Chevroches, Canal du Nivernais

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Fire Drill at Dole

Things to do on a warm Sunday morning in Dole, France:

lie in bed.....

....go to this church


don a lovely shiny helmet and play grown-up super soakers with your friends and team mates and have fun!

Friday, 29 July 2011

Changing Direction

Barbie weather at last!

We are a little surprised to be on the River Doubs (canal du Rhone au Rhine - I have to look that up every time). After leaving the Canal du Centre we cruised up the Saone to St Jean du Losne, the fabled centre of navigation in France. I'm not sure what I expected here - there are certainly plenty of boats but the town seemed less lively than I had anticipated. We stopped in Blanquarts marina for a couple of days and enquired about leaving the boat for the winter. No chance apparently - you have to book a year in advance. H20, the other big boatyard, is next door. We enquired there and they may have a place but they also directed us to their new marina at Auxonne further up the Saonne. So off we set for a look see. The cruise up the river was pleasant and quiet. There seemed to be quite a few boats coming the other way. At the lock into Auxonne we discovered why. The keeper told us that a lock further up had been so badly damaged it was closed - effectively closing off the navigation - and everyone was having to turn back. Worse still the word is it will be closed until September. So, no route north.
 We spent a night in Auxonne and decided the new port wasn't for us. The walled town, dominated by its army barracks, has some interesting buidings though.
So back down the river and then onto the Doubs. We have been told that this is one of the most spectacular navigations in France - but also a bit tricky. At the end of this is the Rhine which is described in our book as being 'not for the faint hearted'. Well that's me excused then. I'm researching bus routes.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Messing about on Rivers - again

I love canals. Want to stop?  Just pull in to the bank and hammer in a couple of pegs. But - I love rivers more. We descended the deep lock onto the Soanne and when the guillotine gates slowly slid open everything the world became bigger, wider and more relaxing. Exiting the canal cut we immediately met an approaching large peniche (commercial barge) and rather than going into panic mode (my default position) and yelling 'get into the side!' 'look out!' we just swung nonchalantly to the right with regal wave and drifted past.

Lock from Canal du Centre onto the River Saone

  A great evening of musical and theatrical entertainment in the narrow, cobbled streets of Chalon sur Saone compensated somewhat for the rather expensive night in the port. Pity about the drenching thunderstorm. Thunderstorms seem to be a daily feature recently. Usually ocuuring about 3 in the afternoon. Anyone would think we were in the tropics.

Chalon sur Saone

We are heading north along the Soanne but have not really decided on a long term plan. Today we are in the pretty fortified village of Verdun sur le Doubs which, as it's name suggests, is situated on the River Doubs - and the River Saonne, and the Petit Doubs. Threequarters of the way to being an island in fact.
L'Avenir at Verdun sur le Doubs

Verdun sur le Doubs

Afternoon thunderstorm at Verdun sur le Doubs

The ancient bridge we are moored alongside has a flood indicator on it which reaches terrifyingly high. When I feel a bit more confident about posting photos again I'll add one to show you! Success!!!
Flood indicator on the bridge at Verdun sur le Doubs

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Digoin to Chalon

The locks along the Canal du Centre are automated - supposedly. The way it's supposed to work is that you slowly approach the lock, a radar beam detects you, the lock either fills or empties depending on which way you're going, the gates swing open, the traffic lights turn from red to green and in you go. Then, once you've secured your lines, you pull on a blue rod which activates the lock for you. (Apologies to those who  read the blog last year and know this already). There are many opportunities for things to go awry and they do but eventually one, or two, or three men will turn up in their little white vans and sort things out. Unless it's lunch time.
Arriving at the first lock out of Digoin we discovered it was turned off. Eventually, little white van man arrived and told us that due to the water shortage we would have to wait until such times as another boat appeared in order to share the lock. Apparently days and days of rain had made no difference to the level of the reservoirs at the summit which supply the canal. I have to confess I don't really understand this as all the way up the canal there is water pouring over the top of the lock gates and extra water pouring over the spillways. Even at the summit there seems to be plenty. But, as I've said before, what do I know? Luckily for us another boat arrived within the hour and the keeper returned and turned on the power. The other boat was only travelling as far as Paray le Monail so Monsieur Lock Keeper told us we'd have to wait there overnight  for yet another boat to travel with. Any annoyance at a delay immediately dissipated when we walked into the little town. It is lovely.
Paray le Monial is dominated by the Basilica which has been restored and whose honey stoned interior is filled with light. Many thousands of pilgrims visit every year as a nun claimed to have had miraculous visions of Christ  here in the 17th century. There has even been a papal visit. The town is also famous for its mosaics and there are lots of artists exhibiting. We wished we'd spent more time there rather than in Digoin.

