We had booked a barge trip before Covid and finally decided to take it this past summer of ’22 after our Globe and Mail trip to Bordeaux. A little crazy it seemed, but we were already in France and just needed to fly from Bordeaux to Paris to meet up with the Barge people at a small hotel, called The Madison. It was a lovely sunny day and we arrived early and decided to have lunch at a small café around the corner sitting outside, and watching the parade of people. We had quiche and salad, and then headed back to the hotel to meet up with all the other folks on the trip. There were only 7 people booked for this trip including ourselves, and 6 crew. We took a van to the barge, called C’est la Vie, and by the time we got there we had learned new names and got to know a bit about new people. I think most people take barge trips with their friends, so this was an adventure and at a week, max, we just had to get along, and we did!
charming Paris café
View from the lawn chair on the deck
heading into a lock
outside my cabin window the first morning aboard
Unfortunately, the woman/owner who I had been corresponding with about our trip, Deb, had just broken her ankle and couldn’t come, so the touring was left to her delightful husband, Olivier. There was also an excellent chef aboard and we would not go hungry. In fact the food was incredible, with excellent wines to match, great cheeses every day, all different. Our cabin was large, a bit old fashioned, but comfortable and clean. It was very purple however, but we got used to that. We were greeted with champagne and goodies and freshened up for dinner, and started to get to know the other five passengers. There were two couples, and one solo passenger, a doctor, Paul, who had been treated to the trip by one of his patients. His wife couldn’t join him.
Liz, a hard life aboard
Bruce, Liz’s husband, also working hard
The thing about a barge trip is its ease of travel, for the passengers that is. You float along silently, sharing the canals and rivers with swans, and ducks, and it is almost like a floating cottage. The deck had comfortable lawn chairs and everyone had a view. From time to time we went through locks, and when we stopped it was easy to get off and wander into a nearby town, take a bike for a ride, or just walk from lock to lock and meet the barge. Drinks were always available, and as I mentioned earlier the food was delicious. The problem of excess loomed, but then we were in France…
Nice catch I hope
We met at Chateau Thierry, where the barge was docked, a charming area which was nestled in the champagne producing slopes. The next day we left from there to visit a WW1 battlefield and cemetery of Belleau-Wood. We had visited Vimy years before. See:https://suddenly70.ca/2017/10/23/pilgrimage-to-france-part-2/ and thought we had maybe had enough of WW1 and death, but in fact we were mesmerized by the graves and the sadness of it all, and the waste of it all. Checking out the graves of 18 year olds, mostly with crosses, but some with Jewish stars and their names, made it all very real. We watched as the flag was lowered at the end of the day in a semi-formal ceremony, and allowed some tears to flow.
memorials at Belleau
After that visit we relaxed on the deck, cruised through villages and the countryside on the River Marne. Dinner on board delicious with hen, and much conversation. Turns out two of the guests had their guitars, and one of the crew also played. I had my voice so we made some music together. Paul, the doctor, was learning the instrument, Bruce was very good, and the crew member fine. Champagne before dinner was a precursor to our next day’s visit to the famed Moët et Chandon champagne house in Epernay. I had visited many years before, about 40, and had memories of a garden. They were pretty good memories as it turns out. We sampled a few different vintages, and we were treated very well. If you have been following my blog over the years you will know that I adore champagne.
champagne delights at Moët
at Moët et Chandon, ah champagne
Back on board we had a wonderful dinner once again, enjoying terrific service by the staff, and visits from the chef, J.P. Every meal was special and I am glad that I took photos. We were all getting along, learning about each others families, but frankly, much of what I learned went into the computer of my brain, was sorted into categories of importance, and deleted. All very interesting at the time, but we felt we would never see any of our fellow passengers again. Glad I have the pictures though. The next day was a fun day of making chocolates at Thibaut, a delicious and fascinating skill. We made some to take as gifts and ate quite a bit, then we cruised on the Canal Lateral of the Marne and looked forward to a very special evening and dinner at the famous 2 Michelin Starred restaurant Les Crayères in Reims.. I dressed up for the evening, and totally enjoyed the splendid atmosphere of the famed restaurant. We sat at a round table and were served splendidly; many courses, wines as well, and then wandered on the grounds before a long drive home, snoozing as we went. Nice to have a van driver.
