Chevroches, Canal du Nivernais

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A Post from Paris

When we arrived in Paris we booked into Arsenal Port for 5 days - the number of days we spent here on our last visit 3 years ago. I did add a question mark beside the date of leaving though. We are still here 10 days later! There is just so much to see and do and not all of it new to us. I could happily walk along the banks of the Seine every single day (and night is even better) for, well, years probably.
Paris is full of tourists. I was going to say at this time of the year but perhaps it always is. I don't know. Tourists + Beautiful Buildings = Queues. Long ones. So, we didn't revisit the interiors of any of the sights we'd seen before.

Queues at Sacre Coeur

People watching at Montmartre - surely the busiest spot in Paris
We've walked, metro-ed, bussed and cruised. We've been part of the crazy Mexican wave of cheering crowds that accompanyed the Tour de France cyclists as they whizzed several times around the Place de la Concorde and up the Champs Elysee at almost 60kmph.

Flyover at the Tour de France

Even queues to get into this famous bookshop
We've visited churches, galleries, the Opera, museums parks and a cemetery. We've sat in the sand at the Paris Plage with the real Parisians, eaten in restaurants and people watched whilst sipping wine and beer at pavement cafes (and what an amazing variety of people there is). We've had an impromptu quayside party with all the 'colonial' boaties (and some Brits) - and quite a crowd we made.

Paris Plage

Notre Dame from  Pont Sully. The 'lovelock'  craze. The weight of all these padlocks is a concern

We've shopped in markets, swanky department stores (well looked) and all manner of weird and wonderful little shops and boutiques (and I have to make special mention of our all time least favourite - the telecom boutique with the fruity name. 2 different branches, the first being totally flummoxed and referring us to the 'Technical Centre' who were no better. Our technician seemed never before to have even seen the little wifi gizmo we bought and had to go away and ask someone how it worked. I have now come to recognise the precise moment when they actually start just making stuff up to get you out of the shop.)
You get classy buskers in the Paris Metro stations!

But we're in Paris and I love it just as much as I did the first time round. It would be so easy to stay longer but needs must. We're off tomorrow morning. A final cruise under the bridges, past the Eiffel Tower and Paris' own Statue of Liberty.
Along the winding Seine and then towards the river Somme.
A bientot.
View from our boat in Paris. Port l'Arsenal with Place du Bastille in the background.


Thursday, 17 July 2014

All Charged Up

Saint Mammes

I have been going to French language classes on a sporadic basis for a few years now. Often I feel I am not making much progress despite spending several months each year in France. Part of the problem is that many of the people we meet on boats are English speaking and when we do speak with French people it is usually in the same daily situations - the supermarket, market, restaurant, bar etc. So whilst we're quite expert at asking for baguettes or beers we don't engage much in philosophical discussions.
The past week or so has tested my language capabilities to the limit and, Sylviane, I didn't do too badly at all you'll be pleased to know. I've already written about our wifi woes but that was as nothing compared to today's negotiations. I never expected I'd be able to conduct a conversation in French regarding batteries. By batteries I mean huge 50kg ones not those little'piles' that go in torches (and are incidentally recycled at every supermarket. Why don't we do that in Australia?). I discussed voltages, amps, starter v domestic batteries and deep cycles. Later, having made our purchases, I also had to urgently enquire about the health and distinct possibility of a heart attack with the poor man delegated to help us remove the old and install the new in the tiny and cramped space of the engine room - on day as hot as any we endure during a Melbourne summer. (To be honest I wasn't doing the discussing of the technical data. I was merely the intermediary but I did learn more than I ever wanted to know).
Anyway, today we bought 2 new batteries and as a result we are about one thousand euros poorer. On the plus side we have light and my vocab increased enormously.
A 'bouchon' of barges at the chandlery at Saint Mammes
Now on the River Seine - an extremely busy waterway.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Along the Loing to a Royal Chateau

leaving Montargis and the canal de Briare
Last year we shot down the canal du Loing at high speed - well, at all of 6km per hour. The locks were in the process of being automated. The canal was to be closed so the work could be done and we needed to get through to the next waterway before the closure or find our boat marooned for the winter. The canal is a fairly short one and quite pretty but we hadn't time to appreciate it sufficientlyso we were pleased to be able to spend a little more time this year. As it happens the lock update remains in progress. I don't know what the point of closing the canal was. They are now getting on with the work as boats pass through. There are still lock keepers between Montargis and Nemours and then again at Moret. I think we may have been one of the first boats in Nemour to receive a remote controller to operate the locks. A cheery lock keeper came round the mooring to hand them out to all the boats there. We were first through that day and a few locals came down to watch and bemoan the fact that the eclusier was 'fini'.

