Chevroches, Canal du Nivernais

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Nancy to Toul

Palais du Cardinal Louis de Rohan Savernne

My knee is improving and I can now get about in reasonable fashion with the aid of a knee brace. ‘Reasonable fashion’ is, perhaps, not quite precise as my knee accessory is, in fact, perfectly colour coordinated with my blue bathers. ‘Bathers!’ I hear you splutter. Yes, indeed. Rain jackets and fleeces, de rigeu,r last week have been put away, hopefully for the remainder of the summer. The temperature has hit the high 30s and emboldened by the admirably carefree attitude of the hordes of scantily clad Dutch boaters we’re now encountering on their annual southerly migration we’ve broken out the bathers. I’ll spare you the photos though.
After leaving Strasbourg we continued along the Canal de la Marne au Rhin stopping at Saverne and Lutzelbourg. Saverne is yet another handsome Alsation town with, once again, impressive buildings ranging from ancient half timbered houses to the immense Palais du Cardinal Louis de Rohan which overlooks the moorings. The canal from here to Lutzelbourg climbs through thick forest. Lutzelbourg is a very pretty small town in a deep valley and is overlooked by a ruined chateau. 

We arrived on the eve of Bastille Day and were briefly excited to learn that the planned celebrations included an open air dance and fireworks that night. I say briefly because the rain arrived soon after us and the whole thing was cancelled. ‘It happens every year,’ the young lock keeper told us the next morning with a resigned shrug of the shoulders (haven’t seen so many of those this year). Anyway, we had a good evening in the brasserie instead.

It’s but a short hop (haha) from here to the inclined plane and the 2 tunnels on the summit of the canal about which I have nothing further to say.

We said goodbye to Libby and Brian at Hesse (thanks again for the great company) and continued our way slowly to Nancy where we stayed for a few days. The port is very busy here and doesn’t have a great deal of room for visitors so we spent our first night in the next basin along the canal which we subsequently discovered is supposed to be for freight vessels of which there are very few and I doubt if any would stop there anyway. There were a couple of large peniches (barges) moored neither of which looked like it had moved in many years. Next morning we were woken by a large Heineken truck parking alongside us and then a couple of guys began transferring its contents to the peniche beside us. Enough beer to sink a ship in fact. After the truck  left we looked more closely at the sign on the boat’s gangway and discovered that it was a night club and open on Friday and Saturdays from midnight to 5am. As that was Friday we decided moving might be wise and so we shifted into the crowded marina.

There is much to like about Nancy. It is here that the French Art Nouveau movement was most vibrant and there are many beautiful buildings around the city as well as the lovely Musee d’ecole Nancy.

Musee d'ecole Nancy

 And then there is the Place Stanislas. As part of its summer spectacle Nancy puts on a sound and light extravaganza in the Place so our first sight of it was at 10.30 at night when it was illuminated and the square was full of people waiting for the show to begin. And what a sight – one of those places that make you (well me anyway) just stop and say wow! The light show was fabulous. We’ve been so lucky to see these this year. The Place Stanislas is exquisite during the daytime as well. It is reputed to be the finest in France and with its perfectly proportioned buildings and gilded fountains I can well believe it. We had a look inside the Grand Hotel which is on one side of the square and very grand it is too. Nevertheless if you want to bring your dog to stay that’s absolutely fine and it’ll only cost you an extra 15euro a night. Cheaper than kennels and oh, so much grander.

Place Stanislas Nancy

Next major stop was the fortified town of Toul. Another city, another light show. This time in the cathedral’s lovely cloisters. This spectacle was more low key than Nancy and had a commentary of which one of us understood about half and the other none at all but it was very enjoyable nonetheless. It was too hot to explore much of Toul during the day and it has a somewhat deserted air in the evening. The town’s Vauban designed and impressive fortifications were no defence against aerial bombardment and it was badly damaged during WW2.

