We have been home for a week now and it’s time for reflection. What did we love? And for some light and shade, some balance, a few things I, at least, had issues with…
Top 10 things we like about life in a slow boat to nowhere in particular in France.
1. Slow pace. France at 6kms an hour. There’s no hurrying. You could walk faster than we travel down a canal, making sure we don’t create a wash. It’s a whole new mindset after our normal fast existence, living in a city, with it’s traffic jams and busy schedules. This brings me to No 2…
2. There’s time to look at the scenery and contemplate life. When you travel for hours on a river you can just let your mind run free, watch the fields of sunflowers and corn, the Charolais cattle, the hawks flying high above. The clouds and jet trails in the sky. It’s peaceful. It’s not for everyone though. Relaxing for one could be boring for another.
3. Staying in one place for a couple of days or a couple of weeks. I’m not a ‘been there, done that. Tick!’ kind of person. I like being able to arrive somewhere new and settle in for a while. Live like a local. Go to the market, wander the lanes, allow the ambience to soak in slowly.
4. Inexpensive travel. Once the cost of buying (or renting) a boat is taken out of the equation, living and travelling is relatively cheap. If you choose to tie up in a marina or on a pontoon that provides electricity and water the cost is a fraction of what you would pay in a hotel or auberge. We pay somewhere between €8 to €20 a night. Average cost would be €12-13. Of course sometimes it’s completely free. Tying up to a bank in a lovely rural setting is pretty hard to beat. And some villages have installed pontoons to attract boaters to their area. Win/win.
5. Meeting people from other countries. We have met so many lovely people from all over the world. France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, England, Scotland, United States, Australia, not to mention Kiwis! And the thing is, you already have so much in common. Which brings me to No 6…
6. Shared experiences. This is probably one of the best things about this lifestyle. You are often amongst like-minded people who are loving their way of life and are happy to share their experience. By swapping information on free moorings, great restaurants and dodgy locks we have learnt so much and been able to pass on our own discoveries. Usually over an Apero on the deck of your neighbours boat. Sometimes mooring ‘au sauvage’ (wild) is peaceful and relaxing but sometimes you want to be around people, chatting about where you’ve been or where you are going.
7. Eating out on the deck. Food just tastes better outside. A fresh baguette, some cheese, ham, lettuce and tomatoes accompanied by a crisp Rosé, eaten with the sun on your back and the breeze on your face. It doesn’t get much better than that. Speaking of food…
8. The humble baguette. This is what it’s all about for me in one long, thin, crusty loaf of deliciousness. Avec du beurre et de confiture de fraises. Just yum. That is all.
9. French small town market days. Markets are fun. The French take their produce seriously and spend time choosing the best ingredients. It’s part of their day. It may be cheaper at the supermarket but it tastes better when you’ve wandered the stalls, contemplated what to cook for dinner, purchased and then stopped for un Cafe Creme and a fresh petit Pain au Chocolat.
10. The history of France. Its long, torrid and eventful. The Roman remains, the Crusaders castles, the religion and wars, the royals and popes. The centuries of winemaking, the art and architecture. The history is living and it’s everywhere and it’s fascinating.
Now for a few things I found challenging…
1. Spiders. They are a fact of life on a boat. I loathe them. I don’t care if they keep the fly population at bay or that they are more afraid of me than I am of them. Blah blah. They run fast with their long spindly hairy legs and snigger at me from under ropes and around every corner. And they come out at sunset so that they silhouette boldly against the night sky, causing me to have a small heart attack every time I close the curtains.
I developed a nasty disease that I like to call ‘Spider Hell Induced Tourette’s Syndrome’. Aka the SHITS.
However we have introduced Spider Patrol, which is done every morning with a long handled broom and in which we chase every lurker under every pile of rope to scurry off in search of safety aboard someone else’s boat. That’s the plan anyway.
2. Manual (pump) marine toilets (and shoulder injuries from all that pumping). I’m not going to mention back wash. Oh oops.
3. Mooring beside loud neighbours. I am not going to state nationalities here. That would be wrong. And possibly racist. Let’s just say there are certain countries that have a higher rate of obnoxious boaters than others.
Booze and budgie smugglers don’t mix, people. Just saying.
4. No land transport (besides feet). This is a good thing and a bad thing. Great exercise and possibly why we came home more or less the same weight we left after all that delicious cheese. But when it’s 35° and you HAVE to find a Bricolage (hardware store) and it’s on the outskirts of town, you really wish you at least had a bike. Next year, definite.
5. All the stair climbing. There are 6 steps down from the deck to the saloon, from there either 3 steps down to the aft bedroom in one direction and 3 steps down to the galley in the other. Plus getting on and off the boat. That’s a lot of up and down a day. Great exercise (see No 4) but also very hard on the joints, especially knees. Also on the rest of the body when you miss the bottom step while holding two plates of dinner or a lovely glass of red wine and end up in a sprawled mess on the saloon floor. The indignity!
So there you have it. The highlights and lowlights.
There is one aspect of living in France that neatly fits into both categories and that is:
Speaking French. Sometimes it’s amazing to actually hold a conversation, not matter how small, in a foreign language. A conversation where you ask a question and not only do they understand you but, more importantly, you understand their reply. That’s huge. And so rewarding not to mention extremely handy. However it’s also difficult and potentially embarrasing. If I try to form a sentence in French first thing in the morning, I come up blank. (Mind you that happens in English as well. Not a morning person obviously). It’s a bit embarrassing trying to speak when there’s nothing coming out. Gormless is a good description. Not normally the look I’m going for. But it can be very entertaining for the locals. In a food market in Auxonne, in very pretty French, I asked for 200 Kilograms of cherries. That’s a lot of cherries. The hilarity of it. Everyone had a great laugh, the vendors, the old ladies assessing the produce, Alan. Ah well. It’s all a great learning experience and if I get to crack up the locals with my attempts at their language then my work here is done!
I’m working on a pictorial post with some of my favourite photos from the last three months. Stay tuned…