Riding Through a Lock on a British Narrowboat

Awe-struck by the sight of the colorful, long house boats, I peppered the people floating past with questions. Friendly folks answered all of my silly inquiries.

‘One guy, Pete, even offered to let me ride through the lock with him. I hopped aboard and sat on a tractor seat in the stern where he guided the boat with a tiller. As we went through the lock, I waved like the queen to the boaters on the shoreline waiting their turn to go through the locks.

After we went through the lock, Pete suggested, “Fancy a walk-through tour?”

His 11-year-old son, Alfie led me through the narrow galley of their boat that reminded me of a skinny RV without the wheels.

The average 7 foot by 50 foot narrow boat has about 350 square feet of space for a bedroom, kitchen, living area, toilet, and cockpit. A small refrigerator, stove, cupboards and a narrow table squeezed on one side of the boat. Most have electric heat or a wood burning stove.

In the mid section, Alfie proudly showed a lounge area. His comic books were scattered on the coffee table along with checker board.

“Me ’n dad sleep on the couch that folds out into a bed right in front the telly,” he added. “Granddad sleeps in the bow and this here is the toilet and shower.”

Unlike most, their boat had the luxury of two bathrooms, one in the bow and another in stern. Across the narrow walkway was a built in washing machine.

“We’ve been with my grandparents for three weeks of holiday. Wish I could live on the boat forever,” Alfie told me, “except when granny yells at me for sitting on the roof! She’s afraid I’ll fall through.”

When the canal transport of goods was replaced by trains, holiday makers began renting 'narrowboats' and roaming the canals, visiting towns and villages they passed. Waterside pubs and village shops cater to boaters. Most towns along canals have free moorings that can be used for 1 to 2 days. Boaters lasso mooring posts along the canal side with heavy braided ropes. Then they hop off and head to the nearest pub.

Much like the English cottages in the village, each boat on the canal has its own name and unique identity with eclectic collections of artifacts, various potted plants and flower boxes decorating their colorful painted exteriors with names like Athena, Beulah Mae, Lady Anne, Jemima, Tubby Bunny, Rollin Along, Bubbling Billy, End and Beginning

Trying to decipher the lingo of canal boaters is like learning a foreign language. References include: Back pumping. Blow - a warning of collision. Bow, or fore end. Deck. Fore and aft.

Cruising the canal can be enjoyed by all ages and “boat” people were an eclectic groups of families, retirees, free spirits and throwback hippies

For some canal boat living has become a way of life. Getting back to nature and rural living, riding the canal is a great escape from our frantic modern-day pace and offers slower way of life that everyone envies at times.

For more information follow adventures of The Rum Wench vlog here

My First UK Walk in Wellies

I was excited as a two-year-old to take my first walk in wellies across the beautiful British countryside (I am easily amused.) Wellies, the symbol of British culture, reflect the lasting legacy of the Duke of Wellington and the term carries a sense of tradition, practicality, and British identity.

Wellies, aka. Wellington boots, date back to the 18th century. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, enlisted his shoemaker to modify a military Hessian boot. Originally designed for battle, wellies were later used by farmers and outdoorsmen.

In the early 19th century, they became a staple of practical foot wear for the British aristocracy and middle class and a popular choice for various occasions, including evenings out.

“Everyone in England has a pair of wellies, “Larissa explained. “In the UK, the public has the right away to cross the fields. It’s known as Public Bridle Way.”

When our son, Nic, bought me a pair, I thought they looked so chic that I could wear them as dress boots, which many people do these days. Wellies evolved from being purely functional to becoming fashionable accessories with many brands offering trendy designs, colors and styles.

“Don’t you have wellies in the US?” my British daughter- in-law asked surprised at my exuberance.

“In the Midwest, we swap out tennis shoes directly for winter boots,” I said, “Only thing close to your wellies was the clunky, buckle up galoshes we wrestled on over shoes in grade school.”

The British waterproof gumboots are usually made from rubber or PVC. Traditionally Wellies come in black, olive green, tan color or print and hit just below knee level.

Walking in wellies looks simple, but it takes dexterity. Larissa’s family maneuvered the rough terrain far better than me or Gerald. Could advancing in gumboots be skill passed down from one generation to the next?

Fortunately, before we left home, Larissa advised, “Wear heavy socks to prevent blisters.”

“Slip your orthopedics inserts in the boots,” Nic, the chiropractor added. “It may help your back.”

