Legends from our own lunchtimes

Monday, July 30, 2018

Through the Armpit.
Sunday 29th July - Auvelais to Landelies

It’s true that not everyone gets a kick out of traveling through Charlerois by boat.  Some find that forty kilometres or so of derelict factories intermingled with gravel yards and chemical plants and great mountains of scrap do not make for the most scenic of cruising grounds.

Then again some people travel miles to see a pile of old rocks because it was once a Roman Wall.  Old watermills are a favourite too, no matter how decrepit when viewed objectively, yet the perception of industry in decay is that despite its history, if the scenic world were a human body, it is like an armpit.

Well today we travelled through one of Belgium’s armpits, and what a wondrous place it was.  The sky remained suitably indifferent, the wind from time to time managed to slow us to a crawl, perhaps so we could enjoy the patina for a little longer, and it was all a bit intriguing really as kilometre after kilometre rolled by.  The best bit of course was that if you trace a few bends beyond an armpit, you end up with some really pretty bits to play with, which is how we came to be moored for the night in a heavily forested gorge just above a weir not too far from the terribly romantic ruins of an Abbey.

Change is in the air.
Saturday 28th July - Namur to Auvelais

Now here’s the thing: three A.M. is six hours, give or take, after sunset and three before sunrise. In his still sleeping state while en route for a wee look-around at that time, one of us thought “the edge of the storm looks pretty cool”, fumbled with the camera and went back to bed without more than half-opening one eye, nor giving any thought to why the sky below the cloud should have been that colour until much later, co-incidentally perhaps on the evening of a “blood moon”.  Had the moon dissolved?

While today’s journey was not one of great interest or beauty and we had had plenty of warning that there’d be no scenery to enjoy for a day or two it was pleasant enough.  Those who enjoy travelling in a vast concrete and stone gutters edged in forest with the occasional spot of heavy industry while being blasted by serious puffs of wind and dodging giant ships would have been enamoured.  The notable absence of a heavy downpour was something of a highlight.

It’s pretty clear that the transition from the natural beauty of the river and the declining industrial environment which we know is to come is quite a sudden one.  In a metaphorical sense we can’t help but get the feeling we watching the edge of a storm.


Hot under the collar.
Friday 27th July - Namur

Just imagine how bad the weather forecaster must have felt having to tell a whole country that it would be thirty-seven degrees again today with cloudless blue skies, a mere thirteen degrees higher than the previous best for this day.  He probably felt no worse than the poor barge captain with two and a half thousand tonnes of cargo waiting to be loaded upstream while a dozen coxed fours dry roasted themselves in his lock.  

It seemed that everyone in Belgium with the possible exception of ourselves was out and about near naked, cheerfully dehydrating while concurrently burning their skins to a fluorescent red. We even saw people jogging! We, in the meantime were foregoing the pleasures of active tourism and confining our movements to the minimum necessary to move between patches of shade, particularly to patches of shade that contained tables with the prospect of drinks with actual ice in them .

It may have been something in the iced tea, but at some time during the middle of the afternoon, our plans to visit Liège on Sunday fizzled, along with our desire to climb the heights of the Citadel, or to do anything else in Namur for that matter.  We were suddenly overcome by a desire to move on, to leave what we hadn’t seen till next time.  To unpack the oars and see what lies beyond the next lock.


Friday, July 27, 2018

Cruising in the Tropics.
Thursday 26th July - Profondeville to Namur

"As idle as a painted ship 
Upon a painted ocean. "

Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner knew a thing or two about searing heat and windless days, although perhaps had been on the Meuse River it may well have been a Canada Goose that he’d shot instead of an Albatros. 

“Thirty-seven degrees” declared the neon on the pharmacy nearby as we sat on the opposite bank, sipping a drink loaded with ice while waiting for the shade from the Casino or the Citadel, we didn’t care which, to engulf our little blue polyester oven.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Paradise Lost.
Wednesday 25th July - l’Île d’Yvoir to Profondeville

There comes a time when a man has to do what a man has to do, and this morning was that time.   The forward berth has been a little cluttered since we set off this year with the new fenders, and with a deadline fast approaching when that berth may be required, there was no time like the present to tie them on and give the old ones a bit of a scrub.

The impact of all this productivity on a morning on which the temperature had reached almost thirty degrees by nine, was that we set off late, sweaty and not intending to go very far at all. The town mooring in Profondeville showed promise.  Perhaps we should taken the hint as we approached, weaving through dozens of hire canoes and stand-up paddle boards.  We definitely should not have ignored the monster rigid inflatable powering through them towing a giant tube with half a dozen passengers, but we figured it was nearly lunch time and they’d all go home soon.

We had figured correctly but we didn’t really expect them to return with their fathers and uncles in ski boats and wake boats by the dozen.   Wake boats are perhaps our least favourite thing in all the world, being intentionally designed to produce the largest bow wave, and produce they did, until the whole stretch of river looked to be beset by tempest.   At one juncture we cried “enough”, and slipped away for an hour or so, cruising down the river beyond their reach.   To be fair, they had mostly gone by nine, and only the stragglers were still there skiing at nine-thirty.   When calm did descend, we had time to be thankful that the new fenders had survived what is likely to be their toughest test.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Another thingy day in paradise.
Tuesday 24th July - l’Île d’Yvoir

When one lives on an island, one rarely needs to travel to the mainland but we did take our little red ferry across this morning to see how the common folk were doing.  They were fine by the way. They have a bakery after all and out island does not.

