Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Friday, July 24, 2015

Invasion of the Hireboats

There are a lot of rental boats on the river.  Several of the companies have bases in the general area, the locks are easy and far apart and it makes for very easy cruising.  But there are just so many places to tie up with services that the hireboats need more often than us; like water every couple of days if everyone is taking showers. 
Since the people on the hireboats only have the boat for a week (in most cases) and paid a couple thousand dollars for the privilege, they like to keep moving. They’ll tie up late in the afternoon for the night and stop somewhere for an hour or so for lunch before moving on.  We also think there must be nobody left in Switzerland because they’re all in France on rental boats.
Which brings us to Mantoche. We found what turned out to be the best spot on the 150 meter quay, at the very northern end. There were two other boats there so plenty of room. We had shade from a big willow tree starting at 2 pm and we were out of the way of most of the activity. We arrived about noon, had our lunch and set up our table and chairs in the shade of the tree.  Shortly thereafter, the fun began.
Mantoche has a free water tap. One. Shortly after lunch it was a beehive of activity with boats coming and going, some stopping for lunch and filling their tanks, others just stopping for water.  By 2pm the quay was full but for the spot right in the middle where a typical French fisherman had set up all his equipment (several long poles, a chair, bait bucket, etc.) in that one remaining spot. Arrives a Swiss guy in a cruiser.  Yells at the fisherman he needs the spot.  The fisherman yells back he has just as much right to the spot as the boat and he isn’t moving.  Boater yells back he’s coming in and starts to approach the spot.  Fisherman threatens him with a big stick.  Boater does two circles through the fisherman’s gear, trying to snag his lines or at least muddy up the water and steams off in disgust at high speed.  Fisherman resumes watching his bobbers despite the kids (and adults, us included) splashing in the water all around his gear. Kinda dumb place to fish.
By late afternoon we were the only ones left. By 7 or 8 pm it was full again, this time for the night.
Thursday was a much quieter day; no raging fisherman and about half as many boats. We bicycled to nearby Apremont for a look and then on to Velet where we found a boulangerie.  We must have looked a little warm as one of the other bakery patron said “bonne courage” as we climbed on the bikes for the trip back.
Friday we were off to see if we could snag the bankside spot we’d used between Auxonne and Gray on the way north.  Nobody was in it so we could.

Another shady bankside spot.

Saturday morning about 10 we were off again.  26 k, 4 hours and 2 locks later we arrived back at the Port Royal Marina.  With just about 2 weeks left of this summers adventure, we were going to have to start what chores needed to be completed before we left Oldtimer for the winter.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Bonne Fete National! July 13 and 14

We returned to Gray, all tied up by a little after noon.  Gray has three different places to tie up; the municipal marina above the lock (which costs, but not much) and below the lock on both sides of the river (free).  The east side has some power and water hookups and quite a few rings on the quay so it’s much more popular. On the west side, no services and many fewer rings but much more water depth.  That’s where we tied up this time. We made a quick trip toward town.  Arc le Gray, the town on the west side would be having their celebration on the 13th, music and entertainment (food and drink) at the stadium with fireworks about 11 pm.  Gray would have their fireworks on Sunday night. We’d have front row seats for them both.

Gray on the right, Arc le Gray on our side.
Where that truck is to the left of the bridge is the fireworks launch pad for Sunday.

After dinner we wandered over to the Arc le Gray stadium to join the crowd of a couple thousand people just in time to catch a couple musical acts on their big stage. The last one was this very French chanteuse called “Desireless.”  I think if you google her you’ll find some youtube videos.  Here's one. Verrrrry interesting!
The fireworks were great!  We sere sitting right under them as they exploded and it looked like they were shooting right down at us.  The show lasted about 20 minutes and was one of the best we’d seen.

Sunday we walked along the quay to check out the fireworks setup for Gray’s display.

That big speaker tower will be blasting music timed to the fireworks.

By 10:30 the quay was packed with people on both sides of the river.  Again we had front row seats.  We didn’t think the show was as good as Arc’s but it was still enjoyed by all.

Wednesday morning is was off, but not very far.  We were just heading about 14 k down the river to Mantoche.  We had liked the look of their quay when we were heading up the river.  It had trees and picnic tables in a grassy area.  We figured we’d stop for a couple of days.