Nothing helped my spine; I winced every step forward. The UK family, even Lari’s sister lugging her ten-month-old child in a baby carrier, glided across the uneven terrain gracefully. I lumbered along behind, as if on two left feet, stumbling every step of the way.

Wellies, designed to protect feet from getting muddy or wet in damp environments, are the quintessential symbol of British footwear. To the non native, they feel awkward and offer little support for someone with like me with crooked toes, poor balance and a bad back.

Today's wellies, with varied color options and patterns, permit people to add personal style to functional footwear. They can be paired to match every outfit and occasion.

But no one wears wellies with greater style and aplomb than five-year-olds. Larissa and Nic’s nephew mastered the skill. In his “dinosaur” wellies, with a jagged flap along the spine of boot, he galloped ahead, circled back and jumped in every puddle along the way.

For me, slipping on a pair of “wellies,” sloshing along the sublime English countryside and singing with our UK side of the family made me feel like a kid again.

Endless Challenge Flying Internationally

For me, a seasoned traveler having lived abroad nearly half a century, air travel has never been more challenging. Especially internationally. Especially for mixed nationals.

I have lived in Europe so long, I may becoming one of those historic icons tourists love to visit!

 

With my savvy, I should be cool as a cucumber. Instead, I hyperventilate weeks before flying, knowing “what can go wrong will go wrong.” And more!

I have experienced every disruption possible except, thankfully, a plane crash.

Our latest travel saga started at the Delta counter at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport where we waited to check baggage for our return flight to Switzerland via Amsterdam. Due to a technological glitch between code sharing companies Delta (MSP hub), Air France (Paris hub) and KLM (Amsterdam hub), my husband’s luggage could not be registered even though we mastered check-in online 24 hours before without a hiccup.

“Sorry Mr. Lechault, our computer flagged your name in red with DO NOT ALLOW TO TRAVEL status”

The desk agent's colleague saw our distress and offered his assistance by staring at the screen another ten minutes.

“Call the manager,” he insisted.

The manager arrived repeated the identical process and demanded, “Call the supervisor.”

An hour later, a starting line up of aviation personnel glared at the computer in front of us, while behind us the line grew down the terminal and out the door.

I searched for more documentation to permit our authorization to board the plane. International travelers never go to a airport anywhere on the planet without the mandatory paperwork. (ie.birth certificate, marriage license,US tax payment proof, children’s birth records, COVID vaccination card)

Uh oh. Dual citizenship?

Bring French and American passport. Swiss residency card.

Do multi-nationals qualify for an extra carry-on bag to haul aboard aforementioned official documentation?

Whaaat? You want to see a valid driver’s permit?

In the event of unforeseeable, adverse circumstances, you want me to pilot this plane with a Minnesota vehicle license?

Finally we board. Seven hours later, our flight touches down on Schiphol tarmac “on schedule.”

“It took so long to reach the gate,” Gerald said. “It’s like we landed in Belgium and taxied across the border to the Netherlands.”

With only an hour to catch our KLM flight to Geneva, we anxiously fidgeted in line at the customs gate. At the booth, I presented my US passport.

“M’am how long will you be staying in Switzerland?”

“I live there,” I said.

“Then I must see a Swiss residency permit,” she said. I dug out the darn document, issued under my French citizenship, which aroused suspicion. “Where is your other passport?”

“Madame, enter only the US with American passport,” the Dutch border official stipulated,“When arriving in the Netherlands or any other European country (except the UK) you must present your European passport.”

Aiihh the last time, I was reprimanded for switching passports during transit. However, never argue with the official in front of you, even if you cannot understand rules that change overnight.

Starting in the near future (supposedly May 2025), American passport holders traveling to 30 European countries will need an authorization via the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS).

This is similar to the ESTA requirement that the US has always demanded of European visitors. Tit for tat or part of the legitimate security regulations in ever increasing unsafe world.

We hurried to the boarding gate just before it closed. I flashed my ticket and French passport and slipped through the turnstile. As I headed down the tunnel, I heard,

“Pat, wait. I can’t fly!” my husband hollered on the other side of the gate. “My passport’s gone! I’m going back to see if I dropped it where we last stopped.”

Naturally traveling with me, our last stop was the ladies room.

As he sprinted back through the terminal, I searched the pouch of my old fashioned bum bag. (I know. Does anyone wear those anymore?)

Voila!

