Legends from our own lunchtimes

Friday, December 09, 2016

The getting of knowledge, if not wisdom

It may be odd, posting a photo of the kids when the blog thinks we're still near Avignon, which is a long way from where they can be found, but a lot of water has gone over the aqueduc since last we had time to post.   If "busyness" consumes us when we are on the road, it's nothing to the tsunami that envelopes us on our return.

It starts as a dull roar in the distance, the one that sounds exactly like a jet spinning down, then there is a lull, we alight and are engulfed in heat, humidity, children, happiness and some sadness too.  Hours turn into days and then into a month, and one starts to hope that the notes one made of those final weeks away do not get lost in the wash before the stories can be converted to electrons.

It matters little if they do, as they will be replaced by other very noisy ones in the blink of an eye. Having been run a teensy bit ragged by a touch of solo grandparenting last week, it wasn't my most patient voice that called back to the ten year old straggler on one of our adventures,  to enquire as to why he was lagging.

"I have a gum nut in my sandal" came the reply.

"Well it could be worse it could be a prickle" I sympathetically urged, hoping to enthuse him sufficiently to have us home before midnight.

"Oh no Papa! It could be a LOT worse" interrupted the voice attached to my left hand, as Miss Six began to explain why: "He COULD," she started, "be bleeding out.   Then, there'd be no blood getting to his brain, and his brain would have no oxygen, and then….."

OK, I'll give her that, it could be a lot worse.   He could have a travel diary incomplete as well.. 


Friday, November 18, 2016

Test Post with more to come!

I do apologise to email subscribers for what will be a double up of posting - some words will follow shortly - just need to get a little glitch sorted with the updated blog!

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The joy of a road trip.
Thursday 20th October - Avignon

Washing, yarn bombing, France

Anyone who has suffered the curse of the road trip, pulling on cold and still damp undies before setting off will appreciate just what a blessing it is to be travelling in cooler temperatures and staying in places where bathrooms are heated.  In these conditions the “smalls” washed in the evening are crispy dry and warm in the morning and dare I say it, something of a pleasure to don.

Thus with nicely warmed nethers we set off in direction vaguely south, asking the nice lady in the GPS to take us as far from anything that looked like a motorway as she could.  For those unfamiliar with the road network in France, this has the effect of forcing one to slow one’s journey, smell the flowers, take in the surroundings, at the same time taking an interminable amount of time to travel not very far.    It also means that if one were not a tractor or farm vehicle enthusiast before, one soon gathers an enormous knowledge of the intricacies of all variety of machinery, while following them up the road at a pace which would make a canal boat proud.

I am sure there is a word for having an irrational fear of roadhouse food, and if there were we would happily apply it to ourselves, and even more happily report that we were able to dodge that particular bullet this day, finding a bakery open at exactly the time we realised that despite several hours of passing through the countryside, we were barely out of site of last night’s bedroom window and perhaps after eating, if we were serious about getting anywhere anytime soon we should hit the tollway.  Those tollways have their place.  We made it before sunset, a heated flat, out of the chilling wind bringing the promise of tiny temperatures overnight, comforted by the thought that our undies would be warm tomorrow too.

No chance of starvation.
Wednesday 19th October - Beaune

We have a car with a couple of spare seats in it, and last night we were dining with Ron and Robin discussing our itinerary which until then comprised three lines: “18th leave - Lagarde”,”visit Jan and Toby”, “ 31st - arrive Paris”.  Perhaps we had time to take a bit of a respite from the rigours of travel, stay another night and do a spot of sightseeing. 

We are staying at the very edge of the renowned Cote d’Or wine region, roughly translated “Hills of Gold” although whether this moniker is an allusion to the value of the vines which produce some of the world’s most valuable wines in summer or to the colour of the slopes in autumn is not clear.  What was clear was that the day was entirely suited for wandering in a heated car, perhaps finding a heated brasserie, eating a heated lunch, and not spending much time at all wandering through the vineyards which weren’t at all heated.   

They weren’t all that golden yet either, more like a pinky green for which the French is “vert rosé”, which is pronounced quite similarly to “verre rosé” which means “glass of rosé”, which according to all who weren’t driving was rather good with the Beef Bourguignon.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (or ferme perhaps), Gerard our eager to please host, oblivious to the size of the lunch we had consumed, was in the throes of preparing an evening feast that must have taken three cartloads from the supermarket just to assemble the ingredients.  He was so proud of his efforts that we could not risk offence by not eating all he put before us. We struggled valiantly through his aperitifs, his terrine and bread, struggled through the duck confit, just got through the salad, then more salad with warm goat’s cheese and toast, and were starting to relax with a sense of minor triumph when we heard the words;”….. and for desert…”.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Seven years of sunsets.
Tuesday 18th October - St-Jean-de-Losne

Having finally left Lagarde by about ten minutes past lunchtime, by the time the sun was going down we found ourselves back at the “scene of the crime”.  On board “Tiara” with Ron and Robin themselves in an advanced state of packed for winter, the second glass of fizzy water slowly dissipating the whirlwind of the past few days and the last few hours of motorway, reflections on a season gone began to emerge.  

By strange coincidence it was precisely seven years and two days ago, while sitting on Graham and Iris’s boat at this very spot, against the quay at St-Jean-de-Losne, while watching the sun going down over this very same bridge, we responded to an advertisement for a boat.  We were aware that this could very well bring with it a world of angst and financial pain.  It was a boat after all, there was no escaping it.

Fortuitously the broker was a bloke called Jacques, the sort of fellow who calls a spade a bêche, and who was not (and still isn’t) going to let these people from the other side of the world fall into the hands of someone less than scrupulous.  How could we have anticipated the very special experiences that single purchase (and its myriad repairs), would bring, the enormity of the network of people and the depths of friendship that would result?

