Legends from our own lunchtimes

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

London - Vancouver 23

There is no easy way of commuting across the world, just slow ways and faster ways.  For the time being we choose the faster way, burning as we go enough carbons to keep a small foreign country in fossil fuel for a decade, and we don't feel particularly good about that.  We don't feel particularly good about the food we eat en route, and we particularly don't feel terrific about the price of that food either.

Fortunately there are people employed by airlines to remind us that we shouldn't feel good about the way we travel either, so at least we don't have time to get too smug about our lot.  As Al so cheerily reminded us after we arrived tomorrow (work that out!), the motto of his national carrier is (apparently) "We're not happy until you're not happy."  They certainly gave some of the less caring souls working for an airline with a kangaroo on its tail a run for their money in the "most complaints lodged stakes."

Of course being given the only seat that had a non-functioning headphone jack for the entire twelve hour flight didn't do any more for my demeanour than did the three terribly unsatisfactory meals we ate in Airport Terminals did for our pockets.  By the time we were on the second leg, despite the improbability of the odds of finding another headphone jack not working, I came up trumps once more.

A friend who shared many business air miles with me over the years used to remind me that any flight we walked away from was a good one, and I must admit if we were to score our trip from London to Vancouver on that basis, it wasn't bad at all.   Although not only did we walk away from the flight, we almost found ourselves having to walk to our hotel, having not actually received any instructions as to the process of catching our connecting shuttle.

After eventually working things out and arriving at our uncharacteristically not at the bottom of the scale hotel, I might have settled in to catch up on a few blog posts sadly lagging in time, had the wifi facility not been indisposed.   Still, dinner was the perfect salve for our state of mind and jetlagged bodies, and we were in Canada, so things were not too shabby at all, and we needed to get ourselves in a grizzly mindset for the coming week!

Farewell to Old London, probably not forever.
London - 22nd September

It was a sort of lump in the throat day really, our last day in London for what may well be a year or two we think, and what better way to spend it that to take a stroll downtown.   If one is strolling downtown on a Sunday morning, there is probably no better way to satisfy one's hunger than snugged up in a pub eating roast lamb, and probably when one has consumed all one can eat in one lengthy and somewhat relaxed afternoon, a bit more of a walk is entirely in order.

While the girls among us chose to walk in direction Regent Street, something they said to do with shops and clothes, but we didn't catch the full conversation, Julian and I, by now in full retreat found a tiny purveyor of coffee, where we sought refuge, working in earnest on some of the world's greater and more complex problems before a long and particularly pleasant amble home, passing quite coincidentally, Little Venice.

Several decades have passed since we were last in Venice, and I am rapidly developing a fascination for all the "Little", and "of the north" Venices in the world.   A week ago we were in Holland in a Venice that looked to us rather like Holland, and now this one which looks for all the world like a Canal running through the back of Paddington.   Perhaps we need to revisit Venice to find the resemblance.

Tomorrow, we shall take one last stroll down Queensway, which has been our London "High Street" for more than a decade, wave farewell to the Union Jack above Whiteley's Department store, which will be apartments when next we see it, and that will close for a time what has been a remarkable chapter in our lives.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Shell and Jules go to the Theatre: Take Two
London 21st September

After more than a decade of regular visits we've managed to visit pretty much every London landmark and seen many things that will never make it into the tourist's bucket lists, but are no less important to the patchwork of London's character than are the theatres in West End.

We've even taken in a show at the West end.

How well we remember the lessons learned from that particular adventure.  Therefore when we decided to try our luck again we took our own counsel, learning from what could undoubtedly have been fairly described as a "mistake".   This time we didn't do battle with the touts in Leicester Square trying for the last minute cheap seats, we went to the theatre in search of the best seats in the house and hang the expense.

According to the nice man in the box office however, the best seats were not as good as the second best ones, so we thanked him very much and sent Shelley on a mission to make some reservations on our various behalves, discovering at the same time that the second best seats weren't anywhere near as costly as the worst seats bought at a heavy discount in our previous adventure.

When one is staring at tickets affixed to one's fridge with magnets for several months, (even if it that is a metaphor for a sticky note posted inside a diary), anticipation and excitement builds to the point where, when the day finally arrives, one is quite possibly setting oneself up for a fall.

We left early to see if we could find a place to eat despite being unable to reserve a spot for a spot of pre-dinner refreshment in any restaurant in the entire internet or in half of the telephone book before setting out, opting instead to take pot luck.   We commenced our search at the theatre steps, fanning out in a classic search pattern, knocking on restaurant doors in turn as they crossed our paths.

It didn't take long, just two or three negative responses accompanied by looks that suggested that we may well be advised to skip dinner this evening, until we came across a "cancellation".    Suddenly we were all in the mood for a hearty Greek feast, which was just as well, because that was all that was served on the premises.

Dinner, was sensational, but it paled in the sensation stakes when compared to the show that was to follow.  Fifth row seats, centre stage amid the life-sized horse puppets was an experience that contrasted so magically with the lofty disappointment of our previous adventure in the West End, that further description fails me.   Don't miss "Warhorse on Stage", and don't forget to find the second best seats!

Propellor heads.
London 20th September

When in London, we choose to travel on the Tube, the London Underground as it is also known, yet our "first day in London" post to this blog always seems to feature a red bus or a black cab as some sort of evidence that we are here.   Today, with the possibility that this will be our last visit to the City for some time looming, it seemed appropriate to pay some sort of minor homage to our favourite mode of transport.

It was just luck that with camera in hand, we found ourselves on a line with a newish train operating at a time when the usual crowd was not around, and probably the time we were travelling does not really reflect the true emotion of the crowd, nor for that matter the crowding of the crowd, but if one closes ones eyes and imagines say two thousand people in this picture, one could gain a reasonable impression of what peak hours are like.

One perhaps curious fact about the tube, is that the hand-holds in the carriages are coloured to match the colour of the line on the tube maps, so one with a map in hand could see at a glance that we were travelling on the Circle Line when this photograph was taken.

At the time we going round in circles a bit ourselves on our way to find a propellor repair company that we could entrust to carry out a few little adjustments over winter.

Propellor repairing is not something that one's mind immediately associates with London.  We've never actually seen a picture of a bowler hatted banker standing beside a London Bobby with their arms around a propellor repair man, but today we found our man, who it turns out has been repairing propellors since 1958, and who politely chuckled when I told him I'd been breaking them since about then.

He would, he said wait breathlessly for the next few months until we could get our propellor to him.   

We, reassured by his undoubted experience, wandered off into the London sunset, Tube Map in hand.


Friday, October 11, 2013

The path well worn.
Paris to London 19th September

It was mid morning by the time the Eurostar brought us safely to a halt in St Pancras.  

We don't think we'll ever get over the novelty of hopping in a door in one country and hopping out the same door a few hours later to find ourselves in another.  It's strange to suddenly find ourselves surrounded by conversations in a language we can understand completely, and it's difficult for a time not to eavesdrop.

We giggled as we wandered down to Shelley's office opposite Harrods to pick up her keys, and marvel as we walk back to their flat past the Royal Albert Hall and Kensington Palace through Hyde Park at how we we will never take the many times we have spent with them here for granted.

As we climbed the last flight of stairs and turned the key to their flat, the effort of the past week or so combined with the nine kilometres we had walked in Paris and London with all our possessions in tow suddenly became apparent.  

