Legends from our own lunchtimes

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The cleaning
- Lagarde

Winter can do funny things to a boat, or anything that’s left outside if it comes to that.  Even though we leave everything as clean as we can, we always seem to return to a mess, a vessel covered in a thick grime of pollen mud, green slime and muck.

I have to confess that we have thought about the futility of cleaning things before we go, but there is a trigger somewhere in both our heads that won’t allow us to relax in that state of mind.   Therefore while one of us took herself away to Maggie’s for the day to catch up on a little mending, and probably just to catch up, the other set about scrubbing the decks and running the mooring lines through the washing machine, so they would be fresh and soft for next year and would smell vaguely like lemon.

It’s odd though, as excited as we are about returning to the Antipodes for a time, and that builds as we bustle around, there’s a certain dullness that is exactly the opposite emotion that creeps in to oppose it.   Now matter which side of the world we are on, these conflicting emotions descend.   Perhaps they are something to do with some sort of nesting syndrome that causes this wild rash of cleaning.   Do birds tidy up before they fly south for the winter?

Perhaps we should just lie down for a bit and it will pass!

Monday, September 29, 2014

- Lagarde

We thought we’d spend a night in Lagarde, perhaps head out again for a few days or even a week, before coming back to a frantic half a week or so of concentrated effort.

That was before lunch yesterday of course, which left us in no mood to do anything at all, not even to move the boat.  We had a classic case of Mondayitis.  Later in the day the sun came out and it seemed like the obvious thing to do was to wash everything that wasn’t hiding somewhere already freshly washed.  This of course gave us the opportunity to intersperse short bursts of loading the machine and hanging things out, with longer periods of inactivity.

We thought about checking our lists of things to make and do, and we thought about making new ones, but mostly we thought about not thinking about much because it didn’t seem to be the day for it, so sat in the middle of a row of empty boats, mostly reading and watching the washing dry.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The last leg
- Einville-au-Jard to Lagarde

A “brocante” or as my dictionary describes it, “junk dealing”, is a tradition that happens in many villages once a year.  Curiously “once a year” turns out to be three or sometimes even four times if one actually counts them, but in order to maintain the level of excitement that only an annual event can muster, when they are held at other times of the year, similar (also annual) events are called “Attic Sales” or even simply held in conjunction with a summer fete.

Collectors and bargain hunters and people who would like to own two decades old baby toys flock from everywhere to find something that they will no doubt regret purchasing long after the thrill of the hunt has subsided.

We are not collectors or bargain hunters, so would not have been up early enough under normal circumstances to wander the streets as the stalls were being set up, but we do like to watch though but we really did have to be in Lagarde in time for lunch so we really did have to depart in time to get to the first lock when it opened, and that left us with precisely ten minutes up our sleeves to browse the kilometres of stalls.

We moved for just a few hours through clearing fog, past throngs of Sunday fishermen, with the old familiar happy-sadness creeping in to the periphery of our brains as we entered each lock, drawing inevitably closer to the end of another season.

We consoled ourselves with the thought that Lagarde wasn’t supposed to be a homecoming.  We were just going to stay for lunch and return in a week or so to start the wintering process.

But as the day and the conversation rolled along we felt ourselves settling in, becoming comfortable in our old surrounds, among old friends, and wondering if we have moved for the last time this summer.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Diversion of the pleasant kind
- Nancy to Einville-au-Jard

With a concerted effort, an early start and everything going our way, it’s possible to  travel between Nancy and Lagarde in one day.

So it was that with that one thought in mind, we timed our departure faultlessly to arrive at the first lock at precisely the time its gates were opening for the day's business.    Our perfect plan was going well until that point and didn’t start to unravel until the time came when one would normally exit the lock.  All that is required to enable forward motion is for the gates to open automatically as they are supposed, and that is exactly what they failed to do.  

At this time of year itinerant lock keepers are a bit thin on the ground it would seem, so it was a little less than an hour until we were set free and able to continue happily for another few kilometres until the next lock once again required manual intervention, this time leaving our plan looking decidedly unachievable.

But the sky was blue and even the smoke from the salt works gave us a cheery wave as we passed, so there was little reason to feel any angst.  A new plan would surely form given enough time.    

As it happened, Rob and Janet, trapped by the ship-lift still broken in the opposite direction,  themselves still coming to grips with their own change of plans, had them changed again when we pulled in behind them in Einville for a belated lunch time stop.  It didn’t take rocket-science for any of us to work out that in all probability none of us were moving again today, and that the probability of achieving the statutory eight hours sleep was not entirely large.

It would be nice to have a lottery ticket with the same winning probabilities, but it’s hard to imagine that a winning ticket could provide a more enjoyable outcome!


