Up the River Seine onto the River Oise

We have all sorts of adventures and experiences to recount but time slips away and much of it, as is often the case, will have to stay in our personal diary and heads. But through a combined effort here’s an update of our journey from Rouen, in Normandy, to Pontoise, Ile de France, on our way for Champagne (country).

We have just left Pontoise and the journey from Rouen (our last blog took us there) is as follows:

PC Navigo shows our route from Rouen to Pontoise.

PC Navigo shows our route from Rouen to Pontoise.

  • From Rouen in Normandy up the tidal river Seine to Poses (the lock at Amfreville) –  43 kms, 1 lock
  • Continuing to Conflans-Ste-Honorine, on the non-tidal river Seine, using two excellent moorings at  Vernon and Mantes before turning off on the river Oise – 130 kms, 2 locks
  • At Conflans-Ste-Honorine we left the Seine (73 kms from Paris by water) and headed up the river Oise, first stop Pontoise – 14.5 kms, 1 lock

This was a relatively easy and thoroughly enjoyable run in our view but of the few people we met along the way half of them thought it was not a pleasant area of the French waterways. We disagree.

Stewart points to Endellion moored way down below on the Seine at Rouen.

Stewart points to Endellion moored way down below on the Seine at Rouen.

They were right there are only a few good moorings for boats our size but those we found were a reasonable distance apart (around 40 kilometres) and with very few locks to get to them. The mooring facilities were accessible of course and at interesting towns for us to explore. We also loved the numerous islands, chalk-edged hills, châteaux and ruins of fortifications on the stretch from Conflans-Sainte-Honorine to Rouen.

First to Rouen – a favourite mooring partly because the city to us and millions of others is one of France’s most interesting (historically and today), and because of our Harbourmaster, Francis. When we left our precious ‘Endellion’ moored there on the tidal river Seine for two weeks (while we toured further afield in Normandy and then Brittany) it had to be good and safe. Thanks to Francis, who lives at the port, it was. All up we spent a month in Rouen (two weeks spent touring in our hire van) and loved every minute of it.

During the few weeks back on board in Rouen we didn’t rush around to see the many historic sites – it wasn’t necessary as we’d stopped there on our tour by road back in January (see our blog Winter Travels). This time we could enjoy the occasional jazz session, the markets, just sitting around on our boat or climbing (well, wheeling up) St Catherine’s Hill to look down on our mooring on the Seine and the city’s suburbs.

Then we turned around and headed back up the Seine looking forward to revisiting places we’d experienced on the way down river. The first being Poses which is just above the Amfreville locks into (or out of) the tidal section of the river. They are large (and we used one going down and the other going up):

  • The Big Lock, (220 m X 17 m), is equipped with rolling doors (15m). The filling operation takes between 12 to 15 minutes for a total volume of 30 000 m3.
  • The Medium Lock, (141 m X 12 m), allowing the filling or emptying of the lock chamber in 10 minutes.

There is nothing special about the mooring at Poses although it’s a nice feeling to be off the tidal section where we had to manage tide times so as not to get caught out with too much current restricting progress. Poses is one of those idyllic moorings: quiet, tucked away off the main river between an island (Ile du Trait) and the left bank of the river where heavy commercial traffic runs day and night. The small village of Poses has a very nice restaurant (L’Auberge du Halage) only 100 metres from the shady mooring along the public jetty – their Lamb Tagine was excellent. All around there are many lovely accessible walks including over a long bridge that crosses the Seine at the Amfreville weir and locks. We could join the ‘Gongoozlers’ (a person who enjoys watching activity on the canals, it’s in most dictionaries) looking down on the commercial barges coming and going: Only a few hours before we were one of the boats in the lock – tiny though we would have been compared to the usual traffic.

Once crossed, on the other side of the lock (the right bank) there is a Guinguette, common in the Paris region around the time of the Impressionists. It was a drinking and dancing establishment usually found down by the canal or river: they became almost extinct through the 1960s and this one, ‘La Guinguette’, is one of the few to survive. The website is worth a click just for the audio and images.

Then on up the river just 40 kilometres or so to our next stop at Vernon, famous in our blogs for the huge Cruise Ships (see Down the River Seine) that moored on the quay behind us. This is a delightful old town within four kilometres of Giverny, Claude Monet’s home where he grew and painted the water lilies and fabulous flowers in many of his masterpieces. It’s a beautiful journey travelling from Vernon using a cycle path all the way to the village where these days every building seems to be making a living out of ‘Monet’. Unfortunately, almost every one of these businesses hadn’t bothered to put in a ramp for wheels. The exception being a fabulous life-saver of a restaurant, le Jardin des Plumes, on the outskirts of town which did everything right for wheelchair users. We say ‘life-saver’ because we had become so down-hearted at the experience in the town (see Stewart’s piece following) that we needed something uplifting and this place absolutely did the trick!

Talking of restaurants, back at Vernon a restaurant we wanted to revisit (l’Envie, we sampled their food on our way down to Rouen) set the trend for many others as we progressed up the Seine and now on the Oise; we found their doors closed with a note stating something like: ‘Fermeture pour Congés’ (Closed for Leave). We often travel out of ‘season’ (March, April, October and November) so we’re used to finding many places closed or open but with reduced hours.

"Fermeture pour Conges" - closed for summer holidays!

“Fermeture pour Conges” – closed for summer holidays!

Here we are in August, the height of summer and during a heat-wave, and everything is closed because it’s summer! Luckily there were (and are) enough places open to keep us happy and very well fed!

For boats of our type there aren’t many suitable and safe moorings along the Seine (between the coast at Le Havre and Paris) so on our journey down river we had kept a close eye out for any potential moorings not in our DBA guide.

Mooring at Meulan (on our way down river) was very pretty but not accessible.

Mooring at Meulan (on our way down river) was very pretty but not accessible.

We’d used the guide to find Meulan but it was tricky negotiating the shallows and the bridges with the current of the river and a little wobbly pontoon (much smaller than our length) was all we had to moor to.  Plus, it was not accessible and rather inhospitable so we decided we would not be going back there on our return journey. Instead we chose Mantes-la-Jolie, 16 kilometres down river from Meulan, for our stop on the return leg.

Mantes is one of those ‘undiscovered’ cities of France (like perhaps Pontoise where we were heading next): it hasn’t been swamped with ideas to attract the tourist trade, and ticks along comfortably looking after its own. The city spreads up the hill from the river and was, especially in the Middle Ages, a humming centre of commerce and vitality as it sits between Paris (in those days in the hands mostly of the Franks before France was the country we now know it to be) and Rouen (held by the Dukes of Normandy). It was here that Philip Augustus (the King of France from 1180 to 1223, and the first to use this title) died on 14th July 1223.

Endellion moored on the quay at Mantes-la-Jolie, beneath the huge cathedral.

Endellion moored on the quay at Mantes-la-Jolie, beneath the huge cathedral.

We arrived on a Sunday and set off to the centre of town where we found the cathedral of Notre-Dame’s doors open and accessible so in we went and were very pleased to see a large seated congregation. Mostly the churches and cathedrals we visit include a few tourists like ourselves but rarely do we see churches full and in action! A few minutes later, as we gazed around at the vast nave, the organ directly above our heads heaved out a wonderful tune and we thought we could also hear an accompanying brass instrument. We craned our heads, looking up, and sure enough a man standing above us in a smart suit was confidently and professionally playing the trumpet. Beautiful. Later we learned the city had been for many centuries (since Louis XIV, in the seventeenth century) and still today a major centre for the manufacture of musical instruments. Well.. how lucky we were!

Moored at Mantes overnight: the view from our window.

Moored at Mantes overnight: the view from our window.

The Mantes museum, right next to the cathedral, was also a successful visit. At first we were put off by the inaccessible step into it and the Tourist Office (sharing the space) but it seemed we were observed and, as if by magic, a large wooden ramp was manhandled into position by a petite French lady. We were immediately asked if we’d like to visit the museum, (we hadn’t decided) and before we could reply we were told that the lift wasn’t working so we wouldn’t be able to visit the main exhibition space. Perhaps we could see the lower floor, right beside us, we asked as we could see it had no steps and it looked interesting. Well, she said, if you go in there you have to pay the full amount. That seemed a bit unfair to us but we said nothing .. and the two women exchanged a few words, resulting in the official (we assume) museum cashier covering her eyes with her hands and saying to us through her open fingers “I can’t see you going in .. go quickly”.. so we could visit the ground floor of the museum with no charge! And we hope to return to see the full exhibition – only 35 minutes by train from Paris – once the lift is repaired of course.

Our next stop was Pontoise (also known as Cergy-Pontoise from the 1960s) turning off the river Seine at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine and only 14 kilometres up the river Oise. It’s almost 90 kilometres from Pontoise to Paris by water, but only 30 kilometres by car – a demonstration of just how many twists and turns there are in the snaking river Seine. It was our third stop at Pontoise which has a superb mooring facility beside the modern Tourist Office (opened less than two years ago).

Looking down on our mooring at Pontoise from the chateau.

Looking down on our mooring at Pontoise from the Chateau.

We love this city which is a little like Mantes (above) as also it is not a town with a focus on tourism, and proving this point it was another city where most businesses take their annual holiday of around four weeks during late July and August!

One of our aims on this visit was to make our way to Pontoise’ sister town Cergy where we wanted to see in detail the intriguing Axe Majeur which we’d passed under four times now.

Axe Majeur red bridge from the river Oise.

Axe Majeur red bridge from the river Oise.

The very helpful Tourist Office (a rare experience) told us the best way to travel the six kilometres or so was by bus no. 45. This was a bit tricky to find as major building and road works were taking place all around the railway station where the stop should have been and so it was diverted. Eventually we found it along with a very friendly bus driver who came out to put down the manual, dirty old ramp (but it worked). After a few stops, we arrived at a junction with another railway line and the bus then became completely packed by mostly women and little tots whose origins were not France but all across Africa, Asia the Caribbean and elsewhere we’re sure. This should have given us a bit of an idea as to what was in store for us, but it didn’t.

Innocently we continued on to the Martelet stop (twenty minutes journey) where the helpful bus driver had told us was the best for Axe Majeur.  No-one else got off there so we were back on our own and followed the bus driver’s instructions: straight on. Soon we were at the Axe Majeur which from what we can understand is, more than anything, a giant architectural installation involving twelve “stations”, the most obvious of which especially to us using a boat is the bright red bridge that stretches across the river Oise and way up the hill.

