Legends from our own lunchtimes

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Convention
Mantoche to Gray

Every Tuesday during the months of July and August the Tourist Information Office in Gray organises a guided walking tour of the city's historical sites followed by a tasting of a large sample of the many products produced in the region.

That of course stands to reason, because today is Wednesday which by my calculations means that Tuesday and all of city walking and food sampling happened approximately yesterday.

Last year when we travelled through it, Gray was to put it mildly, grey except in the Tourist Information Office, which coloured our impression to such an extent that we vowed to return.  Earlier this year it was grey also, but with a very large dash of water,  and our return was foiled at that time too.

Today when we told the young lady behind the counter our tale of woe, she sparkled and replied: "You must be from the boat 'Joyeux'!"  Our reputation precedes us it would seem, or at least emails from conspiring friends do.  She told us there could be no food, but none the less if we would like ti she would arrange an English speaking guide to take us on our own tour tomorrow if we liked.

Ron and Robin would be here by then, and Mike and June had breezed into harbour as well and we had checked that it was OK to bring some Kiwis as well, so with tomorrow taken care of we only had to decide under which of Karen and Adrian's umbrella we take refuge from the heat.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Having Fun
Lamarche-sur-Saône to Mantoche

Sometimes we pinch ourselves when we think about what we are doing, to make sure that we are not dreaming, to remind ourselves any dream is achievable if there is a will.

Every now and then, someone will burble past to demonstrate that with almost no budget, just a little ingenuity and an outboard motor, anyone can cruise the canals.   Last year it was an elderly German travelling in a barely two metre rubber duck with camping gear who captured our imagination.

This year, a small Swiss family motored past in what amounted to a two man tent on a few packing cases powered by an outboard.  Being Swiss they had all of the necessary safety equipment on board of course, and were well equipped for all conditions they were likely to encounter, even drought I suspect. They would never be without a conversations starter we thought.

Just after they passed we were waiting in a lock chatting about all that, just quietly between ourselves while a small boat settled itself in behind, discussing the probability that it's occupants would have to work for their conversation as we do, when we heard a shout from behind:  "Jo!  Peter!"

How on earth, out of all the locks in France, did Karen and Adrian choose to be in the one we occupied at the same time?

There goes our tranquility for the rest of this week!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Cruising Again
St Jean de Losne to Lamarche-sur-Saône

After a few weeks of frantic(ish) dashing down the Doubs, we are back in cruising mode, which is code for we didn't really have to leave in the drizzle, but as the others departed the sparkle seemed to mysteriously wash off St Jean for the time being at least so we began our journey north ironically into even more canal use restrictions, this time due to water shortages.

Coincidentally it is almost exactly a year since we last followed this route, and it will be interesting I think, to compare our notes along the way from then.

There is an ease or even a confidence perhaps about the way we go about our travels now perhaps even more than just a year ago. Familiarity has no doubt diminished our sense of discovery a little as we revisit places, but I wonder if as we are starting to take things in our stride whether we have begun to overlook some of the small details that a year or two again would have provided a source of endless fascination, or whether we we still seeing things as we did then?

Perhaps it is that communication is easier, or that even though we are travelling alone we are rarely without company with whom to share our day's adventures

We think we are travelling alone again, but as if to show that we never are, this evening we shared those very thoughts over snacks with a family from Switzerland who stopped behind us.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lunch again
St Jean de Losne

Those fringed parasols that have been springing up out of balconies all over the place have finally met their match.

While the drought may not have broken, there was sufficient wind and rain overnight to ensure that few of them will have survived.  We have, however but decided that since we'd already overstayed the twenty minutes we had planned, that there would be little point in heading into the bleak just for the sake of it.  Besides they in the boat in front of us and in the barge behind as well looked as though they could do with a good feed.


So instead of cruising into the wind and rain we remained snug indoors all day catching up variously on tales from America or the UK, and generally agreeing that we weren't particularly looking forward to the rain stopping and the thought of moving on.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Twenty minutes in St Jean
Choissey to St Jean de Losne

I am not sure that it's ironic or quite what it is that given the variables that have brought us back to St Jean de Losne it is almost exactly a year since we were here, ready for the long haul north, hoping that there would be no break in the system to thwart our plans.

This year there are breaks all over the place.  The floods that closed everything earlier have given way to drought now, water shortages making navigation slow on some of our route, uncertain even.   But there is rain coming tomorrow, but we'd be on our way by then we thought.

