MB paying the toll in the wooden shoe
MB paying the toll in the wooden shoe

A delightful way to explore Europe – Part 2

You say barging, we say houseboating

I fell in love with Europe on a houseboat (barge).  After our first trip in the South of France, we realized those nicer boats passing by were from a company called Le Boat. We learned to book their newer boats with bathrooms for everyone. If you’ve seen the Eiffel Tower and Buckingham Palace and the Colosseum, it might be time to meet real people in the European countryside who aren’t overrun with tourists, especially in the spring and fall. Make sure your friends are those friends who don’t flinch when you stagger to breakfast without make-up. The friends who carry their own luggage and don’t whine  when things don’t go exactly to plan.  If you have friends like that, I guarantee a barging trip will be one of the best times you’ve ever had in your life.  Ours certainly have been. Where did I leave off…..

2007 Holland

I won’t go into the weekend in Amsterdam before we jumped on the boat, but I can say it was epic.  We still tell lots of jokes about our various escapades there, The Banana Bar was unforgettable.  The canals in Holland are stunning, well-groomed, as are the beautiful people. The loch keepers swing out a little wooden shoe on a fishing pole to collect your toll. Like Venice, living on the water is a lifestyle there. We floated by many beautiful boats that people lived on year-round. And the charming windmills and vast fields of tulips are better than the postcards. The towns we biked to were lovely and the people were friendly to these odd Americans on a barging trip.  I spent most of the week on the boat recovering from the weekend in Amsterdam.

Glad my son is at the helm
Glad my son is at the helm

2008 Burgundy

All I knew about Burgundy before this trip was wine and Dijon mustard. Now, when I think of Burgundy, I think of rolling hills of vineyards, steaming escargot and delightful franche-comté cheese.  I found a cheese monger there that raised her own goats. We biked through the countryside to her delightful little farm and bought lots of wonderful cheese. Wonderful on day one. A couple of mornings later, ambling down the picturesque canal, we awoke to an unbearable stench. I remember throwing it out the porthole hoping the fish didn’t all die from ingesting it. One evening in a little marina, we met a group of young Italian guys and taught them the “American drinking game” where you draw cards and loser with the lower number has to touch a body part to an electric flyswatter. Drinking helped the pain. My friend MB touched it to her tongue! I will never forget the arc of electricity that shot out. Amazing we are all alive and basically still in our right minds. I try to forget the poor French gentleman who had to work the next day. It’s hard to keep quiet when you’re playing the flyswatter game. He got his revenge blowing an air horn in our windows early the next morning. The Italian guys took a flyswatter home planning to share this new American game with all of Italy. Another evening that will live in infamy.

Barging with my son

The next few trips were just my son and I. Ireland, the South of France and the Thames in England.  There are moments I will never forget, like the two gingers in Ireland who asked mum if they could get her fifteen-year-old son “legless”. I found out what that meant when they had to help me drag him back to the boat. In the tiny town of Terryglass, a charming barkeep offered to cook up any of the fish my son caught. A few days later we circled back to that town and she baked us a delicious dinner. The most memorable moment in the south of France was in a loch. Our boat got caught on the old stonework and was tilting as the water ran out beneath. The little loch keeper ran out and tried frantically to push us off, things were banging down below as we slanted farther and farther out of the water.  I must have been screaming when we finally fell back down into the water, because I ended up with a mouthful of the most awful sludge.  My son still laughs about that one. One of our favorite trips was on the Thames.  Eton college, the Queen’s swans at Windsor Castle, the wonderful English pubs…  I might have embarrassed my son with a few too many G&T’s followed by tossing packages of nuts to everyone in the pub “from the Americans”. His turn to drag me back to the boat. He was 6’3” by this time, so no worries.  He caught a lot of perch one afternoon and cooked them up on the boat. I will never forget eating them on a beautiful stretch of grass watching the swans float by.  Great times.

Alentejo barging
Alentejo barging

2015 Portugal

Ah, the trip that changed my life. The gang had decided to try this little country that had barging on the largest man-made lake in Europe, the Alqueva reservoir. Located in the Alentejo, and surrounded by small medieval walled towns, it was a very different barging experience. No lochs! The villages were amazing, but not as amazing as the people. In one town, we were strolling looking for a lunch place but everything was closed. As we looked longingly in the window of a chicken place, the owner came out and invited us in. It turned into an afternoon and late night of the most wonderful chicken with a sauce made by his lovely mother. We helped cook chicken on the grill outside that basically fed most of the town for dinner that night. The delectable dinner with that smooth Alentejo wine was followed by his homemade moonshine. We sang, we laughed, we met half the town. We were obviously not in a condition to walk back to the marina, so the sweetheart of an owner called his brother in the middle of the night to come and get us in his pickup truck. How nice can people be? As nice as the couple that met us at their hotel in Juromenha. We pulled the boat up after dark and here they came with flashlights to lead us to their place. At nine months pregnant, the wife made us a late dinner, had baskets with breakfast at our doors the next morning and cooked us a bountiful lunch. Another afternoon I will never forget filled with food, friends, and dessert by the side of the infinity pool on the river. Life doesn’t get much better.  That’s the afternoon my friends announced that my job was killing me and it was time for me to think about a change.

And here I am, twenty years after our first barging trip. Living the dream in the Algarve. We have a Thailand/Cambodia trip planned for our twentieth anniversary trip. If you run into me on the street, pinch me.  Does life get any better???

By Glenda Cole
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Glenda Cole is a retired American executive living her story book life in the Algarve. She and her boyfriend Glenn have a YouTube channel about moving to Portugal called The Glenn and Glenda Show. Glenda also writes for International Living Magazine as well as doing online seminars and videos for them. She recently did her first podcast for International Living and she will be a speaker at their upcoming annual Go Overseas Bootcamp in Denver, Colorado in September.