Chapter Sixty-Nine      August, 2012

 Our course has changed and we’re not even close to figuring out what’s next for us.  We have lots of ideas but that’s as far as things have progressed.  So we focus on today.  We are learning to slow down.  Think about the things that matter.  No schedule, no plan, simply today.  And we are finding it truly satisfying.  We laze about more than ever before.  We read more.  Some days we move, other days we don't.  Some days we hike or bike, other days we nap.  It takes some getting used to, but we’re getting there.

After John’s little ER excursion, he needed to see a cardiologist.  But the cardiologist wasn’t certain he needed to see John.  With the assistance of a lovely lady at the Tourist Office, we finally were able to make an appointment.  Friday evening at 7:00.  As it turned out, John and the doc became instant friends, and the care he received was thoughtful and thorough.  We felt we were in good hands.  (This did not stop us from getting a second opinion from nephew Eric, however.)

While waiting for John’s doc to give him a thumbs up, we settled into the beautiful Alsatian town of Saverne at the foot of the Vosges Mountains. The Chateau des Rohan is directly across from our mooring.  It is the former residence of the bishops of Strasbourg, rebuilt by Cardinal de Rohan in 1779, and a perfect backdrop to our everyday life.

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The courtyard of the chateau houses a lovely sculpture garden, which we frequented.

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Saverne became “home” for as long as was necessary, which turned out to be four weeks. We found the perfect boulanger in town, the French prerequisite to settling in.  So we are beginning to catch on.

Alsatian architecture is very different from the refined French architecture we have been accustomed to in Paris and outskirts.  Half-timbered houses, often characterized by clay tile roofs abound.  Elegant bourgeois homes, their façades decorated by stone details often have grand bay windows.  We loved it all.

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There’s an art form in France some call “Wall Art”.  It is prevalent in the cities but we loved discovering it in the countryside, too. Artists take large, blank exterior walls, as in the entire side of a building, and apply their work for all to see and enjoy.  We have accumulated a seriously full file of our favorites.  The Wall Art in Saverne was very traditional, but interesting nonetheless.

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We explored the local hiking grounds on a regular basis.  Nearby is the ruined chateau (or “castle”) Haut-Barr, immortalized by Goethe atop a vast botanical park.  Making it to the top wasn’t much of a problem but looking down was brutal.

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Saverne is home to a family of swans and we caught them in many moods.

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Just when we were getting slightly antsy and wanted to move on, we got the thumbs up from the cardiologist.  We arranged to meet  Parisian friends to explore the Moselle River together.  We were four days into it when a peniche entered our sylvan mooring and shattered our serenity with his size and power.  This was slightly annoying but oh so fortuitous. The driver was a cheery fellow who told us that the Moselle’s locks were about to be closed for repairs and we would be stuck for two weeks.  So we hustled our way to Metz where we felt we would be more comfortable.  What a great place to be stuck!  Metz is in northeast France and is the capital of the Lorraine region (as in quiche)!  It is at the joint border of France, Germany and Luxembourg.  Because of its historical and cultural background, Metz is oozing with magnificent buildings. The old town wall and fortress are impressive.

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So was our view.

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The botanical gardens in Metz have some interesting art.  This is one of the many things we appreciate about France.  Public art surrounds you.  These weren’t our favorites, but they are certainly memorable.

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The surrounding neighborhoods weren’t too shabby.  Our favorite was the Royal Quarter.

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We would return here just to feast our eyes.

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An added gift was our friends Bill and Genevieve and a birthday party!

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But it was time to move on.  The locks were refurbished and we were dying to see Strasbourg.  The entrance into the city from the canal was grand, marked by the home of the European Parliament.  But one glimpse a bit further into the heart of the city reveals older, more traditional architecture.

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July is Music Festival month in France.  There was music everywhere.  We biked into the city every night searching for the right tunes.  The traditional band was fun to watch.  Once.

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Then we discovered the refurbished port of Austerlitz, with daily live music (the Hip-Hop crowd was really fun) and a wonderful water/light show.  We had a ball.

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We did a self-guided audio walk and loved it.  Without it we would not have seen so many of the interesting sites, especially St. Thomas’s Church where we found the historic organ played by not only Mozart but also Albert Schweitzer.  This is a vibrant city.