How do we explain that to those who ask why we keep coming back?  Well we like the sunsets.


Friday, October 21, 2016

One or two bright spots.
Monday 17th October - Lagarde

Packing up day is not one we look forward to.  The air is inevitably thick with grumpy thoughts that people living in small spaces get when tripping over one another, racing against time and each other while somewhat reluctantly packing away the happiness of summer.   The grumpiness is not improved when one of them has procrastinated for a week, waiting for the rain to begin before attempting to cover the boat.

It reaches a sort of crescendo late in the day, when with fewer than twenty-four hours before accomodation is required elsewhere, the booking website suddenly requires something called “verification” and at the same time refuses to believe that the telephone number that has been in constant use for four years actually exists.  Eventually after calling it a very rude word, the computer (which was not actually at fault) seemed to get the message that the next step was to hurl it out into the briny depths, which is to say a very long way, since we are at least five hundred kilometres from the sea, and things started to settle.

Things settled more on the drive back from Lunéville in the hire car.  How could they not, through what in the space of a single week had turned to autumn?   By the time our last, long farewell meal with Jacques and Maggie was complete, even the ignominy of having the hire car folk cheerily upgrade us  to a Hyundai, had faded to a mellow memory.

Monday, October 17, 2016

One week on.
Sunday 16th October - Lagarde

A week ago, it was far too chilly and unpleasant to have coffee under Maggie’s wisteria.   Today, we could have been forgiven for thinking we’d already been away for winter and had returned in early summer.   What a glorious time we had, sitting all afternoon in the sun, doing what we do best so far from the problems of the world that we didn’t even need to try to solve them, the company injecting an extra shot of light into an already impossibly bright blue sky.

We weren’t all that far from the problem of the boat though.  Yes we could have wasted this strangely perfect day, cleaning and covering, and been entirely packed before tomorrow’s rain arrives, but where’s the lunch in that?  We did to be fair on ourselves get a bit one after breakfast, and a little more just before darkness descended, and the boat is almost packed, which is to say that it is completely chaotic and upside-down within and in that sort of state where we keep having to remind ourselves that it always works out in the end.

I wonder if the happiness of today will be enough to carry us through the grumpiness that will no doubt descend while tying off the boat covers in the rain tomorrow?   Yes, I’m sure it will. 

A lucky escape.
Saturday 15th October - Lagarde

Today would have been a great day to at least start covering the boat and had the forecast been up to its usual standard it might have been quite a pleasant activity to boot, but when the first of our eyes began to open it was as clear as the sky was unclear, that not much would happen outdoors for the morning at least.   The fog left visibility at almost zero, the breeze that should have blown it away was biting, and it was quite clear as the fog began to thin it was turning into an icy rain.

Tomorrow’s forecast is for perfect weather, and we’ve still got a couple of days up our sleeves we thought, so using the best of logic, a retreat to that warm little cubby hole in the back of the boat, and starting on a new book seemed entirely sensible.

At about lunch time, the weather began to clear exactly as the forecast said it would and the washing equipment was in the process of being dragged out when Jacques turned up, and offered that there were three boats that had to be delivered to Xures and only two pilots, asking if perhaps one of us could think of a solution to his dilemma.   And that is how it came to be that while the other began her relentless effort within, washing packing and sorting, the other, in company with Bill and Jacques, the three of them filled with the joy of the prospect of simply being on the water for a time, cruised happily off into the Autumn for the afternoon.

A patch of blue in a white ocean.
Friday 14th October - Lagarde

Currently the team at NavigFrance are about thirty boats ahead of us in the getting ready for winter stakes. They’d probably be further ahead too if another ten of them weren’t out on hire.    

We thought perhaps by hiding among the hire boats someone would mistake us for one of their’s and we’d get accidentally cleaned and detailed before they realised their mistake.   Since it’s Friday afternoon and they’ve gone home for the weekend and we’re still waiting almost pitifully in the queue, we’ll probably have to face up to the notion that we were possibly being a bit optimistic.

We have days to go yet before we need to panic, and look at the weather!  There’s a book to read and a bed to read it on and a heater to keep us happy, so there’s no need to press any buttons marked “urgent” just yet.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Thursday 13th October

No it’s not winter, technically it’s autumn, just as technically what we call “the deux chevaux” is actually a Dyane, but the temperature is struggling to stay above zero each morning which makes it near enough to winter for us, and we don’t care if it’s not a 2CV, if Joan and Peter want a lift to the station in it, well why would we not oblige? 

For a brief time this morning we were alone, just us, living in the port surrounded by forty empty hire boats in the act of taking a well earned rest after a long season, and a few private boats waiting for their wintering.   It was not to be that way for long though. 

We arrived back from our sojourn to Lunéville just as Jørn turned up for his planned week of work on Miss Ellie.  We really should think about starting to pack things away too.  

We really should.

Mr Perkins’ date with destiny.
Wednesday 12th October

One of the easiest ways to get out of the boring packing up of things, the folding of curtains and the washing of interior surfaces, is to keep one’s hands perpetually covered in grease and other muck.  One of the best ways to do that is to fiddle in the bowels of the engine bay.

It’s hard to believe that our Mr P, ungrateful sod that he is, has over the course of the last three years managed to burp and splutter and sneeze his pristine new paint into a bigger mess than ever it was.  Despite our best endeavours to keep him under control he has done exactly that.   After today though, while parts of him may be black, if he treats those shiny new bits with the respect which surely is due to both them and us after all this perseverance, we may finally have solved at least one of his little problems.

Surely he’s run out of places to leak from now.   At first test it looks rather promising, but I’m afraid we’ll have to wait another six months until the next exciting instalment to discover whether we have been truly victorious or whether we will have something to write about long into the future! 

