Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Voyage 2016- Part 2

From Toul to Stevensweert, mid July to September 1.

Voyage of 2016- Part 1

We covered lots of ground this year so I split the map into two parts. This part covers from the beginning of May to mid-July; the out-and-back from Saint Jean de Losne and then up to Toul in northern France. Part 2 will proceed from Toul through northern France into Belgium and on to Oldtimers winter quarters in Stevensweert, Netherlands.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Numbers, Numbers

1645 kilometers (that’s alot!)
726 locks
250 hours underway
75 travel days
about 500 liters of fuel
3 overnight guests (2 long taxi rides!)

Paris, Sept. 12-14

It was and hour and a half train ride from Maastricht to Liege where we caught the high-speed Thalys for the two hours to Paris. After muscling our bags onto and off of the metro we walked a short distance to the Hotel de Nations Saint Germain. The very friendly and helpful staffed checked us in and sent us up the elevator to our sixth floor room overlooking the Rue Monge, with a view of the towers of Notre Dame and The church of Sacrè Coeur in the distance. (Nice hotel. Recommended!)

Of course we were going to have a mini heat wave for our time here so it was off to a museum. They have air conditioning. This time it was the Musèe d’Orsay with it’s impressive collection of impressionist painting and sculpture and an equally impressive clock.

The building was originally constructed as a train station for the Universal Exhibition of 1900 and is a work of art in it’s right.

Wednesday morning we checked out of the hotel and headed for the airport on the always packed RER, the suburban railroad. There was barely enough room for us and our suitcases in the car. When we arrived at the airport a nice (!) soldier with a large gun was preventing anyone from heading up the escalator to the terminal.  Seems there was an unattended suitcase left there and things are, shall we say, just a little jumpy in Paris. After about 20 minutes we were told that shortly there would be a loud whistle and we should cover our ears. Bang! went the device and Cathy Jo said some poor person’s underwear was all over the ceiling.

Without further incident Air France carefully deposited us in Los Angeles right on time and we were back in our Ventura home about 8 pm. Time to get back to work (and start planning for next year!)

Last Days, September 1-12

Thursday morning about 11:30 we were tied up in the Porta Isola, where Oldtimer will spend the winter. We started on fall chores; touchup painting and general cleaning, winterizing and finalizing plans for the new opening windows that will be installed and boat gremlins that will be chased while we’re gone. Monday we took the train into Maastricht to pick up a rental car we could use for the week. Monday night we picked up Harvey from Hoop Doet Loeven who is now in a Maasbracht boatyard waiting for a haulout and survey. His partner Sandra said no way was she staying in the boatyard so she decamped for Boston over the weekend. He brought a bottle of fine burgundy we could drink with our duck breast dinner. Got to empty out the refrigerator, right? Wednesday we turned the boat around so the starboard side paint could be touched up and, since we were going to have to turn the boat back around anyway, we invited the Engelen family for a boat ride (We stayed at their B&B when we came looking for boats last year. We’ve kept in touch.). We figured since we had to start the engine anyway we might as well take a little cruise and it was a beautiful day.

Mirjam and Fleur seated, Koen at the wheel with Stijn, and Cathy Jo’s back, or course!

We thought we must have been in some other country because, except for a little night time shower one day during the week, the weather was nearly perfect the whole time we were in the Netherlands.

Sunday we emptied the water tanks, turned off all the electrics, locked the doors and loaded our (now much lighter) suitcases in the dock cart and headed off to Maastricht. Monday morning we’d turn the car in and catch the train. Off to Paris we went!

All locked up and ready for the Dutch winter.

Maastricht, August 28-31

It only took us a little over an hour to get from the lake to Maastricht, and that was with a little tour around parts of the lake we hadn’t seen.
When we visited the city in 2008 we stayed in ’t Bassin, the marina that’s some distance from the city center (and is quite expensive). This time we just tied to the wall separating the city from the river. No services but it’s free!

Oldtimer on the wall

The wall stretches between two bridges. This is taken from the upstream one.

Maastricht is a small and very walkable city with lots of history (where have you heard that before), most recently famous for the Treaty of Maastricht, signed in 1992, that formed the European Union. We spent several days here in 2008 and coming back this time we already pretty much knew our way around. It’s a very attractive shopping town with lots of restaurants and very attractive squares. With school starting again soon, the streets were exceptionally busy.
During the Namur city tour we were shown a church repurposed as a men’s clothing store. Here, on our walk around the city we found two more examples. The Dominican Bookstore, again with the freestanding building inside the original church-

and the Kruisherenhotel, a 15th century convent converted to a hotel.

