Legends from our own lunchtimes

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The World Wide Wait - Monday 6th November
Aéroport Charles de Gaulle

After one final hug, oh OK, but just one more…. we set off this morning on what was the last leg of our little road trip.   With plenty of time between breakfast and our airport hotel to reflect on what a sensational week we’ve had.  Can it really be a week since we spent that last frozen night aboard our little ship?

Apparently so.

After a week in the company of great friends spread across four countries that seemed to go on for ever yet was over far too quickly, we are back in France.  We dropped the car at the airport, shuffling through it as quickly as possible, after all we will be seeing plenty of it tomorrow as our wait begins.  

Scattered sunshine - Sunday 5th November

We have fond memories of our first visit here when Dave and Ria, eager to show us the sites, walked us along the beach on a far from fine spring day.  Then, we were sand blasted from behind by a mix of ice and freezing grit, having to stop for hot soup every few hundred yards to give us the strength to tackle the next few hundred, all the while trying to look as though we were having a good time.

Autumn weather thankfully is a little more forgiving and therefore good times come perhaps more naturally.  It was still a little chilly, but not enough to spoil our morning stroll through the backstreets of De Panne and Koksijde.  

The sailing season is over and now it's hunting season apparently and as we sat in the Koksijde Yachting Club lunched heartily on game bird and deer and eel, with the odd extra hardy kite surfer flashing past the window, we had to ponder over who was having the most fun.

Was it, we wondered, those who are out braving the cold winds and soggy ground and occasional hailstorm?  Or could it possibly be us, sitting in the warmth of the cosy clubhouse, on sheep skin seat warmers no less, smiling perhaps a little too smugly as the odd outdoorsman ventured in, blue-lipped  and bedraggled, dripping with sand and ocean, in search of a little thaw?   

Slowly slowly - Saturday 4th November
Utrecht To Koksijde

There is a song from many decades ago of the “protest” genre, which talks about taking paradise and putting up a parking lot.   Perhaps Belgium has been mistaken for paradise because whenever we travel through it, the whole country seems to be a huge lot of the parking variety.  Since Bluey and Davo live in Belgium and that’s where we were headed tonight, it was going to be a bit difficult to avoid, so we packed away another set of wonderful memories from the past few days, bade our fond farewells to Vanessa, Marty and Louis, took a big deep breath, a photo to remember the canals by, and launched ourselves into the wild grey yonder.

We were barely out of the Netherlands when we encountered out first eight kilometre long line of stationary traffic.  This sadly occurred even before we reached the Antwerp ring road, one of our least favourite parking lots in the world apart from perhaps its Brussels counterpart.    

Having once again turned a journey which should have taken a few hours into one which took quite a few more, we emerged out of the rainy gloom well and truly ready to stop, into the stunning warmth of Dave and Ria’s welcome. Its probably fair to say that if we didn’t like being in their company (which we do, rather a lot) we’d come back whenever we could just for the food!  Why hasn’t anyone told us about hamrolletjes before ?

Monday, November 06, 2017

Having a Nice Stay. - Friday 3rd November

The Speelklok Museum is hands-down our museum of the day.  It’s not just because it houses a wondrous collection of Mechanical Instruments, Orchestron and Dance Hall Organs either, nor that it is all so well presented that even if the collection were valueless it would still be worth visiting, but it is in Utrecht, a city which is rapidly working its way under our skin in the nicest possible way.

This is an ancient city with a pulse, It’s a city with a delightful mix of modern outlook respectful of but apparently not constrained by its mantel of history.  It’s not however a city which is noted for blue sky at this time of year, and apparently the very fact that no actual rain fell on us during our lengthy exploration today was a cause for celebration. 

This we did in style; Louis, working hard all the while on his first tooth using only a particularly delicious bread crust, one of us going forth somewhat gingerly in deference to the lingering effects of his roadhouse currywurst, and the others sampling the cuisine of the (indoor) garden restaurant with some delight.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Saying Goodbye - Thursday 2nd November
To Utrecht

We travelled for half an hour down that long winding and very colourful road that leads to Marty and Vanessa’s door, and then of course the remaining five hours on the dull grey motorway taking an ill-timed stop for lunch.  Ill-timed because that two tour buses arrived co-incidentally with ourselves, leaving us a hasty luncheon choice of currywurst and chips, or currywurst.

Since our first visit to Europe all those decades ago, we have been fascinated by the abrupt cultural change one experiences when one crosses the arbitrary line on any map which defines the border between countries.   

Travelling from the Rhine region into the Netherlands the changes are more than cultural.  We’ve certainly seen our last grapevine for the year, quite possibly our last hill as well, and if the forecast is to be believed our last blue sky to boot, but we haven’t seen the last of the good times, of that we can be certain, the aftermath of the  roadhouse currywurst not withstanding.


Thursday, November 02, 2017

Alliteration - Wednesday 1st November
Rüdesheim am Rhein

When last evening the lady in our phone calculated that we had a little over a kilometre still to travel, and that it was going to take us twenty minutes, we thought she may very well have blown a valve.   To compound our doubt, we were on the wrong side of the Rhine which is a rather wide river and sure that there was no bridge for a lot more than twenty minutes, yet our projected path had us crossing the river a few hundred metres hence.   

“Turn right”, she said then after a short pause as we sat staring at the water at the end of a boat ramp… “and drive onto the ferry.”   So it was that we arrived at our accomodation just three minutes late, disappointed perhaps that she didn’t know about the delay at the train crossing.   

Autumn colours, rivers, mountains, vineyards and castles aside, our route of the next few days will take us past two of the best mechanical music museums in Europe and in here Rudesheim, Siegfried's Mechanisches Musikkabinett or Mechanical Musical Cabinet Museum was mighty marvellous, magical even.  There was plenty of time in our guided tour for goosebumps and even perhaps an itty bitty tear as we heard and watched some of the wondrous machines of just a century ago, from a time before the entire musical collection of the world could fit in our pocket beside the navigation lady.


