France at 5 MPH
A week on a French canal and more
Click on ThumbnailMay/June, 2005

By Jack Welsch

This was a trip my wife, Linda, and I had anticipated for years. Its core was a week on a French canal boat. I had read something about these boats many years ago but something always came up to head us in another direction. While some are attracted to the larger, crewed “hotel” barges, we wanted to "do our own thing". By that I mean we simply rented the boat; no captain or crew other than ourselves. To make the long flight worthwhile, we added 2 days in Paris to the front end and a week with a car at the back. On this trip, we invited our friends, Helen and Earl. They had not been to Europe so I suggested an itinerary that would give them a good overview.

Since the heart of the trip was the canal portion, that was the starting point for planning; everything else being supplemental. The first choice was country. Since I'd first thought about barging in France and since I love it so, that was an easy choice. Next was region, specific canal, charter company, and specific boat type. I did a fair bit of research and Crown Blue Line seemed to offer the most attractive boats and itineraries. Some itineraries had a LOT of locks and it seemed like one would spend an excessive amount of time in them so we selected a section of the Canal Lateral à la Loire between Briare and Decize. We arranged the one-week rental over a year in advance. CBL has an office in Annapolis, MD and Debbie books the France trips. She was absolutely delightful to deal with. I cannot recommend CBL or Debbie strongly enough.

To make a more substantial trip, we decided to spend some time in Paris on the front end and then rent a car to "bang around" for a week on the back end.

What follows is a diary of events. As always, I've left in quite a bit of personal material just to lend a flavor. As usual, I've included a few links and, where possible, they're to English-language sites.

Wednesday, May 25

Earl agreed to drive to the airport in their van so we met at their house at 11:00 for the trip to Philadelphia with a stop for lunch in Allentown. Arriving at PHL at 2:00, we were parked and through security by 3:15. Unfortunately, we were in terminal E and that one has no connection to the others so, while we had hoped to walk over to the US Airways club, we were trapped in the rather restrictive terminal E. The flight was on Air France but we booked it through Delta because it was cheaper. We boarded a bit late at about 7:00 and departed a bit behind schedule. The trip was normal, that is long and boring. However, we actually had an excellent coq au vin!

Thursday, May 26

Arriving at Charles Degaulle at about 8:45 AM, we found the airport under construction and consequently a real mess. We had to descend from the plane to the tarmac and were taken by bus. After a long bus ride, a lot of walking and a great deal of confusion, we got the RER train to the Notre Dame - St. Michel stop. I’d hoped to use the exit that would bring us up almost across from Notre Dame so Helen and Earl would get an impactful first look at the city but, sadly, we ended up further along on Blvd St. Michel. Because I'd enjoyed a previous stay there, I'd booked us rooms at the Hôtel d’Angleterre in St. Germain des Prés. Foolishly, I suggested we walk to the hotel. I’d apparently forgotten how far it was so, by the time we got there a little after 11:00, I was less than popular with the other folks!

MontmartreThe rooms were not available so, after leaving the bags at reception, we went by cab to Montmartre where, after visiting Sacre Coeur & walking around Place du Tertre, we had lunch at an open-air café. Running out of steam by now, we walked down the steps & got the Metro to Rue du Buc, then walked to hotel, arriving at 3:00.

Unfortunately, our room, number 3, was tiny & loud. After the great room I had last time, I was very disappointed and Lin couldn’t imagine why I’d recommended this hotel.

Before leaving home, we’d made arrangements to meet our longtime friend, Anne for dinner on Friday. I gave her a call to make contact and we agreed I'd select a restaurant and call her back in the morning with details.

Dinner in ParisThe more I thought about the room, the more upset I got so I went to reception to complain. They said there was no option for tonight but they’d change it tomorrow. Finally, I lay down after asking for a wakeup for 5:30. Since I failed to specify PM, they naturally assumed I was setting a call for the AM so 5:30 came and went without a call. At 6:30, I woke and realized the error so we jumped out of bed. Of course, Helen & Earl had been waiting since 6. We agreed to just walk around the neighborhood and find a restaurant. Before leaving, however, I asked at the reception about a restaurant for tomorrow night’s dinner with Anne. His recommendation for Le Petit Zinc squared with my friend Theo’s and it was only a block away so we stopped there to make a 8:00 reservation for tomorrow. Tonight, we ended up at La Brasserie St. Benoit for an excellent dinner with superb service. We were back in the room shortly after 10:00, whereupon we crashed and burned.

