Europe! – Vendenheim to Strasbourg

We left our story in Vendenheim, with Henri Bronner, the Mayor. His generosity is fantastic: The next day he takes us out for lunch. Here, anyone is very kind and cares about us, as happened everywhere so far in our journey.

Sincerely! Maybe also because they know that we’re just in transit, and being light is really helpful in life. The weight of a long-term commitment on protecting standing properties and little conforts, can make us a bit more selfish and less open-minded.

On the opposite, the uncertainty of travelling forces us to look at the world with new eyes, so other people reflect themselves in what you do and what you feel.

It’s a matter of water… resonances, as stated by Masaru Emoto, a controversial Japanese scholar considered a guru by many and a charlatan by the most part of scientists. I must admit that I appreciate many of the things that he says, by direct experience. In life, metaphysics is much closer to real physic of what we think.

We enjoy a good sleep moored side by side to Rataka, the housboat of Remy and Nadash. At 6 o’clock I neak out to find bread and croissants for Fine, Bruno and me, finding a nice boulangerie in the heart of Vendenheim. At noon, the mayor picks us up for lunch, along with his wife and daughter in law (his son works in Boulogne sur Mer, surveilling the English Channel).

Alsatian cuisine is rich and interesting, too tasty to waste any time in describing it: I have to concentrate on eating like a pig! My dish resembles a bit a Piedmontese recipe, brasato al Barolo, made of savoury meats and French sauces. Fine and Bruno have sauerkrauts and potatoes, with sausages, würstels and well-cooked pork, quite tasty indeed.

I strive to be as vegetarian as I can, but it’s a very difficult task here.

In the evening we get invited for a party organised by the council workers of vendenheim, where we’re waited by another huge feast, lots of meat and worderful home-made cakes. We’re overwhelmed by people warmth. Henri, being the gentleman he is, publicly introduces us to the audience and we get plenty of applauses for our endeavour.

In the meantime we’ve been reached by a much appreciated guest, Karl (Kalle) Fine’s dad, just arrived from Hannover to stay a few days with us.

Kalle, nice and strong, has a wonderful job: He works on landscape art, building fabulous and poetical fences and many other objects by using willow timber and other materials that nature has to offer. In the evening we take a walk to Vendenheim, passing maize fields and big cherry trees.

The next morning we stand for a few photos taken by local journalists, with Henri aboard Clodia. Then, aftere a brief goodbye to Nadash, we leave to Strasbourg. We row once again!

A mediterranean heat surrounds us. It might be that, or the conversation about the “big picture” with Kalle who is aboard with me, or even still the greetings from a couple of fishermen, but below the last bridge before Strasbourg, after having passed about 700 others, I hear Clodia slowing down, then a nasty craaaaackkkkk…

I turn back and I see Kalle bent, eyes wide open, keeping in his hand the main mast, that’s falling over me. Damn… I swear, cursing myself: I can’t believe it. It was just me, praying for attention everytime, that got distracted! I’m thinking already to the damages to be fixed…

Thanksfully the main traveller of Clodia and the mast lock was wisely built by Roland in such a way to break immediately, avoiding further damages to the structure to the hull in cause of collision with a bridge.

Everything worked but unfortunately the base of the mast broke the watertight bulkhead at stem, that’ll be harder to repair. The mast, however, is untouched. “Manco mal”… As they say in Venice (meaning “not as bad as it could have been”, “luckily”).

Archived this accident, we set off again in a very low-spirit. Nature comes to our help, through a centuries-old cherry tree that Bruno climbs like a monkey. I follow him in a much clumsier fashion and take comfort by the sweetest black cherries tasted so far.

We’re on the edge of Strasbourg and the last lock, number 51, marks our farewell to the French Canals. We’ve passed 252 locks (not to mention 20 on the Thames): One by one they’re quite a lot. We’re waited by about one hundred more on the way to Istanbul, maybe a little less.

We enter Strasbourg at 2 a’clock of a sticky hot sunday, over 33°C of temperature. We row in front of the European Parliament and its technological show-off: I have to think about all the money that many members of the parliament earn (an Italian member could receive as much as 35.000 EURO per month) while so many people, often more capable, struggle with very low wages. Efficient politicians do exist, but they’re rare birds. I wonder why.

We stop for a quick lunch in a small kiosk, run by a very kind armanian-russian man. Just the time to learn that I’m Italian, and he loads a compilation of hits of the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s,  as loud as ever, with Adriano Celentano (a very very popular singer and showman) as undisputed emperor.

It wasn’t for a few details, I could as well be rowing along the Ticino river in Italy. The nice, transparent water, reminds me of that found there on my previous journey, after 400 km of thick yellow waters along the Po river. The wind has risen: It’s time to leave and Kalle is still on my side. Eventually, we find high bridges and the huge ferries makes us understand that we’re very close to the Rhine.

Strasbourg harbour is large, but we’ll cross even larger ones along the way. Bruno and Fine mood Serena on the shadow of big plane trees along the canal, while I get going, looking for a quieter place to dock. In the distance, I spot a woman waving her hands, aboard a Peniche.