The bit where the work begins.
Tuesday 11th October

We’ve got a week we think to do it all, and we’d agreed that there was no point in stressing ourselves by actually starting yet.  Let’s just relax for a while and let the packing just sort of happen around us.  

Then the sun came out and the wind began to blow at a sort of clothes flappy, dry them quickly velocity.


That’s how many loads of washing we can get done on a tankful of water.  Thanks for your interest.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

For they among us who have slept in raincoats.
Monday 10th October

For some years, well seven to be exact almost to the day, we’ve kept our fingers crossed whenever we’ve had guests aboard, that precipitation would not occur whilst ever they were sleeping.   

When we first bought the boat, it leaked so much that the best way of staying dry if it was raining was to put a raincoat on, take an umbrella, and go outside.   That was OK except if you happened to draw the short straw and score the forward cabin, in which case nothing less than a wetsuit and snorkel would do.    After putting significant effort into alleviating the problems, for there were many, all leaks had been eliminated, except perhaps subconsciously by way of providing a little zen imperfection, the ones over the forward berths.

We’ve tried, oh how we’ve tried.  We’ve met mixed degrees of success along the way too, which is at the end of the day just a way of saying that we’ve failed. We’ve even tried some stuff called “Captain Tolley’s Creeping Crack Cure”, which sounds for all the world like a medicine one would give to a plumber, and for all the good it did us it may as well have been.  We are nothing though if not indefagitable so with naught but hope, a few hours of no rain promised, and Bill, we thought it might be time for one perhaps final assault.    For those who have been dampened in times gone by we apologise, but please take note that from time to time, we really do try.

This is why people here have heaters.
Sunday 9th October

It snowed in the hills last night.   Thankfully we are a very long way from the hills, but never the less it took an hour before our little electric heater, in a valiant effort combined with the ancient diesel powered one on the boat, managed to nudge the thermometer into double figures.   Even when it reached fifteen we didn’t feel all that warm, gaining the distinct impression that the thermometer was fudging things out of sympathy for the heaters.

Perhaps therefore, we were even more grateful than we normally are to be in a position to accept Maggie’s kind invitation for lunch.  Even if the food and company had not been it’s sensational usual self (which it most certainly was), we would have been happy just to have sat on their heated floors all afternoon.

At one point someone made a suggestion that we could take our coffee on the terrace under the wisteria, an idea which seemed to be a good thought at the time, but a thought which thankfully was abandoned in short order in favour of just a bit more sitting on the floor.


There’s this little place we know…
Saturday 8th October

Last year, or perhaps it was year before, we were wandering around Lunéville with Joan and Peter at about this time of year, when at exactly lunch o’clock we happened upon a little brasserie that was obviously warm inside and without a moment’s hesitation threw ourselves at its mercy.

That turned out to be an afternoon of fond memories for us all, so when it became clear that the 2CV would be available today, we borrowed it and under the guise of having a few errands to run, dressed against the elements and set out jammed like four well rugged sardines in a little blue can.  

We could have been cleaning of course, and sorting out stuff and repairing or making stuff, but we have so much time before we leave that it’s too early even to procrastinate.  Joan and Peter have just a few days left though, and were more than happy for our assistance with their own procrastination effort long into afternoon.


Sunday, October 09, 2016

Happy to be home
Friday 7th October

It’s easy to be happy all tucked up snug in one’s home port, surrounded by old mates in the last throes of wintering their boats, heater aboard just managing to keep the thermometer headed in the right direction.   Just.

It’s even easier when they are outside in it, scrubbing the last of summer off their boats, while we remain within, not yet overcome by the urgent need to pack things away.  That will happen soon enough.

We even thought about hiring the little car to find somewhere warm for lunch with Joan and Peter, but by the time we’d finished that thought, someone else no doubt thinking similarly had taken the car, so we stayed indoors tucked up with a book, for once not particularly wishing we’d stayed out there for even one more night.

A day of bleak
Thursday 6th October

Our usual way is to move for a few hours, rest for a few more, then rest for a few more still.  Today however there was to be no rest.

We were cold, and although while waiting for the lock to refill at Rechicourt the morning drizzle had gone away and we’d finally managed to get the boat interior temperature well into double figures, the view ahead promised nothing but more of the same discomfort.   There was no prospect of finding antything like the little patch of sun we had found last night to raise our hopes for the afternoon.

If we kept going, we could be home in Lagarde with electricity and heat before the middle of the afternoon.

Then we could have the rest of the day off, and possibly tomorrow as well if we played our cards right, and that’s exactly what we did.

Thar she blows!
Wednesday 5th October
Lutzelbourg to Hesse

We would have been wise not to have gone out today, but the forecast said it was going to be blowing just as hard for the next few days or even a week, which logically meant that we’d be wise not to go out for a week.   The only problem with doing that would be that the big lock at Rechicourt, our nemesis in days of old, is closing for a month in just a few days’ time and if that happened we would never get home.

We waited for a lull in the procession of hire boats, knowing that a lull in the wind wasn’t likely, and drawing on the considerable depths of our experience, and only looking back once to farewell the ruins of the chateau one more time, managed to negotiate the four locks to the lift at Arzviller without incident.  Even if there had been incident, there were no witnesses or damage which acquaints to the same thing.    At Arzviller, there are witnesses, many of them, who pay several Euros for the privilege of being so and sadly none of them would have had the experience to understand that what appeared to be an embarrassing mishap on our part was actually an amazing feat of seamanship in winds sufficiently strong to move the boat sideways at near cruising speed.

