Journeying this May, when we completed our travels on the Vosges, spent a couple of days on the Moselle River and finally reached the head-waters of the Meuse, could be summed up as a month of mighty contrasts.
How so? Well here are just a few of them.
Small, small, then suddenly huge! As we’ve said before, in any one section of
canals the locks are often all identical; same width, same length, colour-scheme, controls, and often very similar depths.
There were all up 87 of them in just 112 kilometres on the Vosges Canal so we’d became very familiar with them indeed. And we had developed a very set routine for passing through them; speed, angle of approach, where to put the ropes, when to slow down, when to engage reverse, etc, etc.
Each was 39 meters long and just over 5 metres wide. Almost all of them operated automatically and were very gentle.
In just about every lock, we were there alone, as there wasn’t enough space for another boat, not that we saw many – if any each day as well pottered along.
Then, suddenly we were off the Vosges and onto the Moselle River.
The narrow winding waterway disappeared, replaced by a wide sweeping river and the tiny familiar locks became massive ones. The first was near a steel works. Commercial barges ten times our length were lined up, loaded to the gunwales with floating mountains of scrap metal, mostly old car bodies chopped into pieces.
The biggest mobile cranes we have every seen were positioned over the vessels grabbing great mouthfuls of old iron.
While trying to take all this in, we also had to find the next lock. At 185 meters long, 12 meters wide and with drops or rises of more than 8 meters when we spotted it , it looked and felt more like a football field than a lock.
We have since been through a series of these on a side trip to Nancy and back again to the town of Toul. Nevertheless, I don’t think we would ever get used to locks of this scale!
Eateries – no two the same
After so many little one and even “half” horse towns Epinal read like an interesting place to visit, so we turned off the Moselle and took the narrow, shallow canal into the town.
The ancient church in the heart of the old district was surrounded by a whole street of different coloured houses; once the homes of different canonesses.
There was also a fascinating old printery, still in operation to visit, with an attached Museum and we made our first acquaintance with Cadet Roussel, whose hand-printed likeness is now on the wall in Endellion’s saloon.
Parts of the city walls are still in place and there were lots of places for lunch. The waiter in the one we chose was very friendly, but something seemed a little ‘different’ about his French. “I don’t think it’s his native tongue,” whispered Lesley. It sounded fine to me as I wrestled with the drinks order. “Vin blanc s’il vous plaît?” I asked. He came back; “Quel genre?” While I struggled to work out what I was being asked he said in a perfect Yorkshire accent “where are you two from then? It can’t be the UK because they don’t even try to speak French as you guys are”. It turned out he was married to a French girl and loving living in France, which reminded us of a gloomy French maître de back in Leeds who told he was married to an English woman but plainly would rather have been back in France.
Nancy with a population of well over 300,000 and more than 400,000 in “greater Nancy” was the largest place we had visited since departing Paris. And it does in a number of ways feel like Paris, particularly the fashions. People dress very stylishly. Rubber-tyred trams run in some of the main streets in which cars and trucks seemed banned, so it’s also very quiet, almost silent. The centre of the city is the spectacular Stanislas Square.
There are restaurants and outdoor places to eat or have a drink right all around. Friends Di and Michael from Melbourne had been planning to join us in Reims – home of champagne – but as we had changed our plans and gone to Nancy it was agreed we should share a bottle anyway to celebrate our friendship.
Our request for the wine list got us nowhere. The waiter assured us he had the wine list “in his head” and could recommend a Blanc de Blanc and in fact we discovered it was from Reims – perfect. It was fantastic, the best we all agreed we had ever tasted. Two attempts later he finally came back with the wine list. It was not cheap to say the least, no wonder it tasted so good! Thank goodness there were four of us sharing the bill. The waiter was obviously on some kind of a commission, as he got terribly upset when half way through the bottle he tried to get us to settle the bill, explaining his shift was finishing. “Too bad!” was our response.
The owner of the Nancy wine bar l’Echanson, outside of the tourist area, where we went to for lunch the next day was the total opposite. He and the regulars were only too happy to make suggestions on their favourite, best-priced wines to go with our simple lunch. He seemed to like us and even offered us a wonderful “digestive” which he would not let us pay for. His name was Alex. He suggested and then rang to book us a table in a little restaurant he said was very good and accessible for wheelchair users who carried a short ramp.
It was still a little early when we arrived at the restaurant, le Comptoir. The lovely young owner who greeted us explained it had been open just a year. We were amongst the first in, but soon all the tables were full and people were being turned away. Wonderful food, lovely service and a great night. Thank you for the suggestion Alex!!
A day’s journey along the Moselle in Toul, population around 16,000 there wasn’t a great range of places to choose from for a further reunion with Jean and John Lombard.
Victors’s table at lunch time was just as packed as l’Comptoir was at night, but the poor young woman waiting on the tables in Toul was nervy and as stressed as her Nancy counterpart was calm and relaxed. She seemed alone “out front” while possibly just one woman was producing dishes all-but as good as those we’d enjoyed in Nancy. We had to chuckle, but she certainly wasn’t when a chap another table had an issue with his order. Swearing under her breath she stamped around and almost clocked him on the head with the new dish when she brought it to him.
Finally, briefly to the contrast in moorings.
A welcoming harbour master at the Porte de France, who had via prearrangement set aside a section of wall for “Endellion” where wheelchairs could easily drive on and off, and water and electricity were readily available.
Several emails requesting the same at the Port de Plaisance in Nancy went unanswered.
Then we got a “non possible” reply and it was suggested we tie up in the adjoining old commercial port. Wheelchair accessible, however no power or water and a “Nuit Bar”
watered the local younger set 11:00PM til 5:00AM. Thankfully though, only two nights a week of the five we were neighbours!
One way or the other, things are never, ever boring!