So fine were they that they decided once again to visit us in their hundreds, turning up in shifts.  The first, about morning tea time were the grandparents with their small charges heading straight to the playgrounds and pools.   Later, but before lunch came the couples bent on spending something more than the two-Euros-thirty drink that comes free with every three Euro ferry ticket.   By mid afternoon the youth brigade arrived to take off most of their clothes and bomb dive and have water fights in the river while people of their parents’ age sit under trees just pretending the island is theirs.

It’s not though, it’s ours.  They go home before dinner time and we are left almost alone once again to survey our domain under a cloak of silence.  “Almost” alone because another boat is staying tonight and while we quite like the couple it brought, “almost” alone is not the same as being “completely” alone.   Now that the spell is broken, we may just mosey on tomorrow.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Nod
Monday 23rd July - Dinant to l’Île d’Yvoir

The sun made a sluggish start to the day.  It was the sort of start where the sky stayed slightly grey for a time as if holding it’s breathe before turning perfectly clear, the way a three year old does after a fall, and then when everyone is watching all hell breaks loose. 

Forewarned is forearmed of course. With a few days of temperatures in the mid thirties heading our way, we looked at our urban surroundings and silently nodded to each other.  There are a few different kinds of nods that happen between people who’ve known each other long enough not to speak in entire sentences, these nods with just a tinge of sadness about leaving Dinant: said “Let’s find somewhere in the shade”.

That somewhere was the Island of Yvoir.  Two hectares that the town’s brochures call “Paradise on the Meuse” connected to the village by a little ferry.  It turns out that it’s quite difficult to take a photograph in Paradise without looking like a person of ill intent.  While there is no shortage of subjects, there is also no shortage of scantily clad young things (too old for the playground one hastens to add) who seem to congregate in clusters like seals on a sunny rock wherever there is a scenic vista.  Averting one’s gaze (and one’s lens) is problematic as the gaps between the scenic vista seem to be filled with their grandmothers, undressed against the heat as only European grandmothers can, creating a scene with a somewhat more industrial aesthetic.  

In the early afternoon though, the playground crowd did thin to the point where it seemed safe enough to take a photo of the boat.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Over Saxed
Sunday 22nd July - Dinant

Our walk to Bouvignes yesterday traced an indirect but particularly pretty route lovingly marked on our map with a somewhat wobbly line by the nice young lady in the tourist office.  Exactly as she promised, it was picture postcard pretty, with the feeling of age and proportion in its laneways that can only come from hanging around for a thousand years or so.  It felt unhurried, as though it didn’t care how long the next thousand years took, it would be looking on with interest.  It was about as mellow as a saxophone solo in a late night jazz club. 

Which reminded us that before we knew of Dinant we hadn’t given much thought as to how the Saxophone came into being.  The town relentlessly  celebrates the fact that it is Adolphe Sax’s birthplace.  It is impossible to avoid the giant polyester Saxophones on the bridge and elsewhere in the town, the glass one in the fountain outside the town hall, the brass sculptures and portraits, the restaurants with “sax” cleverly incorporated into their names, and even the little museum which quietly explains that actually he may have left for Paris at an early age. It seems that Dinant may well be to Sax, what Allora is to Mary Poppins. (There’s something to look up on a rainy day!)

Feeling a tad over-saxed this morning we took off on our bicycles into the valley beyond to visit what shows on the map as a big rock, and then we visited another. They were indeed big rocks, one with holes in it sufficiently large to build a road through it, one with a crack that served the same purpose. Size may not matter  but there’s a starkness to them and a scale that when viewed up close we found not at all relaxing.  Big rocks we have discovered are about as mellow as a Vuvuzela quartet at a football match.

Belgium's National Day.
Saturday 21st July - Dinant

We moved the boat to the other side of the river last night with a view to taking advantage of a better position from which to view tonight’s fireworks display.  This not coincidentally put a little distance between ourselves and the pop-up bars and cafes which had no doubt been located with the same intent. 

This did place us in the centre of the annual village jumble sale though, where we discovered on waking that we had a front row seat, and could watch fascinated for much of the day as someone’s trash became someone else’s treasure.  We did note that “Nana Mouskouri’s Greatest Hits”, a long play record that we almost stepped on when first alighting from the dock, was sadly not to become anyone’s treasure on this day.    

We walked to the pretty little village of Bouvignes not too far away, to find some midday respite from the hub-bub of the fair. There we learned among other things that unlike gunpowder, and the crossbow which as is often the case these days were imported from China, coloured fireworks were actually a European invention.  We also learned that some time in the middle ages, the Pope decreed that it was inappropriate to kill a Christian with a crossbow, declaring that particularly dastardly deed should be punishable by excommunication, a fate ever so much worse than waking up in the middle of a jumble sale, perhaps even akin to having to listen to “Nana Mouskouri’s Greatest Hits”

After a long and colourful day, we sat up until eleven, the appointed hour for the fireworks to begin which were terribly colourful too of course, all the better for having been enjoyed from the comfort of our own home.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Climb every mountain.
Friday 20th July - Dinant

We had a choice according to the brochure, of climbing the four hundred and five step staircase to the citadel, or we could take the cable car. It turned out that the former option was only open to one of us apparently, who could climb the stairs alone “if he liked”.  On thinking about that for not very long at all he concluded that he too would like to try the cable car.

