Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Chateaus on the Loire

Everybody’s heard of the chateaus on the Loire and while we hope to see more of them, the day after our drive to Le Puy we decided to take a half day and drive down the river to see one of the more famous ones, Chateau de la Roche.

Although not quite as dramatic as when it was first built (the river was dammed in the 1980’s so the gorge it was in became a lake) the setting is still pretty spectacular.

A bus tour arrived just after we did so we didn’t get the tour but the setting was enough.

And this old chateau above the river had quite a view back in the day.

Back at Roanne after lunch we used the car to restock the wine locker and lay in supplies. Tomorrow it would be time to head back north for the Canal Lateral a la Loire and continue onward.

Touring the Massif Central

Since the canals follow rivers over relatively flat lands, we haven’t seen much of the interior of France, the huge Massif Central, a volcanic, thickly forested and sparsely populated area. Since Roanne is just north of it, we decided to rent a car for a couple of days and see what we could see.
Our “Rough Guide to France” describes Le Puy en Velay (puy is French for extinct volcano) as “one of the most remarkable towns in the whole of France, with a landscape and architecture that are totally theatrical… the countryside erupts in a chaos of volcanic acne: everywhere is a confusion of abrupt conical hills…” This we had to see!
Notre Dame de France in the center, the cathedral slightly to the right and the Chappelle St Michel d’Alguile to the left.

Archeological studies suggest the area has been occupied since around 3000 BC with evidence of some temple construction. Around the 5th century AD the area became christian and in the 10th century the cathedral became the starting point for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The Bishop Godesalk was supposedly the first to make the 1600 km walk.

Cathedrale Notre Dame du Puy was begun in the 11th century.

The Pilgrimage starts near here.

 Notre Dame de France was cast in 1860 from over 200 guns captured in battle and painted red to match the tiled roofs of the town.

Joseph gets his statue, too.

You may also recognize the name Le Puy en Velay from your local grocery store. The tasty green lentils come from here.

Port of Roanne

The Port at Roanne has become a very popular home port for a number of boats over the past few years. Oldtimer spent several years here with it’s previous owners so we were not exactly strangers. At least the boat wasn’t. 
There is a lively crowd that meets regularly in a bar across the street and we met up with several people we hadn’t seen in years. Peter Todd, who helped us pull Odysseus along the canal back to St. Symphorien after the engine failed the first time in 2010, and Tom and Laurel Herriot whom we met in Decize and other stops along the Nivernais in 2009. We also saw Tom and Carol Cason who had the wedding on Vivante last year in Dijon. New acquaintances included Paul and Susan Mitchell on Gulliver with whom we shared many friends from the old wooden sailboat days in southern California and Jeff and Mary Neil on Festina Tardè, regular fonts of local knowledge. We had a great time our four days in port.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Canal de Roanne à Digoin

About 2 pm on Saturday afternoon we made the turn from the Canal Lateral a la Loire onto the Canal de Roanne à Digoin. Basically a continuation of the Lateral, it follows the gently (usually) flowing Loire River 55 k and 10 locks to the city of Roanne and it’s very large and busy boat basin. The canal first opened in 1838 and the locks were enlarged and improved between 1895 and 1903. During that time the canal was a very busy commercial waterway but by the mid 1970’s the traffic had fallen to a small fraction of earlier business and it was in danger of abandonment. Luckily, in 1982 an association was formed among city officials from Roanne and the regional departments and today we have a very busy, pleasant navigation with two very long pounds (the space between locks) and beautiful scenery. And after completing Lock #7, the 7.2 meter deep Bourg-le-Compte, we’ve done the three deepest locks on the French canals, the other two being the 16 meter Rèchicourt lock on the Canal Rhone au Rhine and the lock from the Saone to the Canal du Centre, the 10.8 meter Crissey lock.

The hireboaters in the lock with us marvel at how high up we’re going to go as the lockkeeper cranks the door shut.

The first night saw us at a very nice rural halte nautic where just about “wine time” a small hireboat went by with the female crew in the bow pointing at the “California Republic” Bear flag we fly from the bow. A few minutes later the boat had returned and we met Philippe, a longtime sailor, and his wife Michele, who was on her first inland boating expedition. Philippe was born in the French Alps but spent the last 30-odd years in northern California. Michelle was originally from northern California but they have relocated to Burgundy so she could pursue a wine tour/tasting business. They are thinking about buying a barge. We did everything we could think of to convince them this was a great idea. Wine was drunk, good conversation was had and we promised to try to attend Michelle’s birthday party in Meursault at the end of July.

