Chevroches, Canal du Nivernais

Friday, 31 July 2015

Leaving Lyon

Arriving in Lyon
Decision made. We leave Lyon tomorrow morning. Stay tuned for the direction.
In the meantime a few photos from this great city.
Place de Bellecour, Lyon
La Vaporetto

View over Old Lyon from the Basillica Notre Dame de Fourviere

Confluence Port. Our home in Lyon
The Weight of Oneself by Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset
Fountain Bartholdi - Place des Terreaux, Lyon
From the restaurant at Basilica Notre Dame de Fourviere
Jousting contest in the port, Lyon

Our internet connection isn't the best so will edit this post when I can.

Downstream on the Saone

We are now at the confluence of the Saone and Rhone in the lovely city of Lyon. This is as far south as we have yet been and we now have to decide whether to commit to the 300km Rhone cruise to the south or return to central France. We have been here for a few days waiting for a part to be delivered for our air condtioner which naturally gave up the ghost during the heatwave. Being here has been no hardship; Lyon is a great city with loads to see, do and eat but mooring provision at the new port development is much too limited and the stressed harbourmaster is agitating for people to move on. Pressure on spaces isn't helped by one of the two pontoons being taken up by small day boats for hire.
We will be leaving tomorrow. Will it be a left or right turn out of the harbour?
The trip down the Saone has, so far, been very enjoyable. Compared to the hard work of the canal du Centre the river has been a leisurely cruise. There is very little current at this time of year and whilst the weather has still been quite hot there's more of a breeze on the open river. And there's always the option of a dip in the water to cool off - not advisable in the canals.
On one of these dips the skipper discovered we had a rope around the prop and subsequently he spent the day nearly drowning himself whilst cutting it free Goodness knows how long it had been there. It's been a long time since he's been able to take a dive down to take a look.
Often a problem on rivers is the lack of places to moor but we have, up to now, been pleasantly surprised to find pontoons at all the towns. There has been less river traffic than we anticipated and so there's always been space for us although we have been surprised at the numbers of large cruise ships. They usually take up the main quays in the towns.

Bastille Day was, once again, a non event for us. Challon had a great fireworks display apparently but we had left the day before having decided to go on to Tournus. Now Tournus might not be huge but it is quite a tourist destination on account of its beautiful abbey,  winding medieval streets and four (yes 4) Michelin starred restaurants but the full extent of the celebrations was a march down the street by the fire brigade. To be fair, they did have flashing blue lights and sirens.

 From Tournus we took a side trip along the beautiful River Seille to Louhans which has a famous market where the highly prized Bresse chickens are sold. Unfortunately not on the day we were there. This quiet waterway winds through  very pretty countryside. There are only 4 locks (brand new apart from the first one) two of which you manually operate yourself which is unusual.

Cuisery - one of France's 'book towns'

Trevoux - on the Saone

We did a quick trip also up the short canal to Pont du Vaux to check out the harbour there and managing to run aground whilst following the arrows to their visitor pontoon. There is good depth in the back harbour though.
Then it was back onto the Saone and on to the excellent port at Macon where we picked up our next crew member fleeing the dismal Scottish summer and sorted out this year's faltering relationship with Monsieur Orange.

Our spare part has just been delivered and unpacked and the air is as blue as the sky. The fitting doesn't match the description on the internet so an adapter will need to be found...
Crew promoted to captain
Cruise ship at Tournus

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

A Not So 'Petite Randonnée'

France is criss-crossed with a network of marked walking routes the shortest of which are the yellow PR (petites randonées). Many villages will have an information board showing a map of the walks in their area with some details about the length, level of difficulty and time required. So, you look at the map, decide where you want to go according to how energetic you feel, and set off. Every so often there will be a marker pointing you in the right direction. Fool proof you'd think.