Wednesday, November 01, 2017

On a clear day - Tuesday 31st October
Baumwipfelpfad Saarschleife

The weatherman did not disappoint.  We set the car heater to a conservative twenty degrees, twenty-two more than outside, and because it would take some time to melt the ice on the windows, wound them down and drove the five hundred metres to the boat with as little of our heads out as was possible consistent with avoiding obstacles.    Surprisingly, breaking the ice out of the ropes and re-tying the covers on the boat proved to be relatively painless, perhaps because our bare hands were so numb even the numbness could not be felt.   

When finally our boat tasks were complete we thawed over a coffee on Bill’s own “new” boat, basking in the glorious five degree sunshine before finally setting off on our long journey to Paris.  Long, because instead of spending an hour or so on the TGV, we have chosen "the scenic route”.

Our first stop, two hours by car was a revisit to the “Saar Loop”, the beauty of which we had failed entirely to see by boat in the day's journey between Mertzig in the top right of the picture to Mettlach in the top left.  During a momentary lightening of the cloud cover, we had caught a glimpse of the viewing tower on top of the cliff, and thought that it might be a nice spot to visit on a clear day.   It was.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

It’s going to be colder tonight.- Monday 30th October

Well it’s not as if we weren’t warned.  Perhaps a person with more experience of the cold would not have left his wet mop-cloths out where they would get stuck to the deck, perhaps he would have tensioned the lines on the covers properly before they became frozen solid.   That might have saved an hour or two in the morning waiting for it all to thaw, but the novelty of it all made up for the delay.

The old hands of course walked by and nodded, offering reassurance along the lines of “and it’s going to be really cold tomorrow”.   We of course, had thought that one through and had already agreed that we would be spending our last night in Lagarde at Chez Maggie with proper underfloor heating, perhaps sleeping without the need for a beanie either. 

What we hadn’t considered was that as we finally finished all our little jobs and tied the cover down as is the way with these sorts of jobs, it would be in last of the evening’s light.  As is also the way with these things it seems to have moved a little out of alignment and will need to be untied and adjusted one more time to make it properly snug.   Thus the day came to a close, not filled with happy thoughts of a job well done and the road trip that lies ahead, but darker ones involving leaving later than planned after working outside in the morning in negative temperatures with icy ropes and slippery decks and pliers pinching freezing glove-less hands. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Half a Moon is Better Than No Moon - Sunday 29th October

The end of the day came earlier than usual today, as it does when one is trying to get ten things done in the time that it takes to do eight, and it wasn’t entirely because today was the day that daylight saving ended.  We had spent all of it inside our little boat-cave hiding from the rain except for the odd excursion into what felt like super-chill from time to time to avail ourselves of Maggie’s clothes dryer. 

The rain stopped exactly as scheduled, bringing a clearing sky to  the coming of the night and we could poke our heads out to enjoy the dying vestiges of the day without getting wet.  Surprisingly our view had changed.  Beautiful though it was in the last of the light, we couldn't help but notice that the storms had stripped the trees of the last vestiges of their foliage as if to ready them for the frost that must arrive overnight and in the process dumped every one of them on the boat, working them under the still not finally secured covers. 

Even as the last wisp of cloud disappeared from the sky could feel the bite of the new weather system descending.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

No More Staring into Space - Saturday 28th October

One would expect that getting ready for one’s eighth winter would be a matter of routine, and to a great extent one would be absolutely correct. 

The covers for instance, are stitched and tucked in all the right places so they fit just so, the tie down ropes spliced to the correct lengths and stowed on clips so they can be re-used year after year, renewed this year exactly to last year’s lengths.   What one can’t take into account is the wind which comes in gusts in increasing efforts to take the tarp away and making the temperature, already a balmy seven feel like something less.  Apart from the odd plier-pinched finger or rope flicked into an already watering eye there’s not too much feeling to be had out there anyway, and the morning passes with an accumulating degree of annoyance as nothing, NOTHING seemed to be settling into place.

With lunch and warmth and full of soup came an epiphany.  In the battle against the wind, the whole thing had settled a dozen centimetres out of alignment.  Perhaps the new ropes are the correct length after all.   Then the wind stopped, no doubt in preparation for tomorrow’s rain, which made taking it all off and starting again the doddle it should have been.  Another job done, apart from the little triangles left to allow light into the green-gloom of inside while we pack.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Staring into Space - Friday 27th October

After a few days of gently pacing ourselves, making steady if barely visible progress while saving ourselves a little for the onslaught that will come tomorrow, one of us finally put her foot down and suggested it would be best if the other didn’t look out of the windows this morning.   

Her interests of course were not selfish.  

She just wanted to make sure he had something to do in the afternoon.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Red sky at night - Thursday 26th October

We haven’t seen a red sky for quite some time,  possibly because we haven’t seen any sky at all except in intermittent glimpses.  Tonight when sunset came it was mostly purple, perhaps to delight as promised by the children’s rhyme, but perhaps also to send a warning that the Iceman is on his way.

If all goes according to plan, and there’s that word again, it will be raining tomorrow, fine on Saturday, raining a lot on Sunday with temperatures declining each day until they reach somewhere between “quite” and “very” cold on Monday.  By then, provided we can get the covers on in bouts of fine, we won’t be particularly worried as we shall be driving in a hopefully heated car, off into the sunset, even if it isn’t quite as visible as today’s was.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Gardening - Wednesday 25th October

Even though there’s activity all around us, it seems to be happening at the same comfortable and quiet half-pace at which we are working.  Even the incessant chirping of the chain saws seems to be mellowed by the blanket of fog that shields everything from view until lunchtime, making an inspection of progress impossible till the afternoon.

The little road beside the port is completely devoid of cars now.  It all looks as thought its ready for the big freeze, with the trees lopped to within an inch of their lives in that way that seems to be a bit reminiscent of the way poodles are trimmed, leaving only great blobs on the knuckles to keep the joints warm, from which new branches will no doubt miraculously appear after winter.  The hedges are trimmed similarly, standing bare-headed like a group of new recruits after their first visit to the military barber. 

