Chevroches, Canal du Nivernais

Saturday, 23 October 2010

- and home

via Amsterdam and Singapore. They seem to have finished renovating Amsterdam Centraal Station and it now looks nothing like the old one. Confusion. New smart card ticketing system  for trams, trains and buses. And can you easily buy a ticket?   No. We eventually asked for help and were told, 'Look, just pay the tram driver.It's easier' Being in Holland the driver speaks perfect English and being in Amsterdam he's used to helpless foreigners and is most gracious. Once we get off the tram we have no clear idea of the direction of our hotel despite me printing out Google map instructions. Enough said about them. Let's just say that the next 30 minutes were the closest we have come to parting company - ever. Thank goodness for Dutch people who speak English and are keen to sort you out and set you on your way. You just need to swalllow your pride and ask. Anyway, we eventually find our hotel, which seems ok, park our bags and go out for dinner.
I really like Amsterdam - for lots of reasons. It has beautiful streets and canals, interesting museums and art galleries etc. and at the same time it's a bit seedy. It's always been a 'place to go' but nowadays it's a cheap place to go for a weekend and the weekend we were there happened to coincide with the 'pre-going to university/college for the very first time' revellers. Mostly British but joined by enthusiastic antipodean backpackers. I'm sure they were all having a very jolly time - at least in the early part of the evening - but vomiting your way around town is unpleasant both for the person doing the puking and the rest of us who either have to dodge out of the way of the projectile spew or pick our way  around the puddles in the cobbles. It says a lot for Amsterdam that these kids all seem to get back home in more or less one piece.
By contrast Singapore, where we had a couple of days stopover on the way back to Australia, couldn't be more well behaved. I dread to think what would happen to you if you threw up in the street here, there not being one single scrap of rubbish blowing around. Alcohol is much too expensive for over indulgence and the alternative carries a death sentence so there's no evidence of that. I'm not sure if it's so clean and well behaved because of the laws or whether it's because of the 'education' of the populace. The underground (MRT) which is a safe, cheap and fabulous way to get around has little jingles that play as the trains arrive in the stations 'Train is coming, train is coming, train is coming! Start queuing, love your ride!' (queue on lines painted on the platform).
And whilst you're waiting for your train they show very graphic safety videos showing the after effects of being run over by a train which seems a little difficult to me as the train lines are behind closed doors.
Fountain in Singapore Botanic Gardens.  A far gentler way to pass on a message (below) than that employed on the MRT.

click to enlarge

Anyway, we are now back home on the Mornington Peninsula in Australia. Spring is here, the grass is chest high and apart from the birds singing it seems so very quiet. Also after living in the confined space of the boat for 5 months our house seems huge! (and so much more to clean....)
Thank you to all of you who joined us on the boat over the summer. I am going to attempt to put up pics of all of you. Thanks also to the many wonderful people we met on our travels. We had a fabulous summer and we hope to see many of you again next summmer. And if you haven't been aboard L'Avenir as yet - well, what about next year??
I'll sort some pics shortly....

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Beat the Shrug

I've mentioned the Gallic Shrug before and the last few days have given me the opportunity to see it in action more than I'd like. There are those who deny that it exists but as someone whose French speaking skills are limited and who is looking for every body language cue I can get to help me understand what's going on, I recognise the shrug when I see it - no matter how subtle. It can range from the obvious (and unusual) raising of the shoulders and lifting of the hands to the slightest tremor of one eyebrow accompanied by the ghost of a smile. The meaning is always the same though and if you're on the recieving end you may as well save your breath (and sanity) and give up there and then. The best equivalent I can think of is 'computer says no'.

Perhaps at this point I should outline our plan for the last week.
Take the boat to Migennes.
Moor at boatyard.
Clean and pack up.
Winterise boat.
Have boat craned out of the water.
Inspect hull and bowthruster and see what needs to be attended to next spring.
Take train from Migennes to Paris.
Take train from Paris to Amsterdam.
Night out and hotel in Amsterdam.
Get to Amsterdam airport.
Fly to Singapore.
2 nights Singapore.

So we leave Auxerre and manage through the 8 locks to Migennes without drama despite not having any bow thruster.

Problem 1.  The only person at the boatyard able to operate the crane has gone on holiday and won't be back until after we've have flown to Australia. What's to be done?


