Legends from our own lunchtimes

Friday, August 31, 2012

Open sesame
Richardmenil to Nancy

One could be forgiven for having thoughts that summer was over a day early as dawn arrived with a temperature in single digits. 

It's not that we were particularly aware of the dawn temperature, but Ron looked triumphant, having discovered in what for us would have been the wee small hours that the air-conditioner was actually a reverse cycle one.  Once again the saloon of Tiara, this time magically heated to a balmy twenty four degrees was the setting for our elevenses, which, because we were anxious to get underway, took place at nine.  

We hadn't considered for a moment that we took to be his triumphal look may of course have been merely one of relief, knowing that we would soon once again part company and they would once again find solitude and relief from our periodic raids on their larder and coffee supplies.

The ten kilometres between Richardmenil and Nancy is known as the Nancy Junction Canal had been closed for four years or five due to land-slips and other malfunctions which left parts of it devoid of water and other parts simply devoid, but was reopened mid year with little spectacle and it is a rather relaxing diversion through one of the city's green spaces,  with the tow path shared by what seems to be every cyclist in France, and possibly half of the remaining population who don't for one reason or another have bikes for that matter.    Bicycles, hikers, mobility scooters and even the odd walking frame whizz past as though there is no tomorrow.

If we were to have a complaint at all, it would not be that there are nineteen locks along the way, but that the hydraulic devices that operate the doors tend to be quite slow.  This is a good thing. It makes transiting through them entirely worry-free, but after staring at the nineteenth pair of gates for the day, willing them to open, the process can be as much of a drain on the mind as it is on the locks themselves.

So we were a bit weary by the time we arrived in Nancy, the breeze which had been building all day, had become wind, with gusts sufficient to stop most of our forward progress from time to time, so we prudently elected to stay against the stone quay opposite the port where hundreds of metres of empty quay allowed us to nonchalantly stop and tie off wherever the wind took us.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Slowing down again
Maron to Richardmenil

We didn' t mean to travel as far as we did yesterday.

We had decided we'd just pop round the corner and stay at the first place that looked as though it had room for two boats, but we didn't like the first and the second was too shallow and by the time we'd been through another commercial lock there was only one to go, and the lock keeper told us about a place a bit further along, and so it went until we'd travelled all afternoon and pretty well into the evening to boot.

From the river, the only visible part of the "port" about which the lock keeper had waxed so lyrical was a new aluminium structure with a big sign in red lettering which proclaimed it to be "reserved for boats carrying passengers".   Further investigation revealed that the reason that it was the only part visible was that it was indeed the only part, but there was room for the two of us to tie behind the pontoon.

Beyond the trees ashore lay Maron, a little village a mere ten kilometres from Nancy as the crow flies, which anywhere else would make it a suburb, but here it is in the middle of nowhere, in a clearing in the middle of a forest.

Since we aren't travelling by crow we still have a day or two in the country until we reach the Big Smoke again, and turn one last time for home.

Sometimes the pace at which we move challenges even our own perspective on time.  I have started to wonder about Einstein's theory of relativity, and if time slows down as we approach the speed of light, whether it actually speeds up as we slow down.

Perhaps that could explain how our time in France has simply evaporated.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On our way home
Toul to Maron

One of the nice things about cruising in company is that there's always an air-conditioned space to retreat from the heat of a summer's morning.  That is of course providing the company one is travelling with has an air conditioner aboard, which in this case they certainly did.

It is fair to say that by the time we rustled ourselves into action some time after lunch quite a crowd had gathered, mostly to marvel at the wonders of the new acclimatisation machine, but also to scrounge coffee and whatever else was on the go in air conditioned comfort.  Eventually they were coerced into at least moving off the boat where they gathered in a little cluster of mostly blokes at the sterns of our boats.

Ron seized the opportunity and started Tiara's engine.

"You can hardly hear the motor Ron" was all I could hear above the murmurings of approval on the dock.

"Clear Prop!"  I called, in case any of them had taken to the water when I wasn't watching, and contemporaneously  the good Captain scurried to the stern to ensure that none were in the firing line of Mr Perkins impending spluttering.     The crowd roared in a jocular sort of laugh as though the punchline of the world's funniest joke had just been offered.  So loudly did they laugh that we could hear them over Mr P's guttural roar.  Thankfully we couldn't watch them falling about through the clouds we were creating, so Mr P and we ignored their unkindness and glided smoothly if not silently and invisibly down to the river, where the very first tones of Autumn were beginning to show.

Our homeward journey had truly begun.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Doing it tough

If we had gone to Toul hoping to take refuge from our countrymen, we may have been quite disappointed to discover that the party had moved from Nancy to exactly there.  In a sense we had arrived to something of a reunion.

We were of course not disappointed and with what is technically just a few Summer days remaining this year, the weather was as the forecast had suggested; perfect if a little on the warm side.  This of course played into Ron's hands nicely with that new air-conditioner humming so quietly that it was if even its lack of noise was a device to inflame fits of jealousy among those who were without.

But some of us braved the heat and walked around and had lunch and walked some more until Paul and Bertha arrived unexpectedly and dinner became a mere entree for a long night quietly chatting under the stars .  One of those long lazy hazy days of summer had been gloriously mis-spent.

How any of us had avoided the temptation in the mid afternoon heat, of jumping from the pontoon into the clear cool water of the harbour is a mystery.

