Wednesday, 21 August 2013

We've run out of Marmite - It's time to go home

Yes, after ekeing out the marmite that we were given in the spring, it finally ran out at the beginning of August. Serious problems call for serious solutions - it must be time to go home.

Actually, we had always planned to go home in mid-August; Emma starts school in September, so we wanted a few weeks to get settled back in, buy school shoes, re-acquaint ourselves with the washing machine etc.

But, since after leaving Germany there were still sights to be seen, fun to be had and new people to meet.

We came back up the Moselle, which is a much more gentle river than the Rhine, but which still has fabulous scenery. Very orderly vineyards, fairy tale castles and lots of speedboats (the boat of choice for the German weekend boater).

Once back into France we stayed in Metz, a really nice, compact, city with a great marina. Immediately adjacent to the marina is a lake which, while fairly nondescript by day, turns into a wonderful sound and light show in the evening.

We were in Metz at the start of Bastille weekend, so watched the military and emergency services parade through the city before moving on to the small town of Pompey (which, sadly, is not twinned with Portsmouth; a missed opportunity there, I feel) where the Bastille fireworks took place on the opposite bank to the moorings, meaning we were in prime position! Emma slept through the entire display!


From there, it was onto Toul. Regular readers will know I am a fan of the French "shabby chic" look. Well, Toul is definably at the shabby end of shabby chic. It does, however, have a magnificent cathedral and a lovely, new, shiny marina. With A Washing Machine!!!

By now we were needing to make tracks to Roanne, where we had arranged a winter mooring for the boat, so it was off down the Canal des Vosges, which is one of the most beautiful stretches of water we have been on. It passes through the Vosges mountains and is, in many places, lined either side by forests. The area is very sparsely inhabited but we did stop at Menomenil on my birthday to have a meal at the wonderful gite there, run by Maryline and her family.

Basically, you eat what the farm produces and what Maryline has decided to cook that day. You are given a menu and a wine list, which appears to offer quite a large choice. However, in reality you get a choice of two starters and Maryline tells you what you are having for your main course. You might enquire about the red wines on offer, but Maryline will tell you that you are having Cotes du Rhone, so that's what you have. And very good it all is too.

It's all very relaxed, Emma played with the farm children and no-one was at all worried when she was sick on the floor. Thankfully, it was a tiled floor.

A sunflower field in the Vosges

Me, working one of the many, many locks on the Canal des Vosges
We had some very hot weather; one day I remembered to look at the thermometer in the saloon (sitting room) on the boat at about 8:30pm and it was still reading 36c. Way too hot for me, but Emma and Stephen are much better at dealing with the heat than me. But the wet spring followed by the hot summer meant that everywhere we went the flowers were fabulous and the butterflies numerous.

Before very long we were back at our home base of Roanne. The boat is now up for sale (wanna buy a boat? Two careful owners) and all our belongings were loaded onto a van and sent back to the UK whilst we headed back by air.

So, we've been back almost a week now and Godalming feels like home again. I was very happy to be reunited with the washing machine (I never, ever want to wash stuff by hand ever again) and Stephen is very happy to have the dishwasher (he feels he's done enough dishwashing to last a lifetime).

But we are missing the constant discovery of new places and new people, the gradual improvement of our French, the wonderful bread and the overwhelming choice of cheese!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Germany & Luxembourg - Countries Seven & Eight!

Sooooo, on to the Rhine. And what a river the Rhine is. Here is Stephen after our first day on the Rhine, his face clearly saying "A beer? Of course I want a beer!"

In this area, the border between Germany and France is the Rhine and on our first night on the river we moored on the German side, in the village of Greffern.

The harbour/marina there is part leisure and part commercial with huge commercial boats calling in to collect aggregate from the adjacent quarry. I like to see the industrial areas beside the rivers and canals; they aren't in any way beautiful, but they are a reminder of the real reason the canals were built and the reason both the rivers and canals are maintained - without the commercial traffic on the larger canals and rivers, it would not be economically viable to maintain them just for the pleasure boats.

The picture immediately below and the one below that give an idea of the scale of the river and the traffic it carries. It is immensely wide and the commercial boats are up to 200m long. The wake they produce is enormous and I really found it quite frightening at times on the river; Stephen prefers to call it "challenging".


Despite the "challenges" the Rhine valley is very, very beautiful. Lots of fairy-tale castles built on rock promontories, beautifully ordered vineyards and immaculately kept towns and villages.

The appearance of the towns and villages is one of the major differences between France and Germany (ignoring the language). As I have written before, France does shabby-chic wonderfully; Germany, not so much. Everything is sanded, painted, swept & weeded. I rather like it, it makes Stephen feel on edge. You can guess who is the messy one in our house.

One evening we moored at a deserted marina with locked gates and no way out on foot. So, Stephen and Emma took to the dingy to explore. I must admit I was rather nervous in case Emma decided to have an impromptu swim or to move around too much in the dingy, but actually, she behaved wonderfully on this occasion and sat still to enjoy the trip.

