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The Article

What an author had to say after visiting my barge in Paris

Ex Cargo

Moving home at a snail’s pace 

Kevin’s dream of building a new life was finally realised aboard a 1922 ex cargo barge cruising the waterways of France. JAMES RIVERS reports on how the idea unfolded.

Moored right under Paris’s Eiffel tower, Barge the barge occupied an enviable city centre location. Her proud 43-year-old skipper, Kevin explained how he came to be there. His decision to sell up and move overseas had roots in Thatcherite Britain. On Christmas day 1989 the family turkey wasn’t the only thing being stuffed. With an over filled rucksack, Kevin had readied himself for a serious bout of round the world travel.

That initial trip had taken two years to complete, but succeeded only in making him ever more restless. “After diving in Papua New guinea and circumnavigating Australia in a beaten up camper van, Britain seemed rather dull when I got back” he says. Short spells of work provided the means for further trips into Asia but as the eighties gave way to the millennium, Kevin found he’d spent so much time wandering the globe, his CV contained more holes than a piece of Emmental. Things had to change, so retreating to India, nine months on a Goan beach provided all the inspiration he needed. By selling his house and worldly possessions, he found himself with nothing more than a clapped out Peugeot 205 and modest wad sitting in the bank “It was a fantastic moment and real opportunity to completely start afresh” he told me.

Kevin had never owned a boat before. For someone who hated spinach as much as he did, buying an antique sea-going barge in Holland might have seemed foolhardy at best and certifiable at worst. After months of fruitless searching, almost by accident, he came upon the barge of his dreams. “The minute I set eyes on Vitesse it was love at first sight. Feeling certain there must have been some mistake, I remember waving the owner aboard while I ‘phoned the broker. I was convinced that he’d either got the price wrong or that I wasn’t looking at the right barge”.

Originally named ‘Jannetje’, she was launched in Woubrugge, Holland on 29th August 1922. Renamed Vitesse and moved to Belgium in ’37, together with many hundreds of other barges she had been requisitioned by Germany’s Nazi government for the planned invasion of southern England. After the war, she got repatriated and was still owned by descendents of the family who’d originally commissioned her.  

Within two weeks, all 82-tonnes of Vitesse had been lifted from the water, thoroughly surveyed and after some minor repairs, found herself with a new owner, proudly flying a red ensign and enjoying the new name, ‘the barge’. “The name change reflected so many happy years spent travelling through India. While researching this madcap idea, the goal I’d set myself had been to somehow create a little piece of heaven in the heart of France. the barge means heaven in Sanskrit.”

Purchasing the barge was just the beginning. Owning, maintaining and cruising an ancient eighty by fourteen foot leviathan with a 1950’s engine required acquisition of vast amounts of knowledge covering a huge range of subjects. “It was total immersion therapy but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Talk about jumping in at the deep end”, Kevin laughed as he told me.

During the next two years and determined to reach his goal, Kevin completely rebuilt the barge’s interior and systems. Three double cabins each with en-suite bathroom, spacious dining saloon, well-equipped galley, generator and engine rooms, workshop, and comfortable wheelhouse. “It’s been bloody hard work particularly for someone who used to have to pay to get a light bulb changed,” he quipped as he guided me round the barge’s wonderful interior.

It wasn’t all work and no play. Amazingly Kevin found time to gain qualifications necessary for piloting such a large craft safely. Kevin, the barge and his full time crew Josef, have since clocked up over 3500 problem free kilometres and transited in the region of eight hundred locks. “the barge handles like a dream and as long as you take things slowly, piloting her is much easier than you might think. Tunnels require a lot of concentration because you’ve got little room to maneuver and on occasions her wheelhouse gets perilously close to the rough-hewn roof. It can get pretty exciting sometimes”.

With much of the hard work behind him, Kevin can now focus on more enjoyable aspects of barge ownership. Allowing him to combine a love of cooking, fine wine, entertaining and exploration, the barge provides the perfect base from which to discover the very best France has to offer and those possibilities are limited only by his imagination.