The gardening aboard has not been going nearly as well.  Our bromeliad while not quite tall enough to be able to see out of the window, can hear what’s going on and no doubt is contemplating its fate.  As are we.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

And so it begins - Tuesday 24th October

We’re pacing ourselves, of that there can be no doubt.  We have given ourselves almost a week so there’s no sense in getting everything done on the first afternoon. 

At the end of the day, we couldn't help but notice the arrival of the first layer of what looks like clutter but which is in reality a series of reminders of the ever increasing number of things we mustn’t forget to do, combined with a growing collection of cleaning chemicals.   With Restaurant PK209 peering seductively through our windows it was a bit tempting to take the night off, but after a stocktake we discovered with some concern that even if we eat an extra meal every day until we leave we will not run out of food.

But the exterior is nicely scrubbed, and the mooring lines are clean and if there was no washing to do the rain would stop tomorrow.  Possibly.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Well of course! - Monday 23rd October

We had a simple plan.  We’d arrive in Lagarde by lunchtime, when the temperature hovering close to its maximum for the day, something around eleven degrees, then while one of us wandered off to have a cup of tea with Maggie, the other would start with the scrubbing brush and pressure cleaner outside, which would give us a clear run at all the other bits.

Only part of that plan worked out.

We did arrive by lunchtime, and one of us did have a lovely catch up with Maggie.  The other was not entirely convinced that the plan had been a terribly good one, so busied himself for the entire afternoon in front of the heater figuring out a new plan.

Golden Splotches - Sunday 22nd October

We may not be in Canada or Connecticut, but there are enough golden sprinkles on the water to brighten the dull of the day as we celebrate the eighth anniversary of one of the luckiest days of our lives, by simply idling our way back towards the scene of the crime.

It certainly doesn’t seem like eight years since that freezing October day when by good fortune we met the crew in Lagarde who have since truly become part of our family, and after a few minutes inspection pulled out our credit card and paid a very small deposit on a barely floating, badly smoking pile of recyclables that we renamed “Joyeux”, and commenced our life split between two hemispheres.

Tomorrow we’ll be back in Lagarde and once again making preparations for our flight south, but today, there’s that walk around Einville we’ve been threatening to complete.


Brasserie - Saturday 21st October

It may have taken us eight years, but we can now go forward happy in the knowledge that we have finally seen the Brewing Museum in Saint-Nicholas-du-Port.  It’s only a few kilometres from the canal, and we’ve travelled past quite possibly dozens of times, always finding an excuse or even a reason to keep going despite our best intentions to visit.    We could easily have stayed snug in the boat this time as well, but we had a sort of steely determination to succeed.

Steely determination is what it takes by the way, to go walking in rain in temperatures not seen in more civilised climes!   The reception we received was amazing and it must be said that that alone was worth the very small admission price even if it had not included a complimentary beer (or artisanal lemonade) and the museum itself did its best to ensure our run of excellent afternoons out continued unabated.

It’s odd though, how one can go along one’s happy way oblivious to and never needing to know why things are named the way they are.  “Brasserie” we discovered quite by accident is actually a French word that means “Brewery” and has nothing at all to do with the shiny metal used  in much of the equipment, which it slowly dawned, is actually …. copper.

Change is in the air - Friday 20th October

We knew the change was coming, it was inevitable after all, but it would have been nicer if it didn’t happen at exactly the time one of us was due to wander idly down to the baker for the breakfast croissants.   Thankfully it settled down to a dull roar by the middle of the morning and eventually turned into that pleasant misty rain in a shade of grey that after a few months sends people off in search of razor blades and rusty knives.  

Undaunted and undamped, we revisited Stanislas Place which in its post-summer guise was also undaunted.  It has been completely made over as a spectacular autumn garden, complete with temporary lawns laid over much of it’s cobbled surface, and a wondrous array of features including no less than a bonfire “pit” complete with the sounds of a live fire, a jungle with live parrots, and a running stream.  Hundreds of pots of trees and flowering plants have been installed in their autumn colours just to remind all that this may well be the last garden display they’ll see for some time. 

It’s all a bit overwhelming for us at times, coming to grips with the extent that most communities will go to to find an excuse to celebrate things without any commercial agenda.  All of this is just to tide us over lest we get anxious between the end of the summer illuminations and next month’s Christmas Markets.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Catching up - Thursday 19th October

In an effort to delay the inevitable, we didn’t think about getting underway before ten, then we wandered over to the bakery for morning tea supplies, had a coffee and thought that really it was almost eleven and if we left now we’d probably get to the lifting bridge at Nancy exactly as it was closing for the lunch time peak hour.

Better, we thought to wander over to the bakery for lunch supplies and wait just a little longer.  There is little point in getting all stressed over a six kilometre journey after all.   There seems to be a relationship between the speed with which time moves and deadlines, and in this case those few hours of doing not much seemed like several days, but we did get underway and finally found the last available spot in our least favourite port in all of France.   

Fortunately, it is filled with some of our favourite people, and so it was that after a quick wander uptown to let the place know we’d arrived, we spent a very long and pleasurable evening catching up on the news of the past six months.


Homeward bound - Wednesday 18th October

After more than a month travelling on rivers it came as a bit of a shock to find ourselves back in the much more intimate canal network once again, moored in the middle of a busy little village.   

Back in Champignuelles, we are once again only too aware that in a few days our boat time will be over for another year.  It’s always a strange time, filled with happy anticipation that we’ll soon be on our way south but mixed with the desire to eke out perhaps a few more days afloat while the weather holds.   

There’s a bit of a ritual to the whole process though.  We moor on one of the abandoned pontoons, walk to the hardware store for supplies that we’ll need to complete those little pre-winter jobs, have a cup of tea, and do not much else until it’s almost too late to take a photograph.  Then in last minute panic race out to see what one can make of the dying light.  Mostly we are too late, which explains the great collection of night time reflections in our photo files tagged “Champignuelles”, but tonight we had fourteen minutes to spare before darkness descended.

Bring your own colour - Tuesday 17th October

One can tell by the photo that we had arrived in Pont-a-Mousson before anyone had bothered to take the coloured crayons to the day.  While it may have looked a little on the glum side, the truth is that it was anything but that with a clear sky promising to bring the world to vibrant life as soon as the sun had rubbed the sleep from his eyes and we’d all had our third coffee.  

