Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

St. Dizier to Mareuil-sur-Ay, July 26 to 29

We were really lucky we found the shade. Wednesday and Thursday were very hot, well over 100º F. We mostly sat around reading while the “big gun”, our big fan, roared away. The only problem is that when its that hot, it’s blowing hot air, not much relief. Luckily it cooled down some at night. We still needed the small fan but we were able to sleep. The jets quit around 5pm, too.
Since the locks start operating at 7 am and we wanted to get moving, we left our mooring Friday morning at the ungodly hour of 8 am. We weren’t planning on going far as it was still going to be in the mid 90's; just a few hours and then find another shady spot. Right around noon we came upon a couple of bollards and a picnic table sheltered by trees just before a lock. We got out our lines and took our lunch to the table.

A couple of hours later we noticed a familiar looking luxemotor approaching the lock. A quick look though the binoculars confirmed that it was David and Evey on L’Escapade. (You’ll find David’s blog linked to the right.) We met them our first year with Oldtimer but they’ve been down south for the last couple of years. We knew they were heading up the Champagne et Bourgogne to winter in Amsterdam but weren’t aware they were so close. There was a minor malfunction with the lock so were had a chance to have a brief chat but since there were no bars or restaurants close by our mooring, when the lock was fixed, they pushed off. ( ;-) Those of you who have read David’s blog will know what I’m talking about!)

Off they go!

Saturday morning we left at our usual hour in a light rain (and much cooler!) with a couple of objectives.
The Champagne et Bourgogne ends where the Canal latéral á la Marne begins at the town of Vitry-le-Francois. We stayed in Vitry two years ago to pick up Cathy Jo’s father but weren’t particularly impressed. The marina is very small and there was really only one spot that would fit us. Plus it was expensive and far from the center of town. Just outside of town, however, was a one boat mooring with easy access to a big shopping area. Just before 11 am we tied up, made a quick trip to the supermarket and then had lunch. By 1 we were underway for our second objective.
Back in 2017 we stopped in La Chausée-sur-Marne so we could visit the very picturesque village of St-Amand-sur-Fion and it’s church. On the way to the village we stumbled across the champagne house of Bertrand-Lapie. The madame climbed off her riding mower long enough to let us taste a couple of their offerings and we loved them, purchasing a couple of bottles. We wanted to get back there if we were tied up on time.
About 3:30 we were moored, threw off the bicycles and headed off up the road. Neither the madame and or monsieur were there but an employee was only too happy to pour us a sample. We went back to the boat with some very fine (and reasonable priced!) champagne.
Sunday morning we were off, passing through Châlons-en-Champagne to Condé-sur-Marne with it’s very loud and insistent bells. From 6 am until 10 at night they ring every 15 minutes. We usually love the church bells but these were a little much.
Monday we were truly in champaign territory, traveling just a couple of hours and grabbing a mooring in Mareuil-sur-Ay. 

Vintage 2019 ripening as we watch!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Joinville to St. Dizier, July 21-26

By now we had heard that there was a very real possibility that the Loing and Briare Canals were going to close in mid to late August because of the water shortage. We had already made a deposit on the winter mooring in Briare and closing those canals would make it impossible to get there. While we weren’t going to have to travel sunup to sunset, we weren’t going to be able to dawdle too much if we wanted to be in a position to make a mad dash down the canals before their closure.

Also, there was another mini heat wave on the way. Temperatures were going to be well over 100º F on Wednesday and Thursday so we wanted to make sure we had some shade. We turned to one of our favorite navigation tools, Google Earth. Using the satellite view we were able to scan the canal ahead and find the places where there were trees. We found what looked like a suitable spot near the town of St. Dizier and planned on Wednesday and Thursday nights there.
Meanwhile the weather was pleasant so we were able to enjoy the peaceful countryside around the still very small Marne River.

Corn in the foreground 
and the sunflowers are just beginning to bloom in the back.

Our next stop was Joinville. While there is a municipal halte, the Hotel de La Vinaigrerie had a quay right out front and for a nominal €6 a night they have a very nice mooring, probable the nicest mooring we used on the whole canal. We stayed there to visit the Joinville Chateau.
According to the local legend, Claude of Lorraine, Duke of Guise, built the lower chateau (they lived in the upper one, now just a ruin) between 1533 and 1546 for his wife, Antoinette of Bourbon, as an act of contrition after a brief love affair. It was really just an entertainment venue meant to enhance the prestige of the Duke, who was very ambitious. In 1856 a French industrialist bought the palace and grounds and restored it. It became a property of the Haute-Marne General Council in 1978 and is now used a venue for cultural events.

The gardens are very impressive.

We also wandered along the Quai des Peceaux, a non-navigable arm of the Marne River that cuts through town.

and visited the Église Notre Dame to view what is supposedly Saint Joseph’s belt.