So we continue up through another lock onto the canal du bourgogne into Migennes itself, plug into the electricity and spend our last few days there packing up the boat as best we can and arrange to take the boat back down through the lock the day before we catch our train to Paris.

Problem 2.
I have booked our train tickets over the internet using our one remaining back up credit card (since our usual credit card's been cancelled). They have to be picked up at the station but there's a problem with the card ( we've never used it before) and no we can't have the tickets. No we can't cancel the booking. No we can't book another seat. What's to be done?


Problem 3.
It's the day before we need to go to Paris. We need to get the boat down early through the lock to the boatyard where we've still got  several big jobs to do to finish winterising her. Then  we'll  just have tie her up and leave her and hope for the best. But, there's a swimming race on and so the keeper shuts the lock from 10 until 12. Ok, we'll come at 12 then. No, it's my lunch time from 12 'til 1 you'll have to wait.
You couldn't perhaps have your lunch while the lock's shut?


Problem 5.
Gare de Nord Paris. We need to sort out our ticket from Paris to Amsterdam. 30 ticket windows. 28 have a notice saying 'ferme' (shut). We join a long queue. One of the two windows deals with customers fairly quickly. At the other a man tries vainly to get his ticket sorted out. We watch him for 45 minutes as we wait in line. I could have told him after 5 minutes that he might as well give up. That s the moment I spotted the first shrug.  Three soldiers are patrolling armed with machine guns because there's a terror alert. They ignore the arguments and actual fistfights breaking out in ticket line as people are missing trains and others attempt to jump the queue to the one open window - it's probably a daily occurrence. Eventually we get to the head of the queue. Our train will soon be departing.The ticket man tells us there's nothing he can do to sort out our booking and I'm noticing the telltale pre-shrug signs (there's a whole list of those).  I frantically blurt out that I don't want to cause him any trouble and please can I just pay for another ticket?
No shrug!!!
He asks for the passport of the credit card holder. Quick calculation - British or Australian? Who do they like better? Decide to go with the Aussie.
He slowly looks through the passport and sternly at us and then says that for this time he can help but next time we'd better get it right!!! A couple of taps of his keyboard later the computer says yes and spits out the tickets.
Bon Voyages!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Last Week - in Auxerre

One week tomorrow we will be off the boat and on a convoluted journey home. I've spent the last 2 days on the internet trying to organise trains and hotels. All are booked now - let's just hope that when we turn up at the station/hotel lobby everything goes smoothly. Things have not been made easier by the fact that Visa (CBA) cancelled our credit cards not long after we left home claiming that they had been 'compromised'. According to them 'someone' had tried to make a $1 dollar purchase over the internet using our cards, so hard luck to us. Who on earth would attempt a measly $1 puchase? I was particularly annoyed as I had made a point of personally visiting the bank before we left and had told them where we were going and for how long. Their emergency card replacement service (based in a call centre in a far off universe) was useless as they couldn't understand we were travelling on a boat, wouldn't deliver to a post office and if we wanted new cards we'd have to stay in a hotel. Try booking a hotel without a credit card. Is this a ruse to get us onto the expensive travel cards I wonder. They are Visa debit cards but they give you a rotten rate of exchange. Bank is a 4 letter word.

At the risk of sounding even more grumpy the weather has suddenly turned cold and wet. Nothing to be done about that. It most definitely is autumn now. For the first time in 5 months we didn't even go off the boat today. Still, despite the cold we have a million dollar view from the window - the river on one side and the  medieval town of Auxerre on the other. The river is flowing fast and the ducks pass downstream at amazing speed. How they manage to paddle upsteam beats me. Which brings me to a slight problem we have developed. Our bow thruster has died. This means that the boat is much less manoeuvrable. So far so good - the captain is being cautious and the crew has become super good at throwing ropes in locks. There's nothing like downgrading the technology to make you upgrade your skills. Only 8 locks to go......

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Non! Non! Non!

Today there was a general strike. There have been a couple over the summer but to be honest we haven't really noticed. It's a bit hard to come to grips with normal working French hours never mind when they are being 'difficult'. For instance, the entire country closes down and goes on holiday for the month of August. Want a restaurant? Sorry, 'Ferme'. Hungry foreign tourists wander through deserted towns across the country gazing forlornly at scrawled messages taped in dusty windows announcing the proprietors are off on their 'vacances' and see you in a month or so. Well, no you won't. We'll all have gone home by then. 'So what' shrugs the French proprietor - ah! the Gallic shrug. It's a pretty useful gesture. I've been practising. If it's not August and thus normal working hours then everything shuts down at mid day - on the dot (some places there's even a siren) - and everyone goes to lunch. Now, there's a bit of variation here, lock keepers generally get back on duty at 1 or 1.30 but shops often stay shut until 3 or 4pm. Unless it's Sunday, when they don't open at all, or Monday when they most likely won't open- but they might open for a bit in the afternoon. Depends.