We don’t want to make fun of it, at all, but when we try to describe it, especially reading the scant information we can find about it, it does seem to be a bit of a folly. From our point of entry via the bus stop at Martelet we faced vast open spaces, mostly concrete paved in patterns edged with grass and weeds. To our right we could see the Tour Belvedere (more here: http://www.ville-cergy.fr/uploads/media/parcours-axe-majeur-horloge.pdf – map and details but all in French), a ‘stick in the ground’ white column standing in the centre of curved buildings (La Place des Colonnes  – Hubert Renaud). We could see from the nearby sign we’d arrived at the Parc des Impressionists (but we couldn’t see the link with this naming). To our left was a panoramic view out across the ‘Esplanade de Paris’ with La Defence and Paris on the horizon. This whole complex was quite bizarre with a few people walking around but the feeling of vast open spaces and of being somewhat deserted.

We decided first to get lunch and headed into the Place des Colonnes and admired (or were slightly dismayed with) the column itself. Still very deserted in there .. we could see a Fried Chicken cafe (smelling horrible) on one corner towards the street and headed there. Next was a Boulangerie closed .. and more restaurants either closed or certainly not serving food. Across the road before us we could see a massive marketplace stretching away, how far we weren’t yet sure. We’ll investigate that first we said.. and off we went into another world. Packed we realised with people who we’d already met (some of them literally) on the bus.

At one point we sat and had a beer in amongst the multi-national mayhem of the market stalls and shook our heads at each other wondering what it was all about; how could this vast area of modern, high density housing be swamped by markets completely packed with people keen to buy anything but what one would expect from a market in France?

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Then when we returned to what we had to come to see, the Axe Majeur, we again shook our heads saying “what is this all about .. what were they thinking”? We have to let the photos and a few web links do the talking, if you are interested in more! And despite our Googling for more information the best we can find is a piece written by Philip Coppens, author, radio host, and commentator whose writings, speeches and television appearances focused on areas of alternative and fringe science and history: ‘Mitterrand’s Great – Unknown – Work’: http://www.philipcoppens.com/axemajeur.html.

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Phew, we were exhausted by the time we were safely back in our little haven Endellion but absolutely all the more enthralled and exhilarated by such a day. In a way this experience was yet another day in the life of travels with Endellion. It took us three trips to Pontoise, over four years to see for ourselves what was this ‘Axe Majeur’ all about, and we are none the wiser but had a fabulous time trying to find out! And we discovered a thriving community pulsing away on the edge of an architectural masterpiece (arguably).

If anyone has thoughts on the Cergy/Pontoise new age story we’d love to hear from you.

Meanwhile .. we have pottered on up the Oise to another glorious location we’ve passed many times before, Auvers-sur-Oise, but never stopped at (for various reasons). More on that to come soon.

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‘Off boat’ adventure: Normandy and Brittany

During the last two weeks we have had a rich and extraordinary “off boat” adventure, driving around Normandy and Brittany in north-western France.  Due to Lesley’s strong family roots in Cornwall, all things Cornish are very much in her mind and of great interest to both of us. We’d read Brittany (in particular) was a delightful part of France, we have always thought we MUST go there at some stage.

Google map showing our route from Rouen.

Google map showing our route from Rouen.

On top of that the Bretons speak a language closely linked to the old Cornish language, and welcome the Cornish as “cousins”!

Our key points:

    • 1,361ks via Google maps though probably a couple of hundred or so kilometres more with our exploring, going back and forth etc.
    • 70 metres of Bayeux Tapestry
    • A music festival – who’d have thought bagpipes could be so groovy!
    • Thousands of ancient megaliths – the world’s largest collection
    • Great beaches, rivers, ports and coastline
    • Eight hotels, mostly good as long as you thoroughly do the research and take some bits to aid accessibility
    •  Some very memorable meals, especially lobster and oysters
At the Trouville home of Robert and Nicole (L to R): Nicole Stewart Robert Gilles and Annie

At the Trouville home of Robert and Nicole (L to R): Nicole Stewart Robert Gilles and Annie

What better way to start our touring adventure, just south of our mooring at Rouen, Normandy, than by meeting up with our Parisian friends Robert and Nicole. We’d often chatted with them about their Normandy home at Trouville which has been in the family for more than 50 years.

Trouville and neighbouring Deauville

(twin towns butting up to each side of the  River Touques) are seaside resorts made enormously popular partly because of their easy access from Paris, less than two hours by train.

Horse training early morning on Deauville beach.

Horse training early morning on Deauville beach.

Stewart slightly overdressed on the celebrity boardwalk at Deauville beach.

Stewart slightly overdressed (or underdressed) on the celebrity boardwalk at Deauville beach.

Deauville is a very smart town, but very hard on wheelchair users with poor ramps.

Deauville is a smart town, but with poor or no ramps making it very hard on wheelchair users .

The sumptuous Hotel Normandie, Deauville, typical architecture of this resort.

The sumptuous Hotel Normandy Barriere, Deauville, typical architecture of this resort.

Deauville beach ready for the crowds.

Deauville beach ready for the crowds.

Deauville (where we stayed) is extremely smart; it has a huge casino, horse racing track, polo fields and attracts all the big global brands to their very smart shopping centre.

Trouville pier and an exhibition of Impressionists paintings of the region.

Trouville pier and an exhibition of Impressionists paintings of the region.

The busy port of Honfleur.

The busy port of Honfleur.

Saint Catherine's church clock tower, Honfleur.

Saint Catherine’s church clock tower, Honfleur.

Across the River Toughes lies Trouville (and the home of Robert and Nicole) which became popular in particular with artists and writers from the mid-1800s onwards. But of course it was dinner at the Doridot home and guided tours of the two towns and region, including the historic Honfleur, that were so special.

Then we were on our own driving further across Normandy, heading west and then south into Brittany.

Bayeux Tapestry

Depending on which experts’ view you go with, the tapestry – which is actually embroidery – was either made in Normandy or more likely England around 1070 AD and took 10 or 30 years to make. Either way it’s a wonderful piece of art, a great register of the history, culture and war-craft of that era all combined. A link to their museum here

A small section from the Bayeux Tapestry.

A small section from the Bayeux Tapestry.

A true vivid time capsule

It was probably commissioned as a piece of propaganda, for the literate and the illiterate alike, explaining how “lucky” the Anglo-Saxon English were to have been “liberated” from their “young pretender” King Harold by the Scandinavian Normans under William, invading  from their relatively new base in France. 

What we do know is that it’s an amazing work, depicting “623 people, 202 horses and mules, 55 dogs, over 500 other beasts both real and mythological, 37 buildings, and 41 ships”.  Even Halleys Comet can be seen, though no one today is sure whether it was regarded then as a good or bad omen.

The illustrations were all crowned by a running commentary in Latin describing the scenes as they unfold. Looking at the shape and style of their vessels shows how close the Normans still were to their Viking “grandparents”. The horses apparently easily stepped in and out over the low sides of the boats.

A never-ending line of visitors streamed along the 70 metres of tapestry listening to their audio guides which automatically played the relevant commentary in front of the panel on view. 

We discovered there was an exhibition on level 2, far less crowded and more informative; how they made their armour, what were their weapons and their invasion plans.  Most of us know of the date of the Norman invasion, 1066, but we forget (at least I did) that The Tower of London and Winchester Cathedral were both built by the Normans soon after their arrival – as was the tapestry which is still so well-preserved with colours so vivid that it’s hard to believe is almost a thousand years old.

From Bayeux we crossed into Brittany and explored the wonderful north coast starting at St Malo before heading to the south coast basing ourselves at Quimper (told in photos below).

 

Quimper and the Festival de Cornouaille

The French word Cornouaille translates to Cornwall and Quimper is in the heart of the region called Cornouaille in Brittany (more about Cornwall and Brittany here). Music and all things Celtic have been celebrated big time for 90 years in this city:  250,000 visitors and hundreds of performers and acts over six frenetic days.  Our stay was planned to take in the first two days and we were lucky enough to see and enjoy some wonderful performances. Here is the Festival website.

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    • Carlos Nunez was described as being the “Jimmy Hendrix of the bagpipes”.  Now that might sound an unlikely combination – as it did to us, but it was a great night.  More than a thousand of us enjoying Carlos on all kinds of pipes plus his great band, including his brother on the drums, and a young group of Scottish pipers and drummers, and when Paddy Malone from the iconic Irish group, The Chieftains, came on stage, we and the rest of the crowd could hardly believe it. See more for yourself here.
    • The other really exciting band we saw was called Konogan an Habask & Peverlamm KH.  Yes, as a Scot (of Scottish origins technically at least), I thrill to the sound of the traditional pipes.  However these guys (and Carlos’s band) lift the rhythm and dynamics to a new, modern level.  More on this band here on YouTube.

Bagpipe troops also marched in the streets with energy and drive that blew us away.

Carnac and the Megaliths

A thousand years (Bayeux Tapestry above) sounded a long time until over on Brittany’s southern coast, we headed out from the little seaside town of Carnac  to explore the biggest array of ancient stone megaliths in the world; more than 3,000 stone columns or tables (dolmens) installed in the Neolithic Period between 4,500 and 3,300 BC.  Putting all this into a historical context, Otzi the Iceman is estimated to have died up in the Alps 3,200 BC; Stonehenge was constructed in or around 2,200 and the pyramids from 2,600 to around 600 BC.  They were excavating, shaping and dragging huge slabs of local rock here before the Iron Age, and even the Copper Age, well before the Celts arrived. Some we learnt since had been carted off and used in buildings and have now been taken back and set up again.  Even more were recently located off-shore installed there before the seas rose at the end of the last ice-age.

Brittany also has its own local versions of the King Arthur mythology.  It’s been claimed the reason they stand in such perfectly straight lines is that they are a Roman legion turned to stone by Merlin. What they were actually built for no one yet positively can say though studies suggest they might be related to the worship of the dead, though the best guess seems to be that they might relate to seismic or astronomic observations.

 

There are also funeral mounds in which like in the pyramids wonderful green jewellery and other fascinating relics have been found.

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Carnac Plage (the beach) itself is more like “France does Bali”.  The sea is the thing, swimming in it though there are no waves to surf. At low tide there are vast acres of beach for sun-baking.  The town is jam-packed with bars, clothing shops and hotels.  We made friends with a gifted guitarist, Nicholas who had a regular gig at a bar playing all the lead guitar parts from the rock icons of the past; Garry Moore, Jeff Beck etc.  Nicholas told us he was excited he would soon be returning to his regular job; not as a musician he said but teaching maths!

