Legends from our own lunchtimes

Friday, September 22, 2017

Cushions- Tuesday 19th September

I’ve been rabbiting on about the inclement nature of the great outdoors for weeks now.   We’ve been content thus far to wait it out, to scamper out when the sky clears just a bit and make the best of it, but by lunchtime, with visibility still barely enough to find the back door we gave up and wandered off into the mist regardless.

We are not the kind of people who are normally moved to buy stuff just because it's there, however while wandering through the city streets the combination of cabin fever and finding what we both agreed were exactly the right cushions for our couch proved to be a potent mix.   If the words “by lunchtime” in the paragraph  above had been noted, then one would understand that the time the perfect cushions were discovered in the shop window coincided with that great hour or two in France when shops remain steadfastly closed, and our credit cards remained once more un-tattered.

With no ball of string handy to enable us to find the place again, defeated, we disappeared into the gloom wondering if we would ever find them again or if they had merely been a trick of the light.


Sarreguemines at last. - Monday 18th September

Having only travelled or not travelled as the case may be through forests and farmland since our return to the northern hemisphere, when the sounds of a city began to make themselves heard above Mr Perkins’ flatulence it came as something of a rude awakening.

The silence to which we have very much become accustomed was replaced initially with the unmistakable sounds of vehicles travelling on damp highways, then stuck in traffic, interspersed with the odd siren, truck brake and motorcycle.   This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it signals that we are about to arrive at our destination, and while the presence of the ambient noise of a city is perhaps a little less pleasant than the lack it, it can also serve as a reminder of how privileged we are to be able to move at will, and simply stop in the middle of everything for a time.

So here we are, privileged this time to be camped opposite the very heart of Sarreguemines, with our choice of bridge to cross when we wish to immerse ourselves in it, and our choice of bakery to sample when we don’t. 


A change of culture. - Sunday 17th September

It’s a bit of reflection on the pace of our travels that Maggie and Jacques were able to join us for lunch today.  Seventy-five kilometres we’ve travelled, that’s an hour and a half by car along the scenic route, or as it happens, three weeks by boat.  

The weather robbed us of a perfect end to a very pleasant day by intervening just as we were about to set out on the customary Sunday post-luncheon walk.  Our little explorations yesterday had confirmed that Wittring is a pleasant little village that like so many places in this region offer small clues that its place in France is an accident of politics rather than of culture.

For instance, it exhibits a different sort of “tidy”, which is not particularly obvious until one notices that everything is painted to within an inch of its life.   Shutters have ancient hardware that is still functional.   Gardens are carefully tended with graphic effects in contrasting gravel.  There’s an order that seems to be underlying. Could it be that what we had taken for security fencing surrounding the boat club is actually the opposite?  Perhaps it is we who are carefully screened from view so that our scruffiness will not offend.

Wires crossed. - Saturday 16th September

I should have suspected something when I called out in French enquiring if there was any room for us for the night, and the Port Captain understood what I was saying.  To compound our astonishment we understood him. 

Here, just a few metres from the French-German border French is spoken with a particular accent which I suspect has evolved from the Alsatian language.  Since most people speak all three of the local tongues, our mono-lingual heritage puts us at a clear disadvantage in the communication stakes. 

It’s not normally a simple matter for us to understand or be understood.  For instance there are at least four ways to correctly pronounce “Wittring”  ranging from the “wit-ring” to something like “vit-rung” and everything in between.   That means there’s a one in four chance that the person one is addressing will actually catch a hint of what the message actually is.   None the less, buoyed by our introductory success, the Captain and we seemed to be getting along quite well until he asked if we’d like him to pick up some bread for us in the morning. 

“About ten o’clock on Monday", I replied, "but we’ll only be going as far as Sarreguemines”.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The calm after the storm. - Friday 15th September

Penny and Bob had not been gone ten minutes when the sun came out.   

The morning had begun with more promise than we’d seen in some time so after replenishing our stock of strawberry tarts and baguettes, they with their bags packed and neatly stacked ready to leave, we cast off for a little joy ride up the lock before returning to drop them by their car.

It seems as though we had barely completed our farewells, perhaps we hadn’t, when the sun began to shine and the breeze dropped to a whisper, creating perfect weather for moving on.   We looked at each other and nodded knowingly.  Communicating wordlessly we grabbed our books and lay in the sun, deciding as one that tomorrow might be a better day to think about moving on after all.

Not good. - Thursday 14th September

One is not filled with hope and joy when one checks the weather forecast before retiring to be greeted by this description: 

“The morning will be raining with temperatures reaching eleven degrees and winds at forty kilometres per hour.   The afternoon will be not good.”

We could of course have taken the opportunity in the morning before the weather turned “not good” to run across the road and taken refuge in the bar with its wonderful crocodile shaped shutter cutouts, but more than our sorrows would surely have been drowned on the way.  

Instead we frittered away the day with our little heater chugging away, playing dominoes and drinking coffee and laughing and reading between snoozes, along the way discovering that the life of a wastrel does have certain attractions, unless of course one is living in our fore cabin where things were starting by now to become quite damp in places.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Cabin Fever. - Wednesday 13th September

Had things gone according to plan, we may have arrived in Sarreguemines today instead of being cooped up in a boat the interior of which was becoming smaller with every passing storm.   But things did not.  To distract ourselves from the sloth and gluttony which had pretty much consumed our lives for the past few days we thought perhaps a day trip in the car would be in order.

Of course, now fully in the swing of taking things easy, by the time we managed to collectively drag ourselves out of bed, there was only time for a half-day trip.  Thankfully though since it doesn’t take terribly long to drive fifteen kilometres even in lashing rain, we did make it to Sarreguemines for lunch, just before the restaurant kitchens closed for the afternoon as it happens.

We found a bit of colour the Ceramics Museum in the afternoon. As we sheltered in its “winter room”, designed for keeping exotic plants from the tropics alive during the cold winter months, we discovered it had benefits for exotic people from the sub-tropics as well, and we noted as we basked in its colour and its quite artificial warmth that the pair from South Australia weren’t complaining either. 