Up the River, Back to Gray, July 10-13

After a quick trip to the supermarket we pushed off from the pier in Gray about 10:30 Friday morning.  We’d head up the river a ways, find a shady spot and hang out for a couple of days, then head back to Gray for France’s Fete National, Bastille Day, the 14th.
After about 20k , 3 locks and 3 1/2 hours, we were snug in the trees just a little way from the village of Autet.  The weather had moderated a bit; it was still into the 90’s F in the afternoon but the mornings were pleasant. Saturday we rode our bikes up the riverside bike path (Veloroute 50.  It starts in Chalone sur Saone and generally follows the Saone River. It ends at the Luxembourg border several hundred kilometers away.) to Ray-sur-Saone, about 18k away and a village we had visited in 2011.  When we visited before they had a half dozen very nice platforms into an arm of the river.  Half of them have now deteriorated beyond use. There were no boats there. It was sad.

Sunday we took a short ride to Dampierre, on the river Salon.  
The best thing about the spot we were tied up in, however, was the plage (beach) that had been set up just a five minute walk downriver. A nice beach was marked off for swimming, there was a camping and picnic area with tables and a buvette, a snack bar, that opened at 4 pm each day and featured live music on Friday nights.  Being a French snack bar, of course, they had fresh made waffles, beer, wine and other liquid refreshments, and an assortment of huge sandwiches that came with piles of frites.  We wandered over for the music Friday night and had our aperitifs there.  It was busy with families and a very pleasant spot.

Oldtimer in the trees

We also discovered a new use for life rings, normally used when people fall overboard…..wait, maybe this is falling overboard! 

Monday morning we shoved off.  We’d gone as far up the river as we would this year.  It was time to head back south and we wanted to be in Gray for the celebrations happening on the 13th and 14th.

Monday, July 20, 2015

For John

As we were leaving Gray on the 15th we passed a fancy cruiser with a Swiss flag.  I just had time to grab the phone and take a picture as we went by.  Looks like Buford's brother is their mascot!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Rollin’ On The River

Finally a break from the heat!  We found a great spot on the bank of the river in the trees Tuesday night.  Wednesday the daytime temps peaked in the high 20’s, mid 70’s in Fahrenheit land.  We celebrated with a bike ride to the village of Pesmes, about and hour away.  A big deal in it’s day (the first settlement was in the 11th century) the town straddles the Ognon River at a very strategic point and guarded the Gray-Dole Road. As is the case with all of these fortified towns, additions and subtractions were made over the years; the church was built in the mid 1100’s and the chateau was rebuilt in the 1600’s.  Standing at the river and looking up, however, you can see why this place endured.

Eglise Saint Hilaire

The bridge over the river from the ramparts.

Thursday morning it was off to Gray.  Looking back at our last trip on Odysseus, we realized we had been in Gray exactly 4 years ago.  That was the site of the burning building next to the canal.  Arriving just a little after noon, we visited the canal-side grocery store to stock up and took a stroll around town. Friday morning we shoved off about 10:30, hoping to find another backside mooring about 20 k up the river.  The temps were climbing again, although not to last weeks heights.  We’d find a nice spot, settle in for a couple of day, do some bike riding and then turn around a head slowly back to St. Jean with another stop in Gray for France’s Fete National, July 14.

Hot, Hot, Hot!!!

We’re havin’ a heat wave.  Temperatures well over 100 for several days running.  Switching from one side of the canal to the other in search of shade.  All necessary chores completed in the morning so the afternoon can be spent in the river.  We stayed bankside on the canal just before the last lock to the river.  There are trees on both sides so the sun only got to the boat in the middle of the afternoon but there’s really no cooling anything down much when the air is so hot.
Oh, and that beer festival.  We bicycled the 5 k up the canal just before noon to find that the fete didn’t start until 3 pm. We had our 4th dinner to prepare. The woman running the cafe we stopped at to get a beer before the hot trip back to the boat rushed out with a pitcher of water with ice cubes (!) in it when we sat down. Then she brought us the beer. We must have looked pretty bad.
So, 4th of July. In St. Jean is Fournier, a real live butcher shop.  It’s quite big and always very busy. We stopped in on Friday to pick up some hamburger; haché to the French.  They plop a piece of meat in the grinder and prepare it just for you.  We found some hamburger buns, tomato and lettuce in the market, Cathy Jo made some potato salad and, voila, Fourth of July!