Suddenly we felt as though we'd had enough for one day and it was barely lunchtime.  Thankfully the time we have spent here in the past meant that we had no pressing appointments with any of London's landmarks, so a nice sit over a long coffee on Queensway, followed by a snooze in the flat while briefly basking in what I understand from reading about it in books was actual sunlight, rounded out our day nicely.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

On the way
Lagarde to Paris 18th September

My goodness we woke up early.  Before the alarm.  Before daylight.  Before the temperature outside or anything else was civilised, but we had places to go, things to do, people to see, to say nothing of people to hug and once again to wish a very fond farewell with lumps in our throats.

We don't think too much about our commute back to our other home, but it always starts with big butterflies tromping around our stomachs as we lock the boat and hop in to Maggie's car for the ride to the station.   Once we are actually on the first train, the one that takes us from Luneville to Nancy, things settle a bit and we are in commuting mode, which is just as well, as we are taking a roundabout way home through London, Canada and the USA and our rough count says that we have another twenty or so connections to make before we sleep in our own bed again.

But that is for the future, tonight we are in Paris once again, having shared a splendid lunch with our friend Eric, even stumbling with him down a street he hadn't found before, and for a bloke who's been taking a photo of Paris every day for a decade, that's no mean feat.

Late in the evening we pinch ourselves as we often do, grateful for the opportunities that have brought us along the paths we travel and the people we have been so privileged to meet on them.

We are only in Paris for a night, but we are in Paris, and it's cold and wet and windy.

We are in Paris.  How good is that?

Lagarde 17th September

As things often do, they worked out in the nick of time.  

The rain turned to storms which brought wind and exactly the opposite of optimum conditions for wrapping a ten metre boat in a series of five metre long tarpaulins, but at least storms relent from time to time, and when they do they allow just enough time to get a four by five metre tarpaulin unfolded but not tied before lashing out again!

It may not have been the smoothest, nor neatest job that's ever been, but by the middle of the afternoon, the outside of the boat was looking almost as shipshape as the inside.

A long dinner with Jacques and Maggie, an early-ish night and a sleep that would be too short was all that remained of our time in Lagarde this year.


Lagarde 16th September

Last time I glanced at the calendar it was Sunday, and when I glanced at the sky it was grey, and specks of water kept getting in my eyes.

It's a little more intermittent than it has been of late though, the rain, and a little more restrained, so I finally got the scrubbing of Mr Perkins' bedroom finished, and even, with a little judicious use of the tent over the picnic table in the port, got a few coats of paint on the engine bed.

The interior jobs, with someone far more diligent than I in charge, are of course complete, except for some final fussing which, if things go as they usually do will continue until the cab arrives the morning after tomorrow.

Getting the covers on may be a little problematic though, a quick glance at the weather forecast for today and tomorrow shows a very clear dark grey cloud with lots of dark grey rainy symbols coming from them.  After that, it gets really interesting:  "Expect rainy weather tuesday through to Thursday" it says, as if over the past month or so anyone has been expecting any other kind.

The pointy end of "time to go"
Lagarde 15th September

At the end of every season for us, chaos reigns supreme.

While some of our friends (you know who you are) simply close the doors and windows and kiss their boats goodbye for another winter, our dear thing is best treated with a little more care.   It's the leaks you see.  

A couple doggedly remain, haunting us by disappearing whenever we are aboard, reappearing when we are not, and intriguingly dripping on the forward berth more or less only when someone is sleeping in it.

It's not smart to trust a repair that hasn't been tested, and it's not actually possible to repair when wet, so we sort out our cupboards, pack everything in bags, wrap the boat in semi-custom fitted tarpaulins, and leave.    All of that though, takes a few days in fine weather and we are now finding out, a few more in wet, but the back is broken and none too soon.  

The mess is almost gone.

Suddenly we are, we think,  despite all the wetness and adversity, in fairly good shape!

The sunset does not reflect the truth of the matter!
Lagarde 14th September

If one examines the above photograph very carefully, one may notice a glorious deep illumination as the setting sun glows beneath a picturesque steel grey sky.   If one has seen all of that, one then needs to ask what a picturesque steel grey sky represents.

If one asks that, one who was present at the time might be tempted to respond with perhaps just the slightest hint of exasperation: "Rain.  Buckets of it.  Relentless.  All day".

So then one may wonder how the fitting of the winter covers has been going, or the cleaning of the engine bay perhaps, or how about the repainting of the engine bed?   One would be advised to wonder that rather than asking out loud because one would not want to actually be in a position of allowing a response.

It's not as though the rain stopped at all except for a few brief moments of photographic goodness, even then it was as though it was simply taking another deeper breath before dumping another gazillion buckets on us.

We have now spread our various tasks out so far and so deep within the confines of the boat that we are starting to have some vague misgivings as to whether we can get finished in time to depart.

It will be OK in the end, it always is, but we are allowed to doubt aren't we?

At least tomorrow the forecast is for rain.  That will be a nice change.


Big marks where he's been.
Lagarde 13th September

When Mr Perkins left for his holiday, he didn't bother to clean up after himself, he just sort of jiggled away on Duncan's trailer singing a merry song.

We have four days of rain left before we leave, and the list of jobs which we didn't do last year has been growing at a distressing rate, soon to become the list of jobs we didn't do this year either I'm afraid, but no matter what the weather, we have to clean up the engine bay before Mr P's return.  

Normally the term "we" in connection with work of this nature is code for "someone other than l, but since sadly she was rather occupied doing equally or even more productive stuff like cleaning the backs of all the cupboards to within an inch of their lives, there was no one else left in the line of volunteers.

All was not lost though, with a bit of gentle convincing, Bill came to the rescue tying us to another boat and dragging our dear engineless mess to somewhere within reach of the steam cleaning rig.   If I was going to get wet and messy, at least it would be warm water.

Even steam and some sort of chemical so vicious that it made my eyes water and what was left of my skin turn a deathly colour, couldn't remove all of the third of a century of oily sludge that had seeped into the pores of the fibreglass, but it made a promising start.

It took nearly as long to get the mess off me though, and when I finally did, one can only imagine how much I was looking forward to doing it all again on the morrow using only a scrubbing brush and gritted teeth.
Look at me, look at me,  Lagarde 12th September

One of the disadvantages of living on a boat with no motor, is that one can't actually go back to one's berth without some form of assistance, so we thought we'd just stay next to the crane for a while.

While sitting near the crane there seemed no point in not actually hooking a sling under the boat and having a look at things.

Crane time is expensive of course, and Michel was in the middle of a few other jobs, and I wanted to inconvenience him as little as possible, so made a great show of rushing round with pencil and paper and tape measure, variously measuring and wiggling things as I saw fit.

Wiggling.  That's an interesting word when used to describe movement of the underwater parts of the boat, particularly when those parts in the normal course of events are not, according to the manual, supposed to wiggle.   Apparently it is not a good sign if a propellor wiggles up and down, nor for that matter is it a particularly good one if a rudder wiggles in any direction other than side to side.  Our brief sojourn out of the water had yielded at least two signs that weren't good!

My head wiggled a bit in Michel's direction, and he wiggled his back in mine in a valiant attempt to show he understood and was sympathetic, but looking into his eyes I could see him thinking "well no prizes for guessing what Bill and I will be doing this winter!".

I nodded and while I was quietly counting the cost of what we may need to do on my thumbs and toes, the boat was gently lowered back into the water.