Not to labour the point, we survived unscathed and once more drawing on the depth of our experience, stayed in what was the only patch of sun, thawing our toes while we could.  Given the forecast we knew there would be no thawing happening through the night!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Winter she calls it!
Monday 4th October

She among us who professes her love of cold weather long and loud to all will listen, remained tucked up snug on our first single-digit morning for the year while the other donned ugg boots and waded out into the dark and fog and cold to slip a coin into the electricity box.

Heat didn’t instantly magically fill even the small volume of the boat, but we were in double figures soon enough and by lunch time at least we had ventured out to the bakery and had taken off our scarves and top layer.

We thought long and hard about going for a longer walk, deciding in the end that we would need a bit more time to acclimatise.  Instead we took a quick photo out of the window of the boat, intent on remaining snugly indoors at least until the end that first coin’s worth of electricity.  This would have been a great plan had it not been some sort of magic coin we used, and as three hours turned into four and then eight, we began to wonder if there would ever be a need to leave the boat again.     

Eventually in the mid afternoon we gave up waiting and did head off for a time, eyes watering in the evil breeze.   It was quite pleasant out (we said through gritted teeth), but given that we don’t really have to make the most of the outdoors before winter sets in, being back inside was even more so.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

My kingdom for a croissant.
Monday 3rd October

Did you know that it’s still dark at seven these days?  One of us didn’t, so despite our best intentions to leave quite early in an effort to beat the long weekend water holiday traffic, actual movement didn’t occur until almost an hour after that.    By then, Barry and Margaret who had set out from Saverne an hour earlier with the same intent, but having actually properly executed their plan, had already caught up with us.  This made for a pleasant couple of hours as we worked our way up the locks to Lutzelbourg, where we peeled off to wait for the bakery to open.

Since the bakery doesn’t open at all on Mondays, we knew we would be here for a while, which in Lutzelbourg is never a problem, even if the French toast for lunch was made from bread left over from yesterday.

We wondered as we climbed to the castle, if the logging scar across the back of the town would detract from the “model railway” quality of the view and were pleasantly surprised to discover that if anything it enhances the effect.  Some may be a little squeamish at the thought of wholesale forest destruction, but it should be remembered that with timber still a principal source of heating, forest husbandry has been the norm in France for several thousand years, and with the weather about to turn quite markedly chilly, who would begrudge anyone a little fire?

Sunday 2nd October

It wasn’t going to be just any picnic, oh no.   Even as we set out to cover the five kilometres and two locks to our meeting place the roast was in the oven, the potatoes on their way, the risotto being stirred.  Aileen was bringing Grahame and the tarte tartin, Maggie, Jacques and the humous, (and Frida and Bertie of course).  No stone had been left unturned.

They arrived at the appointed time, below the third lock and piled aboard to be carried to our secret little spot in the forest just a few kilometres away.  The weather may have been trying to discourage us from sitting outdoors, sending us a chilly breeze of sufficient force that it took three lengths of rope and my best sailor’s knots just to keep the table cloth in some sort of vague contact with the table.  We steadfastly refused to take the hint raising the level of our chatter and laughter to a volume that we felt would ensure the elements would feel suitably defied.

It did get dark surprisingly early though.  Understandably by the time we’d packed and got the mob back to the lock, the waterways were closed for the day which made our decision about where we were going to stay just a little bit easier.   In this patch of forest less than four kilometres from the city, when the lights went out it was very very dark, but even before then as the car bearing our friends moved not so silently away, things went suddenly quiet.

Very very quiet.


Sunset on Saverne
Saturday 1st October

It’s amazing how hard it is to get mushrooms in season when you leave purchasing until the last day and that day happens to be a Saturday.   I suppose it’s possible to increase the degree of difficulty by not actually commencing this quest until late morning, a time when all self respecting market stalls are either sold out or closing, and when supermarkets are packed with others who have failed to get to the market early enough desperately seeking the same thing.

Having  walked the entire length of the street twice we finally found a small stock of the little yellow things we were seeking, relieved that tomorrow’s boiled rice could now quite fairly be called “risotto”, and celebrated by buying even more fresh bread, a huge lump of veal and the third last chicken from the rotisserie chicken man, even indulging in just a little “sauce” from the bottom of the drip tray.

We hadn’t quite decided how long we would stay in Saverne, perhaps we were having just too good a time to even contemplate moving.  However as the sun slowly sank in the west tonight, it bathed us in that ludicrous pink glow that happens every now and then, and which perhaps if the weather forecast is correct,it will be for the last time this year, we took it as something of a farewell gesture.  Tomorrow we’ll picnic a few kilometres beyond the lock, and then we’ll be on our way once more.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Sunshine and shade.
Friday 30th September

Just yesterday we explained to the Great-Grandmother that we’d sent her a photo of the Chateau taken from the boat, but that we’d prepared it earlier (seven years earlier to be precise but she didn’t need to know that), because at this time of the year the sun is never shining on the face we can see.  

It did come as a bit of a surprise this morning to discover that if one raises one’s head a tad before eight, a different world awaits!   

In the defence of one of us (the other needs a little more of reason to shif from under the doona on these chilly mornings than the prospect of seeing a castle bathed in sunlight), it has been a little overcast first thing in the morning of late, so it’s quite easy to see how such a mistake could have been made.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Market Day
Thursday 29th September

If the place was devoid of people yesterday, when the market came to town while we were asleep it brought with it throngs of customers as well.  Markets are one of the great mysteries to us.  We wonder if anyone buys the cheap clothing or obscure gadgets from the swarthy gents in the white vans, and if they do what motivates them?

The food stalls are often sensationally diverse, with a wondrous mix of produce, mostly locally sourced and sometimes of stupendous freshness and quality, but without local knowledge bargains are rarely to be found among them.  That’s not the game.  

In the same street there are wondrously well stocked cheese shops and delicatessens  which are open every day, selling the same products and just not in the cold of the morning, but somehow it just tastes better if it is bought on the street.

