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From Paris to Rouen by Water

(Front our own Correspondent.)
Rouen, Monday, July 31.

With lamentable want of foresight, after posting "Parisian Sayings and Doings" last Tuesday, I started on a trip down the Seine. Since then a grave Ministerial crisis has occurred, and, according to the newspapers, great excitement prevails in Paris. The moment is perhaps badly chosen for writing a holiday letter; but, as the French say with such a wealth of under-meaning, que voulez-vous?

So, in the afternoon of July 25, two old college friends and myself embarked at Asnieres with bags, pipes, and a plentiful supply of bird's-eye, and good spirits. With great difficulty we had succeeded in finding a more or less suitable boat, an oak tub-built craft some twenty feet long and four feet broad. The rowlocks were replaced by metal swivel hole pins called "systèmes." The oars, however, were excellent, and, with all on board, our boat travelled easily five miles an hour. If we were going to do the journey again, we should get a boat over from London, for the fact must be admitted that the French know very little about boat-building, and, as boating is not a popular amusement in France, there are no really good boats for hire.

Our first stage was twenty-three kilomètres, through St. Ouen, Epinay, St. Denis, Argenteuil, and Chatou, where we determined to spend the night. It had rained steadily since we started, and we were all drenched. Wednesday, 26th, we started at nine a.m., had our boat dragged over the lock at Bougival, and rowed down to Maisons, where we breakfasted at the Restaurant du Petit Hâvre, by the side of a fine old mill. The walls of this inn, like those of many others in the environs of Paris, were adorned with paintings, some by first-class artists. At Bezons, for instance, the entry of the inn was decorated with frescoes by the well-known marine painter the Comte Le Pic. At Maisons we saw the gudgeons, our future "friture" swimming gaily in the "vivier" or reservoir, little thinking that our ruthless hostess was about to fling them alive into the twittering frying-pan. All down the river we found excellent fish, eels, perch, gudgeon, "brochet" and various small fish, that made capital "friture." At every little village at least one of the inhabitants made a trade of fishing, and paid the Commune an annual rent for the privilege of using nets. Being given the passion of the French for "la peche a la ligne," I need not add that from Paris to Rouen an uninterrupted line of patient anglers lined either bank, posted like sentinels. Another feature that struck the crew was the immense amount of washing done in the Seine. Below Paris there are no floating wash-houses, "bateaux-lavoirs," except at three or four of the large towns, like Mantes, Vernon, and Elbeuf; but wherever there is a group of half a dozen houses on the bank, there you will certainly find half a dozen women kneeling in wooden boxes or fenders, with a little shelf in front of them, on which they beat the linen with a wooden "battoir," and swill it in the flowing stream, gossiping all the while to their hearts' content.

After breakfast and pipes at Maisons we started again at 12.30, and, skirting the forest of Saint Germain, rowed through a long stretch of delicious scenery by La Frette, Herblay, and so to Conflans Saint-Honorine. Here we met with very rough water, and were glad to have a roomy boat standing pretty high out of the water. All about these parts the country is like a garden, the hills are covered with vines, and the villages built in terraces up the hill-side, with, generally, a pretty old church perched on the top. At Conflans we landed and drank some "jingly," the red native wine, a "petit vin" with a sourish taste, conducive to quenching thirst. It was the moment to sing one of Béranger's drinking-songs, for we quaffed our "jingly" in a rustic room trained over with vines, whose berries were just beginning to swell. "Stroke" declared this to be "high," an expressive Americanism which he frequently used in the course of our delightful journey. From Conflans we rowed to Poissy, where we put up for the night "à l'Esturgeon," an excellent river-side inn below the bridge. After dinner we went on to the bridge—an immense old structure of sixteen arches—and contemplated a river and woodland view, the grandest and broadest we had yet seen. The day's stage was thirty-two kilometres.

Thursday, July 27. We got under way at 7.45, and floated with the stream between a series of beautiful islands, whose banks were literally ablaze with flowers. The hills along the banks and in the distance presented an incredible variety of green tints and a luxuriance of growth quite remarkable. The scenery really seemed to be becoming more and more beautiful every mile that we advanced. Nothing could be more loved than the river banks, the sloping hills now variegated with vines and patches of miscellaneous spade culture, the white rock here and there laid bare by the wear and tear of centuries, the alders and poplars waving solitarily on the crest. We passed Triel, Meulan, and Verneuil—where "bow," strong in history, remarked that the Battle of Herrings was fought—and stopped for breakfast at the little village of Juziers. Thence to Mantes-la-Jolie, where we landed to look at the splendid old church, and thence through a stretch of poor scenery to Vétheuil, where we put up for the night at a mediocre inn, "Au nouveau cheval blanc," up in the village. Our arrived caused great excitement in this village, and a row of natives drew up in front of the inn to catch a glimpse of "les Anglais." We had a good dinner and were well treated. Our stage this day was 50 kilometres.