Accessibility

As we often say in the Blog, one of the key reasons we first started thinking about basing ourselves on a boat over here was to ensure we had an accessible base.  We were reminded of precisely what that means in all senses during our trip.  Because despite all Lesley’s efforts: Googling and phoning to make inquiries, taking our own portable bed bar and loo seat riser and even inventing a method for raising bed heights; it was still not all “plain sailing” particularly on hotter days.  With my legs weakened due to my MS, walking, even standing is not possible.  So the closer bed and loo heights are to the height of my wheelchair of around xxx, the easier it is for me to slide from one to the other and back again.

We stayed in eight different hotels over our 14 nights.  All the hotels had advertised and then assured us they had accessible or “disabled” rooms.  So how did they measure up?

    • In every case I could wheel into the hotel, into our room and into the bathroom in my chair – not always the case back in the UK last year. Although the so-called ramp used by the Mercure in Deauville (a piece of wood 4 x 2 inches cut diagonally) was very difficult to manage.
    • Unfortunately all too frequently either the loo or bed, or both, were not at the correct height – we did have a solution, see below.
    • The grab bars in bathrooms were often not in the best places or angles.  If you can’t use your legs to help, these bars are essential to provide purchase for transfers.  It’s almost as if the hotel should not have bothered with fitting them at all if the bars are not in easy reach or are placed at strange angles. 
    • Sometimes the hand basins were a bit too low to get my knees under to wash my hands or clean my teeth or mirrors in bathrooms were too high so all I could see was the top of my  (ever sparsely covered) head.
    • One of the challenges of having MS, like apparently many kinds of damage to your nerve system, is my sensitivity to warmer weather; it makes me weaker and stressed.  Often the temperature only needs to go above 26 or 27 degrees for any length of time and I’m in trouble. So air-conditioning during our ‘heat wave’ was essential but not standard.
    • Hotel staff varied from the remote and unengaged to those who were very friendly and helpful.

So, putting – as we always try to do – a positive view on things, which was the best we visited?

Drums roll, we struggle to open the envelope,… “and the winner is” ….. count to ten or twenty ….. “Hôtel Le Diana, Carnac!”  Wheelchair accessible as above, fascinating location, super-friendly, helpful staff, excellent value and if that wasn’t enough, there is a super restaurant overlooking the beach (well, sand dune actually).

Our no. 1 choice of hotels: Le Diana at Carnac Plage.

Our no. 1 choice of hotels: Le Diana at Carnac Plage.

Website: Le Diana Hotel, Carnac Beach, Brittany

If any fellow travellers would like to have more details of which hotels, where and how we rated them, please be in touch. And we’d love to hear from anyone with their experiences and ‘tricks of the trade’. 

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Heading down the river Seine to Rouen

We finally left Clamecy after almost two weeks waiting for the VNF (Waterways Service) to allow us through the lock. Luckily for us during this period we had plenty to do. First we had sister-in-law Pammie staying (see our last blog) and then were joined by our friends Di and Michael, also Aussies.

Stewart, Michael, Lesley and Di at Vezelay.

Stewart, Michael, Lesley and Di at Vezelay.

Once the Yonne was safe again, and we could move on, before we knew it we were flying towards Paris, down the Seine which was still a little higher and certainly faster than normal at this time of year.

Stewart at Les Halles café Sens.

Stewart at Les Halles café Sens.

Sens covered market.

Sens covered market.

Paul Bert bridge and Auxerre cathedral.

Paul Bert bridge and Auxerre cathedral.

Cave de Bailly, a literal cave, just before Auxerre.

Cave de Bailly (winery), in a literal cave, just before Auxerre.

Canal du Nivernais another chateau.

Along the Canal du Nivernais yet another chateau.

Stewart beside Endellion at Courlon.

Stewart beside Endellion at Courlon, the Yonne.

On the Yonne we revisited some old haunts like Villeneuve, and stopped at a few places for the first time, like the delightful Sens.

Waterways map of France, highlighting the Seine Paris to Le Havre.

Waterways map of France, highlighting the river Seine, from Paris to Le Havre.

We are now at Rouen having spent the time since our last blog on these waterways:

River Seine Conflans-Sainte-Honorine to Rouen.

River Seine Paris to Le Havre (only to Rouen with Endellion).

  • From Clamecy on the canal du Nivernais into Auxerre: 61 kilometres and 31 locks, and a few swing or lift bridges
  • Auxerre is the beginning (in our case) of the river Yonne through to Montereau where it joins the Seine: 108 kilometres and 26 locks
  • Montereau along the Seine into Paris 101 kilometres and 9 locks
  • From Paris continuing back down the Seine to Rouen: 242 kilometres and only 6 locks.

Stewart tells our story taking us from Paris to Rouen.

Heading down the Seine through the heart of Paris.

Heading down the Seine through the heart of Paris.

We set off back down the Seine, always a thrilling experience.  The spectacular sites of so many of the buildings that have made Paris famous; the Louvre, d’Orsay, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower so many bridges – all exquisite but different amidst the hurly-burly of the comings and goings of all the tourist boats and commercial freight barges. Then off from the Seine’s main “drag” to a secluded arm (Bras de Marly) into Rueil Malmaison, a favourite of ours as it was for the Impressionists a hundred and fifty years ago.

Before too long we were onto new waterways and with a three kilometre per hour current behind us  “Endellion” was making good time while not using too much fuel.

Monet's house and gardens at Giverny, near Vernon.

Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny, near Vernon.

The medieval village of Vernon is just a few kilometres from Giverny, with Monet’s home with its wonderful gardens and the lily ponds which he captured in those vast canvases we enjoyed at the l’Orangerie  a year or so back.  Along with packed visitor trains over at Vernon’s railway station, on our first pass, we could see a massive cruise ship moored there so found another spot and bided our time until “Viking Pride” had moved on later in the afternoon.

Vernon quay with Cruise Ship 'Renoir' moored beside tiny 'Willow Maid'.

Vernon quay with Cruise Ship ‘Renoir’ moored beside tiny ‘Willow Maid’.

“Watch out for that little pleasure boat when you come in to tie up,” radioed Lesley standing on our roof.  I could see what looked like a small rowing skiff  at the jetty.  So, where was this other vessel?  As we got closer I could finally see that this tiny vessel “Willow Maid”, was a sail boat whose mast had been stepped and sent on ahead, but just 7 metres, around 25 feet!

Richard and Marian on board Willow Maid heading off to Paris.

Richard and Marian on board Willow Maid heading off to Paris.

Not long after we met and shared a coffee with Willow Maid’s loving and brave owners, Richard and Marian.  Richard explained he had owned the yacht for 50 years, so when they had decided to do some sailing on the Mediterranean, he said they could hardly leave her behind, back in England.  But (thankfully!) rather than tackle the ferocious seas of the Bay of Biscay they were taking the “easy route” South, via the heavily locked canals and rivers of France. Although they had just crossed the Channel in through Honfleur and up the tidal Seine to get here.  “Intrepid” was barely an adequate description!

At the other end of the size and options spectrum another huge “mega” hotel barge soon arrived to loom over them, an unexpected chance to get to get to know more about a booming side to the business of waterway holidaying.

Two of the more prominent operators of river cruising vessels are here with us on the Seine;  AMA which presently operates a fleet of 15 or so and Viking River Cruises , with 35 vessels and more being added all the time – 10 this year alone.

AMA line photo: entertainment.

AMA photo: entertainment.

According to its website, Viking offers trips; seven to 23 days on Europe’s Rhine, Main, Danube, Seine, Saône, Rhône, and Elbe Rivers; Russia’s Volga and Svir; Ukraine’s Dnieper; China’s Yangtze; Egypt’s Nile and Lake Nasser; Vietnam’s Mekong and even on Burma’s Irrawaddy.

AMA line photo: on-board service.

AMA photo: on-board service.

Tied up behind us one afternoon in Vernon, was AMA’s Dutch built, Swiss registered mighty AmaLegro. Like all of these river cruise ships she’s 110 metres long, 11.6 metres wide, has 70 “staterooms” and 4 suites. 148 passengers, mostly Americans or on vessels under other flags Germans or occasionally French.   AmaLegro’s passengers are served by a friendly, hard-working crew of 42.  We see they have a BBQ up on the sun deck, complete with a chef in formal attire and a piano accordionist who plays all the old songs of Paris.  We learn that the passenger decks below are called the Violin and the Cello.  Then the crew are further down below in the Piano deck.

Their advertising reads, and we’re sure all the other cruise ships say:

“After dinner, we invite you to enjoy engaging evening entertainment. You are sure to be enthralled as different performers come on board each night. It’s the perfect complement to your daily discoveries”.

Viking line photo: several decks so they have a lift.

Viking photo: stairs and a lift for four decks.

The AmaLegro is almost seven times longer than us, and just a little older as according to her website, she was christened in 2007.  We love the way her décor is described – it sounds like they must have had one of our real estate friends in to write it:

“The AmaLegro’s décor combines beautiful shades of terracotta with golds to create an elegant, yet inviting environment. Most staterooms feature French balconies, and all include amenities such as crisp white bedding, complimentary bottled water, Internet, hit movies and marble-trimmed bathrooms. AmaLegro also features a Massage, Hair and Beauty Salon; fitness room and sauna, plus a whirlpool and walking track on the Sun Deck, for relaxing and taking in wonderful views.”

Viking line photo: style and space.

Viking photo: style and space.

Not to be outdone, the competitors boast:

“With their sleek, Scandinavian design, Viking Cruises’ newest longships evoke a feeling of calm and elegance.  All make fantastic use of light, featuring glass, backlit marble panels rising above a terazzo floor and a grand wooden staircase to create a beautiful, modern space.  French balcony staterooms feature floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, while suites have their own veranda”  “The Aquavit Terrace is a lovely place to enjoy breakfast (which can be cooked to order – we recommend the pancakes) or lunch al fresco”.

Viking line photo.

Viking photo.

The ships boast quiet, environmentally friendly, hybrid engines as well as solar panels and even an organic herb garden on the large sun deck. 