Sunday found us tied up in the not very attractive port at Chambilly, mostly because the chart guide said a nearby village, Marcigny, had a “lively” market on Monday. Since we were tied up by about 2 we decided to investigate the setting. Marcigny is also the on a voie vert, this time another old rail line that has been converted to cycling/walking trail.

Monday morning we decided we’d just push on rather than take in the market. Oops! When we called the lockkeeper to tell her we were ready to go it turned out that due to short staffing (she had to handle 4 locks by herself and there were several other boats moving) we wouldn’t be able to get underway until after lunch. Off to the market we went and we’re glad we did.
What a zoo! The market square was filled with stalls and then they spilled out into the narrow village streets. Bottlenecks everywhere! In addition, since there are lots of extra people in town, the cafes that surround the market square set out extra tables to accommodate the big crowds. Not much room for pedestrians. Helped along by the fact that it was a long holiday weekend (Pentacost) thousands of people were attending. And like the Louhans market we attended in 2011, it wasn’t just your regular veggies, clothes, handbags, trinkets and gletch, there were all kinds of live animals; chickens, quail, ducks, rabbits and goats, hawkers trying to get you to buy the latest, greatest vegetable peeler or pot and pan. It was a blast. And we bought some great cheese.

Not sure if this chicken is going in the box for eggs or dinner.

A real looker, this one!

And for you, quail only 4 euros each!

A little before 1 pm we were underway. After 3 quick locks we had 2 1/2 hours travel to the next set of 2 locks.

This is a bridge for a small river over the canal as it makes it’s way to the Loire. 

 About 6 pm we drove stakes into the bank and settled in for the night. Next morning, after about an hour underway we entered the last lock before the port of Roanne about 10:30. We checked in with the Port Captain and by 11:15 we were secure in our spot for the next few days. We planned to rent a car for a couple of days for some touring and we had some old friends to catch up with.

Heading Down

It’s so much easier to handle locks going down. The bollards are easy to lasso when you enter a full lock and since there is so much less turbulence, we only need to use one line on a midships bit. Also, when it’s raining, which it has been off and on, that bit is right beside the door into the cabin so the line tender doesn’t have to stand out in it. We’ve actually found that when it’s raining we like to just keep moving along. No fun bike riding or exploring small villages in the wet!
After a night in the Montceau le Mines marina we passed through the town’s three opening bridges, a novelty on the French canals, and proceeded to our next stop, Genelard.
We arrived early in the day, about 1:30 pm and it wasn’t raining so we managed to do a couple loads of laundry to catch up. Unfortunately the drying of the last load would have to be inside as it started to sprinkle again later in the day.

Genelard has several claims to fame. About one third of Paris cobblestones were shipped from here as it was a very important port on the Canal du Centre. 
Entering the town you pass through the Genelard cut, a very deep trench through a hill. The sign said they used 188,000 paving stones to line the sides.

Genelard was also right on the “Line of Demarcation” separating “free” France from the German controlled Vichy territory causing lots of complications in travel back and forth.
They have a great halte nautic, lots of good deep bank with some bollards and free water and electricity. 

Both nights there was somebody tied up right behind us but they came late in the day and moved on in the morning. The second night the British barge Millie was tied up in from of us.

Thursday it was raining pretty hard do we just stayed put, doing a bunch of housework (or is it boatwork?) and dodging raindrops to take a walk around town and the countryside in the afternoon.
Friday we were underway again, this time heading for Paray le Monial, a major Christian pilgrimage center. We wandered into town to take more pictures of the basilica and discovered that the convenient waterside supermarket we’d visited in 2009 was now closed and it was a pretty good bike ride to the closest one. But the wine supplies were getting dangerously thin so we saddled up and made the trek.

The aforementioned basilica.

Friday night was an interesting dining experience. We were tied up just down the canal from C’est si Bon, an old peniche barge converted to a fondue restaurant. We’ll just say Jeff has some work to do on the menu and service. The fondue, though edible, was not remotely like what we got in Annecy some years back (but then nothing probably ever will be) and we had to figure out the bill for him. Ah, well.
Saturday morning it was off down the canal through Digoin and, shortly after, new water! The Canal de Roanne a Digoin parallels the Loire River down to the city of Roanne. We had skipped this out-and-back navigation with Odysseus. This time we’d make the trip.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

St Leger and Couches

The marina in St. Leger sur Dhuene (the Dheune is the river that runs alongside the canal. Thus all of the villages are “by the Dheune”) is where we first saw Oldtimer in August, 2011.  The previous American owners, the Bergs, had just put it up for sale and we had just signed the papers to sell Odysseus. We thought it would be a great boat for us but never imagined that 4 years later it would be available. Sometimes things just work out.