Kevin has the enviable ability to change direction at a whim, the views from his windows every day, moor against Mediterranean beaches in summer, pick grapes in Burgundy in the autumn or moor in the heart in some of Europe’s finest cities. The freedom offered by France’s stunning, mostly deserted water highways satisfies the nomad in him while at the same time allowing him to extend a warm welcome aboard to friends old and new. “It’s all about stress free living, fresh air, dining al fresco, soaking up the natural surroundings and taking things slowly. Very slowly! Location, location, after location!” He has a point. 

the barge has proven to be Kevin’s biggest adventure to date and at just 43 years of age he’s achieved an independence most of us can only dream about. During the winter months, he can be found exploring undiscovered parts of his much loved spiritual home of Asia.

Just before I disembarked, Kevin showed me a picture he’d taken during the summer. the barge was beautifully photographed in bright sunlight, cascading pots of red geraniums, blue skies behind, happy healthy people populating the deck, each with a glass of wine in hand and gazing out across undeniably French landscapes. I could only agree that Barge the barge really was ‘Heaven’ in the heart of France.

 

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INFORMAL AFFORDABLE BARGE CRUISES

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Charleville Mezieres to Reims Canal des Ardennes Barge cruise

How to contact Barge the barge

Charleville Mezieres to Verdun Barge Cruise through the Ardennes

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Cycling and barge holidays in France

Help Crewing aboard a Dutch barge in France

Tailor made bespoke barge cruises on the canals of France

Dinant to Charleville-Mezieres Barge Cruise up the river Meuse

Barge cruises Disabled access

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bustle and stress of the modern world. Each and every week, the barge offers her guest crew uniquely informal opportunities to experience an eighty two ton ex commercial cargo barge cruising through bea 

Laundry Facilities aboard Barge the barge

Leaving after your barge cruise aboard the barge

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Classic Burgundy barge cruise Dijon to Vandenesse en Auxois

Beautiful stretches of some of Europe's most wonderful waterways. We return to Champagne through the intensely rural Canal des Ardennes before plunging south through the Vosges to Franche-Comte and our exploration of the wine and food lovers paradise, Burgundy. 

the barge's  voyage of discovery continues in 2007, cruising Alsace-Lorraine including the magnificent cities of Strasbourg and Nancy and revisiting the magical River Meuse through the Ardennes to Belgium. 

Oodles of new places to discover, regional cheeses to savour and an abundance of new wines to taste.

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Soak up some seriously slow cruising, far from the madding crowd, aboard a classic 1922 luxemotor barge and my comfortable home the barge.

Join her never-ending voyage of discovery through the river and canal navigations of France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and enjoy helping move a beautiful, historic barge through a small part of the extensive waterways of Europe. 

Barge the barge, the barge, Heaven in the heart of France

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Barging in France, burgundy canal, barge, Informal, fun, hands on barge cruising is what it's all about and although its preferable to muck in to get the best from the experience, there will be loads of time to relax as well. 

Joining the barge as guest crew makes you an active part of the team. You'll need to be reasonably fit and able but above all willing to participate in all aspects of shipboard life.

This might include shopping for food at local markets, cycling off to find fresh baguettes and croissants for breakfast, assisting in the galley, tidying up, helping work the barge through locks, navigation, steering, and most importantly, telling the captain where to go....  

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You'll need to participate, make your own bed, have an open mind, great sense of humour and accept that things can and will go pear shaped sometimes. If you arrive aboard the barge with a positive mindset, you will quite simply have the time of your life.

Once aboard, I hope to indulge you in my passion for global travel, Belgian beer, local wine, tasty regional cuisine and soaking up the ever-changing landscapes that glide ever so gently past the barge.

the barge offers most of the comforts of a home away from your home. Her two cosy cabins can be arranged as either twin or double and both have private en-suite shower rooms. She has a spacious saloon with big panoramic windows offering great views, day or night plus a well-equipped galley. 

Best of all, the barge can only accommodate a maximum of four-guest crew so if you book as a group of four, it'll be a little like having your own private barge... 

It's important to remember that the barge is not a hotel barge. Contributions from guests provide for day to day running and most importantly, the large maintenance fund keeping my 88 year old, 82-ton barge afloat! 

