CHAUMONT to ST JEAN DE LOSNE
7 October - 29 October
June 12 - Aug 13
Aug 13 - Sep 4
5 Sep - 6 Oct
30 Oct - 1 Dec
GO TO THE
The pattern of life is now starting to emerge. While we are still in far too much of a hurry, the key ingredients of this life are; travelling, discovering new places to stop, exploring, meeting people - or just developing stronger friendships, food, wine and fun. Interspersed in all this hedonistic pleasure are the occasional problems with boats, systems, the French or the resources we depend on such as the internet, phones, banks and mail. But the key ingredients seem to be the people and the times spent with them.
During this part of our journey we had by chance come upon Steve and Akeyo, Marcus and Else and Roger and Linda. These new friends were to play a part in our lives for the best part of the month as we leapfrogged each other down the canals and river to St Jean de Losne. Occasionally there would be additions to the group and sometimes a couple would be missing as they went ahead or stayed behind, but by the time we had meandered into St Jean de Losne the group had reformed and added a couple of extra hands.
But I digress from the day to day occurrences aboard Van Nelle.
Sunday October 7.
I woke on this Sunday to a somewhat painful hangover and almost no recollection of the last half of the preceding night. I found later (to my advantage) that most of the others were in a similar state and (to my disadvantage) that Maureen was not one of them. Eminently sensible, M had slowed her intake during dinner so that she could adequately be my conscience in the morning, a job she excels at. I was apprised of my waywardness somewhat early, even before I ventured off to the restaurant, the scene of the previous evening’s fall from grace, to pick up the croissants that we had ordered. This is a useful arrangement found in a number of waterside stopping places. The local restaurant lures you in one way or the other to our mutual benefit.
We had a slow day attending to the accumulated email and then heading off for town for the much vaunted organ concert. It turns out that this was the annual concert of the children taking lessons from the village organist and the talent stretched from 6-8 year olds, hardly able to reach the keys let alone the pedals, to an older one (sex unidentified) with quite a well developed technique. On balance however the ‘concert’ was akin to an end of school performance, but fun.
Before heading back we wandered the streets and came by chance on the municipal museum which, like many French town museums, had an archeological section and then specialised areas representing the local industries. This town’s industry had been glove making, at which hundreds of local people were employed. Unfortunately, with the demise of gloves as a fashion necessity, the factories had closed and the town diminished. We headed back to the boat to try another cure.
As we were all planning to leave the next day we spent some time in the sun just chatting before retiring to an early night.
Monday 8 October
We departed at 0800 for Rolamport where we arrived after a long day at 1600 (4.00pm for those not up on the 24 hour clock so loved by the French - except here it would be dix-six heures). We had time to explore a little on arrival at the town jetty which was furnished with power and water outlets.
Rolampont is a small ville set in the typical farming countryside, quite pretty and useful as a stop en route to more inviting towns in the region. Steve and Akeyo were already at the halte fluviale so we had a pasta dinner and a few local wines.
Tuesday 9 October
Departed Rolampont for Langres at 0900 and arrived at 1200 - in time to see the shops all shut (why is it that we do this over and over again?), The boulangeries however take pity on all and sundry and stay open most of lunch time (dejeuner) - obviously some French let business get in the way of lifestyle.
Langres was a key target as the guide books all gave it high points. The downside is actually an upside here since there is a 2 kilometre climb up hill to the town which is mostly inside the old fortifications which are in extremely good condition. This is fortunate as you discover on reaching them that they provide the foundations for many homes which circle the town just inside the protective walls. Ranged along the walls at intervals are medieval gates and towers where armies of the past fought off attackers with boiling oil and bundles of arrows. On the far side of the town is a large building, proudly proclaiming itself a foremost museum of 14th century histoire - closed of course !
We rode our bikes up the hill to the town, quite a feat, only made possible by the 21 gears provided by Mr Shimano the great god of bicycle (velo) gear arrangements. Actually we would have rather taken the scooter but we moored with the starboard (right) side of the boat against the quai so were unable to use the winch to get the scooter off the boat and it was too far to reverse to a turning point, this part of the canal being too narrow to turn Van Nelle.
Having the bikes enabled us to see a great deal of the town in a short time and at close quarters. This only becomes a problem when streets become pedestrian malls, tiny narrow street chock full of boutiques, boulangeries, pharmacies, tabacs and other specialists. We chained the bikes in the centre ville and set off on foot to visit the eglise (a wonderful and big church with another grand organ being tuned) a renaissance house and the shopping precinct.
