Legends from our own lunchtimes

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.


Tuesday, August 06, 2013

On Litter
Scey-sur-Saone to Conflandey

Having already seen the sights of Port-sur-Saone twice this year, there seemed little point in stopping once again to appreciate the absence of things to appreciate, although we could have watched the workmen dismantling the stands used for the grand international fete of music and dance which naturally had wound up the day before yesterday, we moved a little further up the river.

This time with serious luncheon intent we moored in the forest opposite a chateau,  at a private quay belonging to the restaurant "Moulin Rouge", (no not that one).  Ron had assured us despite our misgivings, that the restaurant was not closed when we passed last, just sleeping for winter.   If restaurants do sleep for winter, this one was sleeping very soundly indeed, and appears set to go on sleeping for the foreseeable future and beyond, but the signs on the dock welcomed us none the less, provided that we respected the property, stuck to the paths and lit no fires,  and kept our litter to ourselves.  So there we stayed.

This part of the world was once the centre of wire and nail manufacture, there is a village not far from here called exactly that "Manufacture" in fact, and the area is littered by the skeletons of buildings which once held factories of sufficient size to finance the chateaus that their owners seemed to litter the countryside with alacrity.    I suspect there are as many chateaus (Private property our dog is malicious and vindictive) adjoining defunct factories in this neck of the woods as there are "Moulins Rouge" or churches of "Notre Dame", but all are equally as fascinating to peek into even in their ruined states.

We were sitting discussing just that on our private dock, over a quiet ham baguette when a gentleman with a large hungry looking dog appeared welcoming us to the place, but seeking assurance that Ron and Robin would not leave behind the yellow plastic bag they'd tied to mark a bollard trip hazard.  Suitably assured he bad us farewell and went off in search of other things.

Unless one has a factory or barn in ruins to leave lying around, or perhaps a large dog on a small footpath, littering is simply not acceptable.

Monday, August 05, 2013

A nice ride.

A year ago we were in Port-sur-Saone and lamented that the lack of bicycles aboard prevented us from travelling as far away our legs would allow, there being not much within the town that we hadn't seen after the first fifteen minutes of discovery.

Is there any irony therefore in the fact that this year on a Monday to boot, and being moored no fewer than twelve kilometres away, we used our bicycles not to escape, but to revisit the very same spot?  We did this perhaps filled with some sense of optimism that things may have changed in the interim, but mostly I think filled with a desire to simply roll along on our bicycles beside the river, through the cornfields under a clear blue sky.

That and the need to find a post office.

Or perhaps we were simply drawn, like flies to honey or garden gnomes to a beaded curtain depicting a tropical paradise.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Pierced Stone
Savoyeux to Scey-sur-Saone

As we have done on two other occasions at so many places along this river, we haven't actually had the opportunity for one reason or another of heading along the river embranchment to Traves.   On this particular day we made it a hat-trick of finding excuses not to go there by boat, the river is shallow there and to do so would after all, mean back tracking for a few hours.

But we seemed to be drawn there, either by the mystical qualities of the pierced stone for which the village is quite famous or perhaps by the perfect weather for having a long cycle ride through the country.

The stone, or 'stones' as it is referred to although we only found one has an unknown origin.  Said to have been made thousands of years ago, perhaps as some sort of mysterious religious offering, none of our research to date is able to cast any light on the reason for it being.

After a delightful ride in the countryside it is fair to say that the solitary edifice we found in the middle of a cow pasture had not the slightest bit of mystery or mysticism in it.   To us at least it seemed to be underwhelmingly free of psychic energy.

We pondered it for a bit, and decided that on balance, It's probably just an early wagon wheel that went flat and was abandoned by a frustrated bullocky.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Saboteur
Gray to Savoyeux

Twice before we have visited the village of Savoyeux, walking past the Saboteur's studio, past the signs proclaiming it as is usually the case, "Open on some day other than the one on which you have arrived."

Imagine our surprise therefore, when on this occasion there was no sign, just an open door inviting us to wander within.    For those who may not be aware, a saboteur is not some sort of stealthy person sneaking around blowing up railway bridges in the middle of the night, but a maker of sabots; traditional wooden shoes.

As it turns out the Saboteur of Savoyeux is a charming youngish mother of six, who took some pains to explain in graphic sign language that her husband and the father of her brood had done a bunk, {may his gum boots get stuck in the mud!} leaving her to work alone in her studio, turning out wooden sabots clearly a little faster than they were required, knitting their liners from Angora she had spun and died, after plucking it from her goats and rabbits.  

We spoke at length about many things, or at least we think it was many things as the conversation did become a little incomprehensible for a time in the middle, but in all of that we never did find a way of asking how she came to be wearing stilettos in her workshop.

I suspect the answer to that mystery will wait until next we pass on a day when the studio is open.


Friday, August 02, 2013

Media Circus

This morning, the four Australians who remained in port were supposed to be rent-a-crowd at the cemetery but when we arrived at the appointed place, a pleasing number were already in attendance, which is more than could be said for the television crew.

Completely unperturbed, Claudine demanded our presence at her house for lunch (just something quick and simple she said and by the way we must all go to Ria and Ed's place this evening for dinner(Ria was our guide in yesterday's tour), and arranged to pick us up for both events, but first would we mind terribly talking to a reporter from the local paper?

So somewhat bemused we completed our interview with the reporter, and with Ron and Robin continued on our whirlwind of extraordinary and wonderful social engagements.

It's not just us to be fair, Claudine confesses a penchant for hunting down the occupants of Australian boats.  If every Tourist office in the world had a Claudine, world peace would surely quickly follow.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Welcome to Gray

"I'm Claudine from the tourist office", said the lady whose reputation had preceded her, while snapping photos of us and our boats for Facebook and in the interests apparently, of regional tourism.

We should not have been surprised therefore when she asked ever so nicely if we wouldn't mind coming for a tour of the cemetery tomorrow "just to make up the numbers in case no one else comes".  She had arranged a television crew to attend the tour but was unsure of how well patronised it would be and it would be very nice if they could find some tourists from the other side of the world when they arrived.    Of course she thought it would be nicer still if we could understand some of the commentary, or reply if the reporters asked any questions but after considering that for a moment, she  decided that we could cross that bridge when we came to it.

But before that the eight Antipodeans had an appointment with Ria today, our English speaking guide, a volunteer who had picked up the keys to allow her to take us through a few of the prominent buildings; the theatre, the citadel and so on.   It was an extraordinary tour (of course), with Ria's enthusiasm for the town obvious.
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