Now we have the solar panels, and could be growing more of our own herbs, have TV, great food and plenty of on-board entertainment too, but unlike those passengers who are all happy to stick to someone else’s timetable, we set our own and can wear whatever we like to breakfast!

We can imagine how lovely it is to travel in such luxury and care, and these cruise ships are wheelchair accessible. Who would want to use the cram-them-in system of aeroplanes, and book in and out of hotels, when you can travel on AmaLegro, or Renoir, or of course .. Endellion?

For a little more information if this approach is of interest, visit AMA’s website here.

 

 

Posted in Accessibility, Waterway life | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Roanne to Clamecy: the beautiful Nivernais canal

The floods continue and we’ve had many hold-ups waiting for the waters to recede. Since Roanne we have travelled:

We’re now at Clamecy (60 kilometres up from Auxerre) waiting to cross a section of the river Yonne – but the lock is closed as the river is too high and the current too strong. This is a town with a wonderful history related to the rivers of the Yonne valley, in particular ‘wood floating’.

The colours of the Loire region.

The colours of the Loire region.

The canal du Nivernais is 174 kilometres long with 110 locks and from the summit (at Baye) to Auxerre, where we’re now heading, the drop in level is 165 metres. It was built between 1784 to 1843 for floating wood downstream to supply Paris with firewood. This was a huge trade and the region became wealthy because of it but some of the small towns and villages these days look a little neglected. Since the death of the trade in wood to Paris (which ended around the 1920s) the economy depends mostly on farming and tourism, and the weather is making both quite challenging.

Beautiful farm buildings and Charolais everywhere.

Beautiful farm buildings and Charolais everywhere.

We left Roanne, after an extended stay to have the wheelchair repaired, and as we progressed back down the canal we came across several skippers and their crews setting off for the summer tour. Some of our fellow travellers were heading south and some, like us, north. Soon we all discovered it didn’t matter in which direction we were heading, we were going to experience long waits. Floods all over central France had caused damage to bridges and banks and the rivers were just too fast to enter at the various crossings.

At Entente Marine, Gannay (now back on the canal lateral a la Loire) we needed three small mechanical tasks doing: installing a new pump for our air conditioning; changing the fuel jet in the Kabola heating system (what a contrast of cold and hot); and fixing a blockage in our bilge pump. This meant a long weekend waiting but it made no difference to our progress as at Decize, when we finally arrived there, we joined several boats that’d been waiting almost a week to cross the flooded Loire.

Looking down on the Loire river from the lock at Decize.

Looking down on the Loire river from the lock at Decize.

Luckily for us, the very next day the French Waterways team (VNF) saw a window of opportunity for us. The past few days had been relatively dry but overnight we’d had more torrential rain .. they said, go now before last night’s fall reaches us. There was a little bit of trepidation about this crossing, one of our neighbouring boats had told us “it’s roaring out there, you’d need a big engine and I’d push on at around 16 kilometres to get ahead of the current.” We’d had good experience of rivers before (the Boven Seascheldt in Belgium, the Ijssel in the Netherlands, the Thames in London) but he made us think about this crossing. We could see the swirling water from the banks and thought it looked OK, and of course it was fine.

The many briges along the Nivernais usually have towpaths beneath them making them narrower, these paths are submerged but you can see the grass growing.

The many bridges along the Nivernais usually have towpaths beneath them making them narrower, these paths are submerged but you can see the grass growing.

Just three of us (boats) scooted across the slithery water and into the safety of the canal a few kilometres downstream: the start of the canal du Nivernais. Stewart’s been excited about this particular canal ever since 2008  when Endellion was still sheets of steel in a big shed waiting to be  welded together. At this point of the Nivernais, the southern end of the canal, we were very impressed with the amount of work going on at the locks, in particular grass cutting. However, we realised soon after that these cuttings were gathering in the locks and floating on the surface, then being sucked into our water cooling system for the engine. This is fine, given our huge new filter, but the T junction before the filter is our problem. Happily, thanks to work done by Rousseaus at Moret-sur-Loing, it is now accessible so we can clean it ourselves. Sure enough we had to stop short of our planned halt of the day to clear the cuttings from the T junction .. an easy job, but not one we can do on the move.

We had stopped at one of the many picnic parks along the Nivernais: a green bank, with several good bollards, picnic tables and benches and beautiful shady trees. Not that we needed any shade, the rain just kept pouring down.

Endellion moored at the picnic spot near Pont St Gervais along the Nivernais.

Endellion moored at the picnic spot near Pont St Gervais along the Nivernais.

Almost on dark we heard a tap on the window and a grey-haired, grey bearded man holding his bike peered in. He asked if we minded if he pitched his tent in the trees nearby – of course we didn’t. And so we had a very quiet companion for the night, hidden away in the trees in his tiny green tent. But also we had a bird which sang the whole night through, something like an Australian lyre bird running through a wonderful demonstration of his ability to laugh, whistle, cluck and tweet.. he was a delight. We’d love to know what it was.

Meandering Nivernais as it follows the river Aron beside us.

Meandering Nivernais as it follows the river Aron beside us.

As soon as we entered the Nivernais the countryside seemed very different to the lateral a la Loire: Lusher, hillier, quainter with beautiful soft-toned buildings and farmyards. Sheep and Charolais abound, all looking extremely content with themselves. Little do they know what’s in store (at the abattoirs).

We enjoyed a stunning run into Chatillon-en-Bazois with umpteen loops in the canal which followed the river Aron, arriving just at mid-day at the last lock on the edge of the port de plaisance.

The excellent port at Chatillon with moorings at the foot of the chateau.

The excellent port at Chatillon with moorings at the foot of the Chateau.

This was lunchtime for the VNF so they had kindly let us wait inside it until 1.00pm when lunch was over and they put us through to moor within the footings of the chateau. This was a delightful mooring with electricity, water, CNN wi-fi, and satellite reception. All free.

Stewart giving thumbs down to the Marrionette Show which was cancelled with no notice!

Stewart giving thumbs down to the marionette Show which was cancelled with no notice!

The highlight of our stay in Chatillon was to have been the marionette (puppet) show. Stewart had queued for twenty minutes when I joined him, and just before the starting time of 5.30pm, five under seven-year-olds arrived with mums. There clearly was an expectation of support for this show as there were at least 30 tiny chairs in rows inside the small marquee. We waited until 5.40pm when a lady approached us with the word ‘Desolet’ .. meaning sorry. The show was not going to be on tonight. The little four-year-old that Stewart had been winking at was the most distraught.. after Stewart of course.

Chateau Chatillon-en-Bazois,in a rare spot of sunshine.

Chateau Chatillon-en-Bazois,in a rare spot of sunshine.

Leaving Chatillon we were paired with a hire boat, named Cyrano, to continue the climb. Unfortunately for us we were asked to enter the lock first which put us under the full force of the water as it poured in to fill the lock. At one stage we had a massive water fall roaring out and over our bow onto the hatch doors which normally would have leaked water into our bedroom below. But, luckily, I had taken the kayak off the roof and stored it on the bow across the hatch out of the way of potential low bridges .. it acted as a shield, to everyone’s relief. The lock-keepers were very anxious when they saw what was happening. They must have experienced a few angry boaters in the past who didn’t have such a shield and ended up with floods inside their boat.

Endellion with Cyrano squeezed into the lock.

Endellion with Cyrano squeezed into the lock (lunch break so all below decks).

On board Cyrano was the Skipper with a tobacco pipe (something from bygone days) – often we saw puffs of white cloud following his head. His wife was mostly below decks with her sister (they told us later) taking shelter from the rain. Meanwhile his First Mate, his Beau Frere (brother-in-law), did most of the steering of the boat (which I explain further below). Beau Frere (the First Mate) had two lovely dogs which needed watering quite frequently.

Triple lock at Chavance.

Triple lock at Chavance.

At one stage, right beside the triple locks at Chavance, a utility truck (ute) came along as Beau Frere happened to be walking his dogs on the towpath beside the boat. The truck didn’t stop, it hit one of the dogs and we could hear a prolonged yelp and thought the worst. Meanwhile Beau Frere had yanked open the door of the truck and lunged inside and must have whacked the driver (from what we could see) .. certainly lashed him with oodles of angry sacrebleus.

Day after day the lock-keepers stay positive in the pouring rain.

Day after day the lock-keepers stay positive in the pouring rain.

It wasn’t funny .. but this family are even older than us, and when we realised the dog was OK (a bit bruised) we had to admire the feistiness of Beau Frere defending his chien.  All of this had caused such a stir we had lock-keepers roaring in from all directions as word spread about the altercation. It seemed all was resolved satisfactorily as soon after the dog was walking around again, the pipe was lit and puffed, and Beau Frere took his place on the bow with his boat hook.

We arrived at the summit, Baye, in the constant pouring rain which made it look a rather bleak place. We had climbed just over 74 metres from the canal lateral a la Loire, using 35 locks, most of them squeezed in with Cyrano making it quite challenging.

We don't ususally see water flowing out over the sides of the lock, like here.

We don’t usually see water flowing out over the sides of the lock, like here.

We were looking forward to the descent secretly hoping we would be on our own in the lock .. but no, our travelling companions on board Cyrano stayed with us for the next three days. As it turned out they were great fun and descending through a lock is easy: it’s like pulling the plug in a bath where all the water drains away very calmly.

The way the Cyrano team work their boat is very interesting. The Skipper with his pipe uses the throttle, standing or sitting on the roof at the external wheel (there would be one below decks in the dry but they didn’t use it). His brother-in-law stands firmly on the bow with his boathook in hand. Beau Frere’s job seemed to be to steer the boat with the boathook while the Skipper applied the throttle .. usually at full speed. They were hilarious and lovely to watch all day long as we went through lock after lock in the pouring rain.

Skipper and First Mate in action with the boathook used to steer the boat out of the lock, and for the occasional joust with oncoming boats!

Skipper and First Mate in action with the boathook used to steer the boat out of the lock, and for the occasional joust with oncoming boats!

At one point we met a large hire boat ascending, waiting below to enter the lock as we exited. They slowly and carefully passed us, and then I could see our friends in Cyrano exiting the lock but swirling around like they were driving a bath tub. The poor hire boat didn’t know which way to go to keep out of the way. Standing on the bow of Cyrano was the First Mate with his boathook held out like a lance. It was as if he thought he was jousting! The poor hire boat crawled along in the bank until finally it was no longer under threat and our jolly Rogers skidded around behind us to the next lock.

The thirty-year-old Calvados is shared around.

