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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From about 20 km to the west from Notre Dame in Paris we cruised along the Seine, taking its curvy route past famous locations such as Ile de la Jatte in Courbevoie, famous for the impressionist paintings done there, to the Statue of Liberty, the Tour Eiffel, the Alexander III bridge, Concorde and the Île de la Cité. We’ve often stood on the bridges spanning the river as barges and pleasure craft passed beneath. I never thought I’d do the same one day, yet here I am.
There was nothing unfamiliar to me, as I’d been on ships that take tourists around the two islands, so for me it was more of the boat experience. While the Seine can be tricky when in flood, today it was barely moving so I could just enjoy the craft cutting through the water. There was little traffic, just one or two tourist boats and a half dozen pleasure craft. We passed the Arsenal, the major port for pleasure craft, behind a lock, opting to continue our journey south.
Compiègne, a town of some 40,000, sits on the Oise River. We moored just outside the town park where teen bands played to a largely teen audience. The bands need help, although the audience seems to not notice, or perhaps they are just too polite to boo. The grills fill the air with the aroma of sausage, and there’s cheap beer. Overall it’s better than a kick in the head.
But the rest of the town! Architecturally and historically it’s well beyond what it should be given its size. First, the Chateau. Built for Louis XV, who reigned from 1715 (age 5) – 1774, it was renovated by Napoleon. It was one of three royal palaces, Versailles and Fontainbleu are the other two, which tells you a great deal about its magnificence, even if it is a level below Versailles, and perhaps Fontainbleu as well. It was the preferred summer residence nonetheless, known for its excellent hunting as it sits even still on the edge of the large Compiègne Forest.
The Chateau is filled with furniture, but not from Louis XV. These were removed during the French Revolution. What we see now are from Napoleon. They are fine examples of the First French Empire style.
In this Chateau, Marie-Louise was greeted by Napoleon, Alexander of Russia visited, and Leopold I of Belgium married Marie-Louise of Orleans. Napoleon III resided during the entire hunting season. The National Car Museum is housed in the Chateau. There is an excellent and large collection of coaches, early bicycles and motorcycles.
The second very noteworthy structure is the Mairie (City Hall)
The town is of Roman origin. It was called Compendium. It was used for various governing activities by the Merovingian kings. Charles II 823-877 founded the Abbey of Saint-Corneille, now the library. There are several ancient churches. And just outside town is where the Armistice ending WWI was signed, as well as where Hitler humiliated the French in 1940. There is a replica of the train car used for these two events, and an excellent museum.
Amiens is a small city (pop 135,000) in the Picardie region, just 120km/75m north of Paris. It’s main claim to fame is its Cathedral, a large High Gothic structure overlooking the Somme River. There are extensive hortillonnages (gardens) where people were resting and playing as we walked in the cool May evening. There’s a lovely row of restaurants in the Saint Leu district along the river featuring moules frites (mussels with fries), huitres (oysters), as well as “macrons d’Amiens (almond paste biscuits), tuiles amienoises”, (chocolate and orange biscuits), “pâté de canard d’Amiens” (duck pate in pastry), “la ficelle Picarde”, a baked crêpe with cheese; and flamiche aux poireaus, a puff pastry tart made with leeks and cream. Gone are the Belgian beers, it seems, so readily available elsewhere in the region, so you are mostly getting lighter blond brews.
The first settlement here was called Samarobriva , built by a Gaullic tribe called the Ambiani. The Romans renamed the town Ambianum, which morphed into Amiens. Those marauding Normans wreaked havoc in 859, returning for more in 882. In 1597 during the war with Spain, Spanish soldiers occupied the city for six months. In the 19th century the defensive walls were demolished to allow for larger streets in the center. Rail arrived in 1848.
The 1918 Battle of Amiens led to the Armistice with Germany that ended the war. The town was fought over during both wars, suffering significant damage, including bombardment by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. The downtown streets were widened. New buildings used brick, concrete and white stone with slate roofs.