Sunday, Cathy Jo, Tim and I rode up (and I do mean up!) the road to the nearby village of Couches (coosh). We heard there was a big vide grenier, a kind of village wide garage sale, and there is a beautiful chateau that has been restored and is open for visits. 
As with many of these small villages, Couches history goes way back, to Roman times. There’s a stretch of the old road that connected Lyon and Boulogne sur Mer in the 1st century BC and nearby there was a big battle between the Romans and the Gauls in 21AD, the Roman victory beginning the Pax Romana. There’s also an ancient stone marker midway through town that identifies the border line that existed between the Kingdom of France and the Duchy of Burgundy from the 12th century until 1477. Couches was split in two with garrisons of soldiers from each government housed in town on either side of the line.

The Chateau de Couches was built by the Duke of Chalon beginning in the 12th century and them expanded and rebuilt by Claude de Montagu, a Chamberlain of the Dukes of Burgundy, in the 15th. We got a tour through the Justice Tower, the Medieval Chapel and the underground passages and storerooms. Then we retired for a glass of wine on the terrace before coasting the 6 kilometers down the hill to the boat.

The Justice Tower was the strongest and best protected building in the chateau. Note the lack of windows, just arrow slits.

The Chapel

 The residence portion of the chateau built later on.

The Ramparts with the back of the Justice Tower and the Chapel

Overnight it started to rain.  Remember that. Monday morning at the crack of 8:30 during a break in the showers, Tim and Christine lugged their bags down to the train station, heading for the last stop on their vacation this year, Paris. We spent the morning shopping for groceries and about 10:30 pushed off, headed for the last chain of 20 locks that would take us to the summit of the Canal du Centre. After 10 of them we stopped in the village of St. Julian sur Dheune for the night but didn’t see much of the village because of the rain. By about 11 am Tuesday morning we’d cleared the last up lock and it would be downhill for quite a while.  We just wish it would stop raining!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Familiar Ground

With the stop at Santenay we returned to some of our favorite cruising grounds. This was our third visit to the village in the Cote d’Or or Golden Hillside, home of some of Burgundy’s best wines and spectacular scenery. The tie up is very basic, just some bollards along a good deepwater bank with some picnic tables, but the setting is beautiful. There’s a great 8k bike ride up an abandoned railbed to the neighboring village of Nolay with it’s 14th century limestone roofed market. There are two well stocked wine coops in town where we always manage to spend too much, and a good restaurant, Le Terrior, that we’ve patronized every time we’ve been here.
The weather was perfect for the bike ride day, giving us great views of the Burgundian countryside.

When we’ve been here before, it was always later in the year and the hillsides were bright green with the vines in leaf. This year we’re much earlier and the vines have just begun to bud.

After our Friday night dinner out, Saturday morning saw us setting off for St. Leger sur Dheune just a couple of hours up the canal.
Underway, Tim and Christine were able to demonstrate their superior deckhand skills, although Tim looks a little distracted by the photographer, breaking his concentration.

Tim also got this great picture of Cathy Jo and Christine enjoying the day.

Last year we didn’t have a chance to fully develop our garden so we put some real effort into it this year. There’s a full herb garden on the “terrace” and geraniums, verbenia and lobelia scattered about. The rudder post also boasts the most photographed chicken in France. We call him Gerard in honor of the famous French actor whose portly profile is similar. Lookie loos, or gongoozlers, as the British call them, are constantly taking pictures of him when we’re in locks.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Down the Saone, Up the Centre, May 3-7

Our first stop was the river junction town of Verdun sur la Doubs, where the River Doubs meets the Saone.  We had stopped here twice before, once balancing on a way too short finger pontoon, the other on the nearby stone quay. With Oldtimer it would have to be the quay.  This boat is much to heavy for the pontoons. After a rainy morning we rounded the corner off the Saone to make the short leg up the Doubs and came almost to a stop. This section of the river is uncontrolled by weirs and it was hooting! We struggled the 1 k up to town to find the quay completely underwater and the only available spot rafted up to a cruiser owned by a Swiss couple at the end of the pontoon, luckily not on one of the tiny fingers. After a couple of passes we were able to get lines up, string out every available fender between the two boats and shut down the engine.
By the time we were tied up it had stopped raining and we had a nice walk around the very old town, including over to the island park that they were just beginning to develop the last time we were here in 2011.

