Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Barging over for 2011

The end of our six months of barging in France has arrived. We are sad to be leaving but will be pleased to be back in Oz for a while. 

We travelled about 32km up the Bourgogne Canal (and then returned), visiting places we missed last year. This was pleasant and relaxing. It also enabled us to start on the chores required before leaving the boat.

Everything went smoothly, with a few interesting interludes.

At one place, they were dredging the canal. A scoop mounted on a raft would scoop the mud into a Peniche (400 tonne barge). The Peniche would then take it downstream, through a lock, to where a land-based scooper would remove the mud.

In between these activities, the Peniche would have to reverse quite a few kilometres between the locations. Not an easy task and also rather strange for people such as us encountering a large barge travelling in reverse.

When the Peniche was empty, it could not reverse under one bridge and so had to wait, put water in the holds and then carefully reverse under. This was all very time consuming.

Quite a few areas of the canal were shallower than last year so even with our shallow draft, we were sometimes sitting on the bottom at moorings.

Turning around at Flogny was particularly difficult. Indeed, the experienced lock-keepers there said we would not achieve it and need to travel the 8Km return to the next "official" turn-around spot.

Well, we got around but it took three tries, each in a different section of canal. Finally we managed to gently swing around with the rudder sitting in the mud on one side and the bow almost scraping the bottom and bank on the other side.

Now, we are at Laroche Migennes and have completed preparations for winter. Everything is stored, cleaned and ready for our lift-out which should happen late this afternoon. Then we will over night in a "Mobilo" (rented mobile home) near the boat yard and head off to Paris-Singapore-Sydney early tomorrow morning.

Yesterday, a "big brother" Peniche came to the quay, just behind us. The couple operating it were very friendly and performing similar tasks to us- touching up paint, sweeping, washing. For once, I (David), was able to answer a "where is" question...."where is the Boulangerie?" The first time I have not had to say (in French), "Sorry, we are here on a boat and we do not know."

The Peniche was empty and thus very high in the water. Then they loaded with grain. A truck would pull into the quay and empty the grain into the holds. This happened about 24 times with perhaps 200 tonnes of grain in total. The grain will be used to make beer. We think that water levels in the canal and silting made it easier for the loading operation at the town quay here rather than upstream at a silo. We do not think it happens very often in the middle of a town. The ducks and swans are really enjoying the spilled grain. Here are some interesting statistics regarding cost of transport in France. One litre of diesel fuel will transport one tonne of freight:

100km by truck

300km by train

500km by barge

And so, this year's blog draws to a close after 2,560km and 6 months of fantastic travelling and adventuring.

We will "see" all our readers next year with a new blog.

All the best,

Dave and Penny

Return steps

We have two weeks left before we depart and the time will be spent at places we have already visited. We left the Seine and entered the Yonne at Montereau.

Though there are many tasks to be competed before we leave the boat, we are relaxing more and are appreciating the experience of revisiting old haunts and taking extra notice of our surroundings. The poplars are starting to colour; we thoroughly enjoyed a magnificent full moon rising just as the sun set. This was at Pont sur Yonne.

On the river the season seems to drawing to a close as the winter gets closer. However, with the onset of autumn, the weather has actually improved greatly and become a very pleasant 25-28degC during the days. There is still quite a lot of rental boat traffic and plenty of commercials carrying grain or sand. Perhaps the companies are offering a special "September" price. At Montereau the marina was not staffed but we could stay there and use the power. No-one but us stayed on the excellent pontoons at Pont sur Yonne where we spent the next night.

We have had some very interesting requests in the last two weeks. The captain of a hotel barge asked us if we had a banana- he had a group of Americans on board, one of them sick and insisting that a banana was what she must have for breakfast- but the other guests had already eaten them all. With bananas here costing less than 2A$ a kilo we were well supplied and very happy to help out.

The next request was from a French woman on a boat, apparently cooking Sunday lunch. She wondered if we had any sprigs of bayleaves or fresh thyme. She didn't seem interested in our jar of dried mixed herbs, the best we could offer.

