Thursday, August 13, 2009

Two Sisters Visit France

For the past week two of my three sisters, Kathy and Nita, have been visiting from the States. Nita had been here before, but Kathy had not. They arrived last Friday and left this morning. I am exhausted!

They spent two days in Paris before they got here so jet lag was not a problem by the time they got here and we hit the ground running. Of course, the first event was the Beaune market on Saturday. They deposited me in a sidewalk cafe and disappeared for a couple of hours. The market in Beaune is busy on Saturdays and there was plenty of opportunity to people watch as they "shopped." ...and, how those women can shop! Lunch in Beaune was wonderful, as always.

The next day we were off to Dole for a tour of the ville and lunch. My favorite pizza place had decided to remain closed that day so we opted for a smoothie for lunch. Dole is a very picturesque place with walled fortresses and a beautiful old church. The two of them got blisters on their shutter fingers snapping all the "Kodak' moments.

Monday was Burgundy wine country. It started out raining and by the time we got to Marsannay, the beginning of our morning tour, it was pouring. We plodded along the N74 to Nuits St. Georges were we stopped for lunch in an outdoor restaurant in the village plaza. By then, the rain had stopped and the sun broke through the overcast. A village cat decided to take a nap at our table. He just lay there, on the adjacent chair, snoozing while we ate.

After lunch we headed to the Chateau Chateauneuf, west of Beaune, and one of the most beautiful villages in all of France. Again, thank God for digital cameras, as the cost of film would have been prohibitive.

Tuesday was the Chateau Pierre du Bresse, about a half hour from here. The beautiful chateau contains an art gallery and has a couple of fenced in areas containing a herd of deer and goats, and some horses. Lunch was at a riverside restaurant in St. Jean de Losne.

Wednesday was spent locally. The girls walked to town visiting the shops in the village. Wednesday evening we attended a BBQ hosted by Capt. Andy and his nephew, Rick. Capt. Adam and Capt. Bruce were also in attendance.

Early this morning, I drove the sisters to Dijon and they caught a train to Paris for their return flight to the States tomorrow. All in all, it was a wonderful visit. We had a lot of fun and a lot to drink. I want to thank Kathy for introducing me to Seabreezes. A Seebreeze is a vodka drink with grapefruit and cranberry juice. Although I would never admit to drinking a pink drink, it was a great way to get my vitamin C! I loved having my sisters here and wish they could have stayed longer. Now -- it's time to dry out!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Home of the Shenandoah

I have had a number of people who have asked where the Shenandoah is now. Well the answer is simply that she is moored just across the canal from where she originally was. I have posted a nice shot of the area and highlighted the Shenadoah for easy identification. To get a larger view, simply click on the image.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mcfee Fest

Last weekend a group of three visitors from the US arrived. Two brothers, Matt and Mike Mcfee and their sister Cathy were vacationing in France in conjunction with attending a musical festival they had been invited to in Le Mans. Mike lives in Beaufort, SC, Matt hails from San Francisco and Cathy from Las Cruces, NM.

They arrived on Sunday evening after a train ride from Paris and a car ride to the Shenandoah. Monday and Tuesday they spent touring the wine country of Burgundy visiting wineries and sampling the fares of Bourgogne.

They headed out, early Wednesday morning, for the drive to Le Mans and the music festival. The FĂȘte de la Musique is being held in most middle to large sized towns in France on June 21. Cathy, Matt, and Mike were joining a group of forty or so composing a coral group from Las Cruces who had been invited to participate in the French festivities.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

All Good Things Come to an End...

Tom, whose only glimpse of Paris had been the taxi from the airport to the train a week ago, decided that he would like to spend a couple of days in the City of Lights. So, on Friday morning we returned the rental car to the train station in Dijon and climbed aboard the fast train to Paris for a short weekend of debauchery. Well, maybe not debauchery, after all I was with Uncle Tom for God's sake.

I kept threatening him that I was going to take him to the famous Pigalle so he could sew some wild oats, but not Uncle Tom! Oh no, he had to see the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower and the Seine and all this other touristy stuff! So when we got to Paris we hopped a taxi to our little hotel just behind the Louvre. We got our rooms and headed out. First on the agenda was lunch. Just a block from the hotel we found a nice little place and decided on our game plan. Tom went to the Louvre and I went to find an Orange telephone office to find out why my phone was not working. We agreed to meet where we had lunch that evening. We then both went our separate ways. My afternoon was delightful. After getting my phone problem rectified I sat on a bench and watched the "boy's" play petanque on the gravel surface of a local park. Tom and I met at the designated time and headed for the Place du Bastille and a Mexican restaurant, the El Chihuahua, that I like to go to. Tom and I have always been Mexican food aficionados and when I told him about the place he was more than willing to go. Only problem was that it was too early so I took him for a tour of the Arsenal a yachting basin located nearby on the Canal St. Denis, just off the Seine.