Koblenz was the furthest into Germany we ventured. It is where the Moselle meets the Rhine, so we were able to take advantage of the fast current going along the Rhine (our top speed: 12.5 knots - 7 knots of our own and 5.5 knots of current) then move onto the Moselle, which is much more gentle for that part of the journey where we had to go against the current.

Koblenz is a very attract city, lots of beautiful buildings, nice open space etc. All very tidy (of course!) but still the chance to see the unexpected:

How often do you see a man running down the road carrying a double bass? Late for a performance? On the run after a music shop heist? We will never know.

Emma found her own way of enjoying herself. Having a sudden rest on a bench followed by dancing in the fountains.

This part of Koblenz she was less interested in, the historic centre. It wasn't clear how much restoration had taken place post-1945 and it seemed rude to ask.

Next, on to Trier and the first stop was the Porta Nigra, or Black Gate. A wonderfully preserved Roman gateway into the city centre.

We opted for the Tourist Train method of seeing the city which, in my opinion, has several plus points:
  1. Emma loves them and will sit still for the whole trip
  2. Emma loves them and will sit still for the whole trip
  3. Emma loves them and will sit still for the whole trip.
'Nuff said.

Below is the rather wonderful Cathedral, part Roman, part not. Sorry, the history of the "not" part escapes me.

I was pleasantly surprised how much of my school German (two years study, 30 years ago) came back to me. And pleased I was able to make use of only two of my three best-remember phrases (apologies of spelling mistakes obvious to any German speakers):
  • Wie com ich ambestern zu ............. (How do I get to the ..........)
  • Zwei bier bitte (two beers, please)
  • Mein bein is gebroken (thankfully, I didn't need this; it means "my leg is broken".)
Then, on to Luxembourg which is country eight for us. To be honest, there was nothing particularly distinctive about it, but (thanks to Wikipedia) I have learned that it is the place with the highest consumption of alcohol per head in Europe. But actually, it's just all sold to the Germans and French just over the border, as the tax is lowest.

Based on my own research, I can tell you they have the highest priced loo-paper in Europe. E4.50 for four tiny rolls! I think not!

But we did pass through Schengen, home of the Schengen Agreement, which is where Germany, France and Luxembourg meet.

So, now we are back in France and heading along through Lorraine. It's very hot, 36c in the shade this afternoon, and I am praying for a thunderstorm and a lot of rain to cool us down.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Major Engineering Works

We are actually in Greffern, Germany as I write this, we arrived today, so I thought a round up of the last bit of France would be a good plan.

We are on the Rhine at present, which forms the border between France and Germany at this point, so it's partly by chance that we are actually in Germany - the first marina was on the German side of the river.

Anyway, back to France. We were on the Canal de la Marne et Rhin heading towards Strasbourg, and that canal has some major engineering, hence the blog title.

First, across an aquaduct:

Then into an enormous lock at Rechicourt. You sail toward this great wall of concrete ........

And into the gate at the bottom of the wall.

This is the view from inside the lock

And looking forward. We have to rise right to the top. Thankfully, this lock has floating bollards, so we don't have to shin up a ladder to get a rope around a bollard at the top, the bollard floats up with us.

This is the top, no clue of the immense distance we have risen

Except our depth-ometer, which shows we have 17.1 metres of water beneath the bottom of our keel. Our keel is about 1.3 metres, so we've actually got 18.4 metres of water beneath us. This is not the time to be dropping anything overboard.

Next, we are onto the Niederviller and Arzviller tunnels. The Niederviller tunnel is 475 metres long and the Arzviller 2,306 metres long, with just a short gap in between the two

Now, two tunnels, of this length, one straight after another would be dramatic enough, as the tunnels are pretty dark and low. But we actually had to do them three times, as we lost a big fender coming through the first time. Stopping, reversing and generally fiddling about inside the tunnels is not permitted, so we had to finish the journey, turn round, do it again (collecting the missing fender) then finish the return trip, turn around again and come back.
I am officially done with tunnels for the foreseeable future.
Next day, the inclined plane, also at Arzvillier.
Basically, an inclined plan is a large bath into which you sail your boat, that bath is sealed at each end and you slide down a slope.
It's a very slow and controlled slide, but it's still a slide dropping you 44.55 metres.
This is the view from the top: 

And this is the view from the bottom:

And this is a nice side view:

Pretty impressive, huh?

