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Friday – Saturday October 7-8, 2011 Fredericksburg to Nevers, France
This trip had its inception in 2004 when we cruised the Canal du Midi on the barge Athos with Steve and Robin. We knew we would return one day for another cruise and that day has arrived. For years I dreamed of owning my own barge and even completed the course to earn my US Coast Guard Captain’s license. I researched barges and visited brokers and builders in Holland. But we eventually realized that the dream was not practical and refocused our attention to relocation to Fredericksburg. We did discover that renting a barge is a common practice and we were just crazy enough to try our hand at navigating one of the recreational canals in France. We began our research and discovered H2Oholidays (barginginfrance) offered charters on several rivers in France. We selected the Canal Lateral de Loire because it is exclusively recreational so we would not be challenged with commercial traffic. Our route was from Decize to Chatillon sur Loire, about 130 kilometers. But first we had to assemble a crew of willing comrades who were bold enough for a first time experience of a bare boat charter in France. Our motor vessel, Le Magnifique, has 4 state rooms with comfortable accommodations for eight. We needed to fill four places (Steve and Robin & Hugh and Becky had already committed). From the Wednesday night Stags Head group, Jim and Beth Wiggins joined our cruise. At the ADA convention in Boston of November 2010, Becky mentioned the cruise to Linda Delahanty and that we had an opening for another couple. Soon Linda and her husband Paul Gorski agreed to the adventure and our crew was set. Now all we had to do was wait until our departure date. Our Continental (United) flight departed Houston at 3:40 on Friday October 07. We elected to drive from Fredericksburg to Houston, because the drive time was actually shorter than driving to San Antonio and flying to Houston with the extra layover. Our aircraft was a Boeing 767…we had comfortable seats on the second row of the economy section. The service was fine, but the meals continue to be only marginal. My greatest surprise was the cost of a beverage in coach…now $7 for a beer or wine…more than double since I had last flown. As usual I don’t sleep on trans-Atlantic flights and spent the night playing games and reading. I did not watch any of the movies. We arrived in Paris on time at 8:30 in the morning. Unlike our weather in the Texas Hill Country, Paris was dull and cool. Clearing immigration was routine and quick. We found the bus terminal for Le Cars Air France just outside the exit of Terminal 1. We had to take this bus from CDG to Gare de Lyon to catch our train to Nevers. We had plenty of time to spare before our 1:00 departure for lunch at a nearby café. The train was a fast express train arriving in Nevers about 3:00 in the afternoon. We took a taxi to the Hotel Pont de Loire and checked in before starting to explore the town. By now the weather had deteriorated into a 55-degree drizzle, but we still ventured out and discovered a Saturday afternoon street market, the cathedral and the convent of Sainte Bernadette. We found her chaisse in the chapel and a replica of the Lourdes grotto where she had 18 encounters with the Virgin Mary. On the return to the hotel, we stopped in a market to buy wine, cheese and crackers for a snack in our room, before dinner. The concierge recommended a local restaurant, but we were told that without reservations it was full. As an alternate we found a popular local venue, which had a decent vegetarian pizza. Then it was time for bed and a chance to recover from our jet lag.
