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!