So, today a lot of the lock keepers seemed to be 'missing'. Result was that some poor student on a holiday job had to work 3 or 4 locks. I can see a flaw in this. If a poorly paid student can manage to keep things going whilst the old guys are off on strike....

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Time to Turn Back

Chevroches on the Canal du Nivernais

Chevroches is a pretty village of stone houses, dry stone walls, stone wells, stone seats, stone steps..... yes there was once a stone quarry here. The stones were transported along the canal and where we are moored used to be the port. There are no shops unfortunately, not even a boulangerie but the countryside is beautiful. This is as far along the Nivernais that we can go with confidence as it has become pretty shallow and whilst we are keen to give this lovely canal a go in the future we don't have enough time left this year to factor in getting stuck or worse, doing any damage.The canal is much used by hire boats which have a much shallower draft than us and, as I have previously mentioned, often go at speed (they understandably want to see as much as possible in their week's expensive holiday). At the risk of sounding like a boring boatie speed is not good in shallow water; it causes wash which damages fragile banks and it causes us to run aground which is not good for my fragile temper (or for those around me). So this is as far as we can go before retracing our steps a bit to Migennes where we will leave our boat for the winter.
A beutifully kept lock on the Canal du Nivernais

Roches de Basse Ville, Canal du Nivernais


  It's not all sunshine you know! Rob did the gallant bit and let me have the one emergency poncho.

Next day - blue skies again....

Mooring at Chevroches

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Drifting at Chatel Censoir

Just came back from this market in tiny Chatel Censoir (who buys a mattress at the village market I wonder) to find our boat adrift and across the canal. We had been moored here on pins for 2 nights waiting for the rain to let up. Fortunately the local lock keeper  had spotted what was happening and  raced down in his car and was hauling her back in as we arrived leaving some unfortunate in the lock. Some dimwit cruising at car speed had caused our pins to pull out. I suppose we shoud really have been more cautious and one of us should have stayed with the boat.
Anyway, thank you lock keeper and a request to anyone thinking of hiring a canal boat. Can you please slow down when you're passing moored boats.


Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Canal du Nivernais - hire boat country

From the moment you leave Auxerre you realise things are going to be a little different. Approaching the first arched bridge we glided to a panicked halt (a contradiction I know but it just means the panic lasts lomger) when we realised that lowering the nav frame wouldn't be sufficient to get through. We would also have to pull down the canvas canopy - and don't forget the flag pole! So, a few minutes dizzying around mid river and entertaining the locals. Immediately through the bridge we entered the first lock of the Nivernais. Nice locks, keepered, worked manually and you need to get off and help. There is no commercial traffic on the Nivernais which is perhaps one reason why it has become a hugely popular tourist waterway. The other reason is that it is very pretty. So, lots of hire boats which, with all their rubber fenders, resemble dodgem cars (thanks Libby) and are occasionally driven in a similar fashion. Sharing the locks has been an interesting experience (I even met a teacher from my primary school in Scotland) but we're ever wary of feelings of superiority as they often precede some disaster. I suppose this is the way that commercial bargees have felt as they looked at us over the past  months -  exasperation tempered by mild amusement.
Many of the locks are operated by students as a not overly taxing holiday job.These are sometimes beautifully turned out young women. Where else in the world would you have lock keepers who look like they should be starring in a photo shoot for a glossy magazine? Are they so glamorous because they know they are going to be in hundreds of tourists' photos and maybe one of the photograhers might be someone famous or is it just because they are French and therefore chic? Probably the latter.
A few pics from the Nivernais so far......

A typical Nivernais bridge

Misty morning on the Nivernais
Hire boat negotiating bridge

Le Saussois - peregrine falcons here

 Sunset on the Nivernais

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Sens to Auxerre with a little 'boom boom!' on the way.