Another boat did turn up. A flying Dutchman intent on getting to the end of the canal as quickly as possible. We travelled with him for a couple of days but eventually the pace was too much for us and we suggested he went on himself. I don't know whether the rain has eased the situation or it's just that we were getting further away from 'head office' but the rule about sharing locks seems to have been relaxed. Sharing locks can be entertaining though. (There was supposed to be a picture here of a boatload of English wine buyers on an all expenses paid tour of Burgundy but disaster has struck and all my recent photos seem to have been deleted by my computer. I'm a bit upset....)

This canal has been very scenic as it winds its way through the rich Burgundy countryside. For the last stretch we have been high up and overlooking the slopes of the vineyards of some of the most famous French wines. Tomorrow we reach the end of the canal and will descend the 10.5m lock (that's deep) onto the River Saone.
Next stop the town of Chalon sur Saone.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Bastille Day

A year ago on this day we were in Sedan and being treated to a tornado.
This year we've had 2 days of  impressive and rather less frightening, thunder storms and about 100mm (4") of rain. (Hopefully replenishing the canal) We had decided to stay in Digoin as it is the largest town around and as such would have some sort of celebration. A firework display was due to be set off from the canal aqueduct on the evening of the 13th however the rain threatened to turn everything into damp squibs so it was called off. Weather permitting it will take place tonight. At the time of writing there are increasing blue patches in the sky so fingers crossed.

Bastille Day ceremony, Digoin

This morning we jumped on our bikes, having been stirred into action by the sounds of a brass band and pedalled off in search of the source. We eventually discovered it in the Place de la Republique (where else?)  and just in time to catch the end of the Bastille Day ceremony. It was all over fairly quickly - not quite on the scale of the Champs Elysee. Everyone seemed somewhat anxious to get away after the final salute, hauling off caps, quickly furling flags and jumping into cars - it was, after all, getting close to mid day (marked daily by a very loud hooter here).

The Pompiers (fire fighters)
 I'll add more later if I manage to get a pic of the fireworks. Not likely with my camera....and my skills.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Canal du Centre - Digoin

Aqueduct over the river Loire at Digoin

Storks nesting on roof of eglise at Digoin - you'll need to click on pic to see!

Aqueduct over the Loire

Aqueduct from above
Have nothing much to tell but we have an internet connection here in Digoin and I can't let it go cpmpletely to waste. The pictures are taken in Digoin on the River Loire. We have been told  that the water levels are very low from here on and that we need to share locks. There's even rumour that the canal may be closed by the middle of August. We'd better get a move on.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Au revoir Nivernais and Shopping Etiquette

We've arrived in Decize - the end (for us) of the beautiful canal du Nivernais and the beginning of the jauntily named canal lateral a la Loire.

