Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Back to Briare, August 12-16

Just 4 months ago we took the Canal du Loing and Canal de Briare north in the freezing cold. Now the weather was much better, sunny and warm with a few clouds around, but the water levels in the canal were reduced to conserve water. We were afraid that might prevent us from mooring in some of the places we intended but that turned out not to be the case. We did have some interesting chats with lock keepers, though. They made sure we knew the canals were going to close and really wanted us to keep moving along, but we knew there was no reason to rush too fast. We had a week to cover what could be done in three days if things got dire.
Over the four days we also passed 4 hotel barges that were heading out of the area. The other exit from the region, the Canal latéral à La Loire, had very restricted depth available at it’s eastern end so if the deep hotel barges didn’t get out before the closure they would be stuck on a small portion of the latéral.
Our first stop after Saint-Mammès was just some bollards in the grass near the town of Montcourt. We’d stayed twice in this general area on rural moorings and it’s very peaceful. 
Monday we traveled for about an hour to Nemour. We were out of bread and Cathy Jo thought she remembered where a boulangerie was so we threw a couple of lines out and off she went.  It turned out to be a fruitless search so about an hour later we were off again.
After lunch one of those drifting clouds decided to drop it’s load right on top of us. We had just passed a group of fishermen scrambling to recover their gear when the heavens opened. Luckily for us, we were between locks and it was a quick shower.
We had planned to stop right after the first lock on the Briare. There’s a pontoon right next to a nice park we’d noticed on our two previous trips but about 3 pm we passed a picnic spot with a couple of bollards and decided to call it a day.



About a half hour later we saw something unusual on this canal, a loaded commercial barge headed down.


And what do you do when the kids are out of school and you have a boat to run? You bring them along and make a secure spot on deck so they can splash away.


When we were on the Seine we saw a similar setup but with a swing set on the deck. Unfortunately, they were just a little too far away for me to get a good picture.

Tuesday we put in about 27 kilometers to Montbouy (we’d stopped there on the way out) and Wednesday we made it to Rogny-les-Sept-Écluses by about 1 pm, giving us plenty of time to wander around the village again, although this time we didn’t climb the hill beside the old lock staircase or make the trek up the steep hill to the church.


The River Loing crosses the canal in Rogny,
coming in from the right and exiting under that walkway to the left.


The old mill

I promised I wouldn’t take yet another picture of the old lock staircase but I just couldn’t help myself. It is pretty awesome what they accomplished in the mid 1600’s. Over 6000 people worked on the construction of the canal.


Water used to come cascading down through the seven locks to lift barges over the hill.

It took us just over an hour to complete the six locks around the hill to the top and by 11 am we were in the first lock starting down.
We spent the night in Ouzouer-sur-Trézée again and on Friday at 10:30 were tied up at the Briare fuel dock, just before the last lock into the marina. Since it was Friday, Cathy Jo hustled off to the market for some fresh vegetables and I, along with the marina Capitane, David, put on the 400 liters of fuel to fill the tank. We finished just before 11 and David had already called the waterways people to operate the lock. I told him I needed to wait for Cathy Jo’s return but he said that wasn’t possible. We had missed the announcement that the three locks on the embranchement into the marina were only operating from 9 to 11 am. I managed to single-hand the boat through the lock and got tied up in the slip shortly after. 
On Sunday afternoon the canal closed and that was it for the year.
Chores and projects await!

You can see the stern of the boat among the sea of cruisers.


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Seine, August Aug. 8-11

The Seine is a big, busy river with lots of commercial traffic and locks to match, about 600 ft. long and 40 ft. wide, but since it was August when most of France is on vacation, commercial traffic was pretty light; we only had to share a lock with a bigger barge once and that barge was only about 120 ft. long. We would only spend a couple of days on the river. The best places to stop are the waiting areas for the locks, especially this time of year.