Monday, 10 June 2013

Deux Detour - Dole & Soing

I think that just about every boater we have met in France has told us how wonderful Dole is and that we Must Visit. Without Fail!
We had been in Verdun-sur-le-Doub; however, with the huge amount of flooding in Germany and the Czech Republic, some of the flood water from Besancon, upriver was being release along the Doub, meaning there was a very fierce current and the water level was rising very quickly - over a metre in eight hours. More like Verdun-sous-le-Doub (not my joke, sadly - thank you, Tracey Morgan, our most remote reader, in East Timor)
The force of the current meant I had a very unrestful night as the boat was swung about on the pontoon, so I was very glad to move on the next day to St Jean-de-Losne, where, at last, the sun came out!
St-Jean-de-Losne is a nice town with two large marinas a good chandlery plus commercial boats on the river itself.
The Saone at St-Jean-de-Losne
Also, according to my Dad (the fount of all knowledge, do not take on his team in a pub quiz) it was, when the canals were busy with commercial traffic, a major town for the peniches (commercial boats) to take on contracts for the forthcoming year.
However, we aren't hanging around, having had to wait around for a month due to the canal bursting its bank, so we took the advice of other boaters and detoured to to Dole.
It's a beautiful trip along the Canal du Rhone au Rhin, except for one bit. All of a sudden we can to a lot of signs warning us not to stop or moor in the "area of technological risk" informing us that we where "under CCTV surveillance". Eh? We count ourselves lucky when we can get WiFi on the canal; generally it's not a highly technological area. Anyway, on we went and this is what we saw:

Only it was HUGE! About a mile long, we think. No signs, no business names, no hoardings and no people (but there were cars and trains, so I guess they were in there somewhere). We think it was a chemical/petrochemical plant. But oddly, we've sailed by at least two nuclear power plants, and they didn't have any of the same warnings. Weird.
Anyway. Dole. Wow! Stephen has admitted that he was a bit reluctant to go as everyone said how wonderful it was and therefore it might turn out to be a bit "meh". But it's not, it's great. In the same way that in Brugge there is a photograph to be taken at every step, that's how it is in Dole, but it has the French shabby-chic thing going on.

Stephen was able to add to his photographic collection of wonderfully aged and textured doors


 And Emma got an ice-cream (handmade, vanilla - wonderful, I had to have one too) which made her day - it we moor somewhere with ice-cream, a playground and a cafĂ©, then she's happy - Dole has all of these thing.
Do go if you get a chance, it's a beautiful town. Also, as you cannot fail to notice from all the road names/statues/museums/etc, it was the birthplace of Louis Pasteur. Now, being a lover of milk in my tea, I am appreciative of his discovery as the next woman, but the sheer amount of road names/statues/museums/etc in his honour does make me think that maybe they are milking it a bit (yes, that one is my own joke - Stephen groaned, but admitted he wished he'd thought of it first).

Next detour: Soing.

Not a huge detour, just 15 minutes along the "proper" course of the River Saone, as opposed to taking the "derivation", which is what it is called when a canalised bit is added to bypass a particularly twisty bit of river.

Soing (I don't know how to pronounce it, I am saying it to rhyme with boing, as in a bouncy ball) is a delight. A great mooring (water, electricity, next to a playground, honesty box with a suggested minimum donation of just 2 Euro) in a lovely village.

It's a proper working village; Stephen described it as "honest" and I think that's right. Great buildings, not chocolate box-y, some renovated, lots not renovated, chickens, ducks, sheep and friendly people.

And, for some reason we couldn't fathom, a giant public bath (didn't seem to be in regular use any longer, at least, not on Sundays) and miniature, yellow, Eiffel Tower.


It was a totally delight. I'd happily have stayed a few days, but we have places to be (Nancy, maybe Strasbourg)

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Moving On, At Last!

Thankfully the canal re-opened last Monday and we were able to move on. I was really surprised that once the breach was fixed it only took about 2 days to re-fill the empty pound (which was 4km long) with water.

This is the newly fixed sluice which had caused all the problems

And this is boatyard in my previous post, with, it appears, all the boats safely re-floated. 

We even had a day of sunshine, before the heavens opened again. We've had about a week of non-stop rain, but today (fingers crossed), the weather seems to have changed. It's cloudy, we still need a sweater on but, IT'S NOT ACTUALLY RAINING AT THE MOMENT!!
We are currently moored at Franges, a wonderful village just outside Chalon-sur-Soane. The port is really well equipped and has a wonderful Port Captain, Celine.

Last night there was a Fete de Plaisanciers (Boater's Celebration); we all had to bring a dish and it was all shared, picnic style. The theme was "Spanish Auberge" so I made Garlic Shrimps, Roast Olives and Spanish Omelettes. They went down very well, so will try and post the recipes later on.


 Plenty of food and wine for all!
This morning we explored Franges a bit more, saw the impressive Cycle Statue and went up the village farm shop for cheese, eggs and veg.
The shop was wonderfully rustic, it just sells what the farmer has a surplus of and what they've made (jams etc.), but you can see the hens look pretty happy, so I am sure the eggs will be tasty.

The current plan is to head towards Nancy, so hopefully the weather Gods will stop the rain and open the canals!