Finally, a year after she was launched on the Thames, Wanderlust reached France. At her bow was Europe’s network of inland waterways. France alone has over 5,300 miles of navigable water. Though the French network of navigable waterways is the largest in Europe, the water routes do not stop at the border. Past France, navigable inland waterways extend into Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and on to the Black Sea. Using the inland waterways a boat can cruise from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. It takes years to explore at canal boat pace.
Starting in the 17th Century, canals were dug and rivers were “canalized” to enable the transportation of heavy goods throughout the Continent. The pace of the waterway expansion slackened in the second half of the 19th Century as freight transport shifted to the developing railroad network. Today most of the water-borne heavy transport occurs on large rivers and industrial canals. The older smaller canals and rivers, though still occasionally used for cargo transport, have become the domain of pleasure boaters like us.
Europe’s legacy of navigable waterways is a boon to modern barge based vagabonds. Live aboard watercraft wander thousands of miles of calm water. Nightly moorings range from the historic hearts of large cities to the quiet canal banks in the midst of a forest. That’s good for us. We imagine of traveling between Amsterdam, London, Ghent, Paris, Lyon, and Toulouse. In between we will spend the nights in between amongst the vineyards or farmland. Urban and rural, we can have the best of both worlds. It is why we have Wanderlust.