The Saroche – Luxury has a price!


I’m aboard the 39 meter (127 foot) long barge – the Saroche. And I honestly – I’ve think I’ve landed in the lap of luxury.

The service on the barge is so personal, and so fast that I’m reminded of Goldie Hawn’s line when her butler brings her Cavier in the film ‘Overboard’, “Thank goodness, I almost had to wait”.

This is definitely not your budget holiday trip, but then sometimes it’s fun to be different. We opted for this cruise for several reasons, and it is interesting how close and yet not close it came to matching our expectations.

I should start by explaining that this is not really a cruise. It’s really a barge trip down a series of canals in the Champagne Region of France – the Marne Valley to be exact. And where our expectations and the reality have diverged is really in the Champagne Touring. But I’m getting ahead of my story.

The Saroche is an absolutely lovely boat – low and long, she was purpose built to be a ‘hotel’ barge, and while her history diverted from that at times, it is her basic design. The front of the barge, under the deck where there sits a large Hot Tub, a dining area, and a lounge area, are just three staterooms. This is a trip for a max of 6 passengers – and with 4 crew, it’s easy to imagine why the service is so completely personal. And we are just 4 passengers – one of the couples had to cancel at the last moment, leaving Jason, our host, unable to fill that slot.

Our cabins are glorious. Dawn and Jason spent last winter completely remodeling the cabins – and they now reflect the Art Deco/Art Nouveau theme that Dawn thought would be appealing. Light wood, poster art from 1930, and huge beds and equally large bathrooms make the cabins a haven. I’m particularly fond of the shower in the our bathroom – it has both a rain shower and a hand shower, and plenty of nice hot water. Perfect.

The main cabin, which has the spiral staircase to the upper deck, a large lounge area with a full open bar, two sofas, and a game/library cabinet is quite comfortable. The focus however is on the dining area. Here Dawn with the help of the crew (Sarah, Luther, and occasionally Jason) serves up delightful 4 course meals for lunch and dinner. I’ve never eaten so well, or so often, in my life! Wine glasses are never allowed to be empty, and once they figure out your preference (I love hot water if the weather is nippy), they are fast to be sure that your need is met, before you even have time to think about needing it. “I almost had to wait…”

There is simply nothing that I can say about the food that wouldn’t sound like I’d been drinking the Koolaide. It is outstanding. Jason does his very best to match the food with wines from Vineyards in France, but with less absolute success. His pairings tend to be young wines, and their lack of maturity is often a flaw. But this is a minor quibble. This cruise is not about fine wines (albeit that there were some outstanding wines opened and enjoyed) – it’s about knowledgeable pairings – and in that Jason excels.

The cheese courses are a case in marvellous point. We have a cheese course twice a day for 6 days. And Jason does not repeat a cheese. I will admit that there were cheeses that I could die for (the Comte he served us was the best I’ve ever had), and cheeses I didn’t try (I’m not keen on the Blue Cheeses, and I can’t eat cheese made with goat’s milk, it makes my throat swell), but all in all, the cheese course and the wine pairings that with them were legendary.

Jason did promise us a list of the cheeses and wines – I’m sure it will come by email in a few days – but even holding a list I doubt I could duplicate the experience. The kitchen has a built-in cheese store, so that they are served at the right temperatures – something that has always given me trouble at home.

Each night finds us moored at a different location along the Marne Valley Canal system, enjoying a late dinner. Each morning finds us either moving at a snail’s pace down a canal or through a lock, or sometimes taking a day trip into the surrounding area.

While I loved the relaxed pace of the cruises – not really a snail’s pace as much as a walking pace – it was the side trips that I found truly interesting.

We visited a little known battlefield from World War I – La Main de Massiges. This labyrinth of trenches laid buried for years until it was unearthed and an association started (only in 2008) to keep it open, accessible, and properly signed. For an in-depth description of the place (in French – sorry) – do click here. Our visit was made even more interesting by about 20 WWI re-enactors who were there to film a movie about the involvement of soldiers from the Czech Republic. It was unworldly to walk thru the trenches, knowing that just around any corner one might run into soldiers doing their level best to be period correct.

For me, as much as I dislike visiting battlefields in general, this visit was a highlight.