When I get close, she shows me a copy of the DNA (Derniere Nouvelles Alsaciennes), a newspaper with an article written about us and a nice picture of Clodia. Her boat is called Labor and is very big, 55 by 6 mt.: Anne, smiling, kindly invites me to jump aboard for a coffee. How nice, I’m happy to accept. To get on board I have to climb about 3 metres: Much different scales compared with those Peniche on the canals.

There, I discover a wonderful house and meet Toni, Anne’s partner, who welcomes me. I enjoy a nice coffee and an even nicer conversation with my hosts. Anne and Toni’s business is about culture and their peniche is a huge atelier.

They’ve plenty of ideas and sponsor lots of initiatives, such as a Boat Festival in 2010 and a Christmas Market on water, attracting visitors from all around the world.

The “liveaboard” community is quite large and quickly welcomes me. The little harbour is pleasant and protected, close to the citadel. As always, we’ll get generously offered free mooring for the two days of stay with Clodia.

Another nice lady, Helene, invites me for dinner after a long chat aboard Serena: In the meanwhile Josephine, Kalle and Bruno get to sleep rather early.

Helene, a theatrical costumes designer, is a charming woman living aboard by six years: unfortunately her beautiful steel boat, dating 1908, has sunk for unknown reasons.

Helene’s life was tough and now the dispute with the insurance make her suffer even more. It’s not all a bed of roses for liveaboards. I take a good shower (much appreciated…) then I get to sleep under the stars, since it doesn’t look like raining.

In the morning, I wake up  with two black eyes closely staring at me. A very long neck: A curious swan enjoys the show, then it moves on, looking for something tastier for breakfast.

Our day will be as full as usual: We’re waited by many interviews and fixings on Clodia. Yesterday Bruno took care of the most of it however the bulkead has still to be repaired.

We need resin and other stuff, not to mention food. I travel in an unusual, disturbing heat, and the traffic noise in not here to help. Eventually we sort it all out, then, gasping, we meet in the harbour.

I try to sleep a little in the shadow of a boat, but a woman comes to tell me her interesting story aboard the Glass Boat belonging to Alexandre, master glassmaker. How nice these tales of people that, regardless of age, build a new life. Alexander for instance was a truck driver, but when he turned 50 he decided to change.

Thinking of it, it’s my story too. How hard, and what a beautiful life I found. Someone said that the way to poverty is quite easy, and I’m not talking just about money. To have something more you have to do something more. A lot more. I don’t sleep but I learn, it’s better. I can sleep later on.

At 5.30 p.m. we have an interview with Madame Buchmann (remember?) who is in charge of ecology and we get invited to the Strasbourg city council. We enter with Bruno after a nice walk along the river, being welcomed by an elegant Gentleman who says: “Are you the rowers?”. “Yes, Sir!” and he takes us to Ms Buchmann office. We learn that she mentioned our journey in the last council meeting.  What an honour!

Even inside, the heat is terrible and our “political” day gets quite tiring, however still full of energy and passion. The interview is interesting and intense: We discover the environmental strategies of Strasbourg and I get the impression that Ms Buchmann is a truly passionate and dedicated administrator. Please come to Strasbourg to take a look.

Then, back to Anne and Toni‘s boat for a new interview and finally a bit of tourism, visiting the city. Canals, wood and bricks buildings, nature and art live together in the small as in the large scale. The steeple of the chatedral is really awsome, breathtaking flamboiant gothic.

It’s time to jump on the boat for a good sleep. The next morning we’re waited by the Rhine and a new chapter is ready to be written. A real big river, after the Thames and the Moselle.

We’re excited and happy, tomorrow we’ll celebrate our first 1000 km: 1000 km of joy and struggle, meetings and gifts, but overall of waters across Europe. The veins and the arteries of this big continent. We’re within and over them, trying to do as little damage as possible and to learn.

See you soon, my friends.


Meine Liebe France – Saverne to Salbach

”Ich liebe Deutschland! At last!”

That’s what I say, while mooring in a lovely Marina after a nearly 50 km run along the Rhine.

“Ici c’est la France Monsieur! Ma c’est pas grave, nous somme Alsaciens!” (Here it’s France, Sir! But never mind, we’re Alsatians!”) is the answer that I get from the kind harbour attendants.

Our Alsatian adventure begun in the Vosges: Language, architecture, flavours had changed. However, at this stage I was really convinced to have landed to Germany, but I’m still in France. So what can we say?
We had also raised the German courtesy flag. How embarassing!

That’s Europe and I’m becoming ever more convinced that the borders were drawn by people either crazy or drunk.

Anyway, we’re now on the Rhine, on a little town bearing a German name but, for the maps and for politics, is still in France.

I don’t know if the people living here are aware of this: We can see a territory, feel a culture, hear a dialect, but the borders… Who played with them?

Our own personal Rhine adventure got started at its best. Before taking the big river, everybody scared the hell out of us: Giant waves, monster streams, huge cargo ships paying no attention, six-storey man-eating locks, police ready to arrest us and throw the keys away. Pretty close to my idea of fluvial hell!

But now, we’ve navigated the Rhine a fair while and I can tell you more.

