Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Friday, July 26, 2019

Down the Bourgogne, June 28-July 5

It continued to be very hot with temps in the mid to upper 30’s. Our days followed a pattern; some cycling and exploring in the morning followed by “resting” and, when possible, swimming in the afternoon when temps reached their peak.
We had cycled from St. Victor down the canal to our next potential stop, the gite and cafe at Banet, lock 34, to see if there was some shade and we figured if we got into the right spot, there would be some protection from the sun in the afternoon. 
A few years ago a Swiss couple who had been partners in a magnificent barge, Baron de l’Ecluse, sold their part and leased the lock house at Lock 34. They have since developed a bankside mooring with water and electricity available, as well as a small cafe and store selling local products; wine, pates and the like, as a “retirement” project. We’d stopped there before and we wanted to stop there again.

The Baron in 2006

Friday we  made the 6 1/2 k and 4 locks in about an hour and a half and were moored by about 10:30. After lunch we made the short bike ride to St. Marie-sur-Ouche to do a little swimming. Saturday before it got too hot we cycled down to our next potential mooring, Fleury-sur-Ouche to check that out and found a spot that would get us some shade. We also needed to stock up on groceries as we knew we wouldn’t make Fleury before the supermarket closed at 12:30 on Sunday so we did a little shopping. When we moved to Fleury we also found a very welcoming swimming hole that we put to good use on Sunday afternoon.

The swimming hole at Fleury on a hot Sunday afternoon.

Monday morning it was off the 15 k to Dijon.
We’ve been in Dijon many times, beginning with our first barge trip with John and Patti in 2006. It was still very hot so we weren’t going to do a lot of wandering around but we did want to do some shopping and visit the Beaux Arts Museum which had just undergone an facelift (and it’s free). One of the oldest fine arts museum in France, it had an extensive collection of all kinds of art; painting and sculpture from the ancient to the modern.
The entrance to the museum is, well, monumental.

A really beautiful altar pieces from the Champmol Charterhouse.

The featured exhibit is the reconstructed tomb of  Phillip the Bold, the first Duc of Bourgogne, and his wife Margaret of Flanders.

The museum’s website is here  and the wiki is here.

As for shopping, we were startled when the supermarket close to the mooring turned out to be  big hole in the ground with new apartments going up. Luckily it was replaced by a big new Intermarche just a couple of blocks away. That wasn’t the only big construction project. The elegant old hospital complex is being reimagined as le Cité International de la Gastronomie et du Vin, we’re guessing a kind of Disneyland of food and wine. Shops, residences, a school, exhibits and demonstrations are all supposed to be part of the big new complex. We also took the tram out to the giant shopping center to visit the Apple store. It was close to my birthday so Cathy Jo wanted to get me a ‘tit cadeau. We also managed a visit to the giant covered market, always a highlight.

It was very quiet on the moorings. Just us, one other cruiser and the hotel barge La Vie en Rose, closed up between charters. Usually the moorings would be very busy but low water levels and the weed problem seemed to have scared many boaters off.
We were startled awake at 4 am Tuesday by a knock on the side of the boat. The pompiers (firemen) had arrived, responding to reports of an alarm at the apartments. It tuned out to be La Vie en Rose but nobody was aboard and they wondered if we knew where the owner was. They eventually found him later that morning and the alarm turned out to be a bilge water alarm. He had a small leak in his prop shaft, easily fixed and no damage. As compensation, Alex, the owner and captain, invited us over for aperitif Wednesday evening, sharing with us a very nice bottle of cremant. He also gave us a tour of the boat, actor Sterling Hayden’s French residence of many years. It is his first year with the boat and we learned alot about the economics and mechanics of running a hotel barge in France. His website is here.

Still hot, Thursday, July 4, we celebrated in the shade alongside the bank at Longecourt, near where we’ve spent a couple of 4ths in the past. It was a very trying day with the weed very thick in the canal. So thick, in fact, that the eclusiers were having trouble opening and closing the lock doors. The weed would get jammed behind the doors when they were trying to open them and prevent the doors from closing all the way when they wanted to empty the lock. Frustratingly, they didn’t even have the tools (pitchforks or boathooks) the clear the weed out of the way. We had to use our boathook to help them out on a couple of occasions. And of course the stuff would get wrapped around the propshaft making for much backing and forthing to get it clear. Luckily for us we have cooling pipes to cool the engine. Those boats that use canal water for cooling were having a terrible time.
By noon Friday we were moored bankside in St. Usage, a spot we’d used many times before, just before the big basin at St. Jean de Losne and the end of the Canal de Bourgogne. We had more grocery shopping to do, some social calls to make and a World Cup Soccer match to watch on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Saint Victor, June 23-28