Friday, September 26, 2014

Happy Trails
- Nancy

We gave Trev a bit of a whirlwind-around-Nancy quasi-guided tour, before stopping for a relaxed lunch in the market and gently bunging him on a train for points south.

After that we high-tailed back it to the harbour to try to catch up on as much harbour news as we could.  Petra has moved in for winter, Stéphane has almost finished insulating his boat at last, Ronald has his busker organ working again, and so it went.   They all suggested we should stay another night or two and perhaps we should, after all we like it here and we like this eclectic bunch of stationary itinerants far more than our all too short bi-annual visits would imply, but we are now being drawn upstream like a moth to a flame.

I would have said we are being drawn upstream like a pair of spawning salmon, but would in all probability have received a disapproving sidelong glance so I refrained.

We have a bit to do before we leave, but as we have for the moment at least plenty of time to do it, things for now are quite under control. We we are quite aware however that in two weeks time when there is a pure white vapour trail scribed against the clear blue Autumn sky,  it would be quite nice for it to have been made by an aeroplane on which we are travelling, so we will move tomorrow and relax later if there is time.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

In our own back yard
- Champignuelles

As we watched the evening close in from our spot in Champignuelles it felt a bit as though we’d entered our own back yard after a journey, and only had to walk up the front path to get to the house.    Tomorrow we will spend the day in Nancy with Trev, and the next day we’ll be “home”.

We are in no hurry to get there of course, hurrying is futile on the waterway even if we tried.   We thought we’d be in Nancy tonight for instance, but when we arrived at the first lock it was so badly broken electrically that a nice lock-keeper brought a technician to repair it AND a generator to power it so that we could get through, it was a sign that perhaps we weren’t going to make it.    The angry Kiwis who seemed to have the impression that the delay in their progress was somehow caused by us may learn patience in time, or perhaps they'll take up bus tours as a more suitable method of touring on a tight schedule.

Seeing “Matilda Rose” tied innocently at the landing in Pompey was another sign, as indeed was the smell of baking fig tart wafting from her open ports.   So we allowed Graham and Jill to feed us one more time, taking modest portions of tart so that Muttley could demolish his fair share as soon as our backs were turned, bade our sad farewells once more and then turned gently out into the wilds of the river in search of one last cruising sunset.

Suddenly we were here, back in the suburbs of Nancy, where there will be more farewells and “see you next years” and then we will be preparing the boat and sunset will be truly upon us.   


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Almost Sunny
- Toul

The clearing fog could well be a metaphor for the beginning of the end of the extraordinary run of luck with Mr Perkins.    After a couple of days of fitting, re-fitting, bolting and unbolting then bolting again, we had found the cause of every one of the several leaks in the fuel system that had been plaguing us all year.   

Each one was maddeningly intermittent, which meant that as soon as we thought we’d found one it would immediately stop only to reappear after an hour or a day or two.   Replacing all of the parts with new should have fixed all that with no fuss, but when the microscopic crack in one of the new castings made itself apparent, we all felt as though we had been beaten.    But this was just a battle, not the war, so we fudged a couple of the old parts to keep us going until the replacement arrives sometime over winter.

Eventually the jigsaw was reassembled and dear old Mr P was running even better than at the beginning of the year.    We looked at our calendar, and realised with a tinge of disappointment that we’d have no chance of catching Rob and Janet on their arrival in Lagarde, so made an executive decision not to launch off at a mad rate of knots.

Tomorrow would do, there’d be no fog at all by then.

So we hastily changed Trev’s travel plans and wandered off to the station to meet him.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pea Soup

OK, if we had hoped that today would be warmer than yesterday we were to be sadly disappointed.

We waited till it had warmed up a bit late morning to slink off to the shops, gloved hands in pockets with the pharmacy thermometer piercing the fog with a cheery green glow assuring us that the temperature had reached a hopeful nine degrees.  By the time we had finished shopping visibility had improved to the extent that we could see the cathedral across the gloom.

The only person who wasn't visibly cheerier on our return was Duncan, working as he was on our dear Mr Perkins, failing to either stay warm or clean by wearing a pair of surgical gloves that tore as soon as he looked at anything vaguely colder than he was, or covered in oil.   After several hours he had also failed almost entirely to stem the leaks in  the injection system that had plagued us all year.  

We thought the problem may just go away with the new lines installed, but we hadn’t taken into account that there were a couple of built-in flaws in the new parts as well.

Eventually, the sun came out, the sky turned blue, the temperature rose into double figures, we all smiled at each other.  Duncan wandered of to his shed in search of some brazing equipment.

