Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Onward to the Petite Saone, June 9-12

And down we went. Saturday it was 18 locks. We were tied up by around 3 at a spot we’ve used both times we’ve traveled this canal, just below lock 18. This year, though, what used to be a sketchy wall with a couple of mooring rings is now a brand new concrete quay with bollards all along it. (Note the portion of the old wall and mooring ring at the bottom of the picture.) Quite an improvement! We didn’t see the barnyard turkey we spotted last time we were here, though.

One annoyance was that the automatic locks default to empty after a boat’s passage. Since we were going down, that meant we had to wait for nearly every lock to fill and the doors to open before we could proceed. It made for much waiting. Another result of the locks being kept empty is that there is plenty of time for a “lock wall garden” to form, seeing as it gets regular watering. Clearing of this wall doesn’t seem to be part of the regular maintenance program by the VNF.

The skies are pretty clear in the top picture but shortly after, the clouds began to thicken and this time we did get hit by a thunderstorm. Rain, wind and crashing thunder, one flash simultaneous with the thunder, craaaack! right over our heads. We were later told that the bolt had hit an old factory a little further down the canal and blown out the power to all the locks in the vicinity for a short while.

Thunderstorms had been rolling around France for a couple of weeks, some doing some serious damage. One unlucky spot was on the Canal des Ardennes. The waterways authorities circulated this picture of a lock severly damaged when the creek alongside the canal overtopped it’s banks and overwhelmed the lock doors, collapsing the lock wall and tumbling the lock control house into the chamber. It’s going to take considerable time to fix and in the meantime the canal is closed. Luckily it’s not one of the canals we need to use this year.

Sunday we were off to a mooring we had twice noted in our logs as a great possible stop and that proved to be the case. Just 7 k and 6 locks down the canal, the very short pound had a good bank with a couple sets of bollards, a fireplace, picnic table and nice green lawn, all in pretty much the middle of nowhere. We shared the space with a very friendly Swiss couple; drinks and boat tours were exchanged. We would see Dani and Elsbeth several more times as we headed down the canal. They were bound for Auxonne where they would park the boat and return to Switzerland for a couple of months before continuing their summer cruise.

Next stop was Fontenoy le Chateau, another place we had visited before and, since we were tied up a little after noon, we had plenty of time to wander around and reacquaint ourselves with the very pleasant village.
 We also had a chance to visit the Museum of Embroidery. In the 1800’s the village was the center of a thriving embroidery industry. In fact, the skillful women’s work was so prized that they made higher wages than men. Also, since their work required incredible dexterity, they were excused from the usual household chores which might have damaged their hands, the work being left up to the men. 
Fontenoy is also known as the home of Julie Victoire Daubié. In the early 1800’s she became the first woman to pass the Baccalauréat exam to become the first female bachelor of arts in France. After becoming a journalist, she lead the fight for women’s rights and retired to Fontenoy until her death in 1874.
We made the obligatory hike up to the ruins of the 13th century chateau to get a view of the village, it’s old cemetary and the surrounding countryside.

and then to the bridge over the canal so we could get a look at what we’d face leaving town Tuesday morning; the lock in the middle of the cutting.

The port capitanarie had told us there was a market in town beginning about 9 Tuesday morning so we hopefully wandered into the village. The “market” turned out to be a guy and his wife with a small vanload of vegetables. Rheims it was not!  We picked up a couple of things and then headed back to the boat. We shoved off about 10.
One more travel day and we would reach the Petite Saone and be river cruising.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Top of the Vosges, June 7-9

It took us from 9 am until nearly 2 pm to clear the 19 locks to the top. On the way we passed the entrance to the Epinal branch canal. We decided we didn’t need to stop in Epinal again. We’ve been there twice, the last time two years ago (when we made the local paper) so we didn’t take the 3.5 km canal into town and just headed straight up the Golbey Staircase. 