The waterways authorities have spent some money sprucing up the facilities. One good example was the Coudray lock. There is a passerelle, a pedestrian bridge that crosses the river at the lock and barrage. The sides were covered in a mirror surface so when the boat passed underneath we got a view of the top of the boat.



You can see the solar panes, the bicycles
and our outside table and chairs.

The barrage and walkway at the Vives-Eaux lock were elegantly designed.



We saw some amazing architecture as we motored up the river. Some very nice looking residences. I didn’t get a picture of the thatched roof house but some others were just as impressive.



Thursday night was spent at the waiting area for the Ablon-Vigneux lock and the plan was to stop briefly in Melun (where we had stayed in 2009) for a quick trip to the nearby grocery store and then move on. Just as we tied up at about 1:30, though, the rain started to come down hard so we decided to put off the shopping until the rain stopped and spend the night. Bad decision.
We knew it was a crummy tie-up. We’d noted that during our previous stop. The river is quite narrow as it goes through town and the commercial traffic doesn’t even pretend to slow down. Consequently you’re in a washing machine from 6 in the morning until sometime after 8 at night. At least in 2009 it was free. Sometime in the past 10 years they put in a post with water and power on it and are now charging a pretty penny for a lousy mooring. We have learned our lesson! (twice, now!)


The view out our wheelhouse window as 
a loaded commercial goes steaming down the river.

Picking up our email on Friday afternoon we got the news we had been dreading. The portion of the Canal du Loing above Nemours and the entire Canal de Briare were going to close at the end of the day August 18, about a week away, due to lack of water. We still had plenty of time to make it to our winter moorings but we were going to have a long stay in port before our flight home on Sept. 25. It was ironic that this was the year we decided to extend our stay later into September so we could get a little more cruising time. We’d be doing our cruising at the dock.

Saturday morning we set off for Samois-sur-Seine, another place we visited in 2009 (and a much nicer mooring!). The home of the gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, back then we enjoyed the music at the bar right next to the mooring, including an appearance by Django’s maybe 10 year old grandson who was an excellent guitarist, too. Sadly, when we pulled in just before noon, we found plenty of room at the moorings but the bar had just been sold and the new owners had not yet reopened it. A great disappointment.
Sunday morning we completed our 80 kilometers on the Seine, turning into the Canal du Loing at Saint Mammés. We made a brief stop to get some fresh vegetables at the Sunday market and then entered the canal headed south for Briare.



Monday, September 9, 2019

Last Days on the Marne, August 5-8

We were pretty surprised when we pulled into the marina in Meaux to find plenty of space available. It’s a very nice marina as marinas go and utilities are available, although for a fee. If you don’t need them (and we didn’t), mooring is free. 
We were pleased to see the narrowboat Chalk Hill II tied up. We had met Neal and Karen earlier in the summer on the Canal du Loing. They were pretty much following our trip but in the opposite direction; we figured we’d meet them again. Sadly, they had left the boat to attend family celebrations in England and wouldn’t be returning for several days.



Again, it was early in the day and we planned to spend Tuesday there as well so we had plenty of time to wander into town and do a little sightseeing.
We revisited the Bishop’s Garden and Saint-Etienne Cathedral whose construction began in the 12th century and was “finished” in the 16th. (“Finished” because the southern tower has never been completed.)



Inside the cathedral is a monument to Jacques-Bénigne Lignel Bossuet, a renowned scholar and orator from the late 1600’s and a bishop in the cathedral.


The figures at the base are Henrietta of England, the young princess whose funeral oration was given by Bossuet,
 the Grand Dauphin whom he tutored, 
Turenne whom he converted to Catholicism
 and Louise de la Vallière whom he led from the court to join the Carmelite order.

Wednesday morning we were off to Nogent-sur-Marne, another place we stopped in 2009 and again, we found our spot on the bank back up the river from the marina. Behind an island, we were separated from the commercial traffic pounding up and down the river; a very peaceful spot.

Looking downstream toward the marina


Once again we were awed by some of the houses along the waterfront. We were moored right below this one.