At least this year the fog is not of our making.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Life in a Cold Room
- Toul

We quite liked the late Autumn/early Winter feel about the place as we wandered around Toul in the fog this morning.    

We would have liked it more if the temperature had been early Autumn instead of the ridiculous single figure number that it was.  When we left to take the car back to the hire place the sun was starting to poke through the fog, and it seemed clear to us that things would improve in very short time.

Therefore it was an uncomfortable surprise when, in concert with our return of and therefore exiting from the nicely heated car, the sun disappeared between a thickening fog and we found ourselves just a scarf, a hat, a pair if gloves and a coat shy of being adequately dressed for the stroll home.    

We would have complained about it too, if it hadn’t been for Duncan when we arrived back, working apparently happily in his shorts and open necked shirt.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

- La Ferté Saint-Aubin to Toul

The smell of warm blood was still lingering in our nostrils when we arrived at the Chateau for what they called “brunch”.

Commencing at eleven-thirty in the morning it was certainly not breakfast as we know it, but it was probably a little too early for lunch and certainly barely late enough for civilised people to be out of bed and dressed.

Certainly Celine and Dume had not completed either of those tasks when we dropped in to pick them up, whereas we, with the streets outside Jackie’s house alive with people visiting one of the three annual “attic sale” events in the village had been out and about since “early”, avoiding the temptation to buy any of the refuse on sale, watching as the street butcher made “boudin noir” - a regional blood-sausage specialty before our very eyes in a pre-breakfast stomach churning extravaganza of steaming offal.

By contrast the Chateau les Muids at least when we arrived was tranquil, awaiting our pleasure.  A pleasure it was indeed.  The gentle scent of the fresh flowers on the table quickly supllanted the olfactory horrors of earlier and “Brunch” turned out to be a simple affair comprising fine foie gras, and duck breast smoked on the premises, as indeed was the salmon.  The chocolate cake and fresh berry sauce made a superb breakfast accoutrement, indeed some in our company thought it to be something of a master stroke.

By early afternoon that point had arrived though, when we were forced to leave the breakfast table and once more endure the sweet sorrow of parting.

Five hundred kilometres, two stops, four and a half hours, and forty Euros in tolls without once breaking the speed limit later, we were safely back on the boat in Toul and our little roadfest was over.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

- Orléans

We’ve been in to the city often in the past.  It’s where we have had all our immigration dealings for instance, but we’ve never been tourists here.  Today we decided that we would wander round and explore the place at random, and if it hadn’t been for the rain we may well have done exactly that.   

We settled in the end for lunch in a warm cafe and enough of a walk around to convince us with just a patch of blue appearing in the sky that we should return to play tourist at a later, warmer, sunnier date.

It felt almost as though the weather had drained our energy, although it may very well have been the events of the past few days combined with perhaps a shortage of what the cowboy’s in the movies refer to as “shut-eye”.    If it was the fault of the weather, given that winter is still a long way off is a bit of a disconcerting thought for those who aren’t going to be escaping it any time soon.

We escaped into the warmth of Sebastian’s place for the evening though, where Monique laid out her own plans to get away to places like Morocco and Martinique and in a moment of chocolate mousse-fuelled weakness, we even elicited a promise that she would visit Moffat Beach.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Orléans (and Le Ferté Saint-Aubin)

There’s something quite disconcerting about walking into a club on the other side of the world, to find oneself face to face with paintings that for many years hung in one’s own living room.   It’s even more disconcerting to be treated as some sort of celebrity by guests amazed that one would travel across the world to be “here” at a function complete with hovering journalists, photographers, government officials and art critics.

Somehow instinctively one knows when questions are asked about artistic intent, that responding with “I thought it seemed like a nice way to fill a bit of space on the living room wall” is not going to cut the mustard.  Thankfully in my own case, perhaps in no small way due to the amount of drivel I write each day, after the first wave of insecurity had passed, suitable answers to these questions and more were soon materialised and the nervousness and insecurity that had been building prior to the event soon vanished, or at least abated to a manageable level.

That nervousness and insecurity had been stoked to near fever pitch during the morning, spent with Dume’s friend Daniel as he led us on a private tour through the catalogue of his own life’s work, and that of his father and grandfather before him and that of his wife as well.  We were hopelessly inspired and overwhelmed at the same time as we wandered through room after room of his crumbling mansion, sifting through canvasses and sketch books and a volume of work the likes of which we could not even aspire to create. We could easily have brought any of his work away with us too had we had enough spare change to buy a small family car to exchange for it.