The thirty-year-old Calvados is shared around.

This very merry crew were made all the merrier by their regular interest in priming the lock-keepers (and themselves) with alcohol. We could see the bottles come out from below decks, magically handed up on a tray. Sometimes they were placed on some convenient ledge or electric box at the side of the lock where regular nips were taken as the locks were operated (all locks along the Nivernais are manually operated by the lock-keepers). We were not left out; at one lock standing on the roof of Endellion as I do to handle the ropes, I was asked if I’d like to partake of the latest bottle of whatever. I declined. What about the skipper, they asked. I thought I should take a tiny sample for Stewart so joined the group and was passed a large wine glass half-full of some golden liquid. I was told it was Calvados .. and not just any Calvados, it was thirty years old. And the First Mate (Beau Frere) held up all ten fingers, flashing them three times, to make sure I really got the message. I took the golden liquid back on board for my skipper, who took a healthy slurp, gulped a bit and we sensibly decided to put the ‘rocket fuel’’ into one of our own glasses to ‘enjoy’ at the end of the day, after boat handling!

Spectacular cascades as we pass through the summit tunnels and deep cutting.

Spectacular cascades as we pass through the summit tunnels and deep cutting.

At lock 28 (Chitry-les-Mines) with a synchronised loud hooting of Cyrano’s horn, and from the First Mate’s personal hand-held horn which could have come from a vintage car, they said their goodbyes as we journeyed on without them!

A viaduct way up high, a very narrow cutting tricky for boat handling but 'never to be missed'.

A viaduct way up high, a very narrow cutting tricky for boat handling but ‘never to be missed’.

For a while it felt lonely after such an enjoyable period travelling with them through some of the most stunning countryside. The three tunnels from Baye and the long, narrow and windy cutting with water cascading down on us, and a towering viaduct overhead were some of the most spectacular scenes we’ve seen. We were back on our own again, travelling solo, and the rain still had not stopped.

We're now in lift bridge territory, luckily this one operated by the keeper (and not us).

We’re now in lift bridge territory, luckily this one operated by the keeper (and not us).

At Monceaux , now only one stop away from our next important stop at Clamecy, we woke to a big slope.

Endellion high and dry at Monceaux.

Endellion high and dry at Monceaux.

The boat was so far over (stuck on the muddy bank) that the pull-string for the light in the bathroom (acting like a plumb ball) was at an acute angle and made us laugh. It was difficult to walk because we were on such a slope and the sliding doors would only fall closed. The night before the lock-keeper had told us to make sure the ropes were left loose as they were going to drain some water from the canal overnight. This we did but it’s the same old story with our dead flat bottom: our bow end sticks to the bank like glue .. it’s a landlubber. The lock-keepers passed by at 9.00am and called out .. don’t worry, we are putting the water back in.

Flood at Monceaux.

Flood at Monceaux.

This delayed our arrival into Clamecy to meet our sister-in-law Pammie, coming from Australia via a lovely stay in the sunshine of Italy. What a contrast for her to arrive here in lovely central France, to barely more than 10 degrees C, pouring rain, flooded rivers and a small country town. Thankfully, Pammie said “what a relief, I need a rest after hectic and lovely Italy”.

As mentioned at the start of this blog, Clamecy has a very interesting history based around the water. It’s known as the capital of the valleys of the Yonne. From the mid-1500s until the early 1900s three-quarters of the firewood supplied to Paris travelled along the river and later canal through Clamecy.

Flooded fields on the banks of the Yonne.

Flooded fields on the banks of the Yonne.

From the Morvan forest logs were cut to a specific size then thrown into the many tributaries of the rivers of this valley where they floated down to Clamecy until they were stopped by a weir used to block their progress. Here they were hauled out and dried through the summer until finally they were built into huge rafts, 75 metres long by 4.5 metres wide (and several layers deep).

Clamecy had a four hundred year history in log floating, to fee the fires of Paris.

Clamecy had a four hundred year history in log floating, to feed the fires of Paris.

Then in the autumn they set off on these rafts for Paris, about 200 kilometres away. By coincidence, having seen our First Mate (otherwise known as Beau Frere) joust with his boathook on our journey down to Clamecy , this town may have been his inspiration. It has an annual Jousting Tournament, held on the 14th July. Apparently the two competing rafts are called ‘Tu Iras’ (you’ll go in) and Toi Aussi (you too)!!  Perhaps this is where Beau Frere learnt how to use a boathook.

Clamecy market day, Saturday.

Pammie absorbing the Clamecy market day produce.

Together (Pammie, Stewart and I) we explored the town of Clamecy with its many charming old buildings, the one good museum (Musee d’Art et d’Histoire) and the church; then all we had left to do was visit the markets. This done it was time to move on and the only way we could go was back up the canal (given the Yonne was closed to us). This we thoroughly enjoyed as we hadn’t dawdled on our way down pushing on for our rendezvous with Pammie.

For the first time in a very long time we had a crew member to help with opening and closing gates, always a hit with the lock-keepers.

Pammie cycling on the towpath, opening lift bridges and helping with locks.

Pammie cycling on the towpath, opening lift bridges and helping with locks.

Pammie with lock-keepers exchaning photos and stories.

Pammie with lock-keepers exchanging photos and stories.

Pammie pointed out how handsome one of the young lock-keepers was, thinking of matchmaking for her nineteen-year-old daughter Claudia. She asked him if she could take his photograph. No problem at all .. Max was more than happy to have his face sent down under to Australia especially when Pammie showed him a photo of Claudia! Tres belle, he said enthusiastically. This was on our way back up the canal a few stops and so of course we had to come back through the same lock the next day. This time quite a group had gathered along our journey, Pammie at the centre of it helping with lift bridges and locks, showing photos, exchanging emails! And believe it or not we even had a glorious day of sunshine.

Stewart and Pammie inside one of the many lavoirs (wash houses) in this area.

Stewart and Pammie inside one of the many lavoirs (wash houses) in this area.

Sadly, it was just the one day of sunshine and Pammie left us today for Paris. We’re back on our own, and in the French words and meaning, we are experiencing Deja Vu: rain, Clamecy and a closed lock.

The VNF say, “peut-être demain” (we’d heard these words for the past week now) .. and we are always optimistic.. perhaps tomorrow they will open the lock and allow us onwards.

Early morning on the one day of sunshine at Villiers on the Nivernais.

Early morning on the one day of sunshine at Villiers on the Nivernais.

Posted in Accessibility, Australia, Multiple Sclerosis, Waterway life, Waterway services, Wheelchair | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Canal lateral a la Loire and canal de Roanne a Digoin: wheelchair repaired

We’ve had lots of glorious sunshine at last, in Roanne, but for many days of the last week we had storms with torrential rain which caused flooding in the region.

European Waterways map of where we are now: Roanne.

European Waterways map of where we are now: Roanne.

Our journey since Briare (our last blog):

This is as far south as we will travel this year – so far, since leaving Paris, we have covered 446 kilometres.  As well as the River Seine (88ks of it), we cruised the Canal du Loing (44.5ks), the Canal de Briare (54.5ks), the Canal lateral a la Loire (204ks) and finally the Canal de Roanne a Digoin (55ks).

Vertically the 104 locks we’ve passed through have almost always been inching (centimer-ing?) ever upwards.  So, we’ve been climbing, presently (at Roanne) 260 metres above the lowest point which was outside the lock on the Seine in our home port of Paris.

We see many irrigations systems but they stand by as many areas of  Central France are flooded.

We see many irrigation systems but they stand by as large areas of Central France are flooded.

We have clocked up 89 engine hours, and averaged just over 5ks for every hour the engine was on.  Pretty good for ‘Endellion’ considering the currents were against her.

We are about to see how we fare, going back down the stairs, though on a somewhat different route; along the Canal du Nivernais, a long-standing dream. Fuel consumption and average speed should greatly improve once we start the downhill section.

Le Guetin aqueduct on the canal lateral a la Loire, crossing the river Allier.

Le Guetin aqueduct on the canal lateral a la Loire, crossing the river Allier.

As we mentioned in our last blog there are many aqueducts (short and long) along the lateral a la Loire, and as we progressed the various rivers (Loire, Allier, Besbre) snaked under and around us always looking rather full.

The old commercial peniches are now retired and the waterways are mostly used by pleasure boats.

The old commercial peniches are now retired and the waterways are mostly used by pleasure boats.

This region is very beautiful and the canals, at this time of the year, are incredibly quiet. The few fellow boaters we met were in small hire boats and heading in the opposite direction to us. The locks are all manually operated by the lock-keepers, something we hadn’t experience for a very long time. This means a lot more opportunity to practice conversation in French, as well as hopping off to assist in opening or closing a lock gate.

A few conscientious lock-keepers were getting ready for the season. For example, at Houards (lock 36) we were offered Pouilly Fume or Sancerre wines from the local vineyards (Jean-Jacques Bardin or Les Chaumes at Pouilly). Yes please, we said, and I was taken into a small ‘cave’ (wine cellar) beside the lock and could choose from a range of six varieties. €7.50 or so a bottle. What a nice man, just what we wanted! And then at Peseau (lock 35), a beautiful setting with very healthy-looking hens scratching away in a large pen, I’m offered eggs. Yes please, I said again. €2.

The from the town of Sancerre, image from Cycling Loir as it was rain with no view when we visited!

The view from the town of Sancerre, image from Cycling Loire as it was raining with no view when we visited!

No sign of vineyards, just excellent agricultural land with tractors now busy. At the last lock for the day, no. 34, our egg man operated this one as well and asked whether we were going on again tomorrow. I said depending on whether we could arrange a taxi to visit Sancerre, two kilometres away up a steep hill. I will ring and find out, he said. And as we operated the lock between us he rang and hey presto, in theory, a taxi that will take a wheelchair will arrive at 10.00 in the morning, at our mooring at Menetreol, he said.

Endellion moored at Menetreol, around two kilometres from Sancerre.

Endellion moored at Menetreol, around two kilometres from Sancerre.

Well.. not quite 10.00am but at 10.30, just when we thought there was going to be no taxi (and after several calls to other services we’d Googled up), a small sedan-style car arrived: The taxi! Stewart somehow managed to transfer from the manual wheelchair into the tiny space in the front passenger seat, the driver and I folded the chair up and popped it into the tiny boot and off we set. Within a few minutes our driver stopped outside the tourist office as requested and charged €9.50, all good.