Another outstanding exploration was to the Eisenhower War Rooms – a small museum in Reims that was the actual site where the treaty ending WWII was signed. It was signed again the next day in Berlin because the Russians wanted it to be officially signed there – but here in this tiny room, in this now lovely town – but at the time heavily bombed battlefield – the treaty was signed. It is hard not to find the room strangely inspiring, and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see the then movers and shakers gathering to end the war.

I also loved the visit to chocolatier Thibault. It’s a lot of fun to make praline filled chocolate champagne corks – although the very best part was the wrapping machine. I’m such a techy! I really loved the tasting as well – there’s is simply nothing wrong with chocolate – particularly good chocolate.

Bottom line – I loved aspects of our cruise. I enjoyed the company of our new friends, I totally relaxed in the hot tub in the afternoons as the glorious scenery glided by, and I ate way to well, and way to much. I think for me, a week of ‘relaxing’ is too long. I was itching to get going again, but that’s a personal problem. And I definitely think that Dawn, Jason, and their crew deliver on their promise – you are indeed in the lap of luxury for a week.

Signing off to enjoy Museum Night in Paris – Muse d’Orsey here I come! The Soup Lady.

The Ins and Outs of Lisboa (Lisbon)


Truthfully – this ought to be entitled the ups and downs of Lisbon. I’ve never ever been in a city where there were quite so many hills. And sometimes there are hills on hills – so you go up and then down and then up. Then it’s down again, no – up.

Even on our tiny street there are both up, down and flat sections, and our AirBnB is built into the side of a down slope – so while we enter on the flat – and walk straight into the bedroom (except for the dodge around the down staircase), the bedroom is hanging at least 20 feet above the garden in the back. That’s a lot of vertical drop in just 20 feet of so. And it’s fairly typical. Every where we went there were hills – some seriously steep (45 degree angle maybe), and some just – well – hilly for the sake of being hills. We even found alleyways with stair rails, to help folks navigate the paths when it rains and the stones get very very slippery.

Victor’s hip is getting quite the work out here, and our plans really aren’t very extensive. We aren’t planing on any museums, or even any touring. Our goal is to relax, eat, and leave.

Naturally – I’m not that keen on the do nothing idea, and convince Victor to spend at least one day touring Lisbon. I’d heard that the area near the Castle of Sao Jorge is very interesting, and that riding the ‘tourist’ trolley is fun. We pick one day to do both, and it’s ok as an adventure. Getting onto the trolley isn’t easy, there are lines of tourists everywhere, and Victor is a gentleman. He quickly gives up his seat to ladies who board the trolly after us (He’s the only guy that does – all the rest just pretend not to notice that there are ladies standing in the aisles). But this means that he’s standing for the entire ride – can’t enjoy the view, and of course he’s in pain.

We get off the trolley, walk – up hill – thru the area where Fado- the music of Lisbon- originated, and finally arrive at the castle. The mob scene that greets us is incredible. There are tourists and shops selling tourist junk everywhere. Victor announces that he’s not waiting in lines like that to see a Castle, and after spending at least an hour and half just to get up the hill, we promptly walk back down and out the Castle Gates.

Not only is the touring not going well, with the minor exception of those lovely egg custard tarts (Nata Tarts), and a few restaurants that we’ve lucked into like the Suckling Pig and the Seafood Restaurant, generally food here in Portugal has been disappointing. So not great food, iffy weather, and hills – Lisbon is not putting on her pretty face for us.

Victor decides that out annoyance with the food is due to the nature of Portuguese food – it’s comfort food at the end of a long working day, not elegant cuisine. And in Lisbon, this has turned out to be quite true. Our best meals were either Italian (Ill Covo) or the simplest of local grilled chicken and steak places. I must admit that I love the Cafe aux Lait that I’ve been enjoying every morning, and there’s a lovely pastry shop near our AirBnB that offers great toasted almond pies that I simply adore. Victor’s needs for breakfast are much simpler, he just goes for coffee – so the fact that the quality of the pastry is extraordinary doesn’t do much to impress him.