One of the joys of travelling is the unexpected. Moret-sur -Loing had surprised me in the discovery that half timbered buildings are not the preserve of ye olde England. The towns of Sens, Joigny and Auxerre are full of narrow winding streets of ancient, sagging, leaning buildings. Part of their charm is that many are pretty shabby looking - not having been given the equivalent of botox and a face lift they look their age and in my opinion all the better for it. Most of these towns are dominated by wonderful Gothic churches set high on hills. The mean streets below seem to be full of hairdressers. Being August, everyone is on holiday the only people around being tourists roaming the streets looking in vain for an open restaurant. So far I have learned that between 12 and 4 each day and for the whole of the month of August, France is closed.
At the last lock before Joigny the lock keeper was at pains to tell us something. We weren't sure what though. Eventually he pointed to the sky and said 'Boom! Boom!" A thunderstorm perhaps?? What it turned out to be  was the most wonderful firework display to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of the town in 1944. We had grandstand seats on our boat and as the almost full moon rose behind the church on the hill the lights illuminating the arched bridge over the river were switched off. A few minutes of silence passed and then a voice over the sound system read a moving speech remembering those who fought and died for France, followed by some songs of the Resistance. Then 'boom! boom!' to music. Unexpected and magnificent.
Thanksfor visiting, Libby and Brian. Also for the delicious haggis.

Joigny, R Yonne


Tour d'Horloge, Auxerre. Magnificent golden sundial on gateway to pedestrian precinct.
Following 'Elizabeth' into Auxerre

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Sloping Along the Yonne

Now September and so we're into our final month afloat. We've come a long way and every day there's something new to surprise us or snap us out of complacency. After leaving Moret-sur-Loing, ten days ago we were quickly reminded that we're not as expert as we might have imagined we were - note to self, beware smugness. Pride comes before a fall etc etc. We had been forewarned about the locks on the River Yonne but forewarned is not really fore-armed. Having passed through them I still don't know what the best way to go about it is. They are big and have sloping sides - I haven't researched why as yet.

We were locking up so I jumped off before the first one and went to check things out and talk to the keeper. He told me that I should catch a stern rope as Rob drove into the lock, loop it round a bollard  in the back half of the lock and pass it back. Then Rob was to throw a bow rope and repeat. He should then attempt to stay in the middle of the lock by using the engine and fending off with a boat hook so the boat wouldn't drag up the sloping lockside whilst I looked on uselessly from the sidelines. The most important part of this information is the bit about staying in the back half of the lock. As the keeper said, 'It's very violent at the front.' Hmmm... So, we had just got ourselves organised - sort of - when the keeper got a call and told us we'd have to move to the other side and up to the front of the lock. 'Look,' he said, pointing back down the canal. A large commercial barge was approaching and would be joining us in the lock. Thereafter it was all a bit fraught. I did the useless bystander bit perfectly though. Rob struggled manfully with ropes, engine and boathook and gave up the latter as a bad job pretty quickly but came through with only damage to his nerves.
Next lock, the commercial barge went in first and we tied up to him and it was a breeze. Further up the river you get into hire boat country and the locks have been modified so that there are floating pontoons to tie up to. The pontoons rise or fall with the level of the water which makes life much easier- quite relaxing in fact.

The Yonne is a lovely river - if they could just fit those pontoons into all the locks.

 A dapper lock keeper. Bowler hat (which he raised as we arrived and left) and safety vest. Can't beat it.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Moret - sur - Loing

Leaving Paris we cruised south on the Seine. After a day the suburbs are behind, the river widens and forest rises from the banks. A bit of a millionaires row this judging by the mansions.

There was quite a lot of commercial traffic on this stretch so you really have to tag along with one (or two or five) in order to pass through the enormous locks. The keepers generally won't work the lock until a commercial barge wants to pass through. At the final lock of this stretch we caught up with Graham and Iris, two  Australians we had met a few weeks ago on the River Marne. They have been cruising in France for years and are a mine of information. 'Follow us,' they said. 'We know a lovely place to moor.' And they did.

Moret is a lovely medieval, fortified town. Alfred Sisley, the impressionist painter, some of whose work I saw in the Musee d' Orsay lived and painted here and Napoleon slept here a night on his return to Paris from Elba. I know because there's a plaque on a wall to tell me. Another claim to fame is the butterscotch made by the nuns and once favoured by the French royals.

The bridge at Moret-sur-Loing.  Sisley painted this scene many times.