We are now following the Meuse on our way to Verdun.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Inclined Plane (and reclining in pain)

Inclined Plane

Life on board has its ups and downs and I'm not talking about anything philosophical here. I mean pure and simple, physical up and down. You are either going upstream or downstream, up in locks or down, up steps or down. There are a lot of steps on our boat. Outside there are, apart from the one of varying height to get onboard or ashore,  2 on each side deck. Inside, there are 6 from the deck to the main cabin then a further 3 down to the galley and forward cabin or 3 to the stern cabin and bathroom. I don't know how many times we go up and down these each day. Possibly as many as some people do in a step class at gym (but minus the beaty music). That's good, you might be thinking, we'll be getting fit as we go about our daily lives. There's a drawback to steps though, a moment's inattention and the 'down' can be speedier than intended and the fitness benefits instantly disappear. Weight + gravity = pain.
And so it was that I as good as missed one of the highlights of this year's cruise – the  St-Loius-Arzviller Inclined Plane boat lift. The lift opened in 1969 and was built to replace 17 locks. It comprises a water filled tank in which either one commercial barge or several pleasure cruisers ties up. Guillotine gates close off each end then by means of counterweights the tank and boats are transferred either up or down the 108m, 41% slope. The journey takes about a quarter of an hour compared with more than 8 hours it took to work through the locks. The Inclined Plane is one of those engineering feats which usually has the word 'marvel' attached to it. When we arrived at the bottom the tank was out of sight at the top loading up with the tourist boat so we tied up and waited. The others went off for closer inspection and marvelling purposes whilst I stayed on board to look after the boat. We'd had a rainy morning but the sun came out and I decided it was safe to tidy away the jackets while we were waiting our turn.
The tourist boat was safely deposited and we got the green light to go just as the others arrived back and as I was poised, jackets in hand, at the top of our own inclined plane of those 6 steps down a couple of metres to the cabin. I don't know the angle of the slope but when my right foot got caught at the top and my left slid to the bottom I do know that I ended up stretched into a position that should only be attempted by ballerinas or Olympic gymnasts. Bearing no resemblance to either I instead opted for the premier league footballer option of rolling around in agony. My crewmates, having been summoned to get on the lift quick smart had no time to do other than make sure I was off the floor and lying on the couch and throw a pack of ice at my rapidly swelling knee. "I'll video it for you," said one. Thanks.
So I can't attest to the marvellous-ness or otherwise of the inclined plane. All I could see from my supine position on the couch and through our boats just a bit  too-high windows were tree tops and a couple of birds of prey (buzzards probably) circling in the now blue sky.
One week later and I can just about get around. Our extra crew has gone home and the skipper's having to become adept at single handed cruising.

Again posting via email as the advertised wifi at this port has, in the words of the port capitain  'une probleme technologique'. Seems to be a common occurrence. So hopefully some pictures in the near future. Will have to brave Macdonalds at this rate.

Monday, 16 July 2012



Internet is more miss than hit at the moment so I am trying something new
(for me) – uploading via email. I think I may have to add photos later.
We had an excellent few days in Strasbourg made even more enjoyable by the arrival of Libby and Brian. As in previous years, they managed to time their visit to coincide with a local 'spectacle'. This year it was the sound, light and water show at the old port and it was so good that I went 2 nights in a row. Much more exciting and inventive than the usual firework display. Brian took a video, a clip of which I will attempt to upload once we have a decent connection. The show runs every night for most of the summer.

 Being one of the capitals of the European Union possibly means that money is not in quite as short supply as elsewhere.

European Parliament
The city is cosmopolitan and whilst you may very well find your waiter supercilious or even downright rude he will be able to be so in whatever language you happen to speak. It is easy to get around; the historic centre is pedestrianised, there are boat trips around the river and canals and there is a great modern tram system which is efficient, doesn't get in the way of the other traffic and, most importantly for the tourist, it is perfectly simple to buy a ticket at any stop from multi-lingual dispensers  (please note, Melbourne and Edinburgh).