Mr Perkins goes to town .. or somewhere like that.
Lagarde 11th September

Duncan was due to arrive at about ten, and the thing that is entirely un-French about Duncan (if one ignores for instance his name, or perhaps his accent) is that if he says he will be somewhere at about ten, he means about ten.

One of the problems with being in France and having someone actually arriving when they say they will, is that no one will be there to meet with them if they do.    Thus it was that at exactly ten minutes to about ten, Michel was still having a few problems with the boat that was being held up by the crane, Bill had been called to an emergency breakdown an hour away, and the rain started coming down in buckets of stuff that could almost pass for party ice.

Michel, being Michel, immediately secured his project, sorted out the crane slings for us and proceeded to oversee the operation.   In no time at all we had all the lifting bits in place and the crane not struggling at all, but Mr Perkins hung on grimly, like a pre-schooler clinging to his mother's skirt on the first day of school.

All bolts were free, yet his mounts refused to budge, even while lifting the boat entirely out of the water.   Once again someone called for the emergency hammer and a big pipe, and once again substantial force was brought to bear until finally he released his grip.  Defeated, Mr Perkins sat quietly and perfectly still while Duncan bolted him to the pads on his trailer floor, and as far as we know behaved himself all the way to his winter home.

If we felt awkward yesterday living in a boat with an engine that was disconnected, living on a boat with no engine just felt weird.

Mr P's last hurrah!
Lagarde 10th September

Tomorrow is the big day.

Duncan is due to arrive for the extraction of Mr P so there was no mucking around today we just had to have all the disconnections done and hopefully the wiring connections recorded to give us some hope of getting it all back in the right order in six month's time.

Disconnecting is quite a simple task really, it involves taking the nuts of the electrical connections, letting them touch in a shower of spark and crackle, neatly tripping the safety switch and saving one from having to scratch around to find the right circuit breaker to isolate.

Once the electrical connections are sorted, one removes the fuel line, screams frantically for something to catch the trickling diesel, reconnects the fuel line, finds a suitable receptacle and turns off the fuel tap at the tank, disconnects the fuel line, and so on.

Thus it was that with almost no drama at all, there were only the engine mounts to undo.    By that time it was raining sufficiently hard that I was able to find something to do in the heated saloon, while Bill struggled away in the rain, cursing silently in seven languages as each tool brought to free the bolts failed in new and spectacular fashion.   Eventually he managed to find the right combination of big hammer, water pipe and belligerence, while completely ignoring my continual stream of very good suggestions, and Mr P sat on his beds, disconnected, awaiting his fate.

As the sun set, we were left pondering how awkward it felt, living on a boat with no means of propulsion.


Ready and rearing to go!
Lagarde 9th September

We hadn't really expected to be in Lagarde today, but one thing led to another and by the time we were half way across Belgium last night it didn't seem sensible to stop and now here we are once again in the cold and the drizzle.

We woke with a million things to do, and we were quite keen to get started but it was raining and miserable and even indoor jobs don't feel particularly inspiring for us, so we didn't.  Instead we lay about with hot coffee (tea for her ladyship), biscuits and books as long as we could, which turned out to be quite a long while really.  

Eventually we pushed through the lethargy and pottered, sorting cupboards, splicing new tie down ropes, drinking coffee and resting in front of the heater, all the while making copious notes so we could remember where things are when we return.

Whenever the rain slowed to a cold drizzle I did sneak out to look and postulate on whether I should detach a wire or two from Mr Perkins, but I couldn't get round the feeling that if the rain doesn't stop tomorrow, it might not be a pleasant task at all and perhaps I may be able to persuade Bill to stand out there in the wet and cold playing with our disconnections,.


Monday, October 07, 2013

Finding Vanessa and Maarten
Jisp to Lagarde via Volendam, Marken and Urtrecht - 8th September

If one types "find Chuck Norris" into a Google search box and then hits the "I'm feeling lucky" button, one will receive a message to the effect that Google cannot complete the request, as you don't just find Chuck Norris, Chuck Norris finds you.

That's exactly what happened when we tried to find Vanessa and Marty.  Instead of traipsing around the country in search of them, they arranged to find us somewhere nearby, in this case the little tourist village of Volendam, from where we would travel together to the ancient and World Heritage listed island village of Marken.  

The original plan was to catch the ferry across the bay, but despite the impression given by the photograph, and the optimism of yesterday's sunset, the weather was rather inclement, or bleakish really not to put to fine a point on it, so after finding each other we decided to avail ourselves of the relatively recently completed land connection, twenty minutes or so away by car.  

This was a good thing from several points of view, for instance when we arrived it was exactly in time for lunch (fried eel rolls all round) and any clue that the day had begun with rain and decidedly bitter winds had entirely and completely magically changed into something from a postcard.  We spent a wonderful few hours under clear blue skies sitting like a group of locals in the baking sun.

In the course of our conversation we discovered that Marty's grandfather was having his ninety-something birthday party back in their home town, and they had been resigned to arriving several hours late after making their multiple bus, ferry and train connections.   Since we were now travelling by car, and Utrecht was more or less on our way back to France, it was hardly a challenge to get them to the party on time.

Our change of plan worked nicely for us too.  We were happy to have saved a few hours on the ferry in what turned out to be quickly deteriorating weather in the afternoon and we were in truth quite anxious to get back to Lagarde as well, to the boat to supervise Mr Perkins' removal and just to settle ourselves for a bit as we quietly begin the wintering process.

So our mini-break in Holland ended as it had begun, with a tortuous six hundred kilometre drive, tortuous this time because of the weather not the Sunday evening traffic, but the ending to these trips is always the same:  We arrived home once again tired but happy!

Finding Dave and Ria
Amsterdam - 7th September

We have lived for the past year with the gestation of "Max" never far from our thoughts. Dave and Ria's have kept us up to date with progress on their boat right up to the time that it was launched just a month ago, and now  have it proudly on display at the on water boat show in Amsterdam.  It was time we became acquainted!

We arrived with time to kill before our appointed meeting time with them all.  Sitting quietly waiting for the gates to open, a gentleman in suitably boatish attire approached and asked us if we would like to go into the show.   Puzzled, we enquired if he was Hans, Dave and Ria's boatbuilder-friend, but no he was just an exhibitor who had for some reason decided that we would like to use his guest passes, which of course we would, so he ignored our puzzled expressions and happily ushered us through the cordon of security people and into the heart of the show.

This turn of good fortune came on top of the odd circumstance of our arrival in the carpark before anyone had arrived to man it. After making several enquiries as to how or who we should pay, the consensus seemed to be that if no one was there then parking would be free for us for the day.

Perhaps if the sun had shone all day, things could have been more perfect, but I doubt it.   A day among friends, among boats, not to mention meeting the beautiful Max (if that is the right word to describe a boy-boat), with food to match and without dipping into one's pocket is about as good as things get.

We had to leave eventually of course, and when we did it was with a contented glow within, that matched the magical sunset which seemed to cap off the day and at the same time fill the world with optimism for the morrow, and a our heads with the thought that perhaps the forecast for miserable weather would be wrong.

Finding somewhere to park
Assen to Jisp - 6th September

The centre of Assen did its best to convince us it was washing day as we pottered about in the morning with Trish and Andrew  discussing life over coffee and cake before somewhat reluctantly moving on.  Although we never did get to the bottom of the street decoration, we suspect that it may have been some sort of celebration of a long, hot and unusually fine summer.

