Legends from our own lunchtimes

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!

Monday, September 05, 2016


We’ve only known Ralph and Anita for a fortnight or so, but they’ve grown under our skin a bit, (and I mean that in a nice way!).   They had decided that we’d celebrate this, our last night together at a restaurant they could highly recommend, but of course the proprietors, being aware that we were coming had this year decided to take their vacation after the summer season and won’t be back for a week.   

So we sat at the little take away pasta stall opposite the port and recapped our week, and spoke of how great it was to be back in Alsace with its storks and colours and the feeling of being almost home, and how we regretted that we should have been learning French from them rather taking the easy and convenient option for us by coaching them in English.  But it was made more difficult for us to switch as they were such keen students, always in search of colloquialisms and correcting nuance.

Just this afternoon, Ralph had begged his leave, asking as he did how we would say in English “Well I must go now to let you relax”.

“That’s a bit complicated” I replied, and as he leaned forward to drink in my answer I continued:

“You say this:  Why don’t you just have a sleep now while I clean your boat.”

Sunday, September 04, 2016


Montreaux Chateau

For the first time in months the outlook for the day was a little on the bleak side.   Had the forecast not been amended just in time for our departure, it may well have been the first day this year that we had actually travelled in rain, but as it was we were accompanied by a pair of student/part time lock keepers whose sunny disposition seemed to bounce off us all, as if travelling with those pesky Swiss we weren’t having enough fun already. 

At the end of our travels, we were nicely snugged into our mooring in Montreaux Chateau before the rain came.  Actually, we had been nicely snugged in for a time and were walking in the village a kilometre or so from our mooring when the rain came at precisely the time I was photographing a sundial collection.  

We were prepared for it of course, one of us always is, but none the less unused to the cold wet stuff falling about our person we retired to the boat for an evening of variously listening to the pitter patter of falling rain and checking to see that the deck leaks had been contained  

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Change is in the air

Autumn happened yesterday apparently.  The tourist office declared the “high season” to be over with the beginning of September, and given the number of boats moving on the waterway we’d have to say not before time.  Extraordinarily though, the shop windows down town suddenly changed overnight from places of vibrance filled with starfish and seagulls and bright sunny decor, to amorphous grey places filled with scowling faces, as if to pre-empt the gloom that is to come.   

Thankfully so far no one has told the street flowers that it’s over, but things being as they are, one suspects that the future of those blooms will be short.   

Which as it turns out is exactly how long our visit to the markets was this morning, and then we departed to seek a quiet little mooring somewhere “in the wild” where we could make the most of yet another summer evening with Anita and Ralph, new friends from Switzerland with whom we have been travelling more or less in concert for a week or so. 

Friday, September 02, 2016

City of colour

There’s a new community being planned and marketed quite close to where we (sometimes) live which has been billed “the city of colour” by the marketing people. Without demeaning their difficult and thankless job, how it can ever match the likes of Montbéliard we wonder.

Sadly for those of us who live in the new world, colour is not just about the vibrance and patina of a town’s brightly painted buildings, which here seem to be of a palette that ensures a particular vibrance no matter what the lighting conditions or the colour of the sky.  Nor is it just about the endless flower gardens which brighten streets and windows or the textures of the cobbles or the markets, nor the quality of the parklands.  

Proper colour needs a proper undercoat of history.  In needs thousands of years of records, buildings where prince and princesses reigned for four centuries before losing their heads, museums tracing the lives of families that made sawblades but turned their enterprises to cycle manufacture before becoming one of the largest automobile producers.  It needs industry in modern times still competing against all odds, and bakers that still find time to lovingly gift wrap the smallest purchase.  

But then, if we had all those things just down the road, perhaps we’d have no need to travel!

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Putting off till tomorrow

It is well known that museums, galleries and even restaurants close when word gets out that we are coming, but we hadn’t seen a supermarket pull down the shutters on our account until yesterday.   The supermarket was just a few hundred metres from the boat, but of course when we arrived that it was closed for just that day to celebrate “stocktaking” which we think is a French term that means “our arrival”.

With barely enough food to last a fortnight, naturally we were concerned that we would have to do something to stave off the looming famine aboard as soon as we reached Montbéliard.  The port there though is located beside a wonderful park that runs along the river for at least a kilometre, filled with sculptures and nature trails and mazes and gardens and museums which very quickly took our minds of the job in hand.

Perhaps it’s just as well, who knows what dangers might lurk in the shadows of those trees.
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