Back through Paris to the Sambre

The return trip through the Marne, made necessary by low water levels and damage to the Canal de l’Aisne to La Marne, was well worthwhile. Its sprawling vineyards, charming villages and forests make for a delightful journey. After a few days we made it to the Seine, mooring at the first lock, very close by and to the south. The next day, another bright and unfortunately rain-free one, took us through Paris again. It was just as magnificent as the first time. We spent the night on the Seine at a halte fluvial in Montigny-les-Corneilles, one of many such moorings affording no electricity or water. We had plenty of both already. The haulte is in front of two lovely restaurants, both of which we passed on. The heat declined as the sun dropped behind the trees on the opposite side of the river, taking us to a warm but lovely night with a star studded sky.

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Bridge at Chateau de Criel, watercolor on postcard stock

After the following day’s visit to Creil’s Chateau, we moved on to Jaux for lunch at the restaurant next to the decrepit moorings, then the delightful Compiegne where there were four others moored, including a Dutch couple we’d encountered previously, and another couple on a barge on the same path as us, heading north to the Sambre into Belgium’s Wallonie region, where French is the language and beer is the national beverage as it is in Flanders, the other part of Belgium.

From this point on we were largely in the countryside, aside from Soisson. Soisson is one of the oldest towns in France. It was a Celtic settlement and the seat of the diocese starting circa 300 CE. After Clovis died in 511, Soissons became the capitol of one of the four kingdoms into which his realm was divided. The Cathedral dates from the late 12th century. Joan of Arc liberated the town in 1429.

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Hotel d’ Ville, Soisson
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Soisson Cathedral

Bourg et Coming is another pretty mooring. The dock with the services was full, however the barge owner came out to say that she had cable if we wanted to plug in. We still had plenty of battery left, per the very useful Battery Volt Monitor I installed, so we did not take advantage of her offer. Her husband is in the hospital so she is there for two weeks.

Boating life can get complicated in these situations. She may not have the necessary license to pilot the boat, so to move she would have to find someone to help. Fortunately there is help if you stay connected to the boating community. There is a Facebook group, for example, called “Women on Barges” where you could seek such a person. We have friends who typically cruise with another couple where the wife had a brain tumor. She slipped into unconsciousness aboard their barge. Our friends moved the barge for them, driving back and forth and taking public transport to do so.

Chauny came next. It dates from the 9th century. Unfortunately it was heavily damaged during WWI. Nonetheless the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) is quite impressive.

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Hotel de Ville, Chauny

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The church in Beautor, our next stop

We came up a section of the Canal de la Sambre a l’Oise where you ascend the Aisne by means of 32 locks. The last 18 we covered in one day. Most were very turbulent, making entrance as well as while in the the lock very difficult as the water rushed in. By the end of the day in Oisy we were exhausted from trying to control the boat during the filling process, despite the lowered temperatures, which, when they were over 30c for days seemingly on end exhausted us in another way.

We proceeded along the lovely and sometimes overgrown Sambre, opening the locks using the remote control supplied by the VNF (Voie Navigable France). The device worked flawlessly and is easily the most intelligent of the remote controls we have used. It replaces traffic lights at the locks with its own red and green signals. A screen provides messages such as “We have registered you for this lock” and “You can now enter the lock. ” It notified the lock keeper at the last lock of the series, so he was there when we arrived, to collect the device. I was hoping the screen would at the end say, “Bon voyage, it’s been nice to get to know you,” but alas it simply went silent.

We proceeded to the border town of Jeumont, where once we delightfully dined in a small restaurant with a couple with whom we had become friendly on the waterways. This was in 2001. We were not able to locate the restaurant. It is probably long since gone.

He admitted to sexually abusing her daughter some years later, according to the wife. He’d already left her for the neighbor’s wife. The wife still lives in the same village with her ex. Last I heard he was still with the neighbor’s wife, whose ex-husband somehow blamed it all not on his wife but on our friend the wife, again according to her.

We say goodbye to France’s waterways. I doubt we will return.

Château de Creil

The Château de Creil, once a fortified castle,  dates from 1375. It is located in Creil, just north of Paris, on Creil’s Island, now called Saint-Maurice (Holly Maurice on the handout), with references dating to the 7th century CE. In the 10th century, the lords of Senlis are recorded as having a fortified residence on the site. In 1441 the English controlled the town when King Charles VII besieged the castle. After two weeks of bombardment he breached the walls, causing the the British to evacuate. Today only portions of the 14th century castle remain.