Friday, May 27

La ChappelleThe small bed & the noise from the courtyard made sleep difficult. I'd set 4 alarms for about 7:45 but missed them all! Fortunately, voices in the courtyard woke me at 8:00. As agreed, we met Helen and Earl for breakfast in the courtyard @ 8:30 & got out of the hotel by 9:20. Walking the few blocks to the Metro station at St. Germain de Prés, we took a train to Cité where our first stop was at St. Chapelle. What an incredible surprise that was! While we’d all heard a lot about the windows, none of us was prepared for the sight! The chapel is very small but the stained-glass is absolutely overwhelming.

La Tour EiffelAfter the obligatory visit to the somber Notre Dame, we bought a day-ticket for L'OpenTour and grabbed a bus to Place de la Concord. Walking along Rue de Rivoli, we had lunch at l'Imperial, then continued on through the Tuilleries to the Louvre where we saw the popular 3; Venus de Milo, Winged Victory and the Mona Lisa. On the bus again, we had to go back past Notre Dame before going on to the Tour Eiffel. Helen & Earl went up into the tower but I’ve done it and Lin’s afraid of heights so she and I walked west a couple of blocks & relaxed over crepes & wine at Le Bailli de Suffren. In our opinion, THAT's what Paris is all about! When we returned to the Tour Eiffel, Helen & Earl were just arriving at the meeting point so we took the bus to Les Invalides, then transferred for the hotel.

After a very short rest, we showered and dressed for dinner. As Lin and I were waiting for Helen & Earl, who should enter the lobby but Peter Bolin!! Peter is a nationally-known architect who has done a lot of work for our company. He and his wife had just come back from Provence. We talked for a few minutes but I realized we were going to be late meeting Anne so I broke away and headed for the restaurant while Lin stayed behind to wait for Helen and Earl. It was good I chose to do so since I walked into the restaurant immediately behind Anne. Anne is a beautiful woman and a wonderful person and she looks better than ever. It was great to see her again. She and I were seated just a few minutes before the others arrived.

Dinner and service at Le Petit Zinc were both excellent. Though the reservations were for 8:00, it was after 11:30 when we left. I walked Anne to her car while the others walked to the hotel. Before going up to bed, I asked the desk clerk to check the train timetable for our morning trip to Briare. He did so and it appeared the best train for us would be at 11:15 AM.

Saturday, May 28

On the trainAs agreed, we met for breakfast at 8:00 & arranged to meet back in the lobby at 9:15. Lin & I got there a bit early & called 2 cabs. One arrived quickly & had to wait but the second arrived just as did Helen & Earl. I was worried about getting separated but the two drivers arranged to stay together & we arrived at the Gare de Lyon at about 9:35. The train station is magnificent. A young woman in the information booth was very helpful & extremely friendly; we did a lot of joking back & forth about senior rates. We easily bought the tickets & the girls sat while Earl & I wandered around taking pictures. Soon we learned that the train had arrived so we boarded. About the time we got the bags all stowed on the racks and ourselves all situated, we were then told we were seated in a reserved compartment. Unfortunately, Earl had just left to get some water and he had the tickets but, after a lot of fuss and confusion, we got settled in another compartment with 2 other men. We had been joking about meeting a spy in such a compartment (since it happens in so many movies!) so we had a lot of fun in exchanging strange looks.

Brare train stationIn under 2 hours, we arrived at Briare. It being a Saturday, the station was closed & there were no taxis. Fortunately, I'd borrowed a tri-band cell phone from our office in Netherlands so I called the Crown Blue Line base and soon Pierre arrived in a very small car. BriareThe other three people & most of the luggage went with Pierre while I waited for the next trip. When I arrived at the base, we left the bags in the CBL office, we walked into town for lunch. While we were sitting there, my cell rang. I answered in French but it was my friend Karl from Germany. He thought that was pretty funny! Before leaving home, we had arranged to meet Karl and Gisela at some point during our trip and to work out the details as we went along. He suggested we meet in Decize at noon on Saturday.

Pont-canal de BriareAfter lunch, we loaded up at the nearby super market and packed things away on the boat. The paperwork for the boat went quickly & the woman at the CBL office gave us an orientation on the boat. The girls set off into town for bread while Earl & I set off in the boat with Pierre for an orientation on the business end of things. After learning the tricky maneuver of a 1/2 turn in a narrow canal, we crossed the canal bridge. The canal bridge in Briare is an aqueduct that carries the canal across the river Loire. It is an absolutely magnificent piece of art and engineering. Pierre stepped off on the bridge to walk back to the base as Earl and I continued across. On the other side, Earl took over, made a u-turn and headed pack to port. He did a superb job of backing into the slip and the girls hopped aboard. If you've never tried to back up a single-screw inboard power boat, you won't appreciate that this is no small accomplishment.