Sunday, October 09, 2011 Nevers to Decize
After a restless night fighting jetlag, we awoke to a gray drizzly morning in Nevers. We elected to take our breakfast in the hotel and arrived in the dining only 15 minutes before the buffet closed for the switch over for lunch. Because the weather was really crummy we stayed in the hotel to read and catch up on our travel chronicles. The hotel extended check out time until 2:00pm and arranged for a taxi to take us to the train station at 3:00 for our 3:30 train to Decize. We purchased our tickets and joined the other travelers waiting for their train. As the train from Paris arrived I mentioned to Becky that it would be a real coincidence if our 6 companions arriving from the states happened to be changing trains in Nevers for the same one we were taking to Decize. No sooner had I said this that Jim Wiggins appeared in the arrival hall and yelled our name across the station. Next Beth appeared followed by Paul Gorski and Linda Delahanty and Steve and Robin Abelman. So now our full crew was assembled for the cruise on the Canal Lateral de Loire. Decize is only 22 kilometers from Nevers…just a 20-minute commuter train ride. Arriving in Decize on a drizzly Sunday afternoon was not our best plan…we discovered that the taxis do not operate on Sunday and there was no public transport of any kind. The good news was we could walk to the hotel…the bad news was we had to walk the 2 kilometers. For the next 30 minutes our band of travelers dragged our luggage along wet sidewalks and over curbs until we finally arrived at the Hotel Bel Air. This hotel would normally not be one we would choose, but as it was the only one in town we were happy to have a refuge from the weather. We checked in, paid for the rooms and set down to enjoy a cold beer and a glass of wine. Well we didn’t enjoy the wine because it wasn’t fit to drink…but the beer was ok. It’s a good thing we had the beer before seeing the rooms because we had just booked into the worst accommodations we had ever experienced. Oh well, we knew it was just for one night and there was hot water so we just had to accept our situation. The hotel manager did accommodate us with a restaurant suggestion and agreed to transport us to the restaurant because taxis were not running. The restaurant was fine with a varied menu with a selection that pleased everyone. We enjoyed the meal and wine but with a little cloud hanging over our heads…we knew we had to return to a substandard hotel and we didn’t have a ride to get us there. Jim went down to pay the bill and while he was there he sweet-talked the waitress about helping us find a ride back to the hotel. She arranged for her husband to drive us back to the Bel Air for free, but we did leave a nice tip. Back in the hotel there was nothing to do but jump into bed and hope for a restful night to recover from jet lag.
Monday October 10, 2011 Decize – Fluery sur Loire
We met in the breakfast room at 9:00…the selection was very basic…we had a choice of bread or croissant with butter and jelly…nothing more except for coffee or tea. It was probably the best we could hope for given the standard of the hotel where we were staying. We had arranged for transport to take us to the Bassin de la Junction where we would board our boat for the week’s cruise on the Loire. Our driver arrived in a 9-passenger van that had ample room for our entire luggage. He spoke English and offered to give us a tour of the town. We learned that the old town was on an island in the Loire River and that it had been founded by the Romans more than 2000 years ago. After our short tour he took us to the port of Decize where our boat was docked. We checked in and asked a multitude of questions about the boat and what provisions we would need to buy before setting sail. About that time we learned that every business (except restaurants) closed at noon and reopened at 2:00. Knowing this we took our leave to a local restaurant at the marina and enjoyed a very pleasant lunch while completing our shopping list and waiting for the store to reopen. There was a large super market within walking distance of the marina where we found everything we needed for the first two days of the cruise. As you might imagine the biggest item on the list was beer and wine, closely followed with cheese, cold cuts and bread. Of course we bought cereal, milk, fruit and yogurt and some snacks. We then boarded Le Magnifique 595 for the first time and begin to store our luggage and provisions. Jim and Beth took the port stern cabin, Paul and Linda were assigned the starboard stern cabin, Steve and Robin were in the forward bow cabin and Hugh and Becky were in the starboard cabin just forward of the salon bulkhead. After all the gear and provisions were carefully stowed away, we told the mechanic we were ready for our instructions and lesson of negotiating the first lock. We cast off at 4:00 in the afternoon and lined the boat up for tripping the lock. This lock was an electric and unattended…this means we had to pull a blue line which was hanging from a pole about 200 yards from the lock. A series of signal lights indicated when the gates were open and we could proceed into the lock. We eased into the chamber and cast the bow and stern line over the lock bollards. Jim handled the bow line while Steve handled the stern line. Paul assisted as required. The gate closed and we started to rise from the basin to the level of the canal. Soon we were ready to move out into the canal…the mechanic wished us bon voyage and left us to manage on our own. I guided the boat into the canal and headed in the direction of Fluery sur Loire; a distance about 12 kilometers north. The boat is not very responsive, but soon I learned how to keep a true course and negotiate the narrow clearances under the bridges. Our vessel, Le Magnifique, is a 56-foot