Then there was a woman who wanted to wash some dishes! One lunchtime on a cool and overcast day, two long distance cyclists, a couple about our age, stopped at the nearby picnic table to have their baguette and cheese. I carefully rehearsed the right French words so that I could offer them a cup of coffee but they said "hello" first, in Aussie accented English. From Tasmania, they had been cycling since July and will cover 3,000kms by the time they leave Zurich in early October. They were very pleased indeed to have a warm cup of tea at lunch. As the camping grounds are closing for the winter, they had not found one open the previous night so also welcomed the access to hot water to allow them to wash their breakfast and dinner dishes.

Even the lock - keepers are asking. We came across a pair of young eclusiers, he manning one lock, she the next (but he came to help). Just before she opened the gates the young lady asked if she could take our photo with them in it too, to put on their blog. They are uni students and are going to New Zealand soon, for a year. The blog was to tell people what they were doing, and, if we got the sense right between their beginners English and our beginners French, to raise money for the trip. Of course we said yes, and produced a tripod and stool so that he could use the remote control on his camera. Then David took a photo with just them, with Anja in the background. We suggested they do a quick trip across to Australia while they are there but this depends upon their finances.

The favours are not all one sided. At Villeneuve sur Yonne, David was cutting and making holes in steel on the quayside when he stood up and stumbled, catching himself just as he partly fell into the river along with the end of the plugged-in extension lead! He knocked one of the pieces of steel in and despite valiant attempts to dive for it in the cold and muddy water, he could not locate it. Just then a barge "Tess" (our youngest daughter's name) pulled in along the quay. Yes, they had a powerful magnet and were willing to lend it to us. Quite quickly the piece of steel was pulled from the bottom of the river thus saving lots of repeated cutting, drilling and re-purchasing of the steel.

Pictures show:

Oh Dear!

Moon over the Yonne at Pont sur Yonne

Old barge puller now pulls children along the side of the canal.

Petanque along side the Yonne. More women playing than usual.

Young kayakers on the Yonne.

Barge and boat filled St Mammas.

Best Regards,

Penny and Dave

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The Seine

We were not sure if we would enjoy the Seine, fearing that it would fall into the category of "things we must get through". We were about to embark on almost 100 kilometres of very busy river with 8 very large locks, and according to the books, very few places to stop.

We visualized an unrelentingly urban and industrial landscape- but we were wrong. Certainly the locks were big and the barges enormous but the lock- keepers and barge drivers were helpful and professional, so there were no tough moments. We were lucky in being small enough to tuck into the locks with the big boats and made very fast progress. Our crew also did well and we were pleased to have the extra help of two experienced sailors.

It seems that this is the area where wealthy Parisians have in the past built their country/ holiday dwellings and we saw some very grand buildings and beautiful gardens running down to the river. We were successful in locating places to stop on the river, not up to the standard of the pontoons in Lagny and Meaux, but neverthless comfortable for the night.

We had one very interesting experience in the giant 180metre x 16metre locks (not as big as Saone River 186x22metres). We entered a lock, following on the sterns of a couple of other large barges. But, unusually, there was already a boat inside, facing the wrong way. It was a small fiberglass motor cruiser and it appears that the engine had failed while in the lock. While the lock was filling, a ladder was producd by the lock keeper and the motor cruiser was tied to the bow of the barge in front of us. Then, when the lock opened, the huge barge pushed the motor cruiser out of the lock and then gently deposited it onto the side of the river above the lock. Then it powered away in front of us. Fantastic and professional effort.

Arriving at St Mammes we are back into "known territory" as we came this way at the beginning of our cruise in April. Again we tied up at St Mammes on the corner of the River Seine where it enters the Canal du Loing. It was only metres from the spot we occupied months ago.

This time we had an added bonus of a "Brocante" (second hand market) which was advertised for the next morning. Sure enough we woke to the sound of quiet voices and tent pegs being hammered in, then the sound of more voices as people started to wander in to buy from the stalls set up right next to the boat. In fact, activity commenced at 3AM!