The Tourist Officer had to move the bikes blocking the wheelchair entrance, unlock these special doors, remove wooden planks that were used to barricade it and then Stewart could enter. Fortunately, the one place we had in mind visiting was accessible (she confirmed): the Maison des Sancerre. We spent an hour or so there reading the French and English notes on wine-growing of the famous region of Sancerre, ending with a ‘blind’ tasting from one of the regional vineyards, with their compliments. We can’t tell you which one, the lady said, as it might show favouritism.

The medieval strreets of Menetreol, a charming, quiet village near Sancerre.

The medieval streets of Menetreol, a charming, quiet village near Sancerre.

This was a difficult town for us, with its many lovely and ancient buildings but streets that were naturally steep and so with a manual wheelchair a bit too difficult to tackle. We had lunch at one of the few accessible cafes and they helped us organise the return taxi. However, it took an hour and more to arrive, he drove like a madman back down the hill and charged us €16.40! So for anyone attempting the same trip, a good idea would be to watch the meter as this man put it on way before we’d even got near the vehicle.

On the wrong side of the bank!

On the wrong side of the bank!

All along this route we found most locks ready for us with very efficient and friendly lock-keepers. Luckily we saw mostly only hire boats, who passed us heading in the opposite direction and at convenient places. Stewart had been having problems with the joystick (steering) getting stiffer and slower to respond than was normal so we planned to call in at Entente Marine near Gannay. Here we met owner Mark and his wife and within a few hours we had a new joystick and could get under way again. Stewart can’t believe the difference, it now works beautifully – and we were charged at cost for the part plus labour, very generous and a job well done.

Early morning at the port of Nevers, one of our side-trips.

Early morning at the port of Nevers, one of our side-trips.

European Waterways map showing our side-trips.

European Waterways map showing our side-trips.

Between Briare and Roanne there are a number of side-trips (dead-end sections of canal) which we decided to take.

The first one was to Nevers, via the 2.8 kilometre Nevers branch canal, where the two locks are automatic (rare along this way) using pull ropes hanging over the water. This was a very pleasant port although in a commercial setting, ie, with huge shed-like businesses selling bathrooms, or tiles all along one side. There was no-one at the Capitainerie despite earlier sending an email advising of our arrival. A note on the door gave a telephone number, and when called a woman answered. The lady explained she couldn’t get to the port but could we please leave €10.70 for our 17 metre boat, which included electricity, in an envelope in the post box, which we did. Sadly, we couldn’t get from the port to the town of Nevers because there was no easy wheelchair access, and our chair could not be trusted with a long or complicated journey.

The Dompierre branch canal, delightful with small bridges and a narrow channel.

The Dompierre branch canal, delightful with small bridges and a narrow channel.

Our next detour was the Dompierre branch canal for the funny little place I’d read about in our guide: Dompierre-sur-Besbre. This was one of the narrowest canals we’d experience for a long time, sections could not be passed by two boats and the bridges were something like the Leeds to Liverpool in the UK, very narrow and low. At the end of the 2.7km stretch there is, thankfully, a good-sized port (with hire boat company) where Stewart did a brilliant job at turning and reversing into our mooring.

An excellent lunch at the Dompierre Hotel Restaurant for €11 each.

An excellent lunch at the Dompierre Hotel Restaurant for €11 each.

Then off to town half-a-kilometre away with the highlight being lunch at the only place with real activity: the hotel and restaurant littered with neon signs and set beside the supermarket. One of the signs said ‘Self-service’ .. and that was their business. It was really good, very busy… and at €11 each, including wine, we were delighted!

Endellion moored at Dompierre.

Endellion moored at Dompierre.

The last side-trip was our destination at Roanne along the canal de Roanne a Digoin. Roanne is the winter home to many Dutch-style barges mostly owned by British, Australians and Americans. These Dutch barges originally were commercial boats many built at the beginning of the last century and now converted to live-aboard pleasure boats. They are very special as you will see if you visit the DBA website.

One of our lock-keepers operating the manual system, in the pouring rain.

One of our lock-keepers operating the manual system, in the pouring rain.

As if to demonstrate the approach of May, and the start of the boating season, we met a relative stream of them as they left Roanne. They called out as they passed where there were spaces at the moorings heading into Roanne, and where they were heading .. several off to join the DBA rally being held in Dijon in June.

Bridges along the Roanne a Digoin canal.

Bridges along the Roanne a Digoin canal.

This was one of the quietest canals we’d experience, once the DBA barges were past us, with beautiful farmland stretching out until we could see the hills in the distance. There are only a few usable moorings along the 55 kilometres of this canal; many places are way too shallow even for our meagre 0.80 metres draft. Crawling along trying to find somewhere suitable in the torrential rain, and with darkness closing in, was not enjoyable.

Endellion moored at Bonnant, one metre from the bank, not wheelchair friendly but a safe place for the night.

Endellion moored at Bonnant, one metre from the bank, not wheelchair friendly but a safe place for the night.

Until at Bonnant there was a wooden jetty we’d read about in the DBA guide where it would have had the depth if it was free. But through the rain we could see there was a very well lived-in small cruiser tied off with an old man ignoring the rain happily fishing. He dropped everything (rod left carefully in place) and rushed to the bank giving us instructions on how and where we could moor along the bank. We couldn’t get within a metre of it because of depth but never-the-less we managed to tie off with the old man’s help. Then back he went to his fishing and little dog waiting on the pontoon.

Endellion at the port of Roanne, behind the gorgeous 1885 classic Dutch barge (a tjalk) owned by our friends David and Jane.

Endellion at the port of Roanne, behind the gorgeous 1885 classic Dutch barge (a Tjalk) owned by our friends David and Jane.

Finally we arrived in Roanne, on a Sunday, and it felt somewhat desolate – it’s a very large port, much bigger than the Paris Arsenal, with wide open spaces all around. We tried to follow the instructions the Harbourmaster had given us via email (the Capitainerie was closed that day) but found a classic Dutch-style barge (20 metres plus) in that exact spot. As we floated nearby scratching our heads and thinking we just had to find another place somewhere, we heard the English words, “Hello .. need help?” This was David (we found out later) on his 1885 Tjalk (really old beautiful Dutch barge) who told us we could safely moor behind him without offending anyone. This was the start of a great friendship. David and wife Jane have been using Roanne port for many years – he’s a very keen blues singer/musician and Jane is into art and their two black and tan dogs. Needless to say there were several musical meetings during our time in port.

Stewart with his now treasured gift of David's harmonica and David with his guitar.

Stewart with his now treasured gift of David’s harmonica and David with his guitar.

Roanne is an interesting city, there is next to nothing to do especially if you are a wheelchair user as the museum is not accessible, and the Tourist Office had no other suggestions to make. However, they have one of France’s best-known and most awarded (three Michelin stars) restaurants: Maison Troisgros.

A professional, wheelchair accessible taxi in Roanne, and a three-star Michelin restaurant, Maison Troisgros.

A professional, wheelchair accessible taxi in Roanne, and a three-star Michelin restaurant, Maison Troisgros.

Normally we do not eat in Michelin starred restaurants, but almost in desperation for something to do during the ten days of waiting for our wheelchair to be repaired, it seemed a good idea. Although, when we mentioned this to our many new neighbours in port they shook their heads, “let me shake your hand” one cheeky friend said. It seems no one else has dared to test the expensive but world-class fare. So we booked a truly wheelchair accessible taxi*, one that Stewart could drive his misbehaving power chair into, and had one of the most glorious lunches for years. We kept everything to the minimum including wine and still found ourselves completely satisfied in taste buds and stomachs!

Chateau Roanne with it's ancient keep.

Chateau Roanne with its ancient keep.

As mentioned, this is a very popular winter mooring for many British, Australian (a surprisingly high number) and American boat owners. Similar to Paris, they organise social gatherings and one is every Thursday’s ‘Happy Hour’ at the port-side restaurant L’Authentique .. here we met our neighbours, those who hadn’t already left for the season’s tour. Our time in Roanne was a little like our experience in Briare, we found it one of the friendliest ports we have ever visited.

One of the reasons we stayed so long at Roanne was difficulty organising Stewart’s power wheelchair repairs (mentioned in our last blog). After quite a story, we now have the new motor installed, all seems to be OK, but it’s still ‘fingers crossed’ we won’t have a repeat problem (more on this in our next blog). We’re now under way again, travelling back down the canal Roanne a Digoin, with plenty of sunshine and a few dramatic storms.

Stewart and Lesley, very happy and toasting health and good cheer to all.

Stewart and Lesley, very happy and toasting health and good cheer to all.

We have several very important dates coming up, especially meeting our sister-in-law Pammie McLennan who has just arrived in this part of the world from Goulburn Australia. We’re a bit behind schedule for her time with us but think we can catch it up as we climb the first section of the canal de Nivernais .. as long as the rain holds off, and the flooded central France waterways can lift the bans which have been in place the past week.

* Ambulance Charliendine:  the most professional taxi we have found to date with every security strap possible and the most charming and conscientious driver. Tel: 04 77 60 13 93. Recommended.

Posted in Accessibility, Australia, Multiple Sclerosis, Waterway life, Waterway services, Wheelchair | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Canal du Loing and Canal de Briare: wheelchair plays up

We finally left the Rousseau boatyard at Moret-sur-Loing feeling content with all the work they did, even though it took a long time… and we haven’t received the bill yet!

Since our last blog we have travelled:

The slightly annoying challenge for us now, given we have our boat mechanics well and truly under control, is Stewart’s Invacare TDX SR power wheelchair. It’s been making clunking noises and it seemed at first that the problem could be a wheel bearing in the front caster wheel as it would also vibrate and feel to Stewart like he was driving over rope. No problem, we said. We have a spare caster and with the assistance of our on-board lifter could raise the wheels on one side and pop the spare on. Sadly, that wasn’t the problem. So a key destination for us is Roanne where there is an Invacare service centre.

Stewart wandering the streets of Nemours in the problematic Invacare TDX SR power wheelchair.

Stewart wandering the streets of Nemours in the problematic Invacare TDX SR power wheelchair.

Our first stop after our boatyard confinement was at Nemours. We found that the wheelchair’s problem was intermittent so we decided to risk using it and headed off in the rain to tour town. Being held up in Moret for way too long we were starved of off-board adventure and this was our chance; Perhaps a visit to the Chateau, browsing around town at the old buildings and lunch.