Don't hesitate to get in touch if I can be of any further assistance. New photographs, links and information are being added to this site all the time and if you subscribe to the email newsletter, I'll periodically let you know what's happening.

Barge the barge is my wonderful cruising home and I welcome you to her unreservedly. They say that you only regret the things you failed to do in life?  Just imagine that adventure you've yet to have...

the barge was built in 1922 with dimensions of 24 metres by 4.25 metres. Her height above the water is 3.3 metres and depth below just 1.2 metres. She weighs in at a cool 82 tonnes and although throwing the occasional "wobbly", for the most part handles like a dream.

Much like a house, the barge has 230 volt electricity, flush toilets, oil central heating, gas cooker, microwave, washer, dryer, satellite TV, in fact all the mod cons. The main difference is that being a floating home, the barge has to provide for all the power generation and water needs herself. You quickly learn to be economical with how much power and water you use in order to sever the umbilical chord that otherwise ties you to ports or harbours. 

Being economical allows the freedom to moor pretty much where and whenever you like, for long periods, no matter how remote that location might be.

People pay vast sums for lake or riverside properties with views of the water. the barge beats them at their own game. It's actually on it and can change its view at a moments notice!

The name 'the barge' means 'Heaven' in the Indian Sanskrit language. Having spent many moons traveling throughout the Indian subcontinent, the dream of creating my own personal heaven was finally realised aboard a 1922 ex cargo barge cruising the waterways of Europe. Barge the barge really is 'Heaven' in the heart of France....

She was launched on 29th August 1922 as the motorschip "Jannetje". As was common at the time, she was named after the owners’ wife and constructed by the reputable ship builders, Boot de Woubrugge in Holland.

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Originally built with the now classic 26 horsepower Kromhout "Oliemotor" or medium pressure heavy oil engine, it functioned well for nearly forty years before being replaced by the present "modern" 5 litre Mercedes 321 in the early 1960's.

Jannetje was lengthened in 1927 in order to carry more cargo and carried stront around Friesland and the Ijjselmeer region of the Netherlands until 1937, when she was relocated to the major port city of Antwerp in Belgium. 

Renamed "Vitesse" on 9th September 1937, she continued carrying cargo in Belgium until the Second World War intervened. 

Along with many hundreds of other barges, Vitesse was requisitioned by Germany's Nazi government for the planned invasion of southern England or "Operation Sea lion" as it was to be known. The best thing about living on a barge is that you can have a different view from the windows each and every day if you wish. You can moor quite near the Alps for skiing in winter or next to the Mediterranean for swimming and beaches in summer. You can moor in totally remote countryside or in the centre of many great cities right on the doorstep of all the attractions. A barge offers a giant mobile home par extraordinaire that can economically tootle up and down the stunning and mostly deserted water highways of Europe. 

Thankfully, Operation Sea lion never took place and she survived the war, eventually being returned to her owner by the General authorised for the Dutch reconstruction department in Rotterdam. Since the purchase, I have immersed myself in the world of barges, bilges, barging, engines, electrics, plumbing, inverters, sea cocks and generators to name but a very few of the vast number of things you have to learn about. It has been a wonderful experience and character building education at the same time. 

Vacations Canal France Boat Charter Burgundy Tours French Barge Cruises Vacations Canal France Boat Charter Bargeing Cruising Canaling Boating Chartering Barger Cruiser continental waterway, barging in France, water, st. jean de losne, saint jean de losne, Bourgogne, barge, canal, canals, France, barging, French, barges, hotel barge in France, french Vitesse was retired from commercial work in the early 1980's because her size and capacity no longer made her commercially viable.

She escaped being scrapped due to the quite exceptional condition of her incredibly strong, close chined, riveted steel hull and beautiful counter stern and was converted into comfortable living accommodation which provided a cosy, permanently moored home until 2004 when I came upon her in Drachten in the Netherlands. 

Luckily for me, her owner had fastidiously maintained Vitesse's mechanics, which were in excellent condition considering that the barge had moved no more that one hundred miles in the previous twenty years.

It really was love at first sight and within two weeks I had Vitesse lifted from the water, a thorough survey carried out on her hull, some minor plating work done and signed on the dotted line in Groningen.