Thursday morning we were underway to complete our trip down the Marne. After about 2 hours we turned left and headed up the mighty Seine.



Sunday, September 8, 2019

Down the Marne, July 29-August 5

We were now truly in champagne territory, the vines covering the slopes on both sides of the river.


We wanted to stop on the pontoon at Cumieres where we had stayed several days on Odysseus in 2009  but the mooring was full. We backtracked up the river to Epernay to the end of the navigable portion of the river. The marina there was not as we remembered; we thought there were pontoons and a short quay but the pontoons were gone and there was no room on the quay for us. Luckily we had spotted several possible mooring sites on the way in so about noon we grabbed a spot on the bank right across the street from a large shopping center and supermarket. 
We spent the afternoon wandering around town, visiting the tourist office for the obligatory champagne tasting and took the small tourist train on a trip down the appropriately named Avenue de Champagne and the old part of town.


Wednesday morning we headed back down the river through just one lock and by 10:15 were tied up at our next stop, Dammery.
All of these villages are home to many small producers whose champagne you’ll never see on store shelves. As we were informed at the Epernay tourist office tasting, small producers own 90% of the land with the big champagne houses owning the other 10%. The small growers sell most of their crop on contract to the big houses but most of them hold back a portion of their harvest to produce small bottlings of their own.


This is a map of central Dammery, population about 1,500.
Each one of those orange glasses is a champagne producer.

We wandered the streets of Dammery looking for a producer with a tasting room and found the Caillez-Lemaire house open. We sampled several of their offerings and settled on a rosé, 65% meunier and 35% pinot noir. Delicious!

While we were tasting another couple arrived. They had driven down from Antwerp, Belgium to visit their favorite champagne producer. After stocking up for the upcoming birth of a grandchild, they were going to be heading back; just a day trip.

The view from the back deck at the Dammery mooring.

There would be more pictures of the Dammery mooring but the big wheat fields across the river were being harvested and that creates a huge cloud of dust. When the wind was blowing in the right (wrong!) direction it was like a fog bank on the river. We had to close the windows to keep the interior from being covered with the stuff.

Unfortunately, we were still feeling a little pressed for time, so Thursday morning we were off, stopping for the night in the early afternoon just above one of the locks on the river so we could be in Chateau Thierry first thing on Friday morning. 

Friday morning it took us just an hour to get down the river to town and, though the pontoon was already full, we found a place on the wall just downriver. Actually it was a better, quieter spot as they had set up a small fete foraine, mostly rides for kids, right next to the pontoon and it was a little chaotic.


The market is held in the parking lot and just to the left, behind the building. 
By the time I took the picture the stalls were all packed up and gone 
although the rotisserie chicken man’s trailer is still there.

Friday was market day so we trekked up the hill to the square to gather some fresh produce and, since we finished just about lunch time, we stopped at the restaurant in the square, Il Carina, for a bite. Unfortunately we were right next to the market as they broke down the stalls and the street sweeper made it’s rounds, and rounds, and rounds, and rounds. About the time he finished, they started up the concrete saw for the work they were doing in the square (in the middle of the picture above). A peaceful lunch it was not! (but the fish was good.)

The next two days we just traveled down the river, leaving the moorings about 9 in the morning and stopping at moorings near locks in the early afternoon.


This is the lock and barrage at Isles-les-Meldeuses.
We were tied up above the lock.

Another short day on Monday took us to the marina in Meaux and we were tied up by 11:30.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

St. Dizier to Mareuil-sur-Ay, July 26 to 29

We were really lucky we found the shade. Wednesday and Thursday were very hot, well over 100º F. We mostly sat around reading while the “big gun”, our big fan, roared away. The only problem is that when its that hot, it’s blowing hot air, not much relief. Luckily it cooled down some at night. We still needed the small fan but we were able to sleep. The jets quit around 5pm, too.
Since the locks start operating at 7 am and we wanted to get moving, we left our mooring Friday morning at the ungodly hour of 8 am. We weren’t planning on going far as it was still going to be in the mid 90's; just a few hours and then find another shady spot. Right around noon we came upon a couple of bollards and a picnic table sheltered by trees just before a lock. We got out our lines and took our lunch to the table.