The glum didn’t actually descend until well after we’d arrived, a few minutes before “it’s coffee time at last”.  There is a bakery here which makes what we are firmly convinced are quiet possibly the best Mille-feuille in the galaxy, and our entire summer we had been steeling ourselves for this very moment.  How hard was it then to find not a one hidden among the delicacies in that same baker’s display case.   

Our enquiry was met with something that no doubt would have sounded like “Sorry luv, the Vanilla Slices are off” had we been in our other home. Which led us to think of how colourless our native language is, thinly concealed beneath a world consumed by bright blue sky, rainbow lorikeets and tropical flowers. There, a “Mille-feuille” is indeed a “Vanilla Slice”, “Flan” becomes “Custard Tart”, “Paris-Brest” a “Cream Puff”.  

We stopped thinking, made our purchase and were back on board with coffee in hand, unpacking the “Religieuse au Cafe” from its gift box, just as the first rays of sunshine began to glitter on the autumn leaves.  Suddenly it seemed that the day had become very colourful indeed.

Crisis narrowly averted. - Monday 16th October

Meanwhile, on the home front, Mr Four who by the miracle of time transportation is about to become Mr Eleven, enquired of his mother while being driven home from school as to whether we would be home in time for his birthday.  On receiving the answer in the negative, Miss Now Seven also in the back seat immediately intervened.

“Don’t worry”, she proclaimed “If they aren’t here they ALWAYS send a parcel in the mail”.   News of this, despite having made sufficient contingency for the event before our departure, sent us into something of a tail spin.   Needless to say, a day spent looking into reflections on our wondrous way up the Mozelle River did nothing to ameliorate what could very well escalate into a serious doubt on grandparent credibility.  We have it seems, set a very high bar for ourselves to jump.

Such is the wonder of the world in which we live, that at day’s end despite being moored at some from a centre of commerce a thing called “the internet” turned out to be very helpful indeed, and had promised delivery of a parcel almost in time for the birthday in question.  We therefore, settled into the evening in a similar state of calm reflection to that which the river had provided during the day.

If you can’t beat them - Sunday 15th October

Today was to be a perfect replica of the very best bits of yesterday, repeated every hour while daylight persisted.

The morning was curiously quiet given the weather, and we like everyone else it seemed were content to laze in the sun, happily soporific.  The tranquility was not to last of course, as slowly the crowds built.  At first a few runabouts appeared simply drifting aimlessly on the lake, while their passengers did what people do when they discover what hungry and thirsty work drifting aimlessly can be.  Then the picnickers arrived, quietly choosing the best of the sunny spots to sit, as we had been, to read and knit and while away the day in their own thoughts.

Eventually though, those who had perhaps had better things to do with the morning, having lunched with family and friends no doubt, (this is Sunday after all), came out in such numbers that the background sounds were not dissimilar to that of a busy school ground at lunchtime. Once it began the procession was endless and lasted until there was no more light; a non stop stream of humanity on foot, on crutches, with walking frames and prams and bicycles and mobile phones.  Hundreds of people walked by every hour, thousands perhaps, all in happy conversation, stopping only to buy ice creams or to take photos of our washing.


Life in a postcard. - Saturday 14th October

We don’t want to brag, but we made it out of bed before eleven today. Just.  It may have been because our bones were still creaking somewhat after our lengthy walk on rough cobbles yesterday, or it may have been because the morning fog was so dense until then it had blocked not only the light of the new day but any sound from a city attempting to wake to a new weekend as well.

None the less we did manage to catch the last of the fog slowly rising over the hills as the sun came out on what would be, according to the forecast a series of perfect September days, even if they had arrived a month late.  We also, quite astonishingly managed to replenish our supplies before the luncheon crowds descended on the the city centre, this despite being waylaid for a time watching the kids practicing on the canoe slalom course.

By mid afternoon the tranquility that the weather had brought was at odds with the swarm of people who had come out to enjoy it.  We therefore retreated to the comfort of our little home, to marvel at the contrast between the happy sounds made by the thousands of people walking, lying on the grassy foreshore or drifting in small boats and the complete silence of the morning.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Holy Batcave! - Friday 13th October

There are only two, or perhaps three ecclesiastical structures that we have visited in the world which of their own accord invoke in us a sense of awe, communicating in no uncertain terms that they are perhaps a portal to a presence of far greater significance than we.  St Therese’ in Metz is not on one of them.  

No one could describe it as humble unless one’s usual living space is a room eighty metres long and as wide as it is tall. It’s interior is dark, very dark despite the thousand square metres of stained glass cast in concrete tracery that clads its sides.   The exterior is of that pre-war Germanic school of industrial bunker kind, now garnished with vast areas of concrete cancer and a few dirty dribs left of what was no doubt in 1935 a very futuristic light green colour scheme.  It is not without some redemption though: it’s spire is a work of art, seventy metres tall, with the slenderness ratio of a telegraph pole.

In a watching a train wreck happen kind of way it is completely fascinating.  It is historically and architecturally intriguing, truly pioneering with it’s great concrete arches and stained glass inset.  There can be no doubt that it rightly earns its place on the register of a significant buildings, but it is one that asks more questions that it answers.   It was certainly worth the visit, but we found the walk through the botanical gardens en route to be far more uplifting.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Cité Végétale - Thursday 12th October

One of our favourite routes to just one of our favourite bakeries is through what is called the Botanic Gardens Esplanade, a sort of forest come avenue.  When we were here in May we were astonished to see dozens of large holes being dug not quite at random yet not quite in a square grid, and we couldn’t work out what they were for.   It looked as though something was terribly amiss and we hoped that the trees were not in danger.

Five months later we have discovered that it was quite the opposite.  The Gardens and the Esplanade are celebrating their 150th anniversary this year and the local authority in it’s infinite wisdom decided that the city, rather than ponder its previous few thousand years, should consider what might become of it over the next one hundred and fifty.  To that end it created an exhibition of the work of Belgian Architect and dare I say “Futurist”, Luc Schuiten which depicts his vision of what could be for not only this city but half a dozen other major metropolis’ around the world one hundred and fifty years hence.