Will we go or will we stay. - Tuesday 12th September

The weather forecast suggested that while today’s weather was nasty, tomorrow’s would quite possibly be a lot worse, and the day after is likely to be worse still.

The last time saw sunshine while peering through the arch in the centre of the village was last Thursday, and the fourteen day forecast suggested that that could well be the last time we’ll see it.  Ever!    With guests aboard who had travelled from Australia then driven half way across a country to be with us, there was just a little pressure from within (no matter how kindly their assurances,) to give them a taste of the cruising life by moving on.   We would have too if the forecast had only been for cold, or rain, or cold and rain, but instead cold and rain was going to combine with increasing gale force gusts which were already appearing intermittently, and these conditions were set to worsen.

We’d like to think it was wisdom and experience that came to the fore when we opted to remove all uncertainty and give them a taste of the cruising life by simply staying in one spot and doing not much for the next few days, but really we’d had a lot of practice at dominoes lately, and if ever we were going to beat anyone, this could be our opportunity.

The wait ends. - Monday 11th September

We were going to wander over to the supermarket so we could be fully provisioned by the time Bob and Penny arrived, but it was blustery and cold and wet and the thought of taking a four and a bit kilometre walk in the rain, half of it carrying a week’s worth of stuff wasn’t a terribly exciting one.

Instead we sat around snug, waiting for them to arrive in the not terribly vain hope that we could cajole them into driving us.  They did of course, and while we shopped we talked without ceasing in the way that people do when they haven’t seen each other for years.   Why is it that we try to tire each other out in the first few hours, when we could be pacing ourself for a week?

Perhaps it’s to leave time for new conversations, to solve the problems of the world, or just to endlessly discuss the meaning of the bronze sculpture that we can see from the boat, vaguely in the form of a fish but containing so many other forms…


Sunday, September 17, 2017

We’ll wait here. - Sunday 10th September

It’s turned chilly now, seriously so, and blustery and wet with funny patches where the sky turns blue for a bit apparently to let a bit more wind through.  It’s a very good day as it turns out, to be going nowhere so we decide that this is where Bob and Penny should meet us and we settled in for the wait.

One of us decided she’d try to complete her knitting project from hell, the one that started as a jumper for a barely newborn, then was going well enough sized for a two year-old before the almost two year old started growing to the point where he’d fill the space of a four year-old.   Yes, that very same one where sleeve patterns didn’t match and the back was skew-whiff and now the shoulders need re-construction.

With the air in the boat turning almost as blue as the sky without, the other of us took off fearing to look back lest he should  be turned into a pillar of salt, for a walk up the tow path to check out the finer details of the prefabricated iron canal bridge, assembled in place in 1864 that a chap named Eiffel either did or didn’t have something to do with, leaving the other to knit and purl in solitude.

Washing Day. - Saturday 9th September

Juergen and Ele lingered as long as they could, choosing a brief break in the drizzle to make their escape, leaving us to all those feelings one has when a visit that is too short comes to an end.  

Feelings such as: “Will the washing dry in this weather?”

The answer to that should have been obvious, but one of us is undauntable,  and therefore proceeded to hang, unhang and rehang smalls (and a few larges) on our trusty clothes line, racing in an out in the lulls between squalls to give them as much “outside time” as possible, while the other watched in his usual state of bemusement.    

Perhaps the greatest bemusement of all was provided by the small procession of bridal parties intent on having their big day recorded with our fabulous boat in the background oblivious no doubt until they view the proofs for the first time, to the gorgeous array of underware behind their heads.

We'll be watching you. - Friday 8th September

Juergen and Ele are travelling between visiting a friend somewhere in the Black Forest and their boat somewhere on the other side of France, and while they didn’t actually need a stop, we all agreed it would be a great opportunity to catch up if they’d care to stay for a night.  

It’s fair to say that a rollicking good time was had by all, tucked snug as we were,  cosseted even in the little quay with its private parkland and services and internet provided for our use courtesy of the local community.  

While security is rarely a concern for us in our travels, it is fair to say that the community here treats security fairly seriously.  It’s rare to find a place so meticulously free of graffiti or even litter.  While it's probable that the level of lighting and the security cameras contribute significantly to that outcome, we wonder if the fact that the cameras aren’t exactly covert helps just a little as well.

Monday, September 11, 2017

And now for Sarralbe - Thursday 7th September

Although it goes a little against the grain when one is trying to explore at random, we used the GPS today to find the supermarket that we knew was somewhere on the outskirts of town.  What we didn’t understand at the time was the word “was”, so we cleverly moored on the quay we’d stayed at last time we were here as it too was on the outskirts and closer to the supermarket than our final destination.  Armed with this technology we confidently set off to replenish our somewhat depleted larder at the supermarket just one-point-two kilometres away.

The problem with that was that the supermarket had closed since our map was last updated, but one-point-two kilometres from that one, there was another, which curiously was also exactly one-point-two kilometres from where we’d started out.

After lunch and a good, but altogether too brief lie down after our excursion, we cast off once again and descended down one more lock to find our place on the town quay, a puzzlingly yet gorgeously well prepared spot with free electricity and internet and just a few hundred metres from the centre of town.   

Sarralbe is truly a place of contrast.  It is well cared for and clean and in good repair and closed.   There is nothing to compel one to stay at the best facilities that EU money can provide, yet we feel we owe it to the town to use them for just a bit.  So we will.


Friday, September 08, 2017

Weather. - Wednesday 5th September

Harskirchen is a much prettier place than the above photograph might imply, but the weather today did it no favours.  Someone has awarded it a two flower ranking in the flowery villages of France at some time in it’s history. No doubt that was on a bright sunny day, not at all like today which was neither bright nor sunny.   

The first squall of the day, and there were many to follow, arrived as they always do exactly as we were trying to dock.   Because the port was devoid of boats and there were no witnesses to tell the tale, the wind just took us in exactly the direction we would have preferred to have gone.  We were able to tie off without fuss, looking as though we really knew our stuff, and quietly retired to a warm coffee leaving the squall outside to do what squalls do.

