Day 5: Taxiing Across History

July 7, 2008

I was up early. I was lounging waiting for coffee when someone banged on the side of the boat and I emerged to find an official wanting to collect a fee. In retrospect I shouldn’t of been so surprised, because we were in fact in a harbour, but we weren’t tied up to someplace with water or power like further up so I guess I had assumed we weren’t in a marina. Anyway I settled up with the pleasant man and had a coffee up on deck in the gorgeous morning light.

Up ahead of us a much smaller hire boat had tied up after we arrived yesterday. I recognized them because we had followed them in and out of a lock or two. It was only one couple aboard and she was less than confident with the locking procedures and he was less than confident with the steering. They had made an impression with the number of times he could bounce the boat off the sides of the lock and the panicked running around once they finally got it alongside. I wasn’t laughing really, those boats had the loosest and most atrocious steering I have yet to experience and if you didn’t wrap you mind around the concept that you had to steer then wait rather than constantly overcorrecting then you were going to be doing that peculiar zigzag. I still do it when I loose concentration for a moment…

Anyway, they were up and ready to go and still no better at manoeuvring their boat. If you are along side shore or a lock wall you can’t just turn the wheel and go as the boat pivots in it’s center. So if you turn the wheel too sharply what happens is the stern bang into the shore and points the bow back to parallel to the shore. If you don’t straighten the wheel it happens all over again until you manage to bounce yourself far enough from the shoreline to actually head in the direction you want to go. Then since you have been over steering anyway, it takes you 4 or 5 undulations to settle the boat down on a heading, that is if you are comfortable with not over-correcting in the first place. This guy wasn’t.

Suffice it to say that they will forever be known as the drunken sailor boat in my memory and I will never feel shame at how badly I handle a boat because I know there is someone worse out there.

After the show, I went for a small walk while I waited for everyone else to get up and going. I walked around the marina and across the lock on the bridge then headed up the road for a bit. On the way back I snapped one of my favourite pictures of our boat, the town’s basin and the beautiful morning light

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That’s our boat in the front.

After everyone was up and breakfasted (at some point someone went into town for baguette… I think), we hit the streets. My research had illuminated a few day trips that I wanted to take and one was from right here in Clamency. Apparently if we could grab a cab we could take a trip out to a Chateau about 15 minutes drive away. Then we could arrange for the cab to pick us up again and deliver us to our boat once again. Simple, right?

Well this was our first of many encounters with “the Taxi” and France. Pretty much every trip we have taken to France we have had at least one adventure involving taxis. We just never seemed to learn. This one consisted mostly of trying to actually get a cab. What we failed to understand is that the towns here are small and not very  far apart. So if you want a cab, you generally phone a private operator who might be from or in any of a number of towns within a half-hour radius. Then you have to explain where you are and where you want to go. Oh, and the payphones don’t take cash, just phone cards. This was the pint that my prior planning mantra fails me and I spin into a tizzy wandering aimlessly trying to figure out the system without any clues.

Eventually the girls saved me. With their manifestly superior practicality and Leslie’s superior French, they decided to wander into a local travel agency and ask the lady there for help. And help she did, calling a taxi and arranging the arrangements so all we had to do was wait and then pay a rearranged fee. Seriously, I wonder what I would do if I had been stuck on my own. Probably just walk…

So eventually the taxi arrived and we were off to Château de Bazoches. This was an old Chateau built originally in 1180 and the one time home of Vauban. Vauban (1633–1707) was a Marshal of France and one of the most famous military engineers ever. There are dozens of extant fortifications across France and French territories designed by him, all demonstrating the signature star pattern of 18th century stone works. In fact the plans for the massive fortifications of the Citadel in Quebec City was approved under his aegis.

And we were going to see his chateau! W00t!

One last note on the taxi. It has come to my attention that we in North America know not the meaning of breakneck and, wild as some of our taxi drivers seem to be, they are nothing when viewed on the world stage. Of transportation to Château de Bazoches was a great example of this. We went blasting along small country roads — trails really in some cases — and zooming through narrow streets in the towns we encountered. The taxi’s velocity rarely diminished and the driver was  prone to just putting two of the wheels into the field when oncoming traffic made it impossible for him to actually stay on the road. Oh, and C had a mild predilection for motion sickness so she got to sit up front where the  stone walls of the various courtyards could come hurtling towards her in a truly 3D fashion. I took some video; it’s still amusing to watch it.

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The chateau was grand in pretty much every sense of the word. Situated up on a hill, the views of the countryside were beautiful and the grounds the kind of thing you see in the period movies. Out of the way, it wasn’t inundated with les touriste, it featured secret passages, suites of armour and canopied beds and most excellent of all, it had several books dating back hundreds of years. Seriously, even the furniture was fascinating; at least to geeks like me. It was a self-guided tour so they handed out English-language fact sheets and let us wander: the best way to see anything.

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But about the books. With three serious bibliophiles, the opportunity (the first of many as it turns out) to actually see hand scribed manuscripts and early printed books was simply mind-blowing. There were 4 or 5 books in glass cases dating back to the 1200s, including a rare incunable dating to 1486 printed in Strasbourg. Heavan!

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Soon enough our time was over and we needed to head back to the parking lot to meet our taxi. The ride back is much more of a blur, because I think we were still a bit mind-blown from what we had experienced. You have to realize the oldest building in Edmonton was built around 1912. Centuries is a bit mind boggling until you get used to it. And I hope I never do.

I am sure we downed the requisite wine and played the requisite cards, but it had been a hell of a day.