We wondered if one day anything we did could ever be worth as much, and after the warmth of the reception this evening we were all somewhat encouraged.  We concluded though that the only thing preventing any it from becoming quite valuable is the fact that we are still alive, and on that basis we are actually hoping that our work will remain affordable for quite some time to come.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

All is calm, all is bright
- Joigny to La Ferté Saint-Aubin via Tours

For a short while this morning we sat over breakfast in perfect peace, drinking coffee and watching the reflection of the the workers making their way through the vineyards above the village as they readied themselves for their day’s labour.

We were intent on carrying that tranquility into our day, though we were not to know that there would be no further time for reflection this day as our little two hour drive to la Ferté Saint-Aubin turned itself into a marathon.  

We thought since we had a little time up our sleeves a little detour through Migennes with Ron and Robyn would be nice (and it was), stopping off for a little sight seeing on the way back was no hardship, particularly as we could time it perfectly so that they would feel obliged to feed us before we set off again.

It was therefore late in the afternoon when we arrived in Marcilly-en-Villette, feeling not surprisingly a little as though we had been on the road all day.   Here, we were greeted by Celine and Dume and the news that that we had been invited to the opening of a gallery in Tours, “about” an hour away and if we left “now” we would have plenty of time to be there, so we would catch up over dinner after the event.

We finally arrived at Jackie’s place just after our coach, had we been in another story would have turned into a pumpkin, feeling as though it had been a very long time indeed since that breakfast photograph had been taken, and hoping that the vineyard workers at least had managed an earlier night!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

No rest for the wicked.
- Toul to Joigny

We are mid fleeting-visit to Toul, so spent a good deal of time yesterday evening visiting they to whom we owed a visit in the upper harbour, which gave us a splendid opportunity to walk back to the boat in the glow of the setting sun.  This is mentioned only by way of explanation for the photograph above, which bears no relationship to the events of today.

Joigny is a little Medieval village somewhere in Burgundy, a long way from Toul as it happens but not as far away as Orléans where we need to be by Friday evening.   Ron and Robyn made the mistake of telling us they were there, and had guests so perhaps it would not be a good time to visit, but we only heard the “they are there” part, hired a car, fussed around for a good part of the day washing, leaving last minute instructions with Duncan as he dismantled the bits of Mr P, and arranging to hire a car for the journey.

By the time we arrived it was evening once again, and travel weary, we were forced to settle in for a long night of conviviality, for which after spending the two previous nights alone, we were apparently long overdue. 

“Lonely” is not a term that comes readily to mind when we are asked to describe the life we lead in this country. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Making us feel important
- Pompey to Toul

After the glory of yesterday, we should have expected fog today.   I am not sure if we should have expected a pair of giant cargo ships blocking the entrance to the first lock though, but that is exactly how things were first thing this morning.

I wandered up to see the lock-keeper in his lofty tower and enquired as to what time, if indeed it was to be today, the lock would be open for business.   He looked quite puzzled at this interruption and told me quite firmly that it was open at present if I cared to look around.

I thanked him for his advice and asked for a suggestion as to how we might actually get into it then.   He was initially surprised that I hadn’t considered a few hundred millimetres between a pair of three thousand tonne payloads to be and adequate channel width, but in his defence, once he had grasped the problem he very quickly and efficiently found a solution which involved asking the behemoths to kindly shuffle themselves out of our way while we passed.  I am not sure how they resisted the urge to swat us like the annoying little fly we must have seemed as we passed, but they did, and we did.

At the very next lock though, there was no sign of life at all.   

After climbing the wall and walking the entire hundred and fifty metre length of it I found a man, head down in a pit, up to his elbows in electrical wiring and hydraulic plugs, just under a sign that read “Danger of Death”.    He looked up, thankfully without dying, and cheerfully informed me that he’d be finished in two minutes.

I in reply, not wishing to have a fatality on my conscience, told him not to hurry, after all I said, we are on holidays and can wait as long as it takes.

“On holidays!” he replied with a laugh “(Expletive!), I am sorry, I will finish in ONE minute then!”

And he did.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Floating on Air
- Pagny-sur-Moselle to Pompey

We thought we’d sneak off without waking Joan and Peter who are in cruising mode, not travelling as we are, but Mr Perkins took it on himself to roar into life this morning rather than purr, shaking those in the boat astern from their slumber, rattling anything that wasn’t bolted down just to make sure before settling into his normal.     

They must have had a speedy getaway though as they found us resting in Pont-a-Mousson and joined us for coffee and more of the sensational produce of the bakery there, but there they stayed and we went on.  

We are in commuting mode now.  We have a deadline or two and need to get to Toul, but it’s not as though the day brought any hardship.