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One of the remaining sections

As of 1704 it was owned by the Bourbon-Conde family. Largely demolished in 1781, by 1789 it was owned by Mssr. Bagnall, who oversaw the ceramics factory. Today one of the remaining early structures houses an excellent faience collection. Faience is generally made of white clay and originally was tin glazed.

The Maire of Creil (City Hall) is also housed in one of the remaining portions of the Chateau:

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Bridge over the Oise at Chateau de Creil, next to the Marie. Watercolor, postcard size

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The Maire of Creil (City Hall)
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another remaining portion of the old castle

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Examples of faience

We were treated to a guided tour of the main building, lastly the residence of the Guillet, now called the Musée Gallé-Juillet. When their son Maurice died in WWI, the family gave the castle to the town of Creil. It displays the life style of this family around 1900. It is filled with period furniture and a complete kitchen. They had running water in the kitchen and bathroom, which had a giant tub. The kitchen was lined with shiny brass pots and pans. The large oven was wood fired. Heated water in the bathroom allowed for luxurious bathing.

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The dining table. Seating for just 4 people.

Trapped in Champagne!

We came to Chalons-en-Champage after a couple of days in the small but important village of Eparnay, the capitol of the Champagne region. We have been planning to go north from there to Reims and then to the Sambre and into Belgium. Our previous plan was from here to head east to Strasbourg before ending the season in Toul. With the drought, however, we had to change to our current plan. Now we have to change again. The canal Marne-a-Aisne has been closed for two weeks because of a rupture in the water supply.

Chalons-en-Champagne is a lovely village. Near the inexpensive but very good marina, with a friendly and efficient harbor master, there is Chalons Plage, Chalon Beach. There are places to eat, summer fun for the kids, concerts and general lazing about as appropriate for a summer holiday. We can hear the concerts in the evening, topping well before midnight. This is not Spain, after all.

We are heading north through the only remaining route, back down the Marne to the Seine, then north on the Oise to connect to the Sambre. It’s an extra 300 kilometers, another 40 hours on the move.

Meandering the Magnificent Marne

The Marne empties into the Seine, joining its journey past Paris and into the sea. We are ‘amont,” and thus uphill through many locks as we head in the direction of its source some 500 km in an easterly direction. It wobbles and weaves past small towns, villages and mere settlements as it finds its way through the Champagne region. There you can see more vineyards than you have likely ever seen in your lifetime.

The first canal on the Marne was created in 1235, making it the oldest in France. Canalization started in 1837, arriving in Eparnay some 30 years later. There were two ferocious battles along its banks in WWI. In the Battle of the Marne the German advance on Paris came to a halt.

We entered the Marne after another quiet night at the lock in Soissy sur Seine. You make a sharp right into a short channel and then immediately enter a small lock. We fit in with a barge. On the other side of the lock is a lovely shaded mooring. Then you enter a short, traffic light controlled tunnel before exiting onto the river itself.

We made our way to Bonneuil Sur Marne, which is just 13 kilometers from the center of Paris, so small and quiet that you would not guess you were so close. We are at the beginning of a large loop here, so you go many kilometers before you find yourself nearly back where you started from when you arrive at Joinville-le-Pont. This river is about as loopy as they come.

Loopy, yes, but all the more beautiful forests line our way, here in the middle of nowhere seemingly. We pass the occasional fisherman whose long lines sit out of the main channel, or if not, we see them vigorously reeling in. There’s a small craft from time to time. There were very few our size all the way to Épernay.

After a night in Lagny we moved to Meaux. There are nice docks in town with water and electricity. We can go about 5 days without electricity, depending on the sun and how many hours we run the engine. In France so far there have been copious sources for electricity as well as water.

Meaux comes from “Meldi,” the Gaulish tribe of the area. There is still a section of the medieval defensive wall. A small museum is housed in the Episcopal Palace. The Cathedral, began in 1175, is well worth a visit. The original structure was Norman in style. Due to defects in the structure it was mostly removed. A Gothic structure was built in its place.

At the docks was a lovely 16 meter barge. Two Americans from Louisiana were aboard. They own a 25% share of the boat so are here for 3 months, which is about to expire. A Dutch couple was moored on our starboard side. She came by to tell us that someone stole her husband’s handicap modified bike the night before. After a while another nice boat came in, this one occupied by a Aussie couple. We went to help them in as it looked like they needed assistance. As it turned out they did not, they were just avoiding a log that was floating next to the dock.

Meaux, with about 50,000 residents, is the home of the famous Brie de Meaux. We first tried a Brie de Meaux in 2001, when we were aboard our other Dutch boat, Caprice. We’d gone to a restaurant. The owner was serving us and provided it as one of the cheese course offerings. Not all of these are of equal flavor and overall quality, he said, even if coming from the same producer. Some are far stronger in aroma and flavor than others. He was right on the mark.