The Old Town is dominated by the magnificent Cathedrale Notre Dame which dates back to the 11th century and took hundreds of years to build. Inside there is an astronomical clock which does its thing at 12.30 each day – death srtikes the time and then a procession of the disciples walks past Jesus whilst a cock crows 3 times. It is such a grand and elaborate structure and there was such a big crowd of tourists that I somehow expected more bells and whistles. A man next to me told me that the maker of the clock had his eyes put out after he completed it so that he would never be able to make another but I think that's probably (hopefully) a myth.

Strasbourg is much like Colmar, only bigger. There are beautiful half timbered buildings and the lovely tanners' quarter is called Petite France (in Colmar it was Petite Venice).
We moored in the Bassin de l'hopital at the nautical club which was most welcoming and very convenient for the town – the only drawback is that you have to moor stern on which can be tricky when it's windy.
From Strasbourg we head to Saverne on the canal de la Marne au Rhine. It's cloudy and wet which apparently is due to the Jet Stream being too far south. No, I don't know why.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012


Ever since arriving in Alsace the locals have been urging me to try choucroute. It is the dish of the region, much like andouilletes in Troyes or Haggis in Scotland. So I did. I am not going to attempt to describe this dish. I'd really rather not think about it the morning after.( If you really want to know more click here) Sometimes I wonder if these 'delicious' dishes are some sort of joke to be played on the gullible tourist.
Haggis, incidentally, is a fine dish and should not be missed if you're travelling to Scotland.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

From Kembs to Colmar and Strasbourg

'Little Venice' in Colmar. The waterway running through is having repair work done so has been virtually drained - so not looking quite as beautiful as it usually does

We made it! After a hectic couple of weeks of long days and occasional short tempers we can now ease off on the pace and relax. The spectre of The Rhine is behind us and of course it was, in the end, nothing much to worry about. The locks, whilst huge are easy to negotiate as they have floating bollards. This means that you secure yourself to a bollard which then floats with you as the water level drops (or rises if you are in the unfortunate position of going upstream). My main concern had been the current, particularly after the recent storms and torrential rain. Our last stop before joinng the Rhine was Kembs where we were made very welcome at the port. The man living on the boat next to us kept us updated on the changing river level which he meant kindly but it just contributed to a similar rising sickness level in my stomach. The next morning it was still pouring so we decided to put off our departure for a day. A reprieve.
To cheer ourselves up we went out for dinner at the restaurant at the port. This is inside a beautifully converted peniche (large barge) onshore and is called, unsurpringly, La Peniche. The meal was excellent.
The weather wasn't looking much better the following day. The rain had eased but the cloud level was so low it obscured the hills on the German side of the river. However, a booking had been made for us to pass through the lock at 9am so we were committed.

Book a Rhine cruise and you'll be on one of these. First ship we met.

My fear that the Rhine would be as busy as the Dutch Amsterdam - Rijn canal with huge vessels roaring past every couple of minutes was unfounded. There were large barges but they were quite infrequent and there was plenty of room for everyone to keep away from each other. They did cause quite a bit of turbulence which tossed us around but nothing too unnerving.

The weather began to clear and it was almost relaxing

My other worry regarding the current proved to be a complete waste of nervous energy. We were moving along at a brisk pace but there are no obstructions to worry about on this section of well maintained waterway and the current drops completely away at the lock approaches.

Sharing a Rhine lock with a Dutch cruiser

-and another lock with a commercial as well

We decided to break our journey with a detour to Colmar, the capital of Alsace. The small canal leading there is little used and very weedy but full of bird life. One swan that we saw had 7 cygnets. There were hundreds of ducks - and virtually all female for some reason. We were accompanied by birdsong all the way so it was a most pleasant journey except for one thing. In the last lock of the day the keeper asked us to wait for another boat as she was about to close. They came hurrying in and, because they had weed around their prop, failed to stop and carried on straight into the back of us. Fortunately the damage wasn't severe.
The medieval town of Colmar itself was an absolute delight, its historic centre filled with beautiful, coloured, half timbered buildings which fortunately survived being damaged during WW2.

