Category Archives: France Retour

Sur La Charente En Bateau

Captain David
Captain David

We are now on-board “Clipper 43” sur la Charente, which means on the Charente (river). I’ve slipped a few times and said dans la Charente, because you say dans rue X (in street X, literally, but it’s translated more like “on X street”). But if you say dans la Charente, you’re IN the river, when presumably you should be ON it, certainly if you’re on or in a boat. Love learning French! Here’s David within the first few minutes as captain, reasonably happy. Let’s see if I can navigate well enough for that to last.

We boarded our boat just past the weeping willow you see in the photo below, and received our mini-tutorial.

Le Boat Base
Le Boat Base

We couldn’t collect the boat until 4 p.m. so by the time we were under way the light was beautiful.

La Charente at dusk
La Charente at dusk

The first lock was a bit hair-raising, including an angry German man berating us for VERY lightly bumping his Le Boat rental with our Le Boat rental–like THAT’S never happened before–and then barking instructions at us–incorrect instructions, actually, that we were too flustered to refute. Whatever. It probably could have been avoided if he had pulled his boat up as far as he should have, to allow ample room for another boat, but I apologized and explained it was our first time. He said it was his, too, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and attribute his rudeness to nerves, but we definitely decided NOT to share any more locks with them if it could be avoided. Sheesh. Hope he’s nicer to his family than he was to us!

David found us a perfect rural mooring on the left bank a bit before the next lock, and we tied up to some large trees where it was beautiful and quiet. Here’s who came to visit:

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And dawn on the river was spectacular:

Sunrise on La Charente
Sunrise on La Charente

After a leisurely breakfast, we were on our way. The next lock already had a boat in it, so we were going to hang back but they motioned us in and turned out to be the friendliest, most helpful group imaginable. A completely different experience. We went through two locks together and chatted in French and English with zero stress. What a difference cheerful people make.

We enjoyed magical sights like this:

Shimmering Swans on La Charente
Shimmering Swans on La Charente

And ended up in the small village of Cognac, where not only cognac tasting is available, but also Pineau des Charentes, our favorite aperitif. We, of course, tasted.

So, a little more than 24 hours into our five-day river adventure, we’re content, sitting here sipping 25-year-old cognac and vowing to be friendly and helpful boaters, even when we’re vastly more experienced . . . four days from now.

Retour en France

Avenue Victor Hugo, in the posh 16th arrondissement
The posh 16th arrondissement, where we are NOT staying, but where we visited the Musée Marmottan Monet. No photos allowed inside the museum.

We made it to France with no major issues, although it was a bit touch and go with passport control in Reyjavik, Iceland, where the agent seemed to think we should have had a long-stay visa. I convinced him that the French consulate had told me I could travel without one for this trip, which is true, but the email about it was a bit ambiguously worded, so I wasn’t exactly positive. Finally, he let us pass.  I was tormented for the next five hours, before, during and immediately after the flight to Paris, thinking someone in Paris would not let us stay in France, only to find when we arrived in Paris, there was absolutely zero interest in us or our passports, with or without long-stay visas. We just got our bags and walked out to the taxi stand.  Woohoo! There went five hours of wasted stress. There must be a lesson in that.

Apartment in Montmartre
Apartment in Montmartre

Before heading off on our Le Boat adventure on the river Charente, we’re staying three nights in a tiny studio apartment in Montmartre. The front door is on the left of the landing just below rue des Trois Freres (at the top). And, yes, it does look a bit better in . . . er. . . low light. We are directly across the street from the cute little epicerie* that was in the movie Amelie:

L'Epicerie d'Amelie
L’Epicerie d’Amelie

Consequently, there are hordes of camera-bearing tourists traipsing past our door at all hours and blocking the top of the stairs, but it is rather picturesque, non? It sells pretty much everything, including my favorite beurre aux cristaux de sel de mer Noirmoutiers, the most amazing butter on the planet–I’m not even exaggerating–with sea salt crystals in it.

Down the hill from the apartment–everything in Montmartre is up or down a hill–there is a boulangerie called Coquelicot that sells a delicious baguette called la picola. Yum. Seriously. YUM.

And just up rue des Trois Frères, there is this:

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Where I had this for lunch yesterday:

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Fortunately, with all this delicious food, we’re back to walking non-stop.

Espace Dali
Salvador Dali

On one of our walks we happened into a small gallery yesterday that included some works of Salvador Dali, and after talking a while with one of the team at the Galerie Montmartre, she gave us a pass for free admission to the Dali museum, where we saw things like this (left and below):

Espace Dali
Salvador Dali

So here we are, where things are very different from peaceful, quirky, green Vermont and family-filled, lake-side New Hampshire. Yet it’s also familiar, since we’ve been to Paris and Montmartre several times before.

David and I wonder about how being nomads, even temporary nomads, may be changing us. Are we becoming more accepting of all the differences we encounter? Maybe sometimes. So that’s a change for the better, but sometimes I think I’m grumpier when each home base is more “base”–as in, one foot on and ready to run–than “home.” NOT an improvement. But really, how much can we ourselves perceive of how we have changed or are changing?

And of course we wonder which changes will last. The good ones, it is to be profoundly hoped, for all our sakes, but only time will tell.

Since clearly I don’t know that much about change, I’ll leave you with some wise words from those who do:

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. ∼Maya Angelou

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.∼George Bernard Shaw

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. ∼Lao Tzu

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. ∼Reinhold Niebuhr