So far the waves are keeping low, we face an opposite yet weak wind and the big barges are fast enough (about 20 Km/h) but very open-eyed on us as we’re on them.

Also, the slipstreams don’t seem to bother us at this stage.

In comparison, navigating in the Venice canals is much tougher, thanks to the motor boats running forth and back regardless of any rule. Here, navigators know their job.

We only get hassled by the occasional grown-up kid aboard his speedboat launched at full speed, who comes too near causing Clodia to wobble a bit.

Couldn’t his parents just watch tv, that night? That’s life, anyway, let’s hope for the better…

The locks are perfect: We share the first one (270 metres long and 20 metres high) with just a little motorboat, but in the second lock (same size as before) we’re side by side with 4 huge ships, the smaller of them being a 60 metre barge.

We look like a mice in an elephant dance party, but these elephants know how to spin.

Everything takes place quietly and precisely. In a world of professional sailors, life’s easier. Only at the end their oversize propellers make some annoying waves, but we get through safely thanks to Bruno who masters the situation perfectly.

About fluvial police… We see them coming toward us quite fast, so we get ready to pick our stuff and prepare for landing. But they aren’t ill intentioned: Slowing down to avoid making waves, they smile and greet us, also taking some picture. Very good news!

Then it’s sailing, light oars, sun, swimming in a transparent water, a good fair tide to help us, many birds and fishes. In the background there’s the Black Forest with its hills. A dream!

However there’s a sad “But”. To get this good for sailing, the river was completely altered. Its natural bed was digged, its course was channeled, its meanders (cradle of life) cut straight. A real river has a different look.

Wouldn’t be nice to work side by side with nature and not against it? Our journey is just about it: Look back to a more natural and “human” way of travelling. Speed is a fool’s bargain: I can see how it’s heavily overrated and often harmful.

But let’s rewind a few days back.

We stopped for two days in Saverne, lovely city, where we’ve been invited for a pizza on the holyday-boat of a nice German couple, Volker and Ilka. Their pizza was beautiful such as their hospitality aboard Grønland, a Dutch Tijalk (a flat bottomed boat) that they’ve completely restored.

Thanks my friends, I wish you fair winds in your life!

The morning after, Bruno takes Volker aboard Clodia for a sail in the basin facing the wonderful 17th century palace, the Chateau of Saverne, whose majesty has earned it the name “Versailles Alsace“.

Everyone is speechless while watching this unlikely crew made of our two skippers and two happy dogs. It’s now time to leave Saverne.

Our journey proceeds under rain, sun and fast clouds.

Bruno and Fine also enjoy some great sailings (I wonder why the wind always fades when I get aboard…) and, after 18 km, we get to Hochfelden.

To reach the city we have to cross as much as 4 waterways in 1 km, a sort of word record!

They’re: the Marne-Rhein canal, the Lohengraben, the Altbachgraben and the Zorn. In Hochfelden we discover a fifth river, this time made of beer: This city is home of the Meteor Brewery since 1641.

We look for a brasserie, but we have to surrender in front of a pizzeria, how puny!

Everything tells us that we’re in Germany, but we can’t find anybody around to confirm it.

On the walls we see strange paintings of people looking out of the window, and ground signs telling manholes may be used as dog toilets. These clues lead to a conclusion: French mind-set has never worked very well here. After all the majority of surnames is German and everyone is bilingual, since Alsace was Germany for a long time.

This week, we have the chance to meet some very special people, and it’s not a novelty.

The fist is called Henri Bronner, mayor of Vendenheim and friend of Guy Rougieux. He’s so kind to come to pick us up at 9 o’clock in the morning in Hochfelden, displaying Alsatian punctuality (5 to 7 minutes away from that of Germany, which in turn follows by 5 minutes the Swiss one, unchallenged even by Japanese).

Henri can’t hide even for a moment his intelligent and generous nature. Despite a very tight schedule he takes us to Strasbourg, about 15 km away, to visit the waste water depuration plant (5th by size in France) treating sewage for around 1 million people (or “equivalent inhabitants” as they say) just on the French banks of the Rhine.

Dr Samir Idir shows to Fine and me this technological marvel that gives back water to the big river, who’s seriously ill and therefore under strict observation by the European Community.

The water flowing from the plant to the Rhine is nearly drinkable.

The left-overs of depuration are used to produce natural gas, in such an extent that from next year the plant will be self-sufficient for heat energy and really soon for electricity too (they’re even planning to sell the energy surplus).

Here we meet Aude Gambet, a journalist from DNA of Strasbourg who writes a meaninful article about our project and its goals, that you can read  here.

Later on, we are introduced to Andrée Buchmann, regional councilwoman of Alsace and vice-president of the Municipality of Strasbourg (and also commissioner for the environment).

She tells us about the green strategies of the city, crossway of Europe and outpost for new ideas to manage urban life. We’re also invited for lunch in the House of the Regional Council of Alsace.

We then go to Vendenheim, where we visit the city hall, an enviable Senior Citizens’ Centre and a sport centre built by using the latest and best energy saving technologies. A dream made real.

The mayor, once a trade unionist, works with great passion and commitment: You can tell that he’s loved, sincerely. He spares no effort and participates to every event where his presence is required.