Narrow streets of Colmar

Then back onto the Rhine for a couple of hours before turning off for Strasbourg. We are now peacefully moored at the Bassin de l'hopital which is a very friendly club nautique close to the centre of this lovely city. This is the beginning of the summer festival and last night was the opening of the cathedral illumination show which everyone in town seems to have turned out to see.
We'll spend a couple of days here until we are joined by friends.

Strasbourg cathedral light show

Monday, 2 July 2012

Montbeliard to the Rhine

Halfway down the Valdieu flight into Alsace
 After leaving Isle sur le Doubs we were once again and at last, on new waters. The canal from here on was a pleasant surprise.We somehow had expected it to be industrial but for the most part it was rural and pretty. We had a welcome rest day in Montbeliard which has the Peugeot museum attached to the factory for those interested in cars, a very nice 'scientific' park for anyone interested in being mesmerised by Foucault's pendulum or twirling a huge, floating granite sphere with the flick of an index finger, not to mention  an excellent Indian restaurant (yes one of us is still on that quest). From Montbelliard we had to arrange with  lock keepers for our onward journey because, according to the girl in the tourist office, we were about to cross into a different country. We were, in fact, about to enter a different region of France, Alsace,  but it might as well be considered a different country. German is as likely to be spoken as French, suddenly the buildings are no longer stone but half timbered and brightly coloured and most people seem to be drinking beer rather than wine.
The telecommander was returned and in its place we acquired a succession of itinerant lock keepers - students on holiday jobs. Some were on pushbikes, others mobilettes and all could text whilst on the move and also as they were operating the various locks and swing bridges.

 All the locks were now downhill which was much easier, particularly as it was a scorching hot day. After an overnight stop at Dannemarie there is a flight of 13 locks from the top of which there's a spectacular view. We shared locks for the day with a very jolly couple of men on a smaller boat which was no problem at all but was unexpected as we've barely seen any other boats over the past week.

Lockeeper's gone for lunch
We decided to have a day off in Mulhouse. The port is right in town and so very convenient for the Automobile Festival weekend which attracts enthusiasts and their weird, wonderful and rare vehicles from all over France. The city is famous for its huge car museum containing a large collection of Bugattis as well as Charlie Chaplin's Rolls Royce.
Charlie and Marilyn - but not a Rolls
We didn't visit but there were plenty of cars to see in and around the main sqaure. There are a few other museums we didn't visit either including a fine train one which I felt a little guilty at ignoring (sorry Malcolm). There were musicians of all types strolling around the town and we spent a pleasant Saturday afternoon watching the world go by from a cafe in the main square.

The entertainment continued into the evening. On the Friday we were treated to Pierce Brosnan and Judi Dench speaking perfect French (who'd have thought?) at a showing of a Bond movie on a giant screen and then on Saturday night there was a concert featuring a French group (who sang quite a lot in English). I don't know who they were but they were very popular with the  huge crowd who seemed to know most of the songs.
The weather broke at midnight and it has been pouring ever since. We moved down to Kembs at the end of the canal yesterday. The marina here is in a side canal. This little canal once ran all the way to Basle in Switzerland but has unfortunately been closed for years. The only way to Basle now is along the Rhine which we walked down to have a look at having been told that, due to the rain,  it was rising at 12 cm an hour..... I rather wish I hadn't gone. So, we'll head off to the lock shortly and see what the story is. I'd much prefer to wait for things to calm down. The German hills on the other side of the river were shrouded in mist this morning. At least we can now see them but I don't feel particularly encouraged.
Next update will be from either Colmar or Strasbourg - I hope.....