries have been marinating for four years and literally explode in our mouths with flavor. Heady stuff. It is a perfect cruising day. In Nogent friends from Sezanne, who will spend the weekend on board, meet them. We say goodbye to everyone and to our beloved Oo-La-La at the port where a taxi waits to whisk us back to Paris to the 16th arrondissement where our new home will be.

Paris ViewSo here we are, boatless in Paris. However, we have plans. Stay tuned for the spring/summer edition of the adventure continues!

.....on to Southern France


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