Friday 28. We left Vetheuil at 7.45. The weather threatened to be very hot. The country continued to be fertile, with plains on one bank and steepish hills on the other. The hills are spade-farmed in strips of varied culture. Along the banks here and there a cow or two with a woman in command of each, tugging the poor creature where she would not. "Bow" remarked this extension of paternal government to cattle.

At La Roche-Guyon we admired a fine old ruined castle on the hill-side. Henceforward, through Bonnières and Port-Villez to Vernon the scenery is charming. At Vernon, after visiting the church—"Bow" always insisted on visiting the churches, and pointing out the beauties or blemishes of the architecture—we breakfasted at an inn on the river back, where our hostess was a fat old motherly person in a white cap, named "la mère Rozé." Madame Rozé gave us a splendid breakfast, sat down to table with us even, to watch us eat, called us her little children, "mes petits enfants," criticised "Cox's" manner of holding his fork, was desirous of acquiring information about the Queen of England, and had views of her own about the Egyptian question. This good lady's husband, by the freedom of his language and the broadness of his jokes, reminded us that we were in the fatherland of Rabelais; and altogether we had a good time, and "Stroke" again remarked, "Boys, this is high!"

After breakfast we sculled and rowed through exquisite woodland and hill scenery to Petit Andelys, near which are the ruins of King Richard's famous Chateau Gaillard, a few old ruin standing imposingly on a hill-top, and commanding an immense panorama of hill and plain. At Petit Andelys we put up at the inn of La Chaîne d'Or, a quaint and rambling old place, where we were well lodged and splendidly fed. After dinner we played "Nap" until our eyes were all heavy with sleep; but, out of respect for the existing institutions of France, "Cox " suggested that we should rechristen the game "République Françoise," so as to not rake up old scores. The suggestion was adopted. We arrived at Petit Andelys at six p.m. Our stage this day was forty-six kilometrés.

Saturday, July 29. We started from Petit Andelys at 7.50 a.m. We rowed for several hours through splendid woodland and hill scenery, hearing nothing but the plashing of our oars, the cooing of the ring-doves, the whirring of the wings of a startled bird, and the whispering of the poplars,—perfectly idyllic, more beautiful than words can say.

At the little village of Tournedos we landed, and breakfasted in an inn which was at the same time the grocery-store, the tobacco-shop, and the newspaper-shop of the village. Our hostess was an old Norman peasant woman, burnt by the sun to the colour of chocolate, a queer old creature. She, too, by her jokes, reminded us that we were in the country of Rabelais. Our breakfast was so copious that it took three hours to eat it and to get the digestion of it fairly started. Finally, at three p.m., we embarked. At the lock at Poses we narrowly escaped being crushed to jelly by a barge, and then we had a hardish pull to Elbeuf, where we arrived at 8.15, having been greatly delayed and irritated by the locks. At Elbeuf we stayed at the Hotel de France, and were well treated. The town is old and curious, but far from prosperous. Our stage this day was forty-six kilométres.

At Elbeuf our journey was practically at an end. On Sunday morning we rowed over the twenty-two kilometres between Elbeuf and Rouen, sent our boat back by steamer to Paris, and we are now staying at a handsome hotel on the quays. On the table of the reading-room are the London dailies and weeklies; last night we drank Bass's ale, and this morning we flavoured our cutlets with Worcestershire sauce. We are once more in a civilised place, which the reader will find fully described in the guide-books.

The whole distance we rowed from Asnières to the quay at Rouen was 220 kilometres, about 188 miles. We passed locks at Bougival, Denouval, les Mureaux, Port Villez, Notre Dame de la Garenne, Poses, and La Riborderie. The passage is free; the lockmen are not allowed to accept any gratification; but, on the other hand, the locks are so immense that it takes an hour, and sometimes an hour and a half, to get through them.

The cost of the excursion, apart from the hire of the boat and the cost of its transport to Paris, which will be in all some 50f., amounted to less than 75f. for each person; that is to say, an average of less than 15f. a day for all expenses of food, lodging, &c.

In navigating the river we met with no kind of difficulty. We found an excellent map of the river, by M. Vuillaume, published by the journal "Le Yacht", of Paris. The inns were good, though sometimes primitive; the people kind and obliging; the food and wine excellent and abundant, and the linen clean and plentiful. Even in the smallest inns where we went we had napkins without having to ask for them. As for the scenery of the river, it is splendid; it is as pretty as the prettiest parts of the Thames, and at the same time grander and larger than the Thames scenery ever is. In short, our trip was entirely satisfactory. With the exception of the first day, we had magnificent weather. We are all brown as lascars, and all enchanted with our voyage.    T.C.

Source: The Illustrated London News, No.2257—Vol. LXXXI, Saturday, August 5, 1882, p.146