My Travel Blog

Ordinary Magic: In Honor of the Little Things

Recently I have been remiss when it comes to describing life on Rabelo.  Sure, I’ve written about all those exciting moments we’ve experienced.  After all, what could be more riveting than a river of sewage running down the hall of our floating home, a broken pilothouse roof, or picking apples off a grumpy old man’s tree? Then there were the many wonderful meals and special wines we’ve enjoyed, and don’t forget the beautiful scenery.  What I haven’t written about are the little things.  The things that make living in this magical country so special while floating down these scenic canals.  Every night Lisa and I look at each other across the dinner table and say, “Is this really our life?”

“Happy cows eating grass like they are supposed to.”

“It tasted as good as it looks.”

“A great bottle of wine at the Restaurant Clos Napeleon in the village of Fixin.”

When I first arrived in France I didn’t understand how different the French were from Americans.  I’m not saying that their culture is better or worse than what we have in the states.  I’m only saying it is different.  It is that difference which I appreciate so much. France operates at a different pace.  People don’t sit at their desk and wolf down a fast food lunch in ten minutes so they can get back to work.  In France lunch is commonly a two-hour family event where everyone gets together to relax and talk.  For most, lunch is so important you could call it a religious experience.  In the small villages we typically visit almost nothing happens during lunch.  We consider ourselves lucky to find an open restaurant.  An example is the local Brico, the French equivalent to our Home Depot, which closes two hours for lunch.  Can you imagine a Home Depot closing for lunch?  Or supermarkets that close at 7:30 pm!

These past months we’ve spent quite a few weeks moored in Dijon.  There must be an old folks home close to where we tie up.  It is not uncommon to have groups of elderly people sitting on the benches near Rabelo.  I love having them around.  Not only because they make me feel younger, but also because most are genuinely nice people, and happy to return a smile in kind. Unfortunately most don’t speak English, and we already know how poor my French is.  It would be nice if we could talk to some of our neighbors. Of course there was that grumpy old man with the apple tree.  One gentleman told Lisa that his wife, who had been in the navy, was impressed with how I handled Rabelo. Compliments are always welcomed, as they help keep my over inflated ego afloat.

“Our neighbors watching the world go by.”

“Rabelo tied up in Dijon.”

“Entering a lock on the Burgundy Canal.”

There must be a people magnet hidden inside Rabelo. If there are people around when we enter a lock they always gather to watch.  I suppose they come to watch the impending disaster.  While it is nerve wracking to have all those people watching, all it takes is smile and wave from a beautiful little three-year-old girl to make my heart skip a beat. Of course the boys want me to blow Rabelo’s horn.  Husbands and boy friends invariably explain to their partners how the lock works.  And some just stare in disbelief at how tight it is when Rabelo enters a lock. Like the French, we love dogs and meet plenty of them in all shapes and sizes along the canals. They are always begging for a treat, and we are happy to oblige.

It’s autumn, and for someone that has lived his entire life in Southern California the change of seasons is something new and wonderful.  I’ve enjoyed experiencing the weather changes from spring to summer, summer to fall, and fall to winter, but I’m not ready to give up winters in Southern California, or should I say lack of. So far as I am concerned winter is a season you visit on holiday. Sure, a light dusting of snow or even a heavy snowfall over night makes for a beautiful morning.  But I know what happens once that snow starts to melt. Call me a wuss, but I‘ll keep my winters just the way they are.  That way I can hike almost every day, and not have to worry about snow, rain, or mud.

“Autumn on the Burgundy Canal.”

“The changing of the seasons.”

“Autumn leaves along the Burgundy Canal.”

If you haven’t done so already check out my wife’s blog at  Barging as seen through a woman’s eyes.


-Tom Miller
Author of “The Wave”  and “When Stones Speak”– 
Chuck Palmer Adventure novels


About the Author:

Tom Miller graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Science in Geology. He is a consummate adventurer with over 1,000 dives as a recreational scuba diver, and an avid sailor who has traveled 65,000 miles throughout the Pacific including the Hawaiian Islands. Miller has also cruised the canals of Europe on his canal barge and given numerous lectures on cruising the canals of Europe, as well as sailing in the South Pacific. Piloting is also an interest of Miller's, and He has completed over 1,000 hours flying everything from small Cessnas to Lear jets.