Twenty minutes is all it would take in St Jean we thought, to refill our fuel tanks and buy a couple of parts at the chandlery.  No need to stay we thought, best to be on our way before the storms arrive.

But we ran into Mike and Robin as we went about our business, and catching up takes time, and the wind was starting to increase to uncomfortable levels and the nice people who had allowed us to moor beside them in what had been Ken and Rhonda's barge were happy for us to stay, encouraging even, so the night wore on and twenty minutes became longer.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The onset of the drought.
Ranchot to Choissey

Even in the early morning the sun was making its intentions for the day quite clear.  The colour of the vegetation seemed to change before our eyes as the sun soared, crisping everything in it's wake.  

We forced ourselves to stop for a walk around Dole but the whole town seemed lethargic, even for a Friday afternoon and given that is was well past lunchtime and it was difficult to muster any enthusiasm for any activity except perhaps for sitting in the shade with an icy drink in our hand.

Suitably enthused we set off once again in the boat in search of shade and said beverage, arriving in Choissey just as the trees near the mooring began to provide their late afternoon dapple.

Tomorrow apparently it will rain, or if it doesn't then it will look as though it is going to.

Either way there will be respite.  It's been a strange summer, as though there is nought but weather to talk about, if one ignore the outages on the canals, but they have been mostly the result of flood or now the is news of drought in the canals ahead.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Seeking shade
Besançon to Ranchot

The heat spell is turning into a wave really.  Day after day of temperatures in the high thirties make for unpleasant afternoons even on the water, so we are continuing our pattern of getting underway early, finding a spot for lunch in the shade of a tree, preferably beside a weir or barrage where the clear water babbling in the background will at least make us think it is a little cooler.

When we arrived in Beasançon yesterday we'd hit the magic forty number on board, so we sought refuge in the deeply shaded chasms of the city.   One of us, for reasons that are never clear to the other had decided it was time to have her hair "tidied up".

It's hard to describe this process other than to say it involves walking into a hair dressing salon, preferably one with no customers in it and a sign on the door assuring us that it is air conditioned within, while making a movement with one's index and middle fingers approximating the action of a pair of scissors, at the same time raising one's eyebrows in enquiry.

This invariably leads to an enthusiastic and uncanny understanding of what is required and an invitation to sit in front of a mirror,  followed by an offer of a seat for the monsieur for the next maybe thirty minutes.  The latter offer is just as invariably declined politely in favour of a wander round town with an ice-cream in hand while he awaits there-emergence of his spouse who he knows will be puffing up her hair with one hand while debating with herself whether the cut was satisfactory or not.

It always is.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ink Blot Photographs
Baume-les-Dames to Besancon

Those blasted reflections didn't leave today.

Usually they are there in the morning  and as the day warms, the faintest of breezes arrives to break the mirror, but as the day wore on and the temperature increased, if anything the stillness intensified.

It can be quite disorienting after a while, and tiring too, constantly trying to work out which way is up.  But we persevered as best we could in these trying conditions until we found a nice shady spot where we could find some respite.  Does anyone have a need of a thousand photographs of trees and skies reflected perfectly in each other?

We haver reams of inkblot photographs now - we just had to stop taking them.

Seasickness is not one of the big risks on the inland waterways.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The glorious cruising sunset
Colombier-Châtelot to Baume-les-Dames

We had rather a lovely time of it yesterday, but wary of our self imposed need to make some miles for a day or two, and perhaps to do that before  the temperature aboard reached forty, we thought we should leave early.

Early means, when one of us wakes, he starts Mr Perkins, startling the other into some sort of foggy state that matches the mist on the water.

We make a coffee and go, leaving all the other niceties of cruising life to be attended to as we roll along.  This is both a good and a bad thing.   It's glorious underway at that time, gliding along an indescribably still reflection, but it's nice for instance to be out of night attire by the time one reaches the first lock, particularly if there is someone else waiting there to travel with one.

The temperature by nine, when we stopped for a quick supermarket top-up, was already in the thirties.  The air still and breathless, a portent of a long day with no potential shade stops, so we considered that to keep moving was probably the most productive thing to do.

It's too beautiful on the river to worry about the heat though.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Racing downhill for a while.
Montbeliard to Colombier-Châtelot

If one were to cast one's mind back a few weeks, one would recall that Montbeliard was once intended as a place of transit on our journey, but due to severe damage to the canal system a little further on, our plans have had a forced change.

