We arrived in Paris to spend a couple of days before heading off to central France to meet our New Zealand sailing friends from the Mediterranean who have had a canal boat in Europe for seven years.  The time in Paris was wonderful, much of it spent with Marie France Vellieux, a friend of Bonnie’s from her time living in Iran until after the revolution there, and someone we have loved seeing when we have returned to Europe.

Bonnie and Marie France in the Marais

Bonnie and Marie France in the Marais

We had the better part of our time with her scouting out the Paris that has changed little since we were last there a decade ago and enjoying her food and company. As a bit of a preview for what was in store for us on the canals, we stayed in a hotel that happened to be but a hundred feet from The Arsenal, a marina off the Seine entered through a lock close to the Bastille and filled with canal boats from all over Europe.

The Arsenal in Paris lined with canal boats from all over Europe

The Arsenal in Paris lined with canal boats from all over Europe

We took a couple of trains to the town of Decize beside the Loire River in central France where the Loire meets the Canal Lateral a la Loire and where we would spend most of the next twelve days.  Decize is a dating old town dating back Roman times when Julius Caesar settled a dispute there. Here’s a picture of ‘Malaga,” a 12 year old Nicols canal boat about 32 feet long and made of fiberglass with two heads and three staterooms, one of which is used for storage.

Malaga at rest

Malaga at rest

The upper area has wonderful views through huge windows, has a nice galley, and space for all of us to sit around the table to eat.

Malaga's interior with galley, driving station and table

Malaga’s interior with galley, driving station and table

We set off on the Canal Lateral which runs along beside the Loire, though most of the time the river is out of sight of the canal.  These canals were engineered and dug in the 1830’s as the rivers themselves were often too unpredictable and rapid for barges and boats.  So the canals were developed with locks to accommodate the changes in the altitude of the canals as they follow beside the rivers.  Most of the locks are automatic and operate at the pull of a cord that triggers the opening and closing of the gates and the sluices which let the water in or out, but others have lock-keepers who crank open and close the gates and sluices and are often college students working over the summer.  On average we probably went through 6 to 10 locks a day.

A lock quickly filling with water to raise Malaga to the new canal level

A lock quickly filling with water to raise Malaga to the new canal level

Barry and the lock master open the lock after it is filled

Barry and the lock master open the lock after it is filled

At one point in Digoin we actually crossed the Loire high above in an aqueduct!

Crossing over the Loire in an aqueduct

Crossing over the Loire in an aqueduct

The canals had tow paths beside them for horses or mules to pull the barges along, and most are now paved and wonderful to ride bikes on.  Any day we would probably see fifty people ride by, some on high speed racing bikes, others carrying paniers or bags on their bikes as they were traveling longer distances and camping over night, and others just families our for a day cruise along the canal.  We rode most days ourselves, often into town to get bread or other supplies, or just along to the next lock where we would come back on the boat.

Bicyclists overlooking a lock as Malaga rises

Bicyclists overlooking a lock as Malaga rises

And we could stop anywhere.  Sometimes it was in a small marina with a lot of other boats, mostly for charter, sometimes it was just beside a nice town with other boats on the canal.  Sometimes it was just a bollard beside the canal or even tied to a tree at a nice shaded lunch spot or overnight.

Malaga tied to a convenient tree

Malaga tied to a convenient tree

And sometimes it was alongside a campground with folks in RVs spending the night as well.

Boats and campers sharing the canal side

Boats and campers sharing the canal side

Our favorite town on the canal trip was Paray-le-Monial, a small town with a very strong religious orientation.  When we pulled in, there was a religious revival finishing up just down the canal from where we tied up.  We found several monestaries and convents when bicycling around town, but most of all the town is dominated by the Romanesque Basilica, an enormous structure with adjoining buildings and gardens which has been a focus for pilgrims for centuries.

Lovely Paray

Lovely Paray

The Basilica by day

The Basilica by day

The Basilica at night

The Basilica at night

We loved riding around the town and up the hill leading out of town where the monestaries were located.

Most of the canals when in the countryside are beautifully lined with trees, there are breaks in these where the famous Charolait cows roam the fields, or old industrial sites perch next to the water, as is the case with an old pottery and its enormous kiln.

Those famous giant French cattle

Those famous giant French cattle

Old abandoned pottery and its three story kiln

Old abandoned pottery and its three story kiln

We transitioned to the Canal Du Centre and continued on to Montceau-les-mines, a larger city with a long mining history now mostly disappeared.  But the city is large enough to have four swing or draw bridges we slid quietly under on our way to the marina where we spent the night in the middle of town.

One of the many drawbridges in

One of the many drawbridges in Montceau-les-mines

We were greeted in the morning by a rainstorm which had raged all night and the normal Saturday market was pretty drippy and cold, but it was Barry’s birthday so all was not lost.

Barry blowing out his birthday candles

Barry blowing out his birthday candles

From there we went one more day to St-Leger-Sur-Dheune where we caught a taxi to Chagny and then the TGV back to Paris at something like 150 miles an hour. There we really had little more than a day to attempt seeing the Henri Cartier-Bresson Museum and finding it closed, lunched in the Marais or old Jewish section that we particularly liked, and finally walking the length of the Tuilleries Gardens before collapsing near the entrance to the Louve.

Dave done in before the Louvre

Dave done in before the Louvre

The next day we headed to Charles de Gaulle Airport and flew off to Dubai to see daughter Shadee and our granddaughter.