It has been several years since Valencia’s fabulous annual festival Fallas was designated as an “Intangible WorldHeritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO.
We drove into Zagreb’s attractive downtown, finding a parking spot reasonably close to our apartment. Our self-check in flat turned out to be quite lovely, a two bedroom affair with a large living room with a modern and attractive kitchen on one end. Strung out along the hall from the only entrance, off an ancient and rough looking courtyard, there is a full bath, then a bathroom and finally a second shower. Somewhere in there’s a washing machine. It was plenty comfortable for the three of us, and amazingly quiet given its ground floor setting on a busy street.
We were within blocks of a large park, which we passed on our way to the oldest areas of town, then across the main plaza and uphill, passing a goodly number of the city’s 750,000 inhabitants, not to mention tourists and other visitors to the nation’s capital, plus commuters among the 1 million plus living in the area. Slovenia is not far away, making for a rivalry such as we witnessed in a grocery store between the checker and an inebriated customer who traded friendly insults.
There are bars and eateries galore, generally much less expensive than on the heavily touristed coastal areas. The cuisine is more Croatian, featuring grilled meats and stews, although Italian offerings are readily available.
The city was heavily influenced by the Jesuits, who in circa 1669 built the first grammar school and St Catherine’s Church. They found an academy which developed into today’s University of Zagreb. Croatia remains a strongly religious country.
Zagreb was alive in Roman times, although the name dates from the 11th century. At that point there were two city centers. Kaptol was the smaller of the two, where you find the cathedral. It was mostly populated by clergy. The Gradec area was larger, where craftsmen and merchants lived. The two areas remain today, still divided by a stream. We learned this and more from our walking tour led by an eccentric local who loved to point out his country’s governmental flaws.
Zagreb underwent a make over in the late 1800’s, lasting until the outbreak of WWI. It retains the layout then established. In 1891 the first horse-drawn tram went into service, while in 1907 came its first power plant, which began replacing the many gas lamps then in use, some of which still adorn the walls. The central area has that great turn of the century architecture, lots of monuments, parks and many museums as well as many live theaters. The Gric cannon is fired daily, a tradition started in 1877. In WW2 Zagreb was the capital of the Independent State of Croatia, backed by Hitler and Mussolini. There was state violence and resistance.During the 1991–1995 war of Independence. The city was not heavily damaged. Zagreb has a long history of earth quakes. Our guide remarked that these occur soon after a major building has been restored, damaging it yet again. The latest was in 2020, 5.5. on the Richter scale, the strongest since 1880.
There are museums galore. Modern Gallery holds more than 10,000 works of 19th- and 20th-century Croatian artists. It is located in the historic Vranyczany Palace. Croatian Natural History museum has an important collection of Neanderthal skeletons. Our co-traveler went to the Museum of Broken Relationships. The rest of us fought over whether to go or not.
The city bustles with young people hanging out with friends at the numerous bars, cafes and restaurants. We enjoyed the hearty cuisine, featuring stews and grilled meats. I really liked the fish stew, in Croatian brodet. They were served by male waiters, all named Igor, all of whom who spoke good English, sometimes with a strong accent serviceable for any Dracula movie. The waiters worked on us for tips, and always earned their keep in the very traditional white cloth yet reasonably priced restaurants. Most people speak English quite well, especially in the larger cities and the highly visited towns.
There are plenty of very good craft beers and Croatian wines, the latter at least drinkable if a bit eccentric. I often found myself saying of the latter, “I’ve never tasted anything quite like this.” Maybe with some getting used to I’d become a fan, but it would take more than the two weeks I had.
These are an energetic people, with a long history of war and political conflict. My impression is that on the whole they are on a good path, with reasonably strong democratic and other public institutions, with an appreciation for art and the other aspects of culture, and yet humble enough to realize their shortcomings. I am not sure what more you could ask for.
The Roman Emperor Diocletian was born in Split, now in EU member state Croatia. One of few Roman emperors to survive his time as head of state, he retired to this coastal town in 305 CE, occupying the palace whose structure remains with us in significant part. Too bad it is obscured by layers of later additions or otherwise unattractively modified. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, occupying a delightful spot on the country’s dramatic Adriatic coastline.
By the time Diocletian moved in, Split was already an old city, founded by Greeks in the 3rd century BCE. Later part of the Byzantine Empire (Roman Empire East), it was eventually controlled by Venice. Then Napoleon added Croatia to his holdings before it became part of the Austro-Hungarian empire under the Hapsburgs. You can readily see these various influences on the architecture, making for an interesting tour, but the way it was done creates an unattractive hodgepodge. Below you seen an example. The arches are from Diocletian’s palace, backed by Renaissance buildings from the Venetians.
The town, including its street plan, is dominated by the palace. Inside the remnants of Diocletian’s joint you walk through narrow passages lined with shop after shop selling trinkets. On the bottom level you find the cistern, where unfortunately you also find commercial activities as well. Not a centimeter has not been testelessly commercialized.