Missing Something
Wednesday 28th September

We didn’t realise how much exercise we’d been getting in Strasbourg until we slipped uptown today, a mere five minute walk along smooth paving.

It’s been barely a year since we’ve been here, and in our wanders through the newly paved square we had a feeling that something was missing, but we couldn’t quite put a finger on what that might be.  There was a certain absence of people for sure, now that the holiday season is over and today being a non-market day.    The towns emblem, a unicorn, was still where it should be or at least its brass effigy was.  As an aside the unicorn’s horn was apparently found in the ruins of a castle nearby but the town’s documents declare as if to have a bet each way on the probability of unicorns ever existing, that it is more likely that it was the tusk of a narwhal.  How bad must the poor narwhal have felt having come so close to fame only to lose the contest to a mythical beast to which it had leant its tusk.  

Narwhal’s not withstanding, it was only on our return visit that the penny dropped.   There’s a subtle diminution of colour in the place now that autumn is in full swing.  Normally every ledge and window on the buildings in the main street are festooned with flower boxes.  While some still exist, the majority have magically disappeared, no doubt eventually to be replaced with some sort of festive decoration until the temperature is once again deemed appropriate to keep flowers as happy as those in the tea houses and cafés below.  


The good the bad and the ugly
Tuesday 27th September

We thought we’d given Joan and Peter a reasonable head start, but when we arrived in Saverne they were still here. After four days apart, the reunion would be of necessity long and heartfelt, and someone thought it might be a good idea to allay the emotion over a game or three of boules. 

As the sun set slowly in the west, or somewhere slightly to the north of west for those with a compass, with Peter’s guitar gently weeping in the background, an audience appeared.  We thought at first they were fascinated by the incredible sporting skills on display as they hovered with beers in hand and cowboy hats askew happily unable to communicate in a language that we recognized.

Then we noticed a couple of guitars and a twelve-string in their kit, and realized they had other intentions.  By the time the first strains of “House of the Rising Sun” began to waft across the foreshore sung in their native Czechian, we had the merest of inklings that sleep would not come early for any of us this night.

And they ask if we ever get bored.


Ashamed of ourselves
Monday 26th September

We have no tolerance for those who run off without paying their mooring fees which are in the normal course of events nominal sums of money at worst, neither would we contemplate even the smallest discourtesy to a commercial craft on the water

What went wrong then, this this very day?  

We were sort of kind of possibly almost ready to decide whether to sit down to breakfast then walk up to town to discover why no one had collected our money,  or whether we should just get going in a minute or two, when we noticed that the lock behind us had begun to empty.   I wandered over and discovered a fully laden gravel barge about to ascend.  With all the blood my body could spare rushing to my head, the calculation was simple: leave right now in something of a rush and quite possibly get to the next lock ahead of the behemoth, thereby staying ahead all day, or relax, do the right thing, wait an hour or so, catch up with it an hour after that then follow it at some interminably crawlingly slow speed (even for us) until well after the restaurant at Hochfelden had closed for lunch.

Sadly we have to admit that we chose the former course of action.  We cast off with some urgency into the dawning day, managing we think to exit the first lock in such a timely manner that we caused less than minimal delay to the pursuing barge and thereby arriving in Hochfelden just in time for the Cafe du Canal to thrust open its doors.   There we discovered, each of us over a massive plate of something called Mehlknepfle and an even more massive bowl of chips that it's amazing how much guilt can be assuaged with a nine Euro “plate of the day”.


Saturday, October 01, 2016

Postcard from Strasbourg
Sunday 25th September

Sunday morning, a day when we often just hang around and do not much, but our heads said it was time to go, even if other parts of us could have stayed much longer. 

Half a dozen kilometres would do, but first there was some housekeeping, wash the boat, still badly in need of a clean since our friend Ralph failed to do so all those weeks ago, fetch the bread and perhaps take a photo or two.   Even so we were gone by eleven, nicely tucked up for the afternoon by one, and snoozing and generally doing not much at all not ten minutes after that.

Occasionally in our travels there are days in which life though enjoyed to the full, bear little description, days when a postcard will suffice.  

This has been one of those days.  


Food glorious food!
Saturday 24th September

Joan and Peter left port today with their full compliment of grown-up grandchildren aboard, leaving us alone, to stare at the photos of our own grand-progeny, bemused at the thought that one day they too may become astonishingly independent and articulate young adults and wondering why they can’t stay variously cuddly and cute or gangly and inquisitive and just exactly the way they are.

But the realisation that we have less than a month to see all those other people we have to see, places we have to go, and do the things we have to do dawned, and we set off once again down town to see, go and do, timing our setting off nicely to arrive about lunch o’clock.

We may have been tempted by the wares at HotDog City (with beef sausages from Alsace) had they not made such a song and dance about them being 100% without horse meat.   After all, what’s a hot dog without horse meat?   

In the end we happened upon a little “gourmet trail”, a market with dozens of stalls manned by chefs, each trying to out-do each other with exquisite little tastes of all manner of exotic offering.  Although we suspect none of them had horse meat either, we snacked stupendously until the food ran out, thankfully at just about the time a sensible person would have cried “enough”.


A guiding light.
Friday 23rd September

“What will we do today?” we wondered as our eyes adjusted to the morning light. Err, mid morning light that was very close to “if we don’t go soon it will be lunchtime” light.

Well it was a no contest really, we’d walk in to town by some wiggly laneway that we hadn’t found before, wander down some more wiggly lanes, and then return on yet another.  There’d be no need for the map, we thought as while in the centre of other towns the cathedral leaps out as if to surprise one with its enormity when one absent mindedly happens upon, here through some quirk of planning it reaches out like a beacon visible through little vistas, an ever present reminder of where on might be.

