People often think we are crazy when we tell them we are going to Canada for the winter. Canada conjures up images of ice floes and snow, desolate white Prairie and winds howling with temperature of -10C to -20C. They are right of course, so I have to explain that we live in the warm part – the Canadian Riveria aka Vancouver Island. People still seem incredulous as the words winter, warmish and Canada do not compute.
Nevertheless I had been thinking about going home to Victoria for quite a while – we do get homesick for family and friends. After living in the Netherlands, Belgium and now France, visiting the UK four times, Germany twice and Denmark I am ready to stay put for a while. Hence I was really looking forward to returning to my house, garden and being the same city for six months. I can leave Europe with ease, now that my mother is settled and feels safe. I thought that she will be staying put too, but she and young Joan are off on a Christmas Cruise to Tenerife in late December and are planning a few weeks in the sun somewhere during the winter. Talk about mind over body! But she is 87 and now has help and family she felt she needed close by – just across the garden.
Returning from the UK around mid October was not quite the end of our travels. Our friends Vernon and Toula joined us in Reims as they were hanging out in Europe for a few weeks. We had moved the boat to our winter harbour in Sillery (about 10kms from Reims) and decided to take them on a little trip. We spent an afternoon walking around Reims and showing off the sights of this lovely city. We heard lots of oohs and aahs as we walked around the Cathedral and the inner city. Reims was devastated during the World War I – the Cathedral itself was almost destroyed. Reims and surrounding areas were the sites of a number of battles, but was rebuilt during the post war period. Interesting enough there is a Roman gateway – called the Mars Gate withstood the ravages of both World Wars and remains intact after 2000 years ( it was built when Reims was called Durocorturon: the capital of the Roman Belgium/Gaul region).
World War II was kinder to Reims (if war can ever be kind). The city was prized by both the Axis forces and the Allies and General Eisenhower made his headquarters in Reims. I wonder why ……it may have something to do with the local Champagne production or the 100 kms of cellars and tunnels under the city? As a result the treaty ending World War II was signed in Reims and the task of rebuilding began – amid some celebration I am sure.
The big Champagne houses in Reims – famous names like Mumm, Cliquot, Taittinger and Pommery are now owned by large corporations like Vranken ( Belgium food giant). The quality remains (as does the price), but the smaller Champagne houses can compete favourably with these famous names. Outside Reims – in the surrounding villages is where many of the family owned vineyards and champagne makers quietly open their doors to visitors.
We celebrated Thanksgiving with our Canadian friends and began our return journey to British Columbia – at least mentally. (Canadian Thanksgiving for readers who are not Canadian is the second weekend of October and celebrates the harvest – so we felt in sync with local grape picking). We celebrated with duck, veggies and a lovely lovely apple pie (tarte d’pomme) from the local bakery for dessert and a couple of bottles of Champagne.
We took our visitors on a three day trip up to from Sillery to Mareuil-sur-Aÿ . We had glorious weather driving the boat through the French countryside. The trip included three locks up, through a tunnel and down a staircase of seven locks followed by a turn onto a new canal through a bridge passage and a couple of nights in another Champagne village.
We visited a couple of Champagne houses and Vern took a bicycle and rode to Epernay (about 10 kms). He thorough enjoyed the sights and sounds of this area. Meanwhile – guess what Toula, Martin and I did!!!!!! We actually started drinking local cider – less cost and less alcohol and another very pleasurable taste from a bottle that went pop when we opened it.
The little trip gave them a taste of life on the canal. We also had a taste of life in Reims before sending then off on the TGV to Charles de Gaulle airport.
We had a nasty shock though when we returned from our short trip – the Tourist board of Reims that runs the Relais Nautique in Sillery turned off the water taps so we were plunged (pardon the wrong pun) into desert conditions. After a couple of phone calls and no responses Martin and another boat owner tried to gerry-rig a hose from the bathrooms in the port. A teacher from the local boat school became very irate when he saw what they were doing – complaining of our ignorance, he turned off the water in the bathrooms despite our protests about having no water. This was now a fairly serious and stressful situation – not only were we limited to the water we had left, but we had no toilet/shower facilities off the boat and the onboard tank was already pumped out and flushed.
Needless to say Martin and I ran out of water fairly soon. We made more phone calls to the Tourist office in Reims but no-one seems inclined to turn the water back on, despite the fact we had paid for our moorage and had a reasonable expectation that water would be available. We read the contract, which indicated that the water would be cut off to prevent pipes freezing – but it was 25C on the day that it was shut off.
Martin went to buy a couple of 10lt containers and asked if he could fill them at the local general store – the owner refused even when Martin offered to pay him. Sillery was turning into a dry nightmare – luckily the lady at the nearest lock filled up our containers, which gave us a little water. We had some major cleaning to do before we left our boat- carpets and decks etc, some of which required fresh water – and we still had no facilities. We resorted to taking buckets of water from the canal to flush the toilets. Needless to say there is a letter of complaint on its way to the Mayor of Reims regarding the Tourist office.
Sillery is a small village of about 1800 people situated about 10 kms from Reims. It is the site of a major battle during World War I and has a large cemetery just across from the marina.
It is twinned with the town (suburb of Quebec city) of Sillery in Quebec Canada. In fact the main street is called Rue de Canada. Sillery Canada is also quite an interesting place, although it lost its status as a town during the amalgamation of suburbs around Quebec City in 2002. Sillery Quebec was the site of the first native reservation in Canada – it was a settlement established by Noel Brulart de Sillery 1577 – 1640 (a Knight of Malta) for native people who converted to Catholicism. The settlement failed as the European diseases devastated the population. Sillery was re-established after the war of 1760 and became a religious centre. It now has a population of about 12,000.