GalleyThe boat was magnificent. We rented the "Classique-S", a 12.8 meter boat with 8 bunks in 4 staterooms and 3 heads. having rented boats before (but always sail), I know you should rent one with more bunks than you have people. We only had four people for the eight bunks so we were in clover. Since Earl is taller than I, I suggested that they take the v-berth. The boat also had a large saloon and a large galley. There's a helm position in the saloon and a second on deck. There's a very large open deck area with a plastic table and chairs as well as the built-in seating. There are two help positions, one on deck and one in the saloon but, blessed with a week of good weather, we never used the inside one. The boat was in mint condition; I think it must have been quite new and it was immaculate. We also rented 4 bikes. As it happened, they weren't great. Earl used one once and the other three never got unlashed.

SaloonI'd be less than honest if I failed to comment here that, while CBL had said they have English-speaking staff at their bases, we found no one at the Briare base who spoke English. For us it was no problem since I speak French. In any case, because the folks were so friendly and cooperative, I think one could get through the process despite the language barrier but, if one were easily intimidated, it could be an issue. When I returned to the US, I reported this to Debbie in Annapolis and she was very concerned. I suspect the issue might be addressed. [Note added in '2009: I notice that Crown Blue does not now list Briare on their itinerary. Whether there's a connection, I have no clue.] Again, I wouldn't be put off by this unless you're very timid.

First night on the canalWe talked about walking back into town for dinner and then setting off in the morning but decided to shove off so as to be in the countryside for the night. Briare is at kilometer marker 199 and we stopped for the night at about 168, just beyond Châtillon sur Loire. Stopping for the night was simply a matter of choosing a quiet spot, pulling to the side of the canal so that I could hop ashore, then my pounding two metal stakes into the ground and mooring the boat. Voila; instant homestead for the night!

For dinner we had a collection of cheeses along with some cherries, bread and some excellent (and, at 1.19€, ridiculously inexpensive) wine. We got to bed around 11:00.

Sunday, May 29

We were up about 8:30 and moved pretty slowly. Because Earl's an Episcopal priest, we celebrated communion on deck just before 10:00.

Approaching our first lockOur first lock was #38 at Maimbray. I'd asked Pierre about the locks and he said that the first lockkeeper would explain the drill. Accordingly, I got off beforehand and ran ahead to get an explanation from the lock keeper while Earl brought in the boat. Lock #38 - MaimbrayThe experience was both fun and simple and we were off again. I asked the lockkeeper whether he spoke any English and he said "non". I asked whether this sometimes caused confusion for people who spoke no French and he said simply, "Oui!"

Soon afterward, we arrived at Belleville-sur-Loire which is truly, as the name implies, a beautiful city. It being Sunday, there were a lot of people along the shores of the canal. We tied up and I asked a bystander whether it was OK to tie up here. He said "of course". Soon, along came another man in a tie followed by a photographer. The bystander introduced him as the mayor of the town. The mayor welcomed us and asked our permission for a photo of himself in front of our boat! One of the enticing things about the entire trip was the friendliness of the locals. As we'd pass, we'd get waves and "bonjour" from people walking, hanging out of windows and even passing in cars. We felt genuinely welcome.

Our boat at Belleville sur LoireThe girls were able to buy two baguettes before the bakery closed at noon. We left our mooring but I soon realized that we were too late to pass through the locks so we tied up again to wait for the lock to re-open at 1:00. Those who know me will find it amazing that I could simply stop and patiently wait patiently while a lockkeeper takes a one-hour lunch break! As it happened, I found it relaxing to just tie up, have a little lunch, and wander around. Life in the (very) slow lane!

Smiles everywhereUnderway once more, we bought some t-shirts at the lock at Belleville and four bottles of wine at the one at les Houards. At each lock we repeated the routine of Earl dropping me off on shore short of the lock and then proceeding with the boat as I ran along on shore. When we got to the lock at Peseau, we decided to try another approach and all stayed on the boat. That was a mistake. It was difficult to get the lines in place and I ended making a rather dangerous jump from the top rail to the lock.

EarlFrom there, Earl took one of the bikes and headed for the next lock at Bannay while the girls and I took the boat. The girls wanted the parasol up against the rather strong sun and, when I protested, insisted they would deal with it when we came to bridges. However, we were all so preoccupied talking to and taking pictures of Earl on the first bridge, the parasol struck the bridge, tipping the table and breaking a glass, much of which ended up in Linda's foot! After the lock at Bannay, we stopped at the town for a glass of wine.

Ménétréol-sous-SancerreSt. Satur, as the guide indicated, was very commercial so we bypassed it for Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre. We first bypassed Ménétréol to look for a more secluded mooring upstream but then had the wisdom or good fortune to turn around (Earl's really good at that) and return. After tying up at the town dock, I asked the dockmaster about water and, since our boat was moored too far from the tap, we agreed we'd get it in the AM.

