Chevroches, Canal du Nivernais

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Pretentious. Moi?

Warning - gratuitous product name dropping you may find offensive.

I was amused recently to discover that we have apparently joined the ranks of the 'chic'. Here we were, moored beside a pretty village in Franche Compte enjoying a very late and pretty ordinary ( or so I thought) lunch of bread and cheese and a glass of the local white. We were both reading the day's English newspaper which had been magically delivered to our Kindles via Whispernet. (Yes, I know it's not chic to read at the table but we're about to more than make up for that).
He was still on the front pages which were filled with stories of rioting and looting in English cities whilst I, having had enough of that depressing news, had flicked to the magazine section and promptly choked on my crusty baguette necessitating a gulp of wine before I could read on.
Me. 'What do you think of the fromage?'
Him, barely looking up. 'You mean the cheese? S'okay. Prefer the blue though.'
Me. 'No, it's not just 'cheese'. It's Compte and it's referred to as fromage even when you're speaking English. And I think by 'the blue' you really mean Roquefort.'
He's looking at me now. 'What are you talking about?' (expletive omitted)
So, I had to explain that according to this article, the 'fromage' (as it was called throughout) we were eating with insufficient appreciation is the latest 'must have' on the fromage plattters of the 'chicest' dinner parties in England. You will, apparently, be unlikey to find it in your local supermarket so it needs to be 'sourced' from farmers markets. Not only that, if you haven't already bored your guests quite to death with your wine knowledge you can finish them off by describing the cheese in similar detail. Apparently, like wine, cheese has hints of this and notes of that. I can't remember what they were in this case but perhaps they were hints of meadowsweet and buttercup and notes of cowbell.
Me. 'The fromage is best enjoyed with a glass of this Jura wine apparently.' I'd bought the wine at the only shop in the village - the baker. Or, as we fromage-y people say - the boulangerie.
Him. 'I'd sooner have a cold beer. But then, that would be a ploughman's lunch and I suppose that's not chic'.
And we both went back to reading the front pages about the hoodies sourcing doughnuts, crisps and cider from Tesco  Express to enjoy whilst watching themselves on previously sourced flatscreen tvs.
Cows with Bells. Franche Compte fromage producers.
-and a rather curious young one watching us in a lock

We have now left the mountains and spectacular scenery of Franche Compte and are once again in Burgundy. One thing I won't miss is the sound of churchbells. Every village is clustered around a pretty church with the distinctively shaped and attractively tiled clock/bell tower of the region. The bell chimes the hour as you would expect. Often twice, after a pause of a couple of minutes, just in case you missed it the first time. They also chime the quarter hour - once for the first quarter, twice for the second and three times for the third. Again they often do this twice, in case you missed it the first time. Now, during the day this is fine. Should you feel the pressing need to know the time to the nearest quarter of an hour you don't need a watch but during the night it is enough to drive you to insanity. The locals seem sane so either they're used to it, have triple glazing or sleep with earplugs. Actually I think they just like bells. Even the cows wear them (notes of cowbell).
Typical Franche Compte Churches
Stuck in a stop lock

This full size commercial got stuck fast in a stop lock in Rochefort. We thought we'd be held up for days but in the event we only had to wait a day whilst they lowered the level of the canal and then refilled it once the barge had been freed.

Our Scottish guests kindly took the rain away with them and we are back to scorching days. We have decided to book our boat into the marina here in St Jean de Losne for the winter which is a load off our minds. So now we can relax even more and enjoy our last 6 weeks.

Restaurant at St Jean de Losne handy for our boat - that's her in the background. Had an interesting dinner of boeuf bourguignon served (on the same plate) with chips and lots of lettuce. Only 13 euros for a 3 course meal though. The large barge opposite had to move the next evening as there was a fantastic firework display set off from that very spot. We had the best seats in town.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Welcome Visitors

We love having visitors and are really appreciative of the long distances people travel and the convoluted routes they are prepared to take in order to find us (not to mention the even more involved route they might have to make to return home). Our somewhat lackadaisical approach to planning means that we're never quite sure where we're going to be even a week hence so I'm afraid intending crew have to be pretty resourceful, adventurous types prepared to make their final travel arrangements at the last minute. If you're thinking of joining us over the next month or so I can say with certainty that we will be in France (although we are very close to both Switzerland and Germany at the moment) and with some confidence somewhere in Franche Comte or Burgundy. Unlike some other countries France has maintained an excellent train network which generally works efficiently and as canals and railways often share similar routes we are usually not too far from a station. I say generally because there is always the possiblity of a strike or some unforseen (by us at least) stoppage for line works. As happened to Libby and Brian who left us this morning from Baumes les Dames on a rather tortuous trip back to Edinburgh. They joined us last week at Besancon (having been emailed their destination station a couple of days earlier - all very secret mission-ish). Not knowing our plans they had booked return flights from Paris to Edinburgh but decided to arrange the trains back to Paris from here. Not a problem, normally, but today and tomorrow there is a problem. Unfazed, they arranged a somewhat  longer journey via bus and train and involving a bit of waiting around which they cheerfully accepted as good opportunities for cafe stops.

Besancon is a lovely old walled city overlooked by the UNESCO world heritage site citadel (which, apart from containing a couple of museums, also has a zoo with a poor, lonely kangaroo in it.

I bet he doesn't enjoy winter here).
Besancon Citadel

River Doubs from Besancon Citadel

 There's a lot to see from Roman ruins to Renaissance buildings and more and we spent a hot couple of days exploring. The streets are wide and paved and the stone of the buildings is a lovely gold, pink and blue.

Antique carousel at Besancon


The River Doubs loops around the city walls, and can be navigated with care (not sufficient care from us I'm afraid - we managed to bump the bottom once)

and then through a tunnel beneath the citadel.

Tunnel entrance Besancon

We had been told by many people that the Doubs river valley from Besancon towards the Rhine was spectacular scenery wise (a bit like Scotland) and so it has proved. Unfortunately some good Scottish mist and rain  followed our guests here and we've had a wet few days (making it even more like Scotland).

No-one's spirits were dampened though and we've had a lot of laughs (some credit must go to Chic Murray), great food, wine and 'Glesga patter'. So, thanks Libby and Brian (a man prepared to hike more miles than you'd believe in search of a baguette) for your great company and see you soon in Oz.

Monday, 1 August 2011

This is the Life

Well things could be worse. At last the sun is shining. We are now on the River Doubs which is in cow bell  distance ( heard them today) of Switzerland. The river is pretty but there are very few places to stop which becomes more of an issue the nearer it gets to lock closing time. The canalised sections of this navigation are in a very poor condition and so it's difficult to moor except where there is a pontoon ( practically nowhere). And even if there is a pontoon, hard luck if you happen to want to tie up on a Sunday. There'll be a fishing competition and there's no arguing with French fishermen. We tried and lost.  We've had a long couple of days with every stop already occupied and so lunches on the run.

A rather prettily lit tunnel.

We are now in Besancon.