BY Lori Murray

Many years ago I listened regularly to a Sunday morning radio travel program while we were getting ready for church. One Sunday they featured a barge trip on canals in France and it sounded so low-key and relaxing! I thought for years that would be an experience to relish, floating down a canal on a motorized barge, not one towed by animals, being able to take a bike ride or a walk on the tow path. And I finally got to do it. During our recent time in France, I checked this item off my bucket list.

The canal system in France was built to foster trade among the various areas of the country. Unfortunately, when it was nearly completed, the Industrial Revolution came along and made the canal system outdated and less effective than motorized boats. Sometime later, an enterprising soul thought about turning the no longer commercial canal barges into recreational vehicles and offering them to tourists – or just to families who wanted to own a boat and get out into the rural areas of the country. So we spent a week floating on a barge with tiny cabins, a small crew, and a few passengers, ending up in the old and beautiful city of Auxerre.

In the five days we were on the barge, we went through something like forty locks and covered a distance we could have driven by car in about an hour. But every time we tied up at a lock we had the option of walking or biking through the rural countryside to the next lock, and every afternoon we had an excursion to some interesting location. Sometimes the canal would veer us into the Sonne River, sometimes the river was too rough and the canal would have been built to the river’s side. We got to know our fellow passengers, our captain and crew, and even the Luciole’s owner very well during those days. It was a great experience in so many ways.

One of our excursions was to a Market Day in a tiny medieval town. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your point of view –the weather turned cold and there were few merchants and even fewer buyers who ventured out in the cold. We practically had the town to ourselves. This was an advantage to me because I was able to see and appreciate the way the little buildings in town used plants to make their shops more appealing. This little town reminded me again how important it is that we ourselves realize the impression that our home’s first appearance makes on those who drive by or visit, in fact what this first impression tells the world about us. I snapped quite a few pictures between my breaks for hot chocolate and a croissant (or fudge), and I couldn’t help but think how places in Europe revere their old cities and towns instead of just moving away from them as has been our habit here in the states. It makes me glad to see some of our major Texas cities learning that lesson and turning their downtowns into more pedestrian areas with restaurants and entertainment instead of deserting them to become eyesores and burdens on the people who can’t afford to move away. That too says something about us, doesn’t it?