I do find one winner of a museum/touring location – the Palace of Queluz. It’s highly reviewed in Tripadvisor, and when we get there, uncrowded. And to boot – it’s been frozen in time to 1807 – when the Portuguese Royal Family left Lisbon for Brazil out of fear of the fast approaching armies of Napoleon. They packed up everything in the castle – spent the next 14 years in Brazil, and then when things had stabilized in Europe after Napoleon’s exile to St. Helena, came back with boats filled with all the stuff they had taken when they left.

So the current Palace absolutely dates from our period in history – and is perfect. The excellent audio tour, coupled with great signage in English makes it easy to tour the Palace and it’s glorious gardens. We spend almost 1/2 a day here – and think it a highlight of our visit to Lisbon. In a modern part that has been added on is an Equestrian Library – and there are books dating back 200 years on how to do Calvary movements. Victor is thrilled – and I admit to thinking the Palace is quite quite lovely.

Our day ends with an OK dinner – I think we are going to officially give up on trying to find upscale Portuguese cuisine and another late night. When dinner starts at 8:00 – and takes 3 hours – well, you do the math. You are not getting to bed early – that’s for sure.

Our last day in Lisbon arrives, and honestly, we’re kinda glad to go. We did do a bit of fun shopping, I found a lovely lace store and have more treasures to give my dressmaker, and we toured – but didn’t buy anything – in a kitchen shop of chefs. I think we should have gotten one of the lovely copper pots that are so popular here – but we remember that we are downsizing, and while copper looks good, it does require cleaning.

Our Uber trip to the airport goes flawlessly – and costs only 10 Euros. Quite the deal after the 25 Euros it took to get from the airport to our Air BnB after we dropped off the car. I’m positive he went the wrong way, but what can you do. We fly from Lisbon to Paris in one of those inexpensive flights, and Uber into Paris for the night.

Our lodging in Paris is a darling 2 star hotel called the Londres St. Honore and it’s right near the Louvre. I know what I’m doing tomorrow – I’m going to the Museum.

Bed at last – Tomorrow we will ‘Musee’, then get picked up to start our Champagne Cruise. Signing off in hopes of a good nights sleep… The Soup Lady

Coolest Milking Machine Ever


I know – I’m jumping around – but this machine was amazing.

I’m actually in France (my blog posts are a bit behind) and by accident – pure accident – we visited a dairy farm here in the Champagne Area of France.

Driving back from visiting a battle field (more on that later), I spotted a field of white plastic. I’d never seen anything like it before – so I asked our lovely driver Jason (you’ll learn more about Jason later) if he could get us closer. Since it is Asparagus season here in France, I figured they were growing white Asparagus – and I’d never seen it. He kindly drove off the road, down what should only be driven by a 4 wheel drive tractor, and we ended up right along side this giant area planted with white plastic

Under the plastic was what appeared to be corn – not asparagus. Hmm. What actually is this? Why would any farmer cover corn with plastic? But it sure looked like corn. Definitely puzzled, we exited the tractor path, and turned right, back towards the main room and the farm. As we passed the farm – I spotted the farmer – and suggested (ok – maybe I kinda made it a strong request) that we stop and ask.

Again – Jason kindly followed my advice, and stopped. He got out, and an animated conversation occurred. Ending with an invite by the farmer to come and see something amazing.

Translating – Jason explains that yes – it is corn, and yes – it’s under plastic. The plastic is bio-degradable, and protects the corn when it is young. The soil here in this area of France is perfect for growing wine, but not so great for growing corn. Not enough moisture, too much hot sun. So the farmer has been using this special plastic for years. It keeps the moisture on/around the young plants, and as they grow, it degrades into the soil without impact. Good for the corn, easy on the farmer! He then uses it to feed his herd of 75 diary cows all winter.

But what he wants to show us is not how he puts down the plastic – it is how he milks the cows! As we walk towards the milking room – he tells us that he runs his farm – 250 to 350 acres of land plus 75 diary cows by himself with his wife and 18 year old son. And he has enough spare time to be the regional mayor. How does he do this… Well – come and see.

The five of us get out of the car, and walk into the milking area to see – a Robot. A Milking Robot. In fact – even feeding the cows is done by Robots. This is a farm of the future.