What can I tell you about Decize? Well, it has 2 huge supermarkets which have conveniently provided a mooring right outside them. It also has a Lidl one mooring further along. And then, 1 further stop and you're right outside an enormous Bricolage (DIY - in Oz, a Bunnings). I'm slightly ashamed to admit that yesterday we cruised to each emporium and spent 3 hours and lots of euros shopping. So, now we have cupboards full of food and wine plus a new vacuum cleaner capable of cleaning up the crumby, crumbly mess that baguettes make. As you've probably guessed, when we walked into town today, there weren't too many businesses surviving the out of town hypermaket competition.There's a thriving market on a Friday morning though but I'm not sure of the etiquette in getting served. It's bad enough in a supermaket queue sometimes. There's a lengthy process that has to be gone through with each customer beginning with 'Bonjour' and while they are slowly packing their purchases there will be a discussion about what they've bought but haven't yet paid for the state of the nation, their granny's cold or whatever. Once everything's in the bag the customer will then begin searching for their purse/wallet and as well as a credit card/cash or often even a cheque book they'll pull out a flutter of coupons for discountswhich have to be scrutinised, added up and the bill readjusted. If paying by cash, coins have to counted out exactly, then the purse/wallet/card/cheque book is put away and the shopping picked up. Then there are the departing pleasantries of good afternoon/ enjoy the weekend or whatever. Hopefully no-one's about to go on holiday or there'll be a discussion about that. The check out 'hostesse' (they have a badge describing them as such. Don't know what the boys get. Haven't seen any on the tills- they seem to be doing the more 'manly' jobs of standing around in the technical depts or security) will watch the customer move away and then and only then turn to the next in line and 'bonjour' begins the whole process again. But at least there is a queue (lengthy as you may imagine). At the market there's no queue and how the stallholder decides who gets served and when is a complete mystery to me and I usually give up. Now you know why our shopping took 3 hours.

Speaking of spending a long time in queues....
This wonderful, long avenue (985m-was someone's ruler a centimetre or so out?) of enormous plane trees planted in 1771 is apparently unique in Europe and runs alongside the Loire in Decize. Quite beautiful.
Les Halles, Decize.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Downhill on the Nivernais

The past week has been just about perfect. After spending a recovery day at Baye on the summit of the Nivernais we set off on the descent.

First downhill lock at Baye

Locking downhill is so much more relaxing. No hauling on ropes or turbulence. Just in you go and gently float down in the watery lift. The only thing to watch out for is that you don't become so relaxed that you fail to notice that your rope has become jammed in the stonework - then things might go badly very quickly. A rare occurence, perhaps, but it happened to us once last year which is why we always have a knife on hand to cut the rope in an emergency.

The canal is still very shallow in places so I've taken my chair (and parasol) up to the bow which, being away from the engine, is a peaceful spot from which to view the countryside. Very beautiful countryside it is too. Rolling farmland of cornfields, hay bales and grazing herds of the white Charolais cattle, the occasional quiet village and, every so often, a glimpse through the trees of the turrets of a chateau.
Bid for freedom - Charolais bullock going for a stroll along the tow path

Just another chateau

Nivernais village of Bazolles

Here and there the canal banks have been left unmown and look to have been planted with a mixture of wildflowers which, apart from looking beautiful provides a habitat for masses of butterflies, bees and gorgeous electric blue dragonflies. (Although Rob may not feel quite so enthusiastic about the bees as he was stung on the lip by one yesterday). Herons tag along with us and yesterday we also saw a stork.

Before the bee sting

What we are not seeing are many other boats. There was a hire boat base at Chatillon en Bazois but they mostly seem to travel the other way which makes life much more peaceful for us. Yesterday we met only one other boat all day.
Chatillon en Bazois

Today we are having another rest day at Cercy La Tour. At least I'm resting while the deck's being repainted (the engineer having been transferred to deck duties for the day).  There is, amazingly, an Orange hotspot at the campsite over the river and as my month's subscription is up tomorrow I'm making the most of it. The town has also provided free mooring with free water and elctricity which is most kind of them. The 'tour' bit refers to the remains of a 13th century chateau tower which I haven't seen yet but must surely pale into insignificance in comparison with the enormous white marble Madonna looming over the town. She is, apparently, illuminated at night though, disappointingly, not a miraculous occurrence - just plain, ordinary lights.
Will try and add a photo later. My card reader on the computer has given up the ghost...

Thefortified  village is, in fact, very nice. The 13th century walls have been partially recnstructed but they were unable to use the original stone as it had been nicked to build houses. Notre Dame du Nivernais has a great view of the surrounding area.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Blogging by Kindle

A first - and possibly last - attempt at posting via my kindle. That should probably have the trademark symbol after it but that option's not available on the miniscule keyboard. It's painfullly slow and a bit like typing an essay on your mobile phone. But it's free to use and in the absence of any other internet connection I can't complain. I cannot, of course, upload any pictures which some people might think is the only bit of the blog worth looking at but there you go. I can always add some later. The previous post was uploaded courtesy of the local nobility. We are moored right outside the chateau at Chatillon en Bazois alongside their lovely gardens. Unfortunately, they've turned the wifi off today. Perhaps they've gone away for the weekend. The weather is spectacular and we are having a great time. My French isn't getting much of a workout though as nearly all the people we meet on boats are Aussies, Kiwis or Brits.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Land of the Long Lunch