To get back to Hochfelden, where Clodia is moored, we get a lift from Damien, a policeman from Vendenheim.

I’m getting worried: For the second time in a few weeks we’re guests of the French police, and we’re not criminals (yet)!

Bruno (who stayed to look after the boat) is impatiently waiting for us, because the wind is strong enough to set sails. We get going very quickly, with Bruno at the tiller and Fine rowing, covering 18 km in 5 hours: Just in time to arrive to Vendenheim where we stop for two days, shaded by a wonderful Dutch boat.

It’s the house of Remy, lock-keeper of the first “ecluse” on the Rhine after Strasbourg. Remy and his wife Nadash, a bycicle postwoman, offer us a hot shower and a tasty dinner, where we’re entertained by stories about the lock and the big river. Their daughter Marine even draws a lovely picture of us that you can see below!

Thanks to Remy and Nadash! To be continued soon…


Oars and Cabernet crusaders – Nancy to Saverne

After a long while, we’re back!

I apologise for this delay, however I’m afraid it might happen again: Internet in not everywhere, here is much easier to find a good Cabernet than a web connection! If you’re a reader eager to know about what’s happening, this lack of information may be frustrating: At the same time it gives me more room to write about the best experiences and the most amusing tales.

We left our story in the outskirts of Nancy: At first glance I really liked this city. I can now confirm and reinforce the enthusiasm for a community that seems very committed in preserving the environment and offering a good lifestyle to all its citizens, beginning from the means of moving.


The network of public transport is well-distributed and the electric tram reaches most of the suburbs. Methane fueled buses and a well managed traffic make of Nancy a very clean and pleasant city. We’re welcomed by Sylvain, who works and studies here. He speaks a good English, however we strive to speak French.

His hospitality and help have revealed priceless, beginning from La Maison de Velo, a fantastic idea by Dominique Xailly that two years ago, along with the municipality of Nancy, has founded a centre where bikes are nearly a religion!

Here the bicycles can be rented (just 80 euros yearly for a variety of models), bought, washed. There’s a library of books and DVD about bike trips, a meeting room and much more. We also have the pleasure of meeting Pierre who finds bizarre and extraordinary bikes, such as the bike-car resembling a 60′s racing car. Bruno tries it, bute I can’t even get in!

Then, a new surprise: Atelier Dynamo, a centre created a few years ago by Thomas and other friends to retrieve spare parts of discarded bikes, assembling them to make new bicycles. The members, they are more than 1.000, can afford to buy a bike by spending as little as 25 to 50 euros.

Thomas also organises events and tours, and the lab in rue des Tiercelins 18, can be freely used by all members to fix their bikes. A good idea worth to be followed.

Our stay in Nancy is rich in meeting interesting people, such as Paul Rougieux, an engineer specialised in timber and its technical properties, who gives us a wonderful cherry jam handmade by his mum.

The next day Paul takes us to meet his uncle Guy Rougieux, president of the syndicate of waters from the Seille and Moselle rivers. Guy has spent many years working on the water-supply system for the villages around Nancy. We follow him in a plateau housing a very interesting network: Here we visit a central where chlorine is added to drinking water by law, following the events of 2001 and the fear for terrorist attacks.

The landscape surrounding us is beautiful.

Guy’s help is precious and will be even more important very soon: We develop a very strong friendship. In the evening we’re invited for dinner in his home in Lanfroincourt, 130 inhabitants, where we also visit La Pepiniere (the plant-nursery) of Etienne, Paul’s dad, and pick the same cherries used to make Paul’s mum’s jam. Paul tells us about the current hard times for quality plant-nurseries in Lorraine, after the invasion of low-cost plants.

The dinner cooked by René, the nice wife of Guy, is special, full of delicious Lorraine specialties such as the Pâté Lorrain and the classic Quiche Lorraine. In the end Guy gives us a Mirabelle Brandy and René some magic cherries.

Thanks once more to these wonderful friends from Lorraine.

The morning after, in the Port de Plaisance of Nancy we meet the director, Captain Franck Rosseaux, who tells us about this showpiece harbour and his commitment to protect the environment through initiatives aimed to reduce the waste of water and the leakage of bilge water and greywater (collecting them for free).

We leave Nancy grateful for all the generous people that we had the fortune to meet.

The following days are very wet.

After nearly a month of fairly good weather, the rain comes to visit and we keep getting followed by little thunderstorms. We enjoy a few fantastic sails: Bruno is very good at exploiting the wind corridors between the trees, and Clodia flyies so fast with a good bone in her teeth.

In Varangeville, site of the famous salt mines, despite the heavy rain I approach a Peniche showing my best smile and asking for a good coffee shop.

Two women have pity on me and my wretched conditions due to a very wet 13 kilometres of rowing, and invite me on board.

Quite soon, in the usual cozy and warm way of people who live aboard, we get feed with a substantial breakfast and guided for a tour of  Saint Nicolas de Port.

It’s a great discovery: We visit a gothic basilica of rare beauty (housing Europe’s highest columns, one of them crying, and the right hand of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors), an hospital for storks, that here nest everywhere, and a beer museum where they offer us a catalogue.