Every cow wears two transponders in their ears. The information in the transponders tells the Robot the size of the cow, the location of the udders, the time the cow last went to the feed lot, the time the cow was last milked, the quality of the milk the cow last produced, and the quantity!

When the cow feels like being milked, the cow gets up, and walks herself into the milking station. If she’s due to be milked (only once every 5.5 hours or more), the machine lets her stay in the milking station, closes the front door to hold her in place, puts some high protein feed pellets into a dish for her to enjoy while being milked, and then the robot springs into life. It already knows the size of the cow, so it just has to locate the teats on the udder, and then it sanitizes them and places the milking tubes onto the teats.

This is done by laser. The robot arm moves up and down and around the udder – finding the teats, washing them, and finally – using the milking tubes, milks the cow! And the cow looks like she enjoys it! She certainly seemed happy to walk in – and just as happily walks out again when the robot judges the milking complete. The milk is then tested for quality – and quantity, recorded for the next time, and routed either into the holding tank for pick-up, or if not judged good enough, re-routed for feeding the baby cows.

What about feeding the cows? In the same area is a large (cow sized) gate. A different robot scans the transponder on the cow, and decides if the cow should be fed, or should be milked. If the cow should be fed – the gate to the feed lot opens, and the cow continues her merry way. If she is due for milking, the gate doesn’t open, and the cow – on her own – realizes that she needs to get milked first. So she toddles over to the milking robot. Once that’s done – she walks herself into the feed lot (and the gate knows to open).

It’s an almost totally human free dairy farm. The farmer explains that if something goes wrong, he is notified by cell phone to come and fix it.

He also explains that it takes about 3 days for a ‘new’ cow to get measured by the robot, and used to the process. It easier with the cows he raises, but even if he has to buy a cow, the process is much faster and much easier on the cows than you can imagine.

He tells us that the cows are so much happier with this new system. And happy cows make better (and more) milk.

And his life is amazingly easier. He doesn’t have to come every day at 6:00 AM to do the first round of milking, he doesn’t even have to come to the farm all day if he wants. He still has the mucking out to do – but even most of that has been automated. When the cow is in the milking machine, any ‘waste’ is captured by underground tanks, to be recycled as appropriate. All the cow pies are dried and used for bedding for the cows (they are totally vegetarian remember), the urine is separated, and don’t bother asking – I have no idea what happens to it!

We stayed long enough to watch two cows decide it was time to get milked – one of whom tried to get fed first, so we even saw her refused by the feed gate.

The farmer and his wife even explain the basics of dairy herd management to us – Cows have to get pregnant to keep lactating, he sells the male offspring at 14 days to farms that raise meat cattle, and keeps the female offspring until they go into heat to see if they will make good dairy cows. About 30% of his herd is either too young, pregnant or just having given birth to be milked. That brings him down to the 60 or so cows that his one robot can handle in one day.

We are completely amazed – and of course I had to look up Robot Milking Machines on google – here’s a link that’s very interesting, and surprisingly up to date:

Robotic Milking Machines Explained

Signing off to have a cafe au Lait – with a deeper appreciation of where my milk comes from – The Soup Lady

Roissey en France – More than just a Transit Stop


I adore walking around small towns in France – the cobbled streets, the ever present gardens, the tiny shops selling interesting things – it’s just plain fun.

So the Intrepid Traveller and I decided to schedule our trip to Berlin so that we had almost a full day – plus a full night – in Roissey. It’s about 45 minutes by train from Paris – and seconds from Charles De Gaul Airport. Planes fly overhead morning, noon, and night – carrying people to and from just about everywhere in the world. In order to cater to their needs – Roissey en France grew from a tiny village occupied with farming to the Hotel packed destination it is today. But city planners have worked hard to keep the millions of tourists at bay.

The hotels that surround Roissey have clearly been zoned away from the traditional city center – you can see the ‘ring’ road on the map – and all modern development is prevented from corrupting the traditional city center.

The Roissey Department of Tourism has worked hard to make sure that visitors understand the age of the city – and there are wonderful old pictures – dating from 1905 and 1910 that show buildings that still exist – in all their former glory. We walked from huge plaque to huge plaque – identifying the pictured buildings – and admiring the elaborate dress of the country folk who posed so proudly next to their drug stores, post office, or the Marie. Even the original schools are still proudly in use – dating from before 1905. It’s easy to compare the pictures – with their stern looking teachers and stiff postured students – with the present buildings with their modern renovations.

