Sunday, August 30, 2015

Castles in the sky. - Tuesday 25th August
from Rüdesheim to Koblenz

Thirty-three years ago this month, armed only with a pair of very small children we travelled on a Rhine River day cruise from Koblenz heading upstream intending to reach Mainz, but were so entranced with the villages and castles along the way.  On a whim and with the absence of planning which has held us in good stead ever since, we disembarked in the village of Rüdesheim, completely inspired by the journey and promising to do it again “one day”.

Today was to be that day, but by the time we had slept sufficiently and eaten sufficiently the cruise departure time had come and gone.  After a hasty conference at the booking office, we discovered that the return journey was entirely possible if we were willing to suffer an  hour or so of train travel with nothing but the river the forest and the castles to see on the way.  We grasped the opportunity, were thanked for our flexibility, given last minute (and seniors’) discounts totalling thirty percent of the fare (to help with the cost of the train) and wished well as we set off for the station.

Of course the journey was all that it had been in our memories and perhaps more.  Back in Koblenz we may well have retired gracefully to our room to quietly digest all that we had experienced were it not for Joel and Cindy waiting in their motorhome, ready to accompany us on yet another big night out.   One day we will work out how it happens that random friends from far away places simply turn up in our path from time to time.  Perhaps then such meetings then will be with less incredulity.

When finally we found our hotel we were like kids full of red cordial, minds abuzz with vineyards and castles and fairytale towns and ice cream sundae and laughter with late night schnitzel, not at all ready to tackle the road again on the morrow.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

On our way! Monday 24th August
to Koblenz

Travelling at around one hundred and thirty kilometres per hour, closing on slow moving vehicles at a terrifying rate while being closed from behind at even more terrifying rates requires a steely nerve and not to put too fine a point on it, a certain level alertness if one is to come out of it at the end of the day with one’s hire-car deposit in one’s own pocket.

If there were a set of instructions setting out the ideal preparation for such a road trip, it probably wouldn’t include getting nowhere near enough sleep the night before, then working all morning in increasing chill and showery gloom.  It certainly wouldn’t include sitting over the last long lunch of summer, no matter how snug and warm the restaurant may appear to be. But as we lingered over dessert looking out as the storm lashed the now well-protected boat we couldn't help but think that what we were doing was infinitely more pleasant than pounding through the gloom on the road or on the water either for that matter.  

Somehow, despite the odds of us moving from our positions being clearly against us, eventually we came to be walking this evening in Koblenz, in an entirely different country, in that familiar post travel and post pack-up fog, a little weary and definitely ready to flop on the nearest bed.  Never the less, unwilling to waste a minute of daylight, we trudged on thankful that none of the zimmer frames that lined the footpath beside the cruise ships were ours,  planning to embark on a proper exploration tomorrow.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Paying the price - Sunday 23rd August -

Ahh, well, anyway we aren’t that good at covering the boat unless it’s raining.   Not that we’ve ever tried, although we nearly did today, but the forecast changed overnight and now there may not be respite for a few days.

So when it came time to try out a few ideas for the back cover, by the time we got to the picnic table that serves so faithfully as our workbench, and fired up the trusty Singer it was in a misty sort of drizzle.  I know, I know… we’ve had all year to do this, but it doesn’t matter as long as it’s finished by tomorrow morning, we will be underway.

Actually, there are a few other things that have to be finished by tomorrow morning as well.  Possibly there are a lot of things to be finished.

All will be well I’m sure.

Smoke gets in my eyes - Saturday 22nd August -

We haven’t used the diesel heater for a while, so rather than doing anything constructive like for instance, fitting the boat covers in perfect weather for it, one of us decided that it might be worth blowing out its cobwebs so to speak.   That might have been forgivable had the cobwebs been actual cobwebs and not a few years’ worth of soot and smoke.  Even that might have been forgiven had the clothes line not been laden with the remnants of the last load of washing for the year.

In an instant the last load of washing became the second last and really we should have been fitting the covers while the weather was fine but after all it hasn’t rained all year, so tomorrow would do.

Besides, Jørn and Birgit need groceries and we could do with some hardware stuff and we have a car.

Chaos theory - Friday 21st August -

Every year at packing up time, a photograph appears of the incredible progress we are making in the packing up stakes.

Every year I am assured that it has to get worse before it gets better, and that it will come together on the day.  To date it has, thus it was with things so incredibly in hand, when Jørn and Birgit arrived in port, there was absolutely no point in not taking the afternoon off, nor the evening, nor the night, and spending the time instead catching up on another year’s worth of news.   Perhaps tomorrow will take care of itself, since today clearly didn’t.