By mid afternoon, tired of retreating from the weather, we decided to take our chances between weather fronts and set off on our bicycles to find one of the still working water powered flour mills that the district boasts.  If we were lucky, we’d be able to have a pizza cooked from the flower we had watched being ground.

It seems that we’d used all our luck in our docking procedure this morning though, as when we arrived at the mill, naturally it was closed now that the holiday season is over, and is only open on weekends.  It was so closed in fact that we weren’t even able to sneak a view of the wheel,  although we could hear it turning and that probably counts for something although we did manage to get ourselves home dry and warm which probably counts for something more!


Thursday, September 07, 2017

...but we can’t hide. - Tuesday 4th September

We weren’t long back from our ‘bread run’ to the bakery in Harskirchen half a dozen kilometres away when we noticed a pair of cyclists on the other side of the canal staring at our boat.  It turns out they were staring at our bikes initially, then they noticed our flag and became curious.  

Paul and Shirley were from somewhere in New South Wales, camping and cycling on their very nice folding bikes on a route that scribed rather a large arc from Frankfurt to Amsterdam by way of Switzerland and we were only the second of their countrymen that they’d met since setting out.  It seemed only proper that we should invite them to stop for lunch and they graciously allowed our intrusion on their schedule.  Since one of them was restricted to a gluten-free diet, this turned out to be quite an economical affair from our perspective, and as a bonus there was enough of our baguette left to last us till tea time.

A rollicking good time was had by all until, as if to highlight the contrast in our chosen means of transportation, they rode off toward the horizon with sixty kilometres or so remaining to complete their day, and we settled in for a gentle nap.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Lonely as a cloud! - Monday 3rd September

Today the summer holidays are over and it’s back to school, not just for the children apparently but also for all the parents and grandparents who variously own or hire boats.  

We  don’t have to work too hard any more to find another nice quiet little patch of forest, so after an arduous five or six kilometres travelled and three more locks successfully negotiated this one with a cleared spot and picnic tables seemed like the perfect spot to rest for a couple of days while we recovered from the morning’s effort.

Now into our second week of almost solitude, we are starting to become a little foggy from all the lying about and reading, so we’ve resorted to something we’d heard about some time ago.  It’s called conversation and it’s really quite pleasant as long as it’s not overdone.   Too much conversation can lead to things called “games” involving playing cards and dice and scores written on scraps of paper.  These were apparently quite popular in lesser times, before television and the internet were invented and it must be said in the right circumstances seem to provide a good deal more amusement than for instance, simply staring into space for hours on end. 


One man's trash! - Sunday 3rd September

Mittersheim is a quiet little village where nothing ever happens, yet the town has provided a lovely marina structure and promenade right at the edge of a beautifully maintained park, so we always feel it would be rude if we didn’t avail ourselves of the facility.  

When we arrived yesterday afternoon, there were few boats to keep us company and there was someone hanging safety tape along the water’s edge.   That perhaps should have given us a clue.

We really couldn’t say what time the sound of vehicles being unloaded began this morning, but it’s suffice to say that it was long before the time we would even consider leaving the warmth of our bed to find out.  By nine, even with the morning fog showing no sign of lifting, the flea market was well underway albeit with a lesser crowd than we were accustomed to at events such as this.  We needn't have worried.

The sun did come out eventually, bringing with it the Sunday hordes both pre and post-luncheon and despite being moored in the absolute thick of it, we did manage to get our washing up to date without anyone knocking on the side window and making an offer for our undies as a job lot.

The day we rode to Rhodes - Saturday 2nd September
Ferme d’Albeschaux to Mittersheim

We could have just moved on without visiting Rhodes, but had we done that we would not have had bread for lunch, nor could we have said we’d been to Rhodes and we'd like to go back one fine sunny day.

Etang du Stock, the great lake on which it is situated is doubtless many times the size of Sydney Harbour although for reasons which I’m sure are quite clear to a Commission in the EU Parliament, the “Syd’arb” had not yet been approved as a unit of measure of waterway volume in France, so we shall probably never know.  Of course even with this great volume of the wet stuff, and even though the water is used ultimately to feed the canals on which we travel, boats such as ours are prohibited from the lake.   Something to do with stuff we have already digested finding it’s way into what appears to be a reasonably well cared for, but quite sensitive ecosystem.   

Fair enough too, and the bikes did seem to enjoy the run although given that the lake is not much more than a metre below the level of the canal, it was a bit of a surprise to discover that the road was not the usual pancake flat affair, but seemed to undulate more than was absolutely necessary in half a dozen kilometres.  At one point in our little adventure one of us has to admit to dropping back to second gear on one little hillock although he would offer that he quite possibly only did so so as not to get too far ahead of the other.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The last of the Summer Jim-Jams - Friday 1st September
Ferme d’Albeschaux

We slept late today as people who have perhaps been a little chillier than they’d prefer during the night are wont to do.   As the forecast had warned it would, a twenty five degree reduction in temperature overnight had brought with it an element of sombre mist and an absence of sunlight that was still with us well after ten.

This may not be winter, but it will serve as a warning that a change of season is on the way, and we can now look forward to a different kind of discomfort perhaps not involving solar hitting panels at all.   By the time we’d cycled into the village to find some bread and pottered around and eaten it and checked the forecast several times more, it was clear that no change in outlook was expected.

Given that a change is a good thing, if none in the weather was forthcoming, then we would make one of our our own.  

We moved a few kilometres to a new piece of forest or technically to a small clearing on Albeschaux’ Farm and amazingly, before we could even say “afternoon nap” and no doubt to the astonishment of forecasters around the globe, we were bathed in sunshine under almost clear blue sky.  

This of course made us feel just the slightest amount of guilt as out of respect for the forecasts perhaps, we wasted the afternoon horizontally immersed in the depths of our respective books.

A blog post about staring into space. Thursday 31st August
Diane Capel

Well now it’s raining, and if we’d spent our time installing “cloud panels” instead of solar ones, perhaps we’d have enough battery reserve so that we didn’t have to watch everything quite carefully, but it’s five nights since the last proper charge and we were just starting to look ruefully at the empty can of generator fuel.