Montbeliard therefore became the zenith of this year's journey, and this morning after rather a lot of shopping and washing and cleaning of cobwebs, we did a quick lap of the town of foot to remind us that we really do need to come back,
gave Mr Perkins a bit of a tickle in the ribs and began our descent of the Doubs.

The changes in the river in barely a week were remarkable.  Instead of a rain induced current of several kilometres an hour that slowed our journey upstream, and we expected would give us a sleigh ride down, we motored out onto a millpond.   A delightful, spectacularly beautiful… millpond.

The current below the mirror was barely enough to bend the stems of the lillies.

There was a message in that we thought, so we cut our day short, stopping for the afternoon under a shady tree to contemplate our lot.

What a happy task that is!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

And there was music!
Paris to Montbeliard

We woke up in Paris this morning.

 Summer Paris.

Heatwave Paris even, and Paris on the day of the last stage of the Tour de France to boot, filled with millions of people out and about in the ample sunshine.  For the umpteenth time in our lives we have missed the finish, this time by only a few kilometres, but since Mary and Damien had travelled half way round the world for our rendezvous, we could hardly excuse ourselves.

Everything about the place was abuzz, from the buskers on the Metro, to the concerts in the streets.  Paris Plagse, the man made beaches by the side of the Seine were awash with people eager to get a tan on the sand, or whatever it is one gets when the temperature in the shade is in the mid thirties and one is lying in the sun all afternoon.

We wish we had time for more than just a long catch up lunch on a sidewalk, but alas we had a train to catch and a long journey to make.

With music still ringing in our ears, we arrived in Montbeliard in the late evening, happy to be home again, ready to move at something less than the pace of the past week or so.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Riga to Paris

I know that dessert and desert are different, but to be blunt I'm struggling to find a photograph!  I can't recall another time in recent years when I have held my camera so little in an entire week, such was the quality of the company and the food for that matter, constantly distracting me from the job in hand.  There has been just too much to do in too little time, too many decisions to make, such as which dessert to choose; ahh to heck with it, we'll have both thanks very much.

Desserts aside though, this morning it was Jill and Graeme and May who were up with the birds, deserting us, heading for England while the rest of the house remained in repose, gathering strength perhaps, or just being lazy before it was our time to do the same.

The week is at end and we are being scattered by the winds.  I know that earlier I described us as  "an eclectic bunch" but sometimes we struggle with our little Sunshine Coast mono-cultural brains to come to terms with just how eclectic.  Tomorrow, the above mentioned will be in London, Erica and Christian are already in St Petersburg, we will be in Paris, Güdu and Judith will be cuddling somewhere in the Swiss Alps, Mark will be in Warsaw, Johanna and Isabelle will be in Estonia, Mert back in Turkey and Steve will be counting down the days till he returns to Melbourne.

Our host who remain in Latvia at least for a while will I suspect have some tidying to do, or perhaps they are already planning our next eight year reunion!


Friday, July 19, 2013

The first eviction from the house.

A week may be a long time in politics, but it is almost no time at all in Latvia.

Christian and Erika were already on their way to their rendezvous in Russia, and storms were dampening any opportunity to venture too far for all but the silly, so the rest of us kept busy recuperating from the intensity of the past few days, (some falling in to deeper despondency with each update of the score at the Ashes test being played at Lords).   There was a sense of winding down in the house, so a lay day was called, hire cars returned, cards were played, fingernails painted and a monster barbecue arranged with endless food and stories that were told until well into tomorrow.

In the Soviet times, we were told by our guide yesterday, there were contingencies for everyone.  Evacuation plans and emergency supplies were in abundance, with gas masks and rations for ever man woman and child in the country.

Now the situation is quite different, perhaps related to threat levels, but it seems that now only military and political personnel have access to the emergency kits once so abundant.     This does go quite some way towards explaining one of the least sought after, but none the less unique and freely available souvenirs in Latvia: the Soviet gas mask.

None of that has anything to do with the day, but since I had a rare camera free day a photo of two of our number equipped for a long journey in an elevator with someone who had consumed a week's ration of sauerkraut will suffice to illustrate the good times had by all.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The red phone.
If I told you where we went today I'd have to kill you

It was Zane's Godmother who organised our magical mystery tour today, and while the tour of the little brewery in the middle of nowhere with its incredibly enthusiastic and proud staff and its terrific luncheon menu was a completely pleasurable experience, it faded into distant memory in the afternoon when we arrived at the "Repatriation Hospital".