From my magic money belt, I retrieve not one, not two, but three passports.

How did Gerald’s passport jump in my fanny pack? I never carry his passport, credit cards, cell phone, wallet or keys. Never.

I dashed back through the terminal and smashed into my husband racing toward me.

“My passport is lost!”

“I found it!” I screamed, waving the priceless booklet like a billion dollar lottery ticket.

 

At last, we boarded the Geneva flight. Still, I wondered, what happens to the poor beleaguered passengers that lose passports in transit?

Could we apply for asylum in Amsterdam?

How long does it take to build a house in Holland?

International Family Reunion on the French Riviera

Family reunions across state lines may seem difficult, but imagine the complications trying to unite international ones like mine, living in 3 different countries. It is never easy for a French-Normand father and Norwegian-American mother sans home, in a mountain hut in Switzerland to meet up their Franco-American kids.

Our daughter settled in the land of 10,000 lakes. Our son married a pretty British-Irish-Ukrainian woman and moved to the countryside near Warwick, England. Recently, we united on the glamorous French Rivera. Whenever we gather, it is magical!

Our daughter flew to Europe for her spring vacation. We picked her up at the Geneva airport and drove south through France to La Croix-Valmer halfway between Le Lavandou and St. Tropez on the Cote D’Azur. Meanwhile, our son, Nic, and daughter-in-law, Larissa, flew to Nice from England to be with us.

Our Airbnb was perched on the cliffs above the Mediterranean Sea on the Blue Coast, one of the world’s most famous coastlines offering sunshine, blue skies and the sparkling sea.

We woke up in the morning to birds singing from flowering bushes and the famous umbrella trees so prolific in southern France and to a spectacular view of the Bay of Cavalaire and the islands.

Every day was a feast for the senses

Each meal was a party for the palate.

Every moment was a priceless celebration.

For breakfast, over coffee, we enjoyed pain au chocolat, pain au raisin and patisseries from the bakery down the hill. At lunch, we savored salads, while Nic scarfed down giant Dagwood sized sandwiches on fresh baguettes.

Every evening, Gerald, our favorite French chef, offered the region’s finest fare. One night, we savored succulent lamb with risotto, the next night we enjoyed a rib of beef with green beans and Lari’s rosemary baked potatoes. The last evening, we dined on a giant sea bass in white wine and lemon butter.

We started each dinner toasting one another with an aperitif of chilled Prosecco. We finished each meal with fresh fruits dipped in cream — currents, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, a go-go. One night we splurged and enjoy a rich chocolate lava cake. We are all confessed chocoholics.

How Nat endured sticking to gluten free diet everyday amazed me. Although, I am also gluten intolerant, I cheated every meal.

On sunny days, we hiked the rugged coastline, swam in the icy sea, read our Kindles and dozed on the beach.

On our last day, Nic hugged his big sister goodbye .

“See you soon,” he said. “Maybe this summer, maybe at Christmas, or maybe next year at this time?”

For us, family reunions can never be taken for granted. Surely, we must somehow make this first family trip a new tradition.

Who knows where or when we will meet up again? A Frenchman, Gerald, is only allowed to stay in the USA for 90 days, as a British citizen Lari, due to a quirk in rules had her ESTA revoked, will not be allowed to enter the states for a couple years.

I regret that we live so far apart in separate countries each with its’ own red tape. Yet, we are lucky to be open-minded enough to embrace one another cultures, to have the wherewithal to afford travel and the knowledge to navigate crazy rules limiting border crossing.

Even now with the conveniences of modern travel and connections of technology, many immigrants, like my Norwegian grandparents, never had the chance to return to their homelands, due to immigration status, political asylum rules, and economic constraints.

On the way to the airport, before flying back to England, our daughter-in-law, Larissa, bless her little cotton socks, insisted Gerald stop off to check out the local real estate, and begged him to buy a place in southern France for us to meet up regularly.

One way or another, in spite of the challenges, obstacles and inconveniences, we will gather together again, somewhere, some way, somehow.

I will move mountains to make it happen!

Because that’s what mom’s do.

Biarritz Coastal Resort Haven for Surfers

 

Biarritz Grande Plage

After living in Paris for years, I was well traveled to most parts of France, but I’d never set foot in her southwest, Biarritz topped my bucket list. Perched on the Atlantic cliff side near the Spanish border in the Basque Region, settlements around the city date back to prehistoric times. The Vikings invaded Gascony in 840 and created the first real village.