Unhappily for those who really needed their laundry dry, there were signs that all of that was about to end.  The skies became increasingly overcast as we headed north and they finally began to dribble just a bit about the time we drove through Sneek.  About half an hour later we were midway across the thirty kilometre dyke that stops the ocean pouring into the Zuiderzee and after that into the whole country for that matter, when things became decidedly worse and we found ourselves driving in something approaching gale conditions.

Even with the miracle of the telephone App telling us where to go, finding an unmarked guesthouse in a street that was not quite wide enough to allow a car to pass while simultaneously trying to decide whether it was simply raining very hard or if indeed we had run into a canal was just a little problematic. Eventually we found what seemed to be the only small car-sized piece of land above water level even remotely close to our accommodation and parked, a little relieved to have arrived at our destination and not to have to move until the morrow.

But our relief was short lived.  The Bistro below our room was fully booked for the evening, with a hundred guests apparently intent on partaking of a special goose-derived menu, and not a place left for ourselves.  This of course left us seeking sustenance in a village elsewhere, and more importantly perhaps, giving up our parking space for any of the hundred diners at the bistro.  We wondered as we departed, whether we'd have any chance at all of finding a car space on our return within kilometres of our spot.

We need not have worried.

On our return we discovered that every one of the diners had arrived by bicycle, and while there were still scores of them enjoying their feast, their bicycles were piled high along the canal banks, and our car space was left thoughtfully vacant, ready for our return.

This is the Netherlands after all.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Finding Trish and Andrew
Steenwijk to Assen 5th September

In contrast to the instructions from our Canadian friends, or perhaps those could have been better described as "hints", our now receive-only non-roaming telephone buzzed with a text message from Andrew and Trish with clear instructions as to their whereabouts, complete with a position in latitude and longitude, presumably in case we had a handy sextant in the bottom of our bags.  

It was a bit easier for them to predict their whereabouts as they were awaiting the delivery of new batteries and therefore movement was improbable.

We didn't have a sextant of course, but the App on our phone made a reasonable imitation and took no time at all to calculate that our day's journey would be approximately forty kilometres and should take us somewhat less than an hour, which would give us plenty of time to travel via Gietshoorn, "the Venice of Holland".    

We were still musing over this description, and whether sometime in the future we might find the "Amsterdam of Italy", when we came across a lovely boatshed with a cafe attached at exactly lunch o'clock.   The array of traditional wooden skiffs with electric motors seemed to be begging to be hired as we loafed our way through our quiche and coffee on a perfectly clear sunny day.

We hadn't been afloat for several hours, and it was going to be at least another several before we'd be aboard a boat again so we decided that instead of dessert we would spend an hour pottering among the houses and the marshland.

Perhaps because we were completely reinvigorated from our injection of seafaring, or maybe it was the GPS in the phone, we managed to drive almost to the stern of Trish and Andrew's boat without so much as a wrong turn or even stopping for directions.


Finding Sunny and Al
Lagarde to Steenwijk - Netherlands September 4

"We'll be  north of Kampen and south of Sneek and that's all we know right now".  With a complete understanding of what they meant and and the difficulty we all face in pinning down our potential whereabouts when travelling by boat, we punched instructions firmly into the GPS, and set off in search of Sunny and Al.

We had intended to phone them for further directions when we were somewhere north of Kampen but we were not to know that at the end of a six-hour drive across four countries, which commenced substantially later than we would have liked, in a car substantially more uncomfortable than we would have liked, in traffic substantially heavier than we would have liked, that the roaming function on our phone would substantially absent itself?   Interestingly we could receive messages but not send any form of outward communication, which left us wondering whether the best strategy would be to find a cafe and sit there for long enough for someone to become worried, or at least curious as to our whereabouts, at which time, perhaps they'd phone to enquire about our health.

But we were now in Holland, a place where in contrast to that from whence we had come, things are ordered, cleaned and ritually tidied, and where if the person one is addressing in English does not understand, he or she will know someone who does, so we pressed on with fingers crossed.  Besides, our hosts were not the worrying kind, and in fairness to them probably had the utmost faith in our ability to find a needle in a haystack.

To be even fairer Al had narrowed the search area somewhat in an email which had been received but not opened by the time of our delayed departure, and it wasn't long after finding it that we found ourselves driving around the waterways of Steenwijk.  

With almost no fuss at all we found a familiar blue boat with a Canadian flag flying from its stern, made ourselves at home and settled in to swap stories as though this was the last time we were going to see each other for another two weeks.   Which if all goes to plan, is exactly the case.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The road trip begins!
Lagarde - Luneville - Lagarde, 3 September

In the absence of anyone in a position to offer a lift to Luneville, and for reasons which are otherwise quite inexplicable other than there was probably some cleaning that needed to be done and I was looking for a reason not to be around for an hour or two, I decided to cycle the twenty-seven kilometres into town to the hire car place and fold the bike neatly into the boot of the car for the return trip rather than engage the local taxi service.  

At the moment of my decision however, the other of us seemed to be looking around for something to clean to avoid accompanying me on the journey.    

This is the sort of thing that was part of our thinking when we bought the bikes last year after all.  We had gone to a lot of trouble to find a cycle model with geometry which would give some hope of providing some comfort over a distance and would be able to travel at touring speeds.

We really should act with the courage of our conviction, so it was decided that perhaps it was only right that the one who held those firm convictions should test them and report back.

The day began clear and crisp and perfect for a ride through the countryside, a little warm in the sunshine, a little too cool in the shadows, but perfect for a ride none the less, and I set off in great spirits pedalling like a champion for the first two hundred metres at least.

It had not occurred to me before during the many taxi rides and drives that we had taken along the route, that the reason there is no canal to Luneville is that it is on the top of a hill.   Conversely, the reason there is a canal through Lagarde is that it is at the bottom of a hill.

The road as it turns out is relentlessly in the up direction for the first nine kilometres, after which it tends to steepen generally in the same direction not reaching anything like a plateau until the outskirts of Luneville itself.   This turned out to be a fine test for old legs and little wheels, which it must be said combined valiantly to make quite a good pace, even if at the expense of the leisurely meandering envisaged at the outset of the journey.

At my destination, as I folded the bike into the boot of car as the nice man handed me the keys with a cheery reminder that we had unlimited kilometres allowed in our agreement, and as I always do, I feigned surprise and thanked him very much, with nary a hint of a smirk.  Will they never learn?

She does like her comfort
Lagarde - 2 September

Tomorrow we pick up the car, and the productivity fever that hit so suddenly yesterday reached something of a peak as we cleaned and pulled things apart and had deep and meaningful conversations with Bill about what did and didn't need to be done to the boat over winter, or for that matter in our absence so that it would be ready for Duncan's visit on our return next week.

We were having a little think, Bill and I, about ways of solving the minor leaks which have plagued us for years, without completely dismantling the windows when suddenly inspiration gurgled past.

By taking a leaf out of the book of this craft and simply not bothering with any windows we would overcome the need for any sealant with all its attendant unreliability.  We would never have trouble with their heater either, but would need to have a goodly number of blankets and sleeping bags in those boxes for when the temperature took a turn for the worst.

We've seen this intrepid couple a few times now over the past couple of years and while their raft is called "With Pleasure III and on those glorious summer days it we're sure it livse up to its name, in some conditions it does have the potential to be a little less pleasurable.   Indeed when conditions take a turn for the worse, in sleet and rain and cold for instance, we can only think that it is so much less pleasurable that the fate of its two predecessors needs no further description.

