We meet a lot of people while boating in France. As Americans, we are foreigners—but most other boaters cruising the inland waterways are too. We hear the stories of British, Australians, New Zealanders, Swiss, Dutch, and Germans, as well as French.
Many British have previously been sailors, with sailboats (”yachts”) in the English Channel. After they reach “a certain age” they get tired of being “beat up” in those stormy and difficult waters, but still want to boat. Touring the inland waterways (canals and rivers) of Europe in a motor cruiser is an oft-chosen next step. Because they are just a ferry or “chunnel” ride away, many Brits bring their car to France, thus giving them an easy option for touring and running errands such as transporting liquids (water, wine, beer, etc.) from the grocery store. They leave their car at a marina or in the train station parking lot, cruise for a couple of weeks, then hop on a train and go back for their car.
Perhaps the Australians and New Zealanders have the optimal situation. Their seasons are the opposite of France and the US. They arrive in France at the end of their summer and go home for the beginning of the next: year round good weather!
Because of the proximity of Holland, Germany, and Switzerland to France, many residents of those countries moor their boats in France and visit for weekends or short vacations. Others do the reverse, starting in their home country and spending a few weeks in France, returning home on their boats for the winter.
Since we are a very far distance from home, we generally plan on spending the better part of the summer in France. This year we plan to return home in early August as many Americans do because it’s the height of the European tourist season (ports and canals are crowded) and, for us, the weather in Oregon is at its prime.
Using the Estate as our base and taking short train trips to other locations is one strategy that works for us for expanding our travels. We are both over 60, so are eligible for senior cards in France. They entitle us to at least a 25% discount on train travel in France, and with the right timing, 50%. Last week we were invited to spend a week with friends who had swapped their house in Oregon for an apartment in Haarlem, the Netherlands for three weeks. The trip to Haarlem takes about 9 hours from St. Jean de Losne and involves trains, buses, and taxis.
In 2001 we purchased the Estate near Arnhem in the eastern part of Netherlands. We spent the first year cruising from there to Friesland in the North, and on to Amsterdam, Leiden, and Gouda. In Holland, there are few locks, but lots of low bridges where we needed a bridge-tender’s assistance. Some bridges swing, some raise, and for some, not only does car, bike and pedestrian traffic stop, but also the trams must wait for boaters to pass. Normally there is no charge. However, in the North, a tender extends a wooden shoe, swinging from a string at the end of a pole, for a small payment.
It was great being back again! Holland is so close to France, yet so different: tall row houses, canals, and bikes everywhere. The puffy white clouds, cleanliness, and structured agricultural land all shouted, “You’re back in Holland!” We alternated visiting museums with biking at the beach and walking through small towns. We particularly enjoyed visiting the Mauritshaus Museum in The Hague, a small gem of European museums. Several Rembrandts and two Vermeers (the famous “Girl with a Pearl” and “View of Delft”) are in their collection.
One day we headed for the beach at Zaanfort, rented bicycles, and peddled north along the sea. The wind blows a lot here, so you often see cafes with low glass walls to protect diners from the wind. Many people on the beach had what looked like a half-domed tent that was also used for breaking the wind. We picnicked on the beach, and then headed for the sand dunes behind the beach. They run for many miles along Holland’s coast, protecting the inland areas from storms. They are stark, but lovely, with grasses, some trees, and wildlife. At one turn we came upon a large, horned cow scratching its neck on a sign that told about the area. Needless to say we let that sign go unread!
At the end of the week, we headed back to St. Jean de Losne, arriving in early evening. Over dinner at a local café, we mused about the wonderful differences between countries and how having a boat enables us to easily experience them by leisurely cruising or by a fast, smooth ride by train.
Korte Vijverberg 8
The Hague, Netherlands
For over eight years, Neil and Joan have been spending their summers cruising the canals and rivers of Western Europe aboard their now thirty-year-old Dutch motor-cruiser, the “Estate.” This year they are sharing their experiences.