What else in Paris? We visited a little chandlery close by, to get some necessary boaty bits, Mike bought a 1m class radio controlled model sailing yacht to have fun with, we visited, browsed and bought books in the famous ‘Shakespeare & Co’ bookshop, originally owned and run by Sylvia Beach, who kept open house & supported many writers, James Joyce & Hemmingway included, we walked & ate in & out. Gurwan, cousin of my friend Riwanona from my student days in ‘67/68 called by one evening for a drink; he works in an office overlooking the Arsenal, and appeared every bit the ‘honme d’affaires’, complete with pinstripe and umbrella, but soon relaxed into more of the wild student I remembered. Then he, his wife, whose mother is a Dillon with interesting Wild Geese/Irish Brigade connections, and Riwanona came and joined us for a buffet style lunch & a trip up the Seine just after we left the Arsenal on a breezy, bright and sunny day. They have done some sailing, so there was common ground straight away, Gurwan speaks quite good English, Anne excellent English, and Reggie and Mike aired their French so everyone was chatting.
Since then, we have been concentrating on sorting winter moorings. After ringing up a few likely looking places we took a couple of days off, hired a little car and went off to look at them – a pleasant trip in itself driving south in lovely clear sunny weather along the Seine and then the Loing, the canal de Briare and the Canal Lateral a la Loire, wine and chateaux country. Having stopped at many little ‘Halte de Plaisance’, chatted to anyone who looked like liveaboards, as well as various Capitaineries, and done a lot of discussing of pros and cons, we are finally now making our leisurely way to La Chapelle Montlinard, (it’s 2 hours by train south of Paris, but will take us 2-3 weeks!) on the Canal Lateral a la Loire where we plan to settle for the winter months. La Chapelle itself is a tiny village, and the harbour and canal there not very exciting, but it is just down the road and across the non-navigable Loire from La Charite sur Loire, a lovely lively little old town with a lot to offer – not least the fact that it is a ‘Town of Books’ like Hay-on-Wye and as Graiguenamanagh is aspiring to be! Apparently there is much going on over the winter; concerts, courses, etc, and there is an indoor swimming pool, whereas other places around mainly concentrate on the summer months and tourist attractions. Dutch Barge Association couple Guy and Ruth Toye have an old barge and a Tjalk in the harbour, and are doing up an old house and 2 satellite cottages opposite, so it will be good to have some English speaking folk around, & they tell us there are a few others living in the vicinity also.
We moved on up the Seine in the a.m., and what a trip it was! The day was grey to begin with, but the sun came out for the last leg in through the centre under the well-known buildings and bridges. The Seine meanders a lot, taking huge loops, so we had quite a distance to go through the suburbs, a lot of them industrial. There were all sorts of combinations and permutations of river craft and dwellings, many made from old barges, cut up, patched together, with huts, sheds, attractive adaptations and goodness knows what else. I was kept busy taking photos all the way. Then coming around a corner, we spotted an IWAI defaced ensign along with a Dutch Barge Association burgee flying on a nice looking Dutch barge, so of course had to pull in and enquire! She belongs to an Irish guy from Kinsale, an IWAI member, Patrick(?) James, who was at work, and his Austrian wife, to whom we spoke briefly. They bought the barge a couple of years ago and are slowly converting her. They also own a very pretty and well-kept Dutch Tjalk – sailing barge – that they live on at present. There was quite a little community of boats and barges there, not far from the Eiffel Tower. The river was busy & choppy enough, but we were lucky as it was much quieter than it would be in the summer. Thankfully, a lot of the trip boats were not running for they can cause problems as they dart all over the place and pay scant attention to small craft. It is indeed a wonderful experience to be on one’s own boat moving through such famous waters, and the Seine is the very best place from which to view the city. Poor Mike was kept busy with the steering and navigating through the correct arches of the bridges, so I just kept the camera going like the worst of tourists hoping that I would manage to catch something of it all. We turned and waited then outside the Port at the Arsenal, where we called up the Capitainerie on the radio to ask them to open the lock for us, which they duly did, and we were up and into the most central, calm and secure moorings in Paris, where we stayed for the next four days. Reggie Redmond, a friend from both the Shannon and motor sport days was over in Paris for a FIA court case, as he is one of the international judges, and came to join us for a few days, which was very pleasant. We decided while there to take Aquarelle for a trip on the 4.5 km Canal St Martin, up the 2069 metre tunnel under Bastille from the Arsenal, through 4 double locks to the confluence with the Canal St Denis and the Canal de l’Ourq. Lee and Vicki from Ruda came along too, and made a party out of it, so we had a lovely day out. We were lucky with the weather, which was sunny and breezy, as the following day was quite wet and miserable. We had to leave Mike’s passport with the Capitainerie, so that they would keep our slot for us, and that we wouldn’t continue on and escape without paying! There is a toll payable on the St Martin locks, of €0.67/lock; we had to get the lockkeeper at each lock to fill in the form, and then we paid our dues on our return. It is an attractive canal, through and under the heart of Paris, with many folk watching and waving from the banks and the pretty little wrought iron pedestrian bridges overhead. The tunnel is one way, controlled by lights, but is wide, quite high and airy with towpaths and big air vents overhead, some with greenery hanging down through them. We visited an ethnic market up at the Porte de Villette, went for a walk up around the confluence by a big leisure centre/park, had a relaxed, chatty lunch aboard, and it was time to head back before the trip boats.