On balance, I suspect we'll be thinking some more about those leaks.


A short break - Lagarde 1 September

For the first time since the beginning of summer, we seem to have the right combination of weather, tools spare parts and motivation to get some serious maintenance projects underway and there is a small window of sunshine on its way so we need to make the most of it.

So we have decided to go away for a week or so until that feeling has gone.  Most of the year's washing is done now anyway, and it's really only the terrible, grubby unexciting work that remains to be done, the sort of work that we put off last year until this, and this year until now, so a little more delay won't hurt.

We have been inspired somewhat by being in the midst of all those holiday makers so we have arranged to hire a car and will embark on a short driving holiday through the Netherlands, catching up with several of our cruising friends in the process.

That decision to do nothing seemed to snap us out of our lethargy, and suddenly the boat became a hive of activity, a hive in which even the drone was suddenly hit with an urge to make and do.

It's nice to be home
Lagarde 31 August

Oh it's fun to be back home, and as if to emphasise that we belong here, the weather has taken a sudden turn for the better.  Sparkling sunlight greeted us this morning, and we responded by waving a line full of washing at it.

The sun has created a buzz around the hire boat base as well.   There is a real excitement in the sunshine that is often noticeably muted when the weather is poor.   We rather enjoy sharing the excitement of the families and groups as they turn up to hire their boat for a week or even a weekend's adventure on the high seas.    Watching them earnestly and nervously taking their lessons on what for many is the first time in a boat, and returning at the end of their cruise either in the same high spirits, or wrung out, hung over and ready for the relief of another week at work.

There is a sort of symbiosis between us, the live-aboards in the port and those weekend sailors.

We laugh at them and take photos as they drink their beer bare topped in fifteen degree sunshine, in their sailor hats and their funny flags.  In turn, they laugh just as incredulously and point and take photos of us in our jumpers hanging out our washing.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sluggish - Einville au Jard to Lagarde - 30 August

First thing in the morning the world is at peace, but for some reason today, perhaps it was the mix of colour and mist, it seemed to broadcast a little melancholy and somewhat sluggish at first before warming to its task as it got underway and we with it, willing it on.  It was as if the day was as aware as we were that it was our last day on the water this year and it was somehow giving some thought to going out in sympathy.

It's always a funny happy-sad time for us, one of disbelief that our time has gone so quickly combined with the same realisation each year that we have a lot of work to do on board in a fairly short time, and a few hours from home we always seem to be overcome with an urge to slow down, to prolong the journey as much as we can.

When the schedule for the day calls for no more than two hours of travel, prolongation is not a simple thing, but we manage to make it three before slipping quietly into our berth in Lagarde, giving Mr Perkins his leave, and setting about doing absolutely nothing for the rest of the day, presumably in some sub-conscious celebration of the cruising year that has been.

How then, some may ask could I possibly have slipped almost three weeks behind in updating this journal?  In response I can only explain that the day doesn't have a mortgage on sluggish.

Champigneulles to Einville au Jard - 29 August

The leaves seem to have become muted of late, blending with their backgrounds, not their cheery selves.   Like teenagers who are out of sorts it's just a phase they are going through, and they will change soon enough, and bring a carpet of red and gold to the roads and waterways; reward for their unhappiness perhaps.

Its as though they know that we are in the process of heading for home,  the colours of our surroundings as subdued as our moods really, not sombre, but the memories of summer are already fading and there are new colours for us too, just around the bend.

We always enjoy our last days afloat for the year in a different way to the others, willing as we always do for them to pass more slowly, making the most of what time we have left.   We are in very familiar territory now of course.  It's like driving down our own driveway.  As we pass them we note summer's progress on houses that we have watched under construction for years, animals that have grown older or which have disappeared from the paddocks in which they usually reside.  

It's a comfortable familiarity, although we did note that the children who are often at the Einville lock selling mirabelle tarts were missing this year, and had a sudden urge to contact others with whom we'd shared the mirabelle experience in the past.

We need not have worried though, as dusk settled a proud father accompanying his daughter on her rounds of the boats in the port knocked quietly on our window.   Desert had arrived with the same sublime sense of timing as the change of colours in the trees.

Nancy to Champigneulles - 28 August

Nancy to Champignuelles 28 August

When there is a light at the end of the tunnel, one has to be absolutely certain before one continues along it lest it turns out the be the headlight of a train coming the other way.

Therefore just because the weather looked as though it was becoming a little better than it had been didn't mean that any washing should be done, and the forecast of sunshine in the coming days made it much more sensible to wait at any rate.

We busied ourselves none the less, making lists and thinking about all that needed to be done to ready the boat for winter and decided that a visit to the hardware store was probably in order to stock up on the bits and pieces we'd need.   This as it turned out, was exactly what Ron had planned and there is a giant of a store just a few kilometres down the canal in the direction they were intending to travel today, and equally exactly in the opposite direction to the one we were intending to travel, but none the less, we found ourselves perhaps for the last time this year, cruising in company again.

We had planned one last visit to the lights in the square tonight, but of course as we have noted many times "planning" and "cruising" are mutually exclusive terms, and when the time came we were several kilometres downstream and in the middle of yet another farewell dinner aboard "Tiara", perhaps our fifth sixth this year had we been counting.

With our holds full of hardware, cameras full of photographs and heads full of tales of a cruising paths crossed many times in the past months, it seemed too soon to reminisce, but we did anyway and made do with photographs of the lights that we'd taken earlier.

Bad Press
Nancy - 27 August

We were a bit hang-dog for part of the day.

We'd discovered a blog published by one of our countrymen which was quite disparaging of among others, the very folk with whom we had had such an enjoyable time the previous evening, and whose talents and zest for life in our eyes seem to have no limits.  It seems that for some, travel is something that should always provide an experience that is akin to being at home, and any variance from their accepted norm is some sort of threat to their obviously well structured lives.  For a time I was going to rage, rage, and not go gently into the good night, but Stephane would have none of that I knew, so the only thing to do in the fullness of time seemed to be to go to lunch.

Ron and Robin are never backward in agreeing that such a proposal is a splendid thing, so in gloomily recovering weather, but not quite good enough to wash the sheets, we set off into the Old Town to find a suitable venue.

It's amazing what a plate of Toulouse sausage and mashed potato can do for one's spirits, particularly when it's followed by some sort of Apple dessert from Normandy and then a little later by a nap.

It is a dog's life after all!

Wet, not miserable
Nancy - 26 August

We are beginning to think that the rain is with us for a rather lengthy stay once again, but as the saying goes all things must come to an end eventually, and rain or not the gang of three had to press on.  

"To Paris" they chorused as Graham turned the car out of the port and into the morning traffic, doubtless not giving a passing thought to those they'd left behind, rattling around in an empty boat, occasionally peering out wistfully into the wetness for signs of approaching company.

But we were doing our absolute best to avoid missing them, so quickly took up a long-standing invitation to visit Stephane's barge where we spent a happy afternoon pouring over a small sample of his amazing photographic work, watching mystified as his photographic centrepiece a barely coloured photograph stood before us, apparently breathing.  