The French make a big deal of cheese. They even have a have a cheese course., it’s that important to them. That course comes toward the end of the meal that starts with Champagne, perhaps with the amuse-bouche, small mouthfuls of this and that, so delightful apparently that a dash between the two words is required. Then comes the entree. Then the main course. Then the cheese. Then the dessert. Then coffee. Then the cognac.

Mon dieu! How does anyone survive these meals?

We took our bikes up a long steep hill or two to the Meaux Air Show. Biplanes, single wing and a rocket powered jet performed tricks for the crowd sitting and standing in the increasingly hot sun. Some planes performed in duo. There was plenty of smoke in the sky as they looped and spun. The rocket zoomed from near ground level to where it became a tiny point in the sky.

The Hotel Dieu (hospital) in Chateau Thierry offered a guided tour in French. The hospital began as a nunnery endowed by a wealthy couple. Women wishing to enter had to post a dowry. They took vows of poverty, unlike the nunnery itself which was quite well off, and lived in silence in the humble chambers we visited. After the Revolution the structure was turned in a hospital, the purpose it served until the 1980’s. When it was set to close the last nun took a local to the room where the treasury was stored. A vast collection of jewels, paintings, objet d’art and more became the basis of the current collections. We also visited the impressive Bishop’s Palace, which houses a small museum.

The Aussie couple is friendly and sociable, so we all got together on the aft deck. Mixed drinks came out, as well as wine, cheese and baguette. The last of these my grand daughter kept from going bad by quickly downing what I could not get to first. Stories were told, some of mine might have been true even, once you shaved off the exaggerations and savings of face and other motivations only historians, those ferretters of truth, know about. Our new Aussie friends, we learned, got stuck over here during Covid and don’t seem quite ready to leave just yet.

On our way to the Cathedral we ran across a 5 piece band playing as they walked through the streets. We followed them to the Cathedral where they were joined by 5 other bands who then played together. It was quite festive and any deficit in musical skill was more than made up for with enthusiasm.

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Band plays before the cathedral in Meaux

The construction of Cathédrale Saint-Etienne de Meaux began in 1175. It was Romanesque. Due to defects in the structure it was largely removed in the next century, then rebuilt in the Gothic style, magnificently rising to 33 meters in slender height above the choir.

The next town we came to of interest to us was Chateau Thierry. During the 8th century, King Theideriv IV was a prisoner in the castle of Otmus, as Chateau Thierry was known at the time. Thierry is a derivation of this King’s name. Before Chateau Thierry we stayed just before Lock 3, moored to Duck Poop Quay. Granddaughter made her way through the forest of duck gifts to explore the small wooded island. There’s always a weir- barrage in French- at the locks. It’s where the river descends, where there once were rapids.

It’s a weekend. Atop the cliff a few hundred steep steps at the main town’s edge a medieval fair is on-going. Birds of prey land on gloved arms, recorders play gentle songs, sausage sits on grills, and vendors sell costume jewelry imported direct from 1399 or thereabouts, I am sure.

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Chateau Thierry

In the evening, when it cooled off a bit, we ate at a place called Billings or something like that, one of those strange uses of English foreigners sometimes employ to stand out, or be chic, or something. This is rather like the American restaurant term ‘Entree.’ In French it means first course, after which comes the main. It’s an appetizer, for Christ’s sake, not the main course. I figure it was someone being chic or something. Despite the odd use of English, the food was good and a far cry from Paris prices that start at 20 euros.

We visited Champagne Pannier https://www.champagnepannier.com/, atop the village but reachable by bike if you have a decent bike and good legs. It’s a typical tour. You walk through the cellars as they explain the Champagne process. It’s a complex process invented by the monk, Dom Perignon. Three grape varieties are used throughout the region: Chardonnay, Pinio Noir and Pinot Meunier. The percentages are usually equal. A varietal is normally made from 100% Chardonnay. After the wine is bottled sugar is added to increase the alcohol and carbonation. As the wine ages the bottles are turned and gradually made upside down, nowadays by machine in many Houses. After the wine has aged long enough in that position, the neck is frozen and the precipitates removed. Then the wine is corked and aged longer. These last steps have also been automated. Cava is the Spanish version and made using the same basic method. Prosecco is the Italian, however the champagne is not bottled until the very end, a much less complicated process.

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View of vineyards from the boat

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Vast vineyards line this section of the Marne River

In the next entry we visit Eparnay, the capitol of the Champagne region.