By Sunday, though, we decided we should get the boat on the river.  We’ve paid for a year’s mooring with H2O and they have another marina right on the river in Auxonne, about 20 k away.  We shoved off at about 9:30 am, stopped at the H2O boatyard long enough to fill our water tank and then headed up the Saone.  The river locks are much farther apart.  We only had to go through one right before Auxonne.  We can also go much faster in the river.  Oldtimer does 9 k without any strain. We were tied up the the Port Royal Marina about 1 pm.  More swimming!  Monday we tackled the laundry beast and spent the afternoon swimming in the river.
Sunday night one of the other tenants in the marina had some kind of party on their boat.  They had a bunch of food left over so they got in touch with Roy and Carol, the harbormasters, and offered to provide it for a marina get together Monday evening. It was another one of those United Nations moments.  French, German, Swiss, Aussies, Kiwis, Brits, South Africans, (the Russians on the hire boat didn’t show up) and yes, a couple of Americans (we were not the only ones.  There was an American women there with her British boyfriend although she hardly counts as she’s been living in Paris for many years!)
Tuesday morning we were off up the river. The forecast said the heat was supposed to break on Wednesday.  We were hopeful!

Back Down Again, June 28-July 2

In 2011 we had traveled all the way up to the basin at Vandeness en Auxois to tie up.  This time we stopped a couple of locks short so we would be right under the chateau walls.We had already toured the chateau and had a great lunch at one of the restaurants in town so we didn’t need to duplicate that experience. We did make the hike up the hill.

 Pretty imposing from right under the walls.

The village that surrounds the chateau at the top of the hill is very pretty and there are several properties for sale but it’s a long hike to the grocery store.  And that is a problem here.  All of the villages along the canal are very small and there’s really only one market close to the canal the first day out of Dijon. Boulangeries are very scarce.  We lack bread!  All the other stores are a pretty good bike ride away so it’s best to stock up before leaving the big city. We did find one market about 9k away.  The ride to Creancey was uphill all the way.  Downhill with panniers full of groceries on the way back was kind of fun!

We just spent the one day (two nights) at a very nice bankside mooring, thus another bankside shot, this time with the lock in the background!

Also, like all great buildings in Europe, they light the buildings at night for drama’s sake.

When it was time to go we realized one of the drawbacks of having a larger barge.  We are too long to turn around in the canal so we would have to make the two up locks to the Vandeness basin where there was room to spin and then head back down the canal.  We planned the move for Sunday since the hotel barges would be headed back to Dijon on Monday and that way we could be one day ahead of them. Fewer big boats make a quicker trip.  It took us two long days, one 7 hours and 23 locks, the next almost 9 hours and 25 locks but we made it back to Dijon by 6:30 pm on Monday.  Tuesday was shopping day as the wine and grocery supply had gotten dangerously low and Wednesday it was off again for the long straight trip to the river. 
Rather that try to make it in one day, we decided to stop again at the Longecourt bankside mooring as France was having a major heat wave (over 100 F in the afternoon)  and we could find some afternoon shade there. Metal boats get really hot in full sun!
We got the first scheduled lock out of Dijon at 9 am and were tied up about 3:45.  9 am Tuesday morning we were off again, arriving along the bank just before the canal auction with the Saone River in the trees.  Shade morning and afternoon and just a 5 minute bike ride from the cooling waters of the river. Swimming was called for!  We’d stick around here for a couple of days.  Internet was available, groceries are a five minute bike ride from the boat and there’s a beer festival about 5 k back up the canal on Saturday, the 4th.  Bonne Fete Nacional!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Off We Go Some More, Monday, June 22

One big difference between this year and the last time we were on this canal is the presence of big hotel barges.  In 2011, with the sputtering economy, there were none.  This year, we contended with three leaving Dijon at the same time as we did, headed uptake canal.  Since they take precedence and each one fills the lock completely, we were given a 10:30 start time, instead of the usual 9 am.  Even when we appeared at the first lock, it took another 45 minutes for the lockkeeper to arrive.  It was going to be a long day and we weren’t going to get very far at that.
14 kilometers, 13 locks and 6 1/2 hours later, we found a bankside spot just above a village we’d stayed in several times before, Fleury.

The next day it was off with a little less traffic to a stop at the lock called Moulin Banet.  A Swiss/French couple have taken over the lock house, put in some moorings with water and electricity and opened a little restaurant and shop.  Unfortunately for us, the restaurant and shop are closed Tuesday thru Thursday and we were there Tuesday and Wednesday.  With available power and water, though, we could catch up on the laundry, top up the batteries and on Wednesday, visit the Jardin du Barbirey.  The gardens of the chateau are a reimagining of what the grounds would have been like in the 1700’s.