“Perfect” would be an inadequate way of describing our commute on glassy water under clear sky.   It takes a day such as this, with a clear blue sky and water so still that our wake was the only disruption on its surface to truly understand the meaning of the term “floating on air”.  Too much of this is barely enough and had it not been for the immutable fact that the sun would set eventually, we could have gone on forever.

Instead, we stayed at Pompey in the late afternoon, watching as the breeze slowly took the mirror from the water, and the clouds gently built within the blue.  Wondering if tomorrow could possibly be the same.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Not quite alone.
- Metz to Pagny-sur-Moselle

Our escape from Metz went surprisingly smoothly and as we began our trek upriver we found ourselves discovering a sensation we hadn’t experienced in quite some time.

We were alone.

That sensation was to last all the way to lunchtime, when we stopped in a leafy and somewhat secluded mooring, to discover Joan and Peter lying in wait.  One thing led to another as it often does, and by the time we’d returned from our post-luncheon stroll through the streets of Pagny-sur-Mozelle, we were to a person, in agreement that a small precautionary rest would be in order.

Post nap, another meeting was held, in which we unanimously decided that there would be little point in moving further on this day, and that since Peter had a perfectly good rabbit awaiting his culinary touch, we should join them for dinner.   Not a late dinner we decided, no guitars, no singing or waving of flags, no dancing on the streets….. just a simple, quiet dinner after which we could slip silently away and get a good night’s sleep.   And that’s exactly what happened.

After all, we don’t want to end up looking like some of the buildings in the village, do we?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Rule Britannia!
- Metz

There is nothing that more clearly signifies that the cruising year is coming to a close than booking the hotel in Paris for that last night before the aeroplane departs.    Peter and Joan quite coincidentally are travelling on the same flight this year, so we made that booking together this morning, and they quietly slipped away through the trees, under the bridge and into the space where the morning mist had been, leaving us to quietly consider where the year had gone.

There was nothing terribly quite about the rest of the day however, which somehow morphed into an encore of last night’s performance, just as noisy, but with half the crowd.   

Things were all very civilised for the first half of the evening, which took the form of a quiet dinner with Graham and Jill at our place, but as the evening wore on and we repaired to the good ship Matilda Rose, we found ourselves once again on a very slippery downhill slope!   The last hour of the last night at the Proms performance was televised live via their satellite, and we were introduced to a sort of interactive madness that we had not considered previously.    Song sheets were distributed along with Union Jacks on sticks suitably trimmed to narrow boat proportions, and we somehow found ourselves in the midst of an admittedly tiny crowd singing “Rule Britannia” and "Land of Hope and Glory" with what would have been inappropriate gusto had we not been hermetically sealed inside the vast steel tube.

Perhaps tomorrow, we thought as we wandered back to our (silent) home, we could sneak away and find somewhere quiet and isolated to moor!


Friday, September 12, 2014

- Metz

While we were sleeping a day or two ago, that pesky narrowboat bearing Graham and Jill snuck into town and moored under our very noses.

We tried looking the other way, avoiding eye contact, being where they weren’t, but the town was too small for all of us. At every turn it seemed that our paths would cross although some of those crossings we hasten to add were not at all accidental.  

Eventually we could avoid them no more, and as we had done a few days ago in Toul accepted their very kind offer or perhaps under a different interpretation of what happened, invited them to make curry for ourselves and as many friends as we could muster aboard the good ship Matilda Rose.

Fortunately for them, we could only muster Joan and Peter, who were due to leave on the morrow, and they brought Deb and Kevin even up the score.   So there we were, eight adults, two medium sized dogs, a cat, two guitars and a pot plant on a boat that was somewhat less wide than I am tall.

In a narrow boat, parties happen in single file, perhaps that is why line dancing was invented.

The night was fairly long, and not entirely quiet, and a jolly good time was had by all.  In the morning though, even the buildings downtown appeared to be a tad bleary-eyed and I wonder if we'd kept them up too.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

A day at the shops
- Metz

Our friend Jacques once confided that he thought Metz was the nicest city in all of France, except of course for Lagarde where he lives and works. 

We have to admit that we are pretty much in agreement with regard to Metz and although Lagarde is a sort of home for us it shouldn’t count because it has a population about equal to that of a crowded bus.    All of that aside we do have things to do in a week or so in another nice city, things that will require a standard of dress just a little above that to which we have allowed ourselves to become accustomed, and with that in mind we spent at least some of today wandering the almost endless streets of department stores and the shoe shops reflected in them, in search of some footwear that might  contain something that bore at least a resemblance to leather.

In one encounter a pleasant young man wearing a tee shirt imploring us to do unmentionable things to Mick Jagger failed to find a shoe that would fit a pair of apparently somewhat larger than dainty feet. He tried  valiantly to find an alternative offering all manner of options and when finally convinced he had not succeeded, asked us where we were from and inevitably why  we were in Metz.