Then, lest we should suffer withdrawals in the absence of a crowd we thought we should introduce him to Ron and Robin and even then the five of us weren't equal to having one May aboard, so we our other neighbour Jean-B in as well for a long and productive cultural exchange!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Road Trip!
Nancy-Metz-Lagarde-Nancy 25 August

Nothing says "Lets overcome cabin fever" on a drizzly day more than a road trip, and it wasn't terribly difficult to devise an entirely suitable circuit, which would take us home to Lagarde for Sunday lunch at Restaurant PK209, dessert in downtown Metz and back to Nancy in time for tea with Ron and Robin who had very conveniently arrived a few days before we did and held the adjoining spot so we could be neighbours not for the first time this year.

The plan went swimmingly until it was time to take leave of the restaurant, and May, bless her asked if would be kind enough to ask the waiter if she could buy two of the little pirate decorations that she had noted were accompanying children's sundaes.   The French language holds few mysteries for us now, apart from the one big one about how on earth one goes about communicating in it, we are very comfortable with it.

So I rose to the occasion, and believe that for the first time I may even have dropped a verb into the sentence, although it may not have actually been a useful one if the puzzled look on the waiter's face is to be used as a gauge.   Oh to heck with it I thought, and covered one eye, madly waving my make-believe sword under his nose while shouting "AArrrrh, Arrr!"

I suspect it's a sad reflection on my language skills, that he understood perfectly and gave the toys to us presumably in recognition of my performance.   He must have phoned Metz as well because when we arrived there was a parade with bands and clowns and floral floats presumably in our honour, or was it part of the Mirabelle festival, we couldn't be sure.  

We couldn't leave Metz without dessert of course, although it didn't come with pirates, nor popping into the cathedral just to remind ourselves that people in this country have been been apparently speaking to one another with no difficulty for thousands of years.  Surely one can't bluff and mime one's way through the construction of an entire cathedral?

Just Desserts
Nancy 24 August

The common sense card is not one that I am particularly used to playing, some might argue that I rarely do, but with five aboard, drizzle and fogged up windows outside, and more to come, it really made no sense to leave our snug little berth a short tram ride from the heart of Nancy.

It was a short tram ride after dinner last night that took us to Place Stanislas in time for the evening light projections, and to take advantage of Graham's kind offer to buy dessert and coffee for the lot of us.   It may have been some sort of subconscious thing with someone else footing the bill that we didn't object when the others moved to sit at the most expensive corner of the square, or it may have been that it just looked like a really nice place to sit.

Whatever the case, we had our usual struggle with language, failing entirely to order a weak black coffee for Jill, and failing entirely to obtain a dessert menu even though we clearly knew what we meant.    Actually the waiter did eventually return without a menu, but with news which he imparted after a significant and terribly meaningful pause, regretting that the chef had some problems with deliveries this morning and there is no dessert menu this evening and if we all would like to have the same thing he would make something for us anyway.

We had a quick show of hands, and after determining that the chef didn't actually know what he might make for us, but he is usually very good at this sort of thing, we decided to proceed, and began our wait.

Eventually the extraordinary outpouring of chef's emotion was placed before us, without description, but with every change of colour came a subtle change of flavour, incredibly, each one complimenting the other, like snipers aiming at our tastebuds rather than launching a full-on artillery assault.

 Actually when the bill eventually arrived, Graham changed colour too, grateful I suspect that he had already paid for his return airfares.

Liverdun to Nancy - 23 August

Liverdun in cruising yacht parlance is a little gunk-hole, tucked in a tiny inlet off the Moselle River, full of weed and ducks and a few swans and not much else, with overhanging trees and steep hills and cliffs providing a backdrop to the mooring, and to set it all off an ancient village is perched on the top of them.

There is room for two or perhaps three boats against the little wharf, and it's the perfect place to sit in the still of the night over a long dinner with a bunch of friends, of say, cassoulet and fresh baguette.  Disturbingly though, the algae in the clear water is so close to the surface that anything thrown to the fish just sits a few inches below the water and stares up at the thrower.

I suppose it's just as well then that the river is so amazingly still for much of the time.  Its mirrored surface reflects anything, hiding said morsels from view until eventually the catfish have a chance to clean them up.

This was a day that began with a light show as the rising sun created stunning reflections as we motored down the river, and ended with the one that no visitor to Nancy should miss, the illuminations in Place Stanislas which don't begin until late into the evening.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

If you can find a space
Toul to Liverdun

We had had a plan originally, that we would take Graham, Jill and May on a little excursion through a completely different part of France, one where access to shops and transport would be limited.  With that in mind, Graham arranged at the outset to arrive by car, and things were tickety-boo.

That of course was before things stopped being tickety-boo on the waterway we had planned to visit, and so it came to be that we had a new plan, and a car that was somewhat surplus to requirements for a day or two, so the two blokes in our company took it upon themselves to deliver it to a nice safe spot near our new destination in Nancy to await our arrival.  All went well until after we had actually parked in the Port Carpark, and announced our arrival to our friendly Port Capitaine.

We were told quite firmly that it was alright to park where we were parked for a few days providing we could find a place to park.   No matter how many times we repeated our question, even pointing to the car, the answer remained the same, and each time it was repeated there was clearly a growing level of frustration with our stupidity.   How did we think we could we stay if we couldn't find a place?

Eventually, we concluded that if we found a place to park in the exact spot our stationary car currently occupied, we would probably be OK, so thanked the gentleman for his assistance and quietly tip-toed from the carpark, running to the bus stop without looking back.

For the whole of our gentle cruise down river to Liverdun that afternoon we struggled to find where our question, or its interpretation had failed.  Had the conversation been in a language other than English, perhaps we could have invented a reason.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Some leave, some arrive

On other days when people are due to arrive for an extended visit, we have been known to panic ever so slightly.  For reasons that cannot be explained some sort of calm descended on us and we figured that if anything remained undone by the time the three of them arrived, we'd just have three more people to help finish whatever it was.

With that thought humming happily in the backs of our heads, we hitched a lift with Ethan and Leslie as they headed down the canal, after all we hadn't been on a moving boat since yesterday morning, so needed a fix.

After a couple of locks and a few bridges we bade them farewell, promising to catch up with them when next we were both on the same side of the ocean and walked happily along the tow path, recharged  and ready to procrastinate our way through whatever remained of the day.

Despite, or perhaps because of our laid back start to the day, we seemed to be in perfect shape by the time the three musketeers arrived, so much so that we, all five spent the afternoon just as amiably as the morning, variously wandering the cobbles of the village or testing the skills of its bakers and coffee makers.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

There be Dragons!

After delivering his unsurprising diagnosis, Dr Duncan left us to wend our merry way home quite early in the morning, agreeing to see us in a month or so when we in turn would have Mr Perkins ready for surgery.   I know how he felt, our Mr P, as he valiantly pretended there was nothing wrong, chugging away uphill with a steady beat.

Steady is not how anyone could describe the beat of the drum that would have shattered our afternoon tranquility had we found it by the time it began.  The distinct sound of a solitary percussion instrument being belted with a stick clattered its way across the water, and then did it again.

And again.

Usually one associates drum beats with a rhythm of some kind, but there was none discernible from this instrument.

On inspection, quite unbelievably the drummer was seated in nothing less than a full sized dragon boat that had appeared from nowhere, perhaps landed from outer space, and which was moving at an indifferent pace, but moving none the less.   The object of the drummer appeared to be attempting valiantly but unsuccessfully to give everyone in the boat a turn at being in time with it, as the boat was rather inexpertly propelled from the lock.  The important thing though was that every one of its occupants was having as much fun doing, as we were watching, perhaps more.