She was renamed "the barge" on the full moon of October 2004. The name "the barge" simply meaning, "Heaven" in the Indian Sanskrit language. After so many years spent in India, I had now found my personal Heaven.

Within days of purchase I started cruising her around while at the same time taking training that would lead to the qualifications necessary to pilot such a large craft safely. At the same time I commenced the almost total reconstruction of her interior and systems. Some of that work was completed during winter 2004 and in May 2005 I waved goodbye to my winter home of Wartena in Friesland and cast off for France. The real adventure was only beginning... Winter 2005 saw completion of the barge's interior, forward of the wheelhouse. This winter I plan on updating her wheelhouse and stern crew quarters.

Barge the barge's wheelhouse offers a tremendous vantage point from which to watch the world go by. 

This all-important room provides 360-degree views aiding safe navigation as well as housing the controls that navigate the barge.

Immediately below the wheelhouse lies the 'heart' of our beast. A 5.1 litre, six cylinder 1950's Mercedes diesel engine which throbs away and propels our vessel at a hair rustling six kilometres per hour! If, unlike me, you are lucky enough to still have any!

To say that the wheelhouse is 'pivotal' to the operation of Barge the barge would be an understatement. The whole 24-metre ship quite literally 'pivots' on a point directly below it. the barge's bright airy saloon doubles up as a wonderful dining room and comfortable lounge area all in one. Four large windows provide constantly changing panoramas of the world outside both by day and by night.

When turning clockwise (her preferred turning direction), the barge rotates in exactly her own length, with the pivot point being right under her huge steering wheel. 

Her steering is surprisingly precise, responsive and provided by a cog, chain and cable arrangement linking the wheel directly with the huge rudder five metres astern.

the barge's multi purpose wheelhouse allows year round use as a 'second saloon'. Its central heating enabling T-shirts to be worn on even bitterest of winter nights. Minus thirteen so far this winter...

The wheelhouse is comfortably furnished, creatively lit and has a stereo system suitable for being coupled up to an IPod or mp3 player. A well-stocked fruit bowl is always present offering healthy snacks at any time of day or night.

Well-stocked bookshelves contain a good selection of reading matter and you are most welcome to donate any books you finish to our ever-growing onboard library.

The centrally heated room is creatively lit and full of plants and vases of fresh flowers that bring the scents and feel of the outdoors in.

Our multi purpose dining table can seat up to six for cosy dinners aboard and a corner cabinet contains the barge's second fridge in which you can store beer, white wine, soft drinks and juices.

We have a stereo music system that can be coupled up your mp3 player or play any CDs you might bring with you. The satellite TV system works only where and when we can get a clear signal from the satellite. If so we can receive BBC 1-4, ITV 1-4, CNN and more shopping channels you can wave a stick at.

the barge has a well-equipped modern galley complete with espresso machine, microwave and food processor. 

The gas oven, grill and four ring hob is perfect for rustling up your own self catered dinner aboard and the double sink offering a spacious facility for the washing up after it!

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Contents

Building a Dutch Barge Conversion of a Barge
Burgundy Alsace Lorraine and the Ardennes Barge Vacations Conversion of a Dutch Barge
Buy a Dutch Barge for France Conversion of a luxemotor barge
Buying a Barge in Holland Converting a 1922 Dutch Barge as a live aboard cruising home
Buying a Dutch barge Converting a Dutch Barge
Converting a luxemotor barge

The galley is a small but very functional, well-designed area overlooking the barges saloon. It also has a large separating hatch for when the aromas get a bit too appetising prior to the meal. This hatch also allows the crew to stealthily prepare the breakfast things after you've slipped off to bed!

'Vitesse' is one of the barge's two en-suite cabins and can be made up in either twin or double arrangement. It enjoys good natural light and has a lot of stained pine woodwork. The cabin has slightly restricted headroom on the way in and over the head of the bed/s.

The walls contain prints by the Indian artist Ravi Varma and come from the southern state of Kerala.

Vitesse has a large opening glass roof hatch and two opening portholes.

There are wicker drawers for storage plus a wardrobe with hanging space. When the cabin is arranged as a twin, both under bed spaces become useable providing additional storage if needed.

