We are so fortunate this year. What with the weeks of torrential rains we’ve saved an absolute fortune on sunscreen. My buy-a-Tesla fund is bursting with cash as a result. I knew the rain was serious when I woke up the other morning, looked out the windows and saw pairs of animals lined up, two-by-two, patiently waiting to get on board the barge. We’d planned on floating to Paris. Now Paris may float down to us.
But we persevere. Adapt.
To locate ground zero of the worst flooding, start at Hoop Doet Leven’s bow where we were moored at Sancerre (yes, THAT Sancerre, fabulous white wines) and look about 20 miles north. That is where the city of Montargis, which bills itself as the Venice of central France, looks more like Atlantis. That is where the Canal de Briare, which we were planning on taking north to the Seine, broke. Yes, the canal broke. Rain softened the canal walls to the point where they gave way, dumping the canal waters into a farmer’s field. It will likely take months to repair.
We’re not waiting.
So Sancerre was as close as we’ll be getting to Paris this summer. We found a wide spot in the canal – most of the canal is about 50 feet wide, Hoop is 70 feet long, so a U-turn can’t be performed just anywhere – and executed this year’s demi-tour, a 180 degree turnabout. We examined options for cruising to our planned winter mooring at Toul, in Lorraine and settled on a route back through Burgundy – red wine – and then north along a canal that climbs through the foothills of the Vosges Mountains.
We know a woman who makes scrumptious chevre – goat cheese she rolls in herbs – on the Vosges canal.
We’d been warned early on by friends that cruising plans on the French canals are carved in Jello. To drive home the point, at the same time we were trapped at Sancerre, where even in the worst of the downpours, when we couldn’t bike to the vineyards the vignerons obliged by delivering cases of white wine to the boat, our friends were trapped in Meaux on the Marne River. They wrote about watching entire trees roaring down the river past their boat. Meaux, however, is the home of the lusciously creamy brie de Meaux, among my favorite cheeses.
Even the darkest clouds in France have delicious linings.
So, in our fifth summer cruising the French canals, we’ve abandoned the plans we’d spent last winter carefully crafting, precisely as we’ve done the previous four years.
- Year One: Our demi-tour on the Saone River was not until early September, minutes after we were told that the branch canal to Epinal, where our reserved, and pre-paid, winter mooring was waiting for us, was closed due to low water. And a chain across the canal. We changed plans and wintered elsewhere, in Auxonne in Burgundy.
- Year Two: The plan for a clockwise circle through southern Burgundy rivers and canals was stymied by a canal blockage that shut down navigation for four weeks. That summer’s demi-tour was performed in June. We reversed into a counter- (or in English English anti-) clockwise route.
- Year Three: We made it all the way eastward into Alsace, on the German border. Our planned demi-tour to return westward along the same canal was cancelled when a massive inclined plane boat lift we’d ridden down, and planned to ride back up, broke. Requiring a year’s repairs before it would reopen. Rather than cruising west into Lorraine, we were forced into a clandestine southward route on the Rhine River.
- Year Four: The plan to reenact the clockwise tour of the Loire Valley came to an abrupt halt when our gearbox elected not to come along on the cruise. For a change, there was no about face that summer. Just a sudden stop. And an early flight home.
We tell ourselves we have to remain open for serendipity to work its wonders. The reality is that we have little choice in the matter. Plans in Jello. Thats our reality.
In the mean time, though, France continues to be France and France continues to fascinate us. Every day. Without fail. Right now we’re in Nevers – back in Nevers – tied up to the canal bank. It is Sunday. Passing by on the towpath is the Loire Marathon. Passing by on the canal is the most clever tourist business I’ve seen, a tour boat powered entirely by the paying passengers themselves, with paddle wheels linked to bicycle pedals and hand cranks operated by the passengers. A no-overhead business.
This afternoon we treated ourselves to a fancy three hour Sunday lunch at a Michelin one star restaurant, followed by a night in a hotel with a bath tub. What a joy to be married to such a low-maintenance woman who in return for climbing slimy lock walls in the rain and pounding steel mooring stakes with a sledge hammer, all she asks is one night a month in which to soak in a real bathtub.
We’ve waited out the downpours in our own ways. Sandra converted the aft cabin, the original living quarters for the Dutch family that operated Hoop as a commercial barge, into her art studio. When we’re under way, the hot engine room provides a drying rack for her paintings.
There is no shortage of landscapes, or cows, to pose for her. The next edition of On a Barge in France – available on Amazon in paperback and e-book – will be illustrated with original art.
The summer continues. We hope to see the sun in a week. Or two. In the mean time, our arms are spread wide waiting for France to present us with her next surprise. And wonder.
And, just in case, we’re keeping a wide net on a long pole at hand on the forward deck. Just in case we spot the Mona Lisa floating by.