Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Monday, April 30, 2018

Toul, April 17-27

Wednesday morning it was time to get to work. The water tank needed to be filled, the boat cleaned, the pantry restocked, the garden planted, wine bought and social gatherings attended.

We filled the water tank, switched on the pump and it began to merrily work away until Cathy Jo said she heard a gushing noise from the head (bathroom). I ran back to the master cabin to find the floor all wet. We had a leak somewhere! Closing the valve from the pressure tank to the system, I started pulling up floorboards and access hatches to find it’s source. Luckily, it was on the branch line to the toilet and there was a shutoff valve there, allowing the toilet to be isolated from the rest of the system. We’d have to use buckets to flush the toilet until it was fixed, but the rest of the system would be usable (After sourcing a small part, a couple of days later all was well.). After an hour or so mopping up the water and vacuuming it out of the bilges, the carpet was put out on the deck to dry. Off to the grocery we went.
Thursday was clean up day. The outside of the boat didn’t really look too bad so we spent some extra time pulling up the terrace deckboards and cleaning underneath; something that hadn’t been done in a couple of years. We slept well that night.

Meantime, evenings were spent catching up with the other boaters that had arrived before us, such catching up usually involving copious amounts of wine and very late dinners. Terry and Hillary (Yorkshire) on Isselrust and Peter and Barbara (South Africa and Ireland) on Silabonga provided welcome diversions. We were then joined by Drew and Jude (North Carolina) on Maria. Soon after Maria left, we were joined by Frank and Penny (Devon) aboard Westfries, whom we’d met in Saint Jean de Losne in 2009, and Ken and Maureen (somewhere in England) on Tammy.

Things were a little upset at Lorraine Marine, however. The long-time owner, Duncan Flack, was retiring, heading off cruising May 1. No real plans had been made for the future of the moorings so those who had been coming back after their summer cruises were unsure whether to book new spaces or trust in the village to keep the facility open. The final decision (of course, subject to change) was that those who were already there could return but no new places would be available. We think that it’s likely that eventually the village will continue to run the moorings as before, maybe even with some upgrades, as they already operate the Port de France in town. Winter mooring spaces for bigger boats are in short supply and it would be a shame to lose this one.

The weather cooperated the whole time in Toul. It was a little cool most nights but it was sunny and pleasant during the day.

Coming from Southern California, we really don’t have dramatic seasons and since we get so little rain (half of the usual this last winter and all in March) the green and colors of a well watered countryside are exciting for us. Flowers were blooming, trees were greening and, on the Cote de Toul, the vines were just leafing out.

We made a day trip to Saint Jean de Losne because that’s really the only place in northern France with a good stock of boat supplies and there were some things we needed. It was only a two hour drive and we were able to revisit the old haunt and see more beautiful springtime French countryside. The Camping Les Harlequins provided an opportunity to have lunch right on the river on a beautiful day.

Our other excitement was the purchase of a new refrigerator. The old one was a real cheapo; plastic shelves, no freezer compartment and had to be manually defrosted (real drudgery, I know!). Wednesday the helpful delivery truck from Darty dropped off our new unit. We’ll now have ice cubes for our pastis!

Also on Wednesday, Ted and Charlotte Musselwhite drove over from Nancy for a visit. They were good friends with our barging mentors John and Patti Hardman and we had met them years ago. They bought a barge last year (their third, I think) in Dunkirk and wintered in Nancy. They were leaving Wednesday morning headed south. We hope to catch up with them again later.

Friday morning we would be returning the car to Nancy so Thursday we made the last big grocery run and drove out to the village of Bruley for a Cote de Toul wine purchase. The Laroppe winery makes a delicious gris we tasted last year and we wanted to stock up.

Friday morning we headed off to Nancy to return the car. Since the trains were running, it was just a 20 minute ride back to Toul and about an equal amount of time walking to Lorraine Marine. Saturday morning we would be off.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Planes, Trains (we wish!) and Automobiles, April 16-17

April showers are supposed to bring May flowers but in France it signals the beginning of strike season and this year is particularly busy. The government is trying to “liberalize” some of France’s very restrictive employment laws, especially on the railroads, and the unions are having none of it. Air France employees are also pushing for a wage increase. Since our travel to Oldtimer involves both Air France and the SNCF (French railroads) we knew things could be a little tough. We weren’t sure how tough…

Being French, the strikes are very organized. The railroad employees are off work 2 days out of five and have published a calendar to allow travelers to make plans. Our train reservations (Paris-Nancy, which we made in late January before the fun began) were on a scheduled strike day when the calendar was published in March. We had also prepaid for a rental car in Nancy. We decided to just wait to see what happened. About two weeks before our departure, Air France published their strike calendar and, you guessed it, our flight Houston-Paris was scheduled for a strike day. We quickly called the airline and, after a very long time listening to hold music, managed to move our flight up one day and then moved the train tickets up as well so they would not be on a strike day.

The day before we were set to fly to Paris we received two emails from Air France in quick succession. The first said it was time to check in for our flight, the second that our flight was cancelled. Another very long time spent listening to hold music resulted in a change of plans to Delta Airlines flights, the first leg Houston/ Atlanta and then Atlanta/Paris. Unfortunately, Delta doesn’t have a premium economy section so our tickets were downgraded to “cattle class.” Also, we’d be getting into Paris too late to make our train connection so we changed that ticket again, this time to a later departure (luckily the train changes could be made on the internet. No hold music.) and we would arrive in Nancy just before the rental car office closed.

Monday about 5 pm we left the ground in Houston bound for Atlanta. Upon reaching our gate for the Paris flight we were informed that there was a mechanical problem with the plane and it would be delayed at least an hour, scotching our train and car plans which were tight to begin with. Instead of our 10:30 pm departure, we finally left Atlanta a little after midnight, landing in Paris after 2 pm. When the flight was delayed we had managed to cancel the train and car reservations (free airport wifi!) and make a one way Paris/Nancy car rental booking, so at least we could get to the boat instead of having to overnight either at the Paris airport or Nancy. I wasn’t too pleased about having to drive 3 1/2 hours to the boat after the airlines fiasco but that was our only alternative. That or take a taxi. (Hello, Ines!)

We did finally make it to Oldtimer about 6 pm, threw the suitcases on the boat and walked a couple hundred meters down the canal bank to the local pizza joint to find out they were moving and offering takeout only. One pizza margarita and bottle of lambrusco later we tumbled into bed to begin our jet lag recovery.