Anouk and her husband Dany also makes us dinner and we get overwhelmed by their warmth and friendliness. We have a wonderful time: Thanks Anouk and Dany, you gave us a special day to remember. The next morning the sun pops out and we get moving greeting our hosts with the usual sadness.

On the way to Strasbourg we meet a friend of Anouk, Dominique, who lives on a beautifully restored Peniche, along with her mum, two sweet dogs, many cats and a great passion for frienship.

She tells us the story of the town of Dombasle and its abandoned harbour, victim of the obtuseness of politics and of the vandals that have wasted a structure that could have been of great help for this area. Here there is a Solvay big industrial plant, who might have limited the long term view of the governants.

After Dombasle, Clodia, Bruno and me enjoy exhilarating sails under a continuous rain followed by moments of sunshine: It’s a very Atlantic looking weather with sudden changes. In Lagarde we sleep in a lovely harbour, passing the evening in conversation about life.

The landscape is always changing. Now we’re on a plateau with the canal many metres above the horizon, now in a kind of green tunnel.

The nature is alive and untouched everywhere, and there are many forests. Water is not as transparent as in Toul but stil of a nice green and rich of fishes: chars, trouts (introduced), perches and many sheatfishes, we get told.

After a great sail helped by 40 km/h windblasts, we reach and pass the lock of Richecourt, who was for many years the highest French lock, from its 15.4 metres of height.

Impressive, most of all the noise of the sash door closing behind us. The rise is about half an hour long but everything is well and we get off by sailing with the mizzen (the smaller sail).

We stop for the night in Gondrexange leaving in the morning for Hesse where, moored under a nice maple tree, we entre the office of Le Boat, a company renting houseboats.

Thanks to Angelina, the kind secretary, we get to know thet being a rowboat we can’t get past under the two next tunnels and overall on the Arzviller inclined plane, a marvel of hydraulic engineering. How depressing!!

But never say never. The next day two friendly employed from VNF, our notorious guardian angels, after hearing me whining against the refuse coming from Strasbourg headquarter, decide to go to Nederviller by boat. They’ll try to plead the cause of our humble oar’s crusade in the local VNF office: Not an easy task.

When they come back the no becomes a yes, assuming to get towed by an engine boat. Giving that the total distance to be covered is no longer than 6 km, we’re happy to accept this offer: Moreover any other means of transport would have been very hard to arrange and against our philosophy. So little Serena tows us.

The inclined plane of Saint-Louis Arzviller is a great emotion.

Looking at this “swimming pool” of 900 tons of weight that gently slides for 44 metres (with the boats inside!) is remarkable. And it’s energy free since the pools are moved up and down by the weight difference. Brilliant!

After Saint-Louis Arzviller we enter a completely different world: Beech and coniferous forests, red rocks, castles, german architecture, a steep descent to Strasbourg. We’re in the Vosges.

After a quick stop in Lutzelbourg (it seems bizarre to find an harbour in a village resembling the italian Alps), we stop overnight beside an houseboat lived by a few german guys, loud and a little drunk, in an enchanted valley.

When the fist shades of the evening begin to fall, we see a white silhouette waving its arms and talking to the germans. Già comò… Già comò, it says, and I think: “What happened? They’re coming to arrest me because we’ve past the tunnels without an official permission. Now they’ve changed their mind… I’ll get known as the “Man in Jail”…

But I’m safe, it’s Guy who carries good news: He’s sold his soul to give us some interesting contacts in Strasbourg, where he has worked for many years and knows lots of people. He already arranged us a meeting with the mayor of a village who will be of great help. Guy is a saint who gave us help and passion. We’re touched, thanks.

Our journey so far has seen 200 locks, 8 tunnels, 13 suspended canals and we’re approaching the milestone of 1000 km, about 1/5th of the total itinerary.

By arms and oars (with a little sail) they’re a lot. Trying is believing!

We’re now in Saverne, that’s wonderful. It’s raining cats and dogs after a promising arrival, thanks to the meeting with Volker and Ilka, that tonight have invited us for a pizza handmade in their boat, a Dutch Tjalk.

The mood is high and the bones wet. But water is life and local beer is also very tasty. We’re in Alsace, by the way, and wines are excellent too!  In short, cheer up to fluids.

See you soon and a big hug. Giacomo

P.S.: A special thanks to Caroline Bouguereau who has helped us so much with press relations in France.


Cows and Cherries – Châlons-en-Champagne to Nancy

197 km, 110 locks, 10 canal bridges, 6 tunnels. And so many people and sceneries… Spectacular! These are the numbers and the words of our last few days of travelling, but there’s much more to tell. Naturally.

There are the wild landscapes of the Marne side-canal, postcard-worthy. Herd of cattle running away at our approach, shaking the earth under their feet. And water, of course. We drink it straight from the canal: It’s potable and transparent down to 4 metres.

There are breakfasts in the midst of the steam rising from the canals, rain-wet nights, burnt days, opposite winds, handshakes from calloused hands, honest and warm hands. Kisses thrown in the air by a Turkish kid that keeps greeting us from the distance, so happy to read that word… Istanbul!