All of the forecasts said it was going to be very hot for the next week or so all across Europe. Near 100º F when living in a metal box is not fun! We needed shade and swimming. Luckily we knew just the place. About 20k and 21 locks down the canal from Vandenesse was a place we had stayed in once before, Saint-Victor-sur-Ouche. There are a few bollards along the bank under the trees, trees on the other side of the canal and a very nice swimming hole in the River Ouche right by the canal. Consequently, we had shade until 2:30 pm and then again after 7 pm and we just had to go back to the lock and cross the bridge for some wonderful cool swimming. And we had the moorings to ourselves, although we wouldn’t have minded a little socializing.
It was still cool in the mornings so the routine was to go for a little cycling/sightseeing until lunch, rest, then head for the water. There was a boulangerie just 3 k back up the canal in La Bussière so we were all set.
One morning we cycled/walked up to a viewpoint above the Ouche valley. We really liked the name of the village, St.-Jean-le-Boeuf, and the view was amazing.

Another morning we cycled back up to Pont d’Ouche. We still haven’t managed to have anything at the little cafe there; it’s always closed when we arrive. We also cycled down to our next stop, Banet, just checking things out.
Tuesday our view across the canal was obstructed by a large group of camping cars that decided to spend a couple of days in the parking area of the swimming hole. They didn’t cause a real problem but they did leave a big mound of trash when they left. We did not appreciate that!

As for the swimming…it was great. I did take a picture after everybody had gone home for the day. It’s 8-10 ft. deep after the shallow part. There’s great cannonball diving from that tree on the right.

Wednesday was particularly hot. 

I posted the pic of 0 earlier, might as well post 40! That’s 104º F.

One group of local “yoots” who’d been hanging out by the river all week decided to set up tents and spend the night “camping out.” Of course their parents brought dinner. And, being French, they had to start a fire (!). They crashed out pretty early but told us the next day they didn’t get much sleep. They left early in the afternoon and our last night there, Thursday, was very quiet.
Friday, despite it still being very warm, we decided to move on to our next stop, Banet.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Vandenesse-en-Auxois, June 20-23

We’ve stayed in the Vandenesse moorings under Chateauneuf twice; with Odysseus in 2009 here and our first year with Oldtimer here. It is still one of the most beautiful, picturesque moorings in northern France.
When we were here in 2015 we had stayed a couple of locks below the Vandenesse basin, in between locks 11 and 12. It’s a shorter hike to the chateau and a better view up the hill. We wanted to go there again but were afraid that the low water levels might make the mooring too shallow. There are a couple of mooring stakes right below the lock into the Vandenesse basin so we tied up the boat and cycled the one kilometer down the canal to check the depth. Sure enough, not enough water.
We didn’t really want to stay on those stakes as they are right below the lock, getting turbulence from the emptying lock and taking up critical maneuvering room, so we moved down the bank. The bollards are a little too far apart for us so we had just finished pounding a stake into the very hard ground when the captain of one of the hotel barges moored in the basin approached and said we were in the way when they needed to turn around and we’d have to move anytime they needed to maneuver. Back to the stakes we went. A couple hours later, one of the locks operated and we began tilting; aground! We pushed off and moved to the other side, using a bollard and a lamp post to moor.

The couple of days in Vandenesse we did the usual things; walk up to the chateau on Friday for lunch at the Hostellerie du Chateau and on Saturday after a rain shower, we cycled up to the Panthier reservoir, the one that’s giving everyone headaches because it’s so low.

The water is quite a way down on the dam. This time of year it should be almost full.

Enough water for recreation on the lake, though. That grass should be under water.

The lack of water is making things very difficult on several of the canals in the Burgundy region so several hotel barges have made the move to the Bourgogne. There are 12 currently making regular trips from the Dijon region up to Vandenesse and several that are making short trips up from the Saone. The Vandenesse basin becomes quite a parking lot on the weekends when it’s turn-around day.

Oh, maybe just one shot of the chateau…..

Sunday morning we were off. A big heat wave was on it’s way and we knew just the place to hunker down and ride it out.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Over the Top, June 16-20

All those locks in those few kilometers turned out to be not that bad. The weather was pleasant and the lock keepers were efficient so the days were short. 