Once there we were treated once again to documented evidence of a thousand years of shocking atrocity, massacre and torture, tempered slightly by a delightful view.

Far below, our little boat sat on its lonesome.  Our neighbour, realising that the street had been mysteriously cleared of vehicles and that tables and chairs and tents with large beer brands embossed on them were appearing their place, had departed early for a newly vacated spot on the village side,  to a place which he was reasonably certain would prove to be marginally more tranquil as the evening wore on.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Don’t use the postcard shot on the first day.
Thursday 19th July - Anseremme to Dinant

“Don’t use the postcard shot, there’s probably a better light coming just before sunset.  Don’t use the postcard… Don’t… Aargh!!” he said talking to himself,as the excitement of his new surrounds got the better of him.

The trick when moving on, is to time ones arrival at the next port before any of the places vacated that morning have been filled.  Thus it was that with just two moorings for small boat on the opposite bank, to the town port.  Those would be the ones with afternoon sun behind and the view of everything one comes here to see, one of them was vacant, with our name on it.

This of course ruined any chance of doing anything productive today, as we alternated between staring out of the windows and pinching ourselves. Eventually we tired of the view sufficiently to actually walk over the bridge and visit some of its component parts.  We even tore ourselves away sufficiently long enough to visit a stunning exhibition of Rembrandt’s ink sketches, but we suspect we may be struggling again to get out and about in the morning.  Perhaps the postcard shot is OK, just this once.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Not today dear, I'll get a headache.
Wednesday 18th July - Anseremme

We looked around when we woke and really couldn’t see a lot of point in moving on today.   

Moving on would mean the buzz of a city, and museums and dirt and those little round dollops of other people’s chewing gum that seem to make patterns on the pavement as much a sign that people live there as the cigarette butts that lie in long lines between the cobbles.  While it’s true we may have been semi-roused from our sleep sometime after seven by a freight train tip-toeing over the bridge, we just felt we needed to gather a bit of strength before making the transition to the noise of “civilisation” once again.

So through blurry eyes we just enjoyed our surroundings, our sky and our cliffs and our trees, until the coffee kicked in and we felt the urge building to quietly be out amongst it all.  That we did in due course, walking along the river’s edge at times against the cliff faces at others in dense forest but never with a particular objective in mind, except perhaps that we should return before dark, which at this time of year is a very very long time after tea time!


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A change of pace.
Tuesday 17th July - Waulsort to Anseremme

Everyone here is on holiday and clearly not intent on spending it in a mad three week dash through France, therefore when the little hand was on nine and we started to get the moving itches, we warned Mr Perkins to whisper so as not to disturb a port in which there was nary a sign of movement.

Happily when we arrived in Anseramme there was one place left on the dock, which was exactly the number of places we were looking for and it was just a few tens of metres from the railway station and the kayak hire base, both of which are useful for people wanting to begin a descent a dozen or for those fitter than we, even twenty kilometres upstream.

All of which is how we came to spend a wonderful afternoon gliding beneath chateaus, bouncing over barrages, bumping into the occasional rock, sliding past sheer cliff faces and generally mooching through dense forest in the sort of intimacy that only travelling on a river in the company of four hundred other kayaks can bring.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Wot no chocolate?.
Monday 16th July - Givet to Waulsort

We almost stayed in Givet for a bit longer, but then quite suddenly, we didn’t.  We decided instead to move on in search of shade, because that’s what one does when the days are on the upper end of the temperature scale.  

We found it too, a dozen kilometres away albeit in an entirely different country, in a little village where the moorings have been built on the opposite side of the river to the town itself. While it’s a little unclear if the intention was to keep the messy boaties away from the villagers, or the messy villagers away from the boaties, it’s an arrangement that seems to work well for both parties.

Whenever the twain is required to meet, for instance when a boat load of people hear the siren call of a waterfront cafe yonder, there’s a little punt with an interconnecting cable that the manager of the port pulls across the river by hand in the time proven manner.   Not having heard that siren call, we didn’t see the need to leave our shade today even when we walked.  All of that chocolate and waffle and lace and beer that we have been led to believe is in Belgium will just have to wait for a time when the weather is less clement.


Monday, July 16, 2018

Of wars and other things.
Sunday 15th July - Vereux to Givet

From time to time we have wondered, truly beautiful though it is, if the River Meuse through the Ardennes is actually the very same valley of the shadow of death mentioned in the famous Psalm, such has been the amazing and awful impact of two thousand years of warfare on its history.    Today we arrived in Givet early enough to explore Charlemont, the fortress towering over the town. Built originally in the sixteenth century, and built again, destroyed, extended and captured several more times as history was writ, finally meeting it’s match as more destructive weapons were developed in the last century and again felt grateful that we were born where and when we were.

Even though “the match” was not due to start until five, the place was eerily deserted.  The food van guy left us to our own devices as soon as we’d bought our drinks, lest he should fail to make it to a television set in the four hours that remained before kick off, and a deathly silence descended on the country.