There is more to Split than the architecture. For example, the Red Museum recounts the Communist period in Croatia, when it was part of Yugoslavia under the Tito. It features displays of items used in daily life and an excellent narrative. We attended an excellent folk dance presentation, with complex dances and costumes by the dozens. St. Dominus is certainly worth a visit.
Next: we continue our journey along the coast and then into the interior.
Coming into the coastal town Dubrovnik city by car or bus you are treated to views of the vertical-cliff coastline with panoramic views of everything including the walled city you are about to enter. Over-touristed Dubrovnik, originally called Ragusa as in the Italian town of the same name, is best visited outside peak season. Once in and enough bodies out of your way, you are treated to a trip back in time in a town with fine movie set qualities; there was filming ongoing while we were there. Dubrovnik is a World Heritage site. It dates as far back as the 7th century.
The town was under the control of the Byzantine empire in its earliest days, then the Venetians from across the Adriactic Sea. It was a free state between the 14th and 19th century, when it came under Napoleon’s thumb. After Napoleon Dubrovnik became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. From 1918-1943 it was in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, then came de facto rule by the Nazis. It was part of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. The city was shelled during the successful Croatian War of Independence in 1991. What we see today in Dubrovnik is largely the result of extensive restoration projects following that war. Unlike Split, another highly visited coastal town to the north, it is architecturally unified.
The main drag appears after descending the steep steps and ramp through the city’s main gate. It is lined with sparkling clean, cream colored buildings several stories high. While the ground level is dedicated to commerce, your initial view is undisturbed by signs or advertisements. Lured by the attractive window displays, you take a look inside to see ice cream, baked goods such as meat or cheese filo dough stuffed breads, as well as alluringly displayed sweets, cafes that feature fine Italian espresso that it seems only the Italians can do, and real cappuccino, absent the whipped cream and chocolate shavings, never included in Italy nor in Spain, for that matter. Elsewhere they usually muddy the waters with calorie rich toppings and other coffee flavor disguises. You see plenty of trinkets and a range of apparel from cheap to price.
Restaurants, laden with somewhat odd versions of Italian cuisine, and grilled meats (very much a Croatian thing) are mainly off to the side on alleys and side streets, some just barely enough to hold a table with room left over for pedestrians. I would dine out only by necessity rather than for the cuisine, although the festive atmosphere does add to the pleasure, if not being its greatest measure. It’s not that the food is bad, it’s just unremarkable. I’d say the same about the wine except that it’s eccentricity makes it interesting at least. I did not fall in love with the wine with one exception, but since they are not exported it would not matter much if I did.
Step further in past the first few streets parallel to the main drag and soon you come to steps. Lots of them. Eventually they take you to the ramparts. On ocean’s side you stare down sheer walls, waves crashing below, especially on stormy days like the one we met when we decided to take the spin halfway around the town. We missed the side overlooking the harbor, where the moored boats sloshed about in the waves. It’s not a good harbor if you have to spend time aboard, it’s that turbulent.
Museums, as it turns out, are not a reason to visit this picturesque coast. In Dubrovnik we went into the mildly interesting nautical museum. You’d think with this kind of sea access and a long history would manage at least a bit more of interest. Likewise for the archaeological museum. Not that they are terrible museums, just unremarkable, not surprising given the size of the town just disappointing given the extensive history.
We stayed in a third floor apartment in the town center. With very tall ceilings, there are three very long and steep staircases. It was charmingly renovated if a bit cluttered. A leak from the bathtub kept us mopping a few times a day. The landlord igorned our message about the issue.
It’s a treasure of a town. Don’t miss it.
Liege is a large city in Wallonia, the French speaking region of Belgium, close to both Germany and Netherlands. We had family there although most of the people we knew are now gone. We loved its fruit filled waffles, not at all like so-called Belgian waffles, and its tart au riz (rice pie), and it’s fine cuisine more broadly. They make fabulous sauces that area world apart. making pork, beef, chicken and rabbit, as well as moules frites (mussels with fries) special delights.
A brief rundown:
Dating from Roman times, Liege is mentioned first in 558 as Vicus Leudicus. During the middle ages the bishop of Liege (Luik in Dutch and German) wielded considerable influence. As elsewhere in Europe, guilds were powerful influences on government. The Nazis took the city in three days, but much to the credit of the residents of Liege, the local Jews were saved from mass murder. Well before then the region was wealthy from coal and steel production, which began to collapse in the 1980’s, leading to significant social unrest. Wallonia plunged into steep decline from which it is just now recovering. Liege’s government is still dominated by the left wing.
Today the city has an aircraft and space industry, IT and biotech as well as chocolate production. There is a significant weapons industry as well. We visited the Maison de la métallurgie et de l’industrie de Liège. It has the oldest forge in the region as well as exhibits recounting the long history of metallurgy in the city.
