The thermometer hit 40C last Wednesday (July 1) at that temperature – my brain stopped functioning. The temperatures had been building for about 10 days and are now gradually subsiding. We arrived in Paris and moored in the Arsenal where Martin and I had a day or so together. We treated ourselves to visits to Montmartre, (Sucre Coeur), the renovated Picasso museum (that guy was so prolific), and dinner in St Germaine (the Left Bank of the Seine) in the heart of Paris.
One evening we met an interesting Montreal lawyer who divided his time between Canada and Paris. After a lovely dinner and conversation, we sauntered back to the boat and the next day met my pal Deb who was joining us (me) for about 12 days.
Place du Bastille
After a few days of indecision we decided to leave the boat (with us on it) in the Port d’Arsenal near the Place du Bastille while Martin was in Berlin and Deb and I were on the boat. It was easier (or so I thought) to be settled into the Arsenal than move down river to a port that was off the river.
Shortly after Deb arrived we ventured out of the Arsenal and dropped in to some old pals for a drink (wine, of course) on their boat that was moored just down the dock. Winedown is a boat we had met near Strasbourg in 2013 – so it was great to reconnect with a boatload of fun loving, wine drinking New Zealanders.
It was Mid Summers day and there were eight hours of free music in central Paris, starting around 8:00 pm and went on until 3:00am. We spent a while wondering the streets listen to some of the bands – I am getting old because hip-hop and head-banger music sound really irritating to me and I longed for a good rock band – even a bit of um-pa-pa music.
The Arsenal also hosted a band so were serenaded until deep into the night – the next morning Martin headed for Berlin and his conference and Deb and I hung out on the boat. The weather was a bit damp and quite cool so we stayed close to home and rested. The next day we took the Metro out to explore the Il d’France, Museum d’Orsay and other parts of the inner city. I had been there a few years ago but continued to be in awe of the beauty of the building and the contents.
The Metro is a dangerous place – I was waiting for a train when a clean cut young man came up to me with my wallet in his hand – ‘returning’ it – it was empty of cash but luckily with all my cards – an honourable thief. It was a bit disconcerting but our very nice Parisian neighbours in the marina were very sympathetic.
The next day it was getting hot – so we headed out to the Museum d’ Orangerie. Again I had been there before as this museum houses Monet’s Waterlily panels (6 in all) and many other painters. The Impressionists and their contemporaries were very prolific and worked very hard. I saw one painting I had heard about – it is a Monet picture of a railway station (circa 1890). Apparently (sorry I cannot cite a bibliographic source – this is not an academic paper) a genesis of the Impressionist style was a view of the world through the steam from a steam train. I could certainly see how this view could translate into the soft tones and vague impressions that are now so revered and so famous.
Painting by Marie Laurenain (1883 – 1956) – member of the Picasso gang.
Paris was getting hotter – we spent one day (34C) on the boat, I was able to put up the shading and reduce the temperature a little bit. The Arsenal is a marina that holds about 170 boats of all shapes and sizes – but it cost us €573 for ten days which is the most expensive moorage ever. There is another port in La Villette (about 2 hours up the St Martin Canal), which takes up to 24 boats for the same kind of price. Capital city pricing!
The Arsenal was very central – easy walking distance to the supermarket and the Thursday/Sunday street markets, which were a wonderful plethora of colour sights, sounds and bargains
The Arsenal was a favourite meeting place for all kinds of people – lovers, punky kids, people and their dogs etc. It was not a great area for dogs though – dog poop everywhere (despite the threat of the €35 fine), very little grass and lots of broken glass. We were also living next to the police station so sirens abounded.
Deb and I took a trip to Versailles, having booked some tickets online. It was a Friday and a disastrous day which started off by following the advice of the ticket suppliers to get to the Chateau by 9:00am. This was quite a challenge, as we had to get up quite early, walk Kerry, have some breakfast and find out way out to Versailles – about one hour and twenty minutes from our location in the Arsenal.
In the process of getting out there my camera went missing – maybe it was stolen in the confusion of buying tickets but whatever happened, I discovered it missing just as we arrived at Versailles.
Despite the beauty of its collections, Versailles itself was not a great experience. It was hot early in the day (32C) , very crowded, and full of pushy Oriental tourists, many of whom felt it was necessary to use a lot of space in the Chateau while taking their selfies in front of a variety of backdrops. The interior of the Chateau was crowded, airless and at times quite dark which interfered greatly with any enjoyment of the Chateau. Deb took lots of pictures, but the loss of my camera really soured the day for me. I also was a bit annoyed about the suggestion to get to the Chateau so early, because the crowds were noticeably smaller by the time we left at 2:00pm.
