Chevroches, Canal du Nivernais

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Loire Ports

We are, once again, in the port de plaisance at Nevers. We last visited here almost 2 years ago when it was a little colder but not by much. Then we watched stonemasons working on the restoration of the cathedral tower and we can now see the completed result. It is quite beautiful.

Nevers is the capital of the Nivernais region of Burgundy but has been an important city since Roman times. Its position on the opposite bank of the Loire makes it similar to the other lovely old cities we've  visited this year ie a long trek across a busy bridge. It is also at the end of the Loire Velo route. There have been lots of exhausted but happy looking cyclists passing us over the past few days.

Despite having visited before we are always happy to wander through the narrow winding streets of ancient buildings marvelling that people have been living and working in some of them for 5 or 600 years.

Some are grander than others of course. This is the Ducal Palace.

We stopped off at La Charité-sur-Loire en route to here which we hadn't visited previously. The lovely, slightly shabby  town is situated on an island in the Loire and grew up around an important priory. The town and priory suffered greatly during various wars and by the end of the French Revolution there were only a dozen monks left there. The priory fell into disrepair and was sold off piecemeal to various indivuals. It has been declared as a World Heritage site and it now being slowly restored.The town is also on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compstela.

Skipper has announced we're casting off!
PS. to last blogpost. I managed a successful visit to the Orange shop which has to be a first for us so perhaps my French isn't as bad as I thought.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Lost in Translation

La Charité-sur-Loire

I'd be fairly confident that many, if not most, of you reading this would be able to ask for a glass of  rosé in a French bistro without first running it through Google translate. For a start rosé is a French word so you've only got to come up with 'please' which surely everyone knows even if they skived off every single French lesson at school and 'a glass' which you'll likely see scrawled on a blackboard somewhere in the bar but could be dispensed with altogether.
Having spent quite a few months in France over the past 5 years and quite a few more dollars on French classes I was mortified at the following exchange last night. (To lessen the confusion I'll give the English version but the conversation was in French).

Waiter: Good evening.
Me: Good evening. A glass of  rosé and a beer please. (I did ask for a 'pression' which is a beer on tap. The pression wasn't the problem)
Waiter (looking at me) : A glass of wine?
Me: Yes, please. A glass of rosé.
Waiter: A glass ?
Me: Yes, please.
Waiter: White wine?
Me: No, a glass of rosé.
Waiter: Red wine or white?
Me : No, a glass of rosé. Please.

My companion (in English, to me): You're starting to blush.
Me (to companion in Anglo Saxon): **** ***

Waiter ( looking a bit annoyed now and raising his voice): White wine? Red wine? 'Sprechen zie Deutsch?'
Me: Nein!
Table of 6 French people beside us in chorus: Rosé!!
Waiter (with heavy emphasis on that back of the throat 'r' sound. Like a roll of distant thunder in his throat): Ah... you want rrrrosé.

I'm sorry Sylviane (my French teacher). I failed. Utterly.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Along the Cyclo Velo Track

Bannay - lavoir and waterwheel

Some people love cycling. Many whizz past us every day on the Loire Velo Trail. They've chosen a couple of weeks pounding the pedals rather than a relaxing swim or lounge on a beach sipping cocktails and good luck to them.  I'm not exactly an enthusiast although the  trail seems lovely .The scenery is beautiful, the bits we've been on are separate from the road traffic and best of all it's flat.

The cycle trail and the canal run along the same side of the Loire river. Before the advent of the canal and the railway the river was an important trading route and thus there are large and once important port cities along its banks. They are all on the opposite bank to the canal so visiting them entails crossing the wide river and flood plain over lengthy bridges carrying heavy traffic. Given a busy road and an empty pavement I'll choose the pavement but this isn't usually possible over a bridge. The pedestrian walkways are too narrow for a wobbler like myself and besides they usually carry people on foot. So, usually, I'll push my bike across pretending I've just stopped to take in the view.

As mentioned in a previous post we were held up for 3 days by a lock 'en panne' (broken down). The only place to tie up and wait was below what we thought was a railway bridge and on the Sunday afternoon we did , in fact hear what we assumed was the rumbling of the occasional train. I did think at the time it was going rather slower than the usual high speed of a French train but as we were more concerned about what was going on at the lock we didn't pay much attention.

On a subsequent unsuccessful search in the nearby village for a baker we discovered a railway track crossing the road. It was completely unprotected which, for a working line, is unheard of but what was more unusual was the sign saying that that the train had to stop at the road, the passengers dismount and push!!

So we followed the rusty track and it eventually led us through high hedges to this. More rust held together by a million rivets.
Almost post apocalyptic.

A Loire crossing devoid of trucks, cars, cyclists or pedestrians. No trains either. The brdge is almost 900m long and once carried the railway line from Bourges to  Toul. Now it is a privately run cyclo velo rail which runs at weekends. And if, like me, you've never heard of a cyclo velo this is not one.

But this is.

 Apparently they are all over France. At weekends.