The summit pound is about 10 k long and we had stopped on the western end both previous trips on the Vosges. Last time through we noted a nice new pontoon on the eastern end and when we rounded the corner and saw that it was empty, we decided to put it to use for a couple of days.
The tiny village of Les Forges is just across the bridge so we wandered over to see what there was. To our surprise, along with the restaurant that sold frog leg pizza (or maybe frog legs and pizza. We couldn’t decipher the sign.) there were a couple of boulangeries and a very nice local products store featuring wine, cheeses, yoghurt and a butcher counter. Since the village is just a couple of k from Epinal, a pretty good sized town, we assumed the shop serves the residents of this small suburb.

A customer contemplates the butcher’s counter.

We did some bike riding on Friday, traveling out to the other end of the summit pound just because, and then returned to the boat for a lazy afternoon and an evening meal on the terrace. There had been some thunderstorms around; we could see and hear them but hadn’t been rained on (yet!). It made for a very dramatic sky.

Saturday morning we were off, heading downhill. In fact, we’d be going downhill until we reached the Canal du Centre in about three weeks.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Down (or up) the Vosges, June 3-7

It took from 9 am until about 1:30 pm to do the 18 locks (13 up and 5 down) on the Nancy brach canal; the longest gap between locks was the dividing pound which we were in for all of 20 minutes. Luckily, we were one of the few boats on the canal and the locks, all being automatic and in chains, meant there was very little waiting. Next we entered the Canal des Vosges, formerly known by it’s much more romantic name, the Canal de l’Est, (Branche Sud).

The idea of linking the Saone and Mosell Rivers goes back to Roman times but it wasn’t until the invention of the lock technology that it became feasible. The loss of Lorraine to the Prussians after the 1871 war made the canal more urgent so that French traffic would not have to pass through hostile territory. Construction began in 1874 and was completed in 1882. 
We entered the canal just south of it’s northern end, avoiding the heavily industrialized larger gauge section around the steel mills at Neuves-Maison and made our Sunday night stop at a very pretty rural tie up in the trees near Flavigny-sur-Mosell. The second night was an even more quiet spot.

The view of the canal from behind the wheel.

In Southern California we don’t have many song birds. The occasional mockingbird, doves and pigeons, and of course, crows, are really the only birds that make much noise. In these mixed northern forests, though, there is a symphony of birdsong. It starts when the sun comes up and doesn’t stop until sunset. It really is a wonderful soundscape when cruising through the forests.

Tuesday night was spent in the not very charming village of Charmes. When we were here in 2010 (we didn't stop in 2016) we were able to use a good quay away from the “camping cars” but now that space is taken up with permanently moored boats and the only place is on a sloping bank with not enough mooring points and the rv’ers practically in the wheelhouse. Not recommended.

We did get a look at the stork nests in the tops of the trees on the other side of the canal.

We left Wednesday morning to our next destination about 18 k and 11 locks away, Thaon les Vosges.
There are two mooring spots in Thaon; one in what we guess is a retail park that never quite got off the ground. There is a very nice quay with bollards but just a big unmowed field and beyond it the back of a big grocery store. We made a quick stop for a few supplies and then headed through one lock (#20 named Abbatoir. We went through quickly!) to another set of bankside mooring near a park. 

Along with fishing, one of the favorite past time of the French is the game of petanque, kind of like boules with steel balls. It can be played anywhere there is a relatively flat, fine gravel surface. Tree roots, divots and clumps of grass are part of the challenge. Some towns have big indoor spaces so the game can be played year-round. Like boules, the object is to get your (or your team’s) balls closest to the “jack.” Barring that, it’s good strategy to knock your opponents balls away from it’s target.
Thaon has a very elaborate outdoor petanque space and when we arrived it was humming with activity. We took our set of balls and when off to a quiet corner far away from everybody else to “practice”. Beer was involved.

Everybody’s gone home now. It’s dinner time.
We had front row seats from the boat.