And the enraptured look of a little lady that stares at us from the bank of the canal.

Then there are our hands, as hard and worn-out as an old buffalo leather slipper.

There’s the old hearth of Nazim Hickmet, great Turkish poet of peace and freedom, and our own hearts, getting softer day by day thanks to the joy that we feel and get others to feel.

We cannot forget the kindness of so many people.


Such as Chantal in Treveray, that takes me to join the rest of the crew (I was left behind to update the website, and a long walk was in front of me), and the Mayor of Treveray who helps me to send an important e-mail to the italian radio;


And Jean, an “eclusier” (lock-keeper), a profession that’s quickly disappearing due to the automations required by the cost-cuts. He invites us in his home, offering Champagne, along with his charming wife and his nice daughter that the next day makes us a gift: A postcard depicting this very same lock many years ago;

And yet again Sara and Bertrand in Toul that take us aboard their boat for breakfast, also making us sandwiches for the next day.

And a thousand other people that gave me, Bruno and Fine so many emotions. And help.


The landscape is now hilly: We’ve got up and down more than 110 times, passing 25 locks in just one day. The journey is intense, it’s so difficult to pay justice to all the places in such a short report, however I’ll try to put together a summary of what’s happened in the past week.

First of all Berry-au-Bac, wonderful and perched: The French Renaissance. Here, we have a meeting in the headquarters of Vnf, where we gather kindness and information about the lock system that ever surprises us.

A century long, magnificent endeavour that, at a very high price in terms of money and effort, is still maintained. Thanks Vnf and thanks France for this gift.

Sailing and rowing on these waters and canals, passing these locks, bridges, tunnels always makes us think about about who worked and still works hard to keep it all functioning.

In Treveray, we moor under a cherry tree and Josephine jumps over Bruno’s shoulders to pick a few of these tasty fruits (we’re now officially gatherers, although still nomadic at heart!).

Then, we enter a bar where everybody listens carefully to our story. We recall with true pleasure the help received by the Mayor, by Madame Dal Zotto and by Chantal.

The next afternoon we literally sail on the water-lilies, getting past the 29th lock along the Marne-Rhine canal. This atmosphere reminds me of Claude Monet paintings. The water is just fantastic, so much that we drink it. We indulge in an unhortodox mooring, casting the anchor on the canal banks!

Along the canal, from the boat, we pick other cherries and strawberries: Delicious!

But we’re waited by the second long tunnel of our journey, that of Mauvages, just slightly shorter than the Suterrain de Riqueval. This tunnel was built from the 1841 to the 1846: It’s about 4.800 metres long, wet and dark, and equipped with the same system used in Riqueval, an electric towboat. But Captain Jack and his crew are already accustomed to this!


We stop for the night in Void, where Elvis from Vnf gives us a pen. The next morning we have breakfast over a roman bridge with a baguette cooked in a wood-fired oven. Then we get to Toul, fortified city, meeting Jean, Sara and Bertrand in a new, magnificent harbour. Here we visit the wonderful Cathedral: What a chance to show off my long-past architecture study with Bruno and Fine!

We get aboard once again heading to Nancy, sailing over the bridge-canal on the Meuse and rowing under another long tunnel: After 36 km we eventually enter in a real river, the Moselle.

A great Arcadia Felix scenery welcomes us, allowing for a nice sailing. The river gets much wider, such are the locks and the inevitable Peniche, over 100 metres long.

Here, the landscape is still wild , with little intensive agriculture and many grasslands. Given the water quality, the nature is nice and healthy, as confirmed by the presence of water-lilies, trouts, crabs, chars and basses.

On the way, the Moselle gets more cloudy: Industries and intensive agriculture seem to pollute the river and its bank a bit more. Ill-mannered people do the rest.

In Nancy, a city rich in history and culture, we immediately see a lot of bikes that can be used in a way that seems to work very well. It’s called Velostan, based on 25 hubs scattered around the city centre: Here everyone can pick up and leave the bikes through a subscription system of variable duration.

The bikes are very nice looking and seem quite strong too.

France is still sweet. Despite the Kilometres already travelled, 800 so far, we’re convinced to run too fast, leaving behind so many things and missing opportunities.

But we still learn so much, every day. A wonderful experience.

I feel sad thinking about the choices of some “big fishes” of the past that have taken away from Italy the pleasure of fluvial navigation, hailing the name of a regressive progress that has wasted the work of thousand of people.

Among those, there was a gentleman called Leonardo, coming from a tiny village in Tuscany, Vinci. By chance, he had dedicated great energies and efforts in the study of water and waterways. His water stair starting in Pavia has been left in a totally neglected condition.


I’m also sorry because at every lock passed, we’re at 157 so far, I can see the doors that Leonardo invented five centuries ago, and are so called “vincian”. They’re still  working beautifully all around the world.

That’s life. Be water! Giacomo



He who walks through the meadows of Champagne
At noon in Fall, when leaves like gold appear,
Sees it draw near
Like some great mountain set upon the plain,
From radiant dawn until the close of day,
Nearer it grows
To him who goes
Across the country. When tall towers lay
Their shadowy pall
Upon his way,
He enters, where
The solid stone is hollowed deep by all
Its centuries of beauty and of prayer.

