“My name is Barbara and I am a cheesoholic and I am in Brie country France” I guess that I am a close I will get to culinary heaven – French cheese, French Bread and French Champagne – the French do live well by my standards (anyone’s standards). It has been almost three weeks since my son Tim left (from Epernay) and we have been cruising down the Marne towards Paris – with a short detour to Germany in our little car – Scarlett.
It took us a few days down the river to the small town of La Fertes sous Jouarre. We have had pleasant weather for the most part although at times it has been rather hot. Our first stop a small town of Dormans, where we moored on a pontoon that was a part of larger campsite just across the river from the town itself.
On the way the VNF (the French Inland Waterway authroity ) gave us a brand new remote a bit more complex than the previous versions with English language instructions. Very modern!
We arrived on Saturday evening so everything was closed down for the weekend – except the patisserie and the flower shop. Both of these were doing a roaring trade as Sunday (May 31st) was Mothers Day in France. Dormans is small town in the valley of the Marne, surrounded by gentle green hills. Lots of vines growing but we were on the very edge of Champagne. We had left Scarlett in Epernay.
A walk to the local chateau and the beautiful chapel and ossuary commemorating the Battle of the Marne in World War I – yes we were still in the killing fields of Europe. The location of the chapel had a commanding view over the valley and the many monuments that dotted the skyline.
The chapel commemorating the Battle of the Marne
After a couple of nights we moved on to La Fertes sous Jouarre with a brief stop in Chateau Thierry, which actually does not have a chateau. It was a long trip between stops but worth it as the Jouarre marina was off the river behind a small island (aka bird sanctuary).
Lots of young families on the water – pairs of swans with their cygnets, a duck with about 8 ducklings (a great source of entertainment) and a bunch of honkers (Canada geese) with goslings parading up and down the waterway.
The moorage, power and water were free in this little moorage that only took about 8 boats. So we parked the boat, Martin went off on the train to Epernay and returned with Scarlett. The next morning we set off in the heat of the day (and it was getting rather warm) on our five hour drive to Germany. We packed a picnic and stopped in a road side rest stop before continuing on to Freiburg to see our friends Brigitte and Peter.
Moorage at le Fertes sous Jouarre
It was Peter’s 65th birthday party and there were lots of people coming to town for the event. We stayed at their house in Teningen as did some other family members – so Brigitte was very busy. She is so hospitable, that we felt very much a part of the family. The temperature soared to 34C at the weekend – I stayed out of the sun although we did venture out to the local outdoor swimming pool (which was packed out with others with the same idea) for a lazy swim.
Peter’s party was held at a local restaurant – 50 people sat down for a five-course dinner with wines, and a band that played lounge music. We had been to the hotel/restaurant before – it is famous as the gardens are home to a small flock of flamingos (about 7). The party was still going strong at midnight – but it was still really hot (27C at midnight) and I was quite exhausted from the heat. We left about half an hour before the end – it turned about to be a good decision as there was a huge thunder and lightning storm just as we arrived home.
The next day there was a BBQ for a number of out of town folks and Peter and Brigitte’s son and daughter and their lovely three year old granddaughter. We left on Sunday, which was another good decision, as the roads were relatively quiet and we saw no trucks – they were parked for Sunday (which is observed as a day of rest here – thank God!).
On the way back we made a pit stop in a delightful place called Chalons sur Champagne – a gorgeous medieval town on the eastern edge of the region.
Back in La Fertes sous Jouarre (easy to remember as it has 4 out of the 5 vowels in the English language in the last word alone), the temperature cooled to a gentle 27C and we did some work on the boat. Apparently Jouarre was also home to Samuel Beckett for a while after World War II. Maybe he wrote “Waiting for Godot” here – that would not suprise me.
I am not sure if you remember but last October we were in the UK and picked up our windshield from a small manufacturer in East Essex. As we were crossing back to Europe via the overnight Harwich ferry, which did not board until after 8:00 pm, it made sense to pick our new windshield up on the way. It felt like we were doing a drug deal as we followed the windy road to an isolated farm in the pitch black (it was only 6:30) to meet the manufacturer and pick up the goods! – I guess I have been watching too much British telly – it fires the imagination.
Anyway – my master craftsman had to fit it on the boat. The windshield was made from a template Martin had sent over to the UK so the first question was whether it fitted. Thumbs up for that (he is an architect who follows the measuring rule) He bought some stainless steel hinges in Victoria (good old Trotac) and brought them over. Martin fitted the hinges and tapped the screws, and found some wood for mounting the windshield to the boat. He then built a frame on which to rest the 5 tempered glass panels of the windshield. This was a kind of scaffolding but on a very small scale. The windshield has to be able fold down, for those times we go under some very low bridges. There is one chance at getting all the screws and hinges aligned so Martin was under pressure. Needless to say he nailed it – or rather screwed it- but that doesn’t sound right.
So now we have a windshield, which makes driving the boat much more pleasant.
We spent a week in La Fertes sous Jouarre (including our four days in Germany) and met a couple of very interesting English people who cruised in on a beautiful newish boat going east. Martin is not the envious type – but he figured that it was a good as it gets, when it comes to canal boats –a 14.5 meters Piper, with an engine room he described as a cathedral, and well designed out both inside and out. We had supper with M and K, over a six hour long conversation and a few bottles of wine. Nice evening out.
We took four hours and few locks to reach to city of Meaux (pronounced mow) which has a small marina close to the centre of town. The Cathedral of St Etienne was started in the twelfth century and not completed until the middle of the sixteenth (imagine any building today taking 350 years to build). The exterior of the Cathedral had lots of gargoyles which made me think – are they a gaggle of gargoyles or what ?
There is also a beautiful old Chapter house and a lovely garden. The ancient city walls are mostly in tact with towers about every 100 meters or so. So we reveled in the antiquity of the city.
The true charm of Meaux – for me- was that it is the centre for Brie cheese making in France. Brie was known as the “King of Cheeses”, for the last 1000 years men have been making the cheese with milk from local cows. The molding stage is apparently crucial and must be done by hand-ladling thin layers of the cheese curds into the mold. Once set these are then turned out onto reed mats and salted. The cheese is then stored in the cellars for 4 – 9 weeks. The cheese rounds weigh about 2.5 – 3.0 kilograms and are about 36 cms in diameter (about 14+inches). When it is fully ripe it should be homogenous across the diagonal cut, and soft and creamy to the touch. We saw the reverence with which the market cheese sellers carefully tested, cut and wrapped this treasure. Brie of various ages and stages was on sale – some looked like it had been sitting around for a good few weeks – this was in fact ‘Black brie’ – I didn’t ry it, but did sample some of the newer Brie.
And yes it is so creamy that I was transported for a brief moment.
Sorry to all those of you who are lactose intolerant – you are missing one of heaven’s foods.
Meaux had a delightful market – but I think we both got a touch of food poisoning as result of eating some market-made paella. It tasted fine but within 24 hours we were quite ill but recovered fairly quickly (another 24 hours). We continued down the Marne for another 50 kms or so, stopping at a couple of places – for the night Lagny and Nogent sur Marne. These pleasant small towns are within striking distance of Paris at the end of the navigable stretch of the Marne. We had driven about 174kms between Epernay and Paris.
When we entered the Seine, through a couple of big locks (about 3-4 meters) we encounter some large barges – the like of which we had not seen since the Netherlands. The confluence of the Marne and the Seine was also a bit confusing – we forgot for a few minutes that we were actually in France. The Forbidden City Chinese Restaurant fooled us for a few minutes as it was so unexpected.
Now we are in Paris for a couple of weeks – getting citified.