Now here was a place one sensed that one would be told to get well and one wouldn't dare to contradict.  Even today there was an air of gruff austerity about the place, and while it passes among the population as some sort of spa resort holiday camp these days the grim past is never far away.  Precisely four or five metres away to be exact, lying below the thickness of the bomb proof steel and concrete floor, the largest of the Soviet defence bunkers in Latvia is still intact, with all it's original equipment, including it's special telephones with direct lines to anywhere that hasn't been destroyed in the nuclear war, as well as the control centre for firing the hidden missiles at a doomed Europe.  

But let's just focus on the cheery stuff, the KGB listening rooms, where conversations in private households were monitored for any sign of discontent, perhaps so the discontented could be sent for a well earned holiday where they could contemplate many things far from the survival centre built here for the top brass.

It was all a bit sobering really, even more than the thought of spending a weekend at the "Repatriation Hospital" upstairs.

Our guide was of course enthusiastic, knowledgeable and perhaps just entertainingly prejudiced against the former overlords of his country, happily explaining the jokes within some of the propaganda posters, and offering the board room complete with vintage seventies Russian pop music for weddings, parties or anything really.    He seems particularly fond of bucks parties held there, when participants arrive in full Soviet police uniforms and eventually, after succumbing to the evils of Vodka, tend to lose their way back to their rooms above, littering the foyer of the hospital and it's corridors with their recumbent selves.    He seemed to think it adds a touch of reality to the place.

So it must be said, did the grimacing receptionist in the starched uniform, unlocking as she did the ice cream refrigerator to dole out each piece in turn but not before taking the forty cents or so from one customer at a time, and then writing a receipt.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A day at the beach
Jurmala - Somewhere on the Baltic Coast

Well we'd done the history thing, so what better way of filling in a day we thought, than driving a hundred kilometres or so for a day at the beach.   If I'd been a better student of Latvian tourism, I would have taken more photographs and remembered the name of the actual beach, but there was far too much relaxing to do.

The sea of course was the Baltic, filled with a brownish almost fresh water, the beach wide and sandy, the lifesaving tower and the beach signs (active recreation this way, passive recreation the other) were absolute reminders of the times when Party members were treated to vacations here if they had performed their duties properly.  One doesn't bear to contemplate the vacations of those who didn't,  but in the present day the restaurant and food for lunch were straight from next year's "Modern Architecture" and "Gastronome" magazines respectfully.

The Global Financial Crisis may well have hit the former Soviet countries when they were down, but they are clearly resolute in their efforts to get back on their feet and go dancing again!

It may have been the sun, or the water for those desperate enough to swim, or the long drive, or the long lunch, but there was a distinct air of drowsiness in the van as we bounced our way home.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Road Trip Begins
Beyond Riga

Armed with a pair of people movers hired for three days, and with the people to fill them eager to get out and about, a long road trip was in order.  Three long road trips actually, but taken one day at a time.  Today's destination was Rundāle Palace where things were simply not as they seemed, or perhaps they were.

Our delightful English speaking guide was herself just one of the unanswered riddles that arose during the course of the day.  There was not a question for which the answer eluded her.   If one of our number wanted to know how the nails were made, she could recite the composition of the alloy and the name of the person who made them, and his date of birth and the occupation of his mother.    Her knowledge and enthusiasm for her subject were equally without bounds.   The sort of boundlessness that one suspects may well have been born in an era where bounds were very structured indeed.

The building had been ransacked of course, and used as a school, and the timber floors and stonework and much of the plaster and all the fittings had been taken to St Petersburg for use in mightier ways, perhaps in the winter palace itself according to our guide.   Then, during the Soviet times, the interiors had been lovingly and expertly restored by artisans from Moscow and the gardens were on their way to once again achieving their original splendour after almost forty years of renovation.

It was truly a magnificent edifice and one of which the country can be justly proud, but really, without wanting to rain on Latvia's parade, I wonder if parts of its history whether by accident or Soviet design, are as artificial as the painted marble itself.

"Please don't look under the carpet sir, there are policemen in the basement watching us, and...... "  Yes, there are definitely some connections to the past.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Poking around.