We were starting to look ruefully at the only piece of exposed wiring in the panel installation as well,  the bit with the plug to allow the roof to slide, in the hope we could see some current pouring down it, but alas the only thing pouring down was rain outside.  We needn’t have worried though, even if we had been, as our friend Phllippe happened to be passing in his car between showers and decided to drop in to see if we, marooned as we were so far from civilisation, were in need of anything.

By mid afternoon he’d returned with a jar of generator petrol, and a few hours later our state of charge was once again ready for all that the weather could throw at it for at least a few days to come.    


Sunday, September 03, 2017

The theme becomes recurrent. - Wednesday 30th August
Diane Capel

Tomorrow it will rain all day according to the forecast, and that may not necessarily be what the solar panel doctor ordered.   With battery power already somewhat diminished after two days of inactivity, high temperatures keeping the refrigerator drawing more than the usual current, and of course our insistence on finding shade for our own comfort, we thought it best to move on just a bit.

After barely enough time to replenish the batteries for just one night, we err… found a tree under which we could while away the warm if somewhat sultry afternoon, and began to wonder why we hadn’t bought fuel for the generator “just in case”.

Shade is good. - Tuesday 29th August

With nothing to do and all day to do it, and with no relief from the heat in sight, we thought perhaps we’d best find some deeper shade for the entire day.

This turned out to be a splendid decision, although it did involve travelling almost two kilometres and negotiating two locks, leaving us sufficiently fatigued by ten in the morning that we were able to rustle up just enough energy to scavenge a large bowl of blackberries before assuming our respective recumbent positions and resuming where we had left off yesterday.

Sadly the depth of shade left us no wiser as to whether the solar panels were a good thing, but sufficient current was flowing to assure us that all was probably well.

I think that I shall never see a thing as lovely as a tree. - Monday 28th August
not far from Lagarde

The last heatwave of summer continues unabated, and it seemed logical that we should begin our cruise by seeking out the only form of relief open to us.  We could we thought, sit or perhaps even lie under a shady tree for the day, and we know this spot less than a kilometre away.

We did have rather a pleasant time of it all, absorbed in doing nothing at all, reading, dozing, perhaps occasionally sucking fingertips devoid of prints, but thanks to the immediate application of ice (and perhaps to the fact that the burn was nowhere near as bad as it felt at the time), with no obvious long term damage.

To add to the perfection of the afternoon, there may have even been chocolate.

Unfortunately this  shade stuff gave no indication of whether the solar panels were working adequately but we at least we knew that current would flow with the roof rolled back. 


The stuff of nIghtmares - Sunday 27th August

Having spent all of yesterday and a little of the day before spreadeagled, inverted and jammed into tiny spaces of a sauna, while bits of fibreglass and sawdust worked their way into sweat filled body crevices, it was difficult to see how connecting a few wires could be anything less than a doddle.   That was before one of us picked up the soldering iron, cleaned the tip, removed it, warning the other that it was very hot before immediately picking said tip up with bare fingers to put it away.

That does tend to take one’s mind off all the tiny splinters of copper, and cuts and nicks and bangmarks on every other part of one’s body, and it does take one’s mind off all of one’s other aches for a time too.   Suddenly one’s thoughts turned to that weaving exhibition in Sarrebourg of two days ago, and one began to understand with new clarity, exactly how Picasso was feeling.

Eventually though, the soldering was done, the new connections fitted and the teeniest bit of current flowing from panel to battery.  On shore power with batteries fully charged there is no way to do a complete test but we’ll be underway tomorrow and then we’ll find out if it was worth the pain.


It all seemed so simple. - Saturday 26th August

We could have slept longer and almost did, but thankfully one of us remembered that we had to take the car back in the nick of time, and in doing so we managed to pick up just a few more last minute essentials before the taxi returned us well before coffee time to what would become become our oven for the day.  Outside temperatures were hovering once again in the mid thirties, inside does not bear further discussion.

Most people would think that installing some solar panels would be a simple thing, and to most people perhaps it would.   Most people don’ t have the complexity of a sliding roof to deal with, nor perhaps a personality that refuses to allow any visible evidence of cable betwixt battery and panel.   Most people might have packed their stuff in boxes before starting too instead of spreading the contents of all cupboards as well as half the bed structure where it would get in the way time after time.  It all just added to the joy of working in a steam box while contorted.

Thus the remainder of the day was spent trying not to spread too much sawdust or fibreglass dust mixed with sweat through all the cupboards, as pelmets and structures were disassembled, new parts inserted and all put back together again in an exercise that admittedly produced results which did not reflect anywhere near the number of bad words that were uttered during it’s course.   The wiring is in, the panels in place, tomorrow; we connect.

Shopping and thinking of Solar panels Friday 25th August
Luneville and Lagarde

With Jørn and Birgit gone before most civilised breakfasts had begun, and now only one day left with a car to do our bits and pieces, a little serious providoring was in order followed perhaps by some solar panel installation or at least thinking about it.    

The day was the opposite of bleak, uncomfortably hot, relieved only by the few hours spent in the air-conditioned car and supermarkets and wandering in the giant hardware stores in search of parts to ensure that all the new wiring would be satisfyingly hidden when eventually it came to be done.   There’s nothing glamorous or even entertaining to tell of this day.  Like so many others it was spent mostly in ugly big box stores, or curled up in tiny spaces with tape and pencil in hand, making mental notes with the veil of jetlag ever so slightly obscuring every thought.

But the glow of yesterday in Sarrebourg remained cheerily embedded in our memory and desreved at least one more photograph.

Surrealism and other arty things - Thursday 24th August

Jørn and Birgit had finished wintering “Miss Elly” a day early as it turns out, which would have enabled them to make a very comfortable two day drive of the eleven hour commute to their home had we not turned up when we did.   Over dinner last night we hatched a plan to waste their day too. Not only would they stay aboard with us this evening despite the less than advanced state of our unpacking, but we would declare this day a “play day”.  As long as they could cope with juggling our luggage, we would put off attending to the “lived in” state of the boat for another, better day much further into the future.

