the Nivernais

the Nivernais

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Evolution of Locks

We’ve done over 400 locks this year and we’ve seen quite an evolution of locks over time close up.


There’s the French Freycinet standard lock (I’ll do the math for you). About 128 by 15 feet. These were mostly built in the late 1800’s but some have been updated. Many of them are still operated by hand by lockkeepers.


The locks on the river Saone above St. Jean de Losne are just a little bigger. They rise (or fall) anywhere from just 3 or four feet to 30 feet in a couple of cases.
The larger river locks, like this one in Seurre. The keeper sits up in the tower and pushes buttons. 607 X 40. Built from the 60’s and 70’s, this lock has about a 12 foot change. We only did two of these, although we did them both twice.


Onto the upper Meuse, the locks are pretty big, 330 X 155.

Below Namur we’re in the biiiig river with large commercial barges and locks to match. These are about 650 X 70 and some have a change of as much as 15 feet.



At least one of these guys will fit in the big ones.





Saturday, August 20, 2016

Last Days in France, July 28 to August 11

Tuesday morning it was out of Charleville and down the Meuse towards Belgium in the rain. The routine for the next couple of weeks would be about the same: travel for between two and three hours to a mooring in a small village or town and stay for a couple of days. Rinse and repeat. 
The Meuse in this area is in a deep valley with wooded hillsides and lots of exposed “geology.” Lots of twists and turns, too, as it descends very little.

Our first stop was Montherm√®, a small village on a big bend in the river. One “rest day” in between showers, we climbed up to a point de vue for a look down on town. Another day we took a bike ride up the beautiful new bike path along a tributary of the Meuse, the Semoy. Lots of holiday camps in the area but they were a little subdued because of the rain. One woman passed us on the street shaking hear head. “Que temps”, she grumbled. “What weather!”


And this was the view of the left bank of town from the mooring. The lookout is on that rocky outcrop in the center right of the ridgeline.

Next it was on to Revin and then Fumay with a couple of days in each. There is a nicely paved bicycle path along the river so more bike rides figured into our days. And the weather improved, too, with warm sunny days.


The very busy halte at Revin.

There is no rural or wilderness bankside mooring on this part of the river, just pontoons in the towns. Very different from further south where it’s possible to just drive in mooring stakes alongside the canal for the night. And since we’re very near the border with Belgium and the Netherlands, almost all of the boats are from those countries. It was a very rare case in Revin that the boat moored alongside Oldtimer for one night was an English couple. The night before it was a small boat from Belgium (the French speaking half) with a family on a three week holiday. They were a friendly bunch and our French and their English was pretty good after a couple of bottles of wine.
Our last stop in France was Givet. We met up again with Americans Harvey and Sandra Schwartz on Hoop Doet Leven (That’s Hope Leads Us On in Dutch.) We’d seen them on the Canal Lateral a la Loire in June and they had passed by while we were stopped in Fumay.


A very imposing Vauban designed fort watches over Givet. That’s Hoop behind Oldtimer on the quay.

But the most important reason for the stop was the giant Intermarch√®grocery store a 10 minute bike ride from the boat. Since we’d be crossing into Belgium, we needed to do some serious stocking up in the wine locker. We figure next spring when we return to Oldtimer and have a car we’ll make the drive back down to Givet to stock up on our favorite French delicacies. The store was well stocked with wines by the case. And did I say it was really big? Our kind of place!
Wednesday evening we got some beautiful light for a view across the river to the Tour Gregoire and the Mont D’Haurs, The site of a huge old fortification.


On our walk around the site of the old fort we were informed that it was mostly torn down in the 1960’s. The stones were shipped by truck to the Netherlands for dike building. Fortifications all the same...

Thursday morning we left the quay and entered our last French lock; we’ve passed through 412 this year. We entered Belgium about 10 am. 





Thursday, August 18, 2016

Party Time!

Back in mid May when we were on our way to Roanne we met Michelle and Philippe Tardivet. Michelle was born and raised in northern California. Philippe was born in the French Alps but has lived in the US for the last 35 years. They had moved back to France for a couple of years so Philippe could take care of some family obligations. Philippe is a sailor (of the wind variety) but Michelle gets seasick. They decided to give canal barging a try and had rented one of the cheap ones for a long weekend. When they passed by and saw our California flag, they made a u turn, tied up behind us and drinks and stories were shared. A couple of raucous dinners, one in Santenay and one in St. Jean de Losne (which also involved looking at barges for sale. They’re hooked!) ensued and we received an invitation for Michelle’s 50th birthday party, to be held at a vineyard in Meursault, Burgundy, where they now live. Since it’s a 5 hour drive from Charleville to Meursault, Michelle helpfully booked us a room in the center of the village, at the Hotel des Arts, for Friday and Saturday night.
We arrived early Friday afternoon and had a chance to walk around the Burgundian countryside, admiring the vines that have leafed out quite a bit since we were here in mid June.