Our wanderings included visits to the 2 local ‘depaneur’s’ or grocery stores. I needed a toothbrush, forgotten at home during the rush of last minute packing, and besides – these are fun to visit.

Tiny, cramped, with products stacked from the floor to the ceiling – they featured ‘Made in France’ products – a huge fridge full of French Cheeses – and an elaborate selection of French wine (starting price – 2 Euros or $2.65 Canadian). I loved the cookie isle, although fortunately the Intrepid Traveller was there to restrain me. You can’t eat what you don’t buy – so we settled on a fairly larger slice of Brie du Meaux and a Camenbert. We’ll visit the pastery store for bread tomorrow before flying out.

The wonderful thing about small towns in France are the attention paid to common spaces – and Roissey is filled with gardens that are supported by locals and open to the public. We toured the cemetary with it’s war memorial (Roissey was the site of much resistance fighting during World War I), checked out the local Sports facility – soccor field, Boules Courts (18 folks were playing in this area – without benefit of lines or boxes – how they kept from forgetting whose Boule was whose’s – I’ll never know), Play ground, Tennis field, Outdoor Swimming Pool, and community garden. The lilac’s were in bloom, the air fresh, and the walking lovely. Such a pleasure.

Naturally each hotel on the ring road made an effort to keep their clientele’s money safely in their hands – so each hotel offered a bar and a restaurant featuring pretty pedestrian fare – at very high prices. Not our thing – so we went looking for something more local. And not surprisingly – found plenty of options – running from outdoor pizza parlors to sushi and a surprisingly upscale place featuring foie gras and local game! We opted for the tiny, but charming Aux Trois Gourmounds.

Our Dinner at this local Creperie featured a jug of Red Cider (made from local Red Apples), a ‘dinner’ crepe stuffed with steamed potatoes, roasted onions, and lardons and served with a dollop of Creme Fresh, and dessert crepes – Nature with just Sugar. Oh it was delightful and in our price range – under 20 euro for 2.

Best of all – that night there was a free Schubert Festival – Piano, Full 50 people Choir, mini orchestra, Clarinet, etc. It was being held in the local Church d’Eloi – built in 1655 and a gem of that style even today, and we felt that was a must attend. It was delightful – particularly the Mass with a wonderfully full throated Soprano in the main role. Lovely. The church was packed – we suspect mostly friends and family of the performers. The effort was outstanding, the music delightful.

Tomorrow is a travel day – we need to get from Charles de Gaul to Orly – and from Orly to Berlin. Fortunately, both the hotel and the department of Tourism in Roissey agreed on the easiest way to do this.

Take the free shuttle back to Terminal 2E. Walk to Terminal 2F, exit 8. Find the correct bus stop – and board the Air France Airport Shuttle to Orly. Cost of the bus – 21 Euro per person. Travel time on the Bus 1 hour and 15 minutes. Piece of cake!

So up at 7:00 – Delicious breakfast (french croissants and all the coffee I could drink), then a quick walk to the village to buy bread and check out the 4 stall farmers market. There was a cheese truck with probably 100 different cheeses, a vegetable/fruit stand where we bought vine ripe Breton tomatoes that smelled of summer, a meat stand selling uncooked Chickens, Ducks and Foie Gras, and a Rotisserie Truck.

I found that truck the most interesting. There was a large rotisserie machine built into the truck – electric – with chicken’s roasting. In front was a display stand with the cooked chicken parts on sale. It really looked (and smelled) lovely.

Trip to Orly was uneventful, boarding Easy Jet almost boring in it’s predictablity – and now we’re on our way to Berlin.

Signing off for the landing at Schonnefield…. The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveller.

Turn to the Left – a whole New Way of Travelling


I never travel business or first class. Never. But I’m going to Bali – and it’s 35 hours of travel there – and 25 hours back. Total – 60 hours.

That’s a lot of flight time for one little lady travelling alone. So when I booked my tickets – I looked at something I never even think of looking at – the difference in price between economy and business class. It was $1000. Round Trip. They were having a huge sale.