We were the last to arrive in Salaspils, where the rest of our number, now twenty or so are sharing a house (if you count the ones who live over the road and arrive in shifts), an eclectic bunch to say the least, spanning four generations, originating for from six countries and between us eight languages are spoken, all with lives that intertwine through different circumstance.

It was the first visit to Riga for many of us since Zane and Steve's wedding eight years ago, so we wasted no time in reacquainting ourselves with the old city, which somehow seemed to have matured a little if that's possible in a medieval , a corner knocked off here, some paint lifting there, since the last time when it was in the full fledged post-Soviet cleanup mode.

We tackled it in groups, dividing and conquering, some content to eat and fossick among the market stalls, others intense in their pursuit of knowledge of the recent history of the place, before making our way back by train, itself a stark connection with recent history. 

It was a gentle beginning really to a week which promises little rest!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Montbeliard to Paris to Riga

One of the nasty things about traveling to a timetable is having to wake up by alarm.  This experience is made particularly unhappy by the fact that no matter how hard we try to retire early the night before, it never happens.  Mostly the converse occurs, and when we do finally find a horizontal position, sleep comes fitfully so that that instead of being refreshed and invigorated ready for whatever the day is to throw at us, inevitably we awake overtired and if not grumpy, at least a little less sparkling than would be preferable before setting out on a long journey.

Last night it was the crowds, the music and the fireworks that held our attention for far too long, and long after our attention had waned, miscreant  explosions continued well into the morning doing their best to prevent us from drifting off to sleep at any sane hour, although we actually didn't mind a bit.

We managed to bumble our way through it all though, the bus connection from Montbeliard to Belfort, the TGV to Paris, even finding lunch on a hot public holiday Sunday without a hitch, before boarding the steamy old RER connection to the airport.  

The airport was when things took a slight downhill  slide.  Having failed entirely to read the fine print on the eTicket, mostly because from experience, eTickets are "e" and therefore don't have any print at all, we were completely unaware that there was a check-in fee of ten Euros per person for anyone silly enough not to have done so on the internet the day before.   We were similarly unaware that a checked baggage fee of forty Euros per item would apply, which made one of us quite happy that the other in his overtired if not grumpy state had steadfastly refused to pack a separate bag.

We had remembered to bring our swanky new headphones (thanks Shell and Jules) to make the most of the in-flight entertainment, which would have been a masterstroke had the aeroplane actually been fitted with anything that would help us while away the hours, but it hadn't, so we thought we'd just settle back and eat instead.

This proved just as problematic, because apparently there was some other fine print on the reverse side of the eTicket which advised that if one had been travelling all day and thought one may need some sustenance on a flight between six and ten in the evening, meals could be pre-ordered no closer than twenty four hours prior to departure on a thing called the internet.

But all of these are simply hazards of our occupation.  It was at the moment of touching down in Riga that we became disconcerted when, as if no one had expected to actually survive the flight, spontaneous applause and even the odd cheer and whoop erupted from within the cabin.

Forget the fireworks, our week in Latvia will be a blast!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Peugeot Heaven

Montbeliard is the home of the Peugeot family.  The company's lion emblem is actually derived from heraldic shield for the Comte region, so it comes as no surprise that here, apart from employing a number of thousands of people in its factories, it has a museum dedicated to its history.

Museums are places which hold old things, usually in Europe the newest of these things are very old indeed, and unlike the folk museums in Australia, one does not normally find oneself staring at an object that is presently in use in ones' garage, or a kitchen implement that is exactly the same as the one that was taken in the last box to St Vinnies.   Understandably, given the relatively short history of the company,  this museum had much of that very sort of thing on display; familiar tools and objects that had very much been in use in our lifetime.

There were of course more than a century's worth of cars and while those from the thirties may not have been familiar, and they were nothing less than art, but it was the more prosaic, those from the sixties and seventies that had our hearts racing just a teensy bit.  We cannot be sure that it was the sight of the cars that we or our friends had once owned that so captured our emotions, as we remembered their various characteristics which seemed at the time to elevate them in our eyes to a state of being beyond that of mere machinery, or whether it was simply memories of the good times that we experienced in the eras in which we owned them.

Like the surfers' panelvans, they were part of our culture in that time, as were our accessories.  More than one of our friends used to smoke Cigaret Galoises and we could never believe it was for the taste of the things. To this day I remain unconvinced that Ian and Cheryl didn't move to Toowoomba just so they could use the yellow headlights in proper fog.