long boat with a single diesel engine that can propel the boat forward at 6 kilometers per hour. Fortunately there is a bow thruster on the boat, which is essential for guiding through the narrow locks. There are four cozy cabins on board, two with en suite bathrooms and two forward cabins that share a bath. There is a full galley and salon where 8 can comfortable sit around the U-shaped table. There are pilot controls in the salon as well as on the bridge. The potable water system has capacity for two days with out a refill and the diesel tank holds enough fuel for the entire week’s cruise. The 12 volt lighting is sufficient and will also keep camera and computer batteries charged. However we needed shore power to run any large appliance such as a hair dryer. The controls are simple to understand and everything on the boat was in good condition. Back on the canal we had about 12 kilometers and two locks to trip before arriving at our port for the evening. We negotiated this distance and locks in about 2 hours. Fortunately each of the locks was open and we were able to enter without waiting for other boats. As we arrived at Fluery sur Loire, we were greeted by a British boat owner who advised us how to line up our boat for best access to shore power. Soon we had the lines fast for the evening and shore power connected. It was now time to relax and let the party begin. Piloting the canal is not a stressful activity, but I must confess, I was happy the have the first leg behind me and the confidence that came with it for the rest of the cruise. The Canal was dug about 1860 to provide reliable transport along the Loire River. It is about 60 feet wide and 6 feet deep…wide enough for boats to pass. There is no commercial traffic on the canal…only recreational vessels. Back in the salon the beer and wine started to flow as we raised a toast to our first day of the cruise. We planned to have a simple evening meal on board because we had had a nice warm meal at the marina and there was no restaurant in Fluery sur Loire. So the evening progressed while we dined on fine wine, select cheeses, sliced meats, bread and fruit. After the table was cleared, the cards appeared for the first bridge match of the trip. As the evening wore on, the troops were feeling the effects of a long day and started to bed in anticipation of the adventures which lay ahead for the next day.
Tuesday October 11, 2011 Fluery sur Loire – Nevers
The crew started to stir about 7:30…semi refreshed after our first night on board. Fortified with a couple of cups of strong European coffee, Hugh, Becky, Steve and Robin set off to explore the tiny village of Fluery sur Loire. There are 247 inhabitants, a church, a school a post office and a bakery and maybe 35 houses. We saw the entire town is less than 5 minutes and on our second pass we discovered to our delight that the bakery was open. Inside we found a limited selection of pastries and some baguettes. We returned to the boat with fresh bread and pastries; we found the rest of the crew up and dressed and ready for a typical continental breakfast. Soon it was time to disconnect the shore power, cast off the lines and set out for the days adventure. We only had 500 meters to cruise before entering our first of five locks of the day. Over the distance of this cruise we would encounter 27 locks and drop and elevation of 140 feet. This section of the canal winds through lush green farmland with small villages. The weather was overcast and cool; most of the crew chose to remain in the salon and play bridge while the captain and relief remained on the bridge. We arrived at the next lock just as it closed for the noon hour so we tied up to some shore bollards and preceded to prepare and enjoy lunch which was extremely similar to the meal we had the night before. At 1:00 we cast off and entered the lock, then waited 10 minutes for another boat to join us inside. We continued on the canal wishing for a peek at the sun and for one brief instant we caught a passing ray of sunshine. Around 3:00 in the afternoon we arrived at the junction of the Port of Nevers canal…there were two automatic electric locks to navigate between the main canal and the port. Becky and I had scouted the port when we were in Nevers on Sunday and had found a likely spot for us to dock. As it turned out, that was the only spot available and we eased our vessel along side the bulkhead and made fast for the evening. With shore power connected, Becky and I took the opportunity test the hot shower facilities while our other mates collected their cameras and walked off in search of Saint Bernadette lying in state in her chapel at the convent of Nevers. Her body is incorrupt and has lain in the chapel since 1925. Becky and I joined the group at the cathedral after securing our reservation for the evening feast. The Nevers Cathedral dates back to the 8 th century; it was severely damaged on July 12, 1944 during the war but has been fully restored since 1965. The stained glass from the restoration is modern reminiscent of Escher. The cathedral closed at 6:00 and as we exited one of the resident pigeons blessed Beth with a souvenir from the cathedral lofts. Next we had a few minutes to kill before we gathered at Le Botte de Nevers, a Michelin recommended restaurant. Our hostess spoke no English, but she was extremely accommodating; with her sign language, expressions and my broken French we managed to order some excellent wine and a memorable three-course meal. Our choice ranged from beef, to fish or escargot and frog legs…all were outstanding and the desserts were an amazing mélange of sweet deliciousness. We dined, drank and laughed for three hours realizing that we soon had to return to our modest accommodations on board Le Magnifique. Back on board, some went to bed while others read or recorded in their travel logs.