So $1000 for 60 hours is $16.67. What could they give me to be worth $16.67 an hour? Well it turns out that they are going to give me a bed. A bed. And not just one bed – two beds each way. And that’s not all – buy now and we’ll give you nicer food, a bigger seat, friendlier more personalized service, 2 bags free, priority access to the check-in counter, and guarenteed seats (which it turns out is not so guarenteed actually).

How could a bargain hunting senior possibly resist such an offer.

So – here I am – sitting in the Air France lounge in the Montral airport – snacking on their delicious food – fine cheese, proper nut bread, quiches, salad, biscotti (oh – I love biscotti), chocolates from Italy, unlimited drinks from canned Perrier to bottle water to wine and beer – although I’m not going to imbide any of the alcoholic suggestions – I know from previous flying experience that’s not a good plan.

They just announced that my flight is on time – but not to worry – when it’s time for us to board, they will make another announcement – meanwhile just relax and enjoy the lounge.

Oh man – I’m relaxing – and enjoying – and getting another biscotti!

About that guaranteed seating – I booked back in the spring of 2014 – and at the time I used Seat Guru.com – great site – to pick out the very best seats. I’m not a fan of bulkhead seats – I need something under my short legs to keep my feet flat – and I definitely don’t want to be near the toilets – or the gallery. So I carefully picked window seats that would be perfect.

Imagine my surprise to discover when I checked in yesterday that Air France had switched planes on me (not a bad thing – I’m getting their brand new upgraded business class experience) – but because I booked early – they gave me consistently bulk head seats! And naturally – there are not nearly as many options now as there where when I booked. So for the seriously long leg of this journey – the flight from Paris to Singapore – I’m in a middle row – no window. But in the image – it looks like one of the privacy booths – I’ll let you know as soon as I know.

Oh – my flight plans – Montreal to Paris – 8 hours in Paris (asleep – I can’t sleep on airplanes), then Paris to Singapore, then Singapore to Bali. Return trip is the reverse – without the long stay in Paris.

Can’t wait to turn to the left – Signing off so she’s really ready to enjoy this brand new adventure – The Soup Lady

Re-enactment 101


Why would anyone dress up like a solider – march around for 3 days – and go back for more.

Excellent question. And this time – we are doing 2 re-enactments. First we’ll re-enact the Quatre Victories in Montmirail, France. Then we’ll journey to Elba to celebrate Napoleon’s arrival on the Island – not so good for him – but great for Elba.

But first Montmirail. Instead of doing one battle each day in each or the Quatre Victories locations – we’ll do 2 battles in 2 days – both on just one battle field, the Montmirail-Marchais.

But first – we must arrive, find our friends, set-up a tent, get started. It turns out that Victor is well-known by almost everyone – including the Emperor. We barely walk 20 paces before people recognize Victor and rush over to say hi.

For this re-enactment – Vic is going as Marin de la Guarde and I’m a doctor. Not a very high-ranking doctor – a low-level doctor, who has just graduated. My uniform is perfect for this role – and it gives me the opportunity to march with the troops, provide them with water, tend to the ‘wounded’, and move among both enemy. Which is why I’ve been shot at several times by my own troops. Nice guys, eh? Don’t they know a doctor when they see one?

We’re bivouacked with the other Marin – who are staying with the Grognards de Fontainebleau. And we are on the right flank of the Emperor’s tent. Which means we get to watch him (in civilian dress – actually combat fatigues) – setting up his tent! Naturally – the emperor doesn’t get his feet dirty – once he’s the Emperor. So first thing is to lay down huge carpets to form the ground of the ten and dinning/meeting/combat prep room. In his sleeping area there’s a cot with a leopard skin spread, several of his saddles on display, and various other items, including a wash cabinet. In the ‘Pavilion’ area there is a huge table with chairs bearing the Emperor’s Bee’s – cabinets for holding his silver, candlesticks for light.

The Marin and the Imperial Guard set up guard posts – 15 to 20 minutes on guard when ever the Emperor is in ‘Residence’.

