Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Since we would only be able to proceed a little way up the Canal du Briare before turning around, we figured we might as well turn around now. All along we have been planning to have some work done on the boat; mostly replacing fixed windows with opening ones to improve air circulation, especially when it’s hot (if it ever gets hot again!). We had contemplated taking the boat to Holland for the work, as that is where the windows will come from and it would be easier to find a yard to do the work. Since we were going to have to start our summer’s journey all over again from Saint Jean, we thought we might as well just head for Holland and make arrangements for the work. The trip would take us up the Saone to the Petite Saone and onto the Belgian Meuse, a navigation that we really enjoyed in 2009, through Maastricht to Maasbracht, kind of the boatyard capital of Holland.
First we would have to recross Le Pont Canal, the bridge that takes the canal over the Loire. 

 Built between 1890 and 1894 with the help of the same engineer that built the Eiffel Tower, the bridge is the longest in Europe at about 663 meters (almost 2200 feet). It’s very Deco.

And the river rushes by below.

Now it was just a matter of “making kilometers.” We’d just passed through this same scenery over the last couple of weeks but if we wanted to get to Holland by the first of September, we were not going to be able to dawdle too much. We did make it a point to find some more of that great Pouilly Fume and goat cheese, however. Priorities!

All the rains had washed alot of decayed plant materials into the canal and raised the tannin levels. The falling water over the top of this lock gate had created a foam monster!

We had to go very slowly out of the lock or it would have overwhelmed the front deck.

The old railroad bridge above Menètrèol is now a very elaborate footpath.

Cathy Jo on the bridge/path.

Goodby to Ines

The taxi driver called the boat around 10 am. There were no trains running. A quick check of the chart showed we could get to Briare, a town with more train connections, by early in the afternoon and, lucky for us, that section of the canal had just been reopened after the high water.  Off we went. Briare has two ports, the newer commercial port and the Port du Plaisanciers which used to be the commercial port and where the canal used to enter the river. During the big floods of last week, the water had risen so high in the pleasure boat port that the quays were submerged and people were trapped in their boats. Many of the boats were moved into the commercial port which was now crammed. There would be no place for us there, the pleasure boat port was still closed so we just had to stake to the bank a little way down the canal. 
We hustled into the tourist office where the extremely helpful woman checked bus schedules. No bus to Paris but there was one to Orleans, a much larger city where trains might still be running. Unfortunately, the bus had left an hour before and there wouldn’t be another until tomorrow. Nothing else to do but call a taxi. The tourist office lady made a couple of phone calls and found a driver that would make a deal for the 1 1/2 hour drive to Paris. 15 minutes later we put Ines bags into the car and off she went. Now we had to figure out what to do with the rest of our summer.
Meanwhile, central France was in a watery mess. The Seine was over it’s banks causing the closure of the Metro and several of the big museums and turning the already difficult traffic into a nightmare. Art on the lower levels of the Louvre had to be relocated. Boaters were trapped in several locations where canals cross rivers and would be for weeks. Pontoons and quays were underwater trapping people for days. We just felt lucky to be on a canal that had little problems other than a stretch closed for a couple of days. It could have been so much worse!

New Region, New Wine, Good Cheese

Since we had now entered the Department of Nievre, leaving Burgundy behind, we had new wines to try. This very small wine region still grows the pinot noir and a little gammay for red wine but instead of the burgundian chardonnay, the white wine is produced from the sauvignon grape with the pouilly fume on the east side of the river and Sancerroise on the west. And, since this is early summer (although you wouldn’t know it from the weather!) the fresh goat cheese (crotins de chavignol, literally “goat droppings”) is abundant. Even though we knew we would eventually have to turn around a retrace our steps we didn’t want to miss this region.
Our first stop was the small village of Beffes and their new small marina. A French barging couple we met in Nevers had recommended a restaurant there and we figured a recommendation from the French meant we had to try it. The Crozet de Chemin was so good we stopped there again on our way back up the canal.

Next we moved on the the small village of Menètrèol sous Sancerre. As the name implies, the village is under Sancerre, which is on top of the hill.

The Chateau

The hike up the hill is pretty major and we’d been told that the 9 euro taxi ride was well worth it. We tried two taxi companies and were turned down flat; a strike by refinery workers was making gasoline supplies short and there was a two-day road race blocking the shortest way up the hill. We were going to have to walk. Luckily just down the road we spotted a taxi pulling out of the local supermarket and flagged down Madame Luthon who was only too happy to give us ride to the top. We made sure to get her card for the ride back. It would be a long hike to get around the road race.

The original fortified town of Sancerre was built in 1152 but the area has been occupied since Roman times. The castle and the surrounding walls were demolished after it’s inhabitants came out on the wrong side of the religious wars in the late 1500’s but the town remained, very medieval.
We climbed the 161 steps up La Tour des Fiefs, the only remaining tower of the 14th century chateau for a view of town and the Loire below.