We have a well practiced response to that question, that apologises for our miserable skills at communicating in his native tongue and wanders off into something lyrical about culture and history and tranquility and the people and the wide variety of shoes for sale.

He was suitably impressed and bade us farewell. promising that on our return that he would have larger sizes in stock.

We left sorry that he could not help but quite happy that neither of us bore the slightest resemblance to Mick Jagger.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What's in a name?
- Metz

Sometimes there is a lot of imagination used in naming buildings and businesses.  So much imagination in fact that the name doesn’t actually give a clue as to what happens within.

This is not the case in Metz, where the Covered Market is named rather explicitly “Covered Market”.   Within the walls of that building, or perhaps beneath its covers, there is a little cafe called “Soups and Soups”.  In other cities the menu perhaps would be a mystery, but in Metz there was no need to guess.

Peter and Joan hadn’t been lonely exactly when we pulled in beside them yesterday, but, aware of our impending arrival they had taken the precaution of reserving a table for lunch for all of us at the said “Soups and Soups” no doubt in case we should be in need of sustenance after our lengthy voyage.    They had gone one step further and requested that from the time we arrived for lunch, the staff were to speak with us only in French.

Since our waitress whose name was not, but perhaps in the naming convention presently being discussed should have been something like "Laughing Ray of Sunshine", was an acting student and comedienne, she had no difficulty communicating all manner of  messages without the need for us to resort to a dictionary.  

We departed, satiated with aching cheeks from smiling and wondering what other names could have been appropriate for the establishment.  “Cheaper than Chips” perhaps, or even “Great Times Cafe”.

Fortunately, Peter left his cap behind, so felt compelled on retrieving it to make a reservation for an encore on Friday next.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Cruising Sunset
- Pont-a-Mousson to Metz

Contrary to many journals, cruising is mostly not about deprivation, or near misses, or danger and sudden changes in weather.   On the rivers and canals it can be difficult at times to find something that raises one’s heart rate as far as “resting”.

Sometimes it can be a gentle tootle down a river, with nothing to dodge but the odd monster barge or hotel boat.  We have to pinch ourselves when we are reminded that some people pay almost as much as our boat is worth to do what we do for just a week, sitting on their cruise ships watching the poor people float past in their little fibreglass tubs and doubtless wondering how that life could possibly be described as fun.  

They can’t see the fresh eclairs and the steaming coffee or the warm baguettes that we use to keep our strength up on our passage.    

But we are not selfish, we are generous enough to share our secret with them if they care to partake, why just this very evening we gave them a glimpse of our sunset.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Commuting on the Moselle
- Toul to Pont-a-Mousson

We have some time juggling to do.  

We have an appointment in Orleans in less than two week’s time, and have planned to leave the boat with Duncan then to tidy up a few things.  With that in mind we spent much of the morning deep in conversation with him, making lists of parts that would be needed and things to do with them when they arrived, and when that was done we simply set off down the river.

We thought that we would make a mad dash for Metz, where we could hide for a week, have a holiday, write some blog posts and lie around for a bit while we recovered from the rigours of the journey.   “Mad dash” means travelling all day at breakneck speeds, resting only at night when the locks are closed and we are unable to travel, putting vast distances beneath our keel.

By the close of play we had averaged almost six kilometres per hour for seven hours and very satisfyingly reached Pont-a-Mousson, a little over half distance.   

Even more satisfyingly, there is a spectacular bakery in Pont-a-Mousson just in the main square, where we knew we would be able to find baguettes and eclairs and enough items in the essential food groups to ensure we would travel on the morrow in even higher spirits than we had today.

There is no point in juggling time on an empty stomach.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Changing Seasons
- Toul to Toul

If we’d known they were going to have to be up at six in order to get away on time, we may well have reconsidered our invitation to have Graham and Iris stay!   It’s close enough to an hour before sunrise at that time, but as the true friends we are, we pretended to enjoy our last hour with them as much as we had enjoyed the all too few days they had spent with us.

Too late to go back to bed, we watched them disappear into the  dark grey fog, then watched the dark grey turn lighter as the sun dropped a few broad hints that it was going to stay in bed for a few more hours even if we weren’t.

The obvious symptoms of the changing seasons are upon us, the morning fog, the shortening days, and the trees, much earlier than we think is usual are changing colour and losing leaves.   The less obvious one to those who live more sedentary lives, but arguably the most disruptive, is that all the cruising boats are returning to their winter ports.  We are just a few days travel from Lagarde, others are already safely ensconced in their berths here in Toul, fiddling, painting and generally preparing for the winter that is to come.