When all is done – the transformation happens – and out from the tent strides the Emperor. Cheers from every corner as he visits each bivouac – troops line up at ‘Gardez Vous’ – and he strolls down the line – commenting here and there on this and that. He remembers Victor from Fountainbleu and singles him out for a comment. He gives the young son of one of our officers a coin with his likeness – and after prompting (this is how it would have happened) – gives a Medal of Honor to one of the troops that displayed great bravery at a previous battle.

More Cheers – and he moves on.

Friday night we eat dinner late, relax around the campfire, visit the tavern (there is always a tavern), and eventually people drift off – some like us to a hotel, others to bed down in tents or even in the open air.

Saturday is the day of the great battle – all day friday and all friday night troops and Calvary and cannon crews have been arriving. The number of re-enactors has grown from one or two, to several hundred, to several thousand. There are well over 100 horses, and I counted over 20 large cannons. But not everything is for us – there are also facilities that have bloomed up overnight for the spectators – and that’s a source of much fun for the re-enactors.

There are several different food vendors – this is France – so the cheese is amazing, there are croissants available to buy – 1/2 price for re-enactors. We spot tents with books on Napoleon, others with antiques (and not so antiques) for sale. Ladies in long gowns, white parasols and long gloves stroll amid soldiers in various uniforms, officers in gold braid, Calvary in all their finery, and the strangely dress tourists!

Bleachers have been built with seats – but standing room only space is the norm, and provides great views of the entire battle field. To the amusement of the growing crowds, the French Line decides to drill in the middle of the space allocated to the viewers. We do our drill in a separate area, and I’m not sure where the allied forces were drilling. Everywhere there is Calvary – and the cannon crews practice their drills.

As a doctor – I’m free to roam – and I watch the cannon crew for a while. Cannons are very very loud – and there’s a ton of smoke released – much to the surprise of a photographer who had gotten up close for a perfect shot. It was perfect ok – until he had to run out of the dense smoke cloud!

Drill complete – we resume camp life – then gather for the muster of the troops prior to the battle.

We don’t really know the plan – we just follow the shoulder pack of the guy in front of us. I spot a collection of Medical men – all French – standing off behind the army. But I greatly prefer to be in the heat of the action, and stand directly behind our troop of around 100 Imperial Guard, made up of Marin, Grenadiers, Moyan Guard and Jeune Guarde. Victor is positioned to the front – and acts as an NCO, repeating orders as the Marshal and Generals and Majors yell them out.

Napoleon canters by with his entourage – to gay cries of Vive L’Emporeur.

For this battle, we are being held in reserve – so while the solders of the line see plenty of action, our involvement is limited. When we finally do charge the enemy – we quickly over-run their lines – and I’m busy helping the wounded – of both sides. I suddenly realize that I’ve become separated from the Imperial Guard. There are soldiers every where – just done of them my ‘team’.

Shoot.

This is awkward.

I search madly for someone – anyone I recognize the uniform of – and eventually spot Rudy marching with the 85th. At least I know for sure they are on ‘our’ side. I march with them off the battle field – relieved to get off the field, and to put down my now depleted supplies of water.

We re-form lines for a final salute – we break ranks to ‘Vive L’Emperour’ – and collapse into our tents, our piles of straw – or head to the tavern. Whew – one battle down, one to go.

Sunday we repeat as above – only this time we start the battle much earlier in the day – around 10:00 am – and thus it is neither so hot – not so ‘touristy’. And this time the guarde is called upon to fight. We rush uphill towards the ‘town’ – firing as we go. We are rushed by Calvary – and form square to defend ourselves. As the doctor, I’m ‘smushed’ into the middle of the square – unable to see much besides the heads of the horsemen as they gallop around our outward facing bayonets.

At the town, we rescue the townsfolk, and defend the town. We even take over several cannon positions  – it’s really hard to move a cannon quickly. I minister to the wounded – narrowly avoiding being shot by my own troops again. I heard the command to load the muskets this time – and fled before they could fire. Whew.

The battle continues, boiling down the hill of long grasses towards the bleachers – until the Marshal’s call for a cease-fire. When I finally catch up to the Guarde – Victor proudly shows me his saber – nicked in battle with a Prussian who was up for a bit of a fight.

Eventually we march off the field, dismantle the camps, and head back to the hotel for a very much-needed bath and shower.

Success was ours today!