In the midst of a crowd John noticed a strange hand in his pocket.   Fortunately, the culprit was in a secured pocket and stole nothing, but Sharon decided to scare him off by photographing him.  In the end, we were even more frightened believing we were sure to be punished because of our savvy dealings with a Russian pick-pocket!  But in a few days we exited Strasbourg and breathed easier.

Now we had to face the daunting Rhine River. We had only 75 km to do before we would veer off to less dangerous waters.  (Or so we thought.  More about that later.)  But it was still frightening even though we were fully prepared and had read everything available on how to safely cruise the Rhine.  Here we faced locks the size of NYC blocks and barges to match.

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We were exhausted at night mostly from the angst of it all.  When the barges turn their propellers to exit the lock, the wash throws us around mightily since we are right behind them.  The first time we encountered this, we were thrown across the lock and crushed our bow roller as it met the port side wall of the lock.  We were afraid Sharon was going overboard, but she managed to hang on.  We have had no mishaps since then so we’re much relieved.

The payoff is we get to be tourists again.  We settled into the lovely town of Mulhouse where we did all the same things over again.  More music (this time jazz), more art, more architecture and even a brocante!  This is happiness.

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Mulhouse was an imperial town in the 15th century and sits on the border of France, Germany and Switzerland. This made it possible to hop the train and visit Basel, Switzerland.  (We’re getting cultured beyond all expectations.)  Our favorite stop in Basel was the Tinguely Museum and Fountain.  Extraordinary.

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One of the things we love about our last ten years of travel is settling in to the culture of the places we visit.  We have discovered it takes a year to be in a country to begin to understand the people, their customs and their thinking.  In France, where John’s French has continued to improve, we have conversed with ambulance drivers, lock keepers, boulangers, bikers, hikers, fellow yachties, clerks, red haired walkers, dog lovers (let’s not get into the French dog fetish thing), young and old and have found that we learn most from just conversing.  We have learned to love the French, despite everything we’ve heard to the contrary.  We can site a sad but true example.  Remember we were relived to get off the Rhine?  We have now entered the River Doubs where the water levels can be finicky.  Before we headed down we checked with the river authorities who assured us we would have “no problems at all.”  We have been hard aground twice in one day and at one point we were perched atop two rocks with our stern completely out of the water.  The first time we started with a rescue team of two fishermen and a van.  When that proved to be unsuccessful, the team increased from two to seven and the van was replaced by a 4X4. The point is they didn’t give up.  They never wavered and they were losing precious fishing time!  Of course, we expressed our thanks in chilled bottles of wine but it didn’t seem nearly enough for what could have been.  Theo (our Hero) was relentless and even joined us on the bow to add weight while we eased off the rocks.

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When it happened the second time in the same day we were distraught. By the way, the pilot book disagrees with the signage by the side of the river and makes finding the channel even more troublesome.  Again, fisherman to the rescue.  Fortunately it was Sunday so there were lots!  Thank God for fishermen.  This team of four tied us to a chunky tree and we winched ourselves off after clear instructions from the team, all in French sign language which we understood!

Don’t be confused, these troubles aren’t the everyday stuff we have learned to love. It’s the saucisson stand in the town square.  Or the freshly packaged tomatoes a yachtie can buy at the lock!  Or cheese for sale 300 meters from the side of the canal!  And let’s not forget about the romance that seems to be everywhere!

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And the pure unadulterated beauty.

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One thing we have learned in our year with the French is they take great pride in their towns and their neighborhoods and always with a great sense of humor.  We see it in their garden décor along the canals.

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There’s still a lot to learn.  In fact, it’s an everyday process.  Just a week or so ago we learned one of our biggest lessons. And that is: it is clear to both of us that the “house special” in a restaurant is risky business. Tete de veau will never be appealing.  Even when finely presented in the prettiest of porcelain dishes, brains floating in broth is just not pleasing.  So there’s still a lot to learn but learning in France is the best fun!

By now you have figured out we have turned south, toward Marseilles, our winter destination.  We are excited about this plan.   Seraphim is booked to depart Marseilles mid-March, 2013, arriving in Newport, RI sometime in April.  Yes, we are shipping her.  Seraphim could be “home” for a while when we arrive in the U.S.  That sounds very appealing to both of us.  We can’t imagine not puttering around on a boat anymore. It’s just an idea….

À bientôt.

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