Wednesday October 12, 2011 Nevers – Marseilles-les-Aubigny
Wednesday morning in the Port of Nevers harbor was quiet with a low gray ceiling looming overhead. Members of the crew started to stir about 7:30 while Hugh and Becky set out for the boulangerie on bicycle in search of fresh croissants. We negotiated the bikes over the Loire River and up into the town where we located the bakery we had seen earlier. We purchased twelve hot fresh croissants and returned to the boat for breakfast with our mates. Next on the day’s agenda was to return to the market to provision for the next few days. The ladies on board had decided that we needed more salads in our diet and thus purchased salad materials for lunch. We also need to replenish the wine, beer and snacks supply. Paul had wanted to fix omelets so also bought eggs. Back at the harbor we added some water to our fresh water tanks and then cast off for the afternoon cruise. Becky and Linda chose to ride the bikes to the first lock and meet us there. As we arrived at the lock we saw the signal light change from red to off indicating that we would have to wait for an hour until the locks reopened after the noon one-hour break. We passed the time practicing some first aid on Steve who had tried a Spiderman impersonation jumping from the boat to the shore but landed like a spread eagle instead of a steady spider. Fortunately he suffered no major injuries…just some abrasion that needed cleaning and bandaging. The locks returned to service at 1:00 and we were underway again. We cruised through fertile farmland dotted with an occasional farm house and barn; we passed by a couple of small villages but continued without stopping towards Marseille les Aubigny. The most significant event of the day would be crossing the Allier River on the canal bridge and then descending 46 feet through a chain lock with two chambers. The canal bridge was about 500 meters long and ended in the first chamber of the locks. The lock keeper was a very friendly fellow who knew how to communicate well with us although he didn’t speak a word of English. Fortunately there were no other boats at the locks and canal bridge so we could cross without losing any waiting time. We were not certain if we could arrive at our goal with plenty of daylight, but after clearing the locks we knew we could reach the port in time. During the afternoon cruise there was a non stop bridge game in the salon while the pilot crew remained on the bridge to guide the boat through one more lock and under an endless succession of bridges some of which were low enough that we had to duck to clear the bridgework. While underway, we phone ahead to a recommended restaurant to make reservations for the evening. Unfortunately they had not changed their recorded message to explain that they had closed for the winter. Anyway, we found a choice pontoon in the harbor with easy access to electricity and water. We got directions for the harbor master / bar keeper to the restaurant and set out on foot for the 20 minute walk. Arriving at the Auberge de Poids, we found it closed for the winter leaving us no choice but to return to the bakery with hopes of getting a pizza for dinner. The friendly baker was completing a pizza order for another customer, but much to our surprise he said he was finished for the day and would not accept our order. Now with no other option, we returned to the boat where chef Paul whipped up some excellent omelets for the mates. We appreciated his culinary skills, which we accompanied with several bottles of wine we had assembled from previous provisioning excursions. This little harbor town offered no evening activities…it seemed to be totally closed by 8:00pm…so after watching some news on CNN we turned out the lights and retired for the day.