We ran into Steve and Akeyo and arranged a lamb roast for that evening so set off to the boucherie / s to get some lamb. It seems that lamb is not easy to get and is very expensive when found. On this occasion we found a small leg in the first boucherie and asked for it whole. It and the girl disappeared out the back door to reappear after a few minutes sans bone ! They had boned the leg making it almost useless as a leg of lamb. We therefore had to search on for another leg to fill out the bill of fare for the evening and fortunately found one in a supermarket.
Having completed the explorations and the shopping we set off - now down 2 km, back to the boat. Terminal velocity is reached at about 35-40kmh after about 100mtres so the downhill trip was both a lot shorter and a great deal more exciting !
Wednesday 10 October
Steve and Akeyo left at 0800 as they were still racing the chomages (closure of locks for repairs and maintenance - carried out from November through to March) to get to the Mediterranean. This strategy was not all that successful however as after a couple of days, Akeyo would get a strong need for a shower and since they did not have one on the boat Steve would have to stop for a couple of days at a civilised halte fluviale to honour her wishes. By that time we would catch up and another couple of days would be spent having a good time.
We (foolishly ?) Took the bikes back up the hill to Langres since the phone had thrown another wobbly and we needed a France Telecom office to sort it out. We left film in the one hour shop and took the phone off to be fixed while Maureen took one of the bikes to the bike shop for new brakes - guess whose ?
On return to the quai the power was not working and investigation identified the cable cut through by the action of a passing barge squeezing it between the quai and the ship. There must have been a bit of a pop when it cut but as we were not there we didn’t notice it. No other damage being a result, the cable was spliced and put back to work.
Langres is the home town of Diderot, the French philosopher but there is little on show to give the visitor an understanding of his work. The regional museum was however open on this day so we spent a couple of hours among the Roman ruins, the collection of art and explanations of the development of the town and region. We also spent some time photographing the surrounding district from this imposing hill, from which - they say - you can see Mont Blanc on a clear day. I find that a bit hard to believe.
Another exciting ride down the hill - now somewhat safer with the new brake pads.
Marcus and Else had now arrived and as Roger and Linda also showed up is was time for another dinner aboard VN - everyone brings something but there still seems to be significant holes in the wine stocks. This dinner went on till 1.30 - but what the hell, there’s no pressing business to be done on the morrow.
The Morrow was Thursday 11 October - a foggy day.
This week has been mostly brilliant weather with cool clear days and only a few drizzly patches to cloud otherwise fine conditions. The fogs however are becoming a regular occurrence and can delay departures for some hours on days scheduled for travel. We had decided to slow down a bit so had to ride to the next lock to advise the eclusiers.
Explanation. In this region, for some reason each boat is accompanied by an eclusier on a moped (scooter). They scoot ahead and prepare the lock and operate it as you enter and leave, then repeat the performance. This happens all day if you are travelling some distance but at certain points a new eclusiers from the distant town will take over from the one who has started the trip with you. This way they do not get too far from home. We started off paying a tip at the end of each sector as the weather to start with was pretty vile and while we could duck into our wheelhouse, they had to stay outdoors during the whole trip. This practice however looked like getting quite expensive so we quit paying when the weather improved. Since the service did not reduce we figured we were in the clear and continued, not paying.
On arrival at the next lock I found 3 eclusiers and 2 frogmen, a couple of VNF officers and other odds and sods all standing around a half open lock door. Seems there was something blocking the door from opening or closing so we would not have been going too far anyway. I explained that in view of the chomage, we would not be coming through at the time we had previously arranged and, all faces kept, we all agreed to meet the next day. Actually, they are pretty flexible about schedules but it is best to keep on their right side or long delays can result.
We spent the day doing beaut things like washing and shopping (half the way up the hill at a nearby supermarket.
Friday 12 October
Was woken at 4.00am by the sound of a loud pop and gurgling running liquid. I leapt out of bed and searched the boat for a broken water pipe and came up dry. This mystery had to be solved as those sorts of sounds can often lead to a case of very wet feet ! I redoubled my search until I slipped on a patch of floor boards in the gloom. Snapping on all the lights I quickly traced the problem.