Verdun sur la Doubs

The next morning it was back out to the Saone in the bright sunshine, the short trip down the Doubs much quicker than up it! By 11 am we had entered the Canal du Centre and about noon were secure in the small port of Franges, although not so small any more. What was once a small set of bankside bollards with electricity and a nearby restaurant had now spread all along the bank with new bollards just installed and new water and electricity points. It looks like they’re making a big push to be a good spot for hivernage, or winter storage, and convenient for longer stays. Since we’d only be staying one night we managed to find a spot to drive stakes into the bank just before the port and settle in for the night.

An old chapel along the canal

 Shortly after we arrived a large hotel barge pulled in and tied up.  Cathy Jo consulted with the deckhand a learned they would be heading up the canal in the morning.  Since the hotel barges take priority, it would be a long day for us. They are very slow and we would have to wait for every lock to prepare for us. Much to our surprise and delight, about 9 am the next morning, the deckhand walked over and asked if we’d like to leave first. If Oldtimer could burn rubber it would have as we fired up and entered the first lock about 9:10. We only had to wait a short time at one lock of the 11 locks for a downbound boat and managed to reach one of our favorite haltes, Santenay, by 1:30 pm.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

On to Oldtimer, April 21 - May 3

We booked half of a 4 person couchette on the night train from Venice to Paris. It stops about 6:30 am in Dijon. We pictured a romantic overnight ride that would allow a restful nights sleep before we picked up the rental car in Dijon and headed for the boat. Well, not quite.

Only one of the other seats was sold, to a young man, Evan, from a San Fransisco suburb on a “Highlights of Western Europe” trip; Rome, Florence, Venice and Paris in about two weeks. After our 7:30 pm departure we opened a bottle of wine and had a snack for dinner then tried the bunks.  Remember those really bad sofa beds, the ones with the bar in the middle? Yah, like that. And narrow. It was kinda like sleeping on somebody’s couch. Since the ticket was pretty cheap, I guess you get what you pay for. We did get some sleep and the Dijon rental car office opened at 8 am. By 9:30 we had arrived at Oldtimer.

Other than being really dirty, the boat was in great shape after sitting forlornly for the last 8 months.  Wednesday afternoon we dealt with the “exploding suitcases” and found places for just about everything.  Thursday the weather was still nice and we spent a good portion of it with the business end of a scrub brush, bucket and hose making Oldtimer sparkle again. Friday we began one of the more pressing tasks. There were some rust spots and flaking paint on the deck so we wanted to paint it before the summer cruise. After prepping most of the day Friday, we hoped to get it coated on Saturday.  It was not to be.

Saturday and Sunday were the marina’s planned “Opening Days,” or “Salon Fluvial,” with all of the for sale boats open for viewing, vendor booths, food and drink, pony rides and a carrousel for the kids as well as art exhibitions and other entertainments. Of course the weather turned nasty; cold, windy and spitting rain. Very few hardy souls turned up.  Sunday was a little better. There was sunshine in the morning and some people were about but it was still bitter cold; high temps in the 40’s F. By late afternoon it was spitting again and the tents closed up and left. We weren’t getting any painting done, either. Luckily there were several inside chores to take care of so the miniblinds were hung, pictures mounted and reading lights and fans installed. Also, since it was so cold we got a chance to make sure our wood stove and radiator systems worked.  Passed with flying colors!

There was also shopping. No spring would be complete without a little pillaging at the Ikea in Dijon. And since we were only on the boat for a short time last year, we never had a chance to set up a garden so a trip to the nursery was in order for herbs and flowers.

We haven’t been here this early before so we hadn’t seen the rapeseed (canola is a variety) fields in all their blooming glory. The sun shone brightly when we took the car back to Dijon on Friday and we were able to get these roadside pictures.

Amazing huge swaths of bright yellow!

Saturday the weather deteriorated again and Sunday morning and afternoon it was cold and rainy. Luckily by evening the rain had stopped, just in time for the arrival of Tim and Christine, our first guests from what we refer to as our “winter” home. Monday morning we’d move up into the boatyard basin for new batteries and some serious grocery shopping. Tuesday morning it was goodbye to Saint Jean de Losne.  The summer’s cruise was underway!