Perhaps our Antipodean youth had  instilled a respect for the dangers that lurk within anything so tempting, or perhaps it was a respect born of age for the signs which read "swimming prohibited".

Or perhaps it was that from the comfort of Tiara's newly air-conditioned saloon, it didn't look quite so inviting.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Once more to Metz
Nancy to Toul

With Ron and Robin's shopping done, a new air conditioning unit in it's box tucked safely aboard Tiara (despite our feigned disapproval), all we had to do was to descend the lock onto the Moselle, turn right, and we would be in Metz by the time the sun had set tomorrow.  A simple, grand plan we thought.

As is the case each time we reach a cross roads, or in this case a tee junction in the waterways, we informed the lock keeper where we were headed.  "There is a big lock broken on the river" he informed us, and with a and we cannot tell when it will be fixed, it could be quite some time.

"Quite some time" in France is a variable measurement, and in reality could become rather a long time when measured against standards utilised in other parts of the world, so we needed to reassess our plans.

On the one hand this was was good news for us, because it meant that there would be no commercial craft on the river disturbing our tranquility.  On the other, it meant that the journey to Metz may be rather more tranquil than we would prefer as we couldn't actually move either, and when we did arrive at the errant lock, there would be a rather large queue of gigantic commercial craft, each of which would have priority over us when the necessary repairs had been completed.

That wait in itself could be "quite some time" even after the repairs had been made.

Under the circumstances, we thought the only logical thing to do was to head in the other direction, so we turned left instead of right and pointed our respective craft to Toul.

Metz can wait.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

More fenders please!
Nancy to Champigneulles

We didn't plan to get away first thing, neither did we intend to travel very far, which was just as well as by the time we had done the farewell rounds it was just about time for the lifting bridge operators to return from lunch and we were able to gently drift off with delightful memories of all that is Nancy pulsing through our veins.

We were bound for Metz, but Ron and Robin had a shopping errand to take care of at the waterside hardware store in the morning, and six kilometres of relaxed drifting down the waterway was what we had in mind for the afternoon.  There's no point in over doing it after all.

If every journey of that distance was as eventful, perhaps we would adopt a more sedentary lifestyle, something entirely risk-free like base jumping comes to mind.  

We had no reason to suspect for instance, that the operator of the lifting bridge would commence unlifting it while were below.  Just how someone whose sole job is to stop traffic and allow boats through was able to avoid noticing us is something of a mystery.     Not long after that the ferry that we were following stopped without notice, and with even less notice suddenly began to turn in the waterway apparently oblivious to the quite immutable fact that not one of the three pleasure boats heading towards it was equipped with a braking device of any kind.

Somehow we all avoided an untimely demise with nothing more than a cheery wave from the captain apparently unaware of his misdemeanour.

With hearts now beating at least a little above normal resting rate, we secured ourselves quietly on our mooring and were just settling down to a quiet little drink, each with the beverage of choice in hand, when an errant barge skipper, as oblivious to our presence as the ferryman had been failed in his effort to slice us in two by less than a metre.

Suddenly, in one sunny afternoon we had experienced more excitement than most would see in a lifetime on the canals.   I suspect that we have used our quota and all we have to look forward to now is clear skies, calm water and incredible scenery.

Life may tend to become a little tedious!


Saturday, August 25, 2012


The Aussie influx in the port in Nancy has not gone unnoticed.

Today the newspaper headlines and a lead article on the front page are devoted to the summer phenomenon of the invasion from down under.   There is hope that it will continue, this new-found interest in France, bringing with us our shiny dollars.

From our perspective we hope that our dollars stay shiny, but things are not as they seem.

We are convinced that the "influx" is simply the result of a misalignment of the stars.   No one here is new to cruising in France.  Two or three of our number have been in their second year, but most of us are relics from a time when our dollar was very tarnished indeed.  It seems to be just one of those strange co-incidences that we have all simply arrived at the one spot at this time.

None the less, we smile and talk to the crowds that come to see us, and assure them all that more are on their way, which is exactly the case.  The round of social engagements has become relentless, we are starting to wonder why our countryfolk are so gregarious.  Why can't we all just sit quietly by ourselves like so many boats we observe wearing other flags/

Ron and Robin arrived a couple of days ago and have been moored beside us.  In a moment of weakness we collectively decided to visit Metz next week, turning our backs on our celebrity here, so tomorrow, when they least expect it, we will slip quietly away.

Or maybe we'll just find somewhere quiet to simply sit and read.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Old Nouveau

Nancy is a town full of old buildings filled with old things.   It's famous as the place where the Art Nouveau movement began, so it is not surprising that the place is brimming with newer but still old buildings and furniture and oblique references  to the style, nor is it surprising that there is a museum dedicated to it pioneers.

What could appear at first to be a little surprising given my own predilection for the style is that in four years we haven't actually managed to visit the place.  THis has been due in no small part to the habit we have found in the proprietors of all things interesting to have them open to the public every day, (except of course the day on which we are there).

This year we were so determined to grace the "Musée de l' École de Nancy" with our presence, and today, having established a day or two ago that this was not a day when it was not open, we did.  

The building and its exhibits are of course glorious examples of what was an exciting and daring new era in design, our senses heightened and experience  enhanced no doubt by the two Euros we saved with our seniors discount on the admission price, but at the same time we were shaken a little with a new and sobering reality.