Friday the 26th was 14 kilometers and 11 locks to Veuvey sur Ouche and Friday was the final part of the journey up the canal to a bankside mooring underneath the chateau at Chateauneuf, where we spent a couple of days in 2011.  From here we would turn around and head back down to the river Saone.  The weather forecast called for a major heat wave and we wanted to be on the river when the temps got over 100.

Where’s My Tram? (cont.)

When we were last in Dijon, 2011, the city was a mess.  They were putting in two new tram lines and they decided to bite the bullet and do it all at once rather than a little at a time, figuring to get the pain of construction over quicker.  And painful it was.  But it’s done now; two shiny new tram lines, one running from the suburb of Chenove in the south, through the middle of town by the train station and ending in the northern suburbs, the other running from the train station to the east. What was once and long half-hour walk from the port to the train station (dragging your bags behind you)  or a 45 minute walk to the big marchè is now a 1.50, 5 minute tram ride. That fare is good for an hour. Two tram stops are less than 5 minutes from the port.  And if you take the northern line out past the University there’s a giant shopping mall with all the stuff you really can’t fit on a canal barge.

Fete de Musique, Sunday, June 21

And it looked like everyone in town had turned out for the performances.

Rue de la Liberte in full Fete.

We got to the town center about 7 pm and the Fete was in full swing.  Nearly every street corner, square and bar had some kind of performers, although we marveled at the fact that most of the lyrics were sung in English (of a kind).  Most of it was amateurish and not very good, although this ska band was putting on a great show.

We mostly just wandered the streets, staying here and there to listen to a song or two from each performer but then, about 9:30, stopped in Place Emille Zola for a pizza and some wine.  The last band of the night in that venue was just warming up and they sounded pretty good so we stuck around.  We were very glad we did.  Best live music we’ve heard in some time.  After their set, we asked if they had a cd or any “merch” we could buy and, in very broken English we were told that they were trying to raise the money to record their first cd.  We told them we were from Los Angeles but didn’t know anybody so we wouldn’t be any help. Watch out for Alambig au Burkina (on facebook - alambig) and remember You Heard It Here First.

Not sure which ones Alambig and which ones Burkina.

In Dijon

A little before 9 on Wednesday we were underway again, ascending the long boring stretch of the canal into Dijon.  Straight as an arrow, flat countryside and a lock about every kilometer. After about 16 kilometers and 14 locks we were secured along the bank in Dijon about 3:30 pm.  We had to make a fisherman move, grumbling the whole time, because he’d set up his gear all over the bollard we needed to use but that’s the way it goes.

We were going to be here for several days as the Solstice was on Sunday and that’s cause for the “Fete de Musique” all over France.  Each town has free live music and Dijon, being a pretty large city, was going to have a wide variety of bands. Because we arrived Wednesday afternoon, however, we were going to have plenty of time to enjoy the city. Since we’ve been here several times before, we almost feel like locals. We don’t get lost….much.

One of our first stops was the Dijon city museum.  Between 1364 and the 1470’s, the Ducs du Bourgogne reigned over Holland, Belgium and major parts of France and were a major force in the art and culture of the Renaissance. Dijon was the seat of their power, although they had castles and gardens all over the area.  The museum in Dijon, in a newly restored section of the town hall/palace, has a wide collection of art and artifacts.  A couple of really beautiful altar pieces from the Champmol Charterhouse, plenty of paintings of important men with big hair and the reconstructed tombs of Phillip the Bold, the first Duc, and his wife Margaret of Flanders.

And, importantly, there is no charge for a visit.

Saturday was another big day for an entirely different reason.  Back in 2009 we had met another American owned barge, Vivante, in Charleville Meziers.  While we were still in the boatyard hell, we wandered over to the St. Jean waterfront and there was Vivante, still with an American flag on the stern.  It turned out the barge had been purchased by another American couple, Tom and Carol Cason from Florida, and they were on their way up to Dijon.  Their son, who now lives in Seattle, had decided to get married and he wanted to do it on their boat on the Saturday before the Fete de Musique in Dijon. 

 It was a very small, private ceremony but we did get a picture of the bride (standing), groom (seated) and a very relieved mother of the groom.