The Loire Valley

Monday we moved on to the town of Lerè. Also very picturesque, it had a nice place to tie up although a new addition to the canal this year was causing some problems.  Deborah is a 40 meter new hotel barge run by Croisie Europe, the same company that runs the huge hotel barges on the rivers. Unlike the usual hotel barge that caters to only 6-8 passengers (with very high prices), Deborah carries 24 people; we’re not sure about the price. They have reserved space in all the moorings along the canal between Nevers and Briare for their stays and since moorings are very limited, it leads to conflict. We had our share. They made us move twice. Very annoying.
We did manage a nice bike ride around the countryside, stopping at a small farm to buy more goat cheese and beating the huge thunderstorm back to the boat by minutes.
We also picked Lerè because it was a short taxi ride across the river to a train station and Ines needed to get to Paris on Wednesday. We called the taxi and reserved it for about 11 in the morning as SNCF, the train people, said there would be one running around 12:30. The strike continued but supposedly there was limited service. Stay tuned to find out what happens next.

Nevers, The Great Taxi Ride and Plans Set in Jello

By Thursday the 26th we’d made it to Decize and the junction with the Nivernais Canal. We weren’t heading onto the Nivernais but Alan and Sharon on Drumsara intended to on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, you need to cross a section of the Loire River to get to the beginning of the canal and the authorities closed it before they could make it. The river was flowing much too fast. Meantime we headed further down the canal beside the Loire; several times its curving channel comes close to the canal and we could see the water rushing by. We spent a couple of days on a quay outside the village of Chevenon and bicycled the 10k into the Nevers port to check it out. The stories we had heard about it were not inspiring and we wanted to see for ourselves.
Port de Jonction is at the end of a 3k side channel that used to lead into the river. The last lock is blocked off and pontoons have been put in a portion of the old commercial port. The major problem is that the city is on the other side of the river, about a 20 minute walk away and part of that is on what was now a wet, muddy path. 

The Nevers Cathedral is actually two churches combined, with both romanesque and gothic choirs. Construction started in the 6th century with major renovations in the 16th. The River Loire is in the foreground. In a couple of days it will be roaring!

The Ducal Palace was the home of the Dukes of Nevers in the 15th century. It’s now houses exhibits and the tourist office.

Nevers is also the final resting place of Saint Bernadette, she of Our Lady of Lourdes. We were told no visit to Nevers would be complete without a visit to the Espace Bernadette where her exhumed, intact (although wax coated) body lies in its brightly lighted glass case. We paid our respects.
Meanwhile it continued to rain. Not really being media connected, we didn’t realize the chaos and flooding that was occurring throughout central France. When we did find out about it, all our plans for the summer would have to be rearranged.

We’d arrived on Monday afternoon expecting that Ines would arrive on the first. Unfortunately, there’d been a miscommunication and she wouldn’t be arriving until the 2nd. And there were more complications. The French government is trying to make major changes in French labor law and at least one of the major unions is having none of it. Strikes have been rampant and one of the major groups taking part is the train employees. Ines made it to Paris from Brussels but could find no way to get to Nevers. Her creative solution? I bet you don’t often see Paris taxis in Nevers!

The greatest part of this story is that Ines is fluent in Spanish, not so much in French. The taxi driver was a retired flamenco dancer (he said it was too hard on his knees) so his Spanish was pretty good. Ines arrived about 3 pm so we got underway just to get out of Nevers, settling in after just an hour underway at the nearby village of Plagny. We discovered that this section of the canal had just been reopened. It had overtopped it’s banks and was shut down for several days while we were waiting in Nevers.

More bad news awaited us. Our one and only firm plan for this summer had been the Django Reinhardt Jazz Festival that takes place on a island in the Seine River just south of Paris in late June. Barges cluster around the island for a 4 day fete. Disastrously, one of the canals we would have to transit to get there burst it’s banks. The authorities said it could be anywhere between 2 and 4 months for the repairs. There was no way we could get to the festival. (We found out later that, because of the major floods on the Seine, the Festival would have to be relocated off the island and we wouldn’t have been able to get the barge there anyway.) In fact, we would have to turn around a retrace the entire journey we’d made so far this year. Plans made in jello, somebody said.

The usually placid Loire churning under the Nevers bridge after the big rains.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Ever (Soggily) Onward, May 21-30

There were a couple other boats leaving on Saturday morning so we didn’t make it into our first lock until 10. About 4 1/2 hours and 3 locks later we were secure in a very picturesque halte in the village of Artaix; a couple of boats and camping cars. It was warm and one of the few times this year we were able to have dinner on the “terrace.” 
Sunday started out nice but it began to cloud up, with thunderheads building in the distance. At 4 pm we left the Canal Roanne a Digoin and staked ourselves to the bank on the Canal Lateral a la Loire just in time for a huge thunderstorm with high winds, drenching rain and a little hail. There were whitecaps on the canal! This began the periods of off and on rain that would plague France until the big downpours at the very end of the month flooded most of the central part of the country and turned our plans to jello.
We had a couple of days in Gannay sur Loire where a couple of British guys have opened a “retirement project” boatyard. We wanted to check into replacing some of our fixed windows with openers and, since the municipal tie-up offers water and electricity, we could get some laundry done. For one day, the weather cooperated. From there we slowly made our way to Nevers. Our friend Ines would be joining us on the 1st (we thought) and that bigger town offered good train connections to Brussels where this leg of her journey would start.