We can't turn back time of course, but perhaps on reflection had we fed the children something less French than chocolate eclairs before descending the range, we may have been able to do without the airsickness bags in the seat pockets of  the 505.

May the good times continue!


Friday, July 12, 2013

The Destination
Colombier-Châtelot to Montbeliard

With two days left in our schedule to get to Montbeliard and make the necessary arrangements to travel to Paris, we didn't need to rush.  This was just as well because as is usually the case in the cold hard light of dawn, or at least where the dawn would have been had we been awake when it happened we weren't in the mood to do so.

We were however, in the mood to leave quite early to take advantage of the stillness of the morning, perfect in every way except of course that from time to time we still miss the disco-smoke from the once maladjusted Mr Perkins hanging listlessly as it once did at times like this.

So perfect was that morning that there is nothing to report about travelling those few kilometres with a cloudless sky.  We arrived perfectly in time for lunch, enjoyed a lengthy afternoon walk soaking in the colour of Montbeliard, and went to bed tired but happy.

Note:  I am aware that some have noticed a certain lack of posting of late. Thank-you for your enquiries, we are well indeed!   The hiatus has been due to a combination of lack of adequate internet and lack of  adequate sleep due to all those pesky friends in Latvia keeping us awake.  As has been the case previously in times like this, the next few days will reveal all!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

It feels like Sunday
l'Isle-sur-le-Doubs to Colombier-Châtelot

We can't be sure, but we think that the summer holiday period began this week.   Certainly there are enough "closed for the holidays" signs on shops and businesses to convince us that they are in full swing, and the weather just has a sort of a cheery summer holiday sort of feel to it.

Summer holidays brings more hazards for us though, there are swimmers and people diving in the canals, and families gathered by the locks as though to assess our boat handling skills.  When we throw a rope over a bollard we dare not miss lest the assembled throng should think the lesser of us, no that we care what they think of course.

Mid afternoon, post lunchtime is when all this activity peaks, people seem to materialise from thin air, strolling, cycling, or simply sitting in the shade.  It is Sunday afternoon behaviour but it is now happening every day.

We discovered a beautiful, quiet mooring this evening, a short distance from a village, just far enough away so that the church bell ringing could be heard without intruding on our serenity.

It was also just far enough away so the kids from the village couldn't hear their respective mothers calling out to them either, and they gathered on "our" landing in ever increasing numbers, thoughtfully sharing their music with us, diving, splashing and generally doing what young adults do, intruding where church bells dare not.  We wondered for a time if we would be allowed to sleep when the time came, but mothers don't call out any longer, they send texts and just as quickly as the party had started it ended, leaving us once again to our enjoy tranquility, and our sleep.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Time to chat
Baume-les-Dames to l'Isle-sur-le-Doubs

When one is travelling in company with others, some sort of spell is cast which creates endless conversation.   

Therefore it is best to keep travel distances short, to enable one to be safely berthed in time to carry on the lunch time conversation, which no doubt was a carry on from the one that was begun immediately after breakfast and will roll on into the evening and sometimes beyond.

Perhaps it is a product of the loneliness of the long sea voyage, after all, sometimes we have to travel three or four kilometres with absolutely no means of communication between locks (not counting the marine radio of course, for catching up on urgent new thoughts). 


Tuesday, July 09, 2013


None of us felt particularly like braving the river today, not by boat at least, so "washing day" was called, and after a few boat chores were done the bicycles came out and we all four set off with intent, in search of morning sustenance in a village nearby, or ten or so kilometres up the river for those who want to be pedantic.

There was a place in that village, we were assured by Ron and Robin, where they had once stayed, or had lunch, or was it coffee, or perhaps they'd just seen it on the map, but whatever the case despite our warning that things are never open if we set out to visit them with intent, they convinced us that this time with them accompanying us, it would be different.

Therefore as we followed the last bend in the river before the village and the little Auberge came into view below the bridge, and we could clearly see its open doors and colourful umbrellas shading it's chequered cloth clad tables we were flushed with a new found optimism, imagining what treats would be ours after just a few more minutes of pedalling effort.

If we had not seen the sign on the bridge as we climbed to the top of its approach, the barricading, workmen and machinery which became visible once we were on its pavement level would have given the game away.   It was, sadly, in a rather substantial state of being "maintained",

"Closed" said the sign.   "Deviation" said another with an arrow suggesting we might be well advised to return to where-ever it was that we had come from, and cross the river there.