We had asked for the discount and had not been asked for evidence of our age.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Still they come

Incredibly, even more boats have arrived flying the Australian flag, to fill the spaces of those who have moved on.   The port is abuzz with the wonder of it all, Nancy has become something of an enclave for us it would seem.

New boats mean renewed interest in the blokes equivalent of the progressive tea.  "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" is our unspoken motto, and before long, fan belts are being tightened and oil filters removed to the appreciative sighs of the assembled witnesses, twenty-five cent cans of beer in hand.

The discussion moves from generators to coolant and back to shear pins for bow thrusters, but eventually I become distracted by a day pass for the buses that needs some use so we set out in search of bicycle locks.

In the harbour, we from the other side of the world, are a novelty.  At home we are often told that our flag is not recognised by others.  Indeed quite a few do mistake it for that of New Zealand, but overwhelmingly they recognise it for what it is, stop and ask if we have brought our boat all that way and ask us about the weather at home and in return they tell us a little of where they live and how many generations of their family have lived in their village and how interesting it must be to live in a country so new.

We agree of course, and try to explain to them how interesting it is to be visiting a country where one's garden shed predates our European settlement by four hundred years.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Really Old

The Harbour Master lives in what perhaps is already but certainly one day will be a very special house in a village not terribly far from Nancy.

A few years ago when we came through the port we swapped notes about our leaks.  At that time I suspect we were winning in the "who gets the wettest when it rains" stakes, but last year the tide began to turn ever so slightly in his favour.      

This morning, prompted no doubt by our continued interest in his progress and perhaps to a lesser degree his fascination with his falconry we were invited home for lunch with his family, to inspect their labour of love.

There is nothing in the architectural vocabulary of his house that is familiar to anyone who has been raised in a country which was not seriously settled until the twentieth century.    It was built, apparently, in the seventeenth century, mostly from stones appropriated from the ruins of a nearby chateau as indeed was the tower in the neighbouring property albeit built at least a hundred years before.  On close inspection ventilation openings in what was once the basement have been fashioned from slots which were once very clearly intended for the despatch of arrows, door and window heads have carved tracery which clearly emanated from a property of more salubrious lineage.   On a wall of what will be the dining room, there is a patch of plaster which remains carefully conserved on which a soldier of several wars gone by has left a souvenir of his presence in careful graphite script.

Under the eaves there is a row of small square openings, which centuries ago served as a pigeonierre but he says there haven't been any pigeons there since the falcons moved in, a fact which is unsurprising to any of us.

He explains that rescuing baby falcons is not quite exactly in strict compliance with the law about these things, but what is one to do, and shows us photographs of their last foundling swooping at the kittens in the kitchen.

"We are renovating an old house too", we offer over coffee and he asks as many have done before, when it was built.

"1982" we offer, and his expression tells us he doesn't know if we are joking.

We never joke we tell him with a smile, and then he's sure we are.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

No rest for the wicked though.

It was not long after two more boatloads of our compatriots had departed that Helle popped in to say good-bye, offering that they too would be leaving within the hour while in the same sentence offering an invitation to the good Captain to accompany her on a voyage of discovery to a shoe store at the end of town, which she assured us would only take a short while.

She started to resist, the Captain did, but seeing the the washing up was already underway must have decided I would be occupied and therefore would in all probability remain out of trouble for the foreseeable future, so ducked off as well, leaving me totally unsupervised, and I would have too had it not been for the Kiwis who arrived in the big blue barge and amazingly another couple of Aussies.

Surely it wasn't my fault that by the time the "hour" at the shops had elapsed, the sun was well over the yard arm and the party started all over again.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The day after

We've felt it before, the type of hangover that comes after a day like yesterday.

It's not one the sort of unwell that one apparently suffers after drinking too much of Mummy's special red cordial, but a sort of hollowness that appears somewhere deep within as a cloak of silence falls over the space in the harbour where once there was a boat.   Only a few of our number drifted off to continue their travels, but we all felt it, a sort of quasi-sadness that the party that had been the last few days had come to an end, thankfully taking with it the worst of the heat.

Of those, Niels looked after the dogs while Helle went to Paris to source some clothes, Georgi went to Paris too in an attempt not to resolve some immigration questions, Edith and Peter just went, taking their kids with them, as did Kees and Julie, creating even more spaces while the rest of us busied ourselves doing the sorts of things one does when one doesn't particularly want to do anything.

Perhaps to reassure ourselves that there was indeed life beyond the harbour front, we wandered off to town for the afternoon.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


For the second time this summer a heatwave is sweeping Europe.  Once again the city is trying to escape the heat and discovering that it cannot hide.  Shade is at a premium, if it could be bottled street vendors would be on every corner selling it at outrageous prices.

In Nancy at the moment, quiet extraordinarily there are six boats with crews which speak with accents broadly like ours, and while many from other lands equate thirty-seven degrees with Australia, every one of us equated the weather with "barbecue" under the trees of the harbour promenade.   Marvellously there are children running among us as well, a thousand of them, or was it four, and a couple of Danes who see themselves as related because after all their future King has Antipodean blood in his veins, and who share their dogs without favour.

So we sit in the shade of our communal trees, two dozen of us variously sharing watermelon or talking bloke stuff and propellor sizes, or girl stuff and grandchildren or chasing dogs to the smell of snags on charcoal and popping drink cans and the squeals of children under a hose.