Perhaps it's the width of the streets or the way they jiggle just so, or the lack of height or the angle of the roofs, but it’s rarely hidden from view.  When one gets closer to it, rather than leaping out it positively looms.  We were almost tempted to climb the three hundred and thirty-two steps to the top of it today, but when push came to shove, we thought perhaps we’d save that for some future visit.

In eleven languages, no less.
Thursday 22nd September

For three days we’ve tried walking in, walking round then walking out, and to be blunt our knees are starting to feel as though we’ve been walking on cobbles a lot.  Today using what was left of our “twenty-four hour unlimited rides for three people” ticket, we took the tram to town, wandered around just enough to get us to a place where we could sit and be shown as opposed to wandering and discovering.

It’s almost a decade since we’ve been on one of the “See Strasbourg by boat with commentary in eleven languages” kinds of tours, and while we weren’t terribly concerned that we’d forgotten any of the interesting and obscure historical anecdotes gleaned on that excursion, we felt a refresher could do no harm.  Particularly as it meant sitting for an hour and a half while we did so.

At the end of it all we were so refreshed with heads so full of spinning factoids and jolly good time that we were half way home by the time we realised we hadn’t had lunch, and that would never do. 


Anything green is our scene.
Wednesday 21st September

After three days in the place we pretty much have public transport sorted we think, although some of that might actually be down to some carefully hand drawn instructions that Rob provided over lunch to make our connections worry free.   Today was market day so after inspecting every stall and failing to buy even one single bit of produce at the markets, we decided to test our knowledge of the system and set out to source a few bits and bobs one of us thought might improve our situation aboard.  In that regard the presence of a big blue Swedish furniture store on the outskirts of town had not gone unnoticed.

Perhaps one of the nicest features of the tramway system here (and in Mulhouse and in Dijon and therefore probably in a zillion other places for all we know) is that it runs on grass.   The English language being what it is, that is not to say that grass provides its motive power, but  wherever possible the lines in the inner city at least are laid in lawn.  This can be just a little disconcerting until one gets over being startled every time a trams whizzes through a piece of parkland apparently derailed.    

It’s all rather lovely though, which is more than can be said for the coffee at the furniture place which cost more than a tram ride as well.   We did manage, after taking five trams and two buses, to return with six new coat hangers, a fitting reward for a day’s effort no doubt destined to enhance life aboard at least as much as grassy tram tracks enhance life ashore.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Our own tour guide!
Tuesday 20th September

One of the very, very cool things about having a City Daily Photo blog is that every now and then some planets align and one finds oneself in the clutches of a blogger from the city one is visiting.    

Thus it was that we finally got to meet Rob (the Frog), who having spent two decades of his formative years here, possibly lays a slightly greater claim to being a local that we do.    Whereas yesterday we spent the day reacquainting ourselves with parts of the city we knew quite well, today with Rob as our guide, although since we don’t consider ourselves to be tourists he didn’t carry a flag or a green umbrella or wave a stalk of grass before us.  He showed us parts of the city we may otherwise never have discovered, and doing so he perhaps unwittingly opened a few alleyways for our future exploration as well.

He managed a perfect score on the “find us a place for lunch where the food inexpensive and wonderful” scale as well, although not to demean his work at all, we truly believe that finding a new photo every day in this city must be like shooting fish in a barrel!

Rediscovering Strasbourg.
Monday 19th September

When last we travelled to Strasbourg by boat, our mooring was right in the heart of things just a few hundred metres from the tourist hub, but all that has changed.  The boat club is now an environmental parkland, its old mooring space filled with man-made floating islands of wetland planting and other lovely stuff constructed at no small cost for the enjoyment of the residents of Strasbourg.

Fortunately, the pleasure boat port although a kilometre or two from the action, is also a kilometre or two quieter and as a result is a not at all an unpleasant alternative when one is intent on staying for a bit.   

We did feel that extra distance though, walking home after a day of mixing it with the tourists, reacquainting ourselves with its World Heritage listed Central Business District, (and this very sentence neatly sums up our chosen method of exploration).  

We have discussed this phenomena often with fellow boat dwellers:  We are at home wherever our boat lies, and when we walk through a town or village no matter how short our visit we are accompanied by a strange sense of comfort that verges on ownership. In our heads at least we are quite separate from those other mere tourists, not that they would never know it.   It’s an odd feeling and one that reinforces itself through the duration of our stay as we become truly familiar with our surrounds. We do enjoy it.  A lot.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

In the rain.
Sunday 18th September

For the first time since we’ve been aboard, we woke to the sound of rain, the sort of cold, wet, miserable stuff that is neither heavy enough to provide useful irrigation, nor light enough to capture rays of the sun in a beautiful or artistic way.

Actually it was the sort of day that we would possibly given other circumstances have made better use of by remaining tucked under our doona and perhaps reading an entire novel before afternoon tea time.  As it was, we were travelling in company with Joan and Peter, so we moved on, taking no small amount of vicarious pleasure from within our cosy, dry confines as we watched them steering from outside, scurrying below in the showers.

As we neared Strasbourg we almost wished we’d gone with “plan A”.  Within a few kilometres of the city, we were overcome by the sudden dulling of colour, by the rush and noise and density of traffic on the freeway which suddenly intersected with our secluded canal.  Cars and trucks swooshing past in the wet, travelling at least a hundred kilometres per hour faster than us oblivious to our presence.

The contrast between the secluded timelessness of the farmlands we’d been travelling through at our usual walking pace and now this, was almost too much to bear, but bear we did until we found our next little spot, as quiet as one could be in the heart of an urban hub, perfect for the week ahead.