Thursday October 13, 2011 Marseilles-les-Aubigny – Menetreol sur Sancerre
Today would be our longest day of cruising in terms of distance and number of locks to negotiate…we wanted to cover 32 kilometers and trip 7 locks in order to arrive at Menetreol sur Sancerre in the afternoon. We had to wait until 9:00 before we could set out because we were docked at the opening of our first lock. We had shared a pontoon with a German couple and we had planned to leave at the same time in order to share the locks. The lady lock keeper appeared a few minutes after 9:00 and opened the gate for us to enter and off we sailed. The first two locks were only 500 meters apart and were operated by the same keeper who traveled between each on bicycle. After clearing both locks we had only 2.5 kilometers before arriving at the 3 rd lock of the day and much to our surprise we were greeted by the same lady from the first two locks. By now the coffee was ready along with the fresh bread and croissants we had purchased just before starting our daily voyage. For the first time we saw clearing in the clouds and the possibility for some sunshine…the temperatures remained in the mid 60’s all day but the radiant warmth from the sun was a nice change. As captain, I usually stand at the wheel on the bridge for hours at a time and after a while the cool damp air becomes a bit chilly even with multiple layers of clothing. Soon we approached the 4 th lock of the day…by now the crew had the experience to go through the locks with greater ease…the have learned to flip the lines off the bollards and how to arrange the lines to keep the boat in the correct position while the elevation of the water level in the lock lowers. Paul is the one who usually jumps onto the lock wall to handle the lines and help the lock keeper crank the gates and sluices open and closed. However at this lock Paul had been on the ledge helping and was climbing down the wet ladder to get on board when he slipped and landed on his butt on the deck, but somehow managed to avoid going overboard into the water. He emerged a little bruised and sore and was more concerned about soiling his white golf trousers. This section of the canal passed through more villages that we had previously seen…and we were seeing some Chateaus in the surrounding hillsides. Meanwhile the nonstop bridge game continued in the salon except when brief moments of sunshine bathed the bridge and everyone emerged to marvel how the brightness enhanced the views of the countryside. Our plan for the day called for us to arrive at Herry about noon…all our guides indicated that there was a restaurant and epicerie where we could have lunch. We expected the lock to be closed for the noon hour so this would be a good place to eat while we waited for the lock to reopen. At the approach to the lock we found only one bollard so we drove a pin into the bank to attached the stern line. Paul again had the shore responsibilities and once again had a close encounter with the ground, which added more color to his white golf trousers. We walked into the town, but found a ghost town with nothing but closed shops and restaurants. By now our provisions on board were fairly meager, but we had no choice except to return to the boat and assemble some salami and cheese sandwiches and a few pieces of fruit. We were ready to continue when the lock keeper appeared at 1:00 and allowed us to pass on to the next pond. The afternoon brought intermittent sunshine as we glided through verdant agricultural vistas. We did cruise some sections of the canal, which had been lined with orderly plantings of Plain trees…somewhat reminiscent of the Canal du Midi. The remainder of today’s voyage passed uneventfully through three more locks until we arrived at the small port at Menetreol sur Sancerre. We found a good docking position right next to electrical and water connections. There was one other boat in the port, a couple from the DC area who owned their boat and were in the 6 th week of a 7-week cruise. They told us where to get the key for the electric box at the hotel/restaurant. I walked the few feet and met the Inn Keeper who gave me the key and confirmed our dinner reservations for the evening. The rest of our crew gathered the shopping bags and set out in the direction of the Carrefour hypermarche to reprovision our stores. I took the opportunity to enjoy a hot shower while everyone else was on the shopping trip. The hot water is supplied by an exchanger off the cooling water of the diesel engine so when the boat is underway there’s plenty of hot water which will remain so for about 8 hours. After my shower, I jumped on one of the bicycles and rode the 2 kilometers to meet our crew at the Carrefour. They had filled a grocery cart with provision to last a couple of days but it would be difficult to carry all the loaded shopping bags back the 2 kilometers to the boat. Fortunately the bike had a luggage rack where we could stack the heavy items like the beer, water and wine. I made two trips on the bike to carry the heavy items while the others carried the light items. Back on board, the provisions were soon stowed into the refrigerators and cabinets, the daily happy hour was set and the local Sancerre wine filled the glasses. We continued to enjoy the wine until time to walk across the street to the Floroine where we had a 7:00 dinner reservations. Our hostess spoke a little English and was a delight. We each ordered from the selection of regional French cuisine and tried one of the better known Sancerre white wines. The food, wine, desserts and service were all excellent and for a very reasonable price. Following dinner, we returned to the boat for some more bridge and reading before retiring for the evening.
