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The capitanerie at Briare managed to book us into the Paris Arsenal Port de Plaisance for the week of the Rugby World Cup Final so we were set to enjoy a mooring in the heart of the city. We had emailed them requesting a reservation on three occasions during the previous eight months with no response and had assumed they were full.
After arriving at Briare we spent a few days exploring the surrounding countryside and reconnoitering our route along the canal de Briare and the canal du Loing up as far as Moret-sur-Loing and the Seine. These canals were built in the early part of the 17th century to link the river valleys of the Seine and the Loire.
After visiting the porcelain factory shop at Gien where we bought a set of plates, we headed south to Aubigny-sur-Nére. In 1423 Charles VII gave Aubigny to a Scotsman, John Stuart, as a gesture of thanks for the support he had received during the 100 years war against the English. They still commemorate this shared past with hairy arsed Scotsmen parading round the town each July blowing bagpipes! Its a pretty little town, full of half timbered houses and the château of the Stuarts.
Heading south again we discovered the 15th century Château de la Verrerie, beautifully situated in woodland beside a lake. We continued south to Menetou Salon which has another huge château but is otherwise uninspiring apart from the splendid wine it produces. We drove though the Menetou vineyards, through picturesque villages, eventually emerging on a hill overlooking Chavignol, famous for its Crottin de Chavignol, and Sancerre which we had visited with Harmonie previously.
The "rellies" arrived from Kiwiland at the unearthly hour of 7am which meant a 4-30am start for us, fighting our way around the Paris periphique to Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport. CDG is a pretty complex place, especially when we were given the wrong terminal number but we managed to meet Maryanne and Fred in time. Well you couldn't miss them really as practically every bag and item of clothing they had on had a New Zealand motif or the All Black silver fern. They were only two of an estimated 20,000 Kiwi's coming to France for the Rugby Coupe de Monde, a trophy they were confident of winning.
Back at Briare, Maryanne having resisted my efforts to throw her in the aqueduct, we had lunch and set off up the canal to Ouzouer-sur-Trézée where we moored for the night. A dirty great hotel barge slowed us down the next day so we did not make Rogny-les-sept-Écluses for lunch as we had planned. The locks on this part of the canal replaced a flight of seven staircase locks, the remains of which are still to be seen as you pass through this delightful canal village.
We moored that night at Montbouy and the next morning set off early. As we picked up speed, a barge called Decize (A DBA member) suddenly pulled out from the bank followed by a noddy boat flying a South African flag. We had to come astern to avoid a collision and both skippers continued to look straight ahead as if to pretend they had not seen us. CEVNI rules say that any vessel under 20 metres must give way to "normal" vessels of which we are one so in addition to acting like prize prats they were breaking the rules of the road. All this was obviously so they could beat us to the next lock. We passed them at Montargis by which time I had calmed down. We moored further downstream and had an excellent lunch on board a restaurant barge prior to continuing to Souppes with its obvious connotations!
We were now on the canal du Loing which is a lateral canal and mainly follows the course of the river. The mooring was next to a sugar beet factory which worked all night and smelt of school dinners but then we were in Souppes! The next day was overcast and it drizzled for much of the day We wended our way carefully through the winding narrow canal at Nemours, managing to avoid a couple of big commercials at the narrowest sections and dropped down through a lock onto a short section of the river Loing before resuming our course lateral to it. At the final lock we joined the river again and grabbed the last mooring at Moret-sur-Loing.
Sue and I set off by train back to Briare to collect our car. It takes and hour by train, four days by barge! On our return we had a couple of days to explore Moret and the surrounding area. Moret is a lovely medieval town whose claim to fame is that the impressionist painter, Alfred Sisley, spent some years there and painted some of his finest work in and around the town.
Fontainbleau, its Château and forest were close at hand. A walk in the forest gave us an appetite for a splendid lunch in Fontainbleau followed by a walk around the grounds of the Château. The following day was spent wandering around Moret where the annual fete was in progress. The main street was full of stalls selling bric-a-brac with a jazz band, a Brazilian dance troupe and a procession of vintage cars.
Our Kiwi guests were booked on Eurostar to London the next day and required to be at the Gare de Nord in Paris by 9-30am which meant a 7am start from Moret. We just made it and continued on to Le Havre where we caught the 5-30pm ferry to Portsmouth, finally arriving in South Petherton about midnight, a long day! Sues cataracts were again assessed and a few days later she was measured for an implant. We then set out for Brecon for the marriage of my favourite niece Tanya.
The church was conveniently surrounded by pubs so I was able to watch the first half of the England/Australia Rugby World Cup quarter final before the wedding service. England played much better rugby for the first time in the tournament and at half time were 10-3 down, still in the game but who in their right mind gets married on such an important day. As soon as the happy couple went off to sign the register I nicked outside and turned on my phone. There was a text from Murdo McCleod in Edinburgh asking if Scotland could have some of the drugs that the England team were using so I sensed an upset. I rang Hockey who was probably already senseless as Carol answered his phone and informed me of a famous victory.