We’ve all been to Sarrebourg often of course, it being similar to Luneville in terms of proximity and size and supermarkets and railway station, although none of us had actually visited with our tourist heads on.   Thus it was that when we came at last to visit Marc Chagall’s famous and it should be said quite wonderful stained glass in the Chapel of the Cordeliers, we couldn’t believe we’d left it so long.  Then, when we chanced upon the adjoining exhibition of woven works by Yvette Cauquil-Prince  undertaken in collaboration with the likes of Chagall, Picasso, Ernst and Kandinsky it was like the icing on a very big cake indeed.

it’s astonishing to discover that these wonderful collections have been lurking right under our noses all this time although to be fair to us Mme Cauqul-Prince’s stuff is not a permanent exhibition.   Wondrously gob=smacking though it all was, perhaps the sweetest and for that matter surreal experience of the day came with our discovery that  the parking meters in Sarrebourg refuse to accept coins between mid day and two pm when they, like the rest of us, are at lunch!


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wednesday 23rd It’s genetic!
Luneville to Xures and then to Lagarde

One gets out of bed one day, sits around for the duration of at least the next and then some more, moves from bus to bus to aeroplane to aeroplane to tram to train to bus to train to taxi as the brain fog increases until eventually rational thought seems to require more effort than its worth.  We pretend we’re used to it though, and bumble our way through the day(s), arriving in Luneville and gratefully collapse once again into a bed for the first time in more than forty hours. 

There, we sleep fitfully and wake during the night in what, judging by the disarray of our surroundings appears to be one of our grandchildren’s bedrooms.   The absence of Lego pieces piercing bare feet mid-stagger to the bathroom in the dark only adds to the disorientation, but as the first warm rays of morning sun begin to peek through the crack in the blackout shades it is more than the day that dawns.  

With the new day comes the realisation that we have arrived, or we have almost arrived, that the stuff spread around the room is ours, and that despite appearances the place has not been trashed while we slept.   No matter how carefully we pack there is always one item that is necessary for the night that has somehow found it’s way into a crevice beneath every thing else in our bag, and no matter how carefully we remove the things above it, the result is always the same.

The carpet swirls, no doubt deliberately designed to minimise staining in the event of spillage of all manner of unseemly fluids, do nothing to take from the untidiness, but we don’t even notice them in our haste to find breakfast and be gone.

One more taxi ride, one more rental car drive and we are on our way to Xures and the boat. 

By lunch time we were in Lagarde.  


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Up in the Air! - Monday 21st August
Dicky Beach to Paris

As we sat on the bus this morning on the way to the airport we were oddly relaxed.  

A week ago, with the combination of medical procedure and mid week public holiday looming it seemed inconceivable that our passports with seven months until expiry could be considered invalid for our journey.  As the nice man in the Passport office in Brisbane sliced the electronic chip from their covers, the message sunk home in no uncertain terms, but there is nothing that cannot be fixed it seems by attention to detail, persistence, politeness, and just a bit of luck in finding exactly the right person to help, perhaps with the payment of fee for urgent processing that verges on extortion thrown in for good measure.  

Thus it was after battling the inner city traffic for the second time in three days, and being once again relieved of almost sixty dollars for a little over an hour in a parking station, we were able to wend our way northward once more on Thursday morning to the privacy of some borrowed facilities to begin what the medical profession euphemistically calls “preparation” for the next day’s procedure.

The specialist’s note on Friday was particularly blunt: “All Normal”, he wrote, “Enjoy your trip!”

After a brief visit to our brand new floor, and an even briefer time to throw some things in a suitcase, we intend to do exactly that!


When it all goes “Up-eye-down " - Sunday 13th
Dicky Beach

Yes well… let me recap.

On Friday last we would head to the Big Smoke for a bit of a weekend catch-up with the entire family, before heading home on Sunday in order to get that three weeks’ worth of reorganising done in one afternoon.   Then the nice flooring people would arrive on Monday, and while they were doing their thing we could quietly sort out the mess in the garage that Sunday had created, perhaps in time to leave the house just in time for the floor coating to start on Wednesday, with no need to return until November on our return from the Northern hemisphere.

That was our plan in the morning of course, and with that in mind one of us had taken off the night before by train, just to get a bit of a head start.

The other, having pretty much mopped up all that could be mopped up by lunch time, checked his mail box to discover a note from the Government Bowel Screening people which indicated that further tests would be appropriate.   On a Friday afternoon, one week from the commencement of a lengthy jaunt overseas, the only course of action that seemed available was to try to get to see a doctor!

“DON’T PANIC!” was the very clear advice, but at the same time the doctor’s advice was that a colonscopy would be required, that it could be done one week from today, and that IF a further procedure was required, perhaps travelling on the following Monday would not be wise.  

Without panic, the weekend went ahead completely as planned, the moving on Sunday as well as could be expected, and all was well until late at night when a quick check of our airline ticket conditions revealed a note from our travel agent previously ignored that while our passports were not due to expire until March next year, they required a validity of six months after the ticketed date of our return.  In short, we would not be allowed to leave on Monday week!

Hmmm… at what point is PANIC appropriate?  Certainly not at midnight on a Sunday!


Biting off more than he can chew then chewing like mad. Friday 11th August
Dicky Beach

With two months to fill in and grandchildren busy at school (except for the newest of course) he had this clever thought:  "Why not, just knock off all the big hard things that remain to be done on the house.  What can possibly go wrong?”

Thus it was that while one of us busied herself with the tasks that come with being the grandmother of a newborn, the other resumed his position with hammer and render and waterproofing compound and shovel and saw.   According to the plan, six or seven weeks of solid work after the birth of the new grandson would leave a few weeks of gentle re-shuffling of tools and equipment to ready the floor for its timber cladding when we returned home later in the year.

Then the wheels fell off.  Jude arrived early, the tiler finished early, so early that the timber floor people had a sniff of a chance of getting done before our next departure, Mat was looking for a few weeks work and a new, in retrospect quite stupidly optimistic plan was hatched.

