Regular readers may recall that about a year ago over some good wine and lobster, the idea of a european canal trip was born. We settled on three couples and after a lot of hard work on the part of John Todd and Edie McDevitt we found ourselves embarked on Elisabeth for the week of 15-21 September. On the front of this memorable cruise we had three days in Paris; at the back, we toured Calvados and the beaches of Normandy by car.
The flights into Charles de Gaulle on the morning of 13 September were perfect. The rendezvous from three separate carriers was a tribute to John Todd's insistence on each couple having a GSM cell for the trip; and we were thankful throughout for his wisdom. For two nights we were booked into a pleasant military-related hotel in the heart of the city. Transport for the days ahead came on a double deck bus system that had a 48-hour pass and stops at all the convenient places to visit. The days were perfect without a cloud in the sky...but one night was interrupted at 3 AM with a loud fire alarm for the hotel. Assembled in the street, you could observe all manner of response to the emergency by the outerwear...or lack thereof...on the part of the participants. Two of our group slept thru the whole event as the McDevitts and Wrights wished they had brought more clothes and chatted up an eloquent Brit who arrived in smoking jacket and slippers...we think he started the fire.
Then, the adventure really began. Peter and Sheena Jenner met us on Saturday and introduced the three couples to Elisabeth for a memorable week on the canal du Nivernais. You can learn more about this 100 foot Dutch-built canal boat at their website listed in our favorite links on the homepage. We had Peter at the helm, Sheena presenting the tours, wines and vital commentary, Luke preparing three exquisite meals a day and sweet Louise driving the minivan and looking after our every need. With good weather throughout, the French countryside along the Yvonne between Auxerre and Clamecy provided the perfect stage for friends to gather and renew their friendship. And, we didn't just sit topside. We biked, walked and jogged between the locks and would still arrive ahead of the barge. Each lock was a tight fit, so reboarding was easy. In the afternoons we tied to the bank and Sheena and Lou would bundle us off to a winery, chateau, cathedral or a re-constructed 13th century fortification.
It was at this latter site, amid the crafts of the time, that John turned on a stone and broke his femur. Late on the last day of the cruise, we were fortunate indeed, to have Sheena and Peter in charge. They settled John in a hospital in Auxerre where plans were made to medevac him to the states. Wrights and McDevitts were treated to the gourmet "Captain's Dinner", ably hosted by Luke and Louise and Jan provided an epic poem for the occasion. John spent three days in Auxerre and was safely delivered to his Portland hospital where he underwent surgery the next day. At last report, he is recovering well and already planning a Spring 2009 return to France on the barge.
The two surviving couples pushed on with the plan to spend four days in Normandy, traveling by car and staging out of Bayeux. We walked the beaches of Omaha, toured the landing sites and took side trips to Mont-St-Michel and Versailles. The town of Bayeux was a perfect choice; exquisite in its own right, and giving us the full reach of the Calvados region. All too soon this wonderful adventure had run out of time and we were outbound from Charles de Gaulle. But, the memories still linger, and we are trying to figure how we could get Chapter III into the canals of France....bon voyage.