Sunday, September 25, 2016

And only four little ducks came back.
Tuesday 13th September

It had been a rather exciting day battling the mighty Rhine with its waves and currents and its shipping and its industry and monster locks, or perhaps we were simply bobbing gently down on its millpond complexion, in warm if not quite sweltering weather past kilometres of forest on the very cusp of shedding its summer clothing depending on which version of the story sounds more fantastic and which the more believable to a listener’s ears.   

It matters not, we arrived in the quiet little village of Kunheim, off the river once more after a long day afloat, tired but happy. We had not long taken our positions around a picnic table in the shade to while away the remaining hours of the evening in tranquility, when we couldn’t help but notice a gentleman of more advanced years than our own, together his lady wife wandering nonchalantly by with their dogs, he armed only with a twelve gauge shotgun.  

Seated as we were on a very quiet stretch of waterway which was somewhat reminiscent of a duck pond in the middle of a village, we would have thought little more of this were it not for the enormous BANG that came from a hundred metres or so away.  A sound which even to our untrained ears sounded terribly like a shotgun being discharged.    We couldn’t help but notice that one of the ducks on the pond had failed to take to the air in fright, and at the same time one of the dogs no doubt trained in rescue, had dived without thought for his own safety, into the water to try to save the hapless bird.

The dogs efforts were to no avail apparently, the couple returned carrying the corpse no doubt to arrange a proper burial for it, mumbling something about “onions and mushrooms” and “big pot”.

 Perhaps it hadn’t happened.  Perhaps the day had been hotter than we had thought.

Moving right along.
Monday 12th September

There are eight world class museums in Mulhouse, each of them according to the several websites we so cleverly checked before setting out for the morning, open every day of the week.     

The sign on the textile museum confirmed this when we arrived, and one would have to wonder why we were surprised to find the doors closed and the lights turned off.  We read it again:

“ *OPEN EVERY DAY, ” it proclaimed, with an asterix to draw our attention to the three days it was not “ *Closed on the 1st January 1st May and 25th December”.   So far so good.  However specially for us in the fine print jammed between the two lines aforementioned there was a little note reading “Oh yes, we forgot to tell you about Mondays.”   

Since getting underway mid afternoon (as soon as Joan and Peter’s boat repairs were complete) was part of our plan, staking out the place until tomorrow was not an option.  We took a quick vote, and an even quicker tram for yet another visit to that  wonderful car museum, where time once again stood still for a few hours.   We did get the boat underway mid afternoon as planned, resting for the night at the very end of the canal, ready to launch out onto the Rhine at first light, or preferably some considerable time after it.

Unless we hadn’t seen the fine print somewhere on a lock.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Be prepared.
Sunday 11th September

There’s not much to do in France on a Sunday, which traditionally one could argue is the actual point of having a Sunday in the week anyway, but when one’s sister and brother-in-law have come so far for a fleeting visit, one does one’s best to find some spark of movement about the place.

Fortunately after wandering for some time past firmly closed shops and buildings, and streets generally devoid of people we found ourselves in the centre of town where the Onion Fete, having reached something of a crescendo yesterday had settled into a gentle if completely incomprehensible rhythm in front of flagging crowds.

As we sat in the square eating flammkuchen (with onions of course), attempting to soak in the flavour of the event, we were transfixed for a time by a performance that seemed to invoke much hilarity.  Our entire absence of understanding of the Alsatian language mattered little during the performance, as it was clear to us that by the end of it the sheep, the stork and the rabbit understood in no uncertain terms that size doesn’t matter, as long as one packs a few spares.

Washing and shopping
Saturday 10th September

There was no getting round it, Anne and Jaap were definitely coming this evening, which meant we definitely had to do something to bring the boat to some sort of more presentable state.  Apparently.

“We” in this case is a bit of an exaggeration as inevitably it means that one of us buzzes around with things entirely under her control while the other bumbles and fumbles and seems to be in the way at every turn.  Nonetheless with her ruthless efficiency we were declared “ready” well and truly in time to wander downtown to see what we could see on this, the first day of the Fete of Onions.

Not long after bedtime we tired from wandering all afternoon in the heat, they no doubt from travelling all day, their train arrived bearing them safely if not quite soundly to our arms, they having stealthily been relieved of a substantial amount of cash en route.  Thankfully upon hearing that they had been reunited with the formerly removed bag still containing passports, credit cards and travel documents we almost shed a tear of relief.  There again, it might have been the onions.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A splotch of colour
Friday 9th September

Jørn and BIrgit had a train to catch somewhere in the north, so prolonging their visit which was already all too brief was out of the question.   We spent much of the morning talking among ourselves trying to invent a way to do just that, but in the end a stroll down town followed by quite a long lunch was the best that we could do.

It’s lovely really, the way good friends can bob into our lives from time to time to add a giant splash of colour amid the shadows of our daily routine.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Cité de l'Automobile
Thursday 8th September

Not much happens in Mulhouse or the rest of France for that matter before mid morning, which is just as well because it was late morning before we got our collective acts together and set off for Mulhouse’s famous Cité de l'Automobile. 