They'd just come down a lock for crying out loud, and managed to get out of it alive, and there were still hours till sunset to enable them to get to the next one, and even if they didn't make it, the water here is crystal clear so their bodies would be easy to recover.

Fortunately for the future of French Dragon Boat racing, they didn't attempt the dangerous washing machine ride back up the locks, but after a few hours paddling haphazardly down the Moselle were returned by bus and trailer with nought but thoughts of future victories in their heads.

I wonder what Mr Perkins was thinking?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Dr Duncan

We've been talking about having Mr Perkins "seen to" for quite some time now, and really it was time to do our business or as they say, get off the pot, so we had arranged for a house call from Dr Duncan, who appeared exactly at the appointed hour, prodded, shook his head meaningfully and suggested that it would be more appropriate if we dropped Mr P down to his surgery a couple of locks downstream for more tests in the morning.

That threw a bit of a spanner into our plans it must be said, although to be accurate, the reason for popping down to the workshop was that is where Duncan keeps his spanners and testing gear, but we were expecting Leslie and Ethan to arrive in the afternoon and we definitely had to be back by the morrow when May and Graham and Jill were due.  After all that is why we came to Toul in the first place.

But there was no need to fret.

The Kings Beach Americans arrived in time for us to arrange for them to walk down the tow path to pay us a visit in the evening, and the little jaunt, once we passed the nasty person bridge that seemed to be waiting to swallow us whole, was actually very pleasant.

As indeed was the evening

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Mirabelles are a small golden plum that are, if not endemic to the Lorraine region, one of its specialties.  In this area if one can't find a Mirabelle tart or conserve, or flavoured icecream, or thickshake of which to partake, one is probably lying in a darkened room sucking on one's thumb.

Most locals have an inbuilt ability to sniff a ripe mirabelle at a thousand paces, so it didn't take Jacques very long at all to discover the trees just below the lock, nor did it take any convincing that the ripe mirabelles would look very good in a tart later in the evening.

The trees are on public property, but that doesn't mean that they aren't considered to be "owned" by the person who tends them, so it was deemed prudent to make enquiries before attempting to harvest someone else's crop.  Jacques, having significantly less of a language barrier than the rest of us was duly elected to make said enquiries, the result of which seemed to be that the lock keeper considers that the trees are his, but he is asleep at the moment, so if we only take a few and he doesn't wake up before we are gone it will be OK.

It was OK.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Degrees of separation

So here we were in Toul on a bright sunny day with a ship-load of washing to do and Jacques and Maggie coming for the night.  We really should have been provisioning and cleaning and sorting things out, but we had heard that Nick and Diana were in Nancy and it might be another few years before our paths cross again so we did the only sensible thing under the circumstances, and took the early train to Nancy, leaving the washing to sort itself out, which it has a habit of doing.

Nick and Diana as it turns out were travelling in company for a few days with Leslie and Ethan, friends of theirs ostensibly from the US, but in reality for five months of the year they live at Kings Beach, less than a kilometre from the place we call home when we are not calling this place home.

After a morning discussing everything from rope to the best place to buy bread in Shelly Beach, it probably goes without saying that we had barely enough time for a second cup of coffee before we were on the bus for the return journey, a journey which gave us plenty of time to once again contemplate the the surreality of life in a port five hundred kilometres from the ocean.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Welcome to Toul
Richardmenil to Toul

We've had such a glorious time of our commute to Toul, sliding down ice-calm waterways under clear blue skies that it would have been an anti climax to have arrived had it not been for the Council throwing a small party for us in the harbour this evening.

We thought we'd sneak in and quietly go about our chores for a few days until the horde arrived, but in no time flat we'd found ourselves a vantage point on someone else's boat, and were marvelling about how well "The Village People's" sounded on a piano accordion with lyrics translated to French, and wondering why the letters "YMCA" seemed to have survived in their original language.

Perhaps "E-grek, Emm, Cee, Arr" could have been confused for something sung in "pirate".

Not at all disappointingly by the time the evening ended, which was somewhere near the time that the new day technically had begun, there had been no chores undertaken, and the calendar for the coming days was looking a bit along the lines of "they'll have to wait till after the visitors go."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Vincey to Richardmenil

The old familiar mist is back every morning now.

The one that hangs above the water until the morning sun burns it away has been absent, as the morning sun seems to come on as though by switch of late, and the lack of cloud is an indicator that there is little in the way of actual humidity to bring the mist into being.

No, the mist to which I refer is the rapidly re-established splutterings of our dear Mr Perkins.  It's as though he doesn't want to go home yet, coughing and wheezing as he does when we first give him a nudge out of bed.   Oh he recovers well enough once he's underway, but I do think it's time we put him in the care of a surgeon.

It is quite nice though, the smell of diesel fumes in the morning once one gets used to it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Epinal to Vincey

On one of our first visits to France I knelt, bare legged in a patch of cool green vegetation to find a better angle from which to compose a photograph of a barge moored a little further along the bank.  The cool green vegetation turned out to be a thing called "stinging nettle" and I learned several things that day as the blood pumped through my system at a greater rate of knots than usual.

For instance, not all cool green vegetation is cool, and if one is going to kneel in the stuff one really should be wearing something other than shorts.

I also learned that there is a particular bush with spotty leaves that can always be found nearby that has properties which immediately relieve the symptoms of the nettle's dastardly work but apparently unusually it didn't seem to be around on that particular day.   On many occasions since, I have been told of this wonder plant and yet despite my constant enquiry, no one has been actually able to show me said organism.

I am convinced that the spotty plant is mere urban myth, in the category of scary escapees banging severed heads on car roofs to attract the attention of the occupants.

This evening we chose to moor against the cycle path in the shadows of the forest between Vincey and Charmes where there was a nice wall, rather than mooring amid the monster crop of nettle opposite where it could remain unsaid that there was no spotty antidote plant in evidence.  

Cycle paths are usually deathly silent once night cloaks them, completely devoid of life and scary murderers of even the most innocuous kind, let alone those of urban myth proportion.

So therefore we were somewhat taken aback when (it could only be one of them) screamed a very loud and some would say blood-curdling:


 through our cabin window at two thirty this morning!   He woke us of course, far too late for us to thrust nettles into his face even had we had the presence of mind to arm ourselves accordingly, and I suspect he could hear our hearts pumping as he cycled off into the blackness.

Eventually though, we resumed our repose,  and lived to tell the tale to boot.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Seeking Colour

We know better than to venture downtown on a Monday, after all why would anything be open the day after a weekend, but today is Tuesday and it seemed safe enough to attempt a stroll in search of a little colour.  

But it's Tuesday in August of course, so all of the bakers have gone on holidays except thankfully the very one that we sought out and the covered market was open according to the sign, from Monday to Wednesday, and indeed technically it was but devoid of all but one hopeful trader within.   Everyone down=town has scampered off to the coast or to the mountains or the town in which they were raised for their summer holiday, leaving the place as silent as an electric car.

But the the colour was there none the less.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Seeking a tranquil harbour
PK 103 to Epinal

Having been evicted from Epinal last year, and failed to enter at all earlier this one, perhaps it was an anti-climax to simply motor down the branch canal in glorious sunshine and secure ourselves in the calm of the port this afternoon.

The "calm" of the port implies some sort of storm from which we were seeking refuge I suspect, but we weren't seeking refuge or even respite from anything but our drive towards Toul, and perhaps the unforgiving summer sun in a cloudless blue sky.