Commercial barge on the canal du Loing
and another making a 180 degree turn beside us in Moret
The occasional commercial still uses this canal. Unexpectedly meeting our first for the year gave us (me that is - I was steering at the time)  a bit of a start. By a start I mean a panicked call to Rob, who was busy in the bilges wearing his engineer hat, to get up top quick smart and resume duties as skipper. I'm happy to steer most of the time except when space is at a premium eg entering locks or meeting commercials on narrow canals.
We have now been in the charming small fortified town of Moret sur Loing for 3 days. We have visited here several times and it is one of our favourites. It was also a favourite of the impressionist painters also though they wouldn't have had  to contend with the modern day scourge of all these towns with a bridge over a river - heavy traffic down the main street.
Moret sur Loing

We were here for the Bastille Day holiday and were hoping for a firework display. Unfortunately they were cancelled due to heavy rain. We spent the day taking the train one stop to to Fontainbleau to visit the chateau and see the opulence of the living conditions of the 1% of a couple of hundred years ago. Breathtaking.

Chateau Fontainbleau - there are 1500 rooms! Only a realtively small number open to visit.
Gilded ceiling


Not sure the decor would induce a peaceful night. The bed is also surprisingly short.

Napoleon's throne
Horseshoe Staircase, Fotainbleau, designed so carriages could pass each other beneath
 The canal was closed fro navigation for the Bastille Day holiday but everyone is once again on the move today. We aren't going far Just up the river to Saint Mammes which was (and remains) a major barging town. We need to replace the boat'sdomestic batteries - a major expense. They have been tired for a month or so and just about gave up the ghost altogether when I tried to do some vacuuming the other day - that'll teach me.
The River Seine next. Paris beckons.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Waiting for Wifi

Chateau, Nemours
Have you ever wondered why mobile phone shops are always busy? To be honest it's not a question I'd given much thought to either - until this week. And perhaps they aren't where you live. Here in France though there is usually a queue winding around the shop and sometimes out of the door. Slow moving queues are not a novelty here as I've mentioned before. A coffee at a Macdonalds Express cafe might take 15 minutes, a train ticket 45, the supermarket checkout....well, just as long as it takes each and everyone in front of you to pack their purchases, find their purse/wallet, sort through their discount coupons, discuss their holidays (or worse, their health issues) and then perhaps decide to write a cheque. You just get used to it and mostly we don't mind. Buying a coffee, or a ticket or food shopping are all fairly straightforward purchases - we know what we want and we understand what it is and how to get it. Step through the automatic doors of the internet and communications outlet though and you enter a  world seemingly dealing in magic which no one, including the assistants, seems to understand. Hundreds of small halogen suns beat down from the ceiling reflecting off garishly coloured walls filled with the shiny gadgets that some of the customers in the queue want to buy. Others, like us, are clutching their previously purchased gadget and either don't understand how it works or want to know why it doesn't perform as promised. You can tell which customers are which. The halogens continue to light up the eyes of some despite the long wait for service but cause the others to slump in heat exhaustion.
Our problem was that the dongle which we purchased 2 years ago no longer worked. We took it to the fruitily named shop (not Apple) but they didn't know why. Come back with your laptop they said. Half hour trek to the boat and then queue up a second time. After trying all the things we had done previously, still no joy. Buy a new sim they said. We did. New sim, new account. Nothing.  After almost 3 (yes three) hours waiting and discussing ( my French, at least, is getting a good workout) and mucking around and doing our best to follow what was going on I heard the words 'system restore' (fortunately they are the same, it seems, in French). The technician intended reverting the lap top almost a year to when we'd last used the dongle. Non!!! Enough! Well, said the assistant, just take the sim and use it in your smartphone as a hotspot. The phone was on the boat. Another trek back again. Unsurprisingly, by now, that didn't work. Were they just trying to get rid of us? Back to the shop again the next day. By this time they were looking as happy to see us as we were to be there. In the end we gave up and bought their latest, new fangled portable wfi hotspot. It looks exactly the same as the cheap smart phone we have - in fact it's made by the same manufacturer. It's just not a phone. It works. But.....they didn't set it up quite correctly. Not being able to face up to another visit to the same shop we waited until the next biggish town, Nemours, and joined a new queue. Success - we think. Explaining the situation all over again to the new, and helpful, assistant his verdict on last year's dongle was it was 'just too old'. We just grew old in the queue.
Speaking of which :
this is the old abbey at Chateau Landon. It's now a rather spectacular retirement home.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Montargis - Venice of Gatinais

