Sunday, July 26, 2015

Happy Birthday Kate -- Part 2

I know that many of you have been anxiously awaiting the sequel to "Happy Birthday Kate -- Part 1".  I took a page from the Harry Potter Deathly Hallows movies and decided to put some time between the two segments.  But now here it is, appropriately titled "Happy Birthday Kate -- Part 2".  

After the big celebration in Paris we boarded the bus and traveled several hours to the small village of Tanlay.  There we boarded our barge, unpacked our suitcases and.....celebrated Kate's birthday again.  The chef set the tone for the week with his birthday cake creation -- lots of chocolate and two very impressive candles.   I think the candles went out on their own; it would have taken a big set of lungs to blow them out.  

Let me explain a bit about barge cruising in France.  The objective is to eat well, drink even better and relax with friends.  All three were accomplished that week.  Our total distance traveled was about 60 km so we didn't leave much of a wake in the water.  None of this cruising at night to get to the next port; we tended to be tied up by 2 or 3 o'clock each afternoon.  We were on an old industrial canal in the Burgundy region of France where we saw maybe 2 or 3 other boats.  

The boat held 12 guests but we were only with 8.  No one else dared join our crowd.   There were 5-6 crew members on board so it was a pretty good ratio.  Better than that was the quality of the crew.  The chef (affectionately referred to as "Cheffie") was outstanding.  Hot breakfast of choice every morning.  Lunch was a choice of two mains and 3-4 salads made with local ingredients.  And dinners that would make any French diner happy.  After each meal was a cheese selection that was never repeated so we sampled 30 different cheeses in a week.  All this was supplemented with a choice of red or white wine (or both).  Again, never a repeat on the wine selection.   So like many other cruises this one was designed to make you fat.

More members of the happy crew

Over the course of the week we went through about 25 or 30 locks.  As you can see the boat was designed to fit in the lock with not much extra room.  

Some of the locks were manual, meaning that the lockmaster (usually with help from the boat crew) had to push the long lever to swing open or closed the gates.   It took much more effort than Kate is demonstrating here.

Once the lock was closed and the boat was being raised there was always time for some banter with the friendly lock masters.  Each lock has a small home for the lockmaster beside the canal.  

As you can imagine, the job of lockmaster could get a little boring.  One of them put his time to use as an artist making unusual sculptures.  

So I'm sure you're wondering what did we do during the day?  The short answer is nothing strenuous.  The old mule trail on the side of the canal was great for biking.  Given the tortoise speed of the boat we could bike to several towns, do some site seeing and easily be back to meet the boat at the next lock.

Other days we hopped back on the bus to visit inland villages, wineries, abbeys and other interesting sites in the region.

And sometimes we just napped.

Many of the villages had old lavages, or wash houses.  A portion of the local stream would be diverted through this building that had a floor that sloped into the water.  The townswomen could gather to wash clothes and gossip.  

We were looking at the outside of this old church when a lady leaned out of an upstairs window of the house across the street.  "Do you want to go inside?" she asked.  Of course we did.

The church ceiling was like an upside-down boat.  

We traveled to Chablis so of course we had to visit a winery.  These were Premier and Grand Cru vineyards, which doesn't guarantee their quality but does guarantee their heritage.

Don't believe everything about the French always farming naturally.

The ceiling at the winery.  

We visited the medieval town of Auxerre.  The cathedral is 13th century; the frescoed crypt is 11th century.  The town is also known for its half-timbered houses and crooked streets.  Plus a great chocolate shop.

Wood carving on the outside of a tavern -- a customer peeing.  

We also visited Noyers, supposedly named as one of the most beautiful villages in France.

The view from the village ramparts

Looking back at Noyers.  

Former Tour de France winning bicycle.  

The Chateau of Ancy-le-France.  Purchased by an American family for under $2 million.  But since it was a French monument they had to commit to some repairs.  Judging by the photo's they spent much more than that on the repairs.

The view out the front windows,  

One night we got all dressed up for dinner at Le Relais Bernard Loiseau, a Michelen three-star restaurant.  

We didn't take photo's of every course, but the desserts had to be recorded.  The ball below is sugar that is somehow made into a semi-hard sphere with a delicious interior.  The waiter said they plan for 40% breakage when they make them.  

The remaining photo's provide some examples of other sites.  As you'll see we hit beautiful weather all week.

An old stone quarry

We saw a lot of rapeseed fields.  The seed is used to produce canola oil, a term that was invented as a blend of "Canada" and "Oil Low Acid".   At least that's what Wikipedia claims.  

The brightest red tomatoes I've ever seen.  

Why do you need four clocks on your shop sign?  Because they tell when the shop opens in the morning and closes for lunch.  Then the bottom two tell what time the shop opens in the afternoon and then closes for the day.  

The Abbaye de Fontenay was founded in 1118, one of the oldest in Frane

The old dorm room for the monks

Mistletoe in the trees

This photo reminded me of the National Enquirer type photo's of celebrities.  Here Carol has been captured on film walking with some mystery man -- is it Brad Pitt?  George Clooney?  

Continuing with our National Enquirer theme, here we find Carol totally uninterested in her fun-loving husband.  Is she texting her mystery friend?  

The weather changed the morning we left.  Rain and clouds.  

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