By working just a bit too hard for just a bit too long, we had a chance of getting the whole catastrophe to within a whisker of done.   So it came to be that the downstairs bathroom is complete, the laundry operational, the tiling to outdoor areas and garage done, the roof to the back verandah on, the pergolas and trellises are finished, the garage and workshop is lined in its oh so effete lime washed ply, even the shed for the dust extractor is out of the way.  It only had to be done so that we could evacuate by the Wednesday before we left, so that the timber floors downstairs could be finished too.

By Friday morning, with a week to go, if we could compress three weeks of work moving all the stuff from the garage and workshop back out of the living area into just Sunday, all would work out just fine.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Another lesson in Grandparenting

While alone with the elder three today, Misters Ten and Six and Miss Seven, a suggestion may have been made that the mess in the boys’ room was in need of remedial attention.   When said suggestion was taken as a piece of general conversation rather than an instruction, and with the boys due to fly out of the country tomorrow, desperate measures were employed:

“Do you know when you go to the airport tomorrow you have to be checked by the security people?”  

This question was met by silent nods all round, a sign that it had been heard at least, so feeling as though I was on a roll I continued:  

“Well, they are going to ask your Mum for a photo of your bedroom and if it’s not tidy they won’t let you through.  They’ll just send you home to sort it out before they let you leave the country.” 

“Well” replied Miss Seven, who is not accompanying her cousins on the holiday, and sounding surprisingly relieved, “I’m glad I don’t have to go through security!”


Friday, June 16, 2017

Jude Arthur Lewis Friday June 16
Tokyo to Brisbane

With the help of a tailwind we arrived earlier than scheduled, landing in the pink glow of a new day dawning. 

We weren’t the only ones who arrived early today however.  The whole purpose of our mid-year return was to be around for the arrival of our new grandson in a few weeks’ time, but Jude Arthur Lewis must have heard we were coming and in his excitement brought his entry forward a bit.

This was a little inconvenient as his mother was supposed to be picking us up from the airport at the time he was making his presence felt, but it was an inconvenience we were delighted to have foist upon us.  By mid morning we were checking out every wrinkle in his tiny four hour old countenance while he slept on, hiding his excitement much better than we could hide ours, no doubt exhausted and a tiny bit battered after his long journey.

We knew exactly how he felt.

Are we there yet? Friday June 16
Tokyo to Brisbane

 The first rays of the morning sun bathe the underside of the aircraft long before its presence is felt on the surface of the planet below.

Sunrise is a sign that our journey is almost at an end, and we begin to grow restless.   We've missed a day somewhere, we always do coming this way, but our clocks and calendars are now set firmly to East Coast - Australia mode, and it's a small price to pay.  

We'll find it again on our return journey.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

The long and winding road…. Wednesday June 14
Xures to Tokyo

Paulo suggested he could pick us up on his beloved Chopper but that would take three round trips to the station and one of us wasn’t keen, so he turned up in his Fiat Panda exactly at the appointed time, looking the part in his black “Death Before Dishonour” tee shirt in stark contrast to the stuffed Panda on the dashboard. 

In our curiously relaxed state and even with our “travel heads” on, while sitting around with a coffee and what could only be described as “international railway sandwiches” we almost missed the TGV.   Perhaps it was a subconscious desire not to be on a plane, or perhaps it was that we’d planned our connections with multiple contingencies and we wanted to see if they’d work.

We made it onto the plane in Paris of course without the need for contingency with seven hours to spare, and eventually popped out in Tokyo straight after breakfast to find it was already tomorrow afternoon.

Ready - Tuesday June 13
Lagarde to Xures

We don’t normally suffer from pre-flight nerves, so I suspect the butterflies stomping around in our stomachs were more of the post-procrastination kind.  Or of the puzzled kind that couldn’t figure out how after a week of not actually doing a lot, we were actually pretty much ready to go without a hit of stress.

So with the strangest feeling that our year here is at end, even though it isn’t, we pottered ever so slowly down the two locks to Xures, ambled around the village, gave Phillip whatever was left in the fridge, and declared ourselves ready to set off into the wild blue yonder.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

It’s not just because of the weather… Monday June 12

It’s funny how unmistakable the sound of a deadline flying by can be even when there’s plenty of time before it arrives.   It’s a sound we must really enjoy at some sort of subconscious level we think, because we do nothing to prevent it.

Today for instance we thought we might start after talking to the propeller bloke in England.  An hour later he exhibited no desire to stop talking despite talking us out of buying anything from him, because he seemed to be in love with my accent.  Then Dick and Linda offered to take us to the supermarket, and despite us not actually needing or even wanting anything of course we accepted.

Thereafter followed stops for refreshments, aperitifs and that particular kind of conversation that could go on all night if there wasn’t packing and tidying to do.  There’s this wonderment among our British friends, who simply don’t believe we are returning to winter, and temperatures that are not dissimilar to this terrible summer heatwave we are currently experiencing.

But we'd better get going.   Tomorrow.

BeforeTwilight - Sunday June 11

It’s odd to think that next Sunday evening where we will be at eight-thirty, the church bells won’t ring, the sun won’t be shining and there won’t be hours of twilight to look forward to, in fact it won’t be evening at all.  It will be night and we may well not be parading around in shorts and tee shirts either.

It was warmish today, so we spent a lot of it sitting in the shade until that became too arduous and then we lay down for a bit.  By day’s end the only real progress was made towards departure was a measurable depletion of perishable foodstuff. With a small boatload of people moored beside us and at least two boatloads worth of food prepared, disposal was never going to be a great issue.   It was tempered with an element of guilt however, because Sunday night in Lagarde is the night that the old bloke who used to run the little corner store fires up his oven on the footpath and makes pizza for his family and anyone who comes along with a little change in their pockets.  

