Chevroches, Canal du Nivernais

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Moret - sur - Loing

Leaving Paris we cruised south on the Seine. After a day the suburbs are behind, the river widens and forest rises from the banks. A bit of a millionaires row this judging by the mansions.

There was quite a lot of commercial traffic on this stretch so you really have to tag along with one (or two or five) in order to pass through the enormous locks. The keepers generally won't work the lock until a commercial barge wants to pass through. At the final lock of this stretch we caught up with Graham and Iris, two  Australians we had met a few weeks ago on the River Marne. They have been cruising in France for years and are a mine of information. 'Follow us,' they said. 'We know a lovely place to moor.' And they did.

Moret is a lovely medieval, fortified town. Alfred Sisley, the impressionist painter, some of whose work I saw in the Musee d' Orsay lived and painted here and Napoleon slept here a night on his return to Paris from Elba. I know because there's a plaque on a wall to tell me. Another claim to fame is the butterscotch made by the nuns and once favoured by the French royals.

The bridge at Moret-sur-Loing.  Sisley painted this scene many times.

There are half timbered buildings, a waterwheel, fortifications, a lovely gothic church, the river and the canal. We had intended stopping only one night but instead have stayed for 3!
pics later just discovered I'm about to miss the market - yet again!
Missed again. I am becoming expert at this. Managed to miss the Sunday market at the Bastille in Paris - reportedly the biggest market in the city - I didn't know it was on and waited until the afternoon to go out thinking the rain might go off. It didn't.
Never mind - you'll have noticed that from the pictures that the sun is shining and the sky is my favourite colour once again!

L'Avenir in Paris

Every day thousands of tourists cruise along the Seine through Paris on one of the many, huge trip boats; the largest 'bateaux mouches' carry up tp 1400 passengers! Private boats are few and far between so for the two of us to be able to go on our own L'Avenir was a fantastic experience - a definite highlight of our summer.
We had been hoping for a sunny day but after several days of the wettest August weather that France has seen in years we were grateful that the rain held off for the hour and a half it took to do the round trip from the port Arsenal up around the Statue of Liberty (yes, there is one) and back. I would have liked to have taken longer but the trip boats travel at speed and it would take a brave or foolhardy person to delay them.
Having had a few days of walking around the sights we were by now very familiar with all the landmarks but this time, instead of trekking back and forth across the many bridges we were sailing beneath. Many bridges had excited people calling, waving and photographing us when they spotted our flag. Shouts of 'Coo-ee!' ans 'Aussie! Aussie! Ausse!' rang out. There are a lot of Aussie tourists in Paris - well there are a lot of Aussie tourists everywhere to be honest.
So, a fitting finale to our visit to Paris. We will certainly return.
Next, we head south on the Haute Seine.

The magnificent Musee d'Orsay - my favourite. In contrast on the bank is a shelter built by one of the city's many homeless people. Lots of the bridges have someone living underneath.

Someone's home on the left bank - it's not all about location, location, location.

 No, not New York!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Pouring in Paris

Our first visit to Paris, unbelievably. I'm not sure why we've never come before. There always seemed to be other more exotic sounding destinations. Paris was one of those places whose landmarks I was so used to from films and photographs that I felt I'd seen it all already and it would lack the surprise  element I enjoy when travelling. How wrong can you be? There's good reason why you can barely move for tourists here - it is quite lovely.
The River Marne which we had been following since just past Reims, joins the Seine outside Paris. The major difference straight away being the change in lock size - suddenly they were enormous and we shared the first couple with a commercial barge for the first time since Belgium. Our mooring is in the Port de Plaisance of the Arsenal which is a great location; one lock off the river, 20 minutes walk along whose banks takes you to Notre Dame Cathedral and only a couple of minutes walk to the metro station at the Place de Bastille. As everyone who has been here will tell you, the metro is a fantastic way to get around particularly when it's raining, as it is today.
I'm sure I don't have anything new to say about Paris. What has surprised me most is the sheer scale of the public buildings. Everything is just so grand - monumental. None of your thrown up in 6 months stuff here. The cost of the upkeep must be enormous but they look wonderful, perfectly maintained and security guarded by day and illuminated by night. No advertising boards, no power lines and no high rise (apart from one district). We've been here 4 days and have seen only a tiny fraction. You could easily spend years exploring. August is perhaps not the best time to visit. The queues at every venue are enormous - I spent a long hour in a queue for the loo at one museum (men don't queue. I have noticed that wherever 2 walls meet and make a corner you need to hold your nose  - outside that is!). The queue situation is exacerbated by the fact that many of the museums have installed airport type security so that on entry you have to have your bag checked and then you walk through a scanner.
Paris Plage on the banks of the Seine

But then at this time of year there is the Paris Plage where the road along the right bank of the Seine is closed off and deck chairs and sandy beach areas are set up along with boule courts, a swimming pool, bars, a bmx track, music, massage and goodness knows what else. So you can get your gear off and relax. If only it wasn't raining.

I suppose this might qualify as a high rise

Musee de l' armee - Les Invalides

From here we will be heading south so our impending cruise through the city will be as far north as we go. Tomorrow we will be mixing it with the Bateaux Mouche - trip boats carrying hundreds of passengers, travelling at high speeds and whose skippers apparently don't like private boats - and doing our own Seine tour. I haven't actually seen a single private boat going through the city since we've been here.
So first time visit but I know we will come back.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Macca's at Meaux

For the first time in many years we have resorted to entering this esteemed food establishment. Fancy coming to France and eating at Mcdonalds! The French Fries are ok though but they just call them Frites. So why are we in here??? The things one does for an internet connection! We have found it really difficult to get online here. There are plenty of pay for hotspots but pay through the nose would be more appropriate. In order to get anything like a reasonable rate you need to have a contract and for that you need a french bank account and for that you need a french address and so it goes on....
This is NOT Macca's!

We have had a few really good meals in France so far and the prices are quite reasonable particularly if you go for the Plat du Jour or the set menu. The brochette above was at a restaurant in a tiny village beside the River Marne. Cooked on the wood fire you can see in the background. Delicious!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Champagne Country

How many bottles of bubbly does it take to travel from Reims to Chateau Thierry?

Well, quite a few if you travel as slowly as we do. We have spent the best part of 2 weeks drifting along the River Marne. The area is most famous for 2 things and it would be difficult to think of 2 more diametrically opposed; the Battle of the Marne during WW1 and champagne. The hills are covered with orderly rows of vines producing grapes for a drink which can't fail to lift your spirits and then on the outskirts of the towns and villages you might find more orderly rows but this time it will be crosses marking the graves of thousands upon thousands of soldiers killed in that horrific slaughter. So many and so young. And then there are all those without any name or age - just one word, 'inconnu', unknown. Heartbreaking.

The magnificent war memorial, chapel and museum in the grounds of the chateau at Dormans.

The beautifully maintained American War Memorial near Chateau Thierry.

Inside, the names of the thousands of US soldiers whose bodies were never recovered.

Monday, 2 August 2010

For Lorna

L'Avenue de Champagne Epernay

Champagne maison where we did a tour

Vineyard in Champagne

The 'caves' beneath Epernay. There are hundreds of kilometres of tunnels containing millions of bottles of champagne.

Sante! (haven't worked out how to do the acute accent over the 'e')