Our next stop was in Creil, where we met up with and had a great welcome from our friends from July on ‘Au Treize’, the lovely barge with the conservatory-like area on the foredeck. It was good to see them and swap summer experiences – they had put down extra wooden decking aft, so there was much admiring and discussion of pros and cons etc. They also had helpful advice about winter moorings that we had begun to talk about and look into. Retracing some of our steps was interesting, and has given us a lovely feeling of friendly familiarity, and of having been here longer than we have, perhaps as mostly everywhere around the corner is new, fascinating and perhaps even challenging. In Creil we had very thick fog in the morning, and the day remained chilly enough even after it lifted, as we made our way down the Oise to L’Isle Adam, autumn was arriving. Through Conflans St Honorine, home to many barges and bargees we turned back on to the Seine and waters new again. It was bright and sunny, but very chilly. We saw the big white barge with stained glass windows & a large cross on the side,’Je Sers’ the community centre and chapel of the bargees, as well as many, many other barges, sometimes 4 or 5 abreast. Sadly, many seem to have been retired from working; the life of the private ‘marinier’ is not an easy one, or likely to lead to wealth and prosperity, and sons are not taking over from fathers as once they did. We passed a standard 38m barge with a big banner proclaiming that they could carry 20 times the load of a truck, causing far less pollution and relieving traffic congestion., but it seems that the powers that be aren’t interested. The last night before Paris was spent at Rueil -Malmaison, opposite the famous Maison Fournaise on the ‘Isle des Impressionistes’, where Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, and also Maupassant, the writer, used to meet. Here we came across a live aboard English couple with their beautiful old – very labour intensive – wooden boat, ‘Ruda’, all fitted out in Honduras mahogany and London plane. Built by a company called Lady Bee in 1938 she still has her original Ailsa Craig engines, and cost the equivalent of 14 terraced houses when new! We gather that she is quite tricky to handle and manoeuvre, though much loved.
From the Sambre we found ourselves back on the Oise, with bigger locks, and a lot busier with commercial traffic – push-tows & dredgers as well as the occasional cruiser. We passed the confluence with the Aisne and then tied up in Compiegne where my bike had been stolen. This time the weather was a lot better, very warm and sunny. After a morning spent around the town & market, and dealing with the wearying mobile phone company yet again, the four of us spent a cultural afternoon up at the Palace, a favourite holiday hunting spot of French royalty & rulers. On a guided tour around some of the state apartments, furnished with much dating from Napoleon 1st and Josephine’s time, including their beds, complete with OTT gilt and plush testers and dusty, rather tired looking hangings & ostrich plumes, Mike became more and more republican and revolutionary the more we saw. I was happily burbling on about history, N.’s treatment of J. etc and trying to translate what the not very good guide was saying, while Mike was muttering away about what he thought of positions of wealth and power gained on the work and the backs of the poor and the down-trodden! I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so steamed up about it. We then had a brief interlude in the pleasant gardens, before having a lovely tour, with only one other couple, of some of the huge collection of coaches, carriages, sledges, sedan chairs and bicycles of all sorts, and no, I didn’t see mine! There were many more vehicles not on display that we were only allowed look at through a door, or from a window above, mainly due to lack of funds, as there is no lack of space, the palace being vast. The advantage of being practically on our own was that we had lots more time to look at everything, the patient, and very good guide was plagued with technical questions, and my translation collapsed. On returning to the boat, we found that we had company, 3 other boats, one of which was Irish, and registered in Skibbereen! We got quite excited and went to investigate, but there was nobody aboard. Later, we thought we would check out the Irish boat, but it had vanished – most peculiar, as the locks were closed for the night and there was nowhere for the boat to go to. Early next morning we bade a regretful ‘au revoir’ to the Killeens, great folk to have around whom always see fun in everything. To David’s wary relief, bus and taxi drivers this time, though kind & helpful, didn’t seem to be into embracing foreign men with gusto! Some little time after getting back on board Mike was washing down the deck when two folk on bikes stopped for a chat. They turned out to be Tim Severin and companion, and so the mystery of the ‘disappearing’ Irish boat was solved; they had moored just around the corner outside a barge, for safety, as they were going away for a few days.
After that, we turned back and continued on south, got back into France, off the R Sambre, and on to the Canal de la Sambre a l’Oise. Shortly after Charleroi the river became a lot prettier, and we gradually left industry behind again. The Haute Sambre is very pretty indeed with little villages and towns. We spent a day and 2 nights in Thuin, a small town full of history, exploring some of the sights, and visiting a museum of the working barges. The old Barrow/Grand Canal bargees, and Heritage Boat Association would be very interested in it, as we were. The weather picked up again, and has been very warm indeed, which was just what we wanted for our visitors. Thankfully, we missed all the extremes of weather that our neighbours have been experiencing, though the temperatures have been very high. We had a lot of locks again, all easy, with various types of controls, both manual – truly manual with handles to wind, though always with lock keepers – and automated in various shapes and forms. Mike, needless to say, was out on the bank and getting stuck in too. The lock keepers in this area are all most helpful and friendly, delighted to chat and glad to see some activity, as things are pretty slack here, with practically no commercial barges coming this way – 1 three weeks ago, we were told, the first since last December! On the rivers and canals that are busy with commercial traffic as well as leisure craft, the lock keepers inhabit little eyries high above the water overlooking sometimes two or three locks side by side, and the only communication is by VHF or an occasional wave in acknowledgement as you wave thanks going out of a lock. There is also a lull in leisure craft going through at this time, with kids back to school, with weekends being slightly busier.