There was a small conflict happening in our heads which was easily assuaged by assuring ourselves that he’ll have to do without our custom next week anyway, and besides there are a lot of hire boat crews in port who are more than wiling to make up for our absence.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

All work not much play. Well maybe a little. Saturday June 10

All work not much play.  Well maybe a little.  Saturday  June 10 Lagarde

It’s a weird feeling this packing up in the middle of summer, but pack up we must as we leave for our other home in just a few days.   It’s not a proper pack up though, it’s a bit like having to clear stuff out of the shed to get the tractor in it, then sort of just poking things back in where ever they will fit.   No wintering, no covers just a bit of a clean and walk away for a month or two.   Terrifyingly it’s a bit like what happened before we left, so we shall have to face the music on that score shortly.

There’s not really that much to do but we’re sure to string the process out for a couple of days, with as many long intervals as we can manage under a shady tree where we may even succumb to the evils of idleness and sloth. 

Cheeses - Friday June 9

The man in the van turns up every Friday and Saturday evening.  This is partly because he makes his living out of selling a wide range of local products, the freshest of cheeses and terrines and according to those who know about these things, a rather tasty range of wine as well, and partly because he just likes looking at the boats.

When the port is busy, he is able to make a tidy contribution to his income from the hour or so he spends here each day.  When it’s not, one of us seems to have made it her mission to single handedly support his family through the grimmest of winters.   They have pretty much a standard script, he and she that goes a little like this.

“Could I have one of those please?”
“Is your husband unwell?”
“Could I have four of them then?”   
“Sure, but you’ll need at least two of this to go with those, and goodness have you seen my fresh….”    

…..   and so it goes on until either we have no more cash, or no more room in the fridge.  Then, both sides retreat, congratulating themselves on a job well done. 


Trouble - Thursday June 8 lift the boat

Naturally now safe and sound in our home port, the weather took a change for the brighter side of perfect.

Having lunched for a week on not much more than fresh baguette, a variety of splendid cheese, ham, terrines and a bit of fresh fruit in season, and with two of us already all dressed up ready to continue their adventure by car then aeroplane, it was not going to take much effort for the other two to clean up their act a bit and present themselves ready for a proper farewell lunch in Restaurant PK 209.   It’s not all play and no work however, this life of ours, and we’d no sooner emerged from our splendid time in the air conditioning ready to bundle the others and their baggage into their waiting car, when the trouble started.

For a long time we’ve been toying with modifying the propeller in the continuous quest for improvement and as is always the case, the opportunity came to lift the boat to enable inspection and measurement at precisely the time we emerged from the restaurant.   One of us, oblivious to the fact that he was still dressed in his best jeans and button-up shirt launched into the measuring task with enthusiasm, oblivious in his excitement to the boat yard dust below and the canal fuzz and rust and muck on the hull above.  In his defence the stains are not very big and will probably be covered by his jacket on the flight home, and besides the propeller chap now has proper dimensions to work with.


Keeping away from the hard bits… Wednesday June 7
Niderviller to Lagarde

Sir Francis Chichester once observed that crossing oceans was easy, it was only the hard bits round the edges one had to look out for.  There is perhaps no need to point out that in a typical canal there are rather a lot of those hard bits, and when the wind starts to blow with sufficient force that white caps appear on a body of water barely fifteen metres wide, some concentration and a little boat speed is required to stay in the wet part.

If one were to slow down for any reason, for instance were one to discover a hotel barge pottering along ahead at her normal cruising speed of about half that which is required to provide directional stability things could get quite tricky.   When we caught up with “Madeline” lumbering down the canal today impeding all progress behind, there was logically only one way of dealing with it.

So we stopped for for lunch.

We did make it unscathed though at the end of the day, home to Lagarde, a little windblown and rain washed from the persistent squalls, but we are home again none the less.


Monday, June 12, 2017

The Night Was Dark and Stormy - Tuesday June 6
Lutzelbourg to Niderviller

The morning was dark and stormy too, and if we hadn’t needed to get Ray and Helen’s boat back to Lagarde in a day or two, quite frankly we may well have stayed quietly in Lutzelbourg till the system blew away.   Accidents happen when one takes risks, and while the risks were not great in the scheme of things, the steady trail of severely damaged hire boats that passed served as a sobering warning that inexperience and nasty gusts are not good bedfellows.

The best way to attack a day like today apart from staying in bed, is to find a nice coffee shop and bakery and while away the morning as far from the crowds and the wind as one can get.  Thankfully there is a rather nice spot in Lutzelbourg that is particularly suited to just the sort of whiling we had in mind and by lunchtime once again the weather had abated ever so slightly.

Four locks, a boat lift and two tunnels later we emerged in Niderviller having accidentally found a window of relative calm.  It all came back with a vengeance though with a new and icier weather assault beginning mere moments after we had snugged ourselves into the dock for the night.   Tomorrow?  Well tomorrow’s forecast gives an even greater excuse for remaining exactly where we are.  

Deadlines.  The curse of the cruising class.


A Sunday kind of Monday June 5

Lutzelbourg is one of those places where every day seems like a Sunday, and since it was a public holiday it seemed even more like a Sunday than usual.   

With the benefit of local knowledge we had moored under the shade of the only tree that provides shade to moored boats, “our” tree as it is known, and spent the early part of the morning over cake and coffee helping Ray and Helen into the swing of the cruising life.  Actually it was more the later part of the morning than the earlier part if one were to split hairs, as they’d already spent the early part in the traditional manner showing themselves to be very quick learners indeed.

It was a respite day weather wise, a fine windless day at odds with a forecast of what is to come, too good to walk any distance or expend any sort of energy really, but perfect for sitting under a tree or in the gentle sunshine and staring into space.

I beg your pardon. Sunday June 4
Saverne to Lutzelbourg

The forecast did warn us that winds were coming.  It hinted that they would get stronger as the day wore on, but on a bright note it also suggested that the rain which sloshed over us in little squalls could well diminish later in the morning.

To make matters worse for those of us thinking of moving on today, there were an awful lot of boats with crews sharing the same thought.  If there is anything less enjoyable than boating on confined waterways in high winds it is boating on confined waterways in high winds in the rain.  If while engaged in one those pastimes one then joins long queues of hire boats, some of them fuelled on beer and inexperience and hell bent on destroying themselves and anything in their path, the level of potential enjoyment is diminished to: “why go at all?”.