A bottle of flower wine we had been conned into buying at a local fete some days and villages earlier had obviously undergone secondary fermentation in the bottle while on board. The standard wine cork was unequal to the task of containing the now pressurised liquid which ejected across the floor. Some time was spent mopping up and washing the area of the somewhat strong floral and alcoholic smell before returning to bed at 5.00.
Up at 7.00 for an early start only to be met by impenetrable fog. We would wait till there was enough visibility, which occurred just before 1000 and we caste off for Dommarian where we arrived after a long day at 1700.
This section of the canal included a tunnel of 4.8km, a flight of 8 locks and a total of 17 in the day over a distance of 25km. As we approached the tunnel I asked M to switch on the floodlight that is installed on the mast. Nothing. 500 metres. Check the power outlet with a lamp. OK it works. 300 metres. Try the floodlight again. Nothing. 200 metres. Take off the cover off and check the filament. Broken 50 metres. Well, I hope the tunnel lights are working.
At a previous tunnel the lights were significantly absent during our passing and turned on full as we exited. I switched on all the navigation lights and issued a powerful torch. We entered the tunnel and as we did flourescent lights extending the whole distance flicked into life. M was much relieved and we sailed through the cold sous terrain experience with only one or two light contacts with the side.
It is extremely difficult to keep concentration up 100% through a tunnel and the conditions are more taxing than a normal canal as the passage is only 5 metres wide and the hemispherical shape threatens the coach roof on one side. Suction, caused by the propellor sucking water from under the boat, affects the stern, pulling it to one side or the other as soon as you stray off a dead centre line and applying power makes it worse. Once glued to the side by suction it takes what seems like ages to get the boat unstuck by reducing or cutting power altogether and scraping the hull against the wall to lever the boat away.
Finally we were through however and almost immediately face to face with a ‘flight’ of locks. This is an area where a great height has to be achieved in a short distance. Normally the standard Freycinet locks are spaced at least a couple of kilometres apart and rarely exceed 3 metres height. In flights, a number of locks (in this case 8) are placed one immediately after the other and their heights can be 5 or 5 metres, making them difficult to throw the ropes onto the securing bollards high above your head and sometimes out of sight.
Once, while idly walking along a lock wall to observe a boat come through I was almost hit by the end of a rope thrown from below. The thrower could have had no idea of where the bollard was since it was nowhere near me and where their rope had been thrown and he was not aware of my existence. Trusting luck. On another occasion I was greatly amused by a rope, tenuously held by a boat hook being poked over the edge from below. Again, the owner was trying blind luck since he had no idea of the placement of the bollards. I would love to put a fish in the loop at the end of the rope and throw it back onto the boat below.
Arriving at Dommarian we took our usual walk through but everything was shut, including the church. We retreated to the boat and planned the next day’s trip while eating stored rations.
A sunny day with a trip planned of 24km and 24 locks. This is a busy kind of day. At 6kmh, 24 km without locks would take 4 hours. Each lock takes a minimum 15 minutes without delays, therefore 24 locks are going to take about 6 hours for a total of 12 hours. Locks shut at 1800 so that requires a start at 0600 or you have to beat the averages. We cheat along at about 8kmh, cutting the time by an hour and scorch through the locks at better than average if not held up by boats in front or coming towards us.
On this day we left 0800 and reached Blagny on a beautiful day without delays. On arrival we found absolutely nowhere to moor and the time was after 5.00pm. We had less than a hour to find something further along. After 2 more locks and some 7km we came to a silo with a solid concrete wall inhabited by two fishermen. Looks lonely but safe - we’ll take it. As we approached the fishermen raised their feet, pulled in their holding nets and recovered their lines but did not move - rather like someone being vacuumed around. We manoeuvred the boat past them and secured for the night. The area and the time precluded an exploration so we settled in to make a barbecue dinner and rest.
After retiring we were woken by the sound of torrential water gushing. The water tanks ? A hole in the hull ? Fortunately neither. It seems the town has a bilge pump of some kind that lets loose about a thousand gallons every 40 minutes- right at the side of the boat. I decided to live with it and settled down to a somewhat interrupted night’s sleep.
