30 June 2015

Burgundy Waterways: Cruising the Yonne River and the Nivernais Canal

There are rivers and areas in France I've never even HEARD of!

The Yonne. Canal du Nivernais.
Lot. Tarn. Charente.
Vézère. Armançon.
Aveyron.
Var.
Oise.

And you can take a canal boat down ALL of them!

Some people live full time on board canal boats. The waterways go all through Europe.
We wanted to rent a boat on a canal.
See if just the two of us could handle it.

Where to start looking?

In order to get anywhere, we have to take a train to Paris first.
All roads lead to Paris.


 Apparently, Burgundy is divided into roughly two parts: 
The wealthy wine region to the east. 
The less developed, more "wild" regions to the west. 

Up there, Semur-en-Auxois, between those two towers, is our place. Ancient.
  
Which is where we found our boat - on the Nivernais, heading for the Yonne.

Check out the swank boat! They needed to move this one to another town, so we volunteered.

No vineyards here. Just fields of grain and cows and forests.
The wonderful back roads of rural France.

The is one of the lock-keeper's houses. Usually they're very friendly and helpful.

There are LOADS of canal locks, which we have to pass through. 
They have specific hours, and are ALL closed for lunch.
Timing is everything.

During a week on a boat, it's not unusual to pass through over 50 locks!
Some were built hundreds of years ago.

And you have to remember to take down the umbrella when you go under the low bridges.

A few of the locks we handle ourselves.
Usually I drove the boat, and Stan did the lock-jumping.



The days are HOT, but the evenings are cool and beautiful.
We look for a place to moor along the bank, where we don't have to climb through too many weeds and nettles to get to the trail, and secure our boat with 2 stakes and a couple of ropes.

That's it - no fees, no marina, no harbor. Just pull over.



Swans come to beg for bread by knocking their beaks against the edge of the boat.

This swan family was very persistent. How can we resist? 

We stop in small towns, always with a good bakery.
Break out the bicycles, and we're off!

The lovely town of Auxerre - bicycled in for a memorable lunch at a riverside café.

The week becomes HOT - swallows swoop in front of the boat in the mornings. 
Fog rises off the water. 
Small clouds of harmless insects in the sunrise light. 
Small duck families, a fish or two. 

Luckily, we leave the canal for the River Yonne, and are finally able to swim! 
You can't really swim in the canals. 
Too many boats, not enough flow. 

The river is larger, larger locks and boats, and more traffic. 
But more space, too.

Oh, frabjous joy! It feels so GOOD to be IN the water again! 

This boating thing is pretty cool.
Being able to approach towns from the water.
Being free to move on and explore.

The pleasure of just cruising down the rivers, watching the scenery go by.
Not much to do except explore and hunt for baguettes.


But: the downside is that you are more exposed to the elements.
Even inside the boat, it can get pretty hot.

There ARE compensations, though. Cheers!

27 June 2015

Ile de Ré - Oysters, Bicycles, and Gourmet Salt

There are islands off the west coast of France.
I'm not sure I even knew that.


Taking a selection of buses and trains, we crossed a long bridge - it used to be a ferry - from La Rochelle in France on the Atlantic Coast - onto the beautiful Île de Ré.

Stayed with a wonderful couple, Michel and Agnes, in their small garden guesthouse on the island.

Michel & Agnes, with their new "touc-touc". The dogs are already seated inside.
Later, they put a paddle board on top of it, and called it the "touc-touc paddle"!
Through them, we met others - it's a small community.
Drinking welcome summer rosé wine with ice cubes with our apéritifs.


Discussing life, ideas and art.
Happily complaining about this and that.
It's a favorite French pastime.

Stan plays for the "National Day of Music" in Loix.

We joined them on Michel's boat, the "Lili Bar" several times.



The fish jumped alongside the boat as we left port!

Feel VERY fortunate to have met Agnes and Michel - and their friends. 
Through them, we got the chance to really be a small part of the "scene" in Loix.
It couldn't have been better!

Now, it's another place in the world where I feel at home. 
Agnes took the dogs to shore via paddle board!
The island is delightful.
Yes, there are loads of tourists, but they're all French, so it feels like we're being very local.


Bicycles are the main mode of transportation on the island.
There are trails, and plenty of small oyster and wine cafes along the way...



