Well, as long as we are just about still in May, I really need to catch up with blogworld! It’s been a month that has simply blasted past, and has been beautiful and memorable in many ways, as well as transitioning from cold and wet to sometimes extremely warm and summery, offering opportunities for work and play galore!
The first week of the month, once we’d got Mayday out of the way (a public holiday in many parts of Switzerland, including our own), we were busy packing up and heading off across the border to Alsace-Lorraine, in north-eastern France. Although it’s actually quite close, with Basle sitting comfortably in that little corner between Switzerland-France-Germany and then bordered on the north by the German Palatinate region, where I was born, it’s not really an area we’ve explored much before. Our journey was a very specific one, as it was our first outing on a canal boat and travelling two of the many, many canals that criss-cross not only France but also many other parts of Britain, Germany and the lowlands of Holland and Belgium. The other novelty was that it was our first holiday that properly involved three generations – we were partly there to help out my daughter and son-in-law with the two young grandchildren, a boisterous nearly-4-year old and a nearly-crawling 6 mth old! Fortunately, on this occasion, no dogs were involved…
So, this was our home for the week – a most generously sized rented canal boat, well protected by fenders all round. With three roomy cabins, everybody had plenty of space and my husband, who is 6’4″, was even able to stand up straight without bashing his head on anything! It was certainly the ideal vesself for exploring canals and it’s a good time of year, too, since although we had a couple of squally days, the weather was mostly fresh and mild and to finish up, even quite hot, with plenty of wind blowing through the trees as we quietly moved up and down the waterways.
Our journey began at a tiny village, Lagarde, in the Lorraine and we made our way through countless “uphill” and “downhill” locks, mooring as we pleased in various places including the pretty village of Lutzelbourg and going as far as Saverne, a small town with a huge bishop’s palace and attractive old town. There was very little traffic – no school holidays – and even when we did go looking for provisions, we usually had cycle a couple of kilometres to find the tiniest épicerie with a range of about 30 articles, mostly processed foods! Fortunately, we did eventually find some shops that sold us beautiful fresh veg and fruit, cheeses and meats, so all was not lost…
The stretch we had chosen had several attractions, one of which was the highest lock in France at Gondrexange, 16 metres high/deep – very impressive! We were all glad we already some lock experience by the time we reached this one, though my daughter and son-in-law took to the boat like ducks to water and were soon relaxed and laid back about locks in either direction (“uphill” or “downhill”!).
Wake up in the morning to this… Or this! And as the evenings lengthened and became milder, views like thisNothing can beat sitting looking out at water in a sunset, armed with a suitable drink – and in my son-in-law’s case, a fishing rod!
Little Mireille is already getting quite independent and must be the most consistently sunny baby I have ever known! Adorable! Keeping her brother out of danger proved to be quite a challenge, though we pretty much expected that! (See, the sun did shine, too!) We ate well when we ate out, though service wasn’t always what we’re used to. At this place in Saverne, Restaurant Katz, the most typical Alsacian-style place we went to, the waitress was forgiven for her initial abruptness by her falling in love with the baby and giving her a huge cuddle while announcing what a lovely “crotte” she is – meaning “bundle” but a word also used to describe less savoury objects :o… Ah well. Overall, we were also fascinated by the language – most of the time, we were able to speak our usual Swiss dialect to the locals speaking their own Alsacian dialects, with perfect comprehension between the two, rather than either (or both) of us switching to high German or struggling with French! Fascinating. Of course, the area has been passed around a lot in the course of history, sometimes belonging to Germany and sometimes to France. Lutzelbourg, taking shelter in a downpour
It’s easy to live on a canal boat like this, life is easygoing and I can see why people spend months and years doing this, taking advantage of the large network of canals across Europe. It requires very little skill or knowledge and it’s hard to think of a more pleasant way to pass the time than spending it “messing about” on a boat, with plenty of leisure for reading (and knitting :)) and really also very well suited as a family holiday, too!