Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Never in Our Wildest Dreams

During our planning for our 2020 barging season in France, of all of the things we considered that might impact our travel, we can honestly say that "global pandemic" never entered our minds.

Our plane tickets were purchased in late November for an April 21st departure to Paris. A tentative cruising route had been chosen. We bought our annual French cruising permit in February to take advantage of an "early bird" discount. Train tickets had been purchased and hotel reservations made for our arrival day as well as for a late April excursion to Provence and the Cote d'Azur, i.e., the French Riviera. Our French long-stay visa was approved and in hand by the first week of March. And then the world changed as coronavirus made its presence known.

It quickly became obvious that we weren't going to be spending 5 months in Europe this year. Thus began the process of unwinding what we could of the travel arrangements already made. Aside from one rail segment, cancelling our French train reservations was an easy process. Ditto for the hotel reservations. The French visa was money "down the drain", but we have chosen to consider it as part of the expense of our Everglades explorations during this year's visa application visit to Miami. Because of a shortened pleasure cruising season (the French canals have not yet opened for pleasure boating) the French may end up refunding part of the price of our cruising permit. Our Paris flight itinerary was cancelled without penalty and we have until September 30 to book new flights.

The flight rebooking issue presents our biggest dilemma.  It would be lovely to think that we could get back to C.A.R.I.B. III this year, even if just for 2 weeks or a month. Maybe as we go through the 5-month rebooking window we now have we will gain greater clarity for making a decision, but everything depends upon the "ifs": if/when the European Union re-opens their borders to non-EU citizens. . . if we can be sure of having health coverage for COVID-19 while overseas . . . if, assuming we leave, we can get back to the U.S. without too much difficulty . . . if we feel as though we can travel without undue risk to our health.

Yes, we're disappointed and saddened to not be in France at the moment, and unsure of what the future brings, but we also realize that our concerns are pretty minor in the scheme of things. Unlike so many people at this time, we don't have worries about jobs or income or housing or health or feeding ourselves.

As we wait to see what the summer brings for our nation and the world, we are trying to make the best of the situation. There are definitely worse places to be than St. Petersburg, Florida. The lovely weather allows us to get out for walks and bike rides. Lon is able to take his trumpet lessons on-line. Our Tuesday movie "date night" at the local AMC theater has been replaced by Netflix. We are mostly cooking at home, but do support our local restaurants a few times a week by ordering take-out. Although most of our volunteer activities in St. Petersburg are on hiatus because of COVID-19, Pat has found a way to give back and keep busy by sewing face masks for the local children's hospital.

I am happy to be doing this for the hospital's families
and other visitors, but it is not a natural fit for me.
This experience has given me great empathy
 for those who work in garment sweatshops.
Our marina in France has a webcam, so Lon can check in on his "baby" every day and see that she is still floating.

Wish we were there: C.A.R.I.B. III awaits our return at
the Port Royal marina in Auxonne, France.
Our thoughts continue to be with family and friends, and our hopes and prayers are for a rapid solution to this crisis.  The next blog entry will likely happen when we have a go-no go decision in a few months. In the meantime, stay well everyone!

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Season's End

As of Wednesday, October 2, we are back home in St. Petersburg, Florida. We thought we would have some "re-entry" adjustments to make, but--other than having a little trouble remembering how to operate the television controls--it hardly seems possible that we have been gone for over 5 months. The hardest thing to get used to was not having a cat to greet us upon our return.

A neighboring boat's Abyssinian cat comes by to say
"so long" as we prepare to leave Auxonne.
Our weekend in Paris turned out to be quite different from what we had originally planned. We couldn't do the Sewer Tour because it was closed for repairs, and we skipped Versailles because we weren't quite up to dealing with tourist crowds. Even our back-up plans ran into a few glitches. The Cluny Museum (a museum of the Middle Ages) was partially closed for renovations, and unfortunately, the closed portion included the Roman Baths that we were most interested in seeing. So scratch that. We had also hoped to visit Napoleon's Tomb in Les Invalides, a complex of buildings originally built in the late 1600's on the orders of Louis XIV to be a home and hospital for aged or unwell soldiers, and currently the site of several museums and monuments related to the military history of France. However, on Sunday (September 29), Les Invalides was the site of a public memorial for Jacques Chirac, an ex-president of France who died on September 26. Okay, on to Plan C.