Four earth shaking cheers that threatened to rent the village asunder were the only signs of life in the late afternoon, each one accompanied by a goal from the home side.  It was difficult to decide when the match was over whether a war had started or world peace had been declared, as blaring horns and sirens consumed every molecule of air, and flares and fireworks erupted throughout the city for endless hours.  What a shame it is that all international battles couldn’t be fought on a football pitch.

It was twenty years almost to the day that France won its last world cup, and it’s not hard to believe that it will take at least that again for it to recover from this hangover.  

Small is beautiful
Saturday 14th July - Haybes to Vereux

A float tube is like a giant inflatable pool noodle bent to a horseshoe shape, with a seat slung in the middle.  The pilot presumably wears some sort of garment on the lower half of his body to guard the contents of his trousers against the damp and what must be significant chill, and dons a pair of giant swim fins to propel the contraption.  He then trawls for the biggest fish in the waterway which can often be monster things with big mouths and long rows of teeth.

One can only guess at the adrenaline rush that actually hooking a sizeable creature would bring, but presumably it’s akin to arriving in a port to find that the only space available to fit one’s ten-point-four metre boat in, is actually ten-point-six metres long.   At that moment, one actually lusts after a craft the size of a float tube forgetting that there may well be other disadvantages to long term cruising in one. 

By the combination of skill, dexterity, experience and scaring the owners of the adjoining boats into perhaps lending a hand, we managed to snug ourselves in for the night, exactly beside one of the busiest hot chip vans we have seen to date.   Perhaps in our float tube fantasy we may have caught a fish to go with a large serving of hot chips and our lives may very well have been even more complete!

There’s no point in us getting older if we don’t get wiser..
Friday 13th July - Fumay

Having spent the day yesterday generally tidying the town and hanging around with Kris and Gil the happy folk moored behind us, we thought it best to call a lay day today in preparation for what may have turned out to have been a big night of National Day Eve celebration.

Since they seemed happy with our normal laissez-faire approach to things, the plan for the night was set: We’d wander off to the big tent on the wondrously named “Boulodrome” to find a bite to eat, then we’d watch the light parade before hanging around for the Rolling Stones tribute band who were apparently going to play the entire “Sticky Fingers” album, followed perhaps by a spot of fireworks.

The food thing turned out to be tomorrow and by reservation only, so we ate on our boat while the thunderstorm rained on the parade, which did it’s best but turned out to be half a dozen firemen with just flaming torches and a few by then over-tired little kids whose parents were carrying their lanterns for them.  We all looked askance at each other (because we couldn’t hear a thing over the pre-concert music) and gave each other that nod, which turned out to mean “Let’s give this a miss, and listen to the fireworks while tucked up in bed.”

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Doing our bit.
Thursday 12th July - Fumay to Haybes

Some might suggest that we could have cycled to Haybes faster than it took to untie the boat, and who would we be to argue with them.  Although three kilometres is not the shortest distance we’ve travelled in a day, this journey made longer because we had to travel on the outside of the curve relative to the cycle path, it does make for a fairly relaxed breakfast cruise albeit without time for a second coffee. 

There’s a noticeable tidiness about the towns we have been visiting lately, a sure indication that we are nearing a border.  At the top of those hills just a few hundred metres away lies Belgium, and there’s obviously some sort of genetic overspray that carries down the valley on the river mist which causes a cleaning and tidying fervour from time to time and perhaps a desire to keep things that way.  Twice in two days we’ve noticed paving being pressure washed for instance.  

Every now and then we come across vestiges of that delightful French lack of order, and sometimes when we do,  for instance when passing those tiny “free library” stations it is impossible to restrain the one in our midst who values tidiness above all else. Taking it upon herself to ensure that the contents are straightened and sorted if not catalogued into a state more in keeping with the tidiness of their surrounds is a certain sign that she is feeling more at home as each day goes by.  

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Cone of Silence
Wednesday 11th July - Revin to Fumay

Today seemed a bit like living in a post-apocalyptic haze, in a lonely world almost devoid of other life.   There was certainly a flurry of activity first thing in the morning as too many boats raced off far too early in a vain attempt to be the first to the nearest lock.  Even having given them half an hour’s head start after lock opening time, the last pair were still not quite away by the time we got there.  No doubt they had a much longer day planned than the dozen kilometres we would travel in the day.

It’s hard to say whether France was hung over from its big night, or whether its simply readying itself for the weekend which will see both the National (Bastille) Day celebrations and a World Cup outcome on successive nights, but whatever the case there was nary a sign of life in Fumay.

It’s a delightful place, jam packed with the sort of physical charm that only a village built on the side of a hill in the middle of a slate mine can muster, complete with well tended flower boxes and beds and a port of which it can be proud, a certain indicator that life exists somewhere.   Today though, even the proprietors of its famous (and permanent) riverside chip wagon failed to make an appearance.  As the evening began to close around the hills and us, we took a photo to remind us of all the port-side activity, and we too retreated from view.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

All is calm, all is bright.
Tuesday 10th July - Revin

Everything was calm this morning as we wandered through the old town, some might even say deathly calm, the eye of a storm kind of calm.  Not everything was bright admittedly, but there were an awful lot of brand new flags flying that were, and given that we are less than ten kilometres from Belgium as the poule flies, (very) occasionally the flag of that country could also be seen as a sign of some sort of contrary bravado or perhaps in the a failed attempt to give it equal air time.