Friday October 14, 2011 Menetreol sur Sancerre – Sancerre
Today’s itinerary was only shore excursion to visit Sancerre and the surrounding wine region. The crew began to muster about 8:00 in the morning. Becky and Robin walked to the local boulangerie to get fresh croissants and bread to supplement our menu of coffee, cereal, yogurt, fruit and jam. We had plenty of time to enjoy breakfast before our taxis arrived to drive us the 6 kilometers up to the tourist office at Sancerre. There we paused to take in the magnificent vista overlooking the Loire valley and the vineyards that filled the slopes leading up the hill. Sancerre sits on top of a hill, which resulted from upheaval a million and half years ago. The remaining geological structures left a small area well suited to viniculture. The city (OK…village of 1500 inhabitants) had organized a self-guided tour with a map and cue sheets that followed a red line on the street to 25 points of interest. The leisurely stroll took a little over an hour with a stop at the wine museum. There we learned how the area was formed and came to be a famous wine producing AOC with 350 wineries in the region. The visit to the museum included a taste of Sancerre white (sauvignon blanc) and a souvenir tasting glass. We had also arranged a tour of the area to begin at 2:00 in the afternoon…if we were to keep this appointment, we needed to cut off the final portion of the walking tour and gather at a recommended restaurant at the town square. We found the restaurant packed with group of tourist who had just descended from a dreaded tour bus. Our host was reluctant to allow us seating but after a few minutes of negotiating he showed us to a table explaining that it would be 15 minutes before he could take our order. The literal translation of a French 15 minutes is “we serve you after all the other tourist have been served”. As the 15 minutes dragged on we realized that we could not keep our appointment at 2:00 with our tour guide who happened to be the vice mayor of Sancerre. Finally, we ordered and were quickly served. At 2:00 I walked to the tourist office and met Robert waiting for us…I explained that we were finishing lunch and that we needed another 15 minutes. That was no problem for him and him drove to the square to meet our crew. Meanwhile everyone finished his lunch and emerged into the waiting van. Robert did not speak English and I had the responsible of translating. (I should mention that while we were on the tour the clouds finally cleared and we were enjoying the vistas bathed in brilliant sunshine) We managed with our limited French but surely missed some of the interesting points that he was explaining. We drove through vineyards and tiny villages as well as St. Satur stopping once to see the grapevines up close and take panorama photos of Sancerre. We then drove to the Jean Paul Picard winery in Bue where we strolled the vineyards, toured the winery and bottling area and then assembled in the tasting room. The wine maker spoke some English and told us about the Sancerre wines. 75% of the wines are white (Sauvignon Blanc) 20% are red (Pinot Noir) and 5% Rose (also Pinot Noir) The whites are quite pleasant…dry and fruity while the reds tends to be a little light for the American taste possibly a suitable pairing with barbecue or robust salmon. They served us the local goat cheese with each of the 4 wines we tasted…the red, the rose and two whites. The costs of the wines at the winery were reasonable and we bought 3 bottles of the white to enjoy back on board. However the cost of shipping to the States more than doubles the price per bottle, which makes them too expensive to compete with comparable US wines. From the winery we continued on to a goat fromagerie…as we entered the milking barn, 200 nannies were lined up for the afternoon milking. One milkmaid handled all the operation…herding the goats into the stalls, pouring the feed, attaching the suction cups to the tits, releasing the cups and repeating for the next shift of 40 goats. Then she changed her shoes and led us into the store where we tasted three cheeses…a