Another interesting feature of town is the Rotunde.
Built by the towns “upper crust” as a place to entertain the workers and their families, it’s now a festival and event space.

It has a great glass art nouveau ceiling.

Thursday morning it was off at the crack of 9 am. We had to climb the “Golbey Staircase”, 15 locks in about 3 k to reach the summit pound of the canal, often leaving one lock and nearly directly into the next. It would be downhill for quite awhile after we reached to top.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Lagarde and Back to Nancy, May 31 to June 2

Lagarde was were we left Odysseus for the winter in 2010. Jacques and Patrice, the former base managers, rescued the former hireboat base, now Navig France, and turned it into their own little empire. They now control three small marinas, a gite, have a restaurant and small grocery in Lagarde and have greatly expanded their stable of boats. It is also the home base for the last nine years of Peter and Jo Hyndman (and their boat Joyeaux) who have been “pen pals” since the very beginning of our barge experience. Peter also writes a very enjoyable blog, Fading Memories (the link is over there on the right side of the page. You should read it!).
Tom Summers of Eurocanals for many years ran an open internet forum. We had corresponded regularly with several other barge owners, some of whom we eventually met, but never Peter and Jo. They had not yet arrived in Lagarde from Australia when we passed through earlier in May but on our return, they were there and we were able to put faces to the names for the first time.

Joyeaux in her winter finery.
PK 209, the restaurant, in the background.

It turned out there was a changing of the guard in Lagarde. Jacques was retiring and Peter and Jo were going to be taking Joyeaux up to Belgium, leaving Lagarde behind. Since we arrived early in the day we were able to get together for a couple of hours and then we went to sample PK 209, Navig France’s restaurant, while they had a going away party (and Peter’s birthday celebration) with some local friends. We joined them again for breakfast and more of Jo’s excellent spice cake. We had a very pleasant visit (but much too short!) and got underway again continuing west around 11:30.
We spent a quiet night in Crevic and Saturday about noon arrived at the shopping quay just before Nancy. After filling a couple of shopping carts and trundling them down to the boat, restocking the wine supply, we turned around and headed to the beginning of the Embranchement de Nancy. This “shortcut”, with it’s 18 locks in 10 kilometers would take us to the Canal des Vosges where we would begin our journey south.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Lutzelbourg and Beyond, June 28 to 30

After a night in Saverne, this time after the deep lock and in front of the waterways office instead of the marina, we made our way to very picturesque Lutzelbourg. To get there we once again traveled the portion of the Canal de la Marne au Rhine that is one of the most pleasant in France, following the Zorn river through it’s heavily wooded valley.

There are three mooring in the town, the lower and middle run by the village. The upper port is a hireboat base and charges for parking but the village spots are free with a charge for water and electricity. We’d filled the water tank in Strasbourg and between running the engine and the solar panels, we didn’t need to plug in. We found a nice shady spot in the middle port and set off into town.

The view from our mooring.
“Downtown Lutzelbourg” is through the lock.

As usual it was time to hike up to the ruined 11th century chateau that we had visited our last time here. 

Some of the buildings are still relatively intact.

 On the way up the hill you can also get a good look at Lutzelbourg and it’s surroundings.

There’s Oldtimer in the middle port.

Wednesday morning we were off again. After four locks we once again used the Plan Incliné, this time stopping briefly at the top to see if we could purchase a Plan Incliné snow globe in the gift shop. Nope.

Our stop for the night was a basin near the large lakes used to feed the canal where we experienced on of those cultural disconnects that occasionally set us back. People on one of the three hireboats that joined us in the basin jumped off the boat immediately after tying up and wandered off into the forest, returning with arms full of sticks, and proceeded to start a fire on the ground. We’ve seen fishing camps with fires (The French seem to think that it is essential. They’re not necessarily cooking on it and it’s daytime so no need for warmth, there just has to be a fire.) but where we’re from that kind of activity will certainly get you a fine and maybe jail time. Here it’s just the regular course of events. We had to get over ourselves.