His drawings and the accompanying explanations are sublime, with the esplanades tree canopy in such perfect harmony with the dozens of gigantic renderings on display that one could not imagine them in a stuffy gallery.  Perhaps the most marvellous thing is that here in this ancient city, rather than constantly looking backwards we are being encouraged to grasp a positive vision of what the future could be, almost certainly will not, but thanks to the constant stream of school classes visiting, some seeds may just be being sown.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

What’s Japanese for Déjà Vu? - Wednesday 11th October

The Centre Pompidou in Metz can always be relied upon for exhibitions that inform or challenge or something.  The current exhibition to our great surprise and perhaps delight, is called “Japan-ness”, and a visit we thought would be an appropriate finale to our travels this year which of course began in that very country.

The exhibition explores the evolution of post-war Japanese architecture and has an in depth explanation and discussion of the progress and philosophy of same, including many original architectural models, concepts and detail drawings of buildings that we had visited half a year (or was it half a life-time) ago.   It is fair to say that while we both enjoyed the exhibition immensely, one of us appeared to be far less riveted by the minutiae than the other.   

She did take some comfort in the work of Shigeru Ban, who has been mentioned here several times in the past, and is perhaps best known (apart from designing the Centre Pompidou Centre in Metz) for his work exploring cardboard tubes as a means of providing temporary lightweight structures, and had been commissioned to provide furnishings and reception counter for the  exhibition.   


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Heating - Tuesday 10th October

We are staying in Metz for a while, intent on finishing all the little maintenance jobs which one tends to put off until another time.  Since our neighbour at the moment is a heater expert and our little diesel heater is at its best indifferent to our commands, today was the day it was to come out and be “looked at”.   

It has been so unreliable that if it bothers to start at all, it’s with a cloud of toxic smoke that makes Mr Perkins at his work look like a clean air campaigner.  Last week in Sarreguemines it’s cloud blanket was so fierce that a couple of nice policemen were despatched to ensure that we weren’t at the centre of some sort of giant ecological catastrophe.  Thankfully our little electric ceramic heater does a sterling job pouring its five hundred watts of energy into the cabin and keeping things within at tolerable levels so all is not as bad as it seems.   

Today however, in a pre-dismantling exhibition of just how bad it can be, it performed flawlessly for the first time in eight years.  Just pure clean invisible hot exhaust as described in the colour brochure.   Job done.  Boxed ticked.   Day of black sooty hands, grease, cleaning fluid, gasket goo and big mess narrowly avoided.    While the other of us busied herself with her tasks, the one who had finished his list for the day wandered uptown in search of a nice a lemon tart in preparation of taking the rest of the day off.

Sorry! - Monday 9th October
on to Metz

It was a bit hard to imagine that the day would turn out to be anything more than tolerable when we left “early” just after nine, in cold and haze and with the navigation lights burning their way over where the horizon might be. To confirm that feeling, at the first lock we timed our arrival to coincide exactly with an announcement that the appearance of almost two hundred metres and many thousand tonnes of coal carrier was imminent.  We didn’t need to be asked to wait a bit.    Things went quiet well after he’d gone, that is until we announced our presence at the second lock and were happily instructed to “take the small lock please”.

Since our Joyeux is almost four metres wide, and our chart suggested that the small lock was three point four in the same dimension, one would have thought that making a small public fuss with some professional lock keepers in charge of a large commercial lock would have been entirely appropriate.   Having conducted something close to a shouting match with them in their lofty control tower perch, with neither side giving an inch, one of them finally condescended to come down from on high to where we were waiting and patiently explained that the small lock was indeed a few metres wider than we had supposed, and would we terribly mind ever so much just going where they told us to and getting on our way.   One cannot be sure when one grovels in the language of another, when said grovelling is adequate, but at least at the end of it there were smiles on both sides.  Perhaps one would be wise to use one’s spectacles when reading the chart in future.

That seemed to create a turning point in the weather too, and from the top of that lock on with each kilometre beyond our indiscretion, the river and the day itself just became more glorious.

Where the streets are mostly deserted. - Sunday 8th October

On a normal business day Thionville has a network of streets and shopping malls which seem way out of proportion to what one perceives to be the size of the town. The number of vacant tenancies on the outer edges of the business district would tend to bear out that perception somewhat, but perversely perhaps, this being Sunday, and all shops closed and shuttered the vacancy rate was not quite as obvious.

It’s the sort of place that one would like to like, but it’s also the sort of place where one wonders if the Christmas lights are up early, or whether they’ve been left there all year.  One would suspect the latter, as there are lots of them and they are quite complicated arrangements, different in every street.  Perhaps not.  The Christmas markets in Thionville are barely six weeks away and given the number of lights erected, it will probably take that long to fill all the bulbs with electricity.

We can only imagine how spectacular they’d look at night, with a covering of frost, but by the time that happens the only ice we’ll be seeing will be in the bottom of a tall glass.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Where the people as well as the streets are lined with gold. - Saturday 7th October

Schwebsinge is just a thirty minute bus ride from Luxembourg City, with one change at a place named in Luxembourgish and therefore unpronounceable to lesser humans.   When we boarded the bus therefore we asked the driver, a dark-skinned bearded young man of the type that always gets the extra security check at the airport, if he could just stop there for us, and he very kindly agreed so to do.

The change of bus went (with his help) very smoothly indeed, and we were treated to a delightful tour of Luxembourg (the country) as it took us through vineyards and over mountains.  After twenty minutes of this we were back in the suburbs and the bus was hailed at a stop by someone who looked exactly like our previous driver.   The bus in front of us actually had the same number as the bus we had left twenty minutes ago.   We had barely time to begin to ponder this coincidence when the person boarded our bus, caught our eye(s) and waved my wallet above his head.   