We did well again with Val and Mike's help- David found a manual coffee grinder and a vice and Penny located another jigsaw as she and Val had polished off the one bought at the brocante in La Ferte sous Jouarre.

From St Mammes we headed 22 kilometres along the Canal du Loing so that Val and Mike could experience a smaller canal and manual locks, then back to St Mammes to farewell them at the train station, where they caught the suburban service to Paris en route to their ultimate destination in Reims. They had great difficulty buying the tickets for the full trip as the ticket machine accepts only coins or French credit cards, a problem previously encountered by our guests but overcome because there was a ticket window- but not available here.

Pictures show:

Chinatown on the Seine (2)

A Seine barrage adjoining the locks

Paris Suburbs

Seine River

Pleasant houses (2)

Seine pusher with 2 barges (biggest seen 160metres)

House (this and all following houses are on the Seine)

Pleasant chateau

Seine house (many)

Rescue of the motor cruiser

Brocante at St Mammes

Seine House

Seine House

Best Regards,

Penny and Dave

The Marne, the Seine, Meaux and others

The beauty of the Marne River exceeded our expectations. Once we had left behind the grape vines of Champagne, the Marne was lined with forests and fields. With few locks and few boats it was possible to sit back and enjoy the scenery. Even though we were approaching Paris the traffic remained light almost to the end, with a few commercial barges and a small number of pleasure boats. We had no problem finding somewhere to tie up each night.

The city of Meaux provides excellent pontoons right in the centre of town, with water and electricity at a nominal cost. The railway station is very close, a factor we appreciated as we could farewell our son Paul and his wife Angela, and welcome friends Val and Mike. The train to there is a Paris suburban train so it was not even necessary for them to book.

The area of Meaux has been settled since very early times and it is located on a bend of the Marne, giving fertile land and a barrier for invaders. It later became a Gallo- Roman town, Jatinum, and the 3rd century ramparts built during that era are well preserved. They have been added to over the years to produce an impressive town wall. The huge Cathedral dates back to the 11th century though the town was a bishopric from the 4th century. Many old buildings are preserved and this is one town which celebrates its history and makes it accessible to visitors with plenty of historical plaques and good material from the tourist bureau.

Meaux is the capital of Brie so we could not leave without buying two different types of "Brie de Meaux" which is claimed to have 12 centuries of history, dating back to Charlemagne. Charles d'Orleans is known to have given Brie from Meaux as a gift to the ladies of the court. We bought it directly from the maker at a stall at the market.

After Meaux we entered the short Canal de Meaux da Chalifert originally constructed in the 13th century. Who else has passed that way in 800 years?

Next stop was Lagny, again on a pontoon provided by the town. Next morning we enjoyed a very good market selling a huge variety of goods such as soap, leathergoods, drapery, hats and toys. The food stalls were in an attractive covered market hall. This market area dates back to the 12th century.

After Lagny the towns along the Marne become more frequent as they are within easy commuting distance from Paris. The locks get bigger and consequently the commercial traffic gets larger and more frequent. In this stretch there are two tunnels, 290 metres and 600 metres long. The Marne meets the Seine near Alfortville, only 5kms from the centre of Paris.

David rode quickly and easily on bike paths to the Left Bank of the Seine from our overnight mooring at St Maurice just before we left the Marne. He was able to pass the traffic Iin both directions) while riding along the 10 lane road which was choked with cars at peak hour.

Photos show:

Inside Cathedral at Meaux

1627 organ at Meaux (one of the older ones we have seen)

Chapter House at Meaux

Gallo Roman Wall from the 3rd century

Beautiful old Meaux House

Another old house in the town

and another (along the Marne River)

Inside the Meaux Cathedral

Meaux Cathedral (very hard to photograph from nearby as it is closely surrounded by houses and shops)

Best Regards, Penny and Dave

Tuesday, 06 September 2011

Moving towards Paris

Dormans was the last "Champagne " town on our route. Chateau- Thierry, while still in the Valley of the Marne, is actually in Picardie although there are still Champagne- growing villages along the banks. Eventually we pass beyond the last of the grape vines and find the river even more forested than before. Soon we are into yet another area, Seine et Marne, where we tie up on an excellent pontoon at La Ferte sous Jouarre. Many of the towns on this stretch provide excellent facilities for boats so at lunchtime and in the evening we have been able to find pontoons or quays, often with electricity and water.

