Saturday, May 28, 2011

France 2011 - Weeks 3 & 4

Dear Family and Friends

OK, so here’s the scoop. Have you heard of a book called ‘40,000,000 Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong’? Well, I ’m here to tell you “Oh yes, they can!!!” And if you have the time, I’ll tell you why.

Firstly they don’t know how to spell.
As an example, I was in the
épicerie looking for rice. I asked the clerk in my very best French – “Ou est le riz?” – which I assumed was pronounced reezz. She looked at me very strangely so I used the universal language of pantomime.  In my best Charade mode I measured out a cup of reezz, added 2 cups of water, put the pot on the stove, put the reezz in the bowl and cleverly whipped out my chopsticks and began eating from my reezz bowl.  Understanding dawned as she exclaimed “Ah, ree!” Ree???  Seriously, why do the French put letters  - like a perfectly good zed - at the end of a word if they don’t want you to use them?????
This .............                                                                                         

                                                                                 becomes this!

Secondly, what do they have against working for a full day – morning to evening?
Why do they take 2 hours off in the middle of the day just when I’m ready to go shopping. Zut alors! Very frustrating. And God forbid that they should actually show up for work on Mondays. That would be grounds for another strike for sure. So if we actually want to cook on the boat Sunday and Monday, we have to fill the fridge on Saturday but only between the hours of 9 to 12 and 2 to 6.

Spring has sprung – the cygnets are here!
Thirdly – and the most frustrating – why do they advertise services that they don’t actually provide?
Prime example. On Monday, 23rd of May we set off from our very lovely mooring in La Fert
é sous Jouarre. Great village, fabulous market on the Sunday morning, good shops. We enjoyed it so much we stayed for 2 days. The day was beautiful – sunny, bright blue sky and warm. After a very short cruise – about 12kms – we arrived at Saint Jean les Deux Jumeaux. Gorgeous little village with a brand new dock which advertised water and electricity. Oops, no electricity and no water. No problem we’ll go another 25kms to Meaux – that’s a very large town with full services. Which may have been true if you were arriving on the 26th of May and not the 23rd. The  marina was actually closed so obviously no electricity! We saw a notice on the board that the town council were trying to decide how to charge boaters for electricity. It obviously made perfect sense to them not to continue providing any at all until they sorted out the problem (Maybe a nightly moorage charge like other marinas? Far too complicated for these guys!). We decided to moor for one night anyway and risk a ticket. Let’s see them try to collect that fee!
Oh well! It’s our anniversary let’s go out to supper. Rats! It’s Monday. The only thing open was an Italian restaurant (presumably because Italians aren’t French) which wasn’t Edmonton’s Royal Pizza by any means but what the heck. We were in France – how bad can it be?
Our fall back meal – they make lovely omelettes!
The other bugbear that’s obviously not their fault but can be slightly annoying is to pull up to a beautiful little village expecting to walk into the main street to have lunch and finding that the village has absolutely no stores or shops other than a boulangerie – a baguette might be heavenly but when you are hungry and there’s no filling, it lacks a certain je ne sais croix! I guess the French economy isn’t doing well as there are just hundreds of closed small, owner-run businesses. The French economy is probably running on the union-led state employees.
Sadly, you can fire a canon ball down the main street of this little village.
Now that I’ve taken the mickey out of Frenchmen and have risked offending Francophiles everywhere, I must also admit that we’ve met wonderful people who have been very helpful. The Capitaine and his lovely assistant here in Nogent couldn’t be more accommodating and are quite tolerant of our efforts to communicate in French. We do quite well most of the time but there are still occasions requiring vocabulary that we don’t yet have.
And before you get the idea that it’s all bad, be assured we are still having a wonderful time. Cruising down the Marne was just beautiful!! Lovely wide open river, very very little traffic, and gorgeous scenery. We must be ahead of the summer boaters as we hardly meet anyone on the water. We have gone days without meeting another boat. When we were in La Ferté sous Juarre, there were 4 boats! I was ready to organize a cruising convention! One Australian, one Dutchman (very grumpy), one German and the Canadians – us!!
La Ferté used to be the world’s largest supplier of millstones

Tiny villages all along the Marne and miles of vineyards on the hillsides
We also moored up in Epernay for three days. Both Epernay and Reims (pronounced Rance – like dance – see what I mean??) are in the heart of the Champagne country. All along the river were miles and miles of vineyards. Quite spectacular, although the lack of rain must be worrying for the growers. We took a tour of a champagne house – La Castellane – and found it fascinating. There are 6 kms of underground caves, special lighting so as not to affect the wine. Workers drive through the tunnels on little forklifts to get from one end to the other as they transport either filled bottles ready for storage or supplies to make and bottle the wine. We had a tasting at the end of the tour and we purchased a bottle which was supposed to have been for our anniversary but we’ll wait for another time to open it! The brut was too dry, the demi-sec was too sweet so like Goldilocks we bought a rosé.
La Castellane Champagne House – I climbed up the tower. Phil was too hung over!!!
The weather (until today the 26th) has been just beautiful. We are currently mooring at Nogent-sur-Marne - just 12kms outside Paris. Because we kept finding marinas with no facilities (despite what was advertised) we cruised for fewer days than planned. We wanted to go to Paris but when we phoned for reservations, the port at Arsenal – which is at the foot of the Bastille – was full. Thankfully we had made reservations for the planned date of arrival, the 31st of May, so we’ll be there for 4 days while we pick up my aunt and uncle who are coming for a visit. We can hardly wait – our first visitors!
Nogent calls itself ‘Paris l’Est’ with firm grounds for so doing. The buildings and architecture remind me so much of Paris. It is truly beautiful and for once the marina is full service – even has laundry machines as well as WIFI – which of course they pronounce weefee. I have taken a ton of pictures of houses and apartments. Truly lovely. We are a good hike straight up a hill into the town centre so there’s a health benefit as well!
Beautiful Nogent-sur-Marne
We have been on the water for almost a month and with only a few hiccups have enjoyed it immensely. Phil has really improved his driving and parking skills and I have yet to fall into the water. My rope skills are much improved and in a brief moment of euphoria I actually considered learning how to dock the boat. Thankfully it was a brief moment. Let’s not jinx anything now. We’ve spent time really organizing the boat and getting rid of stuff we’ll never use. Our favourite pastime is to put something out beside the garbage can and watch to see who comes along to take their new found treasure home. We can hardly wait to continue the journey!
Much love to all – The Captain and Mrs. Roper


  1. Love hearing about your adventures. who knows next year...... Love Keith & Margaet

  2. Really enjoying your posts ....our exciting event is having the basement totally renovated in July !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Love Helen and Charles

  3. Sounds as if you are really having a great time and have got the master of the French. We could do with some help mastering the Belgiums!!!! In Hoorn and heading for Stavoren tomorrow. Love hearing all your news and look forward to the next episode.
    Love Rob & Sue