A town called Boof.
Saturday 17th September

One of us had had a hankering for some time to stay at Boofsheim, a village the name of which translates literally to “Boof’s Home”.  It’s been said with reference the Australian Cricket coach that every team performs better if it has a bloke called “Boof” in it, and somehow he just had formed a mental connection with the town no matter how tenuous and inexplicable that may be.

As it turned out the village was at least a kilometre from the potential mooring, which itself was completely occupied no doubt by others on some mad cricket pilgrimage, and since the sky was absolutely going to start delivering a sort of chilly wet soup at any moment, word was passed to the helmsman that even though he may be tiring after a long day scooting down the Rhine, perhaps he’d better keep going for a bit.

Never one to disregard orders from above, he followed "Aroja" for another half hour or so through the early autumn until we found an apparently more suitable place for us both in “Oben’s Home”, although just what made Oben a better bloke than Boof was never explained.


Returning to the scene of the crime.
Friday 16th September

It’s not all that far to Kunheim from Colmar, but it is a logical place to stay before a day on the river, although in parts navigating it does require a good deal of concentration to keep the boat away from the hard bits at the edges and the little shallow shoals that seem to be placed at random in the manner of a video game, to ensure that one must never let one’s mind wander from the task in hand. 

The canal itself was dug in the early nineteenth century but fifteen hundred Spanish prisoners, who apparently weren’t terribly enthused about their working conditions.  This lack of enthusiasm was shared by their overseers apparently, who weren’t all that happy about productivity.   It would seem that given the lack of maintenance of some of the waterway, in the two centuries that followed, no one else has been particularly happy about working on it either, but their legacy is quite beautiful none the less, if somewhat narrow in spots.

Thankfully, given our experience here just a few days ago, we weren’t mistaken for a duck either, so arrived in Kunheim safely well before the forecast showers and attendant chilliness set in for the evening.

The first day of Autumn (again?)
Thursday 15th September

Anne and Jaap, safely on the bus before the drizzle began, will have taken away memories of a different Colmar to the one we explored today.

In the first chill of Autumn under overcast skies the colours which yesterday fluctuated between parched and fluorescent in their intensity today were muted and subtle, mellowed further by the absence of shadow and the glistening of wet pavement.

The summer throng that filled the streets yesterday in their cheery tee shirts and halter necks were gone, replaced by a more conservative mob carrying umbrellas and travelling at a much slower pace.  Perhaps it was just coincidence, but a transformation seemed to have occurred in the businesses themselves as well. Whereas yesterday the tourist shops seemed to be screaming out to us, without their storks and aprons festooning the footpaths the place seemed to have a quieter resolve in the damp with the little specialty shops, the dried fruit vendors, the homeware merchants and the specialty bakers all once again to be sitting in their rightful place waiting for us to amble past.

While we’ve enjoyed summer, this sudden change in demeanor was a timely reminder of the change that is upon us, that it will soon be time to pull out the beanies and scarves.

The last day of summer.
Wednesday 14th September

I’ve tried to understand what it is about the heat that is so draining with the temperatures barely nudging the early thirties.  With people from Townsville aboard there was a chance that all my whinging over summer could fall on deaf ears so it was some measure of relief that it seemed that they too were flagging by the end of the day, perhaps that is how flag stones got their name.

We had walked for many kilometres of course, before our feet and ankles and knees and through the higgledy piggledy little streets and lanes of Colmar in a fair imitation of a proper cruise boat tour, desperate to see everything that the town has to offer in one afternoon.

It was impossible of course, and we can’t be sure if we’ll ever be forgiven by the former surveyor in our midst for failing to find the museum of optical instruments, but the ice creams on the walk home were perhaps a small compensation.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

And only four little ducks came back.
Tuesday 13th September

It had been a rather exciting day battling the mighty Rhine with its waves and currents and its shipping and its industry and monster locks, or perhaps we were simply bobbing gently down on its millpond complexion, in warm if not quite sweltering weather past kilometres of forest on the very cusp of shedding its summer clothing depending on which version of the story sounds more fantastic and which the more believable to a listener’s ears.   

It matters not, we arrived in the quiet little village of Kunheim, off the river once more after a long day afloat, tired but happy. We had not long taken our positions around a picnic table in the shade to while away the remaining hours of the evening in tranquility, when we couldn’t help but notice a gentleman of more advanced years than our own, together his lady wife wandering nonchalantly by with their dogs, he armed only with a twelve gauge shotgun.  

Seated as we were on a very quiet stretch of waterway which was somewhat reminiscent of a duck pond in the middle of a village, we would have thought little more of this were it not for the enormous BANG that came from a hundred metres or so away.  A sound which even to our untrained ears sounded terribly like a shotgun being discharged.    We couldn’t help but notice that one of the ducks on the pond had failed to take to the air in fright, and at the same time one of the dogs no doubt trained in rescue, had dived without thought for his own safety, into the water to try to save the hapless bird.

The dogs efforts were to no avail apparently, the couple returned carrying the corpse no doubt to arrange a proper burial for it, mumbling something about “onions and mushrooms” and “big pot”.

 Perhaps it hadn’t happened.  Perhaps the day had been hotter than we had thought.

Moving right along.
Monday 12th September

There are eight world class museums in Mulhouse, each of them according to the several websites we so cleverly checked before setting out for the morning, open every day of the week.     

The sign on the textile museum confirmed this when we arrived, and one would have to wonder why we were surprised to find the doors closed and the lights turned off.  We read it again:

“ *OPEN EVERY DAY, ” it proclaimed, with an asterix to draw our attention to the three days it was not “ *Closed on the 1st January 1st May and 25th December”.   So far so good.  However specially for us in the fine print jammed between the two lines aforementioned there was a little note reading “Oh yes, we forgot to tell you about Mondays.”   

