I had to squeeze in one last France story. Actually, a Paris story.
We took the obligatory Seine boat cruise when in Paris, and although it felt a little dorky, it was actually lovely to get views of the city from the water, instead of the usual other way around.
Most of the boating traffic on the Seine seems geared toward tourism with an occasional barge (peniche) creeping along, carrying cargo of some sort. The only vessels in abundance were long, narrow, low-slung houseboats whose decks barely seemed to clear the water. These little curiosities piqued my interest and I needed to know more.
Some of these houseboats (also called canal boats) are cheery and colorful. Others are in serious need of some TLC. They’re all fairly utilitarian-looking, as many of them are barges that were converted into residential and pleasure craft when the railroads drove most barge transport out of business. Many were scrapped over time, but some were salvaged by resourceful, creative types and transformed into living quarters.
As many trends borne out of need, like morphing industrial lofts into fall-back housing for the young and poor — later to be occupied by chic yuppies — houseboat barges too have metamorphosed from scrappy squats into charming living quarters. Once discovered, prices went up, the artsy types were displaced, and the affluent-but-willing-to-slum-it moved in. Today many of these boats are outfitted with houseplants, satellite dishes, and even the occasional car on deck.
A bit of research found that houseboats-as-rentals, like hotels, vary in price from low to high. Some are indeed intended to appeal to the backpacking youth hostel crowd, and others to denizens of digs like the Ritz. Those egalitarian French!
Houseboats can be rented for the short-term via websites like Homeaway and VRBO. I’ve used these sites for vacation rentals and they are great. I wouldn’t hesitate to use one to book a Parisian houseboat as well. Oooh, I think I hear next year’s vacation calling…
Tell me, have you ever stayed on a houseboat? What was it like?