We arrived tired but happy of course, and in time for a snooze and a cup of tea as well as to greet the evening hordes as they magically appeared with their children and bicycles along the waterway, seeking some respite of their own from the heat of the city.  The port here is like that, a kilometre or more from the centre of town, with a restaurant and and apparently endless supply of waterside gardens and pathways, yet the crowds when they arrive are quiet and happy enough and normally do not  disrupt our own comings and goings or sitting stills.

Unlike the roadworks crew who completed their job by half-past very early, just in time for the street lights to be turned off and to allow us a few moments of sleep before the morning traffic began its serenade.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pedal to the Metal
Fontenoy-le Chateau to PK 103

A "PK" is a notional kilometre mark, like the milestones of old marking distances along the inland waterways. No matter how hard we try to tell ourselves we are relaxed, we can't get away from the shadow of a looming deadline.   We have another two hundred and fifty PK's to pass and what must be something like a hundred or more locks or so to pass as well if we are to be in Toul in a little over a week.

While that is a conservative deadline in theory, we have decided to to make some miles for a couple of days to position ourselves better should we suffer unexpected delay.

That meant that after our lunchtime picnic stop in the middle of nowhere in particular, which Ron and Robyn quite sensibly decided would make a delightful overnight spot for themselves as well, we struck out alone once more to "put some water under the keel."

We are climbing at the moment, all day with locks sometimes just a few hundred metres apart and a constant audience of cyclists and hikers on the tow paths as the summer holidays reach their peak.  With each lock comes a rise of just a few metres, but we never fail to find enjoyment at the nature of the journey, entering each chasm with no idea of what we will find above, and invariably as we rise a new vista presents itself, appearing in our windows so that it is as if we are watching a constantly changing slide show.

It is as though each time we have a new window in a different place in the world as the change in scenery magically appears from above a dull grey wall; a child or two, a grandparent, a bicycle, a boat turned into a flower box, snow white, a vintage car, a pair of drunks in fisticuffs, we have learned to expect the unexpected.

Tonight we will be just a few locks short of the top of our ascent and when we get there, we are going to miss going up.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Memory Test
Fontenoy-le Chateau

The window display in the second-hand shop in Fontenoy-le-Chateau contained such an eclectic collection of objects that it reminded us of one of those memory tests that used to entertain us at birthday parties when we were young.

Seemingly unrelated things combine to tell a little of the story of a town which was once in the centre of such diverse activities as wire and nail manufacturing district, and embroidery not to mention that of course the world's largest man lived here in a time when the world's largest man was the size of the average patron of a fast food outlet today.

The real memory test for us though was one of language, and came at lunch time aboard the barge "Liberte" with Marie-Therese and Xavier.  When we first met several years ago Xavier had explained that they had spent a whole winter in a British enclave one year with the intention of learning English, but due to the somewhat inward-looking nature of the folk in the port all he had succeeded in learning in English was "Hello", although he did admit that after a bottle of wine he finds himself perfectly pronouncing "I love you" as well.

Between Ron, Robyn and ourselves, we could scrape up enough phrases in French to proclaim something to the effect that "I am cheese" and "my dog is vindictive and malicious", although in the intervening years since our first meeting, Marie-Therese seems to fared a little better in progressing her foreign language skills.

With her occasional interjection of a key word or two into the conversation, the debate ebbed and flowed seemingly in direct proportion to the consumption of the proffered aperitif and the scene was set perfectly or a few hours of discussion that was entertaining if not informative to all concerned.


Friday, August 09, 2013

Seasonal Change
Selles to Fontenoy le Chateau

We may still be experiencing summer weather during the day, but there are very real signs that a change of season is just around the corner.

To begin, the chill in the morning air is a dead giveaway, and the fog that remains with us till almost nine is another clue.  Another hint that some other kind of weather is on the way is the number of people in the villages who are readying themselves for a long season indoors.  I suspect the reward for many summer afternoons spent splitting firewood is a similar number of winter afternoons spent in front of a fire.

If that wasn't enough to convince us we are starting to run into boats that are making their way to their wintering grounds.  Our first reaction to that is that it seems to be terribly early but then we realise that we are indeed doing the same thing; heading towards home.

For reasons which are hard to explain, we are constantly occupied, whether by cycling to nearby villages to run small errands or by what seems to be an endless stream of friends who happen to be passing at the same time.   It's difficult to find the time to do even routine things, like update this blog.

To those among you who have written concerned that all is not well, never fear it certainly is and the notes are safely stored outside like next month's firewood, ready to be brought indoors and put to good use once the weather changes!


Thursday, August 08, 2013

Bois Barbey to Selles-Tourpont

After another mind-numbingly similar day to so many we have had of late; a perfect dawn with just a hint of mist, an early start, effortless cruising through scenic wonderland in perfect weather and so forth, we arrived in Selles with barely time to wander around many of its fountains before lunch in full view of the turning bridge.

The turning bridge, or Tourpont at Selles is a thing which lends it's name to anything within line of sight of it, so it goes without further explanation that our lunch venue was the Tourpont Hotel although when making the booking there seemed to be a lot of explanation necessary to ensure that we did not want to be seated by twelve exactly and that half-past the hour would be much better thanks very much.

The bridge itself is a big iron thing full of rivets that was built sometime in the nineteenth century to allow carts and horses and other vehicles to cross the canal.  It's low clearance would have been problematic for the horse and women-drawn barges actually travelling along the canal had it not been for it's ingenious design which pivots it entirely out of the way of river borne things, including boats with crews intent on lunch.

Like it's twin a few kilometres further up stream it balances perfectly on a small set of wheels and the balance is so finely tuned that a smallish young lady who is charged with its operation can pivot it in silence with neither a squeak from its moving parts nor hers, by simply pushing on one end.   A person prone to exaggeration would say that it moves at the touch of her fingers, but since I am not one of those, let me simply say that it actually takes a little body weight as well.

After our lunch at the aforementioned Turning Bridge Hotel, body weight was not in short supply either and since we've read somewhere that a nice afternoon nap is far better for one's health after a meal than strenuous exercise, we retired to the boat for a healthy afternoon.


Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Conflandey to Bois Barbey

We are moored in Bois Barbey this evening, which is not a place technically, but a piece of woodland in the middle of which is a little clearing and a long dock with bollards surrounded by calm and trees and filled with fish and birds and ducks, which for some reason one never thinks of as being birds.  There is also a flat bit enclosed in barbed wire with a pond in the middle visible only to those who take some effort to do so, where some would have it that a factory once stood.  They would tell you that the site is contaminated, and therefore one must assume that the pond is completely toxic, and since there are no signs indicating any of that, they are forced to presume that in the event of the pond overflowing it will undoubtedly find its ever diluted way into the river thereby ensuring that we will have no need for antifouling on the underside of our hull ever again.

As we passed through Corre earlier this afternoon, there was a sign at the edge of the port, I know this because it is clearly visible in my photographic expose of the FBI informant last year, and perhaps we wold have been advised to have read it before setting out to buy some chemicals of a different nature.

But we didn't and as a result after walking the requisite kilometre or so in the almost-rain to the supermarket at the edge of the civilised world, we found it to be absolutely and positively closed for lunch,  A big cheery sign did offer that it would be open in the morning of the fifteenth of August should we be requiring anything then, and we made a mental note.

Eventually though, the cheery staff returned from lunch, we bought our toothpaste, wine and enough turkey to roast for tea, and set off happily into the afternoon until we found our clearing in the wood with its pond of ponderables.

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