Unaware at that point that the wallet was even lost, let alone found, the fact that someone had driven his bus deliberately to intersect with the one that he knew we had taken was incomprehensible.   While of course we stammered our thanks, we were actually too shocked to adequately reward his supreme effort and honesty.   Even later in the day, we were still at a complete loss to understand how wallet and self became separated, let alone reunited.   Lunch and a tour of some of the twenty odd kilometres of Cassements or underground cave system that rendered the city impregnable throughout history did nothing to diminish our gratitude.  


Cruisin’ - Friday 6th October

Yes it was so cold that pretty much every garment she owned was on, and yes, probably if you are going to wear fifteen or sixteen layers of clothing it’s a better look if they aren’t all the same size, but when one is cruising idly through some of the finest parts of Moselle’s wine region, and the hills are just beginning to show little dabs of gold here and there, if one can stay warmish, one really doesn’t care that much.

We had a lot of kilometres to cover today, thirty-seven to be precise, the most in a single day this year by far, but the scenery left us in no hurry to get to where ever it was we were going, and  even the time we spent going up the hill in the giant locks was just an opportunity to see the view from a different perspective.   

Had we seen just a little more of the sun we may have been in danger of scenery overload, but that was not to be.  We did however take just enough time from our busy cruising schedule to replenish our fuel tanks at Luxembourg’s tax free prices.   "Buy a hundred litres, get sixty for free."  It almost makes one wish one had a bigger less fuel efficient engine. Almost.  Yes it’s true, Mr Perkins bless him, has sipped just one hundred and sixty litres this year, less actually if you take into account the fuel turned to smoke by Webasto his recalcitrant love-child come diesel heater .   

Roamin’ - Thursday 5th October

In Trier, one never suffers from the impression that one is the first to set foot in the place.  It’s been here for a seriously long time, and while one wet and chilly ride on the little tourist train is not enough to make one an expert, it does leave a lot to codjutate on over goulash and sauerkraut and dumplings in a very warm cafe.

For instance there’s the fact that it’s a city pretty much since before “BC” was adopted as a measure of centuries.  It was indeed the capital of the western Roman empire and still has many buildings still standing from those early centuries, the dominant “Porte Nigre” or “Black Gate” being among them although it wasn’t even given it’s name until sometime in the middle ages when pollution began to take its toll. It was saved from demolition in those years apparently as it was the refuge and eventual tomb of a hermit-monk who later became St Simeon.  Then there's the protestant cathedral which was once Emperor Constantine's throne room.   Amid all this first few century cogitation the city also turns out to be the birthplace of Karl Marx.

Most surprisingly perhaps is the Cathedral is said to be the trustee of the original “seamless robe of Christ”, which was donated by Helena the mother of Constantine the Great in 329.  At least three or four other versions of the same garment have bobbed up in other places apparently, which quite possibly gives rise to some suspicion that one or even more of them may not be the real thing.  This one was coated in rubber apparently in the eighteenth century, to prevent further decay.   Sadly it is not on display, quite possibly to remove the potential for its theft for use as a raincoat on the walk from the station to the boat in a freezing gale.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Around the bend. - Wednesday 4th October

No matter how much we like it where we are at any given time, there’s eventually a little buzzer that goes off in our heads that prompts us to exploure around the next bend in the river.  Thankfully on these not so warm autumn mornings there’s no buzzer that tells us to get out of bed, so it was a rather civilised “just before lunch time” that we found ourselves promising Saarburg we’d be back, and drifting off once more to see where the current would take us.

Actually things weren’t quite that random.  We’d planned all this.  We knew that just around the bend there was a lock, and after the lock there was the Moselle River, and we’d stop not far from the junction at the little yacht club in Konz which is a short commute by train to Trier. In fact things were so well planned and went so smoothly in accordance with those plans that we were quite possibly at risk of contracting a headache or something worse!  

Thankfully it was nothing that a medium-sized walk in the blustery cool of the afternoon couldn’t fix.  This was followed by a bit of a snooze of course after which we woke with absolutely no idea what we would be doing tomorrow, and all was well with the world once more.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Being Tourists in a Tourist Town. - Tuesday 3rd October

It’s Germany’s national day today, and a public holiday and what will be our last day in Saarland this time round.  It’s amazing to look back on the last week (has it only been that long?) and realise that we have been in something of a tourist heaven, lurching from one attraction to another, from tourist town to tourist town for just seventy kilometres along a very windy river, through some of the most beautiful natural environments one can imagine, albeit in weather that perhaps wasn’t always conducive to showing it at its best.

Astonishingly, barely half a century ago the region was impoverished comprised of only exhausted coal resources and a dying steel industry.  In the wash-up after the last World War, it’s value was such that France apparently moved to have Saarland declared a country rather than bear responsibility for it, but the people promptly took action to become part of Germany.   There is a legend that in the latter part of the last century German Chancellor Kohl (in jest) even threatened French President Mitterrand with returning it to France , such was the perceived lack of value of its place in the world.   Just look at it now!  It’s all grown up and is truly something of a gem in the country’s tourist crown.

We’ve been here in Saarburg before too and visited the little museum and ridden the chairlift over the vineyards and climbed the castle turret and visited the bell factory and had lunch in a cafe by the mill race, and now we’ve done it again.  With just a little luck if we have the opportunity we might just come back again and do it all again some time in the future.  Perhaps we’ll stay just one more day!

Not Even Sunny in Patches. - Monday 2nd October

Like yesterday, the piece of river we traversed is simply one of the most beautiful places one could imagine floating through.  Unlike yesterday, there weren’t even any sunny patches during the day let alone any dry.  The day was by far the darkest that we have ever travelled in, at least by boat so instead of gasping at the majesty of the cliffs that slide down into the water, we spent a fair bit of time just trying not to run into them.  At least we could be seen with our navigation lights shining bright.

More than seven years ago, we rebuilt them, checked all connections and fittings, then unplugged them from their mast and stowed them in a box in the bilge where they have remained comfortable ever since.  When it became apparent that things were not going to improve during the course of the day, that sunrise may not actually even take place, we reasoned that perhaps if we had navigation lights, our chances of being obliterated by the hundred and fifty metre long behemoths with which we share this waterway may be somewhat diminished.