Whilst visiting the tourist office in Santenay the helpful young man there showed us a photo of a fully restored local windmill telling us was that this was the last working windmill in Burgundy. "It's not far," he assured us, whilst waving in a vaguely easterly direction. Or maybe it was more north....Anyway, after consulting the map in the village square and discovering the windmill route was classed as suitable for families and required 2 hours, two of us decided that we'd go for a post lunch stroll and managed to dragoon a reluctant third. Our fourth crew member, sensibly as it turned out, wasn't to be persuaded out of the siesta option and would meet us back at the village cafe in 2 hours.
Temperatures in the mid 30s aren't ideal for walking but they've been that for weeks now and if we stayed in or on the boat every day we'd see nothing beyond the canal.  Our reluctant walker decided bringing a bike would be a good idea. And it was - for about half an hour. We stopped at the village shop for a couple of bottles of water and then gathered around the map once again to verify where the walk began. A word of advice - sometimes the  person who applies the 'vous etes ici' (you are here) sticker is a bit slapdash. You may not be precisely 'here' - more 'in the vicinity'. And so it was that we began walking - in entirely the wrong direction.
The bike was abandoned  beside a steep stony track as we struggled ever upwards through the slopes of a vineyard.  What sort of super family, we wondered, was this walk rated for? Every so often there would be yellow arrow painted on a stone or tree reassuring us that we were on the right track. Eventually we had climbed high above the valley and above the vineyards where there was a spectacular view - but not of a windmill. The problem with walking to a particular destination rather than just 'going for a walk'  is that you always think that having come so far the destination must be just around the next corner or at the top of the next slope and so, lured on by those yellow signs, we foolishly kept giving it just another 5 minutes. Realisation dawned at the top of the ridge when the track clearly turned neither north nor east but very definitely in the quite opposite direction. The Petite Randonnée we were following was an entirely different one to the one we wanted. To add insult to injury on the way back down we spotted the windmill far below us (yes, east) and not far from the village. If we hadn't been so intent on struggling up the hills and looking for yellow marks (sirens) we might have spotted it much earlier and saved ourselves the pain. However, we would have missed a fantastic view of the Saone valley stretching all the way to Challon which, to be honest, was much more impressive than a windmill.

Still in possession of the bike and enthusiam

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Paray le Monial to Santenay

Paray le Monial
The Canal du Centre passes through some lovely countryside but there's a price to be paid for hills. Locks. Lots of them. The locks on this canal ones are automated but they need to be set by an itinerant lock keeper who will arrange with you each day what time you will set off and will appear from time to time during the day to ask 'continuez?' in the firm hope that you will say, 'non,' so he can go home.

Locks and heatwaves are a bad combination. The mechanisms (according to the keepers) don't like them and shut down randomly meaning a call to the control centre on the emergency intercom. The person responsible for answering the intercom doesn't like them either or is perhaps overwhelmed by calls, because they don't answer. The crew member handling the bow rope doesn't like them because s/he (me) has to stand out in the blazing sunshine for the 15 minutes ( assuming all goes well) that it takes to work through. And the eclusiers (keepers) don't like hem because they have to drive from lock to lock in their little non air conditioned vans checking on the boaters and now and again  have to press a few buttons to reset those locks that have gone into a sulk.
Waiting in a broken down lock
Nice chateau alongside though

All is forgiven, however, when we reach the long stretch of lock free canal through the  vineyards of Santenay - a lovely village in the heart of the cote d'Or where you can visit the caves and taste wine, have a great meal at one of the restaurants or follow the advice of the nice young man in the tourist office and follow one of the walks featured on the map in the main square. 'We have the last working windmill in Bourgogne,' he says showing us a lovely photo. The map says it's a walk suitable for a family and will take about 2 hours so we decide to go.
This will prove to be a mistake.
Toiling in the vineyards during a heatwave - not me I'm grateful to say.
The Crew at Santenay 
Not "Pat the Horse" but cute anyway.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Out onto the River

We are about to descend 10 metres onto the River Saone. The final lock of 61 (in 114km) on the Canal du Centre. It's been a bit of a hard slog particularly for our crew flying from a balmy Scottish summer (highs of around 20 and the distinct probability of rain) into a week of temperatures just shy of 40. Libby and Brian you were brilliant. We'll have medals ready for you but only if you come back again next year.
The Crew at Santanay- still standing!

Before picking up our brave crew in Digion we detoured along the 50km  Canal de Roanne. We have previously missed out this canal as it terminates at Roanne and so necessitates retracing the same route within days.

Extremely leaky lock gates

The canal is quite rural and pleasant with some 'interesting' lock approaches requiring a bit of driving skill (says skipper) or plain luck to get through the cross currents and avoid bouncing off the stone walls.
Helping the lock keeper, Canal de Roanne

Roanne Port

Roanne was once an important Loire port and has a huge basin - 800m x 80m - and very popular with people from all over the world who live aboard their boats over the winter. Most are away cruising during the summer but apparently there is a lively social life to he had over the winter months. Unlike some other winter mooring ports in France, Roanne has lots of shops and restaurants as well as a station. It is also relatively cheap for long term moorings.