After an overnight in Liege we traveled north on the Meuse, spending a beautiful night on a lake about half way to Maastricht. Friends who joined us in Dinant made this an extra special evening. Along the way the river became the Maas, now a water wonderland of river, lakes and streams, a delight for water sport enthusiasts.
Maastricht came next. It is the oldest city in the Netherlands. In Roman times it was a settlement called Trajectum ad Mosam Maastricht. The Euro was born here. There is a large international student population. It has a sizable historic downtown, narrow cobbled streets lined with brick buildings from its early times, of which 667 are registered historic structures. It is well worth a longer visit, either by boat from the conveniently located if rather plain harbor or in a longer term apartment.
The city has an extensive night life. The restaurants and bars are lively and attractively lit. The streets are pedestrian and bikes/scotters/etc only in the evenings, leaving ample room for roaming about. The atmosphere is friendly and you feel entirely safe. The crowd is on the young side due to the large number of university students.
We are passing through forests and small towns on the Sambre as it winds its way north. We encounter some of the most difficult locks out of the thousands we have used, leaving us dead tired at the end of the day. We stop in Etreaux, Landrecies, the border town of Jeaumont, Thuin, Abbaye d’Aulne again, Floreffe, Yvoir, Dinant, Namur, and then Liege before crossing the border into the Netherlands.
There is a section of the Sambre which includes a series of 32 locks, some of which challenge our boating skills. We did 14 one day and 18 the next. The first 14 were not unusually difficult. The next 18 however were difficult to enter and difficult to manage once in. To get through the turbulent waters in front of the lock without banging into the narrow entrance you have to go in at a higher speed than normal- normally you should saunter. The swirling waters are created by the emptying of the lock. They push you from left to right unpredictably, effects which higher speed make less extreme.
Stopping a boat is always a bit of a challenge, which is why boaters normally approach docks and locks as slowly as possible. The only braking you have aside from the natural deceleration of the boat due to the resistance the water provides, which isn’t a great deal, is to put the transmission in reverse. So doing causes the bow of the boat to head to left or right and the stern just the opposite, depending on the prop’s rotation ( some boats it’s clockwise, others it’s counter-clockwise), the current and wind if any. This makes docking of any sort a challenge to one’s boating skills.
In the last 18 locks we had a fellow traveler. They came into the lock slowly and thus found themselves crosswise to the entrance. They somehow managed to inch their way in and secure themselves to the side. The first lock we did in this series we were behind them. We saw how they approached the problem and told them we would go first to allow more time for the turbulence to subside. It also meant that we would save a lot of time as we would be ready to go once they were secured, rather than us having to enter after they had struggled in. Still they slowed us down tremendously.
All these locks are operated by remote controls we were issued at the first lock in the series. Once secure you push a button on the remote control or lift a rod to activate the lock. After we activated the locks in the series of 18 the water came in violently, pushing the boat back and forwards and left to right or vice versa. Following 18 of these battles our arms were limp. Having to watch the other boat struggle in time after time added to our exhaustion.
The remote control in this series of is quite remarkable. In lieu of red and green lights at the locks, there are red and green lights on the device. As you approach the lock there is a message on the device’s screen telling you the name of the lock you were approaching and that the lock was being prepared for you. When it is ready for you the green light illuminates.
One lock was under repairs. The device so informed us, and further said that the lock would be operated manually, which indeed was the case. As we approached the last lock in the series, a VNF employee arrived to retrieve the device from us, notified by the device and its associated network of our arrival.
We spent two nights moored next to the locks we’d just passed through. The nights were extra tranquil, the sky full of diamonds, a fabulous ending to days replete with visual treasures.
We come to Etreaux, a tiny village of about 1500 people, yet is has a hault nautique, a mooring for passing craft. Many larger towns lack one. This small town was in the middle of various World War I battles.
Landrecies is a bit bigger than Etreaux. It’s been the location for medieval era battles between the French and the English, the Dutch, and Germans in WW1. The border town of Jeumont is unremarkable, perhaps offering an explanation for its current efforts to renovate the downtown. We walk around quite a bit looking for the outstanding restaurant we enjoyed in 2002 when we passed through with some newly found friends. We never found it. Jeumont houses several companies making heavy electrical equipment for wind turbines, nuclear reactors and naval propulsion, rather surprising given how tiny and out of the way this town is.
Now we pass into Belgium, coming first to Thuin and then to Abbaye d’ Aulne. I have already written on these two very interesting and lovely locations here https://garyjkirkpatrick.com/abbaye-daulne/ Then we headed north to Dinant and Namur. I wrote about Namur and Dinant here https://garyjkirkpatrick.com/namur-and-dinant/
North of Namur you come to Liege, the largest city in the French speaking Wallonie region of Belgium. I first wrote about Liege in 2001 https://garyjkirkpatrick.com/nederlands-to-france-by-boat-july-2001/ I will write about it again in the next post.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
another remaining portion of the old castle
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.
The dining table. Seating for just 4 people.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the next entry we visit Eparnay, the capitol of the Champagne region.