We left Veneray at 9 am Sunday and presented ourselves at the first lock to be greeted by two lock keepers. These locks are all manual; doors have to be opened and shut and the paddles operated all by hand. With only one lock keeper, passing through a lock can be a long process, as long as 15-20 minutes, as they have to walk all the way around the perimeter three times in order to complete the process. We try to help by opening one of the doors on the way out but that’s the most we can do. With two keepers we were able to move through each lock in less than 10 minutes.
We reached our first days objective after completing 10 locks in just 4 k, Poullenay, just before lunch. There’s a small basin with a couple of bollards and when we came around the corner, being Sunday, it was full of fishermen. We had visions of a fight for mooring space but it turned out one of the fishermen was a cousin on one of the keepers and he had been warned of our arrival. They motioned us into a spot and all was well.
After lunch we were joined at the moorings by a French cruiser, Orchideé, also on their way up on a delivery trip from Fontainbleau to Saint Jean de Losne where the boat was to be put up for sale. Their 14 meters and our 16 meters in the lock would be a tight squeeze. Since water levels were so low the VNF was trying to group boats to conserve it but, but since our potential lock mates were French they managed to sweet talk the keepers (not without some difficulty, it’s always non at first) into letting us go separately. We’d go first Monday morning.
Monday was a little more work; 19 locks and 5 1/2 k to Marigny-le-Cahouët. Again we had two keepers and when after the 15th lock we were approaching the lunch hour and inquired about where we would stop they told us they were going non-stop until we reached the moorings. Luckily it didn’t cut into their lunch too much as we were secured by a little after 12:30. There is a small village there so we wandered around town in the afternoon.
They do roses in Burgundy. The flowers are everywhere, wild and cultivated, and they are beautiful. In fact, one of our lock keepers made it a point to present us with a bunch of roses both days he was with us. Marigny’s lanes had some beautiful displays.

As we wandered, we saw a sign for Rue de Chateau. You never know what you might find so we walked down the street and a very little way out of town, voila!, the chateau.

The badge over the gate across the moat said the castle was built in 1613 and was privately owned; no tours. We were able to walk all the way around the walls outside the moat, though.

As the sun went down I snapped a picture from the back deck of the mooring. We had agreed with the crew of Orchideé that since we went first Monday morning, they would go first Tuesday to the next spot and the end of the major chains of locks, Pont Royal.

Since we were second, we entered the first lock at 10 am Tuesday. We traveled a whole 11 k and through 13 lock, this time stopping for lunch, and made it to Pont Royal just after 2 pm.
In one of the many handouts provided by the tourist offices we had seen some information on the church in Saint-Thibault. Since it was just 4 k down the canal we decided to bike over and take a look. 
We found an amazing building originally from the middle ages but restored in the mid 1800’s and again from 2010 to 2012. Unlike other churches that suffered major damage to their statues during the religious wars, the heads and faces chiseled off, The statues around the entrance door were intact, a couple still with some of their original paint remaining.

The carved wooden door was a beautiful work of art.

After Pont Royal, the locks spread out a bit, in fact from the Pont Royal lock to the next is over 10 k. After that it’s 12 locks in 6 k to Pouilly-en-Auxois and the entrance to the 3.3k tunnel that marks the summit of the canal. We were tied up in the Pouilly basin just after 2 pm and discovered another of the wonders of the canal, a big supermarket just a couple of minutes away. We made two trips to stock up as groceries are scarce on the way down to Dijon
We would be following Orchideé through the tunnel so at 9 am we presented ourselves to the tunnel control office and, after checking to see that we had the proper equipment (tunnel light, life jackets, fire extinguishers) we were presented with our “trip ticket.”

The trip turned out to be no problem. Except for the first half k or so the tunnel is well lit. There is no tow path inside so careful steering is a must so as not to damage the new paint on the rock walls. 
We actually entered the tunnel at 9:20 and exited at 10:05. After that is was 8 locks, down this time so sharing space with Orchideé, to Vandenesse-en-Axois, one of our all time favorite moorings.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Veneray and Alesia, June 14 and 15

We made good progress up the 9 locks and 13 k to Veneray les Laumes. There were a couple of reasons for stopping here. One was to visit the statue of the last Gaulish king, Vercengétorix, and Alesia, the site of the decisive battle where Julius Caesar defeated the Gauls in 52 BC, “ending their independence and replacing their shining culture with Latin decadence.” according to our canal guide book. Not much editorializing there! More info on the battle here.
The other was to prepare ourselves for the climb to the summit of the Canal de Bourgogne, 56 locks in 30 kilometers.
We found  nice place to moor away from the hire boat basin but secure enough that we didn’t have to worry about the wash from the hotel barge that was going to pass us after we tied up. Veneray is where they turn around to head back down the canal to Tanlay. We walked into the tourist office to get maps and details and were told the climb to the statue was very steep. 
Saturday morning we unloaded the bikes and headed for the MuséoParc Alesia. Passing the futuristic museum building we got to the bottom of the hill, the village of Alise-Sainte-Reine, named after an early Christian martyr, locked the bikes and headed up the hill on foot.