After Roanne our next major stop was at the small town of Digoin which is the beginning of the Canal du Centre. Digoin is notable for its lovely aqueduct over the River Loire and also the storks which nest every year on top of the church tower in the middle of town. The parents return from the river to the nest every evening and everyone sitting at the cafes around the square waits expectantly and gets quite excited when then arrive.

Digoin was holding a Petanque festival while we there and the huge park beside the river was filled with hundreds (it seemed) of simultaneous games which one of us rashly tried to ride a bike through... Fortunately no upset was caused or boules hurled at the perpetrator.

As with many towns in France there were also musicians playing open air concerts. A couple of weeks ago we were in Decize at Midsummer which is the night that the whole of France celebrates its Fete de la Musique and anyone who has any type of musical instrument at all picks it up, bags a spot in the town or village and plays. No particular ability required just enthusiasm and a love of music. Having said that we have seen some excellent performers.
'Enthusiastic' drumming group Fetes de la Musique

Friday, 10 July 2015

Melting Point

In the shade
Today is the 5th in a row with a temperature of just under 40 degrees. There's to be a slight respite in the middle of next week when the thermometer is forecast to plummet to 32 -for one whole day.  Then it's back to 37/38  for the foreseeable future which, in French Meteo terms, is 10 days.
'You'll be used to this,' is the cheery comment from most people  when they see our Australian flag (right after they have asked if we came from Australia in the boat).
I confess to being temped at times to make out we're tough, adventurous types who spend our days toiling under the blazing Aussie sun panning for gold or hiding from it down the opal mines in order to fund our ocean voyages but I don't have the energy for creative thought (hence no recent blog posts). So, I admit that sadly, no, we didn't come by boat and no, we are not used to it. Believe it or not, in Melbourne, our really hot spells usually last only a couple of days at a time.
So how do you keep cool on a steel boat?
The short answer is you don't. You can only attempt to minimise the pain.
  •  keep the sun off the boat. as much as possible. We have tried out every form of shade with varying degrees of success; shade cloth, foil car windscreen shades, various canvas sunshades, beach umbrellas, beach towels, old sheets. You name it, we've tried it. Often all at the same time. I can tell you that the boat may end up being one or two degrees cooler than the oven you're cooking your lamb roast in but I will have collapsed from heat exhaustion from all the arranging and rearranging. And as for those bloody beach umbrellas, the slightest puff of wind  and they either flounce themselves inside out or theyr'e off and taking your eye out on the way.
  •  keep moving and catch whatever breeze there might be. The price for that comes later when you have a roasting hot engine keeping the boat from cooling down at all at night and you from sleeping.
  •  attempt to find a spot with afternoon shade and stop. Good luck with that. Either there's already some smug punter in it and they're not moving - ever - or you can't get into the bank because it's too shallow, too rocky, too eroded or whatever.
  • avoid concrete/stone quays. They reflect and hold the heat. Find somewhere with grass and then cart your chairs off the boat and sit under the nearest tree.
  • hang out in an air conditioned supermarket for a while. Downside is you feel even worse when you come out and have to cycle back to your boat - plus you'll have been lulled by the a/c into forgetting the full horror of the heat outside and foolishly have bought some shopping which you'll have to lug back.
  • find a river or municipal pool or just have cold showers. Canal bathing isn't a good idea.
  •  stiffen that upper lip and make the best of it. Join the locals in a bar/cafe and comiserate over a beer or ice cream. Appreciate those balmy nights on deck with a chilled bottle of wine (the fridge may be struggling but is still just about working) and admire the stars and planets in the cloudless sky. If it hadn't been for the heatwave we'd most likely have missed Venus and Jupiter's recent spectacular appearance.
I wrote this over a week ago. Since then 'la canicule'  (heatwave) has continued with 3000 deaths being reported. The next few days are forecast to be a bit cooler before things start hotting up once again. Tomorrow we leave the Canal du Centre and head out onto the River Saone which hopefully will feel a little cooler. In the meantime I'll attempt to catch up on our travels over the past weeks.