Chocolate visit was fulfilling and fun
Then to Les Crayères see below
at the beautiful table, the group cleaned up well and was joined chef JP, assigned to drive the van and eat
and the menu, well most of it.
and some of the offerings
The next day we walked and met the barge down the canal, or so we thought. We believed it to be 5 Km, but in fact it was 5 miles. Quite a difference, and my poor right foot got one of those memorable blisters. It was hot and sunny and there really wasn’t much shade. The good news is we hailed the barge and got on before the next lock and I was able to nurse my foot. Couldn’t wear proper shoes for about a week. Thank goodness for sandals and flip flops. That afternoon we visited another champagne house called Ployez-Jacquemart, certainly not well-known but delicious never the less, and we quaffed flutes in a charming garden.
garden at Ployez-Jacquemart and some music making aboard
images of the Reims Cathedral and Jean d’arc
and the robber bank Kolb argh!!
The following day proved to be very expensive. We went on a tour of the Reims Cathedral, larger even than Notre Dame in Paris, and very impressive. We wandered the downtown core and planned to get some cash from an ATM, gratuities for the crew. Friday late afternoon we put in our card at Bank Kolb. And our card went in, but no money came out. The bank was open and we went in and explained, and I checked my balance in my account in Toronto, and indeed the money had been extracted. No one cared, even when we suggested that they tally their daily amount in the ATM and verify that there would be an overage. But would they do this? Absolutely not. And after many emails in both French and English ( my dear friend in French conversation did the French part). Nothing. Then I tweeted and sent a messenger note, and called the bank fraudsters. Some response, but no money. At one point our bank manager also communicated and said it was simple to tally the end receipts. We lost 300 Euros. They also responded that they were not responsible for ATM which is managed by another company. Bank Kolb is part of a group of banks called Credit du Nord. What did we learn? Maybe just use really well known banks like UBS when travelling. Although Bank Kolb look credible.
the last evening waiting for dinner with our host, Olivier
Back to the barge for a final celebratory dinner that was excellent. We did some packing, as we planned to depart the next morning to be dropped off in Paris. This was a rather arduous journey as one of the guests held us up while he searched for a toilet and proceeded to leave his phone in the public washroom at the train station. Hmm. We were dropped off at our hotel, The Aubusson, a charmer with a swimming pool, and air conditioning. It had gotten very hot in Paris. We dropped our bags with the original intention of doing some shopping, but at 100 degrees Farenheit we lost ambition after our lunch, in a quirky Thai restaurant near the hotel. Dinner was organized previously to meet up with our dear friends Laurent and Marie- Caroline de Saulieu at their Paris apartment. Laurent had lived with us when he was 18, and we had also visited with them when we went to Vimy ( see above). Now Laurent was a proud grandfather of the most beautiful child in the world ( his description). Sadly, both his parents had died within 6 months of each other. I had written about singing with his mother, Chantal, at their chateau in the Pas de Calais in that Vimy blog( see above). She was a delightful, charming, beautiful, petite woman. Laurent found it hard to talk about her. Instead of staying in their cool apartment, no AC just thick old walls, we walked to their favourite seafood brasserie about 10 minutes away. It was still hot and the restaurant had no AC, just windows open to the massive heat. The last time I was that hot was in Cambodia. Nevertheless, the food was wonderful, and we enjoyed our conversation. The hotel offered a sumptuous buffet in the morning, after which we caught a taxi to the airport and headed home. Oh, and our French conversation classes worked as neither Laurent nor Marie -Caroline spoke much English. The old brains were operating at full capacity. Yes!
The seafood restaurant beautiful but very hot, and Laurent with Charles
All in all it was a wonderful trip. I wouldn’t do a barge vacation again unless I went with friends, but this was peaceful, and delightful. I highly recommend C’est la Vie Barge.
More to come about our busy summer in Toronto, Stratford and Prince Edward County. I hope you will read along.