We never can say goodbye. - Thursday 20th August -

While one of us was getting into her tasks with something approaching alacrity, the other was becoming ever so increasingly concerned that no play could make him a very dull boy.   Having had occasion through no fault of my own to return to the hire car company on three occasions during the course of the day, the side of the work list market “his” was not featuring terribly many items crossed out I’m afraid, and the adjudicator wouldn’t accept my way of amelioration by making three crosses through the one marked “pick up hire car” either.

Things were indeed a little skewed in the who’s done what department, so rather than try to catch up, an impossible task anyway starting as I was from so far behind, a suggestion was gently dropped that we should make use of the car, by tracking down a few of our departed (not in the “from this life” sense I hasten to add), friends for one last catch-up in the evening.

All we need say is that George and Karen need to find better places to hide if they don’t want to be making dinner for a couple of extras, and similarly a little further upstream Jürgen and Ele’s plans for an early night vanished along with our own.  Hopefully the work tomorrow really will take care of itself. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Six - Wednesday 19th August -

The age old question of how many men it takes to take a stack of firewood in long lengths into a mound of firewood in short lengths has been answered, and given the minute amount of time it took to accomplish the task, we were wondering whether six of us, and perhaps a combustion engine powered bandsaw would reduce our task to just one morning.

Then Jürgen and Ele arrived, followed shortly thereafter by George and Karen which gave us the magic total, and somehow instead of speeding up, things simply ground to a halt.

We did make some progress, but it’s chopping firewood in reverse.  We have everything in little pieces and when it’s back together in one neat pile of big bits we can go.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Let the cleaning begin - Tuesday - 18th August -
Bataville to Lagarde

When the young men on the hire boat boat arrived at the lock too late last night, they settled gently for the night a few hundred metres away, and set about making dinner over a few quiet drinks, and eating it over a few drinks, cleaning up over a few drinks, and that is when the party started.  They weren’t causing intrusion or disruption, but in the still of night it was clear they were still enjoying themselves in the wee small hours of the morning.

When the cows wandered over towards their boat just after six they probably wouldn’t have known, nor for that matter would we, were it not for their dog becoming just as excited and expressive as they had been themselves too few hours earlier.

While this may have caused a little angst for its master and his mates, for us it was a convenient alarm, enabling us to get underway at precisely the time the locks opened. A mere couple of hours later despite our usual efforts to prolong this last little journey, with the sky and the weather telling us quite clearly that it may be time to do something else, our five hundredth and  sixty-fourth and final lock of the season loomed out of the chill.   

Precisely one cup of coffee later, the scrubbing began.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

One last night - Monday - 17th August -
Hesse to Bataville

We left our little hidden mooring outside of Hesse as soon as we woke this morning, which for those who are paying attention was a good hour after we left Saverne the other day, but still early enough for the mist to be rising off the water, and the steam for the kettle to fog all the windows as we went along.  It wasn’t as though we really needed to leave early, but that restlessness that draws us ever onwards when we are homeward bound would not settle until we did.

It is a nice time of day to be underway, but isn’t it amazing how things go perfectly when one has all the time in the world. Even the Rechicourt lock opened its gates to receive us as soon as we came into view.  We were making such great time that it did take an effort not to cover those last eight kilometres or so to our journey’s end, but it was the prospect of spending one last night “in the wild” with nothing but a hundred cows and a thousand flies for company that in the end proved irresistable.   

Ton Ton Gris-Gris - Saturday - 15th August -

We were going to leave when the sun came up, but it didn’t so we didn’t.

Instead we began to contemplate the myriad things that need to be done before we leave the boat in just a week from now.   Having contemplated with intent for a few minutes we realised that life would be much more pleasant if we didn’t do that either.   Therefore we visited the bakery, made some coffee, then fortified variously by tarts citron and mirabelle, we set about lazing around for the rest of the day.

As luck would have it, there was a band due to appear in the evening in the little parking lot that doubles as the town square.  “Ton Ton Gris-Gris” the posters said were big in the Cajun-Zydeco scene which to be entirely objective is probably not all that huge in Lutzelbourg, but since the concert came without cost, we thought that attending it may very well round off our day nicely.

Sadly, when the time came to begin, the crowd (two if you include us) outnumbered the band (none). We did find them in the pub next door having elected to drown their sorrows rather than sing about them, but rather than drown ourselves waiting for the rest of the crowd to arrive, we wandered off in search of a warm, dry doona, and our day ended pretty much in the same fashion that it had begun. 

Resistance is useless - Sunday - 16th August -
Lutzelbourg to Hesse

How quickly things change.   

Two days ago it was far too hot to lie in bed, yet this morning it was cool enough not to want to get out.