The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens was built between 1220 and c. 1270 CE, rapid for this type of structure. It’s style is High Gothic. This is a fine example of the stle, with it soaring ceilings and thin walls. It also has some Rayonnant features, a movement that came about in the mid-13th to 14th centuries. This brought more spacial unity, refined decoration, more and larger windows.
While we were waiting for the tour of the choir an English speaking volunteer appeared, so we joined in. The choir was built by highly skilled wood workers from 1809-1819. It portrays stories from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
Jules Verne was born here, there is a museum in his name and the University carries it as well. The Musee de Picardie has a large collection of monumental paintings circa mid 1800’s, including a Lady Godiva. The large rooms with very tall ceilings make a good space for these. The archaeological section is in the basement. There are excellent examples of glass and pottery from the Roman era. In addition there
Samura Parc Nature is an open air museum exploring pre-historic times. We took the boat there, taking advantage of the mooring at the pedestrian entrance. Discoveries in this area include remnants of skin covered tepee-like structures, some with smoke exits, dating from paleolithic times. More sophisticated shelters appear, with thatched roofs with about 30 square meters ( about 400 square feet). Dwellings from the Gaulic era, 5000- 1st century when the Romans conquered Gaul, could be quite large and advanced. They show one example on the site.
The site provides demonstrations of flint starting with a huge piece so you could see what flint looks like before it is worked, and other tool making, including a forge with basic bellows. They demonstrated spear hunting, showing how using a sling greatly increases velocity. They made bread using nettles, honey and water as a starter. Honey feeds the yeast that naturally occur in the environment. There is a display of human skulls starting with Lucy, including a Neanderthal and a modern human so you can readily compare them.
The demonstrations are entirely in French, with explanatory plaques also in English . You can buy honey products, including drinks, at the store you find at the usual places, at the exit.
The boat moorings are very convenient to town. However they are close to the English Pub. On a Thursday night we were kept awake until the wee hours.
From our mooring on the Somme we biked to the ridge upon which stands Australia’s WWI Monument and the superb Sir John Monash Visitor Center. Given its height and the commanding view if offered, one can see why the German Army picked this spot. Facing away from the Somme it is less imposing and it is from this direction that the Australians came, and yet still struggled mightily. The tower at the center of the complex is about 8 stories high and from here the view over the now tranquil farmland and towns with their church spires is delightful. Corbie, where we are moored, shows us its lovely old church, closed for renovations (we got in by chance), a fine reference point.
The superb audio visual presentation in the Sir John Monash Cernter gives a well defined account of the efforts of these volunteers. At the time the Australian constitution prohibited its standing army from participation abroad. 416,809 men enlisted, there were more than 60,000 were killed with 156,000 other casualties. Some 24,000 died just taking this ridge.
There are 20 audio-visual screens sensed by the device the Center provides. The narrative takes you through the battle and some of the life stories of those who survived intact, handicapped, maimed, suffering from PTSD, or died, and words from loved ones. For more information see https://www.dataton.com/showcases/sir-john-monash-centre-france
Here the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux April 24–27, 1918. The losses were losses were heavy, gains small. They later fought the Germans in August, as the former sought to maximize gains in advance of the arrival of significant numbers of American troops and equipment.
Monash created a battle plan that was widely hailed, coordinating the efforts of air, tanks and ground forces, greatly aiding the effort to take the ridge. The Center opened in 2018. It
Noyon was founded as Noviomagus by the Galls (Celts), the name meaning “New Field” or “Market.” It was later changed to Noviomum under the Romans, morphing into Noyon. It has a fabulous 105 meter long early Gothic church (and former cathedral). In the Romanesque cathedral which once stood on the same site before it burned in 1131, Charlemagne was crowned as co-King of the Franks in 768. Hugh Capet was crowned here as well, as the first Capetian king, in 987. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noyon_Cathedral Joan of Arc fought the British here, at the Somme River. The Maire (City Hall) is a superbly restored Gothic structure, suffering significant WWI damage.
The Treaty of Noyon (1516) ended the War of the League of Cambrai, part of the Italian wars. As part of the Italian war most of the town was burned in 1557 by Phillip II.