Australia were on their way home. On then to the reception and a word in the brides fathers ear resulted in a 2 minute speech, however, the bride and the groom droned on for ages and then three of the eight (yes eight) bridesmaids then decided they wanted to speak. Didn't they know that New Zealand were playing France in the other quarter final in Cardiff? Finally it was the best mans turn who kept his speech mercifully short and we were able to escape to the local pub and join some real Welshmen for the last 10 minutes of the first half. France played out of their skins in the second half to beat New Zealand by two points and the pub erupted. I had this feeling of deja vue! (rugby afficianados will know what I mean) I sent a text message to Fred and Maryanne, who were in Holland, informing them that their team were all wearing attractive chokers.
Back at the reception the bride and groom were on stage playing with their group finishing with a tune entitled "the chips are here". Worried that there was not enough food they had ordered thirty quids worth of chips. They were cold and mushy. A funky rock group with a black lead singer in hot pants with legs up to her bum enlivened proceedings by which time we said our farewells and made our way back to our B&B.
Back in Somerset the week flew by with various outings with friends to various houses and hostelries. On one day we paid a visit with Carol to Westonbirt Arboretum up in the Cotswolds. The Acers were just reaching their autumn best as you can see here. We were booked back on the night ferry from Portsmouth to Caen on Sunday so Saturday was our last night and the semi final between last weekends winners, France and England.
The Brewers Arms was packed to the rafters with everyone (apart from Sue, Carol and Anne) wearing their England regalia. Not the prettiest game of rugby but exciting stuff between two closely matched teams where either could have won but England emerged victorious and we were in the final. Who would have believed that could happen when we had played so badly for most of the last four years. Beer consumption escalated.
The following evening found us in Mr Po's Chinese greasy spoon in Portsmouth then onto Brittany Ferries MV "Duc de Normandie" a nice ship until we were under way and propeller induced hull vibration kept us awake all night. This is one ship we will not be travelling on again, however, we have purchased a frequent travellers ticket from Eurotunnel - 10 single journeys for £390 to be used within the next 12 months.
Back at the Gare de Nord in Paris, there was not a silver fern in sight on our returning Kiwis. Paris was full of miserable Ozzies mooching about with berets that looked like cow pats on their heads and Kiwis in disguise with final tickets for sale. Back to Moret and Harmonie emerged out onto the Seine from the river Loing for a two day sail downstream to Paris.
The day of our arrival was just about perfect, especially if this was the first time you had sailed under the bridges of Paris. We cruised down past the Notre Dame, the Louvre, under the most beautiful gold gilded pont Alexandre III, past the Eiffel tower resplendent with large rugby ball suspended above a giant video screen and turned back upstream round the statue of liberty for a repeat performance. Back at the Arsenal port du plaisance I called the capitanerie on the VHF to open the lock and we berthed in the heart of Paris yards from the Bastille.
The following day was a public transport strike and the metro was in chaos so we did a lot of walking. Fred and Maryanne (who suffers from vertigo) went up the Eiffel tower and we welcomed our second pair of Kiwis, John and Barbara from Palmerston North, a right pair of rugby nuts. The boys spent the day of the final checking out the venues where we might watch the game. It involved visiting some famous rugby pubs including the Frog and Rostbif where we indulged in beers brewed in house with names such as "Inseine" and D'ark de Triumph"!
We decided to watch the final on the big screen in front of the Hotel de Ville. We all went for an early dinner close by then, 10 minutes before the game, we arrived to find no people at the chosen venue. Enquiries revealed that there would be no screening of the game due to crowd problems the previous weekend at the semi finals! Typical French trick! They loose interest when they are no longer in the race and they were easily beaten in the third place play off by Argentina the previous night which, strangely, was one of the best games of the series.
In a state of controlled panic we let ourselves be led into a smoky Irish pub, full of Frogs yelling for the Jarpies and charging 9.50 Euros a pint. The best team won, South Africa, and we emerged, coughing with streaming eyes, in not the happiest of moods.
Still, we were in the most beautiful city in the world so in the morning we all went out into the Paris sunshine and bought lots of good food at the Sunday morning market opposite the Place de Bastille entertained by a collection of musicians playing Latin American music and a dear old lady dancing. Here we all are in Place Vosges, the oldest square in Paris - five Kiwis and a Pom (note the Bath Rugby bonnet). Over on to the Isle de Cité for some of the best Ice Cream in Paris then back to Harmonie for a feast of Bresse chicken followed by Selle sur Cher goats cheese washed down with Sancerre Rosé with Apricot tart for pud. We was pogged!!
John and Barbara headed off back to New Zealand the next day, Fred and Maryanne embarked on two days of touring round Paris on an open topped bus and Sue and I visited the Claude Monet Museum. On our final day in Paris we all went to the Orsay Museum and indulged in lunch in their glorious restaurant under superb frescoes and glittering chandeliers. The next morning we were up bright and early before they opened the port gates which entailed a long walk, twice the length of the basin, with heavy suitcases to get to the metro station. We waved farewell to our final Kiwi guests at the Chatelet les Halles metro and returned to the Bastille where we fired up Harmonies engine and headed up the Seine towards Briare.