The pace of life on the canals is slow. Recently, cruising the last 7 km and 3 locks into Clamecy on the Canal du Nivernais took us 3½ hours – an impressive, even by our standards, 2km per hour.  Snail’s pace, you might say, except that Burgundy snails probably move faster to avoid the dinner plate. We had set off at 10.30 hoping to reach our destination before lunchtime but on arrival at the first lock the gates were closed against us and there was no sign of the keeper. As the river crosses the canal immediately before the lock gates you need to wait well back in order to avoid the cross currents so we backed up 100m into an open stop lock outside the lock keeper’s pretty house and waited. And waited. There are surely worse spots to spend a summer morning.

After an hour or so 2 boats entered the lock coming the other way. Still, no keeper. 20 minutes later a 3rd boat arrived accompanied by the keeper on his bicycle. It seems he is responsible for the next lock as well. By the time the 3 boats were through and we were in the lock it was approaching 12 noon. Perfect timing for a cheery “bon apetit!” from the keeper as he trundled off on his bike for his lunch break. So, we continued our wait.
The 12 o’clock stop work for lunch is sacrosanct. Today, we called in at a boat yard for water. To ensure you pay you have to go to the office to get a tap fitting which you return when you’re finished. An increasingly agitated Frenchman hung about as we filled up, checking his watch and muttering to himself. I’ve never really thought about the origins of the expression hopping mad but there he was, actually doing it. ‘It’s full. It’s full,’ he grunted grumpily as he danced from foot to foot. It wasn’t anywhere close to full but he eventually demanded the tap declaring that if we wanted more we’d just have to come back a couple of hours later, after lunch. Time? 12 noon exactly.

We are now at the summit of the canal! Cause for celebration as we’d been told by many that our boat, at 1.2m underwater draft, was too big and we’d never make it. ‘You’ll be fine as far as Clamecy,’ they said. Well, we decided to give it a go and in order to reduce the weight at the stern we dumped nearly all of our water (no showers for a week or so…) and moved everything heavy as far forward as we could. This included me at times and at moments of crisis, I’ve done a fair impersonation of a figurehead hanging off the bow. We’ve only been actually aground once and scraped along the bottom a couple of times but we have certainly been helped by the fact that this year the canal authorities have decided to empty the huge reservoir at the summit in order to check the condition of the barrage. Coming from Australia that seems slightly scandalous and also somewhat at odds with the drought notices downstream but what do I know? Anyway, there has been plenty of water pouring downstream which has meant that the canal is as full as it’s ever likely to be.
The past couple of days have been spectacular scenery-wise but absolutely exhausting when working through the many locks in temperatures of just under 40 degrees C (the no shower policy causing further torture and not just to us I daresay).  From Clamecy to the summit (about 45km) there are 46 locks, several self (me) operated, lifting bridges

and 3 tunnels. The closer to the summit the more heavily locked it becomes culminating in a flight of 16 locks over 3.2km. Apologies for the quality of these pictures. The most beautiful part of the canal and I had my camera on the wrong setting...

We did this final flight in an afternoon having arranged with the lock keeper the night before to meet him at the first at 10.30am. By the time he turned up it was the feeling slightly peckish hour of 11.15 and really much too close to noon to make a start, so, once again, we waited.
We had one final wait at the top of the flight before entering the narrowest of cuts through the mountain and the first of the three tunnels (212m, 268m and 758m).

Because it is so narrow a one way system applies and our enforced delay of an hour or so was due to the trip boat running late. Unfortunately, during that time, the weather changed and the pre thunderstorm gloom made the trip through the creepers and waterfall gullies of the summit chasm a little less magical than we’d hoped.

Tomorrow the descent.

A word on the internet. I’m not sure when I’ll have a chance to post this but obviously if you’re reading it I have. Monsieur Orange France seems to be upset with us and has broken off our relationship…. No comment.