Leaving Jaulgonne to the stern we continued downstream towards Paris and the confluence of the Marne and the Seine. The vineyards of Champagne, now mostly depleted of their grapes after the harvest, continued until just past our next stop in Chateau-Thierry. Chateau-Thierry, according to the 2008 census has 14,831 residents. Compared to Jaulgonne, a village of 653 people, it feels like a major metropolitan center. Size is relative.
We returned firmly to the small village territory at our next stop in St. Jean-les-Deux-Jumeaux, a village of 1,216 people. Our favorite memory of St. Jean-le-Deux-Jumeaux is it’s sweet mooring pontoon complete with free electricity and water. It is a great location on a grassy riverbank and a nice pontoon. But as predisposed to like the town as we were we really can’t say much about it. We arrived on a Monday and, as is typical in small town France, everything was closed.
It was tempting to stay another day and see what we missed. Indeed, at this part of our journey we had become disinclined to move. The Marne, quiet at the edge of the season, was far too pleasant to want cruise through rapidly. Each overnight mooring was left reluctantly. If it weren’t for the scheduled lock closures ahead of us, we might well be still creeping along the river even now. But eventually we did move. Eventually we headed to Meaux.
Meaux’s old town, overlooked by a Gothic cathedral, is situated at a horseshoe bend of the River Marne. This river bend separates the town’s historic district and its market area. Nowadays through water traffic on Marne bypasses the town and its low bridge. Instead boats leave the river and cut through a hill onto the Canal de Chalifert. In a few days we too would continue towards Paris on the Canal de Chalifert. But for now we cruised past the two locks, one new and in use and the other old and abandoned, to the port de plaisance near the apex of the river’s meander.
The port in Meaux is located at an ideal spot between the old town on the outside of the horseshoe bend and the markets on the inside. Only a short distance from the boats, the sprawling and very popular covered markets are open every day except for Monday and Wednesday. It is an excellent place to shop for food including the town’s famous Brie cheese and mustard, Brie de Meaux and Moutarde de Meaux.
Atmospheric Meaux survived on the edge of enemy lines during World War I. In 1914 the German advance was halted at the gates of the city. The defense of Meaux changed the course of the war, stopping the Germans before they reached of Paris. Without serious damage from the conflict, Meaux’s wandering narrow lanes and medieval street plan were left intact. Amongst the old buildings two structures stand out, the city hall and the cathedral.
In Meaux, a commune of 51,398 people, the influence of nearby metropolitan Paris is apparent even without the tourist hordes. There is a certain hip urban feel to the place. But though Meaux’s residents may commute by train to Paris, few Parisian tourists make the effort to visit this attractive town. Their loss, I suppose, but Paris offers so many attractions that it is not a surprise that nearby Meaux gets forgotten. Nevertheless, in our opinion, Meaux is worth a visit, even it you aren’t traveling on the river. But perhaps we are biased. Entering Meaux’s old town on the Marne and mooring at the pretty central port would prejudice anyone’s outlook on a place. And then of course there is the cheese.
Trip totals: From Calais to Meaux it is 520 km with 69 locks.
One lock and 13 km downstream from Jaulgonne is Chateau-Thierry. We moored below the bridge on the right side of the river on the high bank. Live aboards in the area had worked out arrangements for power and water but it wasn’t practically available for us. A large Carrefour is close by. Champagne Pannier, a larger, well-known sparkling wine producer, is open for visits up the hill. The town itself is quite interesting.
St. Jean-les-Deaux-Jumeaux is 49 km with four locks from Chateau Thierry. A new looking pontoon with water and power (16 A) is available for passing barges.
Meaux is 35 km and 2 locks from St. Jean-les-Deux-Jumeaux and 84 km and 6 locks from Chateau Thierry. As described above the mooring is on a bend of the weir stream flow of the river. The result is that there is a tricky cross current when mooring on the finger pontoons. Depending on which side of the pontoon is chosen, the current either pushes a boat towards the pontoon or away. Either way it is a challenge though I think is somewhat easier to come in upstream of the pontoon letting the current push you in. The pontoons are fully serviced with power and water. A small charge, €4.50 per night, can be paid at the tourist office. Stays are limited to 3 days unless permission for a longer stop is granted.
Curiously Meaux is twinned with Reading England very near where Wanderlust was moored last winter.