Earl and I wandered about town taking pictures and ended up taking about the election with a man who had retired here from Portugal. When we were in Paris, we couldn't miss all the posters urging a vote of "Oui" or "Non" on the subject of France's ratification of the European Constitution. Today was the election and, as it happens, we were ties up in from of the town hall where the voting was taking place. It was actually pretty exciting to witness a tiny piece of history in the making.

On the way to back the boat, I asked the dockmaster about the showers. He said that others were using the shower but that he'd alert us when it was available. Eventually, he said the coast was clear so Lin and I set off for the showers while Helen and Earl waited on the boat. Even then, however, the shower was still occupied by some Austrians so we had to wait some more. The dockmaster waited with us and introduced himself as Jean. He and I had a nice chat while we were waiting and developed a bit of rapport.

Jean et JeanetteeConditions in the shower facility were fairly Spartan but we had a nice shower, then took the key to Helen and Earl for their turn. Lin suggested we have a glass of wine on deck while we waited for their return. While we were doing so, the dockmaster's wife came out of their house, directly across from out boat, for a smoke. We started taking and I invited her and Jean to join us for a glass of wine. Jeanette was overwhelmed by the boat; with all the boats passing through, she'd never been aboard one. By the time Helen and Earl returned, we had made some new friends. They were delightful and we had a great time. Jean spoke no English but Janette had studied a bit in high school and she dusted it off and was having fun with it. We killed two bottles of wine by the time they left and were sorry to see them go. I asked Jean to tell us in the morning about the outcome of the election.

Helen made some great coq-au-vin for dinner and, after some conversation, the others headed for bed at about 11:30, with me still writing.

Monday, May 30

I was the first up at about 7:30. As I was waking, I suddenly had a revelation about the reason that we'd gone through almost all of our 1000 liter water supply in a little over a day. I'd notice on Sunday that the bilge pump was evacuating a lot of water but I assumed there was a leak at the shaft seal and thought little about it. As I awoke, I had a vision of that bilge water and realized for the first time that it was clear! Anyone who's ever looked at bilge water knows it's normally disgusting! I started poking around with a flashlight under the floor and found both clear bilge water and a steady drip!

While I was waiting for the others to crawl out of bed, I started editing the diary, then went to the boulangerie for croissants and a baguette. It sure is nice to be able to walk a few hundred feet and get freshly-baked goodies. At the boulangerie, I also read the headlines of the paper and learned that the vote was "non". Of course, the Euro promptly tanked and I regretted changing as much cash in Paris as I had.

After breakfast, I called the CBL base in Decize and was told there was little they could do about the leak and, in any case, no mechanic was on duty today. I agreed to just fill with water frequently but we agreed I'd call again tomorrow. (We got in the habit of just turning off the water pressure when we didn't need it and reduced the loss to the point that I didn't bother calling again.)

SancerreOur first priority was supplies. In addition to food in general, I wanted to get some of the famous local goat cheese known as Crottins de Chavignol. I'd seen a sign advertising crottins direct from a farm so that seemed a better place to buy them. Janette had said that the local super marché would be closed in the afternoon for inventory so we gave that first priority. SancerreI called a cab and arranged to have him take us first to the market, then to the farm to buy the crottins, back to the boat to deposit the food and finally up to Sancerre. Sancerre was a bit of a pilgrimage for me since it is my absolutely favorite white whine. Unfortunately, most of the shops in Sancerre were closed for some reason but we got info on a walking tour from the tourist information and had a great time in this very scenic town. Eventually, we had lunch at Au Bout du Monde, walked a tad more and called the cab for the ride back down.

By the time we got back to the boat, we were able to move close enough to the water source which also made more room for a large steel barge to get a better position. In the meantime also, the hotel barge "Anna Maria IV" had tied up the pier. I got talking to the guys on the first steel barge and learned they were from Australia and owned the boat as a group. They invited me aboard to see how magnificent it is inside. They come every year and are here for 6 weeks this time around. By agreement, we met Janette who'd told us about a great winery in the next street. She walked over with us because she said the place was closed so she'd get them to open for us! Unfortunately no one was at home. She said she had to work this evening and wouldn't see us in the morning so we had to say goodbye.

Ménétréol-sous-SancerreFrom there we just loafed away the afternoon. I walked for a while and then Helen and Earl did the same.

For dinner, we went to the Restaurant St. Floroine. The meal was OK but there were two people nearby who smoked incessantly so that was pretty bad.