First, as we often do, we called in at the Tourist Office in a classic historic half-timber building close to the Jean Baptiste church and by the river.

Chateau Nemours, on the banks of the river Loing.

Chateau Nemours, on the banks of the river Loing.

We are always genuinely interested in what they can tell us about the town and in particular what is accessible. The friendly lady at this one highlighted on a list which restaurants were accessible (in the region), not many, and unfortunately she couldn’t make any suggestions for accessible museums. Talking to Tourist Officers is a process we like to go through because we hope to slowly educate them about their town and to get them thinking about what’s wheelchair accessible.

To date we haven’t had much success we think.

Lunch, we said to each other .. then disaster struck. The chair stopped and would not go again. The fault sign showed on the control panel and try as we did to restart it, for twenty minutes or so, no luck. So in the end it had to be pushed. Like most power chairs you can push it like a manual chair, but it’s very heavy (almost a quarter of a ton with passenger) and ungainly in this mode. At one of the crossings we became stuck in the gutter and a lady waiting for us to cross jumped out of her car and helped push us out of it and onwards. Going up the hill of the bridge over the canal, almost back to the boat, was tough. But we made it. Then getting on board was very tricky with no breaks in free wheel mode.

Endellion moored at Nemours quay, electricity and water .. but a quay which meant a ramp down to our stern deck.

Endellion moored at Nemours quay, electricity and water .. but a quay which meant a ramp down to our stern deck.

The bank was higher than the boat so it was a downhill access but we avoided plunging straight through and out the other side into the canal. Then we almost didn’t survive getting down the internal ramp .. again we made it.  We tell all of this as now it’s behind us we can laugh.

But it is serious too. Without the chair life is totally boring for Stewart, and without Stewart for me too. To help solve our problem we rang the lovely Greg, an IT guru from Invacare America’s head office who’d talked us through problems before using an SD programming card which came with the chair. Conversation with Greg makes us feel like he stretches his arm through the telephone line and puts it around our shoulders as he talked through resetting the drive wheels. We had to put the back casters on the ramp and lift it so the middle wheels were off the ground. Quite a feat. Unfortunately this process done, there was no change. Greg believes we probably have a motor problem which means a new one.

A tricky crossing after lock 36, the old (closed)  canal d'Orleans roared across our canal and swept us sideways. Flooding around.

A tricky crossing after lock 36, the old (closed) canal d’Orleans roared across our canal and swept us sideways: Flooding around.

In our usual way, we stay positive and get on with what we can do: heaps! At the next gorgeous town, Montargis, we risked the chair once again as Greg had told us if we let the motor cool for half-an-hour or so it should start and carry on again.  We just managed to get by but have decided that’s the last time until we can get it repaired in Roanne.

Leaving our mooring at Montargis, lock 34 is beautiful.

Leaving our mooring at Montargis, lock 34 is beautiful.

On again to Montbouy, less than 30 kilometres away, but that was as far as we could go until VNF (Waterways of France) let us through as the river was in spate. We bought fresh eggs from the lady by the canal with her umpteen Yorkshire Terriers all yapping crazily. She had five full-grown, three gorgeous 3-month old puppies, and five seven-day olds! It’s a pretty little village, one old church, the egg and Yorkie producer, an almost falling down ‘lavoir’ (wash house) and not much more.

Neglected, but still standing lavoir at Montbouy.

Neglected, but still standing lavoir at Montbouy.

Endellion moored at Montbouy, below lock 26, waiting for the flood to drop.

Endellion moored at Montbouy, below lock 26, waiting for the flood to drop.

We were lucky to move on the next day, unlike our neighbours who’d been waiting four days and were trying to get to the Med within a week. Admittedly, theirs was a sea-going cruiser with 250 horse power engine.

At Rogny Stewart couldn’t disembark (manual or power chair) as the quay was too high (a relatively rare event) but when we left the next day for Briare, through the first of the set of relatively new locks we had a fantastic view of the ancient (built in 1605) ‘Sept Ecluses Henri IV’.

Built in 1605, the ancient  ‘Sept Ecluses Henri IV’ at Rogny.

Built in 1605, the ancient ‘Sept Ecluses Henri IV’ at Rogny.

This ancient set of a seven-staircase lock system was the first of this type to be built in Europe. It amazed us that these sophisticated systems were being built that long ago.

Quiet countryside, mostly farming in this region (we haven't reached the wine-growing region yet.

Quiet countryside, mostly farming in this region (we haven’t reached the wine-growing region yet.

We were becoming used to quiet towns and a rather solitary time, a little bit worried about straying too far from the boat because of the wheelchair’s problem.  So we were not terribly optimistic about the town of Briare coming up, although we’d been told it was well worth stopping in the centre of town. To do this we had to take the old Briare canal, at the point where the canal lateral de la Loire takes over, and travel three kilometres or so using three locks to enter the port. When we telephoned to make a reservation we had to press the Harbourmaster to let us in.. he had to “think about it”. And a day later we called back to be given the good news, “we have a place for you”.

Briare has a wonderful network of old and new canals, the aqueduct and the river Loire - walks in every direction.

Briare has a wonderful network of old and new canals, the aqueduct and the river Loire – walks in every direction.

Several lock-keepers along the way (before the turn-off) and the Capitaine had asked, “what is your draft” .. the answer is 0.8 metres (not much). The sign at the head of the ancient Briare states, Depth 1.2 metres, so no problems. However, our reserved mooring was through the final lock where the depth, we were told, was one metre. No problem, we thought.

We could see with our depth sounder we had virtually nothing beneath us, so one metre seemed a bit generous. And when we went towards the quay to moor in our reserved spot, we found we were ‘stuck’ on the mud from about one metre away from the side. No matter what we did we were not getting close enough because of the depth.

Briare lower harbour.

Briare lower harbour.

It was very apparent that this was a can do port, with Richard (assistant harbourmaster) and Patrice (neighbouring boater) tugging ropes and we finally brought her in close enough to put down the mighty ramp to bridge across the wide gap. Phew, we thought. Patrice slightly perspiring, retired to his boat with the words “if you need anything, I’m just two boats along”. Then I realised with Richard that the width of the quay was not enough for the wheelchair so we couldn’t get off the quay anyway! That was enough for one day; we decided to sleep on it.

Meanwhile Richard gave us a very glossy kit of information, including an order form for the boulangerie and details of their herb garden (help yourself). How lovely. Richard returned to tell us ‘they’ (he’d been talking with a bunch of neighbours) will help lift Stewart up the bank tomorrow .. we said, very kind but no thank you.

From the Capitainerie garden I picked rosemary, oregano, lemon thyme, tarragon, chives, mint, spinach and there was more.

From the Capitainerie garden I picked rosemary, oregano, lemon thyme, tarragon, chives, mint, spinach and there was more.

A little while later we had a knock on our window and Mike came on board to introduce himself. He and his wife Rosaleen winter here on board ‘Aquarelle’.  We chatted about the depth here, yes, it varies and this spot is shallow, he said.

Briare has to be the friendliest port we have come across, other than the Arsenal in Paris. The following morning, the harbourmaster came along with our croissants and baguette (ordered on arrival) and told us he’d arranged for us to move to the other side of the port, to moor inside Mike and Rosaleen. Here we had access for the wheelchair (the manual one or risking an occasional short distance usage of the power chair) and no depth problems. We met many more neighbours here in port including John and Judy, fellow Aussies, on board ‘Vivienne’  who have also spent many winters here but return to the Gold Coast for most of it.

A tiny section of the mountain of tiles, mosaics and buttons in the factory tip.

A tiny section of the mountain of tiles, mosaics and buttons in the factory tip.

It’s a lovely town; we can see why it’s a popular port for a winter stay. I wandered around the disused sections of canal and banks of the Loire and came across what looked like a mound of waste ceramic tiles and mosaics. Assuming this was in fact a rubbish tip for the old factory I’d read about I picked up a few souvenirs. Many days later, well past Briare, I was Googling around (as we do) and found a blog all about the buttons of Briare found in this old tip.

My little mosaic, tile and button collection from the Emaux de Briare tip.

My little mosaic, tile and button collection from the Emaux de Briare tip.

Read more about the rare Briare buttons found in the tip .. from this article in the jewelrymakingmagazines.com.  The factory is still going but doesn’t make buttons these days, mostly they specialise in mosaics.

Given our wheelchair problems we didn’t get to visit the Briare museums, one being all about the heritage of the ceramic factory, but we did eat at the popular quay-side restaurant ‘le petit St Trop’ (which I originally read as le petit trop, and mistranslated it to “the little too much”, actually quite an apt description!). Our plan is to revisit, perhaps next year.

With a lovely bag of fresh herbs from the Capitainerie, we pottered on back up the three kilometres, through the three locks and turned onto the canal lateral a la Loire where another historic waterway treat awaited us, the Briare Aqueduct, 663 metres long.

The Briare Aqueduct, 663 metres long.

The Briare Aqueduct, 663 metres long.

Built in 1896 it was the longest aqueduct in the world until the Magdeburg ‘water bridge’ was opened in Germany in 2003. The fourteen piers which support a single steel beam carries a steel channel which contains more than 13,000 tonnes of water in which we float.  This single steel beam is hard to imagine, and wasn’t built by Eiffel (of the tower fame, he was responsible for the piers) but by Dayde & Pille of Creil, a place we know well from last year’s travels along the Oise.

We’re now well past the aqueduct and have used several since then with the Loire and various tributaries passing beneath us, but we will report on that in our next blog.

Cherry blossom trees starting to 'snow' their flower petals.. gorgeous.

Cherry blossom trees starting to ‘snow’ their flower petals.. gorgeous.

Wild flowers amongst the emerald green grass banks of the canal.

Wild flowers amongst the emerald-green grass banks of the canal.

We are now relishing, at long last, a full-on spring with the last few days in glorious sunshine. The cherry trees are laden with blossom, canal banks speckled with vibrant colours of wild flowers amongst the emerald-green grass which has been allowed to grow a little long before the season’s machines kick in to tidy everything up.

Posted in Accessibility, Multiple Sclerosis, Waterway life, Wheelchair | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Paris to Moret-sur-Loing boatyard

It’s always an exciting time both entering the Port de l’Arsenal marina, coming home for winter, and then again when leaving for the season’s travels. This time was no exception; we had many hands helping with ropes to move our neighbour‘s boat which was rafted to our side. Sasha (one of the wonderful team from the Harbourmaster’s Office) had the lock ready. There was a bustle of activity all around us on shore whilst we headed the short distance into the lock. Friends and tourists alike followed our progress as the lock drained and within no time they were waving goodbye as we roared out into the fast-flowing River Seine and headed upriver.