The closest we could get to the thermal baths at the Cluny
Museum was this view through the window of the museum
gift shop.
The approach to Les Invalides was quite beautiful. The
golden dome is that of the church contained within the
 complex; the highest church in Paris. If the French
presidents--"ex" and otherwise--can stay healthy, maybe
we'll get a chance to visit during our next stop in Paris.
Plan C had us mostly walking on Saturday, several miles in fact, from our aborted attempt to visit the Cluny Museum, to the Ile de la Cite near Notre Dame, and along the "left bank" of the Seine back to our hotel in the 15th arrondissement (a city administrative district).

After 5+ months in Europe we were finally able to have
a true "Saturday morning breakfast". Bottomless cups
of coffee and eggs, bacon, French toast--definitely not a
French-style breakfast. No surprise, we were not the
 only Americans in the place.
We were a little taken aback by how many tourists were in Paris. Our brief stop in Paris last year was in early September, in fact, on American Labor Day, just after the end of the August French holidays. There were few tourists and no lines to speak of at even the most popular attractions. We can only assume that the no-tourist season lasts for just a day--or maybe a week at most.

Our first look at Notre Dame Cathedral after last April's
massive fire. Aside from the spire being gone, it didn't look
too bad from this angle. Lots of tourists, too.
A vantage point on the Left Bank shows how substantial 
the damage actually was. The spire is gone, the roof is gone, 
many windows are gone, and scaffolding and wood
are helping to support the remaining structure.
Notre Dame before the fire: a photo
from our visit in September 2018.
Notre Dame after the fire: from
 the same perspective as the 
2018 photo.

The Eiffel Tower at night, as seen from a street near our hotel. The
"Paris Statue of Liberty" is at the far left in the photo.

The "Paris Statue of Liberty" is a quarter-scale
replica of the statue in New York Harbor. It
stands on an artificial island in the Seine. Originally
one of the working models for the American
Statue of Liberty, it was gifted to the city
  of Paris in 1889 by the American community
 in Paris to commemorate the centennial of the
French Revolution.
Palm trees in Paris--it's almost like St. Petersburg.
Well, maybe not so much.
Just by chance we walked by a memorial called the "Jardin Mémorial des Enfants du Vel' d'Hiv'" (Memorial Garden of the Children of Vel' d'Hiv'). On July 16 & 17, 1942, over 13,000 Jews were arrested, including 4,115 children. Families--those with children--were initially confined to the Vélodrome d'Hiver (Winter Velodrome), hence the name of the memorial garden. Deportations to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland occurred in phases in July and August of 1942. Ultimately 3900 children were deported. Of those children deported, only 6 adolescents survived.

The statue in the memorial. Displayed within the
surrounding trees were photos and stories of some
of the children and families who were seized
during this operation.
A wall with the names and ages of the children who died.
Our only successfully-executed "Plan B" activity occurred on Sunday, when we visited the Museum Marmotten Monet in a mansion in the 16th arrondissement. Thanks to a 1966 bequest to the Marmotten Museum from Michel Monet, the only child of Impressionist artist Claude Monet, the (subsequently renamed) museum now contains the world's leading collection of Claude Monet's work.

The lines to enter the museum were getting long by the time
we finished our visit--but were nowhere near the length of the
lines to enter the Louvre Museum.