The rooms are off the converted cloister and the reception and restaurant are located in the nave, again in a freestanding construction. There’s a great video tour of the hotel here

And of course, no visit to a city would be complete without a climb up at least one tower, in this case the steeple of Sint Janskerk, where we’ll end up just below the clock.

And the view around the city.

And no trip to the Netherlands would be complete without some sort of strange street performance, in this case a womans marching drumline. They made quite a racket but were really pretty good! We chipped in a couple of euros to the donation bucket.

Wednesday morning, after a quick stop at the Jansen’s chandlery and fuel barge to part with several hundred euros to keep Mr. DAF happy, it was off up the Juliana Canal for the last (very boring) 38 kilometers and 4 hours to reach Maasbracht. We’d spend one night in the town’s passanten or transient dock, then Thursday morning make the last hour long trip to Stevensweert, where Oldtimer will spend the winter.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

On to The Netherlands, August 25-28

People we met along the way had told us to stop in Visè and as it was the required 2 hours travel time from Liege we thought that sounded like a good idea. 
Just north of the Liege, the Albert Canal, which heads off into Belgium, leaves the river. There are about 9 kilometers of navigable river paralleling the canal until the lock just after Visè where, to continue north, it’s onto the straight, boring and very busy Albert canal. 
We had been told that the small marina in the village was very nice. That may be the case if you can get one of the good spots but they were all full. We ended up down at the end of the treeless and pretty desolate quay with the geese and their “leavings”. Geese are a real problem around here. There are far too many of them (there were literally hundreds of several different species in Visè) and they have no natural predators. Since food is abundant, they don’t migrate as there supposed to. They’ve become pests. And it was hot. We walked up to check out the lock onto the Albert canal, which is in a nice shady park, and spent a little time there then retreated to the boat for the afternoon. About 9:15 Friday morning we entered the lock and 5 minutes later joined the Albert Canal headed for the Netherlands. 
Right at the Belgium-Netherlands border we entered the Sluis Lanaye with it’s 45 ft. drop along with three commercial boats and, after the lock, made a sharp right turn into the Recreatiecentrum Eijsden, a giant lake with two swimming beaches (one that featured a thumping loud dj on Friday afternoon) and an island in the middle with a small quay with room for three boats. The quay was empty when we arrived. It was going to be hot and sunny for the weekend (swimming time!) and school was back in session starting Tuesday so we figured the place would be pretty zoo-like. We were not disappointed.

Luckily the two other boats that joined us on the quay belonged to retirees so there was no huge party there but a five boat raft up decided to drop anchor for the weekend right out in front of the quay and put their giant stereo speaker on top of one of the boats. A peaceful weekend it was not! Saturday night did feature a giant thunderstorm, however, the raftup dragging around the lake in the howling wind and pouring rain with the boaters with their headlamps and flashlights trying to reset their anchors.

The lake with the lock in the lower left and the island at the top.
 If you look closely you can see a small boat tied up on the quay.

Sunday morning we’d had enough so about 10 am we made the 1 hour trip to the big city, Maastricht.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Liege, Belgium August 22-25

The main highway between southern Netherlands and northern France runs alongside the Meuse River and we’ve driven through Liege; down a steep hill, through a couple of tunnels and over the river, many times but never stopped. Also, although we know several people who make regular trips by boat up and down the river we’ve never talked to anybody who spent any time in the city. We decided if the city had a Port de Yachts we might as well stop and do a little exploring.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before but Liege is a very old city and has been an important political center for centuries. The bishops (or counts, or kings, or whatever) of Namur and Liege were in constant battles for superiority over hundreds of years. It’s divided loosely into three districts; the center and historic neighborhoods west of the river and the old Outremeuse on the east. This whole area was once a mighty industrial power with mines and steel mills but, like many “rust belt” areas, production has moved elsewhere and they are making the difficult transition to new economies. We had commented on the presence of Italian restaurants, grocery stores and the like all over both Namur and Liege and discovered it was due to the immigration of a large number of Italians in the 1950’s to work in the mines and mills.

The port is on an arm that extends back up the river with a long pontoon along a wall on one side (for bigger boats, like us) and finger pontoons on the other side for smaller boats. There’s lots of room for visitors.

Looking north through the port with the river on the right. We’re hidden amongst the boats on the left.

And the river through the city.