Life becomes a constant blur of reunions, so constant that there is little time for much other than endless coffee, or food or chat.   A simple walk of a few hundred metres to the Port Captain’s office to return a key on behalf of friends who had departed earlier in the day, took four hours, and that was just until we’d popped our head in to Graham and Jill’s narrowboat on the way back and were forced to eat half of their dinner.

We did manage to eventually escape the clutches of the harbour, but it is with the knowledge that all the farewells were in vain, as we will be back within the week and we will be suitably prepared!

Saturday, September 06, 2014


The streets of Toul are laid out haphazardly, in such a way that it is almost impossible to take a short cut between any two places within the city’s ramparts.   This is not an unusual feature of old cities in Europe of course, and navigating through their back streets is always challenging because there is no distant line of sight to use as a bearing.   

There are only two states of being while walking in the old part of town; one either knows where one is, or one is lost!

The cathedral doesn’t help matters much either or perhaps it even conspires to make things worse.   It towers over the town like, well very much like a cathedral really, dominating the cityscape with it’s immense proportions, but because the streets are so narrow and the houses quite tall, it isn’t visible from any where that would make it useful as a navigation beacon from anywhere inside the town limits.   Instead, it seems to crouch down so that it can’t be seen until the unsuspecting traveller turns the very last corner, into the tiny square beside which it has been shoe-horned, and then it suddenly appears as if from nowhere.

Graham couldn’t have been given a bigger fright when we turned the corner today if the thing had suddenly shouted “Boo!”

But then we watched with something approaching joy, as we have done many times before as the “old builder” recovered from the surprise and simply stood as if transfixed, his eyes tracing every detail, his mind racing as he contemplated the marvels of engineering and the skill of the craftsmen and the feats of the labourers that had combined to create this edifice.

Then, on cue after the few minutes we knew it would take for his emotions to catch up with his brain and for his pronouncement to be made, it came:

“Oh.  That’s Magic!”   He breathed.

No one can summarise the impact of centuries old architecture on modern humans more succinctly than Graham.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Pagny-sur-Meuse to Toul to Void and to Toul again

We had left Graham and Iris’ car in Void of course, planning to return by train once we’d arrived in Toul.   

I had occurred to us that the absence of a station or even a hint of a train line in Void would make this something of a challenge, but we thought that perhaps a solution would just jump out from behind a tree or something and it would all work out in the end.  As it turned out after making exhaustive enquiries, the alternatives seemed to be fairly limited.

We could of course walk, or perhaps borrow a bicycle from the garden in the town square which quite confusingly is actually a circle, but we couldn’t get a consensus on either of those options.  Since the shortest route back was on a national motorway, any thoughts that Graham and I had held regarding riding our own bikes back were forcibly erased from our databanks by the others in our quartet.

No problem is insurmountable however, so when the nice lady in the taxi asked us if we would like a lift, we could hardly refuse.

Twenty minutes was all it took to retrace our journey of the last two days, and a further twenty minutes saw the car repatriated.  

Note to file: In the event of a circumstance arising from which there is a desperate need to flee, a canal boat should not be considered appropriate for getaway purposes.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Not alone again.
Void to Pagny-sur-Meuse

It didn’t take long for Graham and Iris to get their sea legs back. I suppose this shouldn’t have been a surprise and not just because they had been staying on Roger’s barge in Chalon-sur-Saone.  Here, in truth there is nothing that even remotely resembles “sea” to trouble unadapted legs.

From the moment they arrived it was as if the last half-dozen years had not vanished, and we were immediately reliving those months we’d spent  with them on “Manatee”.  There was one slight difference though, and that was that the urgency with which we travelled then had us up before dawn, walking to glean what knowledge we could of each overnight stop, before leaving in time to be at the first lock in time for it to open.   Each day we would travel until lock-keepers hours dictated that we could travel no more, putting as many river kilometres under the boat as we could, Graham anxious to travel as far as he could in what was to be their penultimate season in France.

Today, sometime before lunch, unhindered by lock-keepers schedules because we didn’t intend to go through any, we gently motored away.   

An hour later or perhaps a little less, we stopped, ate lunch and decided that having no need to travel further.   

Somewhere between our afternoon rest and dinner we set off for a wander around the village, a mix of structures ancient and modern although the term “modern” is used advisedly to describe materials of the mass produced kind.  We wondered as we walked through a sea of roofing tiles similar to those which were marketed in the Antipodes as “Marseilles Pattern”,  whether they had been sold as “Mooloolaba Pattern” here to give them a suitably exotic ring.    

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Sauvoy to Void

It’s three days since we’ve seen another boat and that was the empty barge we watched going through the lock at Tréveray.   

