We had a quiet couple of weeks in Baûme-les-Dames when Mike was working hard putting down
the Tek-Dek covering on the aft deck; a tricky and tedious job that required patience and exactitude,
but the end result was well worth the effort. A surprise visit came next from Peter and Penny from S Africa,
which gave us a lovely mini-break. Sometime boat-swappers on the Shannon with our previous 10m cruiser
and their English narrow boat on the Grand Union Canal at Braunston, they were driving through Europe
in their camper van.
Then off again to Besançon to meet up with our elder daughter, her husband and two of our grandchildren
who joined us for a week of scorching weather as far as Montbéliard. Lovely to catch up with them,
enjoy playing with the children, relax and sightsee together, but too short. Grandchildren are great fun.
Cruising began again at the beginning of April, after the rather hectic fun of having some 40 folk
aboard Aquarelle to a ‘knees-up’ for St Patrick’s Day: some squash!- and then a lot of farewells, from days
out to lunches.
Our first cruising visitors arrived just after we left, bringing spring weather with them, which we all enjoyed
as we wended our way along the Canal Lateral à la Loire through canal banks covered with carpets of
cowslips and violets. Various ‘caves’ were visited where they went in search of good wines to bring home;
their van was well laden when they departed!
A cousin came next, for too few days, as far as La Charité; we had a quick trip back to Ireland, and then on
we went via the Canal du Centre to Châlons-sur-Saône, where we picked up another two Irish friends who are
always ready for an adventure and joined us for an A.N.P.E.I. (French Inland Waterways Association,) Rally/
Cruise-in-Company, along the stunning River Doubs. Three French boats & Irish Aquarelle took part in a wonderful
week: some wet weather, some very warm, sight-seeing, cruising,always together, eating in, eating out, a lot of
laughs, and close friendships forged. A total of 7 couples, we found we had all been married for a long time from
30 to 43 years and to our original partners, becoming a rarity these days! We taught them line-heaving & wellie
throwing, they taught us boules. We ate ’French,’ we ate’ Irish’. We were royally entertained by a Mayor.
Briare town runs free classes in French twice weekly for immigrants to which anyone is welcome to join.
While Mike attended those Rosaleen started German classes with a Danish lady. No time to feel bored!
There is always something of interest to go to in the area be it the mobile cinema, a show or concert
in the comfortable and modern Social and Cultural Centre, or an exhibition in one of the museums.
Family and friends visited too, which was lovely; we proudly brought them around the town and area and
though the weather was cold and grey at times, we endeavoured to show the charm and appeal of it all.
This winter we did some translating for the Tourist Office, as we wanted to give back something to the town
for the exceptional kindness, friendliness and welcome we had received.
They have a huge amount of material on the town, the canals, the amazing aqueduct, including information
in large print for the partially sighted, and in Braille for the blind, but very little in English.
Some of what they had had been very poorly translated in the past, and some didn’t even make sense.
We enjoyed the challenge of that, and it was good for our French, too!
Winter quarters in Briare lived up to and exceeded any expectations we may have had.
It was also like a true home-coming, our return after the summer, we had such a welcome,
from our friends to the folk in the shops who wanted to know all about our summer travels,
where we had been, and fill us in on local news. Within a very short time a routine appeared:
– short walks around the canal and river banks each day, with regular outings further afield of 10 or 16 km
each Sunday, whereby we saw a huge amount of the extensive & lovely oak woods and surrounding hinterland,
organised by the local Walking Club, a warm and welcoming group, of which we quickly became members.
8.00 a.m. starts in all weathers, with a stop in the open air, in tents, farm sheds, or village halls
for‘re-victualling’- hot drinks, little snacks and home for noon or so; great camaraderie and fun,
as well as good exercise. Funny experiences, too. Shortly before leaving in April, there was a trip
with another club, by bus, to the Walkers ‘Salon’ (Show) in Paris, including a 12km walk in the renowned
Bois de Boulogne beforehand. An experience not to be missed, we decided, and enrolled with enthusiasm.
A crack-of-dawn departure from Briare, a late bus, an abandoned coffee/comfort stop on the way due to the
Service Halt being closed, and no facilities at the Start on arrival, as well as persistent rain and at times,
heavy rain, meant a heads down dash through the Bois and adjacent streets of Paris, before arriving,
a sorry-looking group of over-heated, hungry, muddy, sodden, dripping (and cross-legged) folk at the Salon.
So much for Parisian style & elegance!