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|Europe close-up by bike and barge|
|Written by Dick Rothschild|
|Wednesday, 13 November 2013 14:01|
This is the first of four articles about a barge/bike trip on bike paths, back roads and historic waterways from the Lorraine in France to Luxembourg.
The 18 of us who had signed up for the weeklong bike/barge tour from Lorraine to Luxembourg were members of the Duxbury Bike Group, a loosey-goosey band of local Sunday morning recreational bicycle riders. All of us were veterans of one or more of the group’s previous European bike tours in the Netherlands, Belgium, The Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy.
Months earlier the group had booked all nine twin- bedded cabins on a barge with Pack Pedal Europe, run by Henie Van den Hegel and her daughter Carla with whom we had arranged previous successful European bike adventures. The cost of the Lorraine/Luxembourg tour came to $1,192 per person based on two to a cabin and included a bike tour leader, bikes, breakfasts and dinners aboard and fixings for sandwich lunches while biking. Airfare and ground transportation to and from the barge were not part of the deal.
The tour began aboard the barge, Eva Josiena, in Toul, a town in the French Lorraine on the Moselle River. It ended up in Wasserbllig, a suburb of Luxembourg City, the following Saturday morning. Toul is a town about twice the size of Duxbury and was a thriving Roman community 1,000 years before Myles Standish settled in our hometown.
If you have never been aboard a canal barge you may be curious about what it is like. This low slung 144-foot ves- sel built in 1929 as an inland freighter was converted into a “comfort class” hotel barge in 1993.
While the barge conversion provided the essentials: an ample deck and saloon, heated cabins, comfortable beds and bathrooms with showers (of a sort), the ship certainly had its idiosyncrasies. The most challenging of these was the above-head-height location of the single porthole in each cabin. Before dressing for the day, the only way to find out what the weather was like (it was consistently rainy, foggy or overcast) was to stand on the bed on tiptoes and crane your neck. The saloon had similarly high placement of windows, giving some of us the claustrophobic feeling of being in a submarine. Did I mention the glass shelves over the sinks in the cabin bathrooms? They were so low that you could not lean over the sink without hitting your head. Conversely, the bathroom mirrors were so high you could only see the top of your head, never a reassuring view when you are of a certain age.
If you book a tour on the Eva Josiena (or on all but a few luxury European barges) make sure the battery charger for your electronic devices operate on 220 volts. If not, bring your own 220v. to 110 v. converter. The Eva Josiena and a lot of other barges don’t have 110-volt outlets. Nor do they have WiFi. To some of our trippers this proved merely a mild annoyance but to others, it was a serious deprivation soon evidenced by withdrawal symptoms.
Mid-afternoon on Saturday, Oct. 5, wet and exhaust- ed from our flight, train and bus trip, my son Richard and I, our traveling companions Judi and Terry Vose, and Beth Hudako, Bob Allen and Mary Lee Caldwell, with whom we had joined up en route, slithered down a grassy hillside just outside of Toul tugging our suitcases and were helped aboard the Eva Josiena by captain Sonder and our bike tour
leader, Ari. The setbacks suf- fered in the past 24 hours – including a mislaid carry-on, a lost camera and cell phone, a missed train connections rain and sleep deprivation – were behind us. Dumping our lug- gage and wet outer garments in our cabins we made our way to the saloon where the rest of the tour members, having arrived earlier, had already con- gregated with hot tea in hand, sharing their own pre-tour experiences. The hugs and kisses welcoming we received from them were like a magic wand, making the trials and tribula- tions we had experienced getting there disappear.
At 5:30, Sonder, the young Dutch captain officially greeted us. In faded jeans with a hoodie framing his round face and sporting a stylish two-day growth of stubble, he projected a cool image. After a friendly welcome, he laid out the ship’s rules, regulations and daily schedule, how to sign up for wine and beer, how not to get locked out of the ship if returning late at night and how to get the cabin and bathroom lights back on after blackouts caused by generator changeovers (which always seemed to occur while I was showering or shaving). On cue, Sonder’s wife, our chef, popped her pretty head out of the galley, smiled, waved and retreated. No other crew members were introduced. The two of them, alone, it seemed, would do everything, navigating, docking, cleaning the cabins and preparing and serving the meals. As energetic and resourceful as they were it was more than the two of them could comfortably handle. So, as the week progressed, little cracks in their pleasant personalities developed through which some of the strain they were under oozed out.
Next the captain introduced our bike tour guide, Ari, a fellow Dutchman whose regular job was as a marketing consultant. A handsome, ruddy-faced redhead, his otherwise trim body showed just the beginnings of a belly. Ari was married, he explained and a father of four. I made some notes of my first impressions ofbothSonderandAriina3x 5 spiral notebook I carry with me. Unfortunately, the words were obliterated the next day, soaked off in my pannier because of a leaky water bottle. I do remember feeling that there was a slight rigidity about both men, maybe a generic characteristic of Netherlanders, maybe not.
The briefings finished, I fished a bottle of Chardonnay out of the saloon’s tiny fridge, dutifully checked the sign-up sheet and poured glasses for Richard and myself. It wasn’t very good. But there was nothing wrong with the mellowing affect its alcohol content produced.
At 6, Sonder emerged from the galley to announce the dinner menu. A soup was served, followed by a tasty veal stew in a cream sauce and fresh steamed cauliflower, which were set out in large stainless steel pans on a buffet table. For dessert there was a homemade vanilla pudding with a drizzle of kiwi syrup. As we were consuming it, Ari described the plan for the first day of the tour.
Dorothy and Leighton, Marion and Bill, Nancy and Leonard, Sonny and Catherine and a couple of others who had had the opportunity to rest up a little in Luxembourg or elsewhere after their flights, lingered in the saloon over coffee. The rest of us, bone weary, said our good nights and promptly hit the sack.