Sunday 14 October
On to Pontailler - a distance of only 14km with only 5 locks (ecluses), a nice day’s travel and if timed right, the perfect way to enter a good mooring as those who have decided to move on are now gone from the quai, leaving it vacant for your arrival. We arrived at 1130 to find a small opening to the Port de Plaisance, boasting a head height of 3.0metres and single long quai within which we could have used. It was obvious the river was lower so the head height looked OK, so long as the river (which we were now on) did not rise, trapping us inside with our 3.4 metre head height, however the depth looked dubious and the only way out for us would be to reverse through the small entrance... the alternative was a terraced concrete quai with adequate stanchions and bollards. We chose the quai and headed in cautiously, checking the depth. It was just OK for us at one end of the structure so we secured and headed off to explore.
It was lunch time and while the town obviously had some areas to discover, the nearby hotel restaurant also looked inviting for a long Sunday lunch. We took the option and soon were settled into a lovely 5 course set menu.
The menu (cost 120 francs excluding wine) had some options and I chose the pate de maison followed by a meat dish, cheese and desserts. First arrived an appetiser followed by a big basket of bread and a whole pot of pate. It was an invitation to eat as much as you wanted and was only reluctantly returned to the kitchen when the main course arrived. The wines were pleasant and the service adequate but a trifle slow. I committed the same faux pas I had done in Cambrai a year earlier substituting pres for presse in the sentence "Vous et tres pres Monsieur" meaning ‘you are very busy’ but actually saying ‘you are very close’. Maureen swear he didn’t hear me but I believe he stood well back from then on and seemed reluctant to serve more wine. Ah well.
We had to take a very long walk after lunch and turned up many delightful vistas in this bustling little village. As we rounded a corner we came upon a group of men and boys playing Boules (AKA petanque). We watched for some time and were asked to join in but never having hefted a boule, decided against it. There was a young boy they brought in from time to time to smash the opponents boules away from the puck. He could not have been older than 14 but was devastatingly accurate.
This is a simple game where players toss up to three heavy steal balls at a smaller ball that is thrown out on stony, level ground by the winner of the previous round. He decides whether to start or follow and each player can decide to throw one or both of his boules in his turn or wait for a second attempt in turn. We decided we had to get into this game at a later date and set off for the boat. Later in the day Roger and Linda arrived and we had a chat before retiring.
Monday 15 October
Shortly after rousing ourselves, Roger and Linda departed. We had planned to stay a day or two but having seemingly exhausted all the town had to offer, we decided to follow them to the main town of Auxonne. This part of the trip marks the end of a canal section and onto a river, the Saone, so conditions would be different with the boat able to do up to 15kmh unfettered from the 6- 8km limits on the canal. A chance to blow out some carbon and get some heat into the engine head.
It didn’t take us long to catch them despite having left a hour after them but as there was only one lock to negotiate they were not about to slow us down. We both enjoyed the relative freedom of the river and Van Nelle seemed to enjoy the speed as well. We arrived at 1600 having left at 1230, a short, fun trip and on arrival found three long pontoons with water nearby but no power, just under the guns of the fortress near the bridge..
This was the town that Napoleon received his artillery training and it boasted a Napoleon Bonaparte museum - which we found had of course shut for winter a couple of days before our arrival. The fort is still there but accident or vandals have caused a great deal of damage and the use of parts of the buildings for local clubs (petanque etc) has not been equal to the task of upkeep. The town itself has some interesting areas but none of the bustling outdoor life that many of the others had and which make them so hospitable.
Tuesday 16 October
These days were marked by beautiful sunny and warm weather - perfect boules weather for the itinerant boatie so we went in search of the hardware, eventually finding it by asking one of the local players. Turns out the balls are sold only at the electrical store since he is a member of the club. We bought a set and went out during the afternoon to practise.
Prior to that however I decided that since A) we were moored port side in (allowing the use of the crane to get the scooter off the boat) and B) we were now close by St Jean de Losne, I would scooter over there to suss out the moorings, as that was our next main objective. It took only half an hour to get to the town and find (very easily) the boat harbour and town jetty - the Quai National. It seemed pretty obvious that the marine, while large, had positions only for small visiting boats and since I discovered rings attached to the Quai suitable for us to tie to, that we would moor there. There were no boats at the quai but also no signs prohibiting its use.
I also made inquiries about a winter mooring as Maureen was not convinced that to run down to the med was a good idea and everyone was getting nervous about the imminent closure of some of the key canals. There are two organisations in charge of the moorings at St Jean de Losne. H2O and Bosquart. I inquired first at Bosquart and was advised that it MAY be possible on the outside of another, Swiss owned, barge but that the owner would have to be asked and would have to agree. On that wharf, which runs alongside the canal de Bourgogne, work on major refits and repairs are carried out causing a great deal of noise and mess. Additionally the water is cut off during winter as pipes freeze. I was not encouraged.