Some info on the bridge.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Slow Boating

River Loire
Since leaving Chatillon over a week ago we've been passed by cyclists of all ages and from all over the world. They are riding the Loire Velo Trail which follows the Loire river for 800km from Nantes on the west coast as far as Nevers. Some ride just short sections  (I suppose even I could be included in this group), some are on bike/barge tours where they cycle part of the day and cruise the remainder (I could be in this too) but others cycle the whole distance. It is possible to camp en route but mostly riders stay in hotels or guest houses along the way. We spoke to a couple yesterday who'd cycled 600 km in the same time as it's taken us to travel 25 by boat.( Mind you we have both done one or two shortish cycling side trips in that time during which we both managed to  have punctures. I wonder how many you'd have over 800km.)
Our extraordinarily slow progress hasn't been entirely of our own doing. We've just spent 3 days sitting below a broken down lock. We were the lucky ones. An unfortunate group of French holidaymakers on a hireboat was stuck inside the lock. If we'd been a few minutes earlier arriving at the lock it would have been us. They made the best of the first few hours in the usual French fashion of eating and drinking and playing petanque on the tow path whilst various employees of the VNF (the waterways authority) stood around and scratched their heads. Being a Sunday that was pretty much all anyone was prepared to do. My question of 'how long?' was rewarded with the first shrug of this year. I have come to realise that there is a whole repertoire of shrugs with various nuances. They can be dismissive, rude, apologetic, genuinely don't know or of the good natured 'c'est la vie' type. This was the latter.
Pondering the damage - Bannay lock

The French holiday makers eventually abandoned their boat in the late afternoon when it was clear it was going nowhere. They must have taken their belongings as the boat stayed inside the lock for the next few days. Work began the next morning but the damage to the lock was quite severe with the hinge of one of the top gates having broken away from the concrete. We swithered about turning back but were assured it was fixable, albeit in 2 or 3 days, so we decided to stay put for the duration and do a bit of painting (the boat that is) and cycling.
Our impromtu morring at Bannay

Friday, 5 June 2015

Beer Songs in Belleville

Belleville sur Loire
I am writing this to the strains of 4 speedo* clad, portly, middle aged Germans from the next boat along the quay raucously singing variations on 'Roll Out The Barrel' to the accompaniment of an accordion and viola (and beer). They are having a very jolly time. One of the delights of boating is the people you meet and because many of them are on holiday they are usually happy - particularly if the sun is shining and the beer flowing, which it is at the moment.
We have been in the small town of Belleville for a couple of days. Once again, the commune has provided us with a shady, grassy mooring, electricity and wifi - and all for free. 100m along the canal bank is a bar tabac/brasserie, next door to that is the baker and there's a supermarket nearby. Almost everything we would normally need. Missing is one of the 3 shops you are virtually guaranteed to find in any French sizeable village. As previously mentioned we have a boulangerie (baker) and Teresa runs a coiffeur (hairdresser) up the road  The business that's missing is the Pharmacie which is often the busiest place in town. This wouldn't normally worry us but one of us seems to have developed, for the first time ever, a case of hay fever (or 'rhume des foins)'. I looked it up in anticipation of having to discuss the symptoms with the pharmacist. Having enquired at the tourist office I was assured there were another 3 within a radius of about 5km so we're sure to find one tomorrow.
The reason the pharmacy has survived the onslaught of the supermarkets is that only they are permitted to sell drugs. You cannot even buy aspirin elsewhere. I read somewhere that there has to be one pharmacy for x thousand population but I'm not sure if that's correct. I also read that the French are renowned for being hypochondriacs but I'm sure that's not true! Anyway, the pharmacy is the first port of call if you are ill. They are very well qualified and will either sell you some medication or advise if you need to see a doctor. It does mean discussing (and if you don't speak the lingo, acting out) your symptoms in full view of everyone in the shop though...

(The Germans have just jumped in the canal!! They'll be needing more than a pharmacy I fear.)

 Belleville may lack a pharmacy but it does have a nuclear power station  just a couple of km away on the Loire river. We can see it quite clearly from our mooring.

 It's beginning to look and sound a bit like an episode from the Simpsons around here at the moment- those Germans would definitely fit in. I just hope there's not a Homer in charge of the power plant.

* for the non-Aussies. Speedos are brief swimwear favoured by men of a certain age (and Tony Abbott). Otherwise known as budgie smugglers in Australia.

The Aquatic Gardens beside the canal at Belleville

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

On the Move

Chatillon sur Loire

Leaving Chatillon was a difficult business. Several days were needed to scour 7 months of grime from the outside of the boat. A pity that paint doesn't adhere as well as dirt. We now have an embarrassingly patchy deck screaming 'paint me' every time we look at it. L'Avenir may be requiring a bit of an exterior make over but she has a good heart. After de-winterising, her engine kicked into life first time and so far we've had no problems. Mind you, she hasn't exactly been put to the test. We are excelling ourselves this year. So far, we've travelled 11km and passed through one lock. Even by our sloth-like standards that's pretty relaxed progress.
Removing dirt (and paint) with the pressure hose at Beaulieu

We had been ready to leave port by Sunday but suddenly remembered our port captain had the spare boat key. She reminded us (through the window of her boat) that Sundays are days of rest and we'd have to wait until office hours. Now Mondays can be a bit tricky in France - often considered a necessary extension to the weekend - but fortunately for us the 'office' reopened after lunch on Monday ie 2.30pm.
Beaulieu Mairie and marketplace

By the time we eventually got under way it was almost time to think about stopping and since the pretty little village of Beaulieu  7km upstream kindly provides not only a free mooring but free electricity and water we decided we should repay that generosity and support some of the local businesses. Being a Monday, of course, some of them weren't open so we had to spend 2 nights in order to try out the Italian restaurant and compare baguettes and eclairs from the 2 bakeries. Then there was the Wednesday morning market.....
Beaulieu didn't get mains water until the mid 1960s. Before then it relied on wells and had 200 of them! There is reputed to be a subterranean creature living in the watercourses beneath the village. It has never been seen but can be heard from time to time.
Beaulieu mooring

I mentioned in the last blog post that Chatillon likes murals. Here are a few.