My Travel Blog

Visiting The First “Versailles”

We had a pleasant stay in Meaux, but it’s not my favorite city in France.  It is only about thirty miles from Paris, which may explain some of my reticence. It doesn’t have the culture or energy of Paris, but it has some of that big city feel.

After crossing the Atlantic on a ship, and then cruising around Europe our friends Marty and Sara joined us in Meaux to spend a week on our little ship.

Our friends Marty and Sara arriving.

After a long drive from Paris (45 minutes) our friends needed some cheese and refreshments.

The Cathedral in Meaux.

We did a quick walking tour of Meaux, and got lost.  Eventually we found our way back to Rabelo, but only after stopping at the local boulangerie for a baguette and pastries. We untied our lines and off we went. There has been a lot of rain this spring, and the Marne River was running strong.  The locks on the Marne are unusual in that the barrage, which is French for dam that the river flows over, is right next to each lock.  Usually they build a cut off canal around the dam, and place the lock in the canal where there is no current.  As I began to enter the first lock the current started to push me towards the shore, so naturally I turned Rabelo away from the shore and aimed her bow more towards the center of the river. As I got closer to the lock the current reversed and started to suck me towards the center of the river.  Instantly I reversed course and headed for the shore. Eventually I made it into the lock without damaging our big baby, but there were some tense moments.  My natural instinct when I saw the bow of our 200-ton barge heading directly for a concrete wall was to put it in reverse and slow down.  Fortunately I had the good sense to give Rabelo more power, which allowed me to turn the bow faster, and avoid hitting the wall.

The Marne River flowing over a barrage next to a lock.

I had forgotten how beautiful the Marne River was.  With the wet spring the foliage was a kaleidoscope of green.  The Marne River happens to run through the middle of Champagne, and that’s not good news it’s great news.  Lisa and I are both bubbleheads, and there’s nothing we enjoy more than a refreshing bottle of Champagne. Compared to the prices we pay in the states it is a bargain over here.  If you know where to go even fantastic Grand Cru Champagnes are modestly priced in the mid twenty Euro range. The Marne River is also one of the few waterways in France where you can actually see grape vineyards from the deck of your barge.  Lisa and I have always liked the Champagne region, and have been fortunate enough to visit this area a number of times.

Grape vineyards from the bow of Rabelo.

Some friends came to greet us at a lock on the Marne.

Marty and Sara asked if we could visit a chateau. Seeing as we were in France that shouldn’t be much of a problem.  Kevin said that if we wanted to see a chateau then we had to go to Vaux-le-Vicomte.  Built by King Louis XIV’s finance minster Nicolas Fouquet, this special castle was ultimately the inspiration for Versailles. When King Louis came for a visit he was so impressed that he told the architect he wanted him to design a castle in the same style but ten times as large.  In the interim he threw Fouquet in prison for having a nicer Chateau than the king. Hearing this story I made a note to myself, “Never piss off the King.”

The front yard.

The back yard.

A statue of Hercules in the back yard.

Showing Lisa a little feline love.

The library.

The dinning room.

The toilet.

There was also a carriage museum.

Many of the original art pieces are now on display in the Louvre, but there is still an impressive art collection at the chateau.


-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.