It's like a great big family picnic on boxing day but there's no grass for cricket, and as always there is a lot of catching up to be done, although in this community if anyone stopped to think about it, no one has known each other for more than two days, but no one does, and the party continues well into the night.

Tomorrow our group will begin to disperse, by Wednesday we will be the last remaining in port, but we will all remember that afternoon in Nancy when the thermometer hit thirty-seven, and half of Australia turned up for the barbecue.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Light Show

Perhaps the most outstanding feature of Nancy is its central square, Place Stanislas, and we have the photographs to prove it. Perhaps even more enthralling if that is an appropriate word, is the light show which happens in that square each evening in summer at eleven o'clock, just after the sun has gone down.

It's a wonderful production of moving laser projection on the faces of all of the buildings in the square, and anyone who has seen it will offer it as a highlight of their summer time in France.

There are other things that are offered as highlights as well of course, to each his own.   So many things are offered that often a listener's eyes tend to glaze over while the questioned person drones on endlessly about things they have seen and done… blah blah blahdiddy blah (those last four words were in Flemish for the benefit of Ria)……. until finally there is a pause as if keeping the best till last….

…."Oh yes!" they will say, as if embarrassed that they had not mentioned them first. "and those incredible irridescent blue-green dragonflies that hover and flash across the water."

They are too fast to capture, yet some days when the weather is just fine and the conditions are just right there are hundreds of them twinkling in the sun.  

Every one of them is as memorable as the light show in Place Stanislas, and we don't have to wait till after dark to see them.

Friday, August 17, 2012

It's a war out here!
Crévéchamps to Nancy

The good ship Betty B is rather large and quite slow, and despite Mike's good intentions of getting to Nancy a long time before us, and us giving him a good ten kilometres and a similar number of locks head start, it was on the very last lock of the day we finally caught up.

Not that we were racing of course, in fact Mike let us go first the other morning, and we vacated our lunchtime mooring for them the next day.  Yesterday we were only moving a short distance, so let them overtake us to ensure they got the best run at the locks.   Life on the canals is supposed to be like that, slow and mutually co-operative.

Some people just don't get it.

This evening, as Betty B was shuffling into the lock that would take her down to the harbour in Nancy, we hung back as is usual, waiting our turn.  I didn't need a calculator to tell me that after squeezing twenty-eight metres of steel barge into a thirty five metre long lock, nothing else would go, but apparently the bloke in the fourteen metre cruiser sending surf across the canal was of the view that if he entered the lock fast enough perhaps HE would.  

In an effort to get his attention I stood with my head through the hatch and  screamed across the roar of his engines in my most non-confrontational voice in something I hoped approximated his native tongue,.    "Hey Dumbkopf!  There's a barge in the lock";

That might have worked had in the process I not absented myself from the wheel and left our dear "Joyeux" to his own devices while I did so.  The slow arc we were scribing in direction big ugly cruiser was what seemed to attract the attention of the skipper more than anything.  This, while not intentional on my part, admittedly from the perspective of a fourteen metre cruiser travelling in close quarters at twice the speed limit, may well have been misinterpreted as a rather aggressive attempt to force him out of the water, which I stress it was not.     This was not a good thing, but it did distract him from his race for long enough so that he did actually notice that the lock was in fact not to put too fine a point on it;   "chockers".

It seemed to be at about that exact moment that another pair of immutable facts sunk into his thick scone:   There were actually TWO boats in front of him in the queue for the lock, and as soon as dear Betty B left the lock, the lights would be turned off for the night.  

Possibly unsure of whether he would find pleasant company beside the lock for the night, he was last seen heading in direction opposite, more slowly than I was later reliably informed, he had travelled all afternoon.  

As soon as he was out of earshot, the skipper of the second boat shouted in our direction :"Hey, it's YOU!  The ones from Television! You are from Australia!"

Err….. how did you recognise me when I was wearing my sunglasses?""

"You were wearing them on TV too!" he replied with a chuckle, referring to last year's Saar Television spot.

And yes another marvellous evening ensued aboard Albert and Doris' little cruiser, which as a result is now somewhat depleted of a fine range of Saarland gastronomic specialties!

I wonder if they'll frame our autographs?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Wilds
Bainville-aux-Miroirs to Crévéchamps

We moored last night in what local boat dwellers often refer to as "the wild".    It's not that it was very wild though, anywhere there is a patch of forest out of sight of habitation, is called "the wild" and to be fair one doesn't need to use too much imagination to begin to believe that there is not another soul within a million miles.

The reality though, is that even in the wildest parts of "the wilds" one need only carry one's new ten kilogram folding bike for a few metres across the grass to reach a small waking track which in a few hundred metres will lead to a small vehicular path, which will lead to a road, and within a kilometre or two, to a bakery.

One needn't fear starvation when mooring in the wilds.

What one really needs to fear apparently is complacency and procrastination and the urge to nothing but sit variously chatting quietly and laughing for long periods of time before taking a nap.  Just why one needs to fear those things is not yet clear to me though, and when it is, perhaps I shall take steps to prevent them happening.

Neither Dave nor Ria nor for that matter the good Captain herself have any fear of those things either, as progress during the day if that is what it could be called, was interspersed with all of them along with a little food, and halted entirely when eventually we came across another shady spot, not unlike the one we had left.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The circus is in Town!
Nomexy to Bainville-aux-Miroirs

Even if  we had had a plan yesterday, things would not have gone according to it.   After the kerfuffle at the bank, the lack of water in several sectors of canal made progress very slow indeed, and by the time the sun had disappeared we were still a few hours short of where we had arranged to meet Dave and Ria today in order to collect them, and possibly more importantly our new bikes.

