France 2006 - A trip on the canals of NE France (Meuse and Lorraine rivers)
Our vacation began when we boarded a flight to Amsterdam in First Class, and continued aboard a First Class train (below) to Paris. It is getting harder to find flights and good deals with frequent flier miles but a First Class upgrade was a luxury at a good value.
Our goal was to meet up with old Ann Arbor friends Gary and Carolyn Eaton and spend a few days on their canal boat, Hendrika. Hendrika is a Dutch sailing barge or tjalk. These were designed originally to carry coal; the masts and lee boards making open water sailing possible, while the flat bottom and low profile allowed them to navigate canals with the masts lowered. Hendrika was built in 1920 as a residential barge and was never a freighter.
We met Gary and Carolyn in Verdun, the site of many WWI and WWII battles. While there are a lot of monuments and cemeteries, it is enough off the beaten track not to be overrun by tourists.
Pat in front of the "Soldiers of 5 Armies" monument.
16th century gate in Verdun.
Verdun had a lovely waterfront with restaurants and some nice shops nearby. You can almost always find a good bakery, meat shop and specialty food store even in small towns.
Canal boating is all about locks. Here is a lock, or ecluse in French, with the water low, ready to open the lower gate to a boat going upstream. If a boat, or bateau, arrives upstream first the lock must be filled first and then the upper gates opened. The locks were standardized in 1879 for commercial traffic and are about 125 feet long and 16 feet wide.
Here is Hendrika in a lock. She is 55 ft. long and 11 ft. wide, leaving room in the lock for one or two more boats. As soon as the boat behind us is in position the gates will be closed and the lock flooded to raise us. Carolyn is holding the rope to keep the boat from going forward while the engine keeps it from floating backward.
Each lock had a house for the lockkeeper. About 90% of them still exist today, but the automation of some locks means that many of them are not occupied.
When the locks were not automated the lockkeeper cranked them by hand. We pitched in to help when we could.
Hendrika's interior was similar to an RV or houseboat but with beautiful wood paneling. Living room above.
Small kitchen, cute kitchen with nice tile.
Left, another view of the kitchen, right, the master bedroom
Left, the hall to the guest room; center "The Cave"; right, the bath.
Here is Steve on the roof of the cabin, which makes a nice sitting area.
Some typical scenery while cruising down a canal.
A great gray heron on the side of the canal.
Reaching the summit on the Meuse River side we negotiated a tunnel before descending into the Rhine River.
The cliche is too obvious.
Another boat, the Hannah Peel, as she exits the tunnel behind us.
Rafting alongside the Hannah Peel. Once we discovered how well we worked together in the locks we traveled together for several days. Lenny and Susie are British, so language was a bit of a problem; we speak American.
The captain and his wheel house.
Our friends at lunch in a small pub near the train station.
At the station in Toul, we boarded a train for Paris for the cities portion of our trip. Trains in France are almost as good as those in Germany. They are punctual and go almost everywhere. Plus, you get to relax and enjoy the scenery as you go to your next destination. A rental car didn't make sense, especially in Paris.
Click France 2006 #2 to continue our trip to Paris and Amsterdam