In the latter years of his life, Claude Monet developed quite a fascination with the water lilies in his garden
in the town of Giverny (in Normandy). He painted upwards of 250 canvasses with water lilies.
We walked uphill to reach the museum. Maybe that's
 why it looked so much like fall?
A new sight in Paris this year: electric
scooters left here, there, and everywhere. In
the past year, electric scooter ride-sharing
services have taken Paris by storm, but 
one of the problems is that scooters
are being left by their users in the
 oddest of places.
On Monday morning, prior to our departure for our Paris airport hotel, we went to the Italian Cultural Institute hoping to fulfill one of Lon's "wish list" items for this Paris trip--the chance to see a reconstruction of Leonardo DaVinci's mechanical lion. The original automaton--long-since lost to history--was commissioned in the 1500's to amuse King Francis I by walking forward and placing flowers at his feet. The month-long display at the Institute pays tribute to DaVinci on the 500th anniversary of his death in 1519. Unfortunately, our trip was only partially successful. We were at the Institute during the advertised hours, but there was no staff on hand to admit us to the display.

We could only view the lion by peeking through the window.
C'est la vie.
On that note, we said farewell to Paris and are now ready to enter full-swing into the Florida phase of our year. We have started thinking about next year's boating season, but have made no decisions on travel dates or activities. If it's anything like this year we can plan all we want, but we'll likely end up changing things on the fly.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Winding Down

One week from today we will be on a plane back to Florida. The two weeks since we returned from Normandy has seen us focused on getting the barge ready for its long winter sleep. It's not the kind of stuff that makes for scintillating reading in a blog post--kind of like watching paint dry. Oh, wait, it's exactly like watching paint dry, since painting is a large part of what we've been doing.

As we've known since we bought C.A.R.I.B. III, the roof above the salon
was in dire need of painting. For whatever reason--either bad or no
preparation before its last paint job--the paint was peeling horribly
The roof after sanding, priming, and painting. It looks 
good now; let's hope it still looks good when we get
back in the spring. In addition to the roof we also
repainted all the railings and spot painted the hull.
This past weekend (Sept. 21-22) was the 36th Annual European Heritage Days. Cities and towns throughout Europe host events and open their doors to monuments and sites--some not normally open to the public--as way for attendees to learn about their cultural heritage. The heritage events in Auxonne this year were developed to recognize and celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Napoléon Bonaparte. Auxonne is very proud of the fact that, as a young artillery officer, Napoléon was stationed in Auxonne intermittently during the 1788-1791 period and attended the Artillery School that existed here at that time.

Lon and I attended two of the weekend's events. The first, on Saturday night, was a free concert-lecture in Auxonne's event room. The theme was "In the Music Salon of the Empress Josephine."

A pianist, a tenor, a soprano, and a narrator: the evening consisted of
readings from archival documents and letters of the Napoleonic period,
 interspersed with vocal and/or instrumental pieces (also of the time period). 
The music was wonderful, and despite not being able to understand much
of what the narrator was saying, we very much enjoyed his part simply
 because of the lively way in which he "got into" the readings. 
Dinner after the concert gave us an opportunity to socialize with fellow Floridians Barb and Mike Etsell (from the city of Englewood on the west coast, a little to the south of Venice). We met Barb and Mike very briefly during our last visit to the marina in Pont-de-Vaux in August. They have a cruiser in a slip in Pont-de-Vaux, but we didn't meet them in the spring because they had already started cruising by the time we arrived in late April. They contacted us when they stopped in Auxonne during an end-of-season cruise on the Saone and Petite Saone.

Mike and Barb and "pizza  night" in Auxonne. They had
some interesting boating stories from their pre-France
cruising days. 
On Sunday we attended our second event of the weekend.  The local Auxonne army base--where the 511th transport regiment (Régiment du Train) is stationed--opened its doors for guided tours of the rooms that Napoleon lived in while stationed in Auxonne as well as the regiment's present-day "Hall of Honor."  