The Schlumf Collection is named for the once-were-billionaire brothers who collected it, and houses a staggering number of incredibly rare and even more incredibly exotic vehicles. Originally stored in secret splendour in a huge warehouse lit with replicas of Parisian street lights before economic tragedy befell them, the price of admission into that space was worth it for the story alone, with the presence of perhaps a billion or two’s worth of cars the mere icing on the cake.

Still stunned by the magnitude of what we had seen, as we slowly walked away from the museum, the other of us not normally given to tolerance of things automotive particularly when they require several hours of oohing and ahhing was still smiling.

As if to push my luck, I enquired as to which, of all the treasures on display, best captured her imagination?  Which of them would she like me to buy for her to show that my love knows no bounds?  Thinking perhaps that to satisfy her desires I may have to find tens of millions of Euro for the Bugatti Royale, or at best two or three for a Veyron, the scale of my relief matched only my astonishment when she very clearly and without hesitation requested: “A Renault 750 please.”      

For that, I may not even have to give up my day job.

In Mulhouse
Wed 7th September

We knew it wasn’t going to be a quiet time in Mulhouse.  Apart from attempting to visit at least some of the eight world-class museums which call this place home, we heard that there had been a closure on a canal further north, and delightfully Jørn and Birgit had decided to fill in a bit of “stranded time” by hiring a car and visiting us for a few days.   After their departure, Anne and Jaap would be with us, Joan and Peter would return to their boat on the weekend to cruise in company to Strasbourg, and of course Ralph would be arriving any day soon without Anita en route to Basel.   

So here we were in a buzzing city so confident of its place in the world that graffiti such as that above is listed on its tourist trail, a city that just this week invited Clet Abrahams, known for his witty modification of street signs in Paris and Florence to come and ruin some of its own, baking in the renewed summer temperatures, heads spinning, having to revictual before the arrival of the throngs, wondering what to do next.

Actually we were mid wonder in mid afternoon when Jørn and Birgit arrived to fuel even more wonderings, so we sat under a shady tree for the rest of the day, the four of us catching up.  After all it had been almost two months since last we met.

A bit of a fog
Tuesday 6th September

By nine the fog had lifted just enough so that we could see that fifty metres away the boat that was to accompany us for the day was going to keep its appointment.  Half an hour earlier we had walked from our berth to the lock just to reassure ourselves that no one had moved it overnight.

How were we to know as we disappeared into the fog, that we were going to disappear in a sense from the world for a time?  Not disappear entirely for the world would quite easily find us, but a combination of poor connectivity and a surfeit of places to go, people to see and things to do would conspire to create a fourteen day pause from less important things, such as writing about them and posting photographs for all to see!

Perhaps as we descended the locks into Mulhouse under clear, some would say overheated skies, the sounds of looming busyness that precedes our entry into all big cities was a portent of what was to come!

Monday, September 05, 2016


We’ve only known Ralph and Anita for a fortnight or so, but they’ve grown under our skin a bit, (and I mean that in a nice way!).   They had decided that we’d celebrate this, our last night together at a restaurant they could highly recommend, but of course the proprietors, being aware that we were coming had this year decided to take their vacation after the summer season and won’t be back for a week.   

So we sat at the little take away pasta stall opposite the port and recapped our week, and spoke of how great it was to be back in Alsace with its storks and colours and the feeling of being almost home, and how we regretted that we should have been learning French from them rather taking the easy and convenient option for us by coaching them in English.  But it was made more difficult for us to switch as they were such keen students, always in search of colloquialisms and correcting nuance.

Just this afternoon, Ralph had begged his leave, asking as he did how we would say in English “Well I must go now to let you relax”.

“That’s a bit complicated” I replied, and as he leaned forward to drink in my answer I continued:

“You say this:  Why don’t you just have a sleep now while I clean your boat.”

Sunday, September 04, 2016


Montreaux Chateau

For the first time in months the outlook for the day was a little on the bleak side.   Had the forecast not been amended just in time for our departure, it may well have been the first day this year that we had actually travelled in rain, but as it was we were accompanied by a pair of student/part time lock keepers whose sunny disposition seemed to bounce off us all, as if travelling with those pesky Swiss we weren’t having enough fun already. 

At the end of our travels, we were nicely snugged into our mooring in Montreaux Chateau before the rain came.  Actually, we had been nicely snugged in for a time and were walking in the village a kilometre or so from our mooring when the rain came at precisely the time I was photographing a sundial collection.  

We were prepared for it of course, one of us always is, but none the less unused to the cold wet stuff falling about our person we retired to the boat for an evening of variously listening to the pitter patter of falling rain and checking to see that the deck leaks had been contained  

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Change is in the air

Autumn happened yesterday apparently.  The tourist office declared the “high season” to be over with the beginning of September, and given the number of boats moving on the waterway we’d have to say not before time.  Extraordinarily though, the shop windows down town suddenly changed overnight from places of vibrance filled with starfish and seagulls and bright sunny decor, to amorphous grey places filled with scowling faces, as if to pre-empt the gloom that is to come.   

Thankfully so far no one has told the street flowers that it’s over, but things being as they are, one suspects that the future of those blooms will be short.   

Which as it turns out is exactly how long our visit to the markets was this morning, and then we departed to seek a quiet little mooring somewhere “in the wild” where we could make the most of yet another summer evening with Anita and Ralph, new friends from Switzerland with whom we have been travelling more or less in concert for a week or so.