Finally, we headed to the restaurant and proceeded to have a less than memorable Mexican dinner. Seems like that always happens. I have always had a good meal there. This time it was mediocre -- go figure! At least the Coronas were cold and plentiful!

After that it was back to the hotel. It had been a long day and we were both tired.

The next morning we got up early and headed for Notre Dame. We got there around 9:30 and I stayed outside while Tom went in. There was absolutely no line and he was in and out in a flash. While I was waiting for him I did what I love to do -- people watch! There was a group of about forty ladies in some sort of a tour and a man talking to them in sign language, obviously telling them about the famous church. I decided that what I needed was a deaf woman! Forty of them chatting away and not a sound. There is a God!

We then hopped on the water taxi called Batobus and rode downriver to the Eiffel Tower. Now you'd think that that the french have already seen the tower, but since this was a holiday weekend the tower was packed. Lines a mile long to get on the lifts to the top of the tower. So, after a photo op or two we headed for the Metro at the Military Academy on the other side of the mall to catch the tube to go up to Montmartre. On the way a guy stopped us and asked if we would like a tour of the city. He promised a great tour for an hour and a half for sixty euros and he would drop us off at the place of our choosing when it was over. We said OK and headed out. What a great decision! This guide, Abel, spoke perfect English and gave us a tour with more packed into it than I could have ever imagined. I saw a lot of Paris that I didn't even know existed! At the end it started raining heavily and we decided to get dropped off at the hotel rather than Montmartre.

That evening we caught the metro to a seafood restaurant near the Gare du Lyon and had a good seafood dinner. Tom was reluctant to try the oysters without cocktail sauce, but he paid for dinner so that was good too. We had a nice evening after dinner sitting outside a cafe near the hotel watching life go by.

The next morning Tom headed for CDG and I headed back to the boat. It was a wonderful week. I have not ever spent any "one on one" time with Tom that I can remember. We both have had families and lives apart doing whatever brothers do while raising families and making a living. Oh sure, we got together at family functions, etc. but this was really the first opportunity that we have ever taken to spend some time with each other. For me it was a complete joy. Tom may have another opinion. I wish he could have stayed longer.

Saturday in Beaune

No trip to Burgundy would be complete without a visit to the vineyards and Beaune. Saturday morning, early, we head west on the A36 to Beaune, arriving at the market about 9:30. I have been there many times, but never that early. The sellers were still setting up their kiosks and nothing had been picked over yet.

Tom and I walked through the indoor market and then the outdoor streets viewing whatever there was being offered. Tom decided we needed some sausages and I saw some nice strawberries and raspberries which we bought. We met a lady at the strawberry table from the US. Her name was Andy Smyser and she told us that she lived in Beaune with her French husband, Alain. She said there were not too many Americans around and she enjoyed speaking "American English" with us. I know what she means!

We walked to a local bistro and had a cup of coffee before proceeding on our tour of Burgundy.

I headed south out of Beaune with an initial destination of Nolay, where a Brit I know lives. Tony is a retired Virgin Air Captain and is married to Gaye, his Dutch wife. They are also boaters. We reached Nolay around noon and found them not at home! So, we turned around and headed north again, stopping for a couple of photo ops at Chateau Rocheport a beautifully restored, fairy-like castle nestled in the wine country.

It was a whirlwind tour, but it was a beautiful day and we got to taste a bit of Burgundy.

Trout Fishing in France

I had heard rumors about the terrific grayling and brown trout fishing in France. Doing a little research on the net, Tom and I decided to head for the French/Swiss border and the Valley of the Doubs to have a look. We didn't have any fishing gear anyway, so this was just a scouting trip.

The Doubs is a river whose headwaters are somewhere in the hills of France and eventually winds it's way to the Saone River south of where the Shenandoah lives. By the time the Doubs gets to the Saone, it can be a raging river, influenced by every raindrop that falls in that section of France. Mary Ellen and I found that out last fall when we were stuck in a flood on the Doubs in Verdun sur Doubs.

Anyway, a two hour drive got us to the river and we started following its snaking path along the valley. Every bend in the road was a photograph. And trout! All over the place. We saw them from the bridges. We saw them from the banks. And rarely a fisherman. Totally unspoiled fishing as far as we could tell.

We hit the river in the village of Pont de Roide and followed it south to St. Hippolyte where the river turned east.

The Doubs shallowed there and flowed along a narrow, but fertile valley, across the Swiss border, to the village of St. Ursanne, where Tom and I stopped to have some lunch.