A couple of hours later we noticed a familiar looking luxemotor approaching the lock. A quick look though the binoculars confirmed that it was David and Evey on L’Escapade. (You’ll find David’s blog linked to the right.) We met them our first year with Oldtimer but they’ve been down south for the last couple of years. We knew they were heading up the Champagne et Bourgogne to winter in Amsterdam but weren’t aware they were so close. There was a minor malfunction with the lock so were had a chance to have a brief chat but since there were no bars or restaurants close by our mooring, when the lock was fixed, they pushed off. ( ;-) Those of you who have read David’s blog will know what I’m talking about!)


Off they go!

Saturday morning we left at our usual hour in a light rain (and much cooler!) with a couple of objectives.
The Champagne et Bourgogne ends where the Canal latéral á la Marne begins at the town of Vitry-le-Francois. We stayed in Vitry two years ago to pick up Cathy Jo’s father but weren’t particularly impressed. The marina is very small and there was really only one spot that would fit us. Plus it was expensive and far from the center of town. Just outside of town, however, was a one boat mooring with easy access to a big shopping area. Just before 11 am we tied up, made a quick trip to the supermarket and then had lunch. By 1 we were underway for our second objective.
Back in 2017 we stopped in La Chausée-sur-Marne so we could visit the very picturesque village of St-Amand-sur-Fion and it’s church. On the way to the village we stumbled across the champagne house of Bertrand-Lapie. The madame climbed off her riding mower long enough to let us taste a couple of their offerings and we loved them, purchasing a couple of bottles. We wanted to get back there if we were tied up on time.
About 3:30 we were moored, threw off the bicycles and headed off up the road. Neither the madame and or monsieur were there but an employee was only too happy to pour us a sample. We went back to the boat with some very fine (and reasonable priced!) champagne.
Sunday morning we were off, passing through Châlons-en-Champagne to Condé-sur-Marne with it’s very loud and insistent bells. From 6 am until 10 at night they ring every 15 minutes. We usually love the church bells but these were a little much.
Monday we were truly in champaign territory, traveling just a couple of hours and grabbing a mooring in Mareuil-sur-Ay. 



Vintage 2019 ripening as we watch!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Joinville to St. Dizier, July 21-26

By now we had heard that there was a very real possibility that the Loing and Briare Canals were going to close in mid to late August because of the water shortage. We had already made a deposit on the winter mooring in Briare and closing those canals would make it impossible to get there. While we weren’t going to have to travel sunup to sunset, we weren’t going to be able to dawdle too much if we wanted to be in a position to make a mad dash down the canals before their closure.

Also, there was another mini heat wave on the way. Temperatures were going to be well over 100º F on Wednesday and Thursday so we wanted to make sure we had some shade. We turned to one of our favorite navigation tools, Google Earth. Using the satellite view we were able to scan the canal ahead and find the places where there were trees. We found what looked like a suitable spot near the town of St. Dizier and planned on Wednesday and Thursday nights there.
Meanwhile the weather was pleasant so we were able to enjoy the peaceful countryside around the still very small Marne River.



Corn in the foreground 
and the sunflowers are just beginning to bloom in the back.

Our next stop was Joinville. While there is a municipal halte, the Hotel de La Vinaigrerie had a quay right out front and for a nominal €6 a night they have a very nice mooring, probable the nicest mooring we used on the whole canal. We stayed there to visit the Joinville Chateau.
According to the local legend, Claude of Lorraine, Duke of Guise, built the lower chateau (they lived in the upper one, now just a ruin) between 1533 and 1546 for his wife, Antoinette of Bourbon, as an act of contrition after a brief love affair. It was really just an entertainment venue meant to enhance the prestige of the Duke, who was very ambitious. In 1856 a French industrialist bought the palace and grounds and restored it. It became a property of the Haute-Marne General Council in 1978 and is now used a venue for cultural events.