Back at the boat, we watched a DVD on my laptop before going to bed. When I got into bed at about 12:30, I noticed that the sky was stellar (literally!!) I'd brought along a star map because I knew we'd have dark skies but I was too tired to get back out to look more carefully. Slept like a stone!

Tuesday, May 31

Ready for breakfast!I was the first up again, this time at about 7:30. The sky was clear as a bell. I read on deck for a while until Earl got up & then he and I went to the bakery for croissants, baguettes, & crottins. By the time the girls got up, we had the table set & the coffee & tea ready.

Lunchtime on the canalAfter breakfast, we bid good bye to Jean & headed south once more. The scenery all morning was breathtaking & Helen & I took a zillion pictures. We approached the lock at la Prée, we noticed it was almost noon so we pulled to the side, put up the umbrella & Helen & walked around taking pictures. For lunch we had salad, brots & a bottle of red Sancerre. I'd never even heard of red Sancerre in the US but I'd been told to try it. I found it very light and disappointing. By the time we finished lunch, the lock was back in operation & we were off again.

How peaceful!The speed limit on the canal is 8 kilometers per hour. That converts to 5 MPH (hence the title of this page). As a "type A" personality who drives a tad fast, I wasn't sure I could maintain my sanity at this speed but I was determined to try. As it happened, we realized that at 5 MPH and even with the two nights in Manétréol, we'd be in Decize much to early. On top of that, the scenery was so incredibly beautiful that we honestly felt 5 MPH was too fast to savor it! As a consequence, we throttled back even more and I loved it!

Lock at BeffesThe town of Herry looked cute & had a nice waterside so we tied up there & walked around a bit. After that, the scenery went downhill; mostly flatlands, wheat fields & granaries. We'd planned on stopping for the night at la Chapelle-Montlinard but that wasn't attractive at all. Further along, we paralleled a road that about touched the canal some of the time & it was getting past 5 so we had to make some decisions about stopping. We figured we'd make a run through the locks at Beffes & the pair near Marseilles-lès-Aubigny so we'd have a stretch of open canal to work with. However, when we got to Beffes, I got off as usual as we approached the lock but when I saw the town, I suggested we stop. Earl & I walked to the market & bought some snacks. There was no restaurant in town so we had ravioli on board. The girls were less than delighted at the prospect of preparing another meal on board but there was no alternative.

Wednesday, June 1

Marsailles-lès-AubignyIt was cloudy when we woke but soon it cleared. Helen & I went to the market & bakery and we all had a relaxing breakfast. Afterwards, the girls and I went back for more bread. We were so mellow getting going that it was pushing 11:30 when we entered the lock. The book said that the lock-keeper here would call the one that managed the next two. I asked him whether we could make all three & he said we could if we hurried. The next 2 locks were close together & operated by one guy. They were the first electrically-operated locks we've seen so I didn't have any work to do on the first after securing the lines and was able to start running to the second. The lock-keeper was great & remained cheerful even though it was after 12 when we cleared.

Clearing that lock put us in a harbor at Marsailles-lès-Aubigny. The town & harbor were so picturesque that Earl slowed us to a crawl so we could take it all in. In retrospect, I wish we had made it through to here the previous night.

Lunch in Cours-les-BarresAt Cours-les-Barres, we found a beautiful mooring area with free water, electricity, showers, etc. We walked up to the town & had a great lunch at Auberge du Centre.

locks at GuétinA bit later, we dealt with the locks at Guétin and they were in a different class altogether. While the others locks had lifts on the order of 2.5 meters, this pair had a combined lift of 9.2 meters or 30 feet! I wisely decided to stay on the boat since I could see no good place to get off and couldn’t imagine what I’d do if I did. As we entered the lock, I asked the keeper, high above us, what to do with our mooring lines. He said to just wait. After he closed the doors, he sent down a line with a hook. With that, he retrieved our lines & looped them around the bollards, then back down. At this point, we were inside a huge cavern facing a 30 foot door! Once we got through the first 15-foot lift, we immediately entered a second chamber for another 15 foot lift. During the whole process, there was a crowd of people watching.

My favorite pictureImmediately upon exiting the locks, we crossed a huge canal bridge over the river Allier, a broad river that flows into the Loire. It didn't appear that we could get to a meaningful town before 7:00 so, when we found ourselves on a winding, tree-lined stretch of canal, we moored for the night. With no restaurants available, dinner was pizza plus some bread & cheese. Once again, the "crew" was less than delighted at the dinner arrangements.