At H2O a different story. If I wanted to look at an area slightly out of town I could have a mooring there for 860 francs per month but I would have to cut the grass. A map was provided and I left for the road and gravel track that leads to the area. On arrival I quickly found the spot, in a disused canal, inhabited by other stately barges, most of whose inhabitants live permanently aboard. The one directly in front is the property of Matthew, an airline pilot and his partner Caroline, while the Directeur of H2O also has his barge moored there as his home. I was won over by their interest and kindness and agreed to bring M to look and agree when we arrived at St Jean in Van Nelle.
At Auxonne we assisted a Scottish couple moor their boat and soon had boules partners for the next day. Further exploration was carried out in the morning and we warmed to the town to some degree.
The afternoon boule game was humorous and lots of fun so we agreed to do much more of it so long as the weather held. Brenda and Hugh Fraser had given up life looking after holiday makers in Nairn and since Hugh had built their steel ketch in less than a year they had decided to sail to Australia to see friends, going via Europe and then the Americas.
We barbecued on board and had a few laughs before planning further world boules championships.
We decided to head for St Jean de Losne and before leaving offered to assist Hugh and Brenda free their boat ‘Scotia’ which had become high and dry as the river level had lowered. They had moved pontoons in order to take on water and having done so had become stuck. Hugh did not want to pull the boat off the rock they were on so we departed at 1000, arriving at 1400 at the Quai National where we moored next to the rental paddle boats and in front of Beatrice a river cruiser / restaurant, just fitting behind a hotel boat which was moored centrally but which left after about half an hour.
The hotel boats use the quai as a place to deliver and pick up their washing as there is a laundry operating right on the waterfront together with three bar / cafes. The English crew are friendly but busy. Just behind the front street is a maze of small streets with all the shops generally needed for a long and pleasant stay. The Presse (newsagent) has English newspapers and fresh milk is in all the three supermarkets. The Tourist office is located near the marina and is equipped with showers and laundry and a PC for 10francs per half hour of internet time. Twice a week a room attached opens as a book exchange - at no cost.
Later in the day Marcus and Else arrived, together with their guests Lane and Bayer, planning to stay for some time as he wants H2O to service his engine. As it began to rain further exploration was curtailed but we now have a desire to stay in one place for some time and this appears to be the place. From here we can explore the Burgundy wine region (Nuits St George is only 40km), we are apparently only an hour from skiable snow, Dijon is a half hour away by train, Lyon an hour and Paris 2. We can take the boat to Dijon which boasts very good facilities and ride the scooter to many other small villages in between.
We are not keen to tie up permanently just yet as it seems that we may be here until March. That being some 4-5 months we would prefer to keep exploring until it becomes to cold, wet, windy or freezing to continue - perhaps November just before the final locks are shut, closing off the canals.
A beautiful sunny, warm day. We cannot get over how one day can be cold and wet with winds that seem like they are off the arctic and the next requires you to wear shorts and tee shirts.
We took the opportunity to get a couple of 10 hour power and water tokens, connect to the services and do some washing and cleaning. While the drying was in progress we took off on the scooter to inspect the two possible moorings and Maureen was sufficiently impressed with the distant one that we agreed to confirm it as our winter mooring which I did by letter to Charles.
Steve and Akeyo had also arrived at the Marine before us and we had seen them a couple of times for dinners aboard. These are fun things with each couple bringing something - pasta, salads, bread, wine, cheese, etc and us all sitting round the big table and just cracking on for hours about rivers, canals and stuff. However, they had their somewhat inflatable timetable to keep to so they bade us all farewell and headed off south for the mighty Rhone River, Lyon and the Mediterranean.
Drinks at 5.00 with Lindy and Roger (soon to depart for work on the North Sea driving remote control submersibles for the oil industry) Marcus and Else which inevitably turned into dinner at the Asian (?) Restaurant and dancing on Van Nelle till 1.30 or so. We actually tried a couple of the small restaurants but unless you arrive early or have a booking - it is ‘je suis desole mais nous n’avons pas le diner’ No food or space or wine or service or whatever.... Anyway there are plenty of choices and we had a passable meal but not very Asian. Marcus and Else’ friends enjoyed the raucous fun we all seem to have and came up looking pretty second hand the next morning - which was unfortunate timing since they had to drive the 7 hours back to the Netherlands for work Monday. Poor people !
