11 February 2017

Steel Drums and "Oil Down" - in Grenada

Everyone was talking about "Ail Dung". 
-I had NO idea what to make of it. 

Turns out, it's "Oil Down", Grenada's national dish. 
In fact - it's a whole happening. 

It's Independence Day on the "Island of Spice" - it's time to enjoy "Oil Down".
Everyone is decorated in Grenada's national colors, red, yellow and green.

The sidewalks are freshly painted.
Stores play national songs all week - "Three Islands, One Nation".  

Grenada became independent in 1974 - it was a French colony and a British colony.
Many names are still French -  Morne Rouge, L'Anse aux Epines. Petit Martinique. 

(Some are a curious blend of French and English - like "Lower La Tante".) 

 The British Queen is still on the currency, the Eastern Caribbean dollar. 
She's a lot younger in these pictures -
The best place for the "Oil Down" is on the beach. 
It's a whole day affair.

Everyone helps. The pot is HUGE. And heavy.

These guys were VERY excited to tell me about their "Oil Down"!
Made with plantains, yams, pumpkin, breadfruit, taro leaves,
salt fish and salt pork, turmeric and coconut milk - and anything else local - cooked "down" so the "oil" of the coconut infuses the other ingredients. 
There's a lot of beach space for everyone.
As it cooks, kids play in the water. Boys play soccer and cricket. Moms watch babies, men hang out . It's colorful and the atmosphere is fun. People are friendly.

Visitors enjoy celebrating on the beach, too.
In the evening, trucks pass our house. 
They're filled with steel pan bands, playing island music from the back of the truck.

So, with a small glass of rum punch - we sit on our balcony and join in the celebration.

Happy Independence Day, Grenada!

05 February 2017

From French Canal Barge to Sailboat in the Grenadines

Somehow, this doesn't look - or feel - like France. 
It's not. But this is kind of where it all started.

We're sailing in the Tobago Cays. 
The Grenadines.
Tiny islands. Amazing colors. 
Sea turtles. Eagle rays. Dolphins. 
A trail of starfish leads us back to the boat after a snorkeling expedition. 

 We find a sailboat, a 57' catamaran, that needs another couple on it. 
We volunteer. 

With Isabelle, the French chef, and Frédéric, the captain. 
We don't even have to do the sailing - or the cooking - ourselves. 
Three others, a couple from England and one Swiss, complete our crew.

It's very windy - 25 knots - but oh, the colors of the water!

We visit Carriacou. Saltwhistle Bay, Mayreau. Mopion. Union Island. Eat lobster on Petit Bateau. 
Petit Tabac. Petit St. Vincent. Everything very "petit". 

Between my feet and that white beach are sea turtles. And fat starfish. 

 After a sandy salty week, we return to our rented house in Grenada, where we've been since mid January. Feels almost like home by now. 

Grenada. Spice Islands.
Near the end of the chain of Caribbean islands. 
Closer to Venezuela than to Miami.  

Originally, a few years back, we thought we'd wind up buying and living on a sailboat. 

Two years ago, we began seriously learning about boats. 
We read. Practiced knots. Took training courses. 
We passed numerous exams, and got our licenses for bareboat chartering and coastal cruising, inland waterways, monohull, catamarans, and probably a couple of others. 

We hold licenses from the UK, the US, from Ireland, France, and from the EU. 
Countless books and hours of work. 
Not that it really meant we knew what we were doing - by any means. 

We spent time on boats in Thailand, in Greece, in France, in Myanmar, in Laos, Indonesia, and all over the Caribbean.  I counted 50 islands we'd visited in the Caribbean alone! 

(See where Grenada is on the map? WAY south.)

But: At one point, we realized living on a sailboat, even a catamaran, isn't for us. 
And the idea of dealing with hurricane season - that just made the decision easier. 

So we began to look at canal boats in Europe. 

We considered over 500 boats (!), mostly online. 
Once in France, we inspected 30 boats from the inside, and eliminated another 30 from the outside. 
I made spreadsheets. And lists. And - you know the rest of the story.

When I was a kid, we lived in the Virgin Islands. 

Once, I was invited to a friend's birthday party on her parents' boat. 
I was probably in first grade. 

I remember being SO impressed! 
That memory has stuck with me over the years. 
I don't think I could swim yet, but man, I wanted to jump off that boat with the other kids. 

So I did. Jumped off the boat (still a favorite thing to do-) and started swimming. 

That's when it all started.

21 January 2017

Maggie May Goes Back in the Water Again - Good-bye Shipyard!

From Berlin, it's back to the shipyard for New Year's Eve.
Our last few nights living "on the hard".

This calls for a celebration!

It's time to go back into the water. 
Yes, we've been looking forward to it.

Still - it's a bit of a nail-biting experience.
Maggie May gets put into the enormous sling - all 23 tons.
We try to do all the necessary steps right. 

We struggle a bit with all the unknowns.
We are returned to the water just as it gets dark.
Everything seems last minute.
I crawl around the big wheels of the lift machine, trying to secure the boat.
I use my phone as a flashlight. Just hoping I don't fall in.