Sadly, after seven years in storage they showed some reluctance to illuminate, and doggedly refused to do so even in the face of some very nasty words being muttered at them.  Anyone who has ever sat hunched outside for an hour or two in chilly mizzle with tools and a multimeter, trying to work out why lights don’t work, will confirm what joy it brings when finally they do.   Permanently repaired; using the old “ jam the bare wires into the socket with matchsticks and tape them up” trick!   

Sunny in Patches. - Sunday 1st October

After almost silently exiting Mertzig in the very late morning, but none the less at at a time which must have seemed indecently early to those around us still to  discover the depth of their hangovers, we set off in search of those sunny patches that the forecast so optimistically promised.

We were actually moored in Mettlach before we even found so much as a patch in which there was no rain let alone sunshine, but thankfully it was sufficiently large that we were able to wander around for the entire afternoon at the pleasure of Messieurs Villeroy and Boch.   They established their homes and fine porcelain factories here two and a half centuries ago and while the factories still exist it was the museum which traces the company’s history combined with their “outlet” stores which kept us entertained for a good part of the afternoon.

We appear to be on something of a Museum fest at the moment, and the superb combination of story and exhibition here did nothing to blunt our enthusiasm, neither did the quality of the  apple cake in the cafeteria.

Escape from Saarlouis. - Saturday 30th September

We scurried out of Saarlouis to avoid the mess that would surely accompany the downtown festivities, only to arrive in Mertzig just a few minutes before an armada of small ships arrived.  This turned out to comprise the entire fleet of Dillingen-Saar Boat Club. It having been inspired to come down river in the rain to Merzig for the weekend for …. Oktoberfest!  

They were a happy bunch as boat-folk have a tendency to be, and they quietly went about their preparations for the weekend ahead, buffing leather pants, borrowing our ironing board for those last minute touch-ups.  Clearly not every national costume had been bought new for the occasion.  We were transfixed as neighbours shared their struggles to fit busty bits into places they may well have once gone a long, long time ago. Not all of said bits actually fitted in the designated spaces any more, some needing considerably more uplift than the outfit seemed designed to provide, but eventually after a team of prodders and pokers and puller-uppers had done its bit, all were deemed ready enough to glide off into the near freezing mist dressed barely adequately for a tropical afternoon.  One can only imagine how less well fitting they may have appeared after returning from a night of rollicking good fun.

On the subject of rollicking, we watched with morbid fascination the juxtaposition of beer hall and carnival rides.  Surely the matching of litre steins of beer and orbiting machines is not a natural one.   At what point does a quick spin on the Vomitron become an option after leaving a beer tent?  At least it's easy to explain the bits of carrot on the roof of the marquee.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Close Encounters. - Friday 29 th September

As the river twisted and turned its way towards Saarlouis, we couldn’t work out what the odd structure on the mountain of overburden actually was.  It seemed to change shape as we went along, and when we finally took up our mooring place it took its triangular form, standing like a beacon in the distance.  We could not be sure but we had the feeling we were being drawn to it.  We had to find out what it was.

A bus trip, two kilometre walk and a two hundred metre climb later we were there.  The kid in the Tourist Office had told us it was a monument to the coal mining industry.  The architect said it "traces a multitude of mountain motifs as a symbol of change in an abstract form language," and is intended to form a gateway into the future in the eyes of the beholder. The formal language of purist steel grid construction is intended to express the indivisibility of the country's origin and future in the country, and to show the classical connection of coal, steel and energy in Saarland.

In reality, its form changes from symbolic crossed picks, to gateway, to single pick, to the triangle expressed above.   It was funded in part by families of the former miners who donated a thousand Euros per stair, and it has a lot of stairs.  It was certainly worth the effort to see it up close and personal, particularly as we knew we had to go back through town where another bowl of spaghetti ice cream awaited.

Tasty - Thursday 28th September

We guessed something was up when we discovered the town square was almost entirely covered with a giant white marquee, within which hundreds of tables were neatly set with white table cloths.  Those parts of the square which weren’t covered by tent were in the process of being transformed into a fairground, with all sorts of rides and food stalls being quietly assembled.

Oktoberfest was coming to Saarlouis on Saturday, and with Tuesday next a public holiday, the town gave every indication that things may not quieten down for some time to come.  We thought about where we might be on the weekend and on balance, having no mates in town, not being fond of beer, and with one’s best lederhosen at the cleaners, thought perhaps we might give it a swerve this time.

But we didn’t waste the opportunity to have a spaghetti ice cream and a coffee while we made our plans.


Having a Blast. - Wednesday 27th September

It’s not as if we hadn’t been told by more than one person.  Even the coloured brochure says it’s “one of the most exciting places in the world to visit”.   Völklingen-Heutte is an abandoned ironworks with rusty blast furnaces.  Seriously?

There’s no escaping it, as we explored the complex for hours clambering along its seven kilometres of catwalk and gangplank we concluded that the brochures were quite possibly an understatement. World Heritage Listing should have been a clue, and if the structures and museum wasn’t enough, the priceless exhibition of Inca Gold scattered through the darkened turbine hall would have surely been sufficient, but there was more.  Hundreds of the world’s best street artists had been selected to exhibit in the UrbanArt Biennale , displayed in bunkering areas of the vast ruin.

It was all so impressive that we could have returned the next but for the time it would take to sort yet another thousand photographs of rusty pipes.   On reflection, this may very well have been our third “best day at work ever” this year!


Not Shopping. - Tuesday 26th September

Downtown Saarbrücken is something of a monument to post-war reconstruction.  It’s not that unfriendly or unpleasant, but it does go on, and on.  It’s actually got quite a nice feel to the proportion of buildings and streets, and if one was interested in shopping it probably holds the world record for most shoe shops per square kilometre, and perhaps the most department stores as well.  

We would be interested in shopping we thought.  Although we quickly became quite disinterested and wandered off in search of even more interesting things, and a bakery, and a slice of pizza.  We walked the historic trails, visited the museum to try to get a feel for the very chequered history of the area, and had a really nice time all round.  Although we really thought we might stay longer (perhaps to shop), after spending last week in an urban environment we by this evening both developed decidedly itchy feet.  