That was this morning. Tonight, hysterical is one way of describing the scenes on the streets after the match perhaps the only way.  While just a minute before the full time hooter sounded the village was blanketed in silence, a second after every car that ever there was, and perhaps a few more  took to the streets with horns blazing, flags and bodies flying from every orifice.  

The super foolhardy rode on the tops of cars, a giant tricoleur or even two streaming behind, or they would have been streaming had the traffic not been in a complete jam in the misty rain. For more than an hour this continued, with sirens, fireworks and flares added to the cacophony in a madness that makes one shudder at the thought of what might happen in the event of a win next Sunday.

This Cruising LIfe
Monday 9th July - Monthermé to Revin

We had to tear ourselves away from Monthermé but we did so knowing that we’d be arriving in the no less attractive Revin in time to catch up with all the bits and pieces we may well have neglected over the last few weeks.

While the village watched over our laundry drying all over the inside of the boat,  in the absence of weather more suited to having it outside, we fiddled and cleaned and among other things finally brought our log and this journal up to date.

With all that cleared away, we expect that normal transmission will be resumed on the morrow!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Ups and Downs.
Sunday 8th July - Monthermé

Anthony has a touch of the mountain goats in his DNA we suspect, but when he pointed to the top of the exposed rock shelf on top of the hill overlooking the port and expressed his desire to climb it today, we felt compelled to accompany him.  Besides, we like it here and it gave us an excuse to stay another day.

By the time we got our collective acts together it was not quite late enough for lunch but since it’s always time for hot chips,  before setting out we made a brief stop at the “Palais d’la Frite”, a van so small that the proprietor sits in the carpark peeling his spuds and chopping them into chip sized bits before plunging them into his secret boiling grease which renders them perfect for pre-climb fortification.   

“Climb” is quite possibly a slight exaggeration for a walk up a hill, even if it was a bit steep and shaley at times through the forest, and one could hardly complain about the weather.  There was just enough difficulty in the journey to make us feel vastly more satisfied with the view than those who had travelled all but the last few metres by car, but it is strange how no difficulty at all is present on the downward journey.   It’s enough to almost make one feel slightly ashamed of all that puffing on the way up!

The view from the living room.
Saturday 7th July - Monthermé

We had planned to move on today to catch up with Denise and Anthony, but since the two day music festival being held beside their mooring proved to be louder and of an entirely unsuitable genre for quiet contemplation let alone sleep, they decided they’d come to us instead.

We looked around for a bit, thought “we can cope with being here another day”, cranked our roof open and went back to reading our books until they arrived.

Then, well then I am guessing that to an outsider our boat may well have resembled the streets scenes after France’s win yesterday, only without the flags and dancing.  Or the car horns.  Or the mad cheering.  Actually it probably didn’t resemble those scenes at all, but the four of us did share rather a long and pleasant evening chatting without any of us coming up for air, and not too many of our neighbours seemed to be disrupted.

Football Fever
Friday 6th July - Charleville-Mèziéres to Monthermé

We are in the beginning of that particularly beautiful part of the Meuse now, where it meanders with intent and the hills crash seemingly vertically into the river. The buildings are an eclectic mix of stone and brick with some plastered and painted to provide perhaps not an accidental harmony.

It was deathly quiet in Monthermé when we arrived.  There was not a sign of life, yet occasionally the entire village seemed to heave with a gasp or a roar that seemed to be rumbling from the very core of the mountains beyond.   The World Cup quarter final was being played and the inhabitants were clearly invisibly connected behind their shutters, creating something akin to a giant public address system.

As we walked through the deserted streets we were bemused when we noticed the only sign of life, a small group of children playing football, disappeared as we approached.  Then we realised that half-time had ended and they were racing back indoors to glue themselves to the broadcast.  Eventually it finished and the mayhem began.  Cars by the score bedecked with flags with sirens and klaxons blaring took to the streets in a never ending procession, people in funny wigs began dancing and waving flags in a riot of celebration that lasted for much longer than we would have thought a mere quarterfinal deserved.  

We can only wonder what might happen in the event of a final victory.

With the chance of a thunderstorm.
Thursday 5th July - Lumes to Charleville-Mèziéres

We planned to take lunch in one of the cafe’s downtown in Charleville, but as we reconnoitred the menus on offer, our desire to partake declined in direct proportion to the heat of the noon-day sun and the amount of smoke and electronic vape in the immediate vicinity.  Sometimes, outdoor dining can be a less than pleasant experience for those of us not seeking to add further to our carcinoma count, nor to breath the fumes of someone else’s smokey exhalation.

While passing a baker’s window, an immediate solution presented itself and we repaired to the comfort of our little floating home laden with fresh bread and a modicum of promisingly sweet sticky stuff, one of us having given an undertaking to return with the other while she pursued a recreational activity, something she calls “shopping”, when our luncheon had been completed.

In the very short space of time it took to consume our goodies, the sun had disappeared, to be replaced by a sky filled with obvious intent.  Clearly it would have been very smart to amend our plan for the afternoon entirely.  One of us completely undeterred, turned as she walked towards the door and asked: “Should we take an umbrella?”