When we got back to the boat (around 3:00) we discovered that Kerry was sick and had made a smelly mess in the boat that I had to clean that up immediately. Poor dog – it is very rare that such a thing happens unless she is quite unwell. So the whole day was a dud to me and I needed a large G & T to settle down!
I will leave Martin to talk about his trip to Berlin
Martin returned from this mediation conference in Berlin on late afternoon Saturday, but he let me know we were expecting another visitor – a former neighbour from Victoria – Lisa L.
In the meantime Deb and I walked over to the Notre Dame – she had not seen it was wanted to go inside. There was quite a wait in the queue to go into the Cathedral, so Kerry and I walked back to the boat. This journey required us towalk through the middle of the Gay Pride Parade – both on the way there and on the way back (the day after the US Supreme Court had authorized gay marriage in the USA). Kerry, who came along for the walk, was not impressed. Lots of hootin’ and howlin’ as the parade; floats, gaily dressed people and other vehicles went over the Seine bridges, egged on by huge crowds. The parade ended up in the Place du Bastille (next door to the marina), great music but lots of garbage that the Paris clean-up crew attended to right away.
Once we got back to the Arsenal, Martin arrived – followed shortly thereafter by Lisa whose impromptu trip to Paris was an early 50th birthday present to herself. Once Deb arrived we had a couple of bottles of champagne to celebrate Victorians in Paris, and shared some food. About 11:00pm Martin walked Lisa back to her hotel in Montpasse, and stayed for a drink in the Great Canadian Bar, which was round the corner from her Best Western hotel. There was lots of excitement as Canada’s women’s soccer team were playing their game against England. Unfortunately the game did not start until 1:30am (it was being played in Vancouver). Martin did not stay for long after a long day traveling across Europe, he was back home by midnight.
I was very ready and happy to leave Paris after 10 days, and to be honest I would not be bothered if I never went there again. It is very cultured and interesting etc, but it is also full of petty crime, dust, dirt, noise and crowds. My advice to travelers – go to Paris once in your life – preferably between late October – March; less crowded and much more romantic. Rain looks very romantic at the moment.
We could not leave Paris, however, without some kind of finale. So Martin took us out (Lisa, Deb, Kerry and I) onto the Seine for a trip through the city on our boat rather than a tourist bus boat. We had spent the morning in the market at the Place d’Bastille, buying fresh fish for dinner and some more lovely cheeses, so our departure was delayed.
We entered through the lock, and cruised up the Seine on one side of the Il d’ France passed the famous monuments and bridges all the way to the Eiffel tower and then back down. It was ridiculously hot and sunny during our foray into the city by boat but we could enjoy the new view of Paris from the water.
This meant we left the city quite late in the afternoon (around 3:00). We cruised passed the junction of the Marne and Seine (remember the Chinese Restaurant that looks like the Forbidden City in Bejing) into the waters of the upper Seine – it was quite tranquil at the time – but it was a Sunday.
Sunday, we discovered, is the day the locks close early. Martin and his boatload of females on Skookum were headed down to Port du Ceries – where Lisa could catch a train back to Paris and stay in her air-conditioned hotel (a little jealousy here). However we reached the lock Ablon sur Seine only to find it closed and we were locked (sorry about the pun) of the next part of the river. We made our way back to Villeneuve St George where there were a number of large private barges moored (right under the flight path into Orley airport). We were offered a place to tie up on the river beside one of the barges. Vincent and his wife Isabella were very helpful and allowed us to cross their barge to reach the path which lead to the train station. Lisa stayed for dinner (our delicious fish) and a bottle of champagne then she went home on the train. The crew of Scare joined us for a drink was we hung out for another hour or so until it cooled down and the planes stopped flying overhead (about 800ft about us).
The next day we moved on to Port du Ceries (our original destination). This was a resort port du plaisance as a part of a park, recreation centre, horse riding centre and lake area. The river was not swimmable at the point (neither was the Port) and it was getting hotter. At this point we decide to use an outside kitchen. Deb and I took the bikes into the town of Juvisy sur Orge and shopped in the local supermarket. We came back across the busy bridge loaded with food, water and wine. We spent two nights at Port du Ceris – it was off the river and fairly quiet; the evenings cooled down from the 36C daily high temperatures but it was still hot. Martin and I took the dingy for a spin down river to another little inlet – very cooling.
The hottest day was forecast for Wednesday July 1 so we decide to head down river – the breeze was cooling and we could stop for a swim. The temps were up to 40C so a dip in the river, and/or a cold shower were very welcome. We stopped at the new marina in Melun beside the Astrolabe mediateque (the new form of library) on the Seine. We jumped off the back of boat a couple of times just to cool off, and then had a wander round the town. After swimming in the river Deb said she now knew what it meant to be ‘in Seine’ !