But today was a new day, and with it  brought canals brimming with water, sky brimming with sunshine, an early start, and a small car with Belgium number plates brimming with bicycles, arriving at our rendezvous in Charmes at precisely the same  time that we did.

It's hard to believe that fifty years, two months and fifteen days have passed since that birthday morning when I crept into my parent's bedroom in the early half-light to run my trembling hands over every inch of my first bike, but as we started to unload the car the excitement was barely less than then.

These bikes seemed just as special, proper fold-ups that will fit four in the boot of a small car, weigh less than a carton of beer, and feel like proper grown-up machines to ride.  They have proper gears and are bad-boy black and are probably exactly the sort of bikes Darth Vader's mob would have ridden if they'd run out of space-things to take them places, or perhaps if they'd been juggling clowns in a circus perhaps.

It was complete co-incidence that the bikes we had chosen were identical to Dave and Ria's, but probably no co-incidence in the way these things go, that at the precise location that we took delivery of the new machines, thousands of kilometres of some of the finest bikeways in Europe petered out into a barely marked off-road track suitable only for super-athletes mounted on mountain bikes.

For months we've been travelling alongside paths in which the EU have invested tens of millions of dollars creating a network that is truly remarkable.  For the past month we've looked enviously as hundreds of cyclists have passed by on their way to places unreachable, we've missed opportunities to visit small villages and galleries and chateaus, but bravely and patiently we've waited for the new bikes to turn up with barely a whimper of complaint.

Now at last they are here, we have the means to follow those yellow brick roads to their very ends.  We have bikes chosen for their performance on those billiard table smooth paths,  and they came to an end right there, fifteen kilometres back, in Charmes!

Is there any wonder Darth and his boys preferred space ships.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dry Gullies
Epinal to Nomexy

The Port Capitaine knocked on our window last night and told us that the harbour was to be closed  from tomorrow because there was no water, and if we wanted to leave then this morning would be a good time to do just that.

We had noticed the campervans circling like vultures over a dying carcass, but hadn't realised they were waiting for our parking spot until that very moment.   They would have to wait, we had things to do at the bank.

Deeply engaged as we were in discussing exactly what we would buy from the bakery for morning tea before we departed, we joined the queue in the bank and settled in for our wait.    Eventually with hearts in throats because the technical nature of the discussion we were about to have was far beyond our abilities in the language stakes, it was our turn.

I laid our bank details and identification documents on the counter and contemporaneously launched into my well rehearsed apology for our inadequacies in the area of communication.   The bank chap politely butted in, throwing me entirely off my game.
"Credit Agricole" he said, reciting the name of our bank clearly set out on the letterhead before launching in to a short but undecipherable tirade, while tapping on my documents.

"Yes, that's right" I replied, expecting some resistance as, after all that is what happens in banks.

He then repeated his whole diatribe, and again I ignored him and pressed on with my enquiry.

Everyone except us has a story about how hard it is to get assistance when one doesn't speak the local language.   We had escaped to date, but now it was our turn.  Clearly I had a tough one here.
He seemed a bit perplexed, although not at all frustrated, and said something that sounded like  "No you are here" pointing as he did to the wall behind us.

"Well yes I know I am here"  I replied, not completely certain of where the conversation was heading, although at that precise moment a rather large light bulb deep within my brain switched itself on.

We were standing in the chambers of a bank whose name sounded very much like the French word for "here", not actually the one we had intended to be in.  Engrossed in thoughts of morning tea, we had actually wandered in to a bank almost a city block from the one we sought, an establishment very much in competition with our own.  Much laughter, heart felt apology and slapping of backs later, we shook hands with the long suffering banker, no doubt no longer feeling any benefit from his day off yesterday, and departed for the correct address, where we had even less success with obtaining assistance.

It was time to retreat we thought, before the canal became as dry a gully as the one's we'd been running up all morning. The water by that time was so low that our exit was about as close to off-roading as one can get in a boat, but after several hours we were again in safe water and ready to resume our travels.


Monday, August 13, 2012

On the Bank

I had to face facts, no matter how much I told myself it might be ok if I just let things settle for a bit,  the black goo that filled the hydrometer when I checked the battery charge confirmed that this one particular battery was broken, as they say in the construction industry, with a capital "F".

Fortunately it is just one of a pair which serve to keep our lights and pumps running, and of course the refrigerator when we have no shore power, so we do not have a crisis of any great magnitude.       Without going into a long discourse on what makes a battery a battery, it is suffice to say that light, pump and refrigerator batteries have different characteristics to the ones we use to start combustion engines.

Therefore before heading off in search of someone who could help, I spent some time ensuring that I had the correct terminology in my head, and in the event that it left my head even fleetingly, written in large letters on a piece of paper held securely in my pocket,.

Incredibly perhaps, my efforts at communication were entirely successful, which meant that following each "no, sorry, (shrug)" I received in response to my enquiries, I was able to elicit from the shrugee  directions successively from tyre company to auto accessory shop to  anywhere within walking distance of the preceding place having established as I went that each of them stocked only the wrong type of battery, and no it's not possible to order one in.