Economically dependent on the fishing trade, Biarritz was known for whaling from the 12th century. Napoleon III and his Spanish born wife, Eugenie, turned Biarritz into a popular seaside spot when they came for holidays starting in the mid 19th century.

Today, the ritzy coastal resort, with its elegant villas and epic Grand Palace glitter in Belle Epoque style, juxtaposes with the summer surfers crowd in their beach bum attire.

In the 1950’s, Biarritz became known as Europe’s surf capitol. Since then the city thrives on high tide when surfers from across the continent flock to the sea to ride the waves.

Fishing port

In the past, popular for its casinos, boutiques, bars, restaurants and golf courses, which catered to the rich, the surf community has now also invaded the coastline of Biarritz. Tucked along streets of early 1900s mansions, surfers live out of 60s style vans, cooking meals on electric coals set on the stone seawall, waiting for the water to rise and race to the sea.

overlooking La Côte des Basques

We rented an Airbnb apartment on the cliff-side above the Bay of Biscay and savored the panoramic view of the beach, the bay and the surfers that looked like shark fins from a distance.

As we meandered down narrow, winding streets that opened to La Cote Des Basques’ stunning overlook, we passed lithe surfers with boards slung under their arms or attached to their bikes. With their stereotypical trim builds and dreadlocks, wearing a dress-like coverups over their swim trunks, they were always ready to peel into wet-suits and hustle to the beach in time to hit high tide.

How they managed to ride the waves in winds so ferocious amazed me. I was knocked off my feet just wading along the beach.

All the outdoor exercise whet our appetites, and there was no end to eateries along the coast and in the village.

My husband, born on the coast of Normandy, adored the seafood platter including 5 different fish and prawns, mussels and clams in a saffron sauce served with a tasty, fruity local red wine. Food in the Basque Country is an explosion of flavors filled with spices from the inland.

Most eateries are a lively, colorful, warm reflection of the Basque people.

Biarritz's spectacular sea scenes combined with her succulent cuisine and welcoming ambiance will entice visitors to return.

"Dump" in Switzerland

Can Tidiness Be Part of National Heritage

You would think after living in the world’s Most Tidy Country I would have adopted some of their clutter free lifestyle. Alas after residing in the same house in Switzerland for over 2 decades I have amassed a truck load of artifacts, books, T-shirts, photographs, medals, basketballs and other memorabilia.

As a history collector, a memory keeper, how do I part with boxes of stuff.

Am I missing the clean gene?

Or can tidiness be part of a national identity inherent in small countries where space is at a premium?

I do not have any messy Swiss friends, nor has a “native” ever entered my home without automatically taking off his/her footwear. Even the children are trained to park their shoes at the door.

Marie Kondo, a Japanese woman, created a global movement of mindfulness to organize space and eliminate the vicious cycle of clutter. She would love Switzerland.

The Swiss must instinctively adhere to her number selection criteria – “does it spark joy?”

She insists: keep only those things that speak to your heart. Do Beanie Babies, books and bags count?

Am I the only one who finds joy in preserving plastic bags triggering memories of special people, places and events? Yes, I have bags labeled NBA store in NYC, Nathalie’s Boutique in southern France and Nicolas Wine Shop in Paris.

According to Kondo when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.

I suffer from both making it doubly hard.

Another tip she stresses, don’t let your family see what you are doing. They will inevitably want to keep everything you want to pitch.

“People have trouble discarding things that they could still use (functional value), that contain helpful information (informational value), and that have sentimental ties (emotional value). When these things are hard to obtain or replace (rarity), they become even harder to part with.”

When you were raised in the American midwest where garages are bigger than European homes and filled with more junk than a Dollar Store, downsizing stuff does not come naturally. It so much easier to just chuck it in the garage.

After living in a country so clean you could eat off the street, where wood piles are stacked as neatly as Jenga blocks and spotless garages contain nothing more than shiny new cars, I still wonder where the Swiss store junk?

Chalet like style outbuildings are surrounded by gardens of flowers and shubbery.

At some, like ours, secondhand wares are tidily diplayed as gift shops. Since garage sales do not exist here, people can browse the local recycle centers that look more like lending libraries.

In a country as wealthy as Switzerland even junk is topnotch quality. Unfortunately I am no longer allowed to go to the dump here. I always bring back home more stuff than I threw away.