fresh, a semi dry and a dry…the difference being the length of aging. The fresh was less than a week old…the semi-dry about a week old and the dry up to 3 months old. Following our visit to the fromagerie, Robert drove us to a Carrefour market where we replenished our bread supply; we then continued to the boat and bid farewell to our guide. The sundeck was in full sunshine and we were ready to relax around the table and sample some the wines we had purchased on our tour and enjoy some snacks. The late afternoon sun soon fell below the rooftops so the temperature started to plummet driving us off the deck into the salon. We had planned to dine on board on pumpkin soup and foccocia bread with a dessert course of cookies and coffee followed by more wine and cheese. As soon as the table was cleared, the cards appeared and the evening bridge game commenced. The highlight of the evening was Jim returning from the hotel where he had left his laundry the day before. He was anticipating a nice dry pile of clean clothes…the clothes were indeed clean and neat but wet…so now he faced the challenge of drying his laundry within the confines of our boat. The bridge game lasted an hour or so before everyone felt the effect of a full day of touring, abundant wine and food indicating that it was time to turn in for the night.
Saturday October 15, 2011 Menetreol – Belleville
We woke up to a clear but cold (34 degrees) morning…the first cup of coffee was especially good this day. The crew was a little slower emerging from the cabins but eventually most of us assembled for coffee before too long. We unplugged the electric and cast off about 9:00 in the morning. Because of the temperature, we switched the controls from the bridge to the salon where I piloted the boat for the first hour of the day. Meanwhile the crew set breakfast on the table and we noshed our way down the canal in the direction of Lere where we had planned to stop for lunch. The landscape along the canal had changed a little…while it was still agricultural, we did see more towns and houses and gardens along the bank. There were fewer locks on this leg…only four to the lunch stop. With the full sun, Jim and Beth had a good opportunity to dry their wet laundry. We arrived at the last lock a few minutes past noon so we had to wait until 1:00 before we could navigate the final kilometer to Lere. We found a good mooring location and made the boat fast to the shore and then walked two blocks to the town square where we located the Charrette restaurant. This was a nice place specializing in pizza but also offered several regional specialties. Three ordered pizzas while some others tried a gallette, which was a huge crepe, wrapped around various fillings. Mine had smoked salmon and Becky’s had ham, cheese and mushrooms. Everyone enjoyed the hot lunch and we even returned to the boat with a to-go box of left over pizza. The afternoon cruise was only 5 kilometers and one lock to arrive at Belleville sur Loire. Because of the short distance and large lunch, 5 of the crew chose to walk or ride bikes into Belleville. We didn’t realize as we entered the port that there were moorings on both sides of the lock. We found a place and secured the boat, but we needed a special adapter to connect the shore power. Paul and I jumped on the bicycles and rode to the tourist office where we got all the information we wanted plus the required electric adapter while discovering that we had tied up on the least desirable side of the lock. We asked the the lady in the tourist office to phone the lock keeper to allow us passage through to the lower side. Soon he appeared and operated the lock for us. Now we tied up to a pleasant mooring and connected the electricity and water. Linda found a regional shop located just across the street where she purchased a few souvenirs. Meanwhile we set up happy hour snacks on the bridge and began to celebrate a beautiful day in full warm sunshine. As the dusk approached we moved into the salon for more bridge, more food and more fun until the evening hours approached and sent us off the bed happy and tired.
