From Briare to Decize: A Trip Down Canal Lateral a La Loire (Summer 2015)
Traveling down a French canal and navigating its locks was never on our bucket list. It should have been. We started our journey with few preconceived notions. Those we had were inaccurate. Come travel with us. Share the journey, and then get going!
Thoughts On the Way to France
Somewhere over Canada I am reading about a bobcat capturing a shark and running away. This is merely a coincidence and bears no relationship to the trip Donna and I are taking to France. This trip is not a climate induced act of survival. It’s an act whose impulse is romantic. Of course French wines will taste better in their native habitat. This was certainly true of Italian olive oil. So, I suppose a similar transformative experience.
Traveling demands compromises. I swore I’d never eat in a foreign McDonald’s. In Italy we found having the code to a clean American style bathroom to be irresistible, and worth the price of an Egg McMuffin. In Milan we once ordered an Italian version of a hamburger and a beer because the evening demanded it. In Portugal we were surrounded by hordes of English patriots who appropriated every restaurant in sight. They were happy to tuck in plates of English cuisine…smashed peas were on every menu. So, cruising down a French canal could promise something quite similar.
In my worst versions I imagine the Disneyland canal of my youth. It’s crowded with rubberneckers and gawkers. Entire families are dressed in matching outfits, and just out of sight are cafeterias serving pre-fab food. Yet, the guide book promises French Markets, charming French cafes, and miles of gliding past French backyards.
Le Boat, the name is no fiction, provides fleets of canal cruisers. They are modern fiberglass creations full of utilitarian surfaces and 60’s rec room touches. They putter along at 4 knots. They can’t be steered in reverse. There are 27 locks on our route. The locks are closed for lunch. At first any romantic notions seem, like most romantic notions, delusional.
Romance will depend on our ability to slow down. Given a cruising speed of 4 knots, and the French lunch hour, slow is a foregone conclusion. You could walk faster. Gliding down a canal, or just putt putting while inhaling blue clouds of boat exhaust and swatting French mosquitoes has to transport you to a place beyond hustle. It’s a place beyond getting there. You are already there and the wines of Sancerre await.
All that, and a notion that something as exquisitely impractical as piloting a boat down a French canal is by definition romantic, guides this adventure. At the very least it will fuel a lifetime of “remember when” experiences. Some we may eventually be able to laugh at. Like navigating by phone in Italy and being guided down a one way street…until we were bumper to bumper with a police car. “I don’t care what your phone says! It’s dangerous!!!” That’s a memory! A memory that brings a flood of others along with it. Ahh! That’s romance!!!