Sunday, September 12, 2010

France 2010 – Le Fin

Dear Family and Friends;

There is a conspiracy – seriously! The weather has been horrible ever since we arrived in France. I  downloaded my pictures from the camera to the computer and realized that I haven't taken pictures for more than a week. That's because we were holed up in the boat trying hard to stay warm and dry. But even though we haven't been able to do much, we are loving being in France. The scenery and terrain are delightful and we are eating better – not drinking yet, but that too will come. The reason for that is the first thing I picked up in France wasn't a designer frock but a 'bug' of some sort. My tummy was not my best friend and after a week I finally went to the doctor and got antibiotics and am now on the mend. That of course was after Phil got a vicious cold in Belgium and it took over a week for him to feel up to par. This getting old totally sucks – we can't seem to fight off bugs the way we used to.

Beautiful Cruising

The upshot of both of us being sick is that we are not going to make it to Meaux where we had hoped to leave the boat for the winter and also get in some last minute Paris excursions. But we did find a good spot at Pont à Bar that is a hire boat base so they have pretty good boat facilities. However there is only one little bar and no stores so we had to drive into Sedan to get groceries. Luckily there was another British couple, Diana and Conrad from Southhampton who also winter at Pont à Bar and have their car there. Conrad, bless his heart, drove me in and waited patiently while I filled up my basket. What a place – rows and rows of wines, specialty items like pate, terrines, local sausages, etc, etc. I even bought a prepared crème brulée - all I had to do was grill the sugar topping – awesome! And the meat tastes like real meat – what a change! Holland supplies Europe with fresh produce, but the French seem to have the market for meat and poultry, especially duck and goose of course. The ham is of the dried variety – prosciutto, salamis and all other kinds of spiced meats. A gastronomic delight!

Diana and Conrad with Phil

The second upshot (that some of you already know) is that we are coming home early. We have returned to Charleville Mézières, a large town close to Pont à Bar for the final week of our stay before we catch a train to Amsterdam and then fly home to Vancouver from Schipol on the 9th of September. I get to celebrate my birthday for 33 hours with the time difference! C-M has a lovely huge square – Place Ducale – that is quite beautiful with a gorgeous merry-go-round permanently running and all kinds of cafes and restaurants along the main streets and down every little side street as well. I swear all the French do is eat and drink. The stores all closed between 12:30 and 2:00 while everyone lunches and while the cafes remain open the restaurants close at 2:00 and don't open again until about 6:00 or even 7:00PM. We've had to change our cruising schedule so we can get to places just after 12:00 and still be able to make it into the local village for lunch. On top of that, they also close the shops at 2:00 on Saturdays and don't open again until Monday. So I guess, really, they eat, drink and 'ne travaillent pas'. France is a very socialist society and it's more about enjoying life rather than work, work, work. Not sure there's anything wrong with that at the end of the day.

Charleville Mezieres has the largest square in Europe

Beautiful merry-go-round

As you know one of the delights of doing this is meeting other people who are doing the same thing. For the very first time we actually saw 2 Canadian flags. The first boat we met was coming out of a lock as we were going in so all we could do was squeal in delight. But as we were travelling from Chateau Regnault to Revin, we saw a boat moored flying a Canadian flag. They hollered as we passed so Phil quickly turned the boat and we moored up alongside them. They are Liz and Dave Carr from near London, ON and we had a nice chat before we had to leave. That was one of the days when I was still sick, so I wasn't up to much visiting. We also really enjoyed having Diana and Conrad as neighbours for 6 days in Pont à Bar – we were very sorry to leave them behind but they were busy getting the boat ready for the winter and were heading home soon anyway. 

Liz and Dave

We are sitting here in C-M right along the bank of the Meuse on a pontoon with water and electricity. The view is quite nice – trees, paths and typical French architecture on the street that runs along the river. So despite the crap weather, life on the boat is good. We have our books – both paper and digital, my Soduko, our TV is tuned to British stations, we have our own shower, access to French food – like I said, Life is Good! 

Lovely view – lousy weather!

And we have an added bonus in Katinka and Scott, an Australian couple on a beautiful big barge for neighbours. Katinka's kitchen is as lovely as any kitchen in a real home, they have a living area you can square dance in and a walk around bed!!! Am I envious – you bet! Could I manoeuvre a 24 metre tjalk that is 4.4 metres wide – nope! So our sweet little Calypso will just have to do. But it is a beautiful boat that they live on all year round. 

Katinka, Scott and Phil

'Eendracht' – gorgeous!

So as well as a few last pictures to show you, this is my last blog for 2010. While we haven't had the year we had planned over the course of the '09/10' winter, it's still been a wonderful adventure. We are learning all the time, adjusting to different countries and cultures and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Do we miss home? You bet - but for the moment this is what we dreamed about doing. We toyed with the idea of shipping the boat from the north of France next spring directly to Provence but we have been given good advice by an Aussie/Danish boater who lives permanently on his gorgeous barge. Cruising, like fine food and fine wine, is to be enjoyed slowly and savoured. So next year we will continue heading south and we'll stop for the winter based on time and schedule. If Phil goes back to NAIT to teach, we will probably only get to the centre of France but if he doesn't teach then we will continue until we get to the Midi and perhaps overwinter in Europe. Who knows – plans are final until they change and if nothing else we are flexible!!

Much love to all – Sharlene and Phil (now at home in Nanaimo but looking forward to next year's adventure)


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