The photo itself does much to explain what words cannot.  The canals and locks were designed to accommodate vessels thirty-nine metres long and five wide.   This does not leave a lot of room for passing and we sometimes wonder how the big ships resist the temptation simply swat us like an annoying little gnat as they occasionally lumber past, with us taking a precious four or so metres of the width of their waterway as we do.

We can’t help but think that we are watching the end of an era, trucks have taken over from barges as a form of inland transport, and apart from the few months of summer each year it seems that few pleasure boats are moving.   We can’t help but wondering how long the waterways can be kept open for traffic.

We do a lot of wondering when we are alone.

And then this morning our wondering was shattered by the phone’s shriek.    

Iris and Graham were on their way!    Our planned day of recovery from yesterday’s marathon was in disarray.

So we untied and motored on to civilisation, wondering if the strain of having travelled five kilometres will show on our faces when they arrive.


Through the Mountain Accidentally
2nd September - Tréveray to Sauvoy

We set off early, with the vague idea of replicating the day we had just spent, intent on staying in a village we had visited by bike a few years ago at the end of a short disused branch canal, but ti appears we had not accounted for just how disused it had become.

This left us with a choice of staying for the night at the junction, or going just a little bit further.   Normally it would have been no contest, we have made the “little bit further” mistake before.

 But the water on our route today was spectacularly clear, so clear that every detail of the canal bottom was visible and we were compelled to keep going albeit ever so slowly, as if propelled by an invisible force. Plants and fish idled past as we slowed to match them.   We watched fascinated as water voles swam below us and alongside, perhaps equally fascinated to be watching us with the cover of a metre of water.   At times we were simply gliding on air, looking down on an aquarium.

We could have kept going forever.

If it hadn't been for a lock in the way we may not have noticed when the tunnel turned up, a giant gateway to the other side of the hill.  The tug which once towed us through is no longer in operation, so now we go through under our own steam, but bizarrely in the company of a man on a bicycle, presumably to ensure we don’t take a wrong turn somewhere along it’s five kilometre length.

This is how the cruising mindset comes unstuck;   We had had a glorious morning, it was almost lunch time, and we arrived just in time to make the scheduled departure time for vessels heading in our direction through the tunnel.  Perhaps we should have said "No thanks, we'll see you in the morning."   Perhaps we didn't because we felt sorry for the guy on the bike, having to ride into the blackness alone, but we didn't.

We just kept on trucking, as they say about another form of transport.   We did stop at the first opportunity there after though, still marvelling at the clarity of the water.  The magic was still there.

But we probably need need a day off to counteract the effects of travelling twenty kilometres in a single day.

Sometimes we sits and thinks
1 September - Naux-aux-Forges to Tréveray

Tréveray was even by our standards an almost ridiculously small distance to travel in a day, not the smallest we’d travelled this year, but not much more than a hop, step and a jump none the less.

Yet here we were, tucked quietly on a gentle bend of the canal with the urge to continue having entirely faded away, replaced by an even stronger urge to sit in the sun for a bit and perhaps go for a long walk through the countryside.  

So we walked for half a score of kilometres, and had some lunch before deciding that we hadn’t sat watching the view for quite long enough.

We were still sitting, come to think of it, when the sun went down.

Going slowly again
31 August - Ligny-en-Barrois to Naix-aux-Forges

There were three boats in port beside ourselves when we went to sleep last night, and they all had intentions of taking the bone in their teeth and charging up the twenty locks that remain to the top of the hill so that they could be through the tunnel first thing the following day.

We let them go at nine and waited till their wakes had long disappeared.

That of course left us alone. For the first time in several months without cruising company or friends aboard the boat seemed suddenly terribly large, and terribly empty.

We were in truth happy to be alone but sad too in a way, because the way ahead is hilly and twisty and beautiful, with valleys stretching on one side and hills coming down to the water on the the other and we would have no one to share it with.   The others had helped us through the parts commonly described as “boring” though, so we could take some consolation in that!  

We know this part of the canal is treated as a thoroughfare, we’ve come down thirty locks in a day here ourselves once in a commute to Paris, but there is too much to absorb to do that again.  

Eight kilometres seemed more than enough, and at the end of it, a sit in the forest near Naix-aux-Forges was certainly a pleasure.   We’ve never been to Naix before without at least walking to the village, or riding off in the opposite direction to try unsuccessfully to find the ruins of the ancient Roman town apparently nearby.

Today we were happy to just sit the afternoon away, quietly enjoying the mist and the moisture that never quite got to be rain, accompanied only by the sound of the odd fish splashing nearby.
Blogger Template Created by pipdig