Cloudy with some rain - one of those cold days. Still, since it was a hangover day for some it was probably the best weather combination. Time to hunker down with a good book - or someone who has read one !
We actually went out looking for the much advertised mushroom exposition - but didn’t find it !
We found the exposition and looked in wonder at the 360 types of mushroom, ranging from edible to dangerous. We actually found the exhibition about barges, which they had unsuccessfully tried to cover up, more interesting and probably worth another trip. The expo was held in the Mariners Building, a small street front shop on the Rue Principale which is dedicated to the many water people of the region.
A beautiful luxemotor barge arrived with its owners Robert and Wendy. I invited myself aboard to look over the boat which is gorgeously fitted out and maintained. I guess I have a yardstick to ensure that Van Nelle continues to be upgraded and not allowed to go backwards. Unfortunately they left early the next day for their winter mooring in Dijon - but that’s not too far away and they left an invitation to visit when we are in Dijon.
In the brief conversation I had with them I discovered they had taken four years to get this far south from the Netherlands - a distance we had travelled in some four weeks or so. I felt the need to slow down.
Monday October 22 - Monday October 29
Being in one place for over a week makes for very thin content on a day to day basis so I am going to deal with things that have happened during the week.
The week has been marked by good weather, mostly sunny and warm but with early morning fog and some days that feel like they could snap freeze you. Just when you think that winter has arrived however, the sun comes out and smiles at you as you clamber out of ‘grown up pants’ and into shorts. It has made for great opportunities to have games of boules, generally in the afternoons since no-one seems to get going till lunch time, followed by a few drinks - which almost inevitably leads into dinner and crack (the Irish for talking).
Sunny days also leads one to the occasional Sunday lunch, outside on the boulevarde - well street really - even if it’s not Sunday. One of the nice things about this life is that you can a declare a day to be any day you want and if the day feels like Sunday and is sunny - well then, its time for a long Sunday lunch in the sun - on Wednesday or whatever.
Time gives one the opportunity also to get into the lists of things that may need to be done - and this week I have actually tried to catch up on writing (like this journal) email and some more important boat things, I actually got around to painting out the scrapes and scratches on the rubbing strake and port side of the hull yesterday. Couldn’t do the starboard side as I don’t walk on water but that’s only a few small bits. Seems I bump the port side more often. I also however had the time (and access to Lane’s van) in order to get 4 glissoires (a kind of long fender that slides objects past) and took the time to splice ropes onto them (two each) and hang them on the hull.
I did some washing also the other day and found that the water had spilled out of an overflow pipe I didn’t know existed. That took some time and a portable bilge pump to clean up from the engine room and to put it into the river. I guess I will have to figure out how to avoid that ever happening again but in the meantime I just need to ensure that the dirty water tank is empty before washing as the outlet pump gets overwhelmed by the washing machine emptying.
The toilet has given us a few moments recently. It seems that just occasionally the non return valve on the outlet side does not fully close and allows some water back into the bowl. If the bowl is already quite full, this can mean an overflow, but generally only means an instantly cold wet bum and a very surprised reaction at 4.00am when a nocturnal visit in the dark discovers the fact by feel.
We are constantly on the lookout for bargain wine. Wine has to be good - life just isn’t long enough to drink poor wine - but there are bargains to be had and finding them is a constant challenge. Recently I discovered a trove of Cotes de Rhone - an easy drinking light red - packaged three bottles per plastique. The sign (I’m sure) said buy two and get one free - gratuit - prix 33francs. I had reached the end of the weekly wine budget but raided the bread jar for 33 francs - mostly in very, very small change - and charged off to the supermarket before one of our barbecue nights. This was going to be a way to cut the rising expense of big dinners. I was very surprised to have half my money given back to me by the check out lady (no chicks here) which meant I had 3 bottles for 16 francs. At 3.6 francs per dollar that equals about $1.50 per bottle. We tried it and it was (is ) very good. Eat your heart out (or is that drink you heart out) in Australia where the WET (wine equalisation tax) is ruining the industry.