The open window shows the location of
Napoleon's room. 
Napoleon was born as "Napolionne de Buonaparte" on the
island of Corsica in 1769, one year after the island passed 
from Genoese to French hands. The child of minor Italian
nobility, his name was "Frenchified" sometime after the
family's move to France. 
The anteroom to Napoleon's bedroom was 
a mini-museum. The tour guide was a soldier
from the regiment--a very engaging, funny fellow.
We didn't understand much, so we just "made it
up" in our minds until we could get back to the
computer and do a little research. I'm sure we
missed some amusing anecdotes.
The main "salle de Napoleon" 
Making our way to the Hall of Honor
The Hall of Honor was a meeting/conference room (note
the table) with two floors of memorabilia from
French military campaigns dating back to the Napoleonic
era. Much of the memorabilia of the last 70 years is
specific to the regiment. It might  be time to stop fighting--there
was only enough remaining space for one "future" campaign.
We leave Friday for a weekend in Paris, so we have a two more days to complete our specific "winterizing" tasks: Lon's doing oil changes, water system prep, and below-decks organization; and I'm doing most of the above-decks inside cleaning and sorting. We've had plenty of time, so it's a much more relaxed process for us this year than it was last year.

This could be a variation on the "ugly duckling" story, but I really don't
believe the muskrat thinks it's a duck.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Normandy 3: Coastal Beauties

The last three nights of our Normandy trip were spent in Honfleur, a picturesque port town situated on the estuary where the Seine River meets the English Channel. A worthy destination in its own right, its location put us in a good position for exploring sights further to the east as well as giving us a relatively short drive to Caen when it came time to catch the first of our trains back to Auxonne.

In the 12th and 13th centuries Honfleur was an important port for trade between France and England. In the following centuries it continued to be an important trading and fishing port, and was one of the ports from which French navigators set out to explore the New World; notably Champlain, whose 1608 expedition to North America resulted in the settlement that became Quebec City. Honfleur faded in importance as a port in the 19th Century, as it proved unable to compete with port facilities then developing in the neighboring town of Le Havre. The silver lining to the tale is that, whereas Le Havre was heavily bombed in WWII, Honfleur played no particular role in the Normandy campaign and largely escaped damage. Starting in the mid-1800's Honfleur became a center for the development of the Impressionist style of painting, and attracted artists such as native son Eugene Boudin and Claude Monet. Today it is firmly a tourist town, with many art galleries, restaurants, museums, and the usual tourist shops; but that didn't detract from the town's attractiveness.

The Vieux-Bassin (Old Dock) of Honfleur, lined with 16th - 18th century townhouses
Like the Alsace Region, Normandy has lots
of half-timbered houses. Half-timbering
was a hallmark of Norman architecture.
Saint Catherine's church dates to the mid-15th C. Stone being
in short supply, local shipwrights built the structure out of
wood. It is the largest surviving wooden church in France.
Interior of Saint Catherine's. The side-by-side naves have
the appearance of overturned boat hulls.
The bell tower of Saint Catherine's is a
 structure completely separate from the church,
 as the  wooden church could not support
the weight of the bells 
Modern art in Honfleur--"disappearing men"

Vineyards and wine-making are important in most regions of France, but the climate of Normandy does not lend itself to that particular endeavor. Normandy does, however, have apples--lots and lots of apples--and the region has developed a large cider industry. A 40 kilometer long "Cider Trail" is part of the tourism landscape. The brewing of cider also leads to the production of Calvados--an apple brandy with an AOC designation, which means that it can only be produced in Normandy; and Pommeau, an aperitif comprised of unfermented apple cider and Calvados. (AOC stands for appellation d'origine controlee, a certification given to certain agricultural products that have historical and regional significance.) We may not have attended any wine tastings during our time in France this year, but in a small effort toward gaining some knowledge of French gastronomy we spent two hours or so on the afternoon of September 9 learning about the history and production of Calvados in Normandy, and getting a taste of a few varieties of Calvados and Pommeau.

Our "Calvados Experience" was a rather
Disneyesque homage to the humble apple,
but it was entertaining, and the "gift shop"--
with it's hanging apple art--was elegant.
My gastronomic "bravery" continued when I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about and ordered mussels for dinner one evening ("moules and frites" seem to be on nearly every menu). My verdict? Big shrug--not bad, but nothing special either. I should probably give them another chance just in case it was the result of the way the restaurant prepared them and not an issue with mussels generally. (I'm not quite ready to make the leap to escargot.)