From The Cathedral of Rheims
by Joyce Kilmer from Emile Verhaeren poem


Bonjour à tous!

First of all, let us join the celebration of the World Environment Day, so close to the Man on the River values, hoping to bring our little contribution to the future.

Now, let’s get back to our story, beginning from Pargny-Filain, where we stay for one more day to enjoy the show of the Compagnie Isis.

Fine will stop here a little longer to make a video about one of them, Magali. You can watch the final result at bottom page, it’s way better than a thousand words.

Bruno and I leave from Pargny early in the morning, heading to Reims. The landscape is beautiful: In Braye we face a new tunnel, entering undisturbed. In the inside it nearly rains, bare rock, a menacing Peniche following us (not a pleasant feeling…).

After two Kilometres, we see a silhouette against the light: It seems like waiting for us. With a nasty look and little words, we’re invited to come alongside the quay. After a long while, we get to know the reason: The tunnel can’t be crossed by rowboats.

The permission from VNF doesn’t arrive and I show to Mr Michel Marteau the e-mail sent to their Lille’s offices. A firm “No” turns at first to a “Maybe” and then, following a phone call full of laughs (it’s not every day that you meet two madmen rowing to Istanbul), to a very warm and participative “Yes”.


Moreover, the meeting with Monsieur Marteau ends up in a very interesting interview where he explains to us both the complexity of this tunnel (unfortunate theatre of the death of 17 people in the 19th century, due to toxic gases) and the lock management system, with the water that is drawn from the river Aisne and from an artificail basin. What an impressing work!

We set sails once again and, lock after lock (we already counted 100 of them!), metre after metre, we reach Berry-Au-Bac a few minutes before closing time of the last lock of the day. We meet the lock-keeper, that gives us a Kilo of tasty strawberries, that we eat very quickly. Today, we have rowed more than 30 km against the wind, so we’re a little tired, deserving a goos sleep in a manoeuvre basin for the Peniches.

The next morning, at 8 o’clock, we get moving toward reims where we’ll get  at 5 p.m. Here, too, we meet very gentle kandscapes, clear water and many fishes. We also meet a deer, grey herons, hundreds of ducks and nutria.

Our arrival in Reims is quite funny. The canal flows in the very hearth of the city, between two high-traffic roads: A real mayhem. Everybody stare at us like we’re from another planet, maybe martians (o humans…). Paradox in all of this mess, we cross the first other rowboat in France: two guys in a double scull.

Bruno wears the shoes of the masked man, he needs to shelter his face from sun rays. We’ve got to understand him, he’s Brazilian and we all know that they can’t get many sun… In Reims we rejoin Fine at first and then Paolo, the director of our documentary, resulting in an overbooking both aboard Clodia and Serena, the boat they use for filming: Life in a fast lane.

Reims, capital of the Champagne region, is very nice and clean. Jean de La Fontaine used to say: “I love no city more than Reims, The jewel and prestige of France”.

We discovered that its name comes from “Remus”, funnily the Italian word for “oar”, brother of Romulus founder of Rome!! According to the (obviously roman) legend, Remus founded Reims giving his name to the first people living in the area too. Even today the inhabitants are called Rémois.


Reims has four monuments listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the most impressive of them being the Notre-Dame Chatedral, with that of Chartres the most beautiful gothic cathedral in the world, that has seen the coronation of 25 kings of France. Here was also coronated Charles VII, the king promoted by Joan of Arc.

Between history and art, there’s also a wonderful wireless tram, whose power supply is at ground-level. Be careful to the electric schooooooooooooock!!!

The next day we head to Châlons. Pure Champagne now, intended as region, of course! Vinyards, vilalges over the hills… And we haven’t enjoyed a single drop of wine yet. We’re Spartans, not Athenians.

This leg is very hard and made even harder by the opposite wind. Thanksfully we take comfort from a few wild strawberries picked on the banks of the canal from aboard Clodia. Sweat and sweets!!

At half past six in the afternoon the locks close. We stop in a very nice maneuvre basin, surrounded by beautiful boats. Two ladies greet us: We turn back, getting next to reciprocate their gesture.

In Port de Vaudemanges we’ll have one of the best time of our rich journey. In a perfect environment, a small “liveaboard” community has chosen to restore old boats and get free from brick houses. They seem happier. Isabelle, judge, welcomes us and in a blink of an eye we arrange a collective dinner for many friends.

One of them, Maddy Lecyn, has restored a Peniche belonging to Serge and Isabelle, equipping it with a recording studio, a place of arts that he’s now planning to take around Europe to carry aboard artists, music and beauty. His website is Chapeau!! Go Maddy.


On board, James cooks fantastic prawns and Paolo improvises a tipical Italian meal: Spaghetti (that he has brought from home, of course) for 10 people. In a 5.74 mt long boat, I can tell you that cooking is not that easy.

The dinner is rich and sweet, the music suave, and nature takes care of anything else. I declare defeat, retreating rather early to my tent, where I sleep for 11 solid hours.