We went to Dijon the other day and decided to take our bikes along as Dijon is a big city and we could see more of it on bikes. Wrong ! Dijon is a maze of very narrow, mostly pedestrian streets where bikes are a real nuisance. We also had a really hard time fitting them in the train and got some nasty looks from the porters at Dijon on our return. It was only my ‘Ne parlez Francais’ that enabled me to stay on the train. It also meant we could not carry back a bargain TV / VCR combination we need for making video programs with our digital camera and editing suite, so all in all - don’t take your bike to town boy, leave your bike at home boy, don’t take your bike to town.
Dijon is fabulous. Very old and well preserved. We had been there very briefly 2.00pm till 10.00pm on one day two years ago and had not seen anything of the extent of the vast number of medieval streets and beautiful old, historic buildings etc. We went to the Musee and glanced next door at the fabulous Palais de Ducs, roamed a few cathedrals (more organ music being played) and quickly looked into a hi fi shop and decided we could spend at least a week there exploring. That’s OK though since they boast a big marina for visiting boats and we can go back next week.
We visited a nearby wintering place - St Symphoriem - where people we know have a boat wintered and could not believe what we saw. No water. All the boats were sitting, not quite high and dry but actually stuck in the mud. I cannot understand how one could live on their boat like that over winter. No water means no toilets, showers and sinks empty into space, no cooling water for generators ???? It looked quite desolate and we were very glad we were not there for our first winter. I’m not sure if the lack of water is a result of design or accident. One of the nearby canals - the Canal de Centre - is without water since the reservoir sprang a leak and lost its storage.
The way canals work is that a reservoir higher than the highest part of the canal feeds the top section (bief de partage) and that water flows down through the locks on either side to be replaced by water from the reservoir. No water in the reservoir - no water in any of the locks or biefs in between and therefore no movement in that area. People planning a trip through that are to (say) their winter mooring at a point further on have a problem - they can go around - sometimes a journey of hundreds of kilometres or more or if no alternative routes to their destination are available - they have to make other arrangements.
The town of St Jean de Losne has most things - there are three supermarkets, two electrical stores, a couple of tabacs, boucheries, boulangeries, pharmacies, marinas, restaurants, plenty of bars, a couple of clothes shops, a shoe shop, a couple of fuel places etc, etc but it doesn’t have a place to get computer bits. Ink cartridges, read / write CDs, cables, these things are not available here. One has to go to a nearby town, no bigger than St Jean de Losne, to find such items. The town of Blazey is only 15 minutes by scooter, but 40 minutes by bicycle and not on the bus or train line. Terrible to ride all the way there and find you left your wallet at home. No I haven’t done that - yet !
Similarly, the train runs from St Jean to Dijon, but it only runs several times a day. It makes for planning a day out and being mindful of the time to come home. We found ourselves in a hi fi store 15 minutes from the time of departure of the return train with no idea where the station was or how long it would take to get there. Once out of the shop and pointed in the right direction, I made the mistake of following the signs to the Gare SNCF. Right station but the signs were for cars on a one way street layout. It took me twice as long to get there as it should and I arrived with a bike in hand - to get up and down steps and through the station (very big - say three times the size of Perth station) with thousands of commuters all going in the opposite direction. I made it but it could have been a long ride home.
Monday 29 October
We have now been in one place for 12 days. This is a record of course but it is also very pleasant. It brings home the brilliance of this opportunity. Where else can you move your home into the very heart of Europe’s most inviting and beautiful cities, be right on the doorstep to their best attractions and pay almost nothing for the privilege.
There is a also difference in the openness of people or is it just me ? For most of my later adult life I have found it hard to connect with people and take them to heart. Maybe it was because we were both in a work environment where one tends to judge and be reserved or in a social environment laced with competitive aspirations or was it because we just didn’t have - or take - the time to connect ? Whatever the reason, I had no idea of or contact even with people living next door despite us all having been there for more than a dozen years. In four months in this environment I have met and become very friendly with more people than I had in the past 10 years. Will the friendships last or are they just ship board acquaintances. I have heard from those who have been at this lifestyle for ten years that they do last. That people travel the length of Europe regularly to catch up on their friends in all corners of the waterway system. These friendships cross nationality, creed, colour, language and religious barriers and give no heed to distance or time. Perhaps its because people now have the time and are looking to share it. Why or where did that disappear from the other life ?