And this being a wine producing region, thing are pretty prosperous. They have a beautiful city hall.



Saturday afternoon it was just a 5 minute walk from our hotel to the Domain Boyer Martenot where the party would be held. 

We got there in time to witness the preparation of the featured menu item, a spit roasted pig.


Yves, the head winemaker and, in this case, executive chef, admires the pig on the spit of his home-built barbecue. It’s fired with prunings from the vines of the domaine.


4 hours later, things are getting close.



Philippe concentrates on the basting.

Sometime after 8 pm thing got rolling with wine (of course, from this winery) and giant plates of food in true Burgundian style. About 30 people were gathered under the tent for the evening festivities.


That’s fellow American bargees Jim and Mary Neil from Festina Tarde next to Cathy Jo. We met them in Roanne.

Philippe was keeping everyone entertained and helping to consume the beverage of choice.


And then there was the person responsible for all this merriment. 

Michelle with Eric, Philippe’s good friend and assistant chef, and the remains of the main course.

Luckily it wasn’t too far to stagger back to our hotel because we didn’t make it there until early Sunday morning. And we are going to have to have a word with the city fathers of Meursault. Those church bells that start ringing at 7 o’clock in the morning are much too loud!
Back to the boat by Sunday afternoon, we had Monday to finish up some chores and then it was off down the Meuse River through northern France and Belgium, bound for Maasbracht in the Netherlands. With a month to make the trip we were going to be able to take our time, at last.






Saturday, August 13, 2016

Time for Business, July 25-28

After last years heat wave, we decided we needed to put more opening windows in Oldtimer. The wheelhouse with all its glass is like a greenhouse and only the two back ones open. Also, there are only two very small windows that open in the galley and we need more ventilation there, too. We had made contact with a window manufacturer in Holland and he had given us a pretty good price for the work. We looked into having them installed in a yard in France but we thought that would be too complicated. The windows are being produced several hundred kilometers from the boat. The old windows would have to be removed and shipped to Holland for use as patterns, then the new windows would have to be shipped to France and installed. What could possibly go wrong? Why not just take the boat to the windows? It would be easy for the window man to install the windows himself and we could just leave the boat there over then winter giving him plenty of time to do the job. 
After parking the boat in the Charleville marina we rented a car and made the 2 1/2 hour drive up to Maasbracht, the Netherlands, the same place we started our boat search last year. We even ran into one of the owners of the B and B we stayed in last year on the street. That was quite a surprise! You just don’t expect to have someone calling out your name while on the streets of Maasbracht. We don’t, anyway. We made arrangements to have coffee with Mirjam and Koen on Wednesday afternoon.

We went over our window plans with Yvo de Ruijter from Omru Scheepsramen (boat windows in English) and he set us up with a berth for the winter at the Stevensweert municipal marina. It’s a huge slip and there’s lots of cruising territory around if we want to do some of that. We’ll have the slip from this September 1 to May 1 next year.


Our spot is on the east/west finger that sticks out from the land in the right hand lake.


We’ll be right across from that small power boat with the tan cover.

After spending the three days in the Netherlands it all came back to us. Everything is very clean and tidy, business is pretty straightforward and almost everybody speaks English, but don’t expect to get seated for dinner in a restaurant after about 7:30pm. Not in the small towns, anyway, tourist towns or not!
Business completed, on Thursday we headed back to Oldtimer in Charleville. We were invited to a big birthday bash in Burgundy on Saturday night.



Thursday, August 11, 2016

Down to Charleville, July 18-23

Monday morning, the festival over, we joined the exodus out of Verdun. Since we’re in far northern France very close to Belgium and Germany, that’s where most of the boats are from and most of them are still headed south for their holidays. We, however, are headed north for Charleville-Mezier so we can tend to business. We do have all week to cover the 130 kilometers so we’re in no big hurry.
Our first stop was in the small village of Consenvoye. We’d stopped here twice in 2008, the second time to lick our wounds after the broken shifter cable resulted in a small incident with a lock door. This time it was pretty warm and since the halte is on a small arm off the river we felt some swimming was in order. That was until we stepped foot in the water. Much too cool for our taste so we spent some time wading around and then retreated to the shade at the boat and a cold pastis. It’s a nice quiet place, however, and we had good afternoon shade so we stayed an extra day.
Following the signs up into town to what was touted as a 24/7 boulangerie we came across something novel. Kind of puts the kitchen bread machine to shame.