Taking “after” pictures

Off We Go, June 16

The locks on the Canal de Bourgogne are staffed and open at 9 am, close for lunch from 12-1 and then close again for the night at 7 pm.  We didn’t want to push ourselves doing too many locks on our inaugural trip so we figured we’d take two days to travel to Dijon.  The first lock on Tuesday was about 20 minutes from the boatyard basin so we pushed off at 8:45.  Up we went.  It didn’t take too long to get back into the locking mode and we were alone traveling up so all went surprisingly well.  Oldtimer is more than twice as heavy and about 2 feet wider than Odysseus, kind of the difference between and truck and an old volkswagon, so it requires much more care when entering locks. Keeping it slow, we suffered very few bumps.  Two locks after the lunch break we were snug along the bank at Longecourt. We’d done 7 locks in all and it was only 1:45. We walked into town to get our daily bread, passing the chateau in town.  Reservations are required for a tour so we just admired it from the outside.

After our brief stroll about town it was back to the boat for a little r and r after our stressful day.  But first, our first bankside picture - 

It still says Musigny on the side of the boat because we haven’t gotten our official French registration with the name change back to Oldtimer yet.

And the sun set on our first day away from the dock.

Making It Our Home

Launch Day Friday was the hottest so far this summer; in the mid 30’s (look it up!) but if we were ever going to leave the dock, we had to make Oldtimer ours. 
 A massive cleaning job was ahead of us, shelves had to be made, places found for all our stuff, although those would move periodically over the next week, and various boat gremlins dealt with.

The car would have to go back to Dijon on Tuesday so we decided to take a break from chores and take a little drive on Sunday.  Off to one of our favorite Burgundian towns, Tournus. First it was a visit to Caves du Mancey to stock up on some of our favorite wines, then into town.

Arriving downtown we found the waterfront festooned with stalls selling everything from glassware to mounted boars heads, old postcards to silver.  Cathy Jo found a great 1950’s clock for the galley.  Day and date in French! (The day, anyway.)

After lunch at a waterside restaurant it was off on a leisurely drive back to the boat.  On the way we spotted a nice private chateau.  We think we could probably live there.

Tuesday morning it was off to the Dijon train station to return the car.  We didn’t get lost once.  After a 30 minute train ride, we were back in St. Jean hard at work.

One boat gremlin  to be dealt with was the charger/inverter, the device that charges the 24 volt batteries when hooked up to shore power and provides regular current from them when shoreside power is not available. The one in the boat was old technology, not friendly to current electronics and, since we got a very good price on the purchase and installation of a newer model, we wanted to get that done.
For that, we would have to leave our slip, go through the first lock of the Canal de Bourgogne, site of the three local boatyards.  The installation was complete late Wednesday afternoon so we just stayed put.  Thursday morning we traveled back through the lock onto the Saone River for a little extended sea trial.  Besides, it was hot again and there’s no better place to be than on the river with it’s cooling breezes.  We headed up the river about half an hour, then back down to a pontoon at a campground just above St. Jean.  They have a great little restaurant there and it seemed like a good day for a full French lunch. You know the drill - starter, main course and desert with a half liter of wine.  30 and a “rest” afterwards. Then back to the dock.  

For our first excursion of the year we decided to head up the Canal de Bourgogne, the site of our first ever barge experience with John and Patti Hardman back in 2006 and then in 2011.  We needed to knock the rust off our locking skills and 21 locks in the first 20 kilometers should accomplish that.
We had thought to leave on Saturday or Sunday but first, another electrical gremlin.  The new charger/inverter wasn’t seeing the generator to recharge the batteries when away from shore power.  Since, unlike Odysseus, Oldtimer has a regular refrigerator and hot water system, the generator, while not absolutely necessary, is real handy.  And the Mr. Wizard responsible for installing the new inverter said he could look at it Monday.
Sunday evening the heavy rain that had been predicted for the last couple of days finally arrived and Monday morning we once again locked through lock #76 onto the Canal de Bourgogne.  Phillipe (Mr. Wizard) brought his laptop down to the boat, made an adjustment to the inverter and voila! Power whenever we need it.  And there’s a reason it’s called a “Whisper” generator.  It makes very little noise and, with our large battery banks, will only have to be run if we decide to sit bankside for three or four days with no shore power.
But, hey, it’s still sprinkling and the forecast for tomorrow sunny and 23.  This is a good place to sit and wait out the rain.  We’re in no hurry to be anywhere!