We are now happily on our 2012 journey through the waterways of France, Belgium, the Netherlands and perhaps Switzerland (a toe in the corner near Basle).
Stewart has produced this detailed overview:
From the middle of June until the end of November we plan to head north from Paris, up the Oise River, along the St Quentin Canal, through Brussels, Antwerp, Rotterdam then on to Haarlem and Amsterdam. After a stop-over in Weesp (15 kms west of Amsterdam) for a few mechanical check-ups we plan to head south via Utrecht, Maastricht, Namur, Verdun and Nancy to Strasburg. Then up the Rhine for a couple of days and hopefully into Switzerland as close to Basel as possible before heading back across France via the Marne to Paris for the winter.
Distance: 2,615 Kilometres; Locks: 537; Lift bridges: 83
It will take around 543 engine hours, 169 days of travel (so averaging 15 kilometres a day) and we’ll consume around 3,000 litres of fuel.
We have a plan .. and it’s going to be very flexible within the framework: If we love a place we will stay longer and if we don’t we will be on our way as quickly as possible. So here we go.
We left Paris more than a week ago (14thJune), after Stewart’s long battle over the telephone and through email to arrange for a Steyr authorised engineer (Sebastian) to come to check and certify (commission) the new engine installation.
After four hours of testing and inspection, including a trip out onto the Seine for a good thrashing of the engine, Sebastian gave his full approval. Well done Alex, our no. 1 mechanic. There was some concern after paperwork was dispatched when we received an email from Steyr saying the engine was now guaranteed by the manufacturers until 12th June 2012.. yes, they had written 2012. Happily it was clarified after some anxiety .. they meant 2014.
It’s hard to believe but we couldn’t wait to leave Paris after feeling we were held hostage by Steyr, its distributor in France (Fenwick’s) and their local dealer, with ongoing tweaks to the new engine and other small repairs, and the commissioning (see Stewart’s seven tips on dealing with mechanics).
In fact we almost took Alex with us just like we took his vacuum cleaner!
Our first stop once we’d popped out of the lock at Port de l’Arsenal into the Seine was Rueil Malmaison and as we couldn’t leave Paris until after 3.00pm we didn’t arrive there until 7.00pm (but signicantly faster than this same trip in 2011 and 2009). Finding our favourite Lebanese restaurant, Le Pays du Cedre, still going well was a relief. They were warmly welcoming; served us delicious plates of their excellent food and offered a digestif (post meal) on the house. We always feel good after such hospitality! Across from us on the other bank (the Chatou side) we watched the famous restaurant ’la maison Fournaise’ (Renoir’s painting: “Luncheon of the Boating Party”) filling as night arrived.
With our new Steyr engine now fitted one of the first tasks we had, once escaping Paris, was to collect its spare parts kit. The kit couldn’t be delivered in time for our departure so we were to collect it from a shipyard at Conflans, a place where we spent eight days with Janie waiting for repairs pre-Paris (see our blog).
We had to pass through the Andrésy lock and moor to the deserted-looking concrete jetty set way down a steep bank. Climbing up to the shipyard containing various sheds and great rusting hulks of old barges I could see little sign of life. Had we come to the right place, I asked myself. Finally I found a door that was perhaps an entrance. I could open the door (it wasn’t locked as I’d expected) but there was silence until I called out and received a “Bonjour”.
So I’d found the office, all very dark and 1970s and no music or chatting yet there was Madame in one large office and two Monsieurs in the adjacent one. What they all did I couldn’t imagine until later they leapt into action with the younger of the two men using Google to find contact numbers to source some oil for us, while the older man made the calls. Unfortunately they had no luck finding the oil we needed (a precious Steyr 5W-50) and the solution was to have it ordered and sent to Compiegne, our next major stop. Madame and team couldn’t have been more helpful although they had no luck giving us what we needed: The oil and a mechanic to change the gear box oil was requested by Stewart by phone and was to have been available here.
A short walk across the yard with Madame, stepping on tiptoes to get through the very large puddles, we entered yet another shed, this time the ‘Magasine’(shop) which was the owner of a rare although very faded sign announcing its role in the shipyard. Inside was a chatty group of men, one handing Madame and I his wrist so we could greet each other “Bonjour Madame”.. there was oil all over him. Thankfully in amongst the mountain of shelves containing very little but what seemed to be cabling of one kind or another I could see a clean unopened box. At least that one had arrived from Fenwick’s (the Steyr distributor in Paris) and the shop manager happily spoke in English, instantly assuming I was comfortable with that language! “For the English”, he said, .. and handed over the box. I didn’t like to say, “Australian actually”.. we usually get a very long conversation if we add this point.
