Soon after we tied Wanderlust up in Montbard we learned that an American couple, traveling in their Linssen cruiser, was moored nearby. When I say “we”, I really mean our dog Gigi made the discovery. As is often the case, Gigi made the first introduction. We just happened to be on the other end of the leash.
The couple was heading in the opposite direction on the Canal de Bourgogne. Friendships are made quickly on the waterways. And, as is often the case, Gigi’s new acquaintances were soon on board and the wine was flowing.
Inevitably during an American election year the talk turns to politics, no matter the nationality of the boaters we meet. Indeed, most of our encounters are with non-Americans. With non-Americans we are left to try to explain the craziness going on back home between the sips of the local wine. Non-Americans tend to have formed fact-based opinions on the politics they observe overseas. Though it is refreshing to hear perspectives free of the American media spin, it is tiring trying to rationalize the opinions of American voters to outsiders. At least when talking politics with Americans we can skip the voter psychoanalysis portion of the discussion.
Past the politics, the social encounters usually come with an exchange of information about the route ahead. Each side has fresh knowledge of the places they have just visited. Recommendations are exchanged about things to see and things to avoid. It’s a good way to learn about moorings, restaurants, boucheries, boulangeries, and can’t miss attractions ahead on our route. We find these exchanges to be very helpful, as long as we can recall the suggestions the next morning through the residual haze of the wine.
In Montbard, while sharing wine with the American couple, we learn about a place to visit just up the canal, Alésia. Alise-Sainte-Reine is the location of the last major engagement between Gauls and Romans in 52 BC, the Battle of Alésia. From our fellow boaters we discovered that there is an interpretive center, the MuséoParc Alésia, which is accessible from the port just ahead at our next stop, Venarey-les-Laumes. It sounded interesting.
As we left Montbard we planned on spending two nights in Venarey. It would give us a day to visit the museum. When it was time for the visit we lifted the bikes off of the rear deck and set out on the road. A short ride through the town and fields put us in front of the cylindrically shaped MuséoParc.
Inside the modern museum we found exhibits illustrating the Battle of Alésia. At Alésia the Roman army led by Julius Caesar fought a confederation of Gallic tribes united under the leadership of Vercingetorix of the Arverni. The importance of the Battle of Alésia is undeniable; it has gone down in history as one of Caesar’s greatest military achievements. The battle marked the end of Gallic independence in France and Belgium and started the era of Gallo-Roman dominance.
Completed in 2012, the construction of the visitor center at MuséoParc Alésia cost 22 million Euros. It was a major economic commitment to teach the history of the battle in a place where there is little visual indication of what happened over 2000 years ago. It is estimated 150,000 visitors a year attend, which seems a lot for such a dry subject. The visitor numbers seem far more reasonable when put in perspective: Over a million people a year see Plymouth Rock, a plain piece of granite in Massachusetts where the Pilgrims supposedly first touched foot in America.
There is a small controversy associated with Alésia. It has been argued that Alise-Sainte-Reine is not in fact the location for the Battle of Alésia. Indeed, around 40 towns and other locations have at some point laid claim to be the site of the battle. The number of claimants undoubtedly reflects the importance of the battle to the history of France.
Though the assertions of alternative locations for the battle have largely been discounted, some continue to argue that the true location of the battle was Chaux-des-Crotenay in Franche-Comté, at the gate of the Jura Mountains. Nevertheless it does seem most likely that Alise-Sainte-Reine is the actual location for the Battle of Alésia. And for sure, the construction of the MuséoParc Alésia puts down a heavy bet that this is in fact the location of the battle. In any event it is far more likely that Caesar battled the Gauls near Alise-Sainte-Reine than the Pilgrims actually first set foot on the exact rock that tourists flock to in Plymouth Massachusetts.
Montbard to Venarey-les-Laumes is 13 kilometers with 8 locks. The engine ran 4.1 hours. Wanderlust also spent two nights in Venarey.
Click here for a map of this segment’s route.