Thursday, June 2

At NeversYet another day in paradise! Up at about 8:30, Lin made ham & cheese omelets. We were off shortly before 10 but only went a short way before turning left into a branch canal that went into Nevers. Here we went through 2 automatic locks, the first automatic locks we'd encountered. Also, because we'd been moving upstream all week but the branch canal went down into Nevers, these were the first ones where we descended. Each had a lift of about 3 meters but they were SLOW. Each one took about 30 minutes. We were tied up at the port of Nevers a few minutes after 12 & walked into town. After a ho-hum lunch at Taverne St. Louis, we walked around this beautiful city. Especially impressive was the cathedral. When we ran out of steam, we stopped at the bakery, then headed back & loafed. For dinner, we walked to Cafe de la Marine on the other side of the canal from where the boat was tied.

Friday, June 3

Leaving NeversWith over 40km to go today, we were up @ 7:30, had breakfast on deck & pulled out right at 9:00. When we reached the first lock, there was a British sailboat in it so we had quite a wait. We entered, followed by a Grande Classique from CBL with 7 men on board. Ricardo, my counterpart (that is, the guy who jumps off at the locks to moor the boat and, in most cases, assist the lockkeeper) from that boat & I got talking at the lock. They are from Spain & do this every year. He works in fiber optics for Tyco and is a very friendly guy!

At the next lock, Ricardo arrived with a bottle of Spanish red wine for us! These were the automatic locks and they are ridiculously slow, almost 30 minutes for the cycle!

I love barns!We had quite a run to the next lock and, when we arrived, the Brits were still waiting there. They said this lock-keeper runs 2 locks and he was at the other. Their keel prevented them from tying into the bank so we did so and they tied onto us. Meanwhile, the Spanish & another boat arrived so all four waited! Eventually, I walked to the lock & read a sign that gave a phone number to call to get the lock-keeper to come! Soon the lock-keeper arrived & we all locked through, 2 at a time. By now it was approaching lunchtime so, of course, we all waited for an hour at the next lock.

We wanted to make croques messieurs for lunch but could not get the broiler working so Linda made grilled ham & cheese sandwiches & we ate them on the fly.

DecizeWe arrived at Crown Blue's base in Decize at about 4:30. Just as we were arriving, the wind was blowing in a storm so Earl had to work hard to get the boat backed into the slip. The woman in the CBL office reserved a taxi for Earl & me to go to Nevers in the AM. By the way, her English was excellent!

At her recommendation, we walked to Le Charolais in town for dinner and it was absolutely fantastic. While we were in the restaurant, Karl called & said they were in Beaune. By coincidence, we'd decided that Beaune was a better place to meet them so we agreed that they’d stay there. We recommended Hotel de la Poste & asked him to reserve 2 rooms for us. When we arrived back at the boat, Karl called to say they were settled in & would reserve 2 rooms for us. We packed & hit the rack.

Saturday,June 4

We had to leave the boat by 9:00 so were up at 7:00 to pack & clean the boat. Leaving the girls & the luggage at the CBL office, Earl & I left by taxi for the Europcar office in Nevers. The reservation was for a "VW Passat or equivalent." The car they had for us was a Peugeot 407. The luggage space was more limited but no Passat was available so, with little alternative and some apprehension about fitting everything, we crossed our fingers & took the car.

DecizeWhen we returned to Decize, the girls were just arriving from breakfast in town. Now, here's a comment to those who believe the myth that the French are rude to Americans who don't speak French. Neither of the girls speak more than a few words in French yet hey had gone shopping many times on their own and here they went to a restaurant, ordered, ate and paid with little trouble and NO rudeness. The myth is just that... a myth.

BeauneWith some great planning, Earl got all off the luggage into the car & we set off for Beaune with Earl at the wheel. We had my portable GPS but, to our surprise, found there was one in the car as well. We set mine windowed in for details and speaking in English and the installed one windowed out and speaking in French so we had both a detailed and wide-angle view and bi-lingual instruction! With such excellent guidance, we drove directly to l'Hôtel de la Poste & checked in. The girl at the desk said Karl was not registered so I called his cell. BeauneIt turned out that, since only 2 rooms had been available, he and Gisela were staying elsewhere. They arrived shortly after we got all the bags into our magnificent rooms.

The six off us wandered around Beaune, having drinks & croques messieurs at one café and coffee & pastries at another. After a short break to freshen up, we met for dinner at 7:00. During the day we had checked out the restaurants and had made a 7:30 reservation at "La Grilladine." It turned out to be an excellent choice; dinner was wonderful and we had a great time. Almost 4 hours later we headed back to the hotel. The others headed for bed but Karl, Gisela & I spent a few minutes in the lobby with my map program so Karl could make some recommendations for our trip to Switzerland.