Tuesday morning we set off toward the shade and Wednesday just before lunch we found it. Our view from overhead was confirmed. The St. Dizier town moorings were awful, just a bank next to a big parking lot with not a hint of a tree or blade of grass, big street lights and asphalt. Just a little further on was a a section of the canal with large trees on both sides, providing much needed shade for most of the day. (Although there is a very active military airfield close by. Our stay was accompanied by the roar of jet fighters doing touch and go landings!) We put out our mooring stakes, got out the big fan and prepared for the warm up.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Langres, Chaumont and Beyond, July 15-21

In 2007 when we were looking for our first barge, one of the boats we found on the internet was moored in Chaumont. Using it as an excuse to visit our friends John and Patti Harman near Dijon, we drove down from the Netherlands, staying overnight in Langres and then viewing the boat (it was not to be) the next day, then proceeding on to St. Symphorean. Odysseus blog

We pulled into the Langres moorings, just a long quay with posts for the water and electricity connections, a little after 1 pm. I saw other boats plugged into the power posts and we thought we might do a load of laundry so after getting tied up I got out my handy-dandy plug tester to make sure the power was ok. (I always do this. You never know…) There was no power on the two plugs on the post nearest the boat so I went to the next post where a boat was already plugged in. Still no power. Seeing the puzzled look on my face, the woman on the boat came out and, in very complicated French, tried to explain what what was going on. I finally figured out that she was trying to tell me that even though the utilities were free, the power was only on for an hour each in the morning, afternoon and evening. That was a new one on us. I guess it keeps people from moving in permanently but the laundry wasn’t going to get done that way.
Off we went to town, up a very steep hill, the town being built on a rocky cliff about 500 feet up from the Marne River which has it’s source just south of town.
Legends have the town site being occupied since the second century AD but archeology digs have revealed Gaulish and Roman artifacts so it was inhabited well before that.

The town still retains it’s surrounding defensive wall from the Middle Ages, now topped by a footpath, but since we’d already walked that when we were here before we gave it a pass, instead visiting the 12th century church. It had a beautiful high altar from the 1800’s.

It also has some (supposedly) beautiful tapestries but they were covered to prevent damage from the light so we couldn’t see them.
After the church visit we indulged in a barely edible pizza lunch and ventured out to the wall, looking out over the countryside.

Wednesday we were off to our next stop, Foulain, 25 k and 14 locks to the north. There was space there for two boats and there were already two boats there but the bank was ok so we managed to tie ourselves to some bushes. Cathy Jo walked into the village and there wasn’t much. She was looking for bread but when the boulangerie did open after a few minutes wait, the baker only had one baguette and there was no telling how old it was. Pass. She did find something new, though, an egg vending machine. You put in your euros and out comes a half dozen eggs. We already had eggs.
Chaumont was our next stop, 8 locks and 15 k away. Another long quay with water and electricity. This time we had to pay (a whole €12 ) but at least the power was on the whole time we were plugged in. Again, another town at the top of the hill. Luckily for us, the grocery store was at the bottom of the hill so we were able to stock up.
Off on Saturday morning, 20 k, 10 locks, 2 lift bridges and one short tunnel later we were tied up in Vouécourt. Our canal guide book talked about an interesting church at a nearby village (this is turning into the Old Church Tour!) and the one boat mooring was empty so about 2 pm we tied up, offloaded the bicycles and headed off for Vignory.

Built in the 11th century, the church features a Carolingian nave (look it up!) that’s an extension of the choir.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Auxonne to Langres, August 11-16

We’ve traveled almost all of the canals in northern France but we’ve never been on the canal that connects the Saone and Marne Rivers. This year we wanted to make it part of our “Great Wines of France” circle, the Loire Valley, Burgundy and Champagne, then back to the Loire.
Not completed as a through route until 1907, the waterway is much different than others we’ve traveled. Because it really doesn’t follow closely an already developed river valley, it doesn’t run through villages like the Bourgogne. In fact, Hugh McNight wrote in his guidebook “Only one sizeable town lies directly on the canal and a degree of careful planning is required to ensure that adequate food and fuel supplies are in reserve.” We think that’s something of an exaggeration but we did without fresh bread for long stretches of the waterway. All of the locks are automated with a “superpower”, the usual garage door opener device, there are several lift bridges and one very long tunnel, the Balesmes, nearly 5 k long.

A typical stretch of the canal.

Still both feeling a little sluggish, we made our first stop at the first place you can stop after entering the canal, Maxilly, just a kilometer past the first of the 114 locks in the canal’s 224 kilometers.
It is just a bank with bollards outside some kind of industrial facility but we needed to stop.
Friday and Saturday were both 20+ k days with 13 locks each day, stopping for the night at the waiting moorings by a lock. We were surprised at the lack of other boat traffic. We had thought that with all of the canal closures in Burgundy there would be more people about but that was not the case although we did see a number of Scandanavian flagged sailboats, masts lashed to their roofs, heading down the canal for the Mediterranean.
Sunday took us to below one of the four big reservoirs that supply the canal, the Reservoir de la Vingeanne, above the village of Villegusien-le-Lac.

We cycled up to the 500 acre lake and checked out sailing club and holiday resort.
In the village we visited the church which featured this unique chapel, erected in 1855 to thank The Virgin Mary for her protection of the village during the cholera epidemic in 1854.