So even though we’d never promised Ray and Helen a rose garden, we delivered it nonetheless, spending a far more enjoyable few hours this morning among the eight thousand rose plants in Saverne’s collection than we would have had we moved on.    

Eventually with all the boats among us which were going to go, gone, we sensed an opportunity.   After a brief instruction on how to operate the boat with an emphasis on what to do when the wind  takes control, we escorted the other pair up their first lock, then several more and cruised quietly and uneventfully in company all the way to Lutzelbourg with the smell of roses lingering in our nostrils.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Haut Barr.  Saturday June 3 Saverne

A visit to the ruins of the Haut Barr is something we do habitually really, and it's a habit we share with anyone we can when we are staying in Saverne.  

The journey on foot is not arduous, but it’s enough distance and enough of a climb to work up a proper “faces are red and shirts are wringing wet” kind of sweat even through the cool of the forest, and to leave just enough tingling in various leg muscles to remind us that we’ve earned a really nice lunch in the restaurant at the top.     Normally we work off all three courses on the way down, half rolling half jogging back to the port, but this time the circling thunderstorms were just a little too ominous, and we descended more rapidly than usual with the assistance of a friendly taxi driver.

He was delighted to be transporting a car load of Australians, and spent the whole five kilometre journey regaling us with tales of the feats of Alain Mimoun, the French winner of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic marathon, intent no doubt on leaving us enthused enough to begin training for that event.   As it turned out, had we not availed ourselves of his service we may well have ended up in training for an Olympic swimming marathon, such was the weight of rain and hail that began to fall soon after our return.

It didn’t take much discussion at all to contrive a unanimous plan that the rest of the day should be spent lolling around with book in hand, checking occasionally to ensure that “our” Chateau was still above water.

On Becoming French - Friday June 2

It’s not uncommon in France to find ugly walls of buildings painted using a technique called “Trompe-l'œil”  literally “to deceive the eye”, giving the impression of sometimes quite elaborate form in what would otherwise be perfectly flat walls.

It was never going to be an uninteresting day.  If all went to plan Ray and Helen would arrive before lunch and take delivery of the hire boat they’d arranged through our friends at Navigfrance. We’d organise some provisions for us all for the coming week, Jacques would pop down from Lagarde and do the orientation and driving instruction thing with the boat, while Maggie would join us for a rather late dinner.

That’s exactly how it might have turned out too, if it wasn’t the busiest weekend on the boat hire calendar, which meant that things were a teensy bit squeezed at the Lagarde end of the plan.   The one of us who is bent on leaving the world in a cleaner tidier state than she found it in immediately volunteered us to prepare the boat for its new occupants.   The other who is not unfamiliar with the operation side of things assured the by now terribly embarrassed home team that the instruction process was also in safe hands and that really, all everyone had to do was to turn up for dinner.

Jacques was at first dismayed, then bemused, then completely without understanding as to how his friends had arranged a hire by their friends and had then taken over his business entirely.  He could be forgiven for wondering if he was caught in a Trompe-l'œil of his own.   Then he began to laugh.   “It’s not great when things are always perfectly organised” he said, and then with an enormous chuckle and wave of his arms, “this is great, this is truly French!”


Friday, June 09, 2017

The music is within. Thursday June 1

We have often wondered why it is that when one attains a certain age, entertainers think that we are only interested in popular music from an era that occurred some time before we were born.  It’s not that Piaff, Chevalier, Lynn and Co. did not produce wonderful stuff, but why, do they think that is the only appropriate music for “seniors”?   It was therefore with a little trepidation when we arrived chairs underarm for the port of Saverne’s first free concert of summer to discover the band was performing under the ominous moniker of “The Nostalgics”.

We needn’t have worried, for the road they took us down was a truly delightful one, bringing back memories of all those primary school concerts where one could very easily  mistake improvisation for error, where timing ranged between four-fourths and seven-eighths and where, when saxophone accompaniment was appropriate, the individual notes were so clearly and slowly annunciated the rhythm seemed to magically dissolve into something less than tunefulness. 

After not long at all, watching the expressions on the performers change from “intense concentration” to “mid childbirth” was more than we could bear, so we moved our chairs to a distance where our thunderous applause still heard from the stage yet our polite conversation could not.  The relief on the performer's faces when the last note was played was matched only by our own, and  they too seemed to feel that the total joy we experienced during the evening exceeded the sum of its parts!

Friday, June 02, 2017

This is not good. Wednesday May 31

In a few months it will be eight years since we took possession of our dear Joyeux, and it’s reasonable to say that not every day has been without quite justifiable fear of mechanical or electrical failure.  We have worked through most things systematically, repairing, renewing and even redesigning where necessary in an effort to ensure that with each little step the risk of future catastrophe is eliminated as far as we can tell.

There are just a few things in the big picture that remain to be sorted.  The propeller for instance could do with another tweak but its probably really time that we did something about the occasional spark and melt down in the control panel.    We did rewire the rest of the electrics years ago, meeting with great success.

Today, filled with enthusiasm, and with head filled with new wiring diagrams, we opened the panel one more time and peered in, wondering if this would be the day that work would begin.

Slowly we came to our senses, took a photograph to remind us what we were dealing with if ever the urge came upon us again, sealed it firmly with four screws and backed quietly away. 

Swanning about. Tuesday May 30

Traditionally we post a photo of the chateau to mark our arrival in Saverne just to let the world know that we are here and that life is terrific.  Sometimes if we are feeling particularly clever, we wait till the time is just right and that special sort of sunset light appears and we all get a pinky glow that sort of expresses the way we feel. The problem is that to do that we have to be up at sunrise, and that requirement really was never in our travel brochure.

Today though in the absence of anything better to do, or perhaps because there were lots of better things to do but doing them seemed like work, we went for a walk along the water’s edge just round the corner from the port.

There are some industrial buildings there which have been subjected to some serious street art effort which tends to reflect very well on their surroundings.  The swans seem to like them too.
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