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France Report: Moules & Frites, Bag Disaster, and Burgandy Barging

France Report: Moules & Frites, Bag Disaster, and Burgandy Barging

Nov 6th, 2005, 11:56 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 213
France Report: Moules & Frites, Bag Disaster, and Burgandy Barging

This will be my first trip report, and a long one, I'm afraid. I've been to Europe many times since I first started reading this board, but this trip to France was very special and worth the effort, I hope. It was also very problematic, and I hope it will entertain and amuse. I have a terrible memory for hotel and restaurant names, but I will try to give you the gist of what we experienced, the good, the bad and the ugly.

The idea for this trip was hatched at a raucous dinner in our Portland, Oregon home in the fall of 2004. Two of my husbands dearest friends were in town for a few days, and they announced (after much wine) that they had always dreamed of taking a barge trip in France. Naturally, we said "so have we!" From such alcohol-induced enthusiasm, a plot was hatched. Normally, no one ever follows through on these grandiose ideas, but being the Type A accountant that I am, I began doing research, with lots of help from fellow Fodorites, I might add. And once I was convinced that all 4 of us were were on board to really pull this off, I dug into the project like someone who has too much time on her hands, which I do. We settle on a week in October, 2005, and that became the only steadfast variable, given that J, a university professor of actor, had only that one window of time available in her impossible schedule. W, her wonderful DH, became my VP of Planning, helping me with decisions via email and phone calls. They are both very easy going (read slightly nutty and distracted), unlike me, the Control Freak.

Now my DH, called D in this report, had bigger ideas than a mere week on a barge. I mean, it you're going to all the expense and trouble to get over the Pond, you might as well go ahead and spend 3 times as much, right? We turned this into a 3 week extravaganza: a week in Paris, another week visiting friends in Normandy, driving through Brittany and the Loire valley, culminating in the "Barge Week". The barge planning was made a little easier because I have a cousin in Seattle who has done 4-5 of these trips in France with her husband and her sister, and is hot shy about giving us tons of advice. These same 3 relatives, who will henceforth be called "The Cousins", will play significant roles later in the story. But I don't want to get ahead of myself: no, this report will be written in consequetive order with no artistic flashbacks or flashforwards!

Anyway, I spent countless hours trying to find a barge company which had English brochures as well as the style of boat we wanted: the quaint pinichettes that really look like barges, with cute colors and sleek lines. I ended up going with Crown Blue, the Cousins' British owned company of choice. Everything was in English, but the barges all look like fiberglass yachts. Oh well... We found a boat style that suited us: 2 berths, 2 heads, good-sized salon and kitchen, outside deck at the front and on top of the boat, an umbrella table for all those wine and cheese and sunset moments. The only problem was then trying to coordinate that boat with the dates, on a canal or river that didn't have too many locks, that was a one-way trip as opposed to a loop, and that was in our price range. After endless phone calls, I found the only cruise that fit all these criteria: the Nivernais Canal in Burgandy. We would pick up the boat in the tiny town of Chatel Censoir, cruise for 7 days downstream (an important circumstance), and drop it off in Migennes, another small town. J&W would fly to paris, take a train to Chatel Censoir where we would all meet up. They would make their own travel arrangements, but I took charge of all the barge details. They paid me half of everything and it was all going swimmingly. Ha!

A couple of weeks before D and I were scheduled to leave, W emailed to say that he and J had gotten a little mixed up on the dates. It turns out that they were not flying together, but utilizing their individual frequent flyer miles on different airlines. Somehow, they had both made the same mistake: they were booked on flights that left Paris a day too early! We were locked into dropping off the barge on a Saturday morning, taking a train to Paris and flying home on Sunday. But they were both now booked on Saturday flights. Oops! This meant that they had to get off the boat a day early (in Auxerre?) and that D and I would have to pilot the boat by ourselves on the last day. Now this may not sound like such a big deal, but this cruise was bare-boat, meaning there is no crew but the 4 of us. One person has to operate and steer the boat while 2 people handle the ropes to tie up the boat at the locks. And there were 10 locks between Auxerre and Migennes! It is possible for 2 people to do it, but not easy. I was astounded and furious. How could they be so stupid? After several sarcastic emails, W offered to try and change their reservations. Then came the final email: it turns out that J had planned all alng to leave the boat a day early! She didn't want to be too jetlagged on her first day back at the university. Now I was over-the-top steamed. Was this a terrible omen that she was going to be a selfish diva (shades of Barb's report) on this trip? My wonderfully kind DH, the forgiving and practical kind of person, told me to get over it, not ruin the friendship, etc. etc. I finally agreed with him because what else could I do? I didn't want to spoil the trip, but I also wasn't going to let anyone walk all over me. I would be on diva-alert, just in case, by golly!