Sunday October 16, 2011 Belleville – Chatillon sur Loire
There was a little fog in the air as we emerged for our final day of cruising on the Canal Lateral de Loire. We planned to pass our destination port in order to cross the canal bridge over the Loire River at Briare and then return to Chatillon sur Loire. We cast off a few minutes before 9:00 so we would be at the first lock when it opened. We arrived at the lock at Mimbrey before the lock keeper so we tied up to the shore and phoned the keeper to let him know we wanted to proceed through…he arrived in about 10 minutes and began to prepare the chamber for us to move through. Meanwhile in the salon, breakfast was served along with pots of hot coffee. With the lock finally opened, we moved into position but had to wait about 10 minutes for another boat to join us. This was a significant lock because it was the last of the locks for the cruise. Now we had only 15 kilometers before the aqueduct over the Loire. The sun quickly burned the morning fog away and we were bathed in brilliant sunshine; our final cruising day was the bright and warmest of the trip. Crossing the Loire on the 150 year old aqueduct was a highlight of the cruise; our estimate is that the canal bridge is 80 to 100 feet above the river. We moored the boat in the Briare harbor at noon and started to explore. We found the church on the town square…the noon services had just completed but the organist continued to play for several minutes. This church had wonderful mosaic floors and wall accents. Following our tour of the church we continued to explore the town before returning to the boat where we served lunch up on the bridge…our first opportunity to have lunch outside. We had to vacate our mooring by 2:00 because we had stopped at the placed reserved for a restaurant boat, which was out on a noon lunch cruise. We cast off the lines a few minutes before 2:00 and retraced our route back over the aqueduct and the 7 kilometers back to Chatillon sur Loire. We managed to raise the base manager on the phone who advised us where to dock if we wanted electricity for the evening. We found an open pontoon and backed in for the night. The next priority was to find a restaurant for the evening. The ladies set out to explore the town and locate a place for us to dine…unfortunately on a Sunday afternoon, they found almost every enterprise closed and no open restaurants. They had started to consider hiring a taxi to take us to Briare for dinner, but discovered a phone number for a restaurant at the harbor called Le Vieux Port. With one quick call we learned they would open at 7:00 for dinner and would accept our reservation for a table for 8. Now it was time to break out the Champagne and wine and snacks for the final happy hour on board as we celebrated the end of a memorable 7-day cruise on the Canal Lateral de Loire. As the sun fell below the trees and the wine bottles emptied, we relocated from the bridge to the restaurant. The menu selection provided an ample choice for all with someone ordering seafood or beef or lamb or vegetarian. Of course we needed two more bottles of Pouilly sur Loire to accompany the meal. Each of us ordered a plate that included dessert which was a plate with an assortment of five different sweet morsels…just right to compliment the meal. We walked the one block back to the boat and started the last bridge game of the cruise. The crew started to yawn indicating it was time to put away the cards and turn in for our last night on the boat…
Sunday October 17, 2011 Chatillon sur Loire – Paris.
I had the coffee on the stove at 6:30…the whistling water kettle was the alarm to roust the sleeping crew from their beds. We had time for a quick breakfast before we completed packing and cleaning the boat. At 9:00 the base personnel arrived so we could complete the formalities of returning the boat. Le Boat had arranged a taxi to take us the 6 kilometers to Briare for the 11:21 train back to Paris. Jim and Beth had an earlier train for their tour of Burgundy. We jumped onto the train car that stopped at the station platform not realizing until the train pulled out that we had selected the 1st class car by mistake. We then relocated to the 2nd class car for the one hour and twenty minute ride into Bercy station in Paris. Our plan was to walk to the Gare de Lyon where we could catch the Air France bus back to the airport. Paul and Linda decided to visit L’Orangerie and said they would join us later in the evening at the hotel. Steve, Robin, Becky and Hugh found a nearby restaurant and enjoyed a leisurely lunch. We discovered while we were in the restaurant that it would be quicker and cheaper for the four of us to share a taxi rather than take the bus, so following lunch we walked to the taxi line at the train station and loaded up for the trip to the Millennium Hotel at the airport. It was a nice change to have a room with plenty of space and a large bathroom. After a hot shower and some rest, we met in the pub for some beer and dinner. Much later, around 10:00, Paul and Linda appeared from their adventures in Paris. We said farewell and retired for the evening.