Monday, July 09, 2018

Twists and turns.
Wednesday 3rd July - Mouzon to Lumes

We gave Sedan a bit of a swerve.  Last time we visited, we found that city “quite interesting”, in a “tired but possibly not happy” kind of way.  We have heard nothing since to indicate that it’s cheered itself up, in fact we’ve heard quite enough to conclude that it probably hasn’t, so passed the turn we went,  as though it wasn’t there.

It should be noted that there is a limit to how big a swerve one can take in a river of limited width, but as the river by now is a wildly meandering thing, a little swerving goes mostly unnoticed among fellow navigators. Thus we continued into the early afternoon until we reached the little spot we’d marked just outside of Charleville-Mèziéres

The mooring at Lumes somehow seems to be overlooked by pretty much everyone in the rush to be somewhere else.  A few like minded individuals deigned to stop in this leafy little place, leaving just enough room between us for even the largest of private ships.  We settled in to a satisfying afternoon of peaceful seclusion interrupted only by the shouts and cheers as play continued on the football oval right beside us between the crackling of lightning as thunder storms passed over until well into the evening.

Tuesday 3rd July - Stenay to Mouzon

Oh yawn!  Here were we thinking “we can’t use that photo” it’s just another snap of a thousand year old cathedral through just another thousand year old city gate, and then we remembered what a novelty it once was for us to discover that “old” is not anything made before 1982.  

Mouzon is the perfect village to remind oneself of that, with it’s ancient gardens and ancient abbey and ancient walls and it’s ancient craft and felt museum, but seriously we’ve seen all that before and while we are not for one second taking all this old stuff for granted, nor the life we have invented that enables us to just pop in to visit beautiful places such as this on not much more than a whim, the bakeries here are splendid.

Perhaps the only thing better than exploring ancient monuments, is exploring ancient monuments with the tang of a lemon tart resting lightly on one’s breath, accompanied perhaps, by the faintest smudge of icing sugar on the corner of one’s mouth, but really, who wants to see a photo of a lemon tart?


Why it takes so long to go to the shops
Monday 2nd July - Stenay

Sometime in the past week, our orchid turned up its toes, or at least its flowers did, passing away silently from hitherto undiagnosed causes.  Thankfully we found an new orchid which we will call “Mark”, short for mark II, in a not inexpensive florist shop, which had apparently received the odd dab of paint and an internet connection and had therefore survived happily it would seem, in the heart of the same village described yesterday.

Apparently a little pink orchid, cheery though it may be by itself, is not enough for our little boat, so the cheeriness gets added to whenever an opportunity presents itself.  While walking to a supermarket a few kilometres from the boat, it is fair to say that so many opportunities abound that it’s a wonder that we are ever able to return in time for tea.

We did though, thankfully in time to enjoy yet another splendid night with Ian and Lynda, swapping lies and charts and course notes  before once again heading in our opposite directions.

For Sale. Suit Handyman -.
Sunday 1st July - Dun-sur-Meuse to Stenay

In many towns of a particular size, what once were vibrant if not thriving little centres have been displaced by larger if not gigantic “big box” developments on the outskirts of towns.  This is a sad thing for those whose romantic ideal would have them purchasing the daily supplies from an elderly madam with her life’s journey writ large on her apron, but not a terribly bad thing for those who want to live in a similar standard to the rest of the western world.

It’s not as though the writing has not been on the wall for some time though, shops now deserted have not felt any love for decades and it’s interesting, although pointless to surmise how the present may have looked for some of those businesses had there been a lick of paint here, a dab of brasso there, and perhaps a high speed internet connection.

There are a few butchers surviving in downtown Dun-sur-Meuse, but there are also a few opportunities that present for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit, combined perhaps with a romantic financial death-wish.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

High on the hill - no lonely goatherd.
Saturday 30 June - Consenvoye to Dun-sur-Meuse

Last night’s stay was in the shadow of a grain silo. Quiet and peaceful though that may have been, it was not, as they say in the Brisbane Valley “Picture Esk”.

Today’s spot is a little different, with quaint little houses built beside converging mill streams, with a great Gothic church from the fourteenth century overlooking it all.  “After centuries of warfare, it is now the only historic building left in the upper town”, says the description in the brochure.  This in a town where many of  the lower village buildings are still visibly scarred from wars of a somewhat later time, and as always the impact on us is sobering if not sombre-ing. 

It’s an arguably more civilised kind of war being fought at high volume on a television set today as we browse the shelves in the grocery shop.  Argentina is a goal ahead of France well into the second half, and the shop-keeper is not looking at all happy.   We consoled her as best we could in the face of what seemed like certain defeat.  “Ah”, she said with a dismissive wave of her hand, “It doesn’t matter, we will still come to work tomorrow.”

By some miracle, France made a comeback in that match, and we moved on, unsure whether the shop would be open tomorrow or not.

Footy Fever.
Friday 29 June - Vacherauville to Consenvoye

There’s not much to do in Consenvoye on a Sunday.  

This was Friday though and there was less on offer than one would expect on a Sunday, when at least the after-dinner strollers would appear. One could perhaps be excused for thinking that there may be more to see in the village centre, but the village has no centre.  Perhaps everyone was resting in preparation for tomorrow, for tomorrow is the big one, or at least the first of the big ones, when France plays Argentina in the first knockout match of the Football World Cup.  