One of the first things we noticed from the dock is some of the city’s striking architecture with the new and the old side by side.

A government building in the foreground and the Èglise du Sacrè-Coeur in the background.

After our 2:30 pm arrival we hit the streets, one of our first stops the Èglise Saint-Jacques with it’s beautiful ceiling, baroque statues and mighty organ.

We just wandered around the streets for a couple of days, poking our noses into some of the many churches and climbing the hill to the Terrasses de Minimes, a beautiful park underneath the walls of the citadel.

When we arrived on Monday, we had only paid for two days stay. Tuesday we decided to stay another day so had paid for Wednesday but there was a mixup on the receipt, easily fixed. Early Wednesday afternoon as we were having lunch, a woman from the Capitanerie walked down the dock and was looking at the receipt taped in the window. We thought maybe there was more confusion but she just wanted to make sure it was Oldtimer. Turns out we were the 1000th boat to call at the Port de Yachts this summer so we were entitled to a free dinner at the marina restaurant and maybe a write-up in the local paper! This has been our lucky year! And a very good dinner it was, too.
Thursday morning we backed out into the river and continued our journey downstream. Our destination was Visè, our last stop in Belgium.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Surprising Huy, Sunday, August 21

It was too far (well, for us, anyway) to make it from Namur to Liege in one day so about 2 pm we slipped into the guest docks of the Wanze Yacht Club, about 2 k upriver from the town of Huy. We had to ask the woman at the tourist office about the pronunciation of the town’s name and it’s “wee.” “Oui”, we said. Another one of the small gems we’ve stumbled upon over the years, This was a place we really liked.
Romans first settled here at the mouths of the Hoyoux and Mehaigne Rivers, where they join the Meuse. Development continued until a fortress was built above the town in the early 900’s and the town became part of the Principality of Liege, serving as an occasional refuge for the rulers of the region because it was so easily defended. Metalworking really built the town in the 11th centur (pewter was big) and an expanding middle class enabled the construction of a beautiful church.
In the early 1700’s the Barrier Treaty called for the the citadel to be dismantled, the citizens of the town volunteering to tear it down brick by brick. A hundred years later, William I, King of Netherlands, ordered a new fort built on the hill, which stands today.
Paper production and metalworking lead to another boom in the 19th century, with Huy becoming known as the “City of Millionaires.” The old quarter of the city has been restored, keeping it’s winding streets and narrow alleys. It’s a beautiful place.

The Citadel behind the church on the waterfront. On the wall of the church tower down low is the “Rondia”, the largest High Gothic-style rose window in Wallonia.

This is the entrance to an alleyway behind the church, the 14th century “Bethlehem Gate”. Follow it to the tourist office.

Up one of the streets in the old quarter.

Monday about 9 am we backed out of the very tight space of the yacht club guest dock and back onto the Meuse, headed for Liege, about 35 k downriver. No rolling countryside or picturesque limestone cliffs here. This is a big, busy industrial river with big barges doing what big barges do.

Hugh McNight in his guidebook for France would have called this “an industrial aspect”.

About 12:30 we entered the lock d’Ivoz-Ramet, one of the two between Namur and Liege. We’re in the very back of the lock with three big commercial barges and two other pleasanciers. This one drops about 4 1/2 meters or about 15 feet.

By 2:30 pm we were snug in the Port de Yachts in Liege. Now we’d have a chance to discover another of Belgium’s gems.

Namur, August 15-21

There are three places for pleasure boats to tie up in the city of Namur. Port d’Amèe is a set of pontoons just south of town, Jambes, across the river from the citadel with pontoons perpendicular to the river and the river wall across from Jambes just below the casino. On our stop in Namur in 2008 we stayed for a week in Jambes after an overnight on the wall. This year we spent two nights in Amèe (it’s closer to the grocery store) and then moved to the casino wall. Since we were here last they’ve made electricity and water available on the wall and it’s set up for bigger boats. This is a big river with the resulting big boats going by at speed so it can be a little bouncy but it wasn’t intolerable.

Because of its strategic location of the Meuse and Sambre Rivers, Namur's history goes way back, even for these parts.  It was originally settled by the Celts then by the Romans.  The Counts of Namur built a castle overlooking the confluence that was taken over by the French.  Later the Dutch moved in and razed and rebuilt the fort.  In WWI the theoretically impregnable fortress was taken in three days by the Germans and the town suffered major damage during WWII.  Now, even though it's not Wallonia's largest city, it is home to the regional government. The citadel still looms over the city.