In a way I can't say that I was unhappy, because as each new direction was given as to where I may find one of the wretched things, I found myself being lured further and further from the boat  like a child being lured into the forest by the smell of fresh gingerbread perhaps, and I must admit I began to be wary of the prospect of lugging thirty or so kilograms of battery across Epinal, arriving splashed in acid with arms dragged from their sockets. 

As that wariness grew into fear, I sensibly abandoned my pursuit of a battery and set off for the bank in order to settle the small matter of payment for our new bicycles.

But how quickly we forget.

Today is Monday, the day that bankers reserve for anything but banking.  It's like a Sunday really in their eyes, so with that in mind we became bankers for a day and went for a long walk through the ruins  of the Chateau, drank cool drinks in the shade of a tree, and wondered what anyone that didn't work in a bank was doing.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Two Scoops

When we woke this morning, we were in Epinal which is quite fortuitous under the circumstances, as that is exactly where we were when we went to sleep, albeit after spending a rather long night with Clara and Remco who during the course of it seemed recover completely from their earlier angst, none of us able to work out how we actually managed to arrive when we did.

We should have been stuck in no-man's land two thirds of the way down the hill, but we weren't, we were lying in a nice port watching the colours dance around the water, wondering why we can never devise a plan that is capable of remaining intact for more than two days.

We like it here.

Perhaps we can find a battery.  Even better, perhaps we can find someone helpful in a bank who will assist us to pay for the bikes before their imminent arrival.

Perhaps we can stay for a while, but it's Sunday and there's no point working on a new plan today.

Perhaps we will look at that tomorrow.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Going Down
Ecluse 15 to Epinal

If the wrinkles on it were symmetrical I may have had an entirely furrowed brow last night, as I calculated and recalculated our chances of actually getting to the top of the hill in time to make it through the chain of fourteen locks down in one day.  It's the sort of stuff that's cloaked in futility, a schedule like that is a bundle of  frustration waiting to be unleashed, but I calculated and recalculated anyway, bravely pretending that I wouldn't look at it on the morn.

If everything was to go perfectly our way, a contradiction in terms when one is referring to French Canals, I calculated that we might actually get to the top of the downward chain exactly three minutes too late to make it to the bottom.  I wondered what our chances would be of picking up a valuable three or four kilometres on the run to Toul.

The first two hours of the day were encouraging to the point of causing excitement, we'd actually picked up almost ninety seconds, if we could do that for the next two hours we'd be there!

That is exactly when we caught up with the Dutch couple in the large cruiser, and they were not a pair of happy campers.   It would seem that a couple hailing from a country best known for its efficiency, had simply refused to allow them into the lock, closed the gates and departed, leaving them (and for that matter us) with a dozen or so locks in an automatic chain, completely out of synchronisation, and in need of a good deal of work by the lock keepers on route just to keep us heading in direction forwards.   We thought about our shattered plan, and took solace in the fact that it didn't seem to be anywhere near as disastrous as their shattered plan, and got on with enjoying our day together at least until we got to the top of the hill when we lost sight of them in their haste to make up for lost time in the ten kilometres of lock-free canal before the descent.

The descent is a chain of locks, each separated by at most a hundred metres, and timing being what it is, our new Dutch friends found themselves separated from their nemesis by exactly one lock, and we followed them by the exact same distance, through the miracle of automated technology, none of us able to move closer or further away.

In the meantime, through circumstance that were completely inexplicable, after a somewhat tension filled last hour, we managed to enter the last lock in the chain at exactly one minute to six, to be met at the bottom by the now smiling faces of Remco and Clara.

We'd had enough excitement to last a week.

We had arrived in Epinal, it was time to change our plan.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Another day in the office
Ecluse 38 to Ecluse 15 (Thillots)

Another day in the office.

We came up with a plan overnight.  Due to an overwhelming number of plans failing to come to fruition, we haven't done that in a while, but despite the little warning buzzer in the back of my head we did it anyway.

The plan was simple.  We'd put the "pedal to the metal" and spend the next four days travelling from nine in the morning to six at night, the business hours of the locks on this stretch of canal, and by Tuesday we'd be in Toul, where we'd meet Dave and Ria.   We wouldn't linger anywhere on the way, we'd simply make notes to follow on our return next year.

We were in the first lock at six minutes past nine, a disappointing effort in light of the fact that we had actually moored at it's very gate, and for the first hour or two our plan went swimmingly.     Then we arrived at Fontenoy-le-Château at about coffee o'clock, which turned into coffee and I wonder if the Baker has any eclaires today, which turned into an admittedly swift reconnaissance of the town "for next year", a chat with a passing barge or two, and a promise to stay for a month on our return.

Not withstanding our short diversion, twenty-three locks and twenty-six kilometres up the hill since breakfast, we found ourselves facing a lock that refused to open, and discovered that perhaps this was a very fine piece of forest to spend the night after all.

We had averaged an impressive two point eight kilometres per hour for nine hours.   We were humming!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Corre to Ecluse 38 (Ambievillers)

They must be afraid of the dark or something.

That's what we figured, because they sure weren't all that keen on us going back to our own boat and leaving them sitting there last night, but to be fair we weren't in all that much of a hurry to go either.

When we eventually stirred in the morning, ready for an early getaway, the shared coffee and resumption of last evening's conversation put paid to that plan.  The need for one of us and one of them to take the electric bikes for another ride, this time as far as the supermarket delayed things further, as did the need by all of us to eat pretty much everything they'd brought back from the supermarket, while sitting amiably in the shady clutches of a large tree.