That’s just a picture on the front

Put in your euro and a “freshly baked” baguette pokes out of the little silver door. No pain chocolat or croissants but at least the daily bread is available. We did see plenty of people from the nearby campground walking down the street with multiple loaves in their bread bags.
The next night we stopped bankside outside the town of Stenay. There really wasn’t room for us inside the very small port and we didn’t need electricity so we just staked to the bank on the canal.
The French authorities are busy converting waterside canal towpaths to nicely paved bicycle paths called voie verts, or greenways. A nearly brand new one starts in the village of Remilly-Avricourt and goes all the way to the French/Belgium border at Givet. Day three saw us staked to the bank near Remilly to do a little bicycle touring. We left the river to visit the nearby village of Bazeilles. They have a church!


And an old chateau! (That needs some renovation.)


Night four took us to the end of the Canal de Ardennes and the village of Pont a Bar where Odysseus spent the winter of 2008/9.  We went through the first lock onto the canal and spent the night staked to the bank. The yard/marina is pretty much the same and the “head guy”, Cedric, even recognized us. The evening featured one of the more spectacular thunderstorms we’ve seen in the years we’ve traveled here; buckets of rain and continuous lightning and thunder for at least an hour.
Saturday morning it was off again onto the river. By 1 pm we were secure in the Charleville marina. The boat would be spending 10 days here but we’d only be on board a couple. First it was up to Holland for business and then down to Burgundy for party time!



Monday, August 1, 2016

Verdun and Le Grand Festival, July 15-17

We were out in the countryside for the Fete National, France’s Bastille Day celebration featuring speeches and fireworks so we missed that fun, but we would be in Verdun for a three day celebration of art and music for the following weekend…we just didn’t know it.
We had planned to spend a couple days in town, not aware of the upcoming event, so imagine our surprise when we turned the sharp corner into the Verdun harbor to find it stuffed full of boats!


Back by the bridge is the stage for the big musical performances on Saturday night.
 We’d have nearly front row seats!

Luckily we were able to find a spot along side John and Maureen’s Harmonie II and we settled in for the weekend.
Each day featured art, music and acrobatics. Musicians strolled through the streets, a modern dance installation was in the theater and a man-made impressionistic thunderstorm of sorts was set up in a section of the old fort. Giant balloons danced on the breeze in the river.


Saturday night after the big concert on the waterfront (featuring Bigflo and Oli!), we walked over to a nearby park for the featured acrobatics of the Cirk Vost performing on an apparatus constructed out of bamboo.


Sunday afternoon featured all sorts of silliness with a joke/exercise troupe and an “astronaut” that was “launched” on his apparatus and then wheeled around the waterfront.


The big finale of Sunday and the festival was an performance called "Galileo" by Deus ex Machina that was quite impressive. Nine acrobats used a very intricate “machine” for their performance high above the crowd.


This was the ”machine” in the daytime. Galileo is up there rehearsing. 


Up in the air on the crane the acrobats are flying about on the rotating machine.


The big finale.

Monday morning we were off. Our plan was to be in Charleville-Mezier by Saturday. There is a big marina there, a great place to leave the boat for an extended stay. The following Monday morning we’d be renting a car to head up to Holland, making arrangements for the winter and then, later in the week, we’d be driving back to Burgundy for Michelle’s birthday party.








Toul to Verdun, July 11-15

We were just stopping in Toul for groceries and, as usual when there are water and power available, laundry. We spent a couple of days here in 2009 enjoying the Fete de Musique. We reminisced about old guys in Sgt. Peppers-like suits doing 60’s covers. Good times!
The fortification built around the city in the 1700’s are still mainly intact, including the surrounding moat and gates. Since there’s no water in most of the moat the grass has to be kept under control. They’ve found the “natural” way to do it. Turn loose a flock!

Chores accomplished we set out on Wednesday morning for our last set of “up” locks for the year. Toul is on the Moselle River and we’d climb up from that river to meet the headwaters of the Meuse. Luckily we only had 12 locks to reach the summit and that was accomplished by noon. 10 minutes after the last lock we entered the 867 meter long Foug Tunnel.

After the tunnel and the 10 k summit pound we headed down the hill with the river occasionally joining the canal for stretches. The river takes a very slow winding course so the distance between locks is usually around 5 or 6 k, a half hour or 45 minutes. Relatively stress-free cruising except that there is a shortage of places to tie up and a couple that we had intended to use were full. Luckily night two we found a nice mooring in the village of Ambly that wasn’t marked on our chart. And the boulangerie was just a 2 minute walk. Bonus!
Three medium-long days took us to the city of Verdun, the furthest south we reached on our 2008 voyage. Big doings were afoot for the weekend and we wanted to take part.