But now you have to sit through the rest of this distressingly long trip report to get to the Barge Week where you will read how it all turned out. Sorry!
dabodin is offline  
Nov 6th, 2005, 12:49 PM
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Oh good, another travel soap opera to follow online. I'm loving it! Please continue as soon as possible.
BevK is offline  
Nov 6th, 2005, 12:50 PM
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>now you have to sit through the rest of this distressingly long trip report to get to the Barge Week where you will read how it all turned out. <

Oh, you are a real tease.

ira is offline  
Nov 6th, 2005, 01:21 PM
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Ordinarily I would read the Paris part of the report (picking up nuggests of new info) and just skim the barge part.

But now you have me hooked....please type fast! Can't wait to read your diva-on-a-barge report.
JeanneB is offline  
Nov 6th, 2005, 01:39 PM
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I am hooked also. Hopefully (for me) you have previously typed the report and will merely have to cut and paste it into Fodors for our amusement. Looking forward to the next installment.
AGM_Cape_Cod is offline  
Nov 6th, 2005, 01:54 PM
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And - Precisely WHEN might we expect the next installment??? :-"
janisj is online now  
Nov 6th, 2005, 02:02 PM
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I'm following the saga too. I hope to do a barge trip in northern Burgundy (Nevernais canal) in May. I've read about several hotel barges that might be good: the Horizon II (French Country Waterways), Le Art de Vivre, the Luciole, Le Reine Pedauque. The Belle Epoque is already chartered/unavailable. Has anyone taken one of these barges? Any feedback would be helpful. We want a barge holding 8-16 people with wonderful food and wines and good shore excursions.
Robbietravels is offline  
Nov 6th, 2005, 02:26 PM
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When we went on a barge trip, I chose the barge company by the itinerary offered; I was looking for as many "old stones" as possible. But cost was also an issue, and Rives de France seemed to have the best combination of what I was looking for. When planning such a trip, it might be best to have the fixed barge dates in the middle of the European trip rather than at one end or the other. That is what we did, meeting in Dijon the night before getting the barge. My wife and I first went to St. Petersburg, others went to a wedding in Hungary, still others came from Italy, and we all went in similarly different directions at the end of the barge week.
Michael is online now  
Nov 6th, 2005, 02:34 PM
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These trip reports on Fodor's are getting better and better, LOL.

Now dabodin, rule number one! We don't handle waiting for the next segment very well so continue please!! Merci!!
LoveItaly is offline  
Nov 6th, 2005, 02:42 PM
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WE're WAit-t-t-ting!!!
cigalechanta is online now  
Nov 6th, 2005, 03:11 PM
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Oh boy, another entertaining trip report!

And from a Portlander no less

Scarlett is offline  
Nov 6th, 2005, 03:45 PM
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Gee whiz, I'm only gone a couple of hours and people are already ragging me for the next installment. I love it! The Paris installment will be next, maybe tonight or tomorrow.

By the way, did anyone notice that Miss Type A Control Freak had a lot of typos in her first bit? I used the Edit feature twice to fix them, but when I posted the report, it reverted back to the old error-ridden version. Do you have to Refresh first, or is there something I'm missing?

dabodin is offline  
Nov 6th, 2005, 03:50 PM
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I was enjoying the story so much, I did not notice the typos.
I copy mine from email rather than Word so there are not funny ?? marks where there should be letters, etc.