One view of the citadel from the river.

The Meuse looking upriver to the south from the citadel. That’s the Jambes marina. The casino wall is under the trees on this side of the river and the Port d’Amèe is on the other side of that barrage that looks like a bridge on the right.

Looking north from the citadel with the Sambre joining the Meuse from the lower left. 

We paid a couple of euros for the city tour provided by the tourist office and learned a couple fast facts. Not very many people live in the center city because in the old days property was taxed by the amount of street frontage, resulting in very tall, narrow buildings. Now, since most of the street fronts are retail, nobody can live above them because there’s no room for stairs to reach the upper floors. We also saw another great example of adaptive reuse. These old cities have an abundance of churches but not enough people (or money) to support them. One had been turned into a very fancy men’s clothing store. The store was built free-standing inside the church, leaving the old altars, paintings and statuary intact. A stipulation of the sale was that the store had to allow visitors to the old church.

Looking up at the citadel from the river. Notice that sculpture there in the center?

“Searching for Utopia,” a giant bronze sculpture by Jan Fabre (that’s him on the turtle’s back) was supposed to be just a one year deal but when the time came to take it down a public subscription raised the funds to keep it and a new place is being prepared for it’s permanent exhibit.

After 5 days we felt it was time to move on further north. We’ve driven (by car) up and down this river it seems like a hundred times traveling between France and Holland, taking the ring road around Liege, Belgium. We’ve also never talked to anyone who had spent any time in the city. They have a Port de Yachts marked on the chart so on Sunday morning we headed out for the two day trip down the river.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Belgian Meuse

In 2008 when we passed through this area, our last stop was Dinant with its beautiful Collegiate church, citadel and the nearby River Lesse. This time, the waterfront in Dinant is all torn up for big improvements so we stopped at a yacht club pontoon on the Meuse in Anseremme, just 3 k before Dinant. We arrived about noon and settled in for a couple of days. Luckily the weather had turned very pleasant and a big weekend was coming up. Although pretty secular, the northern European countries make big celebrations out of religious holidays and Assumption Day was Monday the 15th. Almost everybody had a three day weekend, most stores were closed and the weather would be beautiful; a recipe for chaos on the river!
Friday we cycled into town, locked up the bikes at the tourist office and wandered around the very busy streets. There have been several important battles here, one in the 1640’s that resulted from the growing power of the middle classes clashing with the nobles/clergy, and another during World War One that resulted in the massacre of many civilians by the Germans. The earlier war was detailed in an exhibit in the church and the latter in the citadel, both of which we visited.
Dinant is a 4 street town, two on each side of the river. Tucked in between steep walls cut by the river, it’s in a very strategic spot.

The church and the citadel. 
You can ride a cable car up to the citadel and walk down or, for the sporty types, you can walk both ways. We took the cable car.
The waterfront is undergoing massive renovations.

The interior of the church featured a beautiful altar piece.

The view back up the river from the citadel. Anseremme is just around the bend under the bridge.

Saturday we joined a couple hundred of our closest friends for a kayak trip down the Lesse River. Pay at the office of one of the two companies that rent the boats, take a half hour bus ride up the river, pick up your kayak and get dumped in the river to begin your 20 k, 4 hour trip down the Lesse to the Meuse. Somehow we found ourselves among the first to get launched down the ramp so we stayed out of most of the huge clumps of people enjoying a beautiful Saturday.

We had the “comfort” model which includes seat backs.

Toward the end of the paddle you pass directly under the walls of a magnificent chateau.

The river curves right under that cliff.

Just past the chateau is the first of two barrages, something like small waterfalls, that you have to navigate. It’s a great place for people to stop and watch the action, hoping for a capsize or two. We saw a couple although we navigated both barrages only getting a little wet.

We got back to Oldtimer about 3 pm, changed clothes and made the 5 minute walk back to the tavern run by the kayak company. We felt we deserved a couple of Belgium’s claims to fame, beer!

Sunday morning it was off again, dodging all sorts of water craft as we made our way down the river. About 2 pm we spotted a small dock next to a launch ramp just below a very busy restaurant. We thought maybe we’d have another beer or three but the restaurant was “complet” for Sunday lunch so we retreated to Oldtimer and raided the refrigerator. We sat on the back deck and watched the parade of watercraft on a nice holiday Sunday afternoon.
Monday morning at the crack of 9:30 it was off down the river, next stop, Namur.

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 Ecuelles. 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 Monthermè, 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 Intermarchègrocery 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.