Monday morning it was tunnel time. Luckily, the tunnel is well lit, has a tow path on one side to aid in steering and was a little wider than usual. It took us almost an hour to clear it and just before 1:30 pm we were tied up near the first “big” city on the canal, Langres.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Adventures with French Health Care, Auxonne, Aug 8-10

Actually, lack of adventures. 
Auxonne’s municipal moorings are three 25 meter pontoons on the river, complete with water and power, all free. When we arrived about 4:30 pm, there was room on one of the pontoons but also a notice that they would begin working on the pontoon the next day. We tied up anyway. Luckily, shortly after, one of the boats on another pontoon left and we shifted to the open space. The next day they began removing and replacing the deck boards on the original pontoon about 8 am. We were glad we moved.
My throat had not improved. It was so sore it was making it difficult to eat so something was going to have to be done. When one of the tourist office people came down to the dock to sort out the power for another boater, I asked her about seeing a doctor. She said the office was now closed but if I came by in the morning they’d help me out. 
Wednesday morning first thing, Cathy Jo and I walked up to the tourist office and asked the young woman about seeing a doctor for my throat. She made a phone call and I had an appointment scheduled for the next morning. We went back to the boat and spent the day resting; both of us still feeling under the weather. 
Wednesday morning right at the appointed time, Dr. Tamara Baconnet came into the waiting room and ushered me (and my translator, Cathy Jo) into her office. She looked down my throat and did the usual cursory examination and prescribed some antibiotics. She asked if we had insurance and, though we do, we didn’t want to deal with the hassle for a simple doctor’s visit (it’s a reimbursement policy) so we just paid the €25 office visit fee and headed off to the pharmacy. An 8 day course of amoxicillin set us back a whole €15. We love the French health care system!
Thursday morning we made our usual departure about 9. After about 20 k on the Saone, a river we’ve traveled many times, we would enter the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne, the Canal between Champagne and Burgundy which connects the Saone and the Marne Rivers, one of the few canals in northern France we haven’t used.

St. Jean de Losne to Auxonne, July 5-8

But first….
When we’re in Dijon we try to take advantage of the many fine restaurants there. Cathy Jo came across information on “So”, a traditional French restaurant owned by a Japanese chef, So Takahashi, and run with his family. With only 22-24 covers we felt lucky to get a reservation and it was worth it. Moderately expensive and with an amazing wine list, the food was delicious.

 Friday by noon we were tied up in our usual shopping spot at the end of the Canal du Bourgogne just before the basin that leads to the last lock. There’s easy access to a supermarket and bricolage across the field and the canal is shaded by trees on both sides. We had one more day of the heat wave to endure.
Friday afternoon we paid a visit to the pharmacy in town. I had ben suffering from a very sore swollen throat for several days and I thought maybe some throat drops would help. They had some but what marketing genius thought a throat lozenge should be called “Drill”?
 Friday evening it was still pretty hot so we wandered over to the waterfront for a couple of beers. When we passed through here last year we were on the Dragon Boat Race weekend. Last years post is here.   Guess what was happening this weekend? We didn’t want to be front and center this time so we decided we’d just leave the boat where we were and cycle into town when we wanted. Besides, the Finals of the Dragon Boat Races was at the same time that a certain US soccer team was paying it’s World Cup Final. One of the bars in town had a big tv so we told them to expect us for the match.

Dragon boats last year.

We tackled the grocery stores Saturday morning and figured to visit the chandleries, H2O and Blanquart’s, in the afternoon. Of course we needed to compare prices for the things we needed. Unfortunately, H2O is only open Saturday morning so we’d have to wait for the boat bits until Monday.
That left a little socializing to do in the afternoon. We had emailed our friend Sue Parker earlier in the week, warning her we were on our way but when we went to call to see if she was on Aryani, the number we had wouldn’t work (It turned out to be her home phone in England. She’ll have messages when she returns.). We just headed down to the boat anyway and luckily she was there. We had a nice visit, catching up on some of her world travels. 
Saturday night the heat wave finally broke. We had an epic thunderstorm with very high winds and constant lightning and thunder for a couple of hours. Unfortunately not nearly enough rain fell to help with the water shortages but at least it would be a little cooler.
Sunday shortly after lunch we were on the boat resting; neither of us feeling very good (Not from lunch; we'd both caught some kind of illness.) when we heard a shout from the canal, “Oldtimer! Don! Cathy!” Up we jumped. It was Carmen and Roger on Beauregard whom we met last year on the Nivernais. Well, we met Carmen. We met Roger later when we drove down to Ganay to see them. We had a chance to catch up and they said they would join us at the bar for the soccer match. We’d also texted Sue and she said she would join us as well.
When we got to the bar the races were just concluding but that meant everybody else was outside and we had the bar to ourselves. Well, us and a couple rooting for the Netherlands team. They would come away disappointed as the US women dominated the match and became World Cup champions for the second time in a row.
Monday morning we did our chandlery shopping and made a reservation for the last lock on the canal for 1 pm. It took 15 minutes to clear the lock and into the Saone. After lightening our bank account with a stop at the fuel dock we headed up the river. By about 4:30 we were tied up on Auxonne on the city pontoons.