This place is beautiful. It is a beauty in itself and also a beauty of difference, since it’s being beautiful in no way diminishes the beauty of our homelands. But it is stunning - and we have the time to take it in. Words cannot convey the perfect mirror images of tall trees lining the water being reflected in the absolutely still water lying ahead of the slowly cruising boat. Look back and see the quicksilver fluidity of the wake of the boat upsetting the mirror but causing new dimensions to it. Imaging a wide still river at crimson sunset rent by the wake of a slowly moving barge that sends shimmering waves of lines across in fan shapes that are so perfect their lines could not be replicated by hand.
Tall slow grey birds wait at the side of the canals and as your boat approaches they crouch and gracefully take flight with long slow pulls of their wings, almost at water level, slowly gaining height with each beat of their long supple wings. They cruise ahead and with a slight upward movement of the leading edge of those long wings, stall their flight as their feet touch the banks. No extra movement, not jump forward or hesitant movement back - just one moment flight and the next still, watching and waiting for the fish to rise as a result of the passing of the barge.
Streets are left almost exactly as they were when Napoleon rode through on his way to Waterloo or returning from Russia or Egypt. Stone and wooden beam houses, half timber and lathe and plaster buildings, homes and shops and offices now made from buildings put in place hundreds of years ago. In the art galleries you see pictures of the streets then and photographs of the streets now and the only difference are the power lines and garish displays in the now glass front facades. Public buildings in use now as they were then. Huge, small, well kept or unkempt they are all here in joyous profusion. Not just Cadman’s cottage in Circular Quay or the facade of the Barracks in St George’s Terrace but row after row, street after street, district after districts, town after town and city after city. Its not just the cathedrals and the art galleries that overwhelm the senses after a week of leg aching visits (all those stairs) but it’s the fabric around them, the environments that they live in.
You need to spend time in the street side cafes, sitting, reading the papers, glancing at the passers by, sipping the espressos, the Pernod or the Leffe Blondes. This time is as essential as the time spend frantically rushing to beat the crowds lined up at the Louvre or the D’Orsay because it is this time that allows all of the other things to settle into perspective. It is the time to reflect on where you have been and what you have experienced.
Since we left Loosdrecht in The Netherlands (don’t say Holland), we have travelled 988 kilometres by my reckoning. It has taken 77 days of which 37 have been travelling days and we have clocked up 111 engine hours. We have passed though three countries and have visited just over 40 towns having passed by or through more than 100. Mention the name of a town, even the ones we have spent 2-4 days in and I find it almost impossible without resorting to references to remember what it looked like, where we moored, the main street, the major attractions the site or layout of the fort - or even if it had one. We have slowed our life to a walking pace but it is still too fast. We have come off the jumbo jets onto Van Nelle, trading 640 knots airspeed for 6 kilometres per hour boat speed and we are still flashing by this experience. I reflect on the unhurried character of Robert and Wendy on their beautiful ship Maria, who have taken four years to get to St Jean de Losne from Holland (didn’t I say not to say Holland !) and I begin to realise that time is now on our side but that it may take time to slow down sufficiently to realise the benefits.
We went to a supermarket today and found in the delicatessen section (no, the French don’t call it that but I’m not sure what it is exactly) all the parts of a meal we had on Sunday at the Café de Navigation across the road. The entre, main course and cheeses were all there looking exactly the same as they presented them - albeit not overcooked as they had made them by forgetting them under the convection microwave. Attitudes are changing, McDonalds are now in prestigious places in most capital cities and if not, the French version ‘Quick’ is. There are ‘sandwicheries’ and the boulangeries and patisseries now serve fast foods of some kind - all be it ‘pate en croute’ rather than ‘meat pie’. However, the meal we had was not the elements bought the day before from Casino the supermarket and served without style on the roadfront, it was the position, the sunshine, the local beer and wines, the jaunty attitude of the lopsided waitress, the conversations of the other visitors to the café and the arrival and departure of the bikers and their molls who dropped in off their huge shiny machines, stripped off their leathers to reveal tighter leathers underneath and had a couple of beers before terrorising the freeways again with their roar and hurtling speed. For us however it was experience and discussion and sunshine and rough local red mixed with the hoppy aftertaste of the Kanterbrau beer and the heady aromas of the powerful cheeses. Just in front the river sparkled and reflected sunlight onto out faces and the background sounds of talk and whispers and French and English and Dutch and others caused a buzz that was better than the tinny music coming from inside. It was a Sunday lunch - an experience another day and another opportunity to just let it invade you rather than having to buy a ticket to stand in line to have it thrust at you.
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