So we sat in the shade, and ate our apples and convinced ourselves that it probably wasn't going to be all that good over there anyway.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Some advice for my boating friends.
Deluz to Baume-les-Dames

1) If you think the size of your boat is a reflection of your masculinity, there is always someone who is more masculine than you.

2) The rules of the waterways are fairly clear: Commercial vessels have absolute right of way.

3) No matter how hard you try, you cannot stare down the skipper of a fully laden Peniche if he is sitting in his wheelhouse forty metres from where you are.

4) If you invite the fully laden Peniche to take you on after your five minutes of trying to stare him down doesn't work, he will take you up on that offer.

5) No matter how powerful you think your three storey Gin Palace is, it will not win a pushing competition with a three hundred and eighty ton barge.

6) If you are going to have a pushing competition with a three hundred and eighty ton barge, it's probably best not to do it in front of an audience of former bargees, and pleasure boaters who happen to have a good deal of respect for the few remaining commercial barge operators.

The mooring place in Baume-les-Dames is along a narrow channel and in such situations users of the waterway are usually extremely cautious and mindful of one another.    Just how the scantily clad gentleman thought that it would be even possible for the barge to reverse for over a kilometre so that he did not have to pull over for a few moments was never explained to us, and it appeared that the friendly Gendarmes were having difficulty understanding as well.

When it was over, we were surprised that the equally scantily clad ladies aboard the miscreant vessel hadn't jumped to the more masculine one, (actually given the general physique and demeanour of Mrs Bargee we weren't all that surprised),  but we did wonder if after a bit of reflection, they'll still love Mr Budgie Smuggler in the morning.

That dear readers, is how we came to be late for dinner


Sunday, July 07, 2013

When the planets fail to align
Besançon to Deluz

We could have spent a week in Besançon just walking the streets, climbing the parapets of the citadel and visiting its museums, and perhaps one day we will, but for now a massive change in our planning for the rest of the year is underway.

We are a bit more than two thirds of the way around a loop which will (or was supposed to) take us back to our home port of Lagarde.   Today we received news that the ship lift at Arzviller, a delightful piece of engineering which takes boats in a giant bathtub from the bottom of the hill to the top, and vice versa has had a significant malfunction.

"Significant malfunction" in this case is loosely translates as :"the canal has no water in it for thirty of the last fifty kilometres we have to travel this year" and it may take many months to repair.   "Many months" translates loosely to "many months", and since we have only "several months" left in our time here this year, perhaps it would be wise to retrace our steps rather than continue.

So we shall, but since our minds were are on making Montbeliard before we do that, we struck out undeterred this afternoon in that general direction.


Saturday, July 06, 2013

Given enough time

How hard could it be to find a hat in an ancient city the streets of which were filled with market stalls?

Very, it seems when the hat has to fit a head with a sixy-one centimetre circumference, or perhaps it was 'very' because there were so many stalls in so many streets that finding a hat became less important to some of us  (the ones with more hair it has to be said) as the day wore on.   In the end it was a black one and very satisfactory too, that materialised in the nick of time, which is a very good thing because time seems to have been quite important in this town.

The clock in the cathedral for instance, the one with several hundred functions and thirty thousand moving parts is so accurate that it has one hand which only moves in a leap century.   Having been built in 1853, none of it's originators would have seen that hand move as it did in 2000, and we have been assured that it will again in a little under four hundred year's time.

I suspect that if we were to live for another four hundred years our mastery of the French language may improve to similar degrees of precision, but for now we are happy enough to find our ice creams at last, order four and be served five.


Friday, July 05, 2013

Through the Phantom's Lair
Thoraise to Besançon

A long time ago I heard of a cave hidden behind a waterfall. A masked stranger on a horse called Hero with a dog called Devil used it as his lair.   Only those who were in his inner circle (or read Phantom comics) knew of its existence.

Just a few hundred metres into our journey today we came across such a cave, although pretty much any one who has visited the local tourist office would know of its existence.

The tunnel at Thoraise is not very long as these things go, at barely two hundred metres it's more of a long bridge than a tunnel, but it is quite entertaining.   It has a waterfall for a door at either end, which magically turns itself off for just long enough for a boat (or two) to pass.   Once inside, lights snake around the ceiling and walls chasing boats or pedestrians as they make their passage through.   In other places this would be called a waste of money, elections would be fought over whether it was a worthwhile contribution to society.

Here, it's just called art.