Sunday, June -5

GruyèresWe met as agreed at 10:00, skipped breakfast, and headed towards Switzerland. I had chosen Gruyères as a destination & Karl readily agreed. Gruyères is an old walled city set on a hilltop & it's fantastic. GruyèresUnfortunately, it's a popular tourist spot and, this being Sunday, it was a bit crowded. Fortunately, it was about 4:00 by the time we arrived so the crowds were dying. (By the way, be sure to check out their interactive webcam!)

After a walk around town and a visit to the chateau, we had fondue on the terrace at "Le Chalet".

Chateau de GruyèresWe initially figured we'd look elsewhere for lodging and drove as far as Charmey but, finding nothing, we returned to Gruyères and took the last 2 rooms at "Hostellerie des Chevaliers" just outside the city walls. After getting settled, we walked back into the walled city for strawberries and Gruyères cream for dessert at "Café-Restaurant des Ramparts". One problem with this town is the price; our simple dinner & dessert cost as much as our infinitely more elegant dinner of the previous night. After dessert, the girls headed back but Earl & I wandered around town taking pictures.

Monday, June 6

Maison du GruyèresWe met for breakfast at 8:00 & got on the road shortly after 9:00. The ceiling had lowered to obscure the mountain tops & there was some very light drizzle. We stopped at "La Maison du Gruyère", a cheese factory that I rather thought might be a bit hokey. It turned out to be fascinating and we spent over an hour and a half watching them make cheese.

On Karl's suggestion, we headed for Interlaken & on to Brienz to see the steam cog railway there. Because of the weather, the train was on a restricted schedule & we knew we wouldn't see much so we blew off the train and just had lunch nearby.

Bad SäckingenBack on the road, we drove via Luzern to Stein, parked, and walked over the wooden bridge to Germany. After visiting the magnificent church in Bad Säckingen, we bought the girls some trinkets at a jewelry store & walked back to Switzerland. Ironically, as we re-entered Germany by car we were stopped at the border & had to show passports for the first time in 15 years! I guess it didn't occur to them that if I'd wanted to smuggle something in, I'd have carried it over the footbridge.

Driving through the Black Forest, we stopped for the night at Hotel Grüner Baum in Todtnau-Muggenbrunn & had a very pleasant dinner in their restaurant.

Tuesday, June 7

EguisheimThe weather was still pretty dismal and it was very cool but there was some sign of pending improvement. We continued through the Black Forest, then on to Alsace, heading directly for Eguisheim. I'd read that Eguisheim was nicer then Riquewihr and we'd loved Riquewihr when we visited in 2002. It is certainly attractive and there are fewer tourists but, on balance, it would be hard to choose. EguisheimWe'd originally thought we might stay in Eguisheim but then thought we might be better off with a more central location so, after buying some goodies and exploring Eguisheim for a while, we headed north.

We stopped in Turckheim but had trouble even finding a restaurant that struck our fancy so we headed on to Riquewihr and parked just outside the city. Lin and I were intent on Torte Flambée for lunch so we had that and some Pinot Gris at the Restaurant Pizzéria du Vignoble. The meal was perfect but there was much too much food to finish. After exploring a bit, we agreed to check in to the only 3-star hotel within the city walls, L'Hotel à l'Oreil. The hotel is quaint but pretty "basic" and, there was an incredible amount of noise from the narrow passageway in front. After a few hours to rest, we looked around and settled on Restaurant Weinstub L'Ecurie for dinner. Dinner was pretty disappointing and the service was fair at best.

Helen and Earl joined us in our room for a bottle of wine before we called it a night. Fortunately, we had quiet during the night.

Wednesday, June 8 - Our anniversary

HunawihrWe'd originally planned on staying 2 nights in Riquewihr but agreed to move on. We woke at 7:00, had breakfast at 8:00, said that we’d be checking out a day early and were in the car shortly after 9:00. RibeauvilléAfter a brief stop for some pictures on the hill overlooking Riquewihr, our first destination of the day was Hunawihr, a town that had been greatly improved since our last visit. While in '02 it was drab, now most houses had been freshly painted & flowers were everywhere. Last time it was locked but this time we were able to get inside the church. After a visit to the stork & otter preserve, we headed for Ribeauvillé. I'd planned on buying some goose liver paté from Fois Gras de Lisle but it had to be kept refrigerated so I figured I'd pass and order from the Internet. Walking through town, I saw a magnificent wall-mounted cork remover that insisted on following me home. Lunch was at Weinstub de la Poste in Ribeauvillé.

With a brief detour to show Earl the Maginot bunker at Illhäusern, we headed north. We got messed up badly with construction but eventually arrived at the site of the Nazi concentration camp at Natzwiller-Struthof. This was, as expected, an overwhelmingly disturbing experience. While I took pictures outside, I decided I didn't want any reminders of what I saw in the buildings. As difficult as the visit was, I think everyone should see it as a lesson of what hate can do.