There is a bit of a colourful spinoff to all this inactivity though.  Many houses and public buildings are decorated with flags and bunting.  Some even have flower displays in appropriate colours bringing buildings to life where otherwise none is visible.  

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Underway once more
Thursday 28 June - Verdun to Vacherauville

We were truly tempted to stay another night, but after more than a month under way, we have barely covered a quarter of the distance to what we hope will be our new home in Diksmuide.   We have reduced the distance by road by more than an hour thus far, which is something.  

However, while forward progress is desirable, we knew a spot which we could get to by morning tea time and there there didn't seem to be any sense in overdoing it .

Therefore, after a less than arduous day in which the nice young lady in the lock insisted that we tether to a bollard with the result that one of us had to actually uncoil a rope for a bit, and we we had to provide cheery waves to three fishermen as well as to four passing cyclists, we gladly settled into our new mooring for a bit of a spell.  Here is where we spent two days a few years ago, patiently waiting for the nineteen seconds that the Tour de France would take to pass us by.   This time there were no waiting crowds to accompany us, just the splashes of the fish, the song of the birds and one or two monster houses which have sprung up on what once was wheat field to wink at us during the night.


Tuesday, July 03, 2018

We have seen the future.
Wednesday 27 June - Verdun

It’s slow admittedly, and it’s a little bit creepy too, but it is the way of the future, no more a product of science fiction or futurists wild imaginings.

Obviously refreshed after it’s weekend off, the little bus seemed quite cheery, magically stopping to pick us up, heading off when we were safely aboard and departing (when it was safe to do so).  Astonishingly it watched and went around a car which baulked while leaving a parking spot, gently but firmly asserting itself when another tried to cut in, stoppping for cyclists and pedestrians and eventually deposited ourselves back where we had begun.   There’s an operator on board to ensure that passengers don’t run riot, and to turn on the lights at roundabouts to overcome the built in politeness which would leave it stalled forever calling “after you”, but we left it in no doubt that we have seen the future and the future is happening earlier than perhaps we thought it might.

Midnight happened earlier than we thought it might as well, and although we were very tempted to remain in the present company for just one more day, we returned to our little boat steadfast in our resolve to depart in the morning.

New Besties
Tuesday 26 June - Verdun

Chris and Ann introduced themselves and by the time we’d shown them ours and they’d shown us theirs and we’d told them where we’d been and they’d told us where they’d been and we told them where we were going, and they told us where they were going and we’d gone to a cafe to watch France draw the football with Denmark thereby ensuring Australia’s elimination from the World Cup, it was very dark outside and there was only the washing up to do before bedtime.

Then we realised that we hadn’t had time to ride the autonomous bus and we’d better stay just one more day.

Odd Jobs
Monday 25 June - Verdun

We had not intended to stay today.  We were actually hoping to ride on Verdun’s Autonomous Bus, yesterday tick that box and skelter out of here at first light, but we had forgotten that all things automatic in France need their rest as well, and so it is that the bus spends Sundays and Mondays tucked up in its spot in the old market hall, sipping on electricity and doubtless poring over its maps to ready itself for the stresses of the week ahead.

We felt it important that we make the effort, and since the lovely community at Verdun don’t charge anything for the use of their mooring facilities, there was a certain economic sense in staying just where we were.   

In an effort to set an example to the city, we set about making a few repairs on board, nothing that could not be fixed with a bit of tape and a dollop of silicone of course, or perhaps just one more turn of a nut here and there.  Nothing that could not be interrupted by the arrival of yet another Australian boat in port either to add to our ever growing community.   With so many familiar flags now flying in our vicinity, the place was starting to feel very much like the Gardens reach of the Brisbane River.

Sunday in Verdun
Sunday 24 June - Verdun

The small consolation we drew from Tim and Marianne’s departure was a place against the quay!  Moving in to our own little spot of pontoon may well have been the highlight of our Sunday in Verdun had it not been for a succession of happy social accidents.

We had, for instance been invited to inspect progress on Andrew’s barge fitout, which turned into a rather lengthy chat over a lemon-ginger tea before becoming a full blown conversation in Peter and Ellen’s wheelhouse.  An interlude with Kurt and Judith spotted sunning themselves in a port-side café on our interminable wander back to our boat meant that when it came, lunch was taken at a time when most sensible people were thinking about dinner.

It seems that it’s not hard to fill in a lazy Sunday in Verdun, although were one ever to be stuck for something to do, one could always dress to match the flowers and find a step or two on which to idle. 

Monday, July 02, 2018

A Mousse in Time
Saturday 23 June - Dieue to Verdun

When we arrived in Verdun, the rumour mill warnings of crowded port and paucity of space to moor even the smallest of boats did not disappoint, but we had spotted a deliciously adequate space alongside and equally delicious looking barge.  The normal procedure when coming alongside is not to seek permission, but to engage in a kind of gunslinger stare-down with the occupant of the already moored vessel.    When he or she blinks, one then flashes out with lines and fenders, preferably completing the process before any protest can be voiced, after which all settles in to a happy often even welcoming co-existence.

The occupants of our target in this instance, were clearly unaware of this code.  There they stood as a welcoming committee, ropes at the ready and an invitation to afternoon tea too, even before we’d settled dear old Mr Perkins for his rest. 

