At the three-way canal intersection in Vitry-le-François our planned route continued to the east. If we took the right fork in Vitry Wanderlust would move onto the Canal de la Marne au Rhin. The Marne-Rhine would ultimately lead us to our destination Strasbourg. But as we emerged from the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne we did not go right. Instead, we moved Wanderlust left onto the Canal latéral à la Marne. For now we’d head to Ay in the heart of Champagne’s viticultural region.
True, the area around Epernay and Ay (Ay is pronounced with two syllables) has much appeal to us. It is wine country at its classic best and one our favorite areas along the French waterways. But the reason we detoured to the left had little to do with wine. The reason we headed towards Ay was trains, or, more correctly, train stations.
It is a lesson we learned the 2015 cruising season: Just because a railroad track follows the route of a waterway, it doesn’t mean that railway stations can be found in every significant town. With our frequent guests arriving almost exclusively by train, the location of the rail stops defined the meeting logistics. At first, when the guests gave us their dates, we’d look at the waterways map and work our itinerary so that we’d be near a rail line. We figured if we were near a rail route, there’d be passenger stations. That assumption turned out to be incorrect.
When the time of our guests’ arrival neared we’d look more closely at their travel logistics. All too frequently we’d find that despite the rail line running along the waterway there were no workable rail stops near our planned route. Invisible to our guests, we’d modify our pace or route to an excursion to set up the rail connection. Sometimes the changes were small. We’d wait an extra day in a halte nautique or spend one less day in an appealing town to make it to the next port in time for the arrival. On other occasions we’d unexpectedly have awkward rail station access bracketing the entire time of our guests’ arrival and departure. In these cases, we’d have to do a more significant reroute.
And so it was as we left Vitry-le-François. If we took the right fork we faced undesirable meeting and departure logistics with our next guest Ross. If we instead took the left fork and headed to Ay, we’d be well set up to meet Ross in Châlons-en-Champagne. As an upside, we’d visit one of our favorite areas of France. The detour was hardly a hardship.
(Wanderlust reached Ay on the 8th of July 2015. It is 77 kilometers and 13 locks from Vitry- le-François to Ay. In between she spent the night in La Chaussée-sur-Marne.)