Eventually we ran out of excuses, and very nearly stayed another night, but even if we weren't anxious to rendezvous with Dave and Ria next week, they have our bikes in their car…..

So hugged and kissed each other again, took a few last photos presumably in case in the few months until we meet again we forget what each other looks like, and parted with smiley glows that would surely last a week.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

In fine company

Grahame and Aileen arrived today right on cue, all suntanned and smiles.  They had cleverly replaced their battery a few months ago, when they were near a thing called a battery shop.

We suggested there wasn't anything to see here and they should perhaps move right along, although there is a supermarket on the very outskirts of the town, just one very long kilometre away if the signs are to be believed.

The term "outskirts" in this sense seems to mean between the cow paddock and the grain fields, on the way to somewhere else, and no, the supermarket doesn't stock batteries for boats, and all agree that truly it's terrible the way the mobile phone companies don't even know we exist in this village or anywhere else in the vicinity because if they did you'd be able to phone someone or ask Monsieur Google for help.

To find an internet or mobile phone connection is very far away, apparently too very far to walk.   If the person who told us that had used the "B" word I may not have been able to restrain myself, because we have very good friends who we have not yet been able to reimburse for the purchase.

If we don't find a sufficient internet connection to allow us to pay for them soon, the bikes might end up going back to the shop as well!

The new arrivals on the other hand, had no such problem, with two shiny new electric bicycles proudly hanging from the rack on the back of their boat.   Goodness if we'd had time, we could have whirred our way to the next country on one of those, but even then there were doubts from all who knew the area that we'd ever find an internet connection again.

I should have just pinched the batteries when they weren't looking and installed them under our bunk.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Fouchecourt to Corre

If Corre didn't have  a canal running slap bang through the middle of it and a road running across it in the other direction, I get the impression it would be at the end of the line somehow.  There is something approximating absolutely nothing to see and for that matter almost the same number of places to be seen in as well.

It would be the perfect place to lay low for a while, till the heat was off.

Off what I probably can't say, although I suspect there could be a problem brewing with one of our batteries because there's a bit of heat emanating from under the bed and there's a distinct whiff of something deadly in the air to go with it.  If it can hold out till tomorrow I might become enthused enough to check it out when Grahame and Aileen are here.  There's nothing like having an audience when trying to look intelligently at the ends of wires when one of the members of it was once an electrician.

For what's left of today though, I'll probably just lie around reading one of the several thousand pieces of pulp fiction that seem to litter every crevice in the boat since the people manning the book swap in St-Jean-de-Losne implored one of us to take as many as we could carry.   I don't read that sort of stuff too often, even thought it seems to work wonders for my steely nerves, my ability to walk unnoticed through a crowd, to spot the bad guys just from the glint of sunlight on their hunting scope from a thousand yards,

And I can tell at an instant when I'm being followed too.

I just can't quite figure what I've done that would remotely interest the FBI.

Monday, August 06, 2012

For want of a bike....
Port-sur-Sâone to Fouchecourt

Port-sur-Sâone is a funny place.

It's a bit like a real live version of that old joke about the best part of Melbourne being the road to Sydney.

As we walked around it there were all sorts of hints of mildly interesting things, curious graffiti, wall art, African art, flags and posters from all nations posted purposefully in odd corners of the town, signs everywhere that may or may not have promised things of interest in its vicinity, but every sign pointed to a village not far away.

Too far to walk perhaps, but not far by most other measures none the less.  Once again we were thwarted by the fact that our brand new bicycles are in Belgium and therefore a hop skip and a jump too far away to be of practical assistance.

Every cafe in town was supposed to be closed, today being Monday and they did not disappoint, except for the one which normally opened on Mondays, and it was closed "exceptionally".    We were thankful we weren't actually looking forward to eating in one of them, and wondered if we had had our bikes, would we have used them to track down one of the promises from an adjoining village, or was it simply a ruse to make us think the place was interesting.

We couldn't stand the strain of thinking about it all day, so wrote "explore this village later" on our chart, and slipped ever so quietly away, so as not to wake the restaurant proprietors from their mid day slumber.

Not terribly far beyond the village that "Attila the Hun set out from by boat in 452 after the defeat of the village Favernay" we found near solitude in the village of Fouchecourt, noted only for its harbour which will hold fifteen boats, and according to the harbour master who is also the proprietor of the attached restaurant named unsurprisingly "the Little Port",  that is exactly the number of houses in the village and he assured us there is nothing else to see for for many kilometres.

"Do you have bicycles?"   he asked.


Sunday, August 05, 2012

Darkest Africa
Port-Soing to Port-sur-Sâone

We were quite happy staying in the middle of nowhere, not that the residents of Port Soing would consider it to be that I expect.  After all they were kind enough to provide a landing for us and a power point and some water as well, just near the park a few kilometres away from the main channel on the river diversion.

We spent yesterday afternoon reading under a tree, at our own private picnic table, and the couple who shared the landing did the same under a tree of their own at their private picnic table, and we could see no reason at all, except perhaps that it was raining quite a lot, why we shouldn't spend today doing the same thing.  

Saturday is changeover day in boat charter world, and it would seem that Soing is exactly one day's gentle crusing from the base and to boot it is the sort of place that hirers find attractive as well, so by lunchtime, the landing which was designed to accommodate five boats was doing exactly that, and it would not be long before there would be others circling, looking longingly at exactly our spot as the sky began to promise a clearer afternoon.