If England has the White Cliffs of Dover, France has the stunning cliffs at Etretat, a tourist and farming town located about 20 miles to the northeast of Honfleur. Nature carved three natural arches out of the limestone cliffs that tower over the English Channel. The cliffs, and the natural light in the area, were a huge draw for Impressionist painters like Claude Monet. These days the town welcomes summer vacationers to its beach of smooth silica pebbles and to walks along the cliff tops to enjoy the scenery from numerous vantage points. The day we visited--September 10--was a gloriously sunny day with light breezes. Yes, there were tourists there, but it certainly wasn't "summer crowded", and we had a great time hiking the paths at both ends of the town. We took way too many photos, but the views just seemed so glorious it was hard not to try to capture them.

Looking at Falaise (cliff) Aval from the east. The groomed
area on the "left" side of the cliff top is a golf course,
first designed in 1908. The town of Etretat is behind the
pebble beach.

A different perspective on Falaise Aval, taken from the
vantage point of cliffs to the west.
The top of Falaise Amont is the site of the Notre Dame
de la Garde chapel, i.e., the "Sailors' Chapel". The current 
structure is a 1950's recreation of a 19th century building
that was destroyed by the Germans in 1942.
Looking down at the small arch on Falaise Amont
Falaise Amont was a lovely spot to stop for a snack
A slice of aviation history is present on Falaise Amont. A monument on the cliff memorializes two French aviators, Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli, who attempted to claim the $25,000 Orteig Prize by making the first non-stop flight between Paris and New York. On May 8, 1927, they departed from Paris in their plane "L'Oiseau Blanc" (the White Bird). They were seen early that morning flying low over Etretat and were later spotted over Ireland. Crowds were present in New York on May 9 to greet Nungesser and Coli, but they never arrived. There were reports of a plane being heard over Newfoundland and then a crash, but this has never been substantiated. In our age of conspiracy theories, it is probably fitting that the mystery of their disappearance has given rise to a spate of such theories. As late as 2013, Bernard Decre, the founder of an annual yachting race around France, funded an investigation into the disappearance of the aircraft. He believed that the White Bird did make it to North America, and that its disappearance was covered up by U.S. and French authorities so as not to detract from the achievement of Charles Lindbergh (who successfully made the non-stop crossing from New York to Paris less than 2 weeks after the Frenchmen's attempt). 

The monument to Nungesser and Coli on 
Etretat. The monument was built in 1962,
replacing the original 1928 monument that-
like the Sailors' Chapel-was destroyed by the
Germans in 1942.
La Manneporte arch
Getting photobombed by the Manneporte arch
View to the east of Falaise Amont
Etretat was not in the Allied landing zones for the Normandy invasion, but it nevertheless suffered war damage. German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel--of "Desert Fox" fame--was in charge of the Normandy defenses. In Etretat he ordered many of the waterfront buildings destroyed so that a newly installed gun emplacement could have an unimpeded view toward the beach. The base of the walking path from the town up to Falaise Aval still contains some of the concrete fortifications that were part of the "Atlantic Wall." 

Etretat German beach defenses in WWII.
In the First World War Etretat was the location of an Allied hospital. Approximately 550 soldiers from the British Commonwealth countries who died at the hospital are buried in the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery that is located on the grounds of the Eglise Notre Dame de l'Assomption (construction begun 11th century). 

Notre Dame church and a portion of the 
WWI war graves
I never learn. Yes, I read some tombstones,
 and yes, it made me sad
It's been like summer in Auxonne since we got back. That's good for our outdoor boat projects, not so good for the water levels. But we won't look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth--we've about 10 days left here to get our tasks finished before we lock up the boat and head to Paris.

It may have been in the upper 80's today,
but hints of autumn are starting to appear.