Since getting underway mid afternoon (as soon as Joan and Peter’s boat repairs were complete) was part of our plan, staking out the place until tomorrow was not an option.  We took a quick vote, and an even quicker tram for yet another visit to that  wonderful car museum, where time once again stood still for a few hours.   We did get the boat underway mid afternoon as planned, resting for the night at the very end of the canal, ready to launch out onto the Rhine at first light, or preferably some considerable time after it.

Unless we hadn’t seen the fine print somewhere on a lock.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Be prepared.
Sunday 11th September

There’s not much to do in France on a Sunday, which traditionally one could argue is the actual point of having a Sunday in the week anyway, but when one’s sister and brother-in-law have come so far for a fleeting visit, one does one’s best to find some spark of movement about the place.

Fortunately after wandering for some time past firmly closed shops and buildings, and streets generally devoid of people we found ourselves in the centre of town where the Onion Fete, having reached something of a crescendo yesterday had settled into a gentle if completely incomprehensible rhythm in front of flagging crowds.

As we sat in the square eating flammkuchen (with onions of course), attempting to soak in the flavour of the event, we were transfixed for a time by a performance that seemed to invoke much hilarity.  Our entire absence of understanding of the Alsatian language mattered little during the performance, as it was clear to us that by the end of it the sheep, the stork and the rabbit understood in no uncertain terms that size doesn’t matter, as long as one packs a few spares.

Washing and shopping
Saturday 10th September

There was no getting round it, Anne and Jaap were definitely coming this evening, which meant we definitely had to do something to bring the boat to some sort of more presentable state.  Apparently.

“We” in this case is a bit of an exaggeration as inevitably it means that one of us buzzes around with things entirely under her control while the other bumbles and fumbles and seems to be in the way at every turn.  Nonetheless with her ruthless efficiency we were declared “ready” well and truly in time to wander downtown to see what we could see on this, the first day of the Fete of Onions.

Not long after bedtime we tired from wandering all afternoon in the heat, they no doubt from travelling all day, their train arrived bearing them safely if not quite soundly to our arms, they having stealthily been relieved of a substantial amount of cash en route.  Thankfully upon hearing that they had been reunited with the formerly removed bag still containing passports, credit cards and travel documents we almost shed a tear of relief.  There again, it might have been the onions.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

A splotch of colour
Friday 9th September

Jørn and BIrgit had a train to catch somewhere in the north, so prolonging their visit which was already all too brief was out of the question.   We spent much of the morning talking among ourselves trying to invent a way to do just that, but in the end a stroll down town followed by quite a long lunch was the best that we could do.

It’s lovely really, the way good friends can bob into our lives from time to time to add a giant splash of colour amid the shadows of our daily routine.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Cité de l'Automobile
Thursday 8th September

Not much happens in Mulhouse or the rest of France for that matter before mid morning, which is just as well because it was late morning before we got our collective acts together and set off for Mulhouse’s famous Cité de l'Automobile. 

The Schlumf Collection is named for the once-were-billionaire brothers who collected it, and houses a staggering number of incredibly rare and even more incredibly exotic vehicles. Originally stored in secret splendour in a huge warehouse lit with replicas of Parisian street lights before economic tragedy befell them, the price of admission into that space was worth it for the story alone, with the presence of perhaps a billion or two’s worth of cars the mere icing on the cake.

Still stunned by the magnitude of what we had seen, as we slowly walked away from the museum, the other of us not normally given to tolerance of things automotive particularly when they require several hours of oohing and ahhing was still smiling.

As if to push my luck, I enquired as to which, of all the treasures on display, best captured her imagination?  Which of them would she like me to buy for her to show that my love knows no bounds?  Thinking perhaps that to satisfy her desires I may have to find tens of millions of Euro for the Bugatti Royale, or at best two or three for a Veyron, the scale of my relief matched only my astonishment when she very clearly and without hesitation requested: “A Renault 750 please.”      

For that, I may not even have to give up my day job.

In Mulhouse
Wed 7th September

We knew it wasn’t going to be a quiet time in Mulhouse.  Apart from attempting to visit at least some of the eight world-class museums which call this place home, we heard that there had been a closure on a canal further north, and delightfully Jørn and Birgit had decided to fill in a bit of “stranded time” by hiring a car and visiting us for a few days.   After their departure, Anne and Jaap would be with us, Joan and Peter would return to their boat on the weekend to cruise in company to Strasbourg, and of course Ralph would be arriving any day soon without Anita en route to Basel.   

So here we were in a buzzing city so confident of its place in the world that graffiti such as that above is listed on its tourist trail, a city that just this week invited Clet Abrahams, known for his witty modification of street signs in Paris and Florence to come and ruin some of its own, baking in the renewed summer temperatures, heads spinning, having to revictual before the arrival of the throngs, wondering what to do next.

Actually we were mid wonder in mid afternoon when Jørn and Birgit arrived to fuel even more wonderings, so we sat under a shady tree for the rest of the day, the four of us catching up.  After all it had been almost two months since last we met.

A bit of a fog
Tuesday 6th September

By nine the fog had lifted just enough so that we could see that fifty metres away the boat that was to accompany us for the day was going to keep its appointment.  Half an hour earlier we had walked from our berth to the lock just to reassure ourselves that no one had moved it overnight.

How were we to know as we disappeared into the fog, that we were going to disappear in a sense from the world for a time?  Not disappear entirely for the world would quite easily find us, but a combination of poor connectivity and a surfeit of places to go, people to see and things to do would conspire to create a fourteen day pause from less important things, such as writing about them and posting photographs for all to see!

Perhaps as we descended the locks into Mulhouse under clear, some would say overheated skies, the sounds of looming busyness that precedes our entry into all big cities was a portent of what was to come!
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