It’s hard to believe it was two weeks since our last blog .. in between of course Stewart has started his Radio Endellion podcasts which we hope you’re all enjoying. Since the last blog we have travelled a further 145 kilometres and negotiated (with) 8 locks, the smallest one being 91 meters long. This journey was along the canalised River Oise and into the Seine at Conflans-Ste-Honorine. We’re now only 15 kilometres from the centre of Paris (as the crow flies) and a bit more than 40 kilometres by water (lots of wonderful meanders into Paris).
We left Compiegne (on the Oise River/Canal) on Tuesday 12th October not knowing that the huge demonstrations taking place all over France were about to literally materialise above us. As we passed under the main bridge we could hear shrill horns, see hordes of people gathering and marching, banners (yellow and red) flying and as we headed towards the fuel barge we could also see red smoke flares. This was a big ‘manifestation’ as they call a demonstration in France. Little did we know that coming up will be bigger demonstrations including blockading fuel refineries.
Once we had totally filled our fuel tanks (luckily before the worry about supply) we could go merrily on our way, a little bit oblivious to the plight of the French people (hence their demonstrations): the planned rise in the age to 62 before receiving their pension. The same is being proposed in Britain .. these highly topical issues we talk about but still our heads are in Australia in the area of economics and politics. A regular Sunday event, internet connection available, is streaming Barrie Cassidy’s Insiders.
Our next stop of interest, on our way to Paris, was L’Isle-Adam, recorded in our guide as a place very popular with the French and in particular Parisians being such an easy distance from the centre – by car only 32 kilometres. It was very pretty and even had beavers which swam alongside and competed with ducks and swans for scraps of food thrown by tourists strolling along the river bank. Stewart spotted them first .. then we saw two, and finally three .. all a bit plump and definitely enjoying the life that tourism provides.
To moor here we had to use the slightly complex system that big tourist boats use, that is throwing a rope between several ‘dolphins’ (or major posts) and connecting to a free-standing ramp .. mooring to this with our boat is not easy, as we’re too short, but achievable. So after half-an-hour or so of being watched by the audience along the river banks, enjoying the beautiful late afternoon sun, we had one of the best access points for the wheelchair for some time.
The interesting thing about these very pretty places (read tourist attractions) is we become bored quickly especially if there is limited wheelchair access –this, unfortunately, is what we experienced at L’Isle-Adam. We called in at the local Office de Tourisme (Tourist Office) who were extremely helpful (and it was accessible) handing us four or five booklets, three of them specifically about wheelchair access. We couldn’t believe we could find such useful information .. of course we were right not to believe. We struggled to find a wheelchair accessible Tabac or cafe to sit down in to read these brochures. It was a perfect sunny evening and in the end we chose to sit on a bench outside Endellion (very nice) and drink our own beer! When we finally read what we’d been given we found it related to many things but not wheelchair access in L’Isle-Adam. As you’d imagine, we left after only one night.
We were now very close to the River Seine with our next stop at Pontoise, a lovely place and with a good wheelchair accessible pontoon from which we could also fit and test our Blue Board. The Blue Board is used when commercial barges request, or a waterways sign dictates, that we change channel and pass on the ‘wrong’ side. Normally of course we are travelling on the right (starboard) and pass port to port. When requested to change channels the Blue Board with flashing light is shown to confirm it is understood. Now we can also flash our Blue Board in response to anyone wanting us to change channel. And we’ve had to change channels several times since due to waterway rules.
We had one funny experience here in Pontoise .. there was a converted commercial barge moored just ahead of us and we met the French lady who was managing it as we browsed the menu outside. She confirmed yes they were open that night at 7.30pm. We noticed how many excellent French dishes were on offer, many with descriptions including ‘de Normandy’ and ‘a la Brittany’ .. so our expectations were quite high. However, when we arrived we found that we were the only diners (there was the French lady, the chef, his partner who stood outside smoking most of the time and their two large, aging dogs) and the menu we were handed had a very limited ‘Specials’ list of Mexican only. We should have guessed this given the name of the boat and restaurant was El Dorado!
From here the entry from the Oise onto the Seine was quite uneventful, although very exciting for us as we were overtaken by a big commercial barge just before the hard left turn and then followed in its wake. The river Seine is very wide and we found it quiet other than some massive barges (even compared to what we had seen on the smaller waterways) and two pleasure boats who overtook us (as usual). These two classic boats (a steam tug and Tjalk, which is a Dutch sailing barge) had to wait for us at the lock into the branch of the Seine that finally took us to our mooring at Bougival. So as usual we get to the destination the same time as others because they have to wait for us at locks! The reason being we radio ahead and tell the lock keeper we are scheduled at whatever time, and they don’t want two small boats to go through a massive lock if they can get three in (economic use of water and time).