It was a very steep hill! We left the bicycles by the roundabout.
That round building just right of center is the Museum hq.

In the mid 1800’s, after archeologists had excavated the battle site and a nearby Roman town, Napoleon decided that a statue to the defeated Gaulish king should be erected. After a competition, the statue was constructed (some say the ancient Gaulish king bears a striking resemblance to the French emperor!), transported from Paris and erected on a pedestal on a hill overlooking the valley. Made of hollow bronze, it had to be taken down and reconstructed in the 1980’s but now it stands proudly on it’s pedestal. Unfortunately, the trees have grown up all around the hill and the statue can’t be seen until you are right at it’s feet and there is no view from the hill. More on the statue.

Just a few minutes walk across the countryside are the ruins of a Roman town that, according to archeologists, was home to several thousand citizens in the early AD’s. Foundations have been uncovered and streets and alleys revealed. 
This house had a basement where they kept big storage jars, assumed to be for oil.

The best preserved remaining buildings belonged to the metal workers and included their workshop.

There is a platform built above the central part of the village and from left to right is the theater, the temple and forum and the metal workers neighborhood in the rear.

After lunch at the museum building we cycled back to the boat to prepare for the next three days climb to the top.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Abbey of Fontenay, June 13

It turned out to be a beautiful day for a bike ride and a visit to the Abbey of Fontenay, a Unesco World Heritage site.
Founded by Saint Bernard in 1118, the Abbey is one of the oldest Cistercian abbeys, the order being founded in 1098.
From the visitors guide-“The Cistercians wished to reform monastic life and apply the rule of St Benedict from the 6th century which prescribes a life of poverty, self-sufficiency and solitude.”
The monks did considerable work to drain the somewhat swampy land that the Abbey now sits on and between the 12th and 15th centuries more than 200 monks made up the totally self-sufficient community. They owned a large estate that contained their farm and livestock and they also created an innovative forge, the first of it’s kind in Europe. 
In the 16th century, the Abbot was no longer elected by the monks but appointed by the king and the Abbey went into decline. By the time of the Revolution, there were only about twelve monks living there and the Abbey was sold to the State. In 1820 the estate was bought by Elie de Montgolfier (of hot-air balloon fame) and turned into a paper mill.
In 1906, Edouard Aynard, a wealthy banker from Lyon, purchased the property and began it’s restoration, “extracting Fontenay from its industrial coating.” All of the buildings of the paper mill that had disfigured the site were demolished.
The Abbey still belongs to the Aynard family. It was a beautiful day and it’s a magnificent site. 
Our canal guide book told us to get there early as it can become crowded. We arrived just as it opened and had only one tour bus full, easily avoided, to contend with.

From the entrance, the Seguin Gallery and “L’enfermerie”.

The Abbey church

The cloister

The dovecote and the kennels
with the church behind

In the garden

A plaque on the wall in the large building housing the forge explained the importance of the “factory”.
“The Forge of Fontenay erected around 1220 … is the first metallurgical factory in Europe and the place of the invention of the hydraulic hammer. This invention became the basis of industrial manufacturing of iron in Europe.” No more blacksmith hammering his anvil. Now a water wheel did the hard work.
The iron ore was mined in a hill above the Abbey and the product, bars and tools, were sold in the surrounding area. After turning powering the hammer, the stream ended in a small pond in which the monks grew trout. The Fontenay trout became famous in the region.

After a very enjoyable morning we cycled back to the boat and made preparations for departure on Friday. Except when we got back to the boat we found a note taped to the window telling us that a hotel barge would be arriving that afternoon and needed our spot. Luckily there was plenty of room for us to move. La Belle Epoque arrived around 6 pm and after we helped the captain tie up he informed us that he would be leaving the next morning but we were welcome to go first; a great thing since those big barges go very slow and if we didn’t we’d be very late for our next objective, Veneray les Laumes. Later we were treated to a mini-concert as when their passengers arrived back after whatever activity they had been engaged in for the day, a small old-timey jazz band performed for their aperitif.
Friday morning Cathy Jo hurried over to the marché for cherries and some fresh shelling peas while I got the boat ready to go. Just before 9 am we pushed off and headed further up the canal.