We did eventually though and wandered briefly uptown in our jeans and jumpers with chilly toes in socks too thin, and umbrellas that were quite useless in the mizzle.  “Uptown” in Lutzelbourg is code of course for “the Bakery” where we managed to procure exactly the right sort of stuff to get us through a chilly, damp morning and even a tunnel or two if it came to that.     Then we sat, coffee finished, apple crumble gone, staring up the canal trying to ignore the giant magnet drawing us home, trying too late to prolong our stay.

We really don’t have to go far at all, we really don’t. Perhaps if we only go a little way, only as far as the tunnels….

Monday, August 17, 2015

Where have all the deckchairs gone? - Friday14th August -
Saverne to Lutzelbourg

Stupidly, in a momentary lapse of not thinking through the consequences, perhaps in haste in the face of the storm that wreaked havoc with last night’s concert, we announced that we were going to leave as soon as the locks opened this morning.  “That’s right”, we said in reply to the horrified expressions that greeted us, “We will be off at seven.”

How were we to know that they’d all set their alarms to make sure we left?  Yet there they were, George and Karen and Jacques and Cathy, shaking our hands and hugging and kissing us goodbye, apparently oblivious to the fact that our eyes weren’t entirely open at that unseemly hour.   We took the hint and drifted away from our spot between the chateau and where the band once was, took one last look at the what was left of last night’s concert, the pile of broken deckchairs and twisted awnings, and headed towards home.

Unbelievably, we are on our way back.   In a few days the cleaning and packing will begin.  In a week we will be off the boat, heading for a place where the grass may even at the end of winter be ever so slightly greener than it is here, but today we spent the afternoon in Lutzelbourg, happy to catch up on the sleep that we were deprived of this morning.

Signals - Thursday 13th August -
Saverne - Chateau Haut Barr

In the fifteenth or was it the sixteenth century, there were a series of signal towers built every few kilometres apart, which were used to send communications between Alsace and Paris.  It was a marvel of technology really, with giant signal flags used to send coded semaphore messages.  

Here we are, five hundred years later and astonishingly the very same towers are still in use for that very same purpose albeit that the communication flowing through them is more likely to comprise photos of kittens than news of invaders from the east.  I can only imagine the planner’s arguments for erecting mobile phone towers on World Heritage Monuments;- “Existing conforming use” perhaps?

Yes it was still stinking hot, perhaps the last hot day of summer and yes we were probably as mad as the young lady in the air-conditioned supermarket we visited on the way home had said we were, but we convinced George and Karen to walk with us to the peak of the Chateau du Haut-Barr, perhaps our favourite ruin where we made use of the very same communications tower to phone Jacques and Cathy who joined us for a very light lunch and an enormous amount of rehydration while marvelling at the view over all of Alsace. 

Throw away the key! - Wednesday 12th August -
Lutzelbourg to Saverne

Occasionally we come across a person on a boat who has no place in our community.   

Like the ignoramus who arrived at the lock today after we’d been tied for almost thirty minutes waiting for it to be brought back online.   “I’m very fast” he shouted as he drove at cruising speed to the head of the queue timing his run to perfection as the light turned green, oblivious to the protests of all whose turn it was.  In the context of one’s life span, one’s summer afloat, one’s week, or even one’s afternoon, there is no cause for angst over the loss of ten minutes of travelling time, and we really should take it with a grain of salt.  But this is the maritime equivalent of sneaking into a parking spot that someone else has been waiting for the occupant to vacate.  

The penalty for doing so should be imprisonment for life, or perhaps even longer.

Still, as we sat in the afternoon in the shade of the ancient buildings that line Saverne’s cobbled streets, we were congratulating ourselves on the manner in which we had completely forgotten the incident.  Then our “Tea of Alsace” arrived, an iced green-tea concoction with wild mandarins and lemon and green mirabelle plums.  It was as sweet as our day had been, with an ever so slightly bitter aftertaste.

Arzviller by bike - Tuesday 11th August -

There we were in one of our favourite towns, on one of our favourite bike paths, having a picnic made from products from one of our favourite bakeries with our new best friends, and to be blunt the only thing that could have improved the day would have been to put just a bit more ‘temperate’ in the temperature.

But we battled on as is our way, to check that the Arzviller ship lift was still in operation, past all the old lock houses and the sign announcing that the council is spending almost two million Euros to keep it all beautiful, as if that would make us more appreciative of its effort than we already are, back to the glass-blowers’ studio which was quite predictably, some may say inevitably, closed.  

Sadly the little crepe and coffee stand near the lock was not closed either, luring us as a siren would as we attempted to pass, compelling the less feminine in our midst felt to risk carbo-something overdose by sampling a selection of its sugary goodness, which it must be said did seem to compliment the tarts and croissants consumed earlier.  It is no easy thing being responsible for the well being of the economies in so many countries.