There are half timbered buildings, a waterwheel, fortifications, a lovely gothic church, the river and the canal. We had intended stopping only one night but instead have stayed for 3!
pics later just discovered I'm about to miss the market - yet again!
Missed again. I am becoming expert at this. Managed to miss the Sunday market at the Bastille in Paris - reportedly the biggest market in the city - I didn't know it was on and waited until the afternoon to go out thinking the rain might go off. It didn't.
Never mind - you'll have noticed that from the pictures that the sun is shining and the sky is my favourite colour once again!

L'Avenir in Paris

Every day thousands of tourists cruise along the Seine through Paris on one of the many, huge trip boats; the largest 'bateaux mouches' carry up tp 1400 passengers! Private boats are few and far between so for the two of us to be able to go on our own L'Avenir was a fantastic experience - a definite highlight of our summer.
We had been hoping for a sunny day but after several days of the wettest August weather that France has seen in years we were grateful that the rain held off for the hour and a half it took to do the round trip from the port Arsenal up around the Statue of Liberty (yes, there is one) and back. I would have liked to have taken longer but the trip boats travel at speed and it would take a brave or foolhardy person to delay them.
Having had a few days of walking around the sights we were by now very familiar with all the landmarks but this time, instead of trekking back and forth across the many bridges we were sailing beneath. Many bridges had excited people calling, waving and photographing us when they spotted our flag. Shouts of 'Coo-ee!' ans 'Aussie! Aussie! Ausse!' rang out. There are a lot of Aussie tourists in Paris - well there are a lot of Aussie tourists everywhere to be honest.
So, a fitting finale to our visit to Paris. We will certainly return.
Next, we head south on the Haute Seine.

The magnificent Musee d'Orsay - my favourite. In contrast on the bank is a shelter built by one of the city's many homeless people. Lots of the bridges have someone living underneath.

Someone's home on the left bank - it's not all about location, location, location.

 No, not New York!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Pouring in Paris

Our first visit to Paris, unbelievably. I'm not sure why we've never come before. There always seemed to be other more exotic sounding destinations. Paris was one of those places whose landmarks I was so used to from films and photographs that I felt I'd seen it all already and it would lack the surprise  element I enjoy when travelling. How wrong can you be? There's good reason why you can barely move for tourists here - it is quite lovely.
The River Marne which we had been following since just past Reims, joins the Seine outside Paris. The major difference straight away being the change in lock size - suddenly they were enormous and we shared the first couple with a commercial barge for the first time since Belgium. Our mooring is in the Port de Plaisance of the Arsenal which is a great location; one lock off the river, 20 minutes walk along whose banks takes you to Notre Dame Cathedral and only a couple of minutes walk to the metro station at the Place de Bastille. As everyone who has been here will tell you, the metro is a fantastic way to get around particularly when it's raining, as it is today.
I'm sure I don't have anything new to say about Paris. What has surprised me most is the sheer scale of the public buildings. Everything is just so grand - monumental. None of your thrown up in 6 months stuff here. The cost of the upkeep must be enormous but they look wonderful, perfectly maintained and security guarded by day and illuminated by night. No advertising boards, no power lines and no high rise (apart from one district). We've been here 4 days and have seen only a tiny fraction. You could easily spend years exploring. August is perhaps not the best time to visit. The queues at every venue are enormous - I spent a long hour in a queue for the loo at one museum (men don't queue. I have noticed that wherever 2 walls meet and make a corner you need to hold your nose  - outside that is!). The queue situation is exacerbated by the fact that many of the museums have installed airport type security so that on entry you have to have your bag checked and then you walk through a scanner.
Paris Plage on the banks of the Seine

But then at this time of year there is the Paris Plage where the road along the right bank of the Seine is closed off and deck chairs and sandy beach areas are set up along with boule courts, a swimming pool, bars, a bmx track, music, massage and goodness knows what else. So you can get your gear off and relax. If only it wasn't raining.

I suppose this might qualify as a high rise

Musee de l' armee - Les Invalides

From here we will be heading south so our impending cruise through the city will be as far north as we go. Tomorrow we will be mixing it with the Bateaux Mouche - trip boats carrying hundreds of passengers, travelling at high speeds and whose skippers apparently don't like private boats - and doing our own Seine tour. I haven't actually seen a single private boat going through the city since we've been here.
So first time visit but I know we will come back.