La Ferte sous Jouarre was the grindstone capital of the world in the 19th century. Now grindstones are not seen as so important but judging from the neat streets and excellent facilities, the town has moved on to other endeavours.

Our guide book suggested that from the village we should visit Jouarre, about 3 kms away, to visit the Benedictine Monastery founded in the 7th century. This sounded like a good idea so we set off on our bikes to go there on a beautiful sunny 30 degree day. I should have been warned by the name of our departure point: "Sous" means under. So, if we started "under" Jouarre, we were likely to end up "over" it. Sure enough we went straight up the hill, on a busy road with cars whipping past at 70kph. David takes such situations in his stride. Penny walked her bike the 3 kms up but had a good fast trip down later.

At the Monastery the first discovery was that this was for nuns, and had always been so; it is still active though from time to time over the last 1400 years it has had to close because of wars and religious persecution. We enjoyed a visit to the Romanesque Tower, built in the 12th century but with elements dating back to the 7th. Unfortuntaely our timing did not allow a visit to the 7th century crypts or the 180 year old cheese cellars (Brie is the speciality here). The crytpts are the oldest in Europe. We will have to return another year.

La Ferte sous Jouarre also allowed us to enjoy a newly discovered interst: there was a vide grenier (they called it a "Brocant Jumelage" ). We bought ourselves some very attractive cut glass tumblers and a jigsaw puzzle, each 2 euros, and a current road atlas of Europe for 3 euros. We are not usually impulse buyers but these fairs seem to get under our skin. There is also a very relaxed and happy atmosphere. For many of the stallholders, it is an opportunity to catch up with friends and have a lively discussion. Sometimes, it can take a little while to attract someone's attention and make a purchase! When we bought the 6 cut glass tumblers for 2 euros (a real bargain), the gentleman was very apologetic he could not offer a bag ("sac") as well! We always carry plenty of bags so this is not a problem.

The weather has warmed up to its current 30 degrees so that Paul and Angela have frequently enjoyed an afternoon swim. It has been great having their company and Paul's skilful assistance. David and Paul did some scrubbing of marine growth from the rudder on one particularly hot day (32deg). We are happy swimming in the rivers, but not in the canals.

After four days where the temperature went above 30degrees each day, we have returned to days about 22 degrees.

Pictures show:

The signets (baby swans) from April are now almost fully grown. Some have become white and others not.

Picking the grapes.

A road in the town of Dormans

The town of Chateau-Thierry, seen from the ancient chateau.

Huge water wheel from the old Mill at Dormans. 8 metres in diameter, it was in use for 200 years!

Commercial barges rafted four deep and awaiting loading on the Marne River.

The memorial commemorating the two WWI victories on the Marne and those who lost their lives in the war.

An unusual cemetery at Charly sur Marne. The beautifully trimmed cyprus trees are all pruned into the shape of bottles.

Best Regards, Penny and Dave

Herman: Mmmm.... so the white van was not the local equivelant of the RBT? Photos and Blog commentary are great. (09/13/11)

The Harvest

The grape harvest has begun in Champagne. At Mareiul sur Ay where we are now, one of the major centres of the operation is very close to the barge. Around it there are roads closed and signs everywhere- beware, wine harvesting. Just two hundred metres away from the barge they are bringing in and crushing the grapes. The road is closed and occupied by trucks and machines, and they are actually working night and day. They have moved a big grape crushing machine into the road. It is raining today so we don't know if that will affect them picking, but we can still hear the tractors and machines going strong down there.

