Chapter Sixty Two   August 2011  

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Forget every naughty thing you’ve ever heard about France. It’s not true. We know. We’ve been here now for exactly eighty-seven days and counting.  We love France, the people, the architecture, the food, the rolling hills filled with corn, sunflowers and wheat, the croissants, the colors, the villages, the canals, the cows, the… Well, there isn’t anything we don’t love, quite honestly.  

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We’ve spent nearly two months on the waterways of France. We started up the Rhone River in early June and have since moved north to the smaller rivers and canals. We have learned how to buy bread, where the best tie-ups are, that we love even the smallest, quietest villages.  We’ve transited 236 locks, and now know how not to exit.  We’ve discovered that the French are charming, helpful and gracious people.

Picture this: We walk into the Tourist Office in a reasonably-sized town to explore the reasons for staying. We are greeted by a young woman who gives us all kinds of ideas including an invitation to a guided tour that day at the Auditoire. There is a concert that night given by the Music School. We also learn there is a Gospel Quartet singing at a 12th century church about 30 km away. Now we have all kinds of reasons to stay but the church/concert is too far to go via bicycle. The tourist guide tips us off. If we attend the concert that evening we are to look for the local priest who will possibly give us a lift two nights later. We didn’t find the priest that night, but the concert was wonderful.  He later called the office and hooked us up with his cousin who did drive us!  The church was as good as the quartet, the audience made up of mostly more cousins; an evening we will not forget. But cousin Pérrin also thought we might like a tour of the surrounding towns and she provided that, too. The four-hour tour included several farms, a 14th century church, a second-century spring which we crawled around, a menhir atop a private farm, and a 250 hectare underground stone quarry. The owner of the quarry happened to be on the premises so he, himself, gave us a guided tour. He explained the cutting of the stone, the removal of the carved works and the value of the various colors. It was cold (12 degrees C) and scary, so the half hour visit was just enough.  Pérrin concluded the tour with a stop to check on her 104-year-old Dad who loves chocolate and remembers from his war days that the Americans make great chocolate.  (Of course we delivered a batch of home-baked brownies the next day.)  

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The tie-up in front of a small B&B, once a vinegar factory, was perfect!  

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John’s French is getting us places.  The following week we visited the small village of Orconte, where our mission was to find a post office.  The road was under construction and we lost our way following signs for a château (which we can never resist) and met Françoise. Françoise directed us to the post office, invited us to her home for coffee and gave us a tour. Her husband is chief mechanic for La Tour de France and a big Lance Armstrong fan. Their daughter married a Brazilian and settled in Houston! There are signs of Texas everywhere in her house, including her front door, which she has painted herself. She even served us coffee in Obama mugs!  

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In Joinville we made our very first visit to a French château, Le Grand Jardin, built by Claude de Lorraine in 1543. It was a showcase where distinguished guests were invited to banquet, admire the décor and gardens and to publicly witness the family’s power.  According to legend, Claude built the château seeking to obtain forgiveness for his infidelity. From the looks of things, it appears there were infidelities!  

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So we’re getting around.  We’re seeing certainly more than the average Joe. Next stop: Fains-les-Sources.  John happened to be scrubbing the decks one Sunday morning when he was greeted by two passers-by.  They carried on an extensive conversation which ended with an invitation to dinner that evening!  Jean-Marie and Danielle were tremendous hosts.  We were served quiche (this is Lorraine, after all) made with ingredients grown on the premises. It was delightful.  Charming people, great conversation and an extraordinary evening.  Toward the end of our time together, they asked if we might consider having tea with them and a few friends who enjoyed practicing their English.  Of course we accepted and spent a delightful afternoon eating French tarts and enjoying the warmth of the outdoor fireplace on July 28th!  

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Jean-Marie and Danielle live in his parents’ former home where he grew up.  It was built from the stones of the local castle.  Simply elegant.  Danielle grew up in nearby Bar-le-Duc, a town of princely pomp and splendor.  We spent three days biking back and forth to study its magnificent architecture.  

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It was here in Bar-le-Duc where Pierre and Ernest Michaux, inventors of the bicycle, were born.  The monument honoring the brothers marks the entrance of the town center.  

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We spent a day visiting Vaucouleurs, from whence Joan of Arc set off on her mission.  

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And we couldn’t resist Commercy, summer home of King Stanislas.  The château is spectacular but the famous cakes, “Les Madeleines”, were also an enticing lure.  The cakes were more about marketing than taste, but the architecture was great.  

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Have we mentioned the serenity along the rivers?  

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The parking spots aren’t bad either.

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We have loads of time ahead of us, but we have no intention of letting up on the sights and the explorations.  Or the croissants!  

Life is superb.  

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