Over the years we have been to several towns describing themselves as 'the Venice of ____'  (complete as appropriate). I have never actually been to the real Venice (it's on the list) so I admit I am  perhaps not best qualified to comment but I have a suspicion that those coming up with what they obviously thought was a clever, original, marketing slogan hadn't been there either. The two things all these places have in common are, of course, canals and bridges. Other than that they bear little or no resemblance to each other at all. Anyway, as Venices go, Montargis, where we have been moored for a couple of days, is a rather pleasant one. With 131 bridges, a river, a lake, a navigable canal, a network of smaller canals and the remnants of ancient moats you are never far from the water. The town is also a Ville Fleurie so most of the bridges have beautiful floral displays and there are dinghies filled with flowers moored in many of the little waterways running through the town centre.

The town is overlooked by the remains of an ancient chateau which we visited intending only to look at the view over the town. However the hugely enthusiastic guide spotted us and persuaded us to join him and 3 French visitors on a short tour. The short bit was in distance. We spent about 45 minutes in the 2 rooms of the caves (cellars), another 45 minutes in the small crypt which is all that remained of the ancient church and about another 45 minutes in the still functional chapel. We weren't able to go into what the remains of the chateau as it is now a school but we did spend some time standing outside. Our guide told us, in minute detail, the history of every single thing he showed us throwing in a few local legends as well. This, all in French about a third of which I was able to understand and translate. The other 2/3rds was kindly translated for us by 2 of the other visitors who spoke excellent English having spent some time in Australia and who didn't seem fazed that their already long visit was made twice as long!
We have said goodbye to our guests Libby and Brian who joined us for a week's cruise along the Canal de Briare. Thank you both for your good company, stories and laughs. This morning one of us particularly missed you, Brian, when they had to venture out in the rain in search of croissants. We always enjoy having visitors and it is great that some even choose to return for a repeat trip! So if you've been before and fancy another few days afloat then let us know.
We leave Montargis tomorrow heading up towards Paris on the Canal du Loing .
I have a little more to say about our experience here with Orange France but to be honest I feel completely exhausted even thinking about it so it will have to wait until the next time.
Chatillon Colligny

from the translated menu....sounds better in French

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Another Chatillon

We are always surprised and extremely grateful at the effort put in by the various communes in France to make us welcome. Here in Chatillon Coligny we have a  lovely quay, some pontoons, a tourist info office, toilets, showers, electricity, water, wifi - and all for free! Well, the showers cost 2 euro but who needs a shower? In return we ventured into town to attempt to support the local businesses - a not wholly successful expedition.
 The bistro we marked out for an evening meal was closed by the time we returned (7.30).
The Chateau was closed to plebs- except on Sundays which today is not. The supermarche was just closed - perhaps forever.We tried really hard to spend some money - even purchasing another copy of the same newspaper we bought a week ago. Admittedly that was a mistake.  We managed to find a bar where we enjoyed a couple of beers and in the process learned that a very small glass is a 'boc'. Finally, we did have a pretty good meal at a nice restaurant just outside the town walls where the chef felt confident enough to come out and chat to us at the end of his shift. My fish wasn't all that great to be honest but he seemed a really nice guy so, you know, we were polite and eveyone went away happy.
My failsafe solution to the sometimes mediocre set menu is that one person should always order the cheese rather than the dessert. In our experience the cheese platter is always excellent and you can have as much as you like. So, your companions can order the isle flottant and creme brulee which are, to my ( and often their) taste, inedible and then fill up on your cheese.

Tomorrow we head on towards Montargis. Our last lock keeper today asked what time we wanted to pass through the next lock. 10am we said and we'd best be on time. This morning our first lock keeper was hugely upset with us. As soon as we hove into view he rushed out of his litttle office gesticulating at his watch. This was at 11am and according to him we were supposed to be there at 9. We hadn't arranged any such thing. And it was such a busy day for him. I think we passed all of 3 boats...I'm not sure what we were keeping him from. We annoyed him sufficiently that he passed us through the lock at the absolutely slowest pace possible on the basis you held up my day and now I'll do the same to you.
I hope he feels better.