As we have moved on along the Canal Lateral to the Marne and then to the Marne we have been in the middle of the harvest. The picking is all done by hand so there are hundreds of workers coming and going each morning, noon and night even on Sunday. For the first few days of the harvest the weather was wet, but this did not stop the picking. We asked about whether the rain was a problem, and was told "It is not a problem for the grapes". May be a problem though for the pickers who are living in tents and camper vans. They must be finding it hard to keep up the supply of dry clothing. The slopes beside the river are dotted with pickers, white vans and tractors, easily identified by flashing orange lights. The towns are busy with people coming and going, tractors and small trucks full of plastic tubs of grapes, tankers presumably filled up from the pressed grape juice, other trucks taking away the remains of the grapes. It is really quite a buzz in comparison to the sleepy little villages we usually visit. Many windows have muddy jeans hanging outside and there are plenty of muddy shoes and boots sitting outside doors.

The harvest lasts two weeks.

Pictures show:

An old wine press. Nowadays, even with the expensive champagnes, things are automated.

Old equipment used in the wineries for creating the Champagne.


Bunches of Pinot Noir (even though the grapes are dark, the juice is clear)

Anything that moves is used to move the grapes and the grape skins. Tractors, trailers, vans, 4WD vehicles, utilities.

Along side the canal, there are life sized cutouts in steel showing the steps of making Champagne. From tending the grapes to enjoying the product. Here is one example.

Best Regards,

Penny and Dave

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Visa Dossier under way

We had a good trip to Charbuy last Friday. We had a few problems at the start of the day because there was a big storm. I (David) was going to ride the 8km to pick up a rental car but we decided to get a taxi. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the taxi man understanding what I was saying and in the end, I rode my bike in the rain to pick up the car. Then when I rang Penny to say I was on the way and could she please get me some dry clothes, she could not understand me either. So, for some reason, people could not understand anything from my phone for a couple of hours (no problem since).

Anyway, things went really well after that.

We were very late arriving due to the problems with the storm, phone and taxi but Chantal and Christian very kindly served us lunch at their house and gave us the wonderful translations of Marriage and Birth Certificates. They are better than the originals!

Then it was off to the Mairie where Corinne was extremely helpful and assisted us to put together the two dossiers required by the Auxerre Prefecture. This took quite a long time due to all the various pieces of paper but was finally completed and all looked okay. Many Thanks Corinne!

We had a reasonable trip home, 'though the traffic was very heavy because the school holidays are coming to an end.

So, a big "Thank You" to son-in-law Steve, Corinne from the Mairie, Chantal and Christian from les Chouettes for all your assistance.

If you would like five star (or more) service staying at an excellent Chambre d'Hote, make sure to stay at:

Chantal & Christian COLLET

Les Chouettes - Chambres d'hôtes Charbuy



tél (33)

Much better than the best hotel!

We now have our son Paul and daughter-in-law Angela staying with us for 8 days.

We are currently at Dormans, still in the Champagne Region where the second and final week of the grape harvest is continuing at a great pace.

Picture- our beautiful friends Chantal and Christian.

Best Regards,

Dave and Penny

Sunday, 28 August 2011

After Reims

While at Reims, we decided to try and get diesel fuel. We had not filled up for almost 1,000km. There are very few places to refuel. We had done it in Lyon and then "topped up" in St Jean de Losne.

We saw nowhere listed in our charts but did discover that a fuel company in Reims will deliver to boats if they bought sufficient quantity. So, we found the phone number and called them up. They said they would send a tanker but that it could not come for a couple more days. A little inconvenient, but we agreed. Then, they called back a little later (when David was in the shower!) and said they could come straight away and would that suit us? It certainly did. We were a little nervous that the might find difficulty locating us, but all was well and a large fuel truck arrived. So now, we again have full tanks with more than enough for another 1,100km.