Thursday morning it was off again to negotiate the deep Rechicourt lock and then on to Lagarde where we had left Odysseus for the winter in 2010

Monday, June 18, 2018

Saturday, May 26

Since we got a late start Saturday, we weren’t going to go very far. On our way to Strasbourg we had made note of a new and very attractive mooring out in the countryside. Along this stretch of canal the old towpath has been converted to a very nice paved cycle path and stops with picnic table and bike racks have been installed, several with mooring spaces. This particular spot had a bunch of newly planted apple trees, the several varieties carefully labeled, unfortunately too young and to early in the season for fruit. We had it all to ourselves and it was a very quiet, restful night.

Boat bow thrusters, a kind of sideways propellor to push the bow around and aid in maneuvering, make a very distinct sound when activated; kind of a metallic whooshing. A little after 6 am, we were woken by the sound of a bow thruster some distance away, not likely since the canal doesn’t open until 9 am and there were no other moorings close by. A few minutes later we heard the same sound again, this time a little closer. The third time we heard it it was even closer and I got up to see what was going on. Throwing on my bathrobe I went up to the wheelhouse and looked out the windows. No boats around. Then I heard the sound again. Opening the door and looking around, I realized the sound came from the propane burner on a hot air balloon that was hovering overhead. It was so close that when I stuck my head out the door, the passengers gave me a hearty “Bonjour!”

 The gentle morning breeze sent them off to the west.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Strasbourg, May 23-26

We wanted to get to Strasbourg early in the day Wednesday to get the technician started on the water pump as every day staying there was going to cost us. We arrived about noon only to find out that he would be gone for the day. The Port Captain told us the mechanic would come down to the boat Thursday morning to get started diagnosing the problem. We used the afternoon to wander around the area and find the nearby supermarket. We did walk into town but it’s quite a hike from the marina so we figured in subsequent visits we’d ride our bikes in and park them to walk around. We did make the obligatory visit to the cathedral and made the hike to the top.

The cathedral is so tall it takes
two pictures to get it all in.

 For 3 euros you can take the many steps to the “porch”
where you get a view across the city,
including the European Parliament building

Thursday morning we found our guy but he said he was busy and would be down to the boat before lunch. We sat around waiting. When he hadn’t arrived by noon we went to find him. He was in a meeting but said he would be down as soon as he could. Around 1 he finally showed up and we demonstrated the problem, bang, bang bang! He said he would have to contact the distributor to get access to parts (we had already supplied contact information for the distributor and a maintenance and repair manual) and he would have to wait until after 2 (lunch time in France, of course!). Off to the city we went again, this time to the old quarter, Petite France, and the river L’Ill.

Upon our return the mechanic said he had talked to the distributor and he was unable to access parts. If we wanted to fix the pump it would have to be sent back to the manufacturer in Germany. The thing is cast iron and weighs a ton and we’d be without water for who knows how long, stuck in the Strasbourg marina, by now not our favorite place. The alternative was to buy a new pump from the marina chandlery (not inexpensive, of course!) and, because the mechanic was so busy, unless we wanted to wait until Monday, paying the moorage charges and then the mechanics time, I would have to install the new pump myself. Not entirely helpful. 

Friday morning, the new pump purchased, I dove down into the “basement” and began the project. Luckily a large plumbing supply store was just across the canal and a visit there supplied the parts necessary to adapt the new pump to the old system. The project was completed in just a little over the two to three hours the instruction manual said it should take. The afternoon was spent stocking up on groceries.

Saturday morning we decided to leave, only to discover that the Port office was closed Saturday and Sunday. A phone call to the Capitane brought him down to the office about 10 and, with our credit card exercised and a sigh of relief to be out of there, we began to retrace our trip on the canal, this time headed west.