Linen and towels are provided and the cabin comes complete with electric fan, hairdryer and plenty of 230-volt European style power sockets. 

The 'Vitesse' stateroom takes the barge's second name that she was given when transferring to work in Belgium from Holland in 1937.

Vitesse has an ensuite shower room accessed by a private door from the cabin.

The shower room has a large window, extractor fan, is spacious, bright and finished in a natural wood, cork and neutral colour scheme. 

There is a large mirror, full size pedestal sink, electric flushing toilet and full size ceramic shower tray with thermostatically controlled shower unit. 

The bow bench is a great place to sit and watch the world as you slowly float through it.

Enjoy a 'cuppa', read a book, get out the binoculars, the choice is yours. It's easily the preferred spot while cruising!

If the weather's good we'll often take breakfast, lunch and possibly even our evening meal 'al fresco' on the bow bench.  It's a great location for that star or candlelit dinner!

the barge's bow bench can seat up to eight people at a squeeze, so dinner parties with people from other boats are not unknown! 

It has a parasol for shade if things get a bit too warm and has even been known to sprout legs and move ashore if the surroundings look more conducive as a great dinner location!

the barge's original 1922 steel tender has been put to a great new use having been christened "Herby". She supplies our galley with virtually all the culinary herbs needed aboard throughout the year. 

Chives, rosemary, coriander, mint, spearmint, sage, chervil, basil, tarragon, mesclun mixed salad leaves, mustard and cress all grow in profusion.  

Fresh 'tender' herbs and salad, just when you need them.

In addition to Herby, we also try to grow our own tomatoes and lettuce. 2007 will see dramatic expansion of our onboard cultivations. (I hope!)

To say that I love travel would be an understatement. Having enjoyed a good career way back in the dark ages of Thatcherite Britain, I realised even then that there had to be far more to life than the nine to five. 

So I set out to change things and boy did things change. First, I chucked in the job, second, bought a backpack and third bought a plane ticket to India. After wandering around the world that first time for nearly two years, I found that it became ever more difficult to stay put at home. 

Employment masked the real reason I worked which was simply to replenish my bank balance in order to head off again. The problem with this was that as the eighties gave way to the nineties, gave way to the millennium, I had spent nearly all of it wandering the globe. 

Each time I ran out of money and flew home, I found the UK ever more depressing, increasingly dull, overtly threatening and mind bendingly expensive. All this at a time when my lack of job "commitment" resulted in a CV that had more holes than a piece of Emmental. 

This "leaky" resume provided ever more lack lustre employment "opportunities" with the resultantly pathetic salaries that generally went with them. Early in 2001, I was forced to take positive action!

Luckily for me, I'd bought a house way back when they were cheap and calculated that if I sold it and everything that wasn't bolted down, I might be able to pay back the bank and with the residue buy a barge. By "barge" however, at that time I had a UK style Narrowboat "barge" in mind. 

While searching on the Internet for suitable craft, up popped a plethora of English narrowboats, but closer inspection persuaded me that they were, well, a bit too narrow! Also, that the UK waterways were reaching breaking point in terms of lack of maintenance and the weight of new boats being built. Coupled with this was the frightening cost and distinct lack of pleasant moorings. I also decided that maybe I needed something a little more exotic than the Trent and Mersey! 

The above picture demonstrates the huge difference in size between a UK narrowboat and Dutch Barge such as the barge. What is doesn't show is that the barge is also over twice the narrowboat's width!

Then purely by chance I accidentally stumbled upon the picture of a stunning "luxemotor Dutch barge". It was beautifully photographed in bright sunlight with blue skies behind it, happy healthy looking people populating the decks, each with a glass of wine in hand and gazing out across an undeniably French landscape. 

This was more like it. Bigger barges than I'd ever dreamed of. A vast European waterways network to be discovered and along with it, a Europe I had sadly neglected in favour of more distant long haul destinations. I now had a plan and a new mission in life... To enjoy a barge cruise on the canals of France! The rest as they say is history....

My personal passions lie in world travel, waterways, cycling, cooking, entertaining, fine wines and socialising. If you combine this with my love of history, nature and the wealth of stunning scenery that abounds in Europe, then running informal barge cruises aboard my home; the barge became the only real and wonderful choice.