StrasbourgWe made the mistake of thinking we'd find a hotel in Strasbourg but didn't allow for the fact the European parliament was in session. After fighting traffic & circling forever to find a parking space, we learned that every room in town was booked!

Back we went to Obernai. We picked Hotel "Le Parc" from the hotel book and, a bit smarter now, I called ahead to confirm availability. The hotel was absolutely fantastic! We booked a "Romantic" room and I mentioned it was our anniversary. Dinner in their restaurant was absolutely fantastic and at the end, they brought an anniversary cake!

Thursday, June 9

Bouillon, BelgiumWe met at 9 and as we checked out, I leaned that Earl & Helen had picked up the tab for dinner as an anniversary present! What a nice (and generous!) surprise!!

On the road again, we headed for Belgium and specifically for Bastogne. Road construction caused a lot of aggravation & delay but we arrived in Bastogne at about noon & parked at Place McAuliffe, at tribute to the General who uttered the one-word response "nuts!" when asked to surrender the city.. After picking up a map at the information & having lunch, we visited the museum & memorial at the site of the famous battle. We were tempted to head for Reims for the night but stopped instead at the hotel La Porte de France in Bouillon, Belgium. It was nothing extraordinary but certainly adequate and it got us off the road. Bouillon is a picturesque town that Lin and I had visited on 1989.

Friday, June 10

ReimsUp again at 7:00, breakfast at 8:00 and back on the road, this time to Reims. The GPS led us directly to the cathedral and we were able to park on the street a block away. The cathedral of Notre Dame at Reims is absolutely magnificent; many times more striking than the one in Paris. We spent a lot of time there and I took a zillion pictures both inside and outside. Reims is a delightful city with many sidewalk cafés. We selected Le Condorcet for our lunch.

Mumm cellarsAt the tourist office, we'd learned that there are 4 Champagne cellar tours that can be taken without reservations. Helen chose Mumm. It turned out to have been a fortunate choice because there was an English-language tour soon after our arrival and it was excellent.

Tomb of Dom PerignonBecause we enjoyed it so much during our visit in 1991 and because the drive was short, I suggested we visit the abbey at Hautvillers before leaving Champagne. As I feared, the grounds of the abbey were closed but we were able to visit the abbey church and came across the tomb of none other than Dom Perignon himself!

Earl took the wheel for the last, sad leg and, unfortunately, had to deal with a huge traffic jam caused by a horrible accident just outside of Paris. Theo had booked 2 rooms for us at the Hyatt at CDG. Earl and I dropped the girls and the luggage at the hotel, returned the rental car and grabbed a shuttle back to the hotel. We had no choice but to have dinner at the hotel. It was expensive and service was pretty poor. The hotel, however, was very nice and, in spite of its location near the airport, very quiet. We still had 2 bottles of red wine including the gift from our Spanish friends and certainly didn’t want it breaking in the suitcases so Earl and Helen came to our room and we polished it off. It would have been sinful to have wasted it! Earl and I especially liked the Spanish wine.

Saturday, June 11

We caught the 10:00 shuttle to the airport. Having just dinged the restaurant staff, I must compliment the bell staff and the bus driver; they went out of the way to get us to the right spot in this huge airport.

Once inside the airport, however, we had a hell of a time figuring out where to go. CDG is under construction & many flights, including ours, have to board via bus. Given the 200+ passengers, it's a real pain, made worse by a ridiculously long drive. I think CDG, at least via Air France, should be avoided for a while.

The flight was mercifully uneventful. Passing over Normandy, we could clearly see Omaha Beach, the American cemetery, and even the monument! We landed at PHL on schedule at 3:25 and were on the bus to long-term parking before 4:25.

Dinner was at Pistachio's in Allentown and, surprisingly, they had on their menu many of the regional specialties we'd had in Europe. One of them was choucroute garni but for some strange reason, it was listed as "Mediterranean Grill". What sauerkraut, sausages and pork have to do with the Med is anyone's guess. I had it and it was head and shoulders above the disappointing one I'd had in Riquewihr.

We were home by early evening. This was a great trip! Because we'd anticipated the canal boat part for so long, I was afraid it would fall short of expectations. Quite the contrary, it exceed them, at least in my opinion. I thought it was just about perfect. Of course, I didn't have to cook. Lin was a tad less enthusiastic but would do it again if I can find an itinerary with more towns. Helen and Earl apparently had an excellent time (though Helen wasn't thrilled about the cooking either) and are eager to return.

I've decided that when I grow up. I want to be a lock keeper in France!