The tide goes WAY out, but that's apparently perfect for the oyster beds. 
They call it "fishing with your feet".

The cobblestones streets are peaceful.
When we were there, the evenings were long and bright.

The port of St. Martin - we arrive for dinner by boat

Every village has an excellent market. 
The only problem was making choices among the various fine cheeses and breads and fruits and wine needed to make up small picnics.


Who knew that we'd find some place like this - an island off the coast of France?
So glad we did!


Ile de Ré, France - Watercolors

Across a bridge to another world. 
Small boats. 
Whitewashed towns.


Fields of flowers.
Salt marshes.
Daily markets.
Oyster beds.
Mussels.
High and low tides.


Birds, Sand dunes.
Salt evaporation ponds.
The famous French gourmet salt comes from here.


Narrow cobblestone alleys. 
White walls with wild hollyhocks as tall as Stan. 



 Fields of poppies.
A flurry of color and flowers.

Atlantic sea air.
Tourists on bicycles.
Charente-Maritime.


A culture of living slow and eating well. 
Between the ocean and the flora-and-fauna-protected shores. 


Oysters and Wine and Bicycles.

On a tiny island off the west coast of France.





06 June 2015

My Brother's Wine Cellar in Bordeaux

In Which:
Trish and Stan Learn New Things About Wine 
and Have a Great Time Doing It.


The French know how to live well. 
(Didn’t I say that before?)

The villages in Bordeaux are jam-packed with vineyards. 
There are 7 bottles on the table in front of us. 

Three of the people with us are winemakers. 
These are their wines. 

I love ALL of them.



There is a massive body of water in front of us, the Gironde estuary.
Where the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers meet.
We're in Blaye - near Bordeaux.


An old stone fortress - UNESCO Citadel of Blaye - on top of the hill.
A few excellent restaurants within its walls.



Below this building, Tom has a wine cellar.
It's stocked with delicious wines:
Ones to drink now, keepers, magnums - reds, rosés, whites.
Upstairs is his apartment. 

Lovely, old stone and modern fixtures.


On the OTHER side of the big river in the Médoc. 
The more famous wines are there, the premier grand crus: 
Châteaux Latour, Lafite, Margaux, Mouton-Rothschild. 


I’ve learned I prefer this right side of the river.


These guys are INTO wines. 
We swirl and sniff.
Discuss the world in a mixture of languages and vintages. 
Even the barrels and the corks are a specialty subject. 

Then the meals - delicious!

There are a few glasses on that table...


Course after course,.
Each paired with bottles of wines that we bring along under our arms. 
Everyone knows each other here. 

Twice a week, there’s a market.

The fruits are ridiculously beautiful and delicious. 
The cheeses are handmade. 



The seafood was swimming this morning. 
The sausages handmade, stuffed with olives, truffles, chanterelle mushrooms. 
(The one with the olives is my favorite.) 


Every vendor is an expert, and INTO what they do.
Did I even mention the oysters?



We learn about cheeses. Crêpes. Mussels. Oysters. 
And of course, wines. 


We tour wineries.
Some are family affairs, and we wind up sharing lunch under a tree. 


Then Stan plays music and he and Tom send off Tom’s drone in the vineyards. 
Lunch cooked by the winemaker on the open fireplace. 

Others are rather grand affairs.


What they all share is an incredible passion for making good wines.



Brother Steve from DC joins us, and Mikey and Iris from Berlin.
It becomes a family reunion. 

-Bring on another magnum and a couple dozen oysters! 
Don’t forget the fresh warm baguettes!




Did you know that Bordeaux wines don’t give you a headache the next day? 
Something to do with biodiversity, no sulfites, natural. 
But I’ll vouch that it’s true. 

Did you know it’s forbidden to water or fertilize or even to cover Bordeaux vines from hail? 
Nothing added. Nada. Niente. Nichts. Rien.


During the day, we take bicycles along the “rails to trails” system
The "Greenways".  Les "Voies Vertes".
Being old railway tracks, the trails are almost flat. 
It's part of the Santiago de Compostela trail. 


Through vineyards and towns from the middle ages. 
Always with a good bakery and a few good restaurants.  
And somewhere, a bottle of good wine.


Maybe even a picnic.



Absolutely “magnifique”! 

Thanks, Tom!