Martin’s sister Carol and her partner visited us on their way to their second home in the south of France They stayed in a hotel in the next village and took us out for dinner which was quite a treat as don’t eat out very often. We had a fun evening discussing politics from both sides of the political spectrum and the issues of immigration, and whether the UK should stay in Europe. Of course the UK should stay in the European Union –but maybe they can deal with some of the concerns that British people have aired. Anyway it was good to hear the other side of the argument.
After that visit we took our final trip and drove for 4 hours to visit our friends in Germany (near Freiburg). It was a great break from the stress of the water situation and packing up the boat. Brigitte and Peter are wonderful hosts, we enjoyed some lovely food and a few laughs. Weather-wise we were still enjoying warm ( 23C days), so we took a walk up to a ruined castle not far away, surveyed the lovely country of the Rhine valley/Black Forest and had a look at some local art in Emmendingen.
Before we came back, I did some laundry and we filled our canisters with water as we still had two days before leaving.
The return trip from Freiburg took us through what I can only describe as the French Prairies – huge rolling fields of wheat. There were no fences, just changes in the ploughing pattern to demarcate the different fields. France produces more wheat than Canada – it is number 4 in the world for wheat production while Canada is number 7. Given the difference in the size of the country – I think this is something we should think about!
Back on the boat we spent time cleaning, Martin drained the water systems (the washing machine, black water tank, grey water etc), he bought some moisture absorbent material in special buckets, which is designed to keep the air dry over the winter. He did not grease the engine this time but will wait until the spring. We have our new windshield to install at that time and Martin also gets to install a new alternator. We packed up the deck furniture, bikes, boxes etc as the boat is stripped down for the winter. Soon there was little room to move.
Martin took off for Charles de Gaulle airport on the TGV on Wednesday morning to pick up a rental car. He returned a few hours later and we packed Kerry and her box, our cases and ourselves into the car. Said goodbye to Skookum and Scarlet (both parked in the marina – but only one was in the water) and set off for our hotel near the airport.
The hotel was fine (a bit pricey), but returning the car was a bit of a nightmare even though we set off three and half hours before the flight. There are three terminals at CDG airport, Terminal 2 has 6 different areas each the size of Calgary airport – and all filled with throngs of travelers. Martin dropped me, Kerry and all the gear, off at Terminal 2 as he had to return the car to Terminal 1. This was difficult, because the road system is like Spaghetti Junction (roads going off in all directions), under construction and it was still dark. After dropping the car he then had to catch a train that connected the different terminals – a journey of about 15 – 20 mins back to Terminal 2. The potential for disaster was high. I waited for about 35 minutes and then started to get a bit concerned – the clock was ticking and we had to check in both the dog and ourselves.
Air France had a special check-in desk for people traveling with kids and dogs. So we spent about 35 minutes with the very patient and helpful Air France agent who had to make some changes with Martin’s ticket (as his passport says he is called Graham Martin) and we had to pay for Kerry. Finally we got finished, went through security and had about 10 minutes in hand before boarding our plane to Amsterdam, where we changed to the KLM flight to Calgary. All was fine once we were on that flight. Arriving in Calgary we cleared Customs and took Kerry out for a bit of a walk (poor thing – her legs were almost crossed as she been in the travel box for 12 hours). Then we checked in again – guess what – the problem with Martin’s name came up again and we spent another 35 minutes sorting it out as the computer would not issue a boarding pass in the wrong name.
We finally arrived in Victoria, where Martin’s son Michael met us and drove us home. The family had loaded the fridge with the essentials for the first day or so – we stayed awake for a short while but eventually gave into sleep – back in our own house, in our own bed.
Martin always tells me to write from the heart…….. so my heart says it is good to be home and live quietly for the winter. I want to thank all those who have travelled with us through our European Sojourn this year – it has been great to write for you and great to have you share our various adventures. I hope you have enjoyed my dyslexic missives (I apologize for the dyslexic part) and the pictures – the uploading of which is the most time consuming part of the blog.
There is always lots to do here in Victoria and I am looking forward to being busy. We have seen a few friends in the few days we have been home, and I went to the funeral of my old boss from work . He was a wonderful man and died too soon at age 62. His death confirmed my philosophy of Carpe Diem and doing those things that are your heart’s desire. Being in Europe has enabled me to spend a lot more time with my mum (who seems to have become everyone’s mum) and settled her into a comfortable situation for now. Our journey has been a win-win; we are living a dream as well as taking care of the important people and things.
We are planning one more long summer on the boat in 2015 by which time we should have the boat in the South of France. We actually started our European Sojourn in 2007 when Martin bought a box of books from a garage sale. The books were all about canal journeys in France, the Canal du Midi and the Rhone Delta. So hopefully we will get there by the end of our summer 2015. Next summer will be our fourth on Skookum and I think our last long visit but I am not quite ready to give up on Skookum yet. While the adventures are wonderful and we feel very blessed, after being away almost six months of the year I dearly miss my home, family and friends. Rather than giving on our canal cruising up completely, I suggested that we offer shares in Skookum (like a time-share arrangement) rather than sell her, so many more people can enjoy a summer month or so on the canals, and have their own European Sojourn.
So think about it for 2016 and come and check it out if you are interested.