We decided that we did not want to spend any more time in Reims. Fortunately we had visited it briefly last year with our daughter and son- in- law, so had taken in the major tourist sights. Instead we travelled a short distance along the canal to the small town of Sillery where we visited the Bellevue War cemetery. Here 11,300 white memorials mark the graves of French soldiers who died during the First World War. This is only one of 19 such cemeteries in this area and it is very confronting to see the line after line of white graves marking the last resting place of these men. Some are Christian, marked by a cross; some Jewish with a star of David; some Muslim with a crescent. Perhaps there are others which we did not notice. During almost the entire war, German and French soldiers opposed each other in this 10 square kilometre area. It seems to have been a stalemate until in 1918 the United States became involved and tipped the balance towards the Allies. 94,000 French were killed in a three month period in this small area of 10 square km.

Next stop was Beaumont and now we are in the Montagne de Reims Champagne area. There are some Champagne houses in Beaumont itself, but we rode up to Verzy, a Grand Cru town on the slopes of the Montagne de Reims with a beautiful view over the valley. Our route took us through the vineyards, between the vines of Roederer and Veuve Cliquot. We enjoyed being on our bikes again. While in Verzy we visited the Church and attended a Service for the blessing of the Wine Harvest. About thirty of the congregation brought to the altar laden baskets of grapes, which were put together in big tubs, to be blessed. We don't know what happens to them next- maybe there is a special Parish vintage? Several children contributed their smaller baskets full. It was a very friendly gathering. We were included in the greetings and asked where we were from- much surprise when we answered "Australia". We were probably "rubbing shoulders" with some of the great wine growers from Champagne.

Turning into the Canal lateral to the Marne we entered another Champagne area, the Marne Valley with towns including Ay and Mareuil sur Ay which together have about 60 Champagne houses. This whole area is very pretty with the Marne River bubbling along close to the Canal. Many houses have large grounds and the towns themselves very attractive. The area seems to have won the Fleury award this year and certainly there are flowers everywhere and beautifully decorated bridges and lightpoles.

We are next to a chateau and adjacent to a park full of huge trees. People- mainly elderly- come to collect the fallen nuts. There are swans around the boats. The cygnets of spring have almost grown to full size though their beaks have not yet brightened to red.

The family on the barge next to us seem to be experts at creating their own comfortable space. They have erected a small picket fence on the grass near their barge, together with potplants on the corners; they mowed the grass and raked the leaves within this private space. We have seen people on long- term live- aboard barges do this, but these people have just arrived here and seem to be on holidays- a home away from home.

Walking around Tours sur Marne we found a very modern and unusual building. This is an ecologically friendly primary school built of wood with solar panels and other energy saving devices. There is a meter which shows the energy situation. With the sun shining and the school occupied only by teachers preparing the the start of the school year, the building was putting back 150% of the energy it used.

Pictures show:

Our tidy neighbour

The Necropolis

People arrive for the blessing of the grape harvest

Grand Cru vines (the very best!)

Penny cycles through the vines

Vineyards along the canal

The Eco School

This tug used to pull barges through the Billy tunnel (2.3km). We went through on our own now that there is ventilation in the tunnel.

A balloon flies over us while moored in Reims. They would have had a fantastic view.

Best Regards, Penny and David

Tess: I love the slide coming out of the school! Glad you're back on the bikes. (08/28/11)

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

White knights to the rescue...

Just a brief update. We are near Epinay in the Champagne region.

With our visas, several "White Knights" have come galloping to our assistance.

"White Knight" Christian, our good friend from Charbuy, has been in touch with the Mairie who have themselves been able to get the form and information from the Préfecture.

"White Knight" Corinne from the Mairie has been very good.

We must provide more information than the Préfecture had told us when we visited them (birth, marriage certificates with French translations) and financial information.

"White Knight" Steve, our son in law, kindly got together our documents and sent them over. This was a lot of work.

"White Knight" Christian is very kindly translating the documents.

We are printing and copying lots of other material for our dossier.

As soon as we can, we will rent a car and go to Charbuy to submit everything.

A very big "Thank you" to all our "white knights in shining armour"!

Best regards,
Dave and Penny.

Herman: On behalf of all the blog followers (if I may), I would like to thank the 'White Knights' too. I would hate to have this blog shortened and miss out on a realtime reality show. Bon Voyage Anja and Crew. (08/24/11)