We found a delightful place on the bank of the river and settled in for a wonderful French lunch, wine, et al. The prices on the menu look very expensive, until I figured out that they were in Swiss francs and not Euros. So we ordered and had a glass of wine. I could see the look on Tom's worried face when he saw those prices but I explained that the conversion rate was really about five to one and that made that thirtyfive Euro steak only seven Euros. Well, I really had no idea what the conversion rate was but... As it turned out, a delightful meal, in one of the prettiest settings imaginable cost us about $100 -- expensive, but you cannot put a price on a day like that!

After lunch we headed south again, following the Doubes along the Swiss border. The valley got a lot deeper and the countryside really did look "Swiss" with cows with cowbells, and goats with goatbells, and pretty Swiss maidens all in a row.... Well, the Swiss maiden part I made up!

We finally arrived at our original destination, the tiny village of Goumois, which coincidentally was called Goumois on both the French side and the Swiss side of the river. Beautiful classic trout stream passed beneath the bridge connecting the two villages. ...and, as far as we could tell there were only two fishermen, both fly fishing on the Swiss side.

We parked the car and spent a half hour or so spotting trout from the bride. As trout spotting is very exhausting, we stopped at an ice cream place, on the French side for a pick-me-up banana split. I say pick-me-up because after I ate that, someone needed to pick me up!

We then piled into the car and headed back to St. Usage and the boat. It was a long day, with a lot of driving, but the drive was totally worth every minute of it as the scenery and the river were beautiful.

Uncle Tom, chief deck swabbie!

Well, the week started off with a bang. Both of us, exhausted from the plane ride and train ride and car ride to the boat, crashed the first night. Uncle Tom actually had the gall to say that the eleven hours he slept was unusual for him. Ya think?

We did some shopping the next day and watched the clouds coming in from the west bringing two days of rain. Tom, swabbie that he was, grabbed the hose, bucket and soap and proceeded to get started to begin to attack the exterior, while I did some much needed sprucing up indoors. The hose is connected to a deck wash pump in the boat. When Tom exclaimed that he could not get the hose to work, I suggested that he try turning the nozzle. Uncle Tom, God love him, is a little hose challenged. The nozzle flew off the end of the hose and into the middle of the canal. Tom had turned the quick disconnect, not the nozzle! Well, we fished the nozzel out and got started. I don't think he realized how big a job it is to clean this boat. It normally takes me two days to do it right and, like anything being washed, you start at the top and work your way down.

Finally, chipping away at the job day by day, Uncle Tom finished about nine at night on the third day!

In reality, with my untested back (which, by the way, became "tested" later on) Tom did a great service for me, never complaining, a real help.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Return to the Shenandoah 2009

Returned to the Shenandoah on May 14th. after a long absence. Last year I left during the last week of November, stopping for a wonderful Thanksgiving at Julie and Tayfun's in Germany, to return to the USA for the winter and some much needed surgery.

Finally, in January my back surgery was performed. Weeks of physical therapy followed along with a comparably minor eye surgery and I was ready to return to France by the end of April.

A scheduled week at my friend John's in Naples, Florida, turned into three as the sun and sand and the ability to do a lot of therapeutic walking outweighed any real need to leave.

Finally, it was time to get back to the Shenandoah. I had spent all winter in Toledo, staying with my mother and sisters. The extended visit was great, but...

While talking with my brother Tom, I casually asked if he would like to accompany me on my return to France. He, of course, said “no!” About five minutes later, he called back and said “yes” he would go! Linda, his wife, had obviously given him permission.

So, on the 13th we boarded an AA flight in TOL to ORD and from there, to CDG arriving on the morning of the 14th. Tom had not checked any bags, but I had checked one, so after collecting the bag we headed for a taxi to the Gare du Lyon, in Paris for our train ride to Dijon. I had turned on my US cell phone after we landed and as we were walking to the taxi, it rang! I had done what I had diligently, over the years, tried to never do – taken someone else's bag. The baggage service representative at AA had found my phone number on my bag and called it to tell me that my bag was still there and I had taken someone else's bag! In five minutes, the bags were exchanged, apologies extended and we were on our way.

Uncle Tom had never been to France, or for that matter Europe, save a Greek sailing cruise with his wife a few years back. I think he may have been a little overwhelmed. Anyway, we cabbed it to the train station where I bought two tickets to Dijon. It became readily apparent that I was going to be the banker on this trip which actually worked out pretty well.

The train trip, which I slept through, was uneventful and we got to Dijon where the Hertz rental car I had reserved was waiting for us. Well, sort of, anyway. It was located on the top floor of the new parking garage at the station, not outside Hertz where it had usually been in all my previous rentals. We finally found it nestled among the rest of the cars parked in the garage and headed south to the Shenandoah for a week of cleaning, touring, eating and drinking.