Three nights on Hoop Doet Leven in Toul and we feel as if our bargee chops are surfacing. The transition from Massachusetts to France could not have been smoother: Air France to Charles de Gaulle Airport, whisking through French customs barely slowing down and, wonder of wonders, all six duffle bags and large suitcase containing all of our Frenchly worldly goods showed up on the baggage conveyor. We could not have squeezed a lemon into our mini rental car but, after a five hour drive, we arrived at Lorraine Marine and found Hoop Doet Levin tied to the quay and waiting for us. Thank you to Bud & Joyce, who left the boat spotless (it is a toss up whether the kitchen or the engine room is more pristine). We filled the water tanks, drained the antifreeze from the water lines and – voila – water, toilets and civilization.

Hoop Doet Leven at Lorraine Marine in Toul, when we first arrived

Heat was another matter. A favorite definition of “cruising” is the act of making repairs in exotic places. Hoop is heated with two diesel fueled heating stoves, one of which supplies hot water to radiators throughout the boat. A small electric pump supplies “red” diesel (the kind with no French transportation fuel tax) for the stoves. Unfortunately, that pump does not seem to have survived the winter. It clicked, clacked, overheated and gave up the ghost. We’ve used portable electric heaters and our down comforter from home (after a fortunate last minute switch from the summer comforter to the winter one, just in case), but a new pump is chugging through the Chunnel from the dealer in England at this moment and we should have heat just as the warmer weather reaches us in a few days.

But, c‘est la vie, we’re in France, at long last. People understand Sandra’s French and couldn’t be nicer. We’ve shopped for groceries, cooked dinners on board, had coffee at a cafe and visited with other barge folks. And Sandra is off walking a neighbor’s Australian sheep dog along the canal tow path, rehearsing how to ask a farmer if she can groom his Charolais cows.

We’re settling onto our new home of the next couple of years still high-fiving every hour or so that we actually made it here, after all the work and planning. Each day brings a new adventure, with a visit to a French IKEA coming next (we’re dreading trying to interpret pretend-Swedish descriptions written in French). We have to be under way by the end of March because the VNF, the French canal authority, drains our section of canal on April 1 for maintenance. That gives us plenty of time to explore every storage spot on the barge, and for Sandra to practice her line handling skills for the 126 locks between us and Paris, our first destination.