We left a bit early again this morning too, because the light beckoning at the end of our particular tunnel was Besançon, where perhaps we would find ice cream, and the magic of the morning once again unfolded as our route took us from river to canal and back again, successfully testing Mr Perkins new found strength in water running faster than we could have dealt with just a few years ago.

He deserves an ice cream too.


Thursday, July 04, 2013

A Deadline
Ranchot to Thoroaise

Relaxed though we may appear to be, we have a deadline fast approaching - that holiday in Riga!

There is nothing quite like a holiday to induce stress and we do need to be in Paris to catch a plane in ten days time, which of course means finding somewhere secure to leave our home, and preferably somewhere with access to a rail link.  Montbeliard seems to fit that bill nicely, but we are to achieve that, we are going to have to face up to the challenge of averaging an astonishing four kilometres per day, for the rest of the week, so alas we felt forced to push on, to leave the tranquility of Ranchot and once again ventrued out to brave the river, stoically holding our course steady all through the morning in the discomfort of Ron and Robin's wake.

We haven't done mornings for a while, and reluctantly have to admit that it's quite nice choofing off at eight, steaming coffee in hand, bowl of muesli on the lap watching the last of the morning mist rise among the hills and trees in the distance.   Reluctantly, because the other option is also quite nice. It does also mean that we have a fair chance of arriving somewhere at ten minutes to lunch time, although on this day it was more like ten minutes to ice-cream time.

Ice cream could well be a magic salve to take away the aches of a long and arduous river journey we thought, so there'd be no harm in seeing if it worked after a short and easy one.

It took a long and arduous walk in ever increasing heat though before we realised that we had failed entirely to find a supply of the magic stuff.  The only commercial premises we could find in the three villages we explored was a garden centre which sold gnomes and mermaids with fountain nipples and Balinese doors made in Portugal, which in a strange way was much more refreshing than having an ice cream anyway.


Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Snail's Pace

I spent some time watching snails today.  Like us they tend to travel slowly, eat quite a lot, and they stop often.  

After averaging something in the order of five kilometres per day for the past three days, we thought it would be prudent to stop for a rest.  

The lack of sunshine combined with constant drizzle afforded a splendid opportunity for us to catch up on all the maintenance tasks that seem to be decorating an ever growing list but after a quick discussion we came to our senses and tucked the list somewhere out of sight.

It wouldn't be a lay day after all, if we spent it in constructive endeavour.  

It's not as though we were unoccupied; there is a new catch on the entry door for instance, fabricated by hand entirely from scraps found in jars and boxes in the bilges, and Robin's jeans are now miraculously at a satisfactory length, but it cannot be denied that there was also a good deal of laying about as well.

Tomorrow we shall no doubt continue our relentless progress upstream!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

We can see clearly now
Rochefort-sur-Nenon to Ranchot

It may have taken a few months but we are finally in cruising mode and the three hours that it took to travel the thirteen kilometres or so today was more than enough to satisfy our need for moving on.

I suspect that no one would sympathise with our day in the office, being forced as we were to glide for kilometres along the top tier of a weir in water as still and clear as a mirror, or through forested tunnels, or for that matter in the sparkling waters of the river itself under clear blue sunny skies, but despite the apparently idyllic conditions, we couldn't shake the feeling that something was amiss.

We couldn't put our collective fingers on it for a time, the sky seems too blue, completely free of haze, visibility in the locks is crisper than it has ever been before, and then it dawned.

The absence of our dear Mr Perkin's fog has made the difference.   

It is not going to take long at all to become accustomed to his new more socially acceptable habits.

Monday, July 01, 2013

That's better!
Dole to Rochefort-sur-Nenon

Still exhausted from our three kilometres of travel yesterday, we decided to push our luck and try for seven today.

We made it too, mooring where Jan and Toby had suggested, just above the weir on the river, in the shade of the cliffs, fortunately just in time for lunch where they suggested as well, at another cafe where four courses and coffee was to set us back eleven Euros each.

We had intended to explore the district at some length after lunch, but we had eaten quite a bit and the day was quite warm and the shade quite deep and cool with the constant sound of the rapids beyond.  When we thought about it, the prospect of lying on the grass beside the boat, book in hand seemed like such a sensible option that thoughts of exploratory walks were postponed till some distant future time.

Life after all is about more than rainy days and smokey engines.

We think we would like to do this when we retire!
Blogger Template Created by pipdig