Falling like butterflies - Monday 25th September

A few kilometres downstream, and a few locks as well, we found our place in the heart of Saarbrücken, just a few hundred metres from the centre of the oldest bit of town, and the only bit as it happens that doesn’t look as though it was built in the latter part of last century.  “Doesn’t look” is used advisedly, as much of what is left of the old town, and there’s not a lot of that, was rebuilt having been ravaged fairly comprehensively by bombs in the second world war.   

Some stuff was saved, the massive retaining walls surrounding the castle for instance, but even that having stood against all mankind could throw at them for an entire millennium were moved back seventeen metres in the eighties to make way for the freeway.  That freeway was all that stood between us and perfect tranquility  with it’s steady thrum of traffic and the occasional siren bursting through. Surprisingly road noise is not too bothersome in situations like this as it does tend to disappear in the evenings when it really counts. 

Meanwhile on our side of the river, Autumn suddenly arrived and did its best to cloak us in a mass of golden leaves.  “Look they are like butterfies”, one of us remarked as the gold rained down.   Perhaps she was right.  Perhaps though, in the absence of any breeze they were falling rather than flying, looking just a little as though they had been overcome by exhaust fumes.

Back to the Grind. - Sunday 24th September

At the risk of overdosing on organ-love, we walked the town twice or was it five times, perhaps it was ten.  How ever many it was, by mid afternoon our joints were starting to feel that they’d been doing a bit of overtime on cobbled streets, but we had also become quite well acquainted at least by sight with all of the participants in the organ fest. Now each time we moved to a new spot there was no need for introduction, usually a direct offer to play a request, or to introduce us to someone or to show us some hitherto uninspected aspect of the bowels of a machine would ensue.

The evening concert was a fitting finale to the weekend, though it was not without its own embarrassments. Arriving as we did just before it began, we were a little shocked to discover that entry to the theatre was from the front, quite close to the stage.  This left no chance of anonymous arrival and as we stood like bunnies in the headlights scanning for a nice pair of seats towards the back of the room, some of our new best friends stood and waved for us to sit down the front with the cool kids.   Such was our welcome that it must have been touch and go for the Mayor to avoid the tempation of mentioning us in his speech.

Sadly even the best of weekends eventually must end, and this one did too, with hugs and kisses and promises to stay in touch all round at the end of the it will be long time before it’s forgotten.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Another Great Day in the Office - Saturday 23rd September

Today was the day we discovered, although we already had the slightest suspicion, that too many organ grinders in one place are simply not enough.  We are certain though, that the happiness that these people grind out of their little boxes is the stuff of which world peace is constructed.   Of course they are enthusiasts, and the enthusiasm that they displayed in dismantling their pride and joy to answer simple question about their tracker bar construction or clacker valve fittings, or to show us their spring loaded wing-nuts had to be experienced to be understood.

They seemed more astonished that someone from Australia would take such an interest in them than we were that they’d go to such lengths for us.  With the streets and our heads filled all day with the sounds of thirty or more of the little beasts, and the whole town reverberating to the tones of Johan’s steam driven monster, was it any wonder we arrived home this evening tired, but very happy and with a wallet filled with the contacts of new found friends.

This had been the reason that we had been waiting in Sarreguemines, and it was worth the wait. Perhaps as it turned out, it could just possibly have been one of our best days at work ever!

Hanging one’s dirty linen in public. - Friday 22nd September

It is a lovely thing to be able to moor right beside some of the town’s most historically significant buildings.   

The “Casino” was built in the late nineteenth century by the pottery factory that was the town, as a staff facility to deter workers from frittering away their lives in seedy bars with perhaps even seedier women.  The pontoons of the Yacht Club are separated from it by the public walkway along the shore, screened with densely planted hedging.  It looks and even feels like the perfect place to moor for privacy, and perhaps to discretely hang out one’s smalls when the day is sunny, even when there are lots of people about.

On the other side of the river however, and not obvious from behind drawn curtains, is a “view point” marked on the tourists map as a perfect place to take photographs of the buildings.  

Promise of things to come - Thursday 21st September

It may have been late morning when the weather became less dreary, and it may have been early evening when the first blue patches of sky began to appear, but when they did they were full of cheer and brought the promise of better days to come.  The sun even announced itself for a minute, or part thereof, just before it disappeared for the night. Perhaps it was attempting to assure us that it would be back in the morning.

Faced with a weeks worth of washing and quite possibly more worth of “house” work, we quickly remembered that there was a whole sector of the town centre that we had not explored so set about doing just that in case the sun’s assurance failed to bear fruit.  There, perhaps by accident, we stumbled across the very same shop that displayed in its window those cushions that we liked.   This time our timing was such that when we did it was not closed for lunch.

Suffice to say there are now two fewer cushions in the window and the boat looks all the brighter, lack of sustained sunshine notwithstanding.

Fog and dinner plates. - Wednesday 20th September

Once again we hung around for too long, wondering if the day would improve.  Once again it didn’t really. It was too foggy to take our bikes apparently, although it remains unclear to one of us whether visibility was any greater when travelling on foot.   When we finally arrived at the Mill Museum it was exactly lunch time and thus approached its gates with a good deal of trepidation.  Curiously and quite thankfully we may have discovered the only museum in France that does not close for lunch, and for the next few hours we therefore had the complex and its gardens entirely to ourselves and the fog.

The museum was brilliant, with much of its water powered machinery in almost working order, and its gardens sublime.  The massive water powered crushers and machinery connected via drive shafts through the complex are examples of the industrial revolution at its finest.  It might even have won an award for being the world’s greenest industry at the time, if it weren’t for the thousands of tonnes of coal required to fire the kilns each week, such was the volume of product produced.

Porcelain from here is held in quite high regard by they who know about this stuff,  but we couldn’t help but note the stark contrasts between the heavy albeit hand-painted mass produced product here and the lightness of the hand crafted works still being produced in the even more ancient potteries we’d visited in Japan earlier in the year.  

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. 

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