In the evening, coincidently, we met a couple of older Canucks who were travelling on a small river cruise. They joined us for a drink to celebrate Canada Day. They too, had cruised the canals in a boat some years before, but sounded a little bitter as they had given up self-drive cruising citing a lack of appreciation by friends and family who had joined them on their trips. Now they felt they were too old to cater to other people and used their money to finance more deluxe albeit shorter term travel. They were also enjoying the air-conditioned cabins of their cruise boat.
We discovered that Melun was a lovely little town, home to two of Europe’s most famous lovers and intellectuals – Abelard and Heloise.
Abelard and Heloise
Abelard (1079 – 1142) was a prominent intellectual, teacher and philospher living in the Paris area. From the accounts I have read he was an arrogant, difficult, self-serving man whose affair with Heloise (1090 – 1164) was the talk of history during medieval times and beyond. Heloise d’Argenteuil was the niece of Canon Fubert of Notre Dame, she was famous for her reading and writing skills (in several languages). Her position in society and intellectual fame seemed to have been a lure for the famous teacher – Peter Abelard. After he moved into her uncle’s house working as her teacher, the pair had an affair, which resulted in the birth of their child – Astrolabe. The couple eventually married in secret – this was not the choice of either Heloise – who preferred ‘love to wedlock and freedom to a bond’ (radical feminism circa 1000 AD) or Abelard. The failure of this secret marriage in 1119 to resolve their family differences resulted in the lovers going their separate ways and entering religious life. However they met again in 1029 and thereafter maintained a relationship through correspondence from over 15 years discussing not only their love life but also deeper philosophical and religious matters. Their remains were united by Josephine Bonaparte (who was moved by their story) and they are buried in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
Talking of Bonaparte (who was the fascinating and brilliant and only French Emperor 1804 -1814/5) , Deb and I took a trip to Fontainebleau one of Napolean’s homes/hunting lodges. I had promised we would have a trip to Fontainebleau on her birthday, so took a train from Melun and a bus to the famous chateau on another hot day, leaving Martin and Kerry to hang out on the boat.
Fontainebleau has beautiful gardens (including the garden of Diana, Goddess of the Hunt) and was built in a variety of styles – medieval, Renaissance, Roman etc.
It is older than Versailles and in my humble opinion, much more interesting, rather informal (for a royal palace) and much less gaudy. This charming place was originally built by King Francois 1 around 1530, it features beautiful frescos, galleries and the grand apartments. It also became the home of the Bonaparte family – including Napoleon and his wife Josephine, when he became Emperor of the French in 1804, and was home to the Royal family of France for most of the nineteenth century.
Fontainebleau is definitely worth your time and the short journey from Paris. After we got back from Fontainebleau we had a wonderful dinner in Melun to end Deb’s journey and celebrate her birthday. Eating out in France is quite pricey, but the food was absolutely delicious.
Outdoor kitchen on the boat – the other way of eating out
Deb left the next day for a couple of nights in a hotel at the airport before flying back home, where she enjoyed the air conditioning, a little decompression and a good nights sleep. We were all a little sleep deprived from the heat and the parking lot noise at the marina in Melun.
Skookum headed down river to a place called Samois sur Seine, where it was still hot but quiet. We settled behind an island in the river to savour some peace and swimming.
This idyllic small town was the birthplace of the gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910 – 1953). There is a musical festival every June to celebrate his short but prolific life. Check out Youtube if you want to hear him.
We moored in front of a lovely large old hotel barge called Bonne Amie. The owner was bargee to the stars as he told us about the many famous names that had travelled the canals with him.
He told us about this place – Moret sur Loing and suggested we go there for a couple of days. It had also been recommended by some other barging friends. More about Moret later, as it is the starting point of our next journey in France – in the meantime we are off to Britain to visit family and enjoy the inevitable rain.
Thanks to Deb and Martin for the use of their pictures – having my camera stolen seriously curtailed my ability to include images.
Just a quick rant about our home town, Vancouver Island the southern part of British Columbia. A severe drought (no rain to speak of since early April) and high temperatures have resulted in hundreds of forest fires in the Provinces of BC, Alberta , the Territories, Alaska, Washington state, Oregon and California. My heart goes out to all those who are living close or experiencing these terrible fames. My thanks goes out to the hundred of fire fighters risking their lives for very little pay to save life and property, animals and trees. They are such heroes. Time to take action as we all know that climate change is the root cause of these terrible droughts and heat waves. Write letters, demand action from politicians, corporations NGOs, reduce consumption, buy local, do what ever it takes to reduce the stress on our planet. Even if you don’t believe that climate change is responsible for all these disastrous weather events – isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?
Think of something and take action, the time for talking is over, and don’t keep the home fires burning – put out all those flames.