Go ahead, take a break, see ya back here later
Scarlett is offline  
Nov 6th, 2005, 04:40 PM
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Great! I really need some entertainment, and this one sounds good.
Just don't get distracted and forget about us - waiting!
Sue4 is offline  
Nov 6th, 2005, 05:16 PM
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Be sure to post the continuation to this thread so we can all follow it in one piece!
AJPeabody is online now  
Nov 6th, 2005, 05:29 PM
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OK, now I can finally get to the actual trip. We flew on Continental (tickets obsessively purchased 9 months in advance. I'm a Worry Wort as well as an uptight Control Freak). We changed planes in Newark; both flights were uneventful. However, I was not prepared for CDG despite warnings on this board. We'd planned on taking the AirFrance bus to Gare de Lyon and walking about 15 minutes to the apartment. However, it took us almost an hour to find the spot from where the bus departs. Lugging luggage up and down stairs while jetlagged is not fun. Finally we find the spot! But wait! There's a little sign that says they've moved the spot somewhere else. I'm close to meltdown but my calmer DH just shrugged and we found the new spot within 10 minutes. Turns out it was just outside the door of the terminal where we started. And did I mention how hot I was? We had perfect weather for six straight days in Paris, sunny and 70-75 degrees. But I had on my coat, lugging luggage.

At Gare de Lyon, my usually good inner navigational system was not working, and we got lost , immediately. Luckily, as we stopped in the middle of the sidewalk peering straight up at the building to find out what street we were on, a very attractive gentlement took pity on us: Are you lost? Yes, we were, but he got us going in the right direction.

This was only the first of many examples of how polite and kind people were to us in Paris and everywhere else we went in France. We didn't run into a single rude person until Barge Week, and no, it was not J, the Maybe Diva. A little background needed here: I had been to France only once before, 23 years ago with my mom on a Globus If This Is Tuesday type of bus tour. We were in Paris for 1.5 days in which it rained constantly, the waiters were rude and we were not impressed. This time, D and I were determined to love every minute of our trip. We even took 5 months of Berlitz French lessons, at which he did really well and I, sadly, did not. D is an actor so is naturally good at mimicry and is fearless when it comes to actually speaking. I just wanted to pick up enough to not look like a fool when ordering food or asking for directions. I think I did amazingly well, considering how bad I am at learning languages. But I'm so glad we made the attempt, because I think it broke the ice with French people when we always spoke to them in their own language first and didn't assume they speak English.

OK, back to the important stuff. We stayed at the Rue du Mornay apartment near the Bastille. It was recommended on this site and lived up to every comment and picture on its website. It's on the top floor of an 8 story building, with life, thank goodness. It has 2 terraces, believe it or not! One has an incredible panoramic rooftop view over the Marais with Sacre Coeur in the background.

The cleaning person let us in, gave us keys and let us dump our bags there. While he finished up, we explored the wonderful open air market near the Bastille (open Sundays and Thursdays) and found a great little grocery store nearby where we later picked up some food and the many supplies that were missing from the apartment: garbage bags, soap for the washing machine, light bulbs for the burned out ones in the bathroom, paper towels since there were no napkins, etc. That's my only complaint about the place, otherwise, it was a great value and a very central, quiet location.

We've reserved apartments on our last few trips to Europe and will never go back to hotels if we can help it. It's great to be able to eat a few meals in, especially breakfast. Croissants every morning do not sit well with my digestive system, enough said! We had Special K, bananas and reduced fat milk every day and my plumbing worked just fine, thank you very much.

That first night, we had a little feast of bread, cheese, salami and wine on our Sacre Coeur terrace. In fact, the first photo D took was a picture of the nicely composed still life, with view.
dabodin is offline  
Nov 6th, 2005, 05:37 PM
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Once again, I'm unable to get the editing feature to work. That should be, apartment with "lift", not "life"!

I'm too tired to finish tonight, so will continue with the gargoyles and Segways tomorrow. Bon soir!
dabodin is offline  
Nov 6th, 2005, 06:31 PM
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Can't wait, I'm hooked
auzzie is offline  
Nov 6th, 2005, 08:41 PM
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Great report, anxiously awaiting the next installment.
BabsB is offline  
Nov 6th, 2005, 10:17 PM
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Loving your report( & Barbs' too!) even though it's bringing back memories of a trip from hell!
Why do we always find out that the person you decide to go on holiday with, isn't the one that actually came with you?!!
tod is offline  

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