Young Woman Glowing Smile

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Young Woman, pen and ink

This young woman’s radiant smile comes from within. I sought to express it. In previous epochs a smile was impossible to capture as sitters can not smile for hours at a time. Look at Leonardo’s famous smile- captivating but hardly expansive. But with photography, art changed in many ways and the ability to study the smile is one such change.

This is a study for a painting.

Blue or is it Bleu? Samois sur Seine to Fontainebleu

Samois sur Seine sits behind a small island in the Seine. There was just one spot for visitors, in front of a day tour ship and an 18 meter live aboard barge captained by Blue. Or is it Bleu? She’s a character, as we soon learned as she quaffed the chilled white as we sat chatting on the deck. She told us she has a PhD in astrophysics, five masters degrees and teaches French in Charlotte. Seems like an awful lot of training for that position, but more power to her. She has a captain’s license for the huge ships that barge through the locks on the Seine. I am not sure what is going on there, but she is charming and helpful, a lot of fund, and for us that’s what matters.

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Samois-sur-Seine

The town’s center sits atop a cliff so up you must hike steeply some ten minutes, past walls of charming village homes, bought and renovated by well to do Parisians. There’s a very good bakery at the top, and as a plus a trio was playing some jazzy stuff on the main plaza. We at listening at the bar, enjoying some vastly overpriced beer. Our friends had come to find some glucose free items in the town’s only superette. They asked me to find some good wine, which I gladly obliged. Next day they got two more of the same, a St Emillion, a very good one and a Gran Cru even, for a very reasonable price.

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On the way to the center

By then I’d noticed that one of our four huge batteries was failing- if one in a bank fails, they all have to go. Bleu recommended a couple of places. At the second we found Carlos, who is the captain of the small port in Valvin, recommended by the French boater we met in Nogent sur Seine. Carlos has been taking care of his boat for 30 years. Carlos proved to be a gem. He had the batteries ready to install after retrieving them himself, as his supplier failed to deliver a few days before on a Friday and was non-committal on Monday, which is when he promised to be ready. He complained about the decline in the professionalism of his suppliers.

While we waited for the work to be completed, visited nearby Fontainebleau via bus. Fontainebleau is one of the three main royal palaces, offering a stunning display of wealth.

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Fontainebleu

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Chapel

One of the battery clamps failed. He fixed that after we came by again, although he had offered to come to us. So doing would make him unavailable to others. He let us stay two extra nights without charge, unasked.

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Throne room

The palace was preceded by the medieval castle, both serving as a residence for the kings from Louis VII to Napoleon III. The site was chosen for its spring, from which the palace’s name derives, and the abundance of game.

After a lovely lunch in the town and the trip back to the bus, Carlos completed his work and we resumed our journey. We spent one night at Lock Dommaine sur Lys, six barges snuggled in with us. There is safety in numbers, or so it makes us feel, so we were happy to see them even as they came just a couple of meters of scraping our sides or crushing us against the dock. They are excellent boaters and almost all are friendly. Everyone on the Seine is obliged to monitor channel 10 on the VHF (marine radio). They have almost all answered our calls, asking to pass or for information. You have to check in with the locks before you enter. The chart gives you the VHF channel for the lock. Most of the time our charts have an out of date channel. The barges know the latest.

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Sharing the mooring with the bargees

Nogent sur Seine to Moret sur Loing

Nogent sur Seine is the highest point on the Seine that is navigable for us. Along the way you share the narrowing river with large barges who slowly carry reduced tonnage loads, reduced so they can remain afloat in the shallow areas. From Nogent we traveled first to Bray-sur-Seine, Montereau-Fault-Yonne (on the Yonnne River) and then Moret-sur-Loing (on the Loing). There is lovely countryside galore and very neat old towns. You can pass by at a walking pace or moor in or near the towns and enjoy the sites, sounds, foods and goings-on, a fine combination of relaxation and learning history and witnessing architecture.

Nogent is the end point for barge traffic. Beyond that is an ancient lock, manually operated by appointment. A French boater had made an appointment so we followed him around to the moorings by the mill. The huge mill is fed by two channels, giving rise to two islands. One of them, named Olive Island , is entirely wooded and laid out for walking. The other island is connected to the shores by two ancient bridges. The islands are connected by the “spillway”, a long water reservoir surmounted by a footbridge.

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The mill in Nogent spanning the Seine.

Moret dates to Roman times.

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Joan d’Arc in Notre Dame, Moret-sur-Loing
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Notre Dame in Moret
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The the mills in Moret were located here
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One of the gates in Moret