Our mooring at Bougival (a wonderful town now about 17 kilometres from the heart of Paris) was a delight partly because we were nestled in between massive commercial barges on a specific mooring for small boats like ours.
However, when I was up early (still dark, around 7.00am) the following morning doing the weather report (for Cornwall) a massive commercial was chugging forward and back by our side (feet away) when finally the chap leaned out of his cabin and asked in French if we would mind moving. He needed our space so he could be by the bank to offload his car (they always carry these along with the winch of course) to go to see his family. He was ‘trying it on’ as we were in a specially earmarked space for our type of boat, so I used my story of, “my husband has a wheelchair and we can’t get off anywhere else”, which to our knowledge was true. He then departed (backwards as he couldn’t turn there) and later I saw he had managed to take his car off and was moored up to another big commercial barge .. so I didn’t feel so bad after all.
We’ve had a brilliant time using this area of the Seine (Bougival, Chatou, Rueil Malmaison) as our base. It is known for the Impressionists who loved it and painted many of their most famous paintings right outside our boat and in the area. Highlights in this area include once again using public transport but this time with more success and again our aim was to go into central Paris (now a relatively short journey) so that Stewart could meet with the Arsenal Marina staff to sort out the challenge we had with our mooring for the winter. The Marina had told us it hadn’t received my confirming email which followed my visit in June and my completion of their application form. Yet they received other emails from me and at no stage told me they couldn’t accommodate us. We had to understand what was going on and the best person to do this was Stewart, with the eyeball to eyeball sort of meeting. It worked only to the extent that Remi (the duty officer that day) agreed to discuss it further with management and come back to us in a few days (after the weekend).
As we were in the city of Paris, actually at the Gare de Lyon (train station), we remembered more excellent advice we had received from the President of the VVW Marina (where we finished 2008/9 travels and started the 2010 one) – “don’t miss Le Train Bleu”, he’d said. At first we were told by the Tourist Office at the station that it was not accessible (it’s on the first floor of the 1901 building) as it had no lift .. we were extremely disappointed. However, I was determined at least to check inside, so ran up the steps, entered the heavy wooden revolving door and asked the penguin-suited Maitre D’, “I assume this is not wheelchair accessible”. He was slightly taken aback .. “it is, we have a lift”, he said. So you can imagine what a delight it was to find the lift hidden at the back of the building (they sent someone to escort us) and to be able enjoy such a special place together. Here we had a wonderful lunch of roast suckling pig, very nice dessert and coffee.. but mostly we just enjoyed the atmosphere and people watching. In particular we were drawn to a woman on her own except for the little sausage-type dog she had on her lap throughout her lunch.
It worried me a little when I realised that her fur coat (which she didn’t take off at any stage) was the same colour as her little dog!
The other adventure was of course Stewart’s birthday where we had dinner at a famous restaurant of this area – it features in the Renoir painting ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’. La Maison Fournaise was literally at the end of our jetty – we could see the veranda (from the painting) from our wheelhouse window. We couldn’t eat up on the veranda as it wasn’t accessible .. we won’t go into detail about our room (very private, just the two of us again) or quality of food (not great) but we had a totally brilliant and special time. And even more fantastic for Stewart’s birthday we received the email we’d been expecting from the Arsenal Marina confirming, yes they had found a place for us for the winter.
We had yet another very genuine reason to celebrate .. and the restaurant gave us each a free glass of genuine Champagne to help us out, and gave Stewart a little surprise candle delight.
Finally, we have a few photos of today’s outing here in the Rueil Malmaison area .. at the Chateau Malmaison.
This Chateau is another reason the area is so special and famous: it was owned by Josephine, Napoleon’s wife and where she died, and it was where Napoleon formulated the Legion of Honour, the Louisiana Treaty and preliminaries for Peace of Amiens with England and more. Wow!
The furnishings and colour schemes, as Stewart says, must have made Paul Keating’s eyes water. The ex-Prime Minister has a passion for this era.
Tomorrow we take the big journey into Paris along the busiest section of the Seine. We will be thinking of you all tomorrow evening as we sit down and relax and plan when we have you on board.. we have the accommodation if you have the will!
Our best wishes.. Lesley and Stewart