Chocolate mouse for afternoon tea, is something of a Belgian tradition according to Marianne, and it’s a splendid one we think, although afternoon tea on one boat soon blurred into dinner on another over conversation that at times was as urgent as if there would be no tomorrow.  

Since they were moving on in the morning that was actually quite close to the truth, and as the sun hung low in one end of the sky, the moon a little higher in the other, we made a pact that somewhere, somehow, sometime in the future our paths would cross, and when it did we would complete those unfinished conversations. 

A small diversion
Friday 22 June - Lacroix-sur-Meuse to Dieue-sur-Meuse

We woke with half an intention of partying with the village this evening.  Then we eyed off the size and proximity of the pyre and wondered whether were we to remain where we were, would we end up inadvertently impersonating Joan of Arc albeit borne on a polyester boat rather than a trusty steed.

We elected to run, to find a place where we can’t be late for anything, where deer run free and butterflies abound and where the risk of conflagration was pretty much zero.  Moored in the cool of a little patch of dense forest just a few kilometres from Dieue, bounded by wheatfields and grasslands we spent a delightful few hours roaming in the afternoon.   

Whilst wading knee deep in grasslands and poppies each of us with a different agenda, one could not help but reflect on words recently read, attributed to D.H.Lawrence:-
“Women pick flowers”… he is reputed to have said, “while men let them be.”

The longest day.
Thursday 21 June St Mihiel to Lacroix-sur-Meuse

The longest day in France is celebrated in (almost) every town and village by a great Music Festival.   Anyone who can play anything takes to the cafes, streets, parks and concert halls and on that night the whole country just vibrates.  

Today was that day, and while we could have chosen to stay in St Mihael for one more night, where some streets had been closed since yesterday to allow tents and stalls and stages to be erected in time, we instead chose to see what was on offer in the much smaller village of Lacroix-sur-Meuse. 

There, things were also abuzz, but the preparations were being made for tomorrow, the population having decided apparently that one can celebrate much more loudly on a Friday.  The buzz was with the sound of chainsaws and tractors preparing firewood in what looked to be an attempt on the record for the world’s largest bonfire.  Curiously perhaps, this giant conflagration was planned in a spot so close to our mooring that it seemed we would have no difficulty at all in toasting marshmallows without leaving our bed.   

This night though after a day of noisy activity, our Music Festival evening passed under an impenetrable cloak of silence of the kind that only a shuttered village in rural France can produce.

Early birds, no worm.
Wednesday 20 June - Sampigny to St Mihiel

We figured that since St Mihael was the next major centre “on the list” for those on the great migration north, and since they would take at least several hours longer than we, there was a good chance we’d find a spot.   We were absolutely correct on both counts and a near empty dock on our arrival became something of a log jam by mid afternoon.

Feeling a little on the side of smug about all this, we happily lazed away the heat of the day watching our washing dry, delaying our usual perambulations until the evening’s cool, taking an early tea to fortify ourselves in readiness for our pre-nocturnal outing.  

As we wandered among the dying embers of the setting sun, on the far side of the village we re-discovered a tiny little square that verged on quaint.  There we found a little twilight farmer’s market and our heart rates quickened at the prospect of what we may find.  Had the empty boxes on all the stalls, save for the odd wobbly zucchini or withered rhubarb leaf not given us a clue, the contented stall holders idly chatting over beer and wood fired pizza certainly did.    

“Perhaps you should have been here a little earlier monsieur”.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

At a Snail’s Pace
Tuesday 19 June - Commercy to Sampigny

It’s holiday time and we are heading in the wrong direction on what our friends call “la route de la choucroute” - (the sauerkraut route) named because scores of German (and Dutch) holiday makers come screaming up the Meuse River, turn left then pedal to the metal until they reach the Rhine, where they roar down that as fast as they can in order to get home in the two or three weeks holiday time they have been allowed for the year.    

Typically because navigators of this ilk are in a hurry, they tend to travel long distances in a day, congregating in the major centres for a single night before racing off to be the first to the lock in the morning.  As a consequence, the quays and pontoons in the major centres are rather cramped affairs at this time of year, while all the smaller lesser known villages are blissfully overlooked.   

Having spent a few days in Commercy in the past, we had no compelling reason to remain double-stacked for more than one night.  Therefore alone in our contra-direction we managed a delightful early start and to arrive where we were going quite possibly before the tangle that we had left was fully unravelled.   There is something to be said for having morning tea at the end of a day’s work.  It’s even better in the shade of a lovely tree with a nice pontoon and an entire park all to ourselves quite near an almost abandoned village.

Oddly, we don’t think of ourselves as tourists, in our minds we live here.  Our boat is our little shell, so we have a sense of something akin to “belonging” where ever we are.   Those others racing past, they are the tourists.  There is no logic in that, but that is the way it is.

A Literal Reminder
Monday 18 June - Eauville to Commercy

We’re in one of those parts of the world where even if one wanted to pretend that the wars of the past century did not occur, one could not.  Our last journey in this territory marked the centenary of the beginning of the first World War and a journey for us visiting the scenes of some of its horrors.  

Four years later, the build up to the  commemoration of it’s end is in full swing.  While we have no intention of revisiting many of the historical sites and museums, we are sure that this little literal  memorial in Eauville will not be the last time in the next few weeks that we find a lump welling in our throats.

“And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”. (Isaiah 2:4).
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