...and yes. "It really is heaven in the heart of France..." Come and see for yourselves as guest crew.

Owning and cruising a 24 metre barge requires acquisition of a tidal wave of knowledge of a huge range of subjects covering everything from the specifics of cruising on the continent, to finding the exact widget required for a specific flange on a 1955 Mercedes 321 engine that Mercedes consistently tell me never existed and that they never manufactured. 

The fact that I managed to locate copies of the engine's original owners instruction manual and parts list not seeming to matter a jot to their denials! 

Gaining the qualifications to pilot such a large and heavy craft was both necessary and important for safe navigation.

After considerable study and a great deal of time spent aboard other owners barges including a month doing nothing but learning ropes and mooring techniques, I sat and gained piloting qualifications both in English in the UK and in French in France! Quite an undertaking for someone who still has only rudimentary knowledge of the language.

I currently hold the UK Royal Yachting Association's 'INTERNATIONAL CERTIFICATE OF COMPETENCE' together with the additional CEVNI endorsements that cover navigation differences between the UK and European inland waterways.

In addition I also hold the UK's 'MARITIME RADIO OPERATOR CERTIFICATE OF COMPETENCE' for Short Range Radio (VHF)

At considerable expense, I also gained the French 'CERTIFICAT DE CAPACITE, Freycinet DE PLAISANCE' (PP)  license which now qualifies me to pilot barges up to 39.5 x 5 metres.

The best experience though is of the hands on, get out there and cruise variety. You can learn all you like in the classroom, but it's out there where the real fun starts!

the barge has covered over 3500 km during the last couple of summer seasons which might not sound much by car standards, but at 4-6 kilometres per hour plus the time spent transiting the many hundreds of ecluses (398 locks during summer 2004-2012 alone) provided the real experience money can't buy.

If you would like to spend some time aboard the barge learning about many of the aspects of barge ownership, handling and how I learnt everything from scratch, why not book yourself for an informal hands on cruise?

the barge glides gracefully from place to place at the very sedate and relaxing speed of 4 miles an hour. 

So slow in fact that you can easily walk or cycle and get ahead of her. Speed is not what cruising the European waterways and canals of France is all about. What it is about is relaxation and leaving the stresses and speed of your normal life very far behind. 

Sucking in the fresh air, soaking up the beautiful vistas and admiring the varied bird life and natural surroundings as you glide so very gently through it.

Sometimes we moor in towns, cities or small villages, but other times we more in places so isolated that they are not reachable other than by boat. 

Most times neither the barge or anyone aboard has visited the places we arrive at or cruise through. This makes it a real adventure. Both owner Kevin and his crewmember are just as interested and excited about the new place as are you.

The canals of France, much like those of the UK are a treasure trove of history. Many have been in use since prehistoric times as trading routes although commerce these days has sadly declined to the point where it has almost vanished, particularly in France. 

Signs of the past are everywhere from the buildings, bridges and artefacts left behind. 

The pace of life is slow and the waterways magnificent. The UK canals are like the M1 motorway at rush hour compared to the tranquility that abounds when you go barging over here. 

Just imagine. A beautiful barge with breakfast taken high on deck each morning followed by cruising at a slow pace, a lovely light lunch followed by an afternoon snooze followed by an afternoon stretch of the legs, maybe popping in for a cold refreshing beer to quench the thirst before gearing up for a shower, bank side barbeque or repairing to a local hostelry for your evening dinner.

After such a tiring day you are sure to be in bed early. It's the fresh air and lack of stress. Guests report that they've had some of their best nights sleep aboard the barge.

A typical day might begin by my gently tapping on your cabin door with a nice hot cup of tea or coffee. Shortly, after refreshing showers, one or more of us heads off on the bikes to the local boulangerie for day fresh breads and pastries. 

A leisurely continental breakfast then ensues, more often than not, enjoyed outside on the bow bench. A feast of freshly brewed coffee, breakfast teas, fruit juice, cereals, baguettes, croissants, pain au chocolat, ham, cheeses, jams, yoghurt and maybe boiled eggs. Just what you need to set you up for the day.