And: After the work that was done: 
Will the new seacock valves leak?
Will the engine even start after 8 weeks?

Can we make it up the river and through the 11 locks without issues?
Some of those spots are VERY narrow. And it's winter!
The locks are being opened specially for us.
Will the lock keepers be there on time?

So it's - good-bye Mediterranean living. We're heading back to the Midi.

This transit was a major step for us. 
There was a sense of urgency, too.  
Our spot in the shipyard was already taken by the time we were out of sight. And - with the enormous fishing trawlers creating huge waves, we didn't want to spend the night in the river. 

Coming around the final corner into Poilhes!
And: Ol' Maggie May makes it, in spite of fierce winds and bitter cold. 
We have our reserved "spot" in Poilhes, our winter mooring on the Canal du Midi. 
(-We even get mail there!)

The village of Poilhes. City Center.  
The next day, we meet a Scot on a narrowboat.
(The canals in the UK are much narrower-)
He's cranky. We've taken the spot by the water mains. (It wasn't our choice-)
Then, he regrets his crankiness - and invites us to his 60th birthday dinner.

Turns out, he's a bagpipe player.
Somehow, this was not the way I pictured our local French bar. 
By the end of the evening, we've met another dozen boat people.
English is the primary language used, much to Stan's relief. 

Bagpipes in the bistro.
So - we're back where we started, on the Canal du Midi.
But: Now Maggie May is ours.
We've learned a LOT about boats in the meantime.
My French nautical vocabulary has improved.

It's January, and it's cold.
But the view out the cabin window in the morning is lovely.

We've been in France since November.
For now, we only have a limited amount of time on our tourist visas.
We have to leave the Schengen Area (which includes most of Europe).

East or West?
We spent last winter in the Far East, so West it is.
The Caribbean calls us for couple of months.
At some point, we'll apply for a longer visa.

On the way, we stop in London for a few days.
January is time for museums and riding double decker buses in the rain.
Even visiting a friend or two.

For now, it's good-bye Maggie May! See you in spring!
We mss you already.

15 December 2016

Baby Noah Arrives in Berlin!

How cool - we have a first grandkid!

Baby Noah - born in Berlin. 
13 December 2016.

Iris is Italian. 
Mikey was born in Switzerland.
But he's American, too.
And German. 

Noah will probably be German since HIS Dad and Granddad are also German, but maybe he'll be American, too, and - with his Italian heritage, he'll probably like pasta, so - 

I guess he's an International Edition.

Of course, that means Stan and I have to do a little celebrating here in France. 
We were able to find a bit of wine.
And a place to enjoy it.

Cheers, Noah!

Guess we need to see the little guy in person.
So we're off to Berlin next week.
We'll leave the ol' boat Maggie May to fend for herself over Christmas. 

I think she'll manage.

Welcome to the World, Noah!

Exploring the Languedoc: Winter and Wines

Enough boat for a while!
While the work continues without us, we leave the coast of the Mediterranean -

- leaving the welder and the painter and the electrician and all those big shipyard machines.
To somehow manage without us -
Collecting shells on a beach picnic.

- we head off on a Small French Road Trip. 

Off to explore the Languedoc's prime attractions.
The Pont du Gard. The Tarn Gorges. Stone villages.
We have them all to ourselves in warm December sunshine. 

Were we talking about wine?
Did you know the Languedoc is the single biggest wine-producing region in the WORLD?

It grows more than a third of France's total wine!
2800 different wine producers.
2 BILLION bottles a year!

I took part in the grape harvest here in the Corbières in 1974. (!) 
There were a lot of vineyards even then, but the quality has improved immeasurably. 
It's becoming my favorite wine region. 

The "terroir" here contains lots of fossils - and shells.

Even up on the hills, shells everywhere.
Of course, I said that about Burgundy and Bordeaux, too.

But what blew us away this week was the VARIETY of the landscape. 

In just this one little region.
From snowy mountain passes -

- to desert valleys that looked just like New Mexico.

 Stone filled medieval towns with crooked cobblestoned alleyways -

- to Roman bridges and Cathar castles. 
Strikingly beautiful. 
Pont du Gard - incredible old Roman aqueduct.

Just to give you a sense of the scale!
It's VERY popular in summer. 
Camping cars and tourist-filled cafés. 
In December: We have the pleasure of being the ONLY people in many of the most striking sights. 
And for once in France: Even have the roads to ourselves.
Did you know they have pink flamingos here?

We stay in ridiculously gorgeous hotels and renovated palaces - again, often the only guests, so we have time to chat with the owners, and discuss their towns and their lives with them.  

Stan investigates delicious breakfast offerings.

This town, St.Guilhem le Desert, gets 2 million visitors in July and August. 
And of course - every town has its market. 
Every vendor a specialist.

Temperatures would change from freezing - to 18° C - high 60's - on the same road.
A great way to spend the weekend - while everyone else was out Christmas shopping. 

Roadside picnic. With a small glass of rosé.