Exactly after lunch proceedings had been dispensed with, we decided that perhaps if we were to move on for a bit we could make some space and assuage the disappontment of the next charterer to arrive.   After all, they'd have bicycles aboard and would be able to properly explore the pathways and villages that connected to the park.

It's all to do with one of those immutable laws of life I suspect, the one about not knowing what one has until it's gone, but our bikes would sometimes sit for weeks under their covers.  At those times, everything would be in easy walking distance week after week, and we'd only take them off the boat if we felt like venturing quite far afield, yet on this particular stretch of water, everything is further afield.

So when we arrived in Port-sur-Sâone it came as no surprise to find the pleasure boat harbour was a few kilometres from the town.   It was also hardly surprising therefore that we would decide to moor against the quay in the very heart of town.

What was a little bit surprising perhaps, was when we got there we came to be under the distinct impression that we had been transported to a large continent somewhere to the soulth.


Saturday, August 04, 2012

Check mate
Savoyeux to Port-Soing

With the Chateau looming over the town of Ray-sur-Saone, we thought it definitely worth the detour for a few kilometres over water about as deep as damp blotting paper to the little mooring in the village.

Even as we approached the mooring we chuckled and began to discuss what reason for the chateau could give for being closed to thwart our attempts at inspection.

It's not Monday or Tuesday or Friday afternoon, nor a holiday, and it's not the weekend, well actually it is the weekend but it's in the middle of the summer holidays when most old things are open for inspection on weekends anyway and besides, it's not a public holiday that we are aware of, although admittedly we did discuss the thought that by the time we secured the boat and wandered to the information sign near the little quay, it was getting dangerously close to lunch time.

Being cautious sorts of folk, or perhaps having climbed cliffs to find things closed once too often, we were delighted to discover from the information quite clearly set out on the sign,  that on Saturdays and for that matter on every other day of the week the admission charge to the chateau was six Euro.   While there weren't any actual opening hours stated, we felt certain that the admission charge was a reasonable inference that providing we presented ourselves outside of mealtimes, we may actually gain admittance.

So we climbed another mountain, and when we arrived at exactly quarter to lunchtime, the faded sign on the gate said:

"There are no visits inside the chateau.
You are welcome to enjoy the gardens.
Please do not look in the windows."

We  did enjoy the gardens, and despite the overwhelming desire to walk up to the nearest widow and peer in we did not.

All the way down the hill we talked about  what we would do with the twelve Euros we had just saved, and then we received the call.

Dave and Ria had picked up our new bikes from the place in Belgium we'd found on the internet.

I suspect we'll owe them that much at least!

Friday, August 03, 2012

Gray to Savoyeux

Not sure of what to expect of the town or whether we could overcome our first impression, we set out to walk its streets.

Any town, which is prepared in celebration of summer, to decorate the main traffic roundabout in its centre is alright by us.  When that place creates a sandy beach  with umbrellas, change huts and circling corporate sharks, it leaps to the top of the list of places we need to spend more time in.

When the tourist office is staffed by people desperate to have one attend every function in the town for the next decade, and even stations an honour guard at the lock to ensure that one has had a good time and to invite one back for longer next time, then really one has to consider one day moving in for good!

But we have a steely resolve in the face of such temptation, so noted in our book "needs more time", apologised to anyone within earshot and quietly slipped away once more onto the green of the river.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Green and Gray
Auxonne to Gray

Determined still to press on for a few days, to get the "highway" part of the journey behind us, we travelled all day through a tunnel of forest still in its heavy green summer clothes.

Except for the sliver of sky that followed the course of the river, there was no background but the cliffs of green which lined the river, dense forest of the kind described as impenetrable, impossible to photograph in a way that would do justice to the experience, the sort that when sorting through the photos, one would have been obliged to remark something along the lines of:

"But it was better than this, you had to be there".

After a long day of nought but green, green water reflecting the green canopy, green lights at every lock, arriving in Gray was a bit of a shock.   It was so… grey really, appearing devoid of colour of any kind at first glance.   It was almost as though it was a mirage, or like the dot one sees after a flashbulb goes off in one's eyes - a sort of illusion.

We felt quite disconcerted by this.   Was it, we wondered, the city itself, or was it ourselves reacting to the contrast between this truly urban environment and the places from which we had just emerged?

Tomorrow we will set out to find out.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Beating the storm
St-Jean-de-Losne to Auxonne

The old adage about "sailor's delight" describing sunsets at night proved to hold true, when once again after a glowing farewell last night, the day dawned with a cloudless blue sky, a mirror-finish on the water and the sort of day that could fairly be described as "beach weather".

We could have stayed another day, or even another year had the weather come with some sort of guarantee of permanence, but there were thunderstorms in the offing for the afternoon, and besides we thought we should really begin our meanderings in the general direction of  home, lest we should run out of year.

With no fear of being swamped by the inclement sea conditions, we struck out bravely for Auxonne, the garrison village where Napoleon spent eight or nine years studying, or was it in command during his formative years I can't recall with any certainty.    Not wishing to swamp my mind or this journal with useful information, I shall refrain from discovering more until next year, when we hope to revisit this part of our journey in a more relaxed manner.

Perhaps it should be noted that we were safely in port by the time the thunderstorm didn't arrive.

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