In the morning we feel like being among old friends and leaving is a little sad. It might sound bizarre, but we get the impression to run too fast. Everything we see, everyone we meet, would deserve much more time to be known and told.

However, I keep in mind the words from my mentor Bernard Moitessier (unrivalled master of navigation and life, a free and wise man): “Never let a friend’s hand get warm in yours“.

It’s time to go, to try, to live the journey. And to let Clodia slide over the waters to Istanbul.

In the morning we cover 26 km with the wind to our back, passing eight locks in eight km. In the afternoon we’re slower because the wind turns, covering 18 km and two locks.

In Châlons-en-Champagne we face the umpteenth closed lock, stopping for the night in a secondary canal close by a nice Dutch boat in restoration. From Châlons, sit under a carved stone rimembering that Joan of Arc was once here, I salute you.

A bientôt! In the meanwhile enjoy Fine’s video about the Compagnie Isis.


After hours from Jasmine Lane

Francesco’s own adventure

Francesco Cappelletti, very first “Man on the River” guest, has sent us his impressions about the experience aboard:

“Being guest of Giacomo on board Clodia has been an honor and great pleasure.

Of course as a sailing and boating enthusiast I much enjoyed the pleasure of spending whole days pulling the boat with my own hands and setting the precious riggings to take advantage of the winds. But what I really appreciated about this experience is the human value on it. Giacomo, Bruno and Josephine are a great crew. They are friendly, involving, well motivated and with great ideas in their minds!

I love this Project. I consider the ideas supporting it so valuable, clever and universal and hope they will finally lead to a great success. Fair winds to the crew!”

Thanks Francesco and see you soon!


Arques to Cambrai

I’m back on board.

The leg from Arques to Bethune was completed by Bruno and Francesco Cappelletti, our guest sailor. Fine followed at short distance aboard Serena, the support boat that, so far, is travelling with us.

Bruno and Fine are doing their best: He’s an extraordinary skipper, knowing every secret of navigation, she drives Serena and is in charge of taking pictures, updating her blog and solving little emergencies.

I joined them in Bethune along with Sandro, a dear friend from Venice that is now our second “sailor for a week” (or even more…)!

Before arriving, in Lille, we  interviewed a few officers from VNF, the company managing the french channels.

We leave from Bethune very early in the morning, heading to Douai: Sandro and I take over from Bruno and Francesco.

We’re waited by a 41 km row under the rain and against the wind! A very hard leg that, however, gives us great satisfaction.


We spend the night in a beautiful Marina before Douai: It’s placed in an artificial basin surrounded by secular plane trees. Here, by chance, we meet a few english sailors, friends of some other people that we had the pleasure to meet in London.

The next day Clodia flies over the water for hours with Sandro and Francesco, at the tiller, aboard.

The “Grand Gabarit”, a canal running from Bethune to Douai, is rather dirty, full of dead fishes and lots of commercial boats raising annoying waves. Fine and Bruno collect two bags full of rubbish: From now on we’ll try to give our contribution to the environment. Thanks to them for this simple yet effective idea.

After 40 km of navigation, we stop for the night in Etrun, close to the access to Saint Quentin canal. We moor in a nice basin illuminated by a mediterranean light. Here we rejoin our new English friends, waiting to offer us plenty of wine and beer. For dinner we have a tasty rice cooked by Sandro. We squeeze aboard Clodia: five people in five metres, we’re strong and happy.

The night is very cold: We wake up amidst a thick fog, that soon vanishes. Just before entering the canal of Saint Quentin, Serena gets stuck in a sandbank and Clodia comes to rescue. Thanksfully Bruno sorts out the question very quickly by using a rope.

Saint Quentin canal is wonderful: There are many locks, but very well organised. Passing is easy and fast, I wish I could say the same elsewhere.

In Cambrai, Captain Jean Luc, director of the “Port de Plaisance” grants us free mooring after listening to our story. Every time it happens I’m moved: Thanks Captain!

All people want to talk and sail with us. In the port of Cambrai I carry aboard six mad kids. Douce France indeed.

Tomorrow we’ll take the notorious “Souterrain de Riqueval”, a tunnel 5670 mt long, not aerated. To get through, we rely on the electrical ferry that goes forth and back twice a day: At 9 in the morning and at 5 in the afternoon. My travel mates are fantastic in a very tough condition. We covered 170 km in four days, very little by sail.

See you soon. Giacomo


After hours from Jasmine Lane

The travels of a bottle

“Dear Sir,

Today monday 16 may we found a bottle on the beach with a letter.

We found it, during a evening walk with our dog, at the beach of Dishoek near Vlissingen in Holland. We already visited the website Man on the River and we wish this project a lot of luck. Also thanks for the t-shirt offer.

Good luck, Anita en Ton Pas”

We get this message the 16th of may, very late at night. As soon as possible, we ask Giacomo for information about it, getting to know that midway through the English Channel he had thrown into the sea the evergreen “message in a bottle”! And now it was found in Holland!

In the videos below you can read the letter: the map will help you discover the rather surprising itinerary of the bottle. Last but not least, above left we’re pleased to present the beach where the message was found and Ton and Anita Pas.




Press Room 

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