Once back on board we opened the box and most things we’d ordered and paid for were there – but we were missing one part so back up the steep slope and into the strange office space. Madame was immediately on the case of tracking it down and this will be sent to Compiegne along with the oil .. we hope.
With that almost sorted .. onwards we went, back through Andrésy lock , turning to port (left) off the Seine and up the Oise to Pontoise arriving just before 6.00pm. When we passed by in late November on our way into Paris we could see they had completed most of the work to the new Tourist and Harbourmaster’s Office and that the new pontoons were going to be excellent. They certainly were and it was a strange feeling that in the middle of June it was so quiet on the water, we were one of only three boats there. We found the electricity available to use (water too) and felt quite spoilt. The following morning we visited the very smart new Tourist Office to pay for our mooring. They wanted just €5 for the use of electricity. What value!
Almost every town has their weekly market day (or several of them) and the lovely young tourist officers reminded us that today was Pontoise markets but you will need to take the longer route as it’s very steep they told us. For Stewart’s chair steep climbs are no issue and so we set off as everyone else would have done, leaving the port at river level climbing up a windy route to the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall). All around this part of town there were stalls set up along the windy traffic-free roads – mostly the usual of low-cost, mass-produced fashion clones (some good quality material), shoes in similar vein, masses of fruit/vegetable, meat, fish, cheese, olives and all kinds of hors d’oeuvre stalls.
Before we could think of purchasing anything a light shower descended so we took cover in the nearby Tabac (like a cafe/pub). It appealed (there were many other options for shelter) because there was an interesting group of all male (of various national origins) customers inside and out. The older men sitting at the entrance shuffled slightly sideways to allow us through and inside the owner (perhaps from Ethiopia) and his wife were bustling around making coffee, pouring small glasses of ‘aperitif’ and the occasional beer. He quickly cleared the chairs to make room for us .. meanwhile Stewart didn’t know but as he turned the chair with the small ramp on the back it pushed up against a man almost pushing him off his stool at the bar but he just smiled and seemed to say, all is good, welcome.
Our host was delighted to know we were from Australia, the first, he said excitedly in English. He made our coffee and said he would like to offer us a speciality of the house, a cream of coconut drink with rum, on him. What a delight.. he charged us less than €2 for our shelter from the rain with coffee and special aperitif and as we left he called out “it was my please”.
Before stopping to buy from the markets we headed for the Cathedral very nearby. As we were standing admiring the building and taking a few photographs – in particular of the wood carvings on the huge doors but destroyed during the Revolution as all the faces were missing – a man had been studying us and in French told us the best view was from around the front and sent us along a narrow lane. The Cathedral is 12th Century .. and, guess what, wheelchair accessible. Another case of just because it is of major historical significance it doesn’t mean it can’t be made accessible for wheelchairs and others with disabilities. The old line of “but it’s an old building” rings in our ears.
The above long spiel about Pontoise shows how much we loved our time there.. basically one morning of delight and on we went again. Quite often this is our experience along the waterways.
Some useful tourist information on Pontoise can be found here: http://www.expatway-magazine.com/article.php?lang=en&rubr_id=5&arti_id=5582.
As we left Pontoise heading on up the Oise we spoke briefly to our neighbours who also had a British-built wide, narrow boat – we felt like we had a sister boat as generally we see Dutch barges although the vast majority of boats are the simple ‘cruiser’ . We were heading off in the same direction so, as we agreed, no doubt we will see each other again soon as we hop scotch our way up the Oise.
Usually we radio the lock-keeper as we arrive at a lock, if we can’t see any change of lights. Sometimes they see us coming and change their lights to red/green to notify us they are “preparing” the lock. At the Boran-sur-Oise lock we radioed as we could only see a red light. As my French is slightly better than Stewart’s I usually do the talking and on this occasion when I explained we were coming from Pontoise and heading for Creil I pronounced this town ‘kreel’. Soon afterwards, over the radio we heard that the lady lock-keeper was preparing the lock and the pronunciation for Creil was ‘kraye’. She was very positive and helpful and laughed with us about my pronunciation. Then at the next lock the keeper (also a woman) when we asked if we should enter the lock behind the massive tanker, said “ois” (yes) and left the green light on for us to proceed. Just as we were trying to work out how we’d fit in there, and almost at the gate, the skipper of the tanker whistled at us and indicated “non”! So Stewart had to whack on reverse (with the new Steyr engine he had the power to immediately get the result needed!) and reverse out as, over the radio, our lock-keeper then asked us to use the ‘big lock’. And soon after we were sitting inside a lock that was big enough to get lost in! The joys of the radio with helpful lock-keepers and the very practical Oise locks .. they are some of the easiest and quickest to use.
Onwards up the Oise … we’ve just had our first engine service which will be explained in brief in our next blog.
Meanwhile.. we send love to our friends and families.