The gardens are very impressive.


We also wandered along the Quai des Peceaux, a non-navigable arm of the Marne River that cuts through town.


and visited the Église Notre Dame to view what is supposedly Saint Joseph’s belt.


Tuesday morning we set off toward the shade and Wednesday just before lunch we found it. Our view from overhead was confirmed. The St. Dizier town moorings were awful, just a bank next to a big parking lot with not a hint of a tree or blade of grass, big street lights and asphalt. Just a little further on was a a section of the canal with large trees on both sides, providing much needed shade for most of the day. (Although there is a very active military airfield close by. Our stay was accompanied by the roar of jet fighters doing touch and go landings!) We put out our mooring stakes, got out the big fan and prepared for the warm up.


Saturday, August 17, 2019

Langres, Chaumont and Beyond, July 15-21

In 2007 when we were looking for our first barge, one of the boats we found on the internet was moored in Chaumont. Using it as an excuse to visit our friends John and Patti Harman near Dijon, we drove down from the Netherlands, staying overnight in Langres and then viewing the boat (it was not to be) the next day, then proceeding on to St. Symphorean. Odysseus blog

We pulled into the Langres moorings, just a long quay with posts for the water and electricity connections, a little after 1 pm. I saw other boats plugged into the power posts and we thought we might do a load of laundry so after getting tied up I got out my handy-dandy plug tester to make sure the power was ok. (I always do this. You never know…) There was no power on the two plugs on the post nearest the boat so I went to the next post where a boat was already plugged in. Still no power. Seeing the puzzled look on my face, the woman on the boat came out and, in very complicated French, tried to explain what what was going on. I finally figured out that she was trying to tell me that even though the utilities were free, the power was only on for an hour each in the morning, afternoon and evening. That was a new one on us. I guess it keeps people from moving in permanently but the laundry wasn’t going to get done that way.
Off we went to town, up a very steep hill, the town being built on a rocky cliff about 500 feet up from the Marne River which has it’s source just south of town.
Legends have the town site being occupied since the second century AD but archeology digs have revealed Gaulish and Roman artifacts so it was inhabited well before that.

The town still retains it’s surrounding defensive wall from the Middle Ages, now topped by a footpath, but since we’d already walked that when we were here before we gave it a pass, instead visiting the 12th century church. It had a beautiful high altar from the 1800’s.


It also has some (supposedly) beautiful tapestries but they were covered to prevent damage from the light so we couldn’t see them.
After the church visit we indulged in a barely edible pizza lunch and ventured out to the wall, looking out over the countryside.



Wednesday we were off to our next stop, Foulain, 25 k and 14 locks to the north. There was space there for two boats and there were already two boats there but the bank was ok so we managed to tie ourselves to some bushes. Cathy Jo walked into the village and there wasn’t much. She was looking for bread but when the boulangerie did open after a few minutes wait, the baker only had one baguette and there was no telling how old it was. Pass. She did find something new, though, an egg vending machine. You put in your euros and out comes a half dozen eggs. We already had eggs.
Chaumont was our next stop, 8 locks and 15 k away. Another long quay with water and electricity. This time we had to pay (a whole €12 ) but at least the power was on the whole time we were plugged in. Again, another town at the top of the hill. Luckily for us, the grocery store was at the bottom of the hill so we were able to stock up.
Off on Saturday morning, 20 k, 10 locks, 2 lift bridges and one short tunnel later we were tied up in Vouécourt. Our canal guide book talked about an interesting church at a nearby village (this is turning into the Old Church Tour!) and the one boat mooring was empty so about 2 pm we tied up, offloaded the bicycles and headed off for Vignory.


Built in the 11th century, the church features a Carolingian nave (look it up!) that’s an extension of the choir.