Heading upriver from the lock from Port de l'Arsenal we leave Notre Dame behind.

Turning upriver from the lock at Port de l’Arsenal we leave Notre Dame behind.

Heading up the river Seine it looked bleak and it was certainly cold.. and lonely after Paris.

Heading up the river it looked bleak and it was certainly cold.. and lonely after Paris.

That was almost two weeks ago now. We would have liked to stay in Paris for Easter but to be on schedule for our appointment with the boatyard, Rousseaus at Moret-sur-Loing, we had to press on.  Because of the strong flow our average speed didn’t get much above five kilometres per hour and that was with relatively high revs therefore consuming a heap of fuel. We’d planned to get our tanks low for the lift onto dry land (to replace our propeller and fix our water intake fittings for cooling the engine), and we certainly achieved it. We consumed almost a full tank of fuel, in the less than three days journey, and were in the red on arrival – knowing the fuel depot was only a few kilometres away from the boatyard.

Endellion moored on the banks at the Rousseau boatyard .. waiting.

Endellion moored on the banks at the Rousseau boatyard .. waiting.

So with such a flurry of activity on our side, it was more than disappointing to find that the ‘schedule’ we’d been working to (based on our meeting with Rousseaus in April and follow-up emails) seemed to be non-existent.  No, we won’t be working on your boat today (Wednesday).. perhaps on Monday, we were told. But that’s Easter Monday are you open then, I asked. Oh, no – forgot it’s a holiday. So Tuesday!

Stewart studying the Alfred Sisley painting and then the scene he painted in 1891.

Stewart studying the Alfred Sisley painting and then the scene he painted in 1891.

A delightful Easter themed window dressing in the village of Moret.

A delightful Easter themed window dressing in the village of Moret.

We spent our Easter with such a tiny amount of fuel sitting in the boatyard, waiting. We took a few tours around the lovely town of Moret, but unfortunately most of it is not accessible (the Sisley museum, the Tourist Office exhibition, the Barley Sugar shop) and it was still bitterly cold.

We were more than ready for action when Tuesday finally came around. Sadly, this was not on the agenda although, luckily, the electricians (through Rousseaus) did arrive and connected our solar panels (fitted in Paris by Gael) and worked on a few other electrical jobs. Rousseaus were busy and couldn’t do anything until Wednesday when they at last planned to lift us, after a week of waiting.

The Moret barley sugar shop established in 1638.

The Moret barley sugar shop established in 1638.

Endellion finally up on land, sitting on top of the 'chariots'.

Endellion finally up on land, sitting on top of the ‘chariots’.

Sure enough they lifted us, with some difficulty. Here at Rousseaus they use an inclined plane to slide you out of the water on ‘chariots’ (as they call them) on wheels which you position the boat over and they winch boat and chariots up and out. That’s the theory. In practice, for us anyway, the chariots were sitting a little bit high in the water so to get on top of them Stewart had to use all the engine power we had, despite being told, whatever you do, go really, really slowly. Finally we made it and we were sitting on dry land ready for action.

One of the two 'chariots' which is plunged deep into the water for the boat to sit on.

One of the two ‘chariots’ which is plunged deep into the water for the boat to sit on.

Well .. “we’re very busy” we were told again.  We had to remind them Stewart couldn’t get off the boat sitting up there on dry land, and thankfully that seemed to spark action. With all of Thursday sitting waiting, Friday was a great relief to have the brilliant Dominic (two years ago we he was the mechanic who fixed our fuel problems) and colleagues who made light work of fitting our amazing, Michigan five-blade propeller (see Stewart’s detail below), the new anchor, and modifying the water intake for cooling the engine (see our blog coming into Paris when leaves blocked the system).

Dominic tows Endellion off the 'chariots' and into deep enough water to float away.

Dominic tows Endellion off the ‘chariots’ and into deep enough water to float away.

That was on Friday and good to their word they had us back in the water by late afternoon. However, if we had problems getting up onto the chariots to be lifted, we had much bigger problems trying to get off as they weren’t low enough in the water – so we just sat there. In the end it was Dominic who came to the rescue with his fork-lift truck. It needed a heavy-duty rope and then a pull in the right direction to finally drag us off to safely float away.

Why did we feel we needed a new propeller (and go through the cost and upheaval of being lifted once again) when we had a new motor with a perfectly good prop?

Stewart explains:

Our new motor is just over two times the horse power of the old one; 144 compared to 70.  This means it has the power to turn the prop almost twice as fast as before.  The funny noise and vibrations which we used to hear from around 1000 revs a minute were so loud at just 2200 revs that conversation had been more like an argument! By 2500 the engine covers on the rear deck were rattling around making it even worse.

The old (original) three-blade propellor.

The old (original) three-blade propeller.

This was all happening due to what engineers call propeller cavitation.  The problem lay with our three-blade prop and its sharply pitched blades hiding behind Endellion’s fat stern.   That meant the area of the blades equated to only 50% of the total area of the prop circle.

A work of art: the new five-blade propellor,

A work of art: the new five-blade propeller,

The new Steyr had the old prop turning so fast it was unable to get enough water and had been sucking in air like a milkshake mixer.  Propellers experts Michigan Wheel in the USA, who’d been making props since 1900, confirmed what other experts had told us.  We needed more blades on our prop so we didn’t need so much pitch.  Our friend Peter Nott on Phoenician had said back in Paris that we should go the full hog and go for a five-blade prop, which would mean that the blades would fill the whole prop circle.  “You won’t believe the difference,” Peter (once a crop duster pilot, so he should know about propellers), had predicted.

Dominic is impressed with the new prop.

Dominic is impressed with the new prop.

It turned out he was spot on.  It’s a vastly different experience now.  There’s no more cavitation so she’s quieter, faster and she drinks considerably less fuel.

The run-down fuel depot at St Mammes, who won't sell red diesel to pleasuree boats.

The run-down fuel depot at St Mammes, who won’t sell red diesel to pleasure boats.

To give Endellion’s new prop a good test run we headed down the Loing a kilometre or so to the Seine and across to the fuel depot to fill our tanks. That’s another story, with our luck we found we drained their diesel bowser (which could mean black sludge in our fuel system) but did take on enough to fill two of our three tanks which should keep us going for a while. With huge excitement over the “new” Endellion, we gave her another run down the Seine at full revs and were delighted. We can’t wait to head off to enjoy a whole new barging experience!

Lovely, quiet moorings at Moret-sur-Loir.

Lovely, quiet moorings at Moret-sur-Loing.

We spent the weekend in Moret at the small and quiet pleasure boat mooring closer to town and away from the working boat yard. We’re now back at Rousseaus to tick off some more small jobs on our list before we head off south towards Roanne. The rain has arrived, the freezing and frosty mornings are on hold and hopefully, at last, we can enjoy spring with summer on its way.

Posted in Accessibility, Waterway life, Waterway services | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

London: a short trip from Paris

Another delight in spending winter in Paris is how much there is to do and see around this great city. Including taking a few hours on the train to visit London.

Paris to London via Eurostar (Gare du Nord to St Pancras stations) is just under 500 kilometres (just over 300 miles) taking two hours fifteen minutes.  It would take almost six hours by car.

Eurostar, our favourite way to travel - other than on board 'Endellion' of course.

Eurostar, our favourite way to travel – other than on board ‘Endellion’ of course.

Eurostar is absolutely our favourite way to travel (outside our own barge!): incredibly efficient in use of our time, good space on board, excellent service at all stages with good ramps on and off.  Stewart has asked them many times, “when are your extending your service to Australia”.. needless to say he gets a rather blank look.

The last time we stayed in London was the year our boat was built, in 2008, when we moored at Limehouse marina over Christmas 2008 and New Year 2009.  We loved the Limehouse area but found the many cobbled roads, the buses with automatic ramps (for the wheelchair) often didn’t work, and it was a big sprawling city compared with Paris making it difficult to get around.

This time, we were staying at Westminster in a hotel (the Doubletree by Hilton) that promised to be very wheelchair friendly, given they promote it as such and have 23 ‘wheelchair accessible’ rooms. There must be one that would suit us. In fact, they were all identical so when we found we had a tiny room with tiny bathroom and on their own admission, much of it non-compliant, we were extremely disappointed. We had a battle on our hands to get the toilet seat raiser fitted, which we’d purchased ourselves knowing the hotel loo would be way too low down. In the end they reluctantly sent up a roll of gaffa tape so we could ‘fix it’ ourselves.. they didn’t want to do this because they may have been liable if we injured ourselves! Never mind, somehow Stewart coped; we knew most hotels would be similar and it would have been a huge upheaval to find another one.

The new Mercedes London taxis have problems (for wheelchair users) - not enough head space; Not a patch on the Black Cabs.

The new Mercedes London taxis have problems (for wheelchair users) – not enough head space; Not a patch on the Black Cabs.

We were here in London to enjoy ourselves .. and wow, did that happen! Westminster is a fabulous location, we could walk to many of the places we had on our list, every taxi was accessible so we could hail one just like everyone else, and the buses were accessible with the automatic ramps now modernised (although we didn’t have a need to try them this time). Also, this area of London didn’t include as many cobbles as the Limehouse roads!

Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith on stage at the Royal Albert Hall.

Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith on stage at the Royal Albert Hall.

The fun started soon after the disappointment with our hotel when we took a taxi to the Royal Albert Hall for our first concert: Ron Sexsmith, a Canadian folk singer-songwriter. We’ve enjoyed his music for many years but it seems not many know about him as the vast Albert Hall was only 50% full, a challenge for the organisers. We were invited (or in fact directed) to take seats closer to the stage although with wheelchair access it meant a limited choice but we ended up with a great position. When Stewart booked the tickets he also booked pre-concert dinner at one of their restaurants.  A few days later he was contacted telling him they had to use this venue (the Restaurant) for a Gypsy Jazz performance so would we please choose another restaurant. This we did, and at the same time Stewart decided the Jazz would be a great idea too. Logistically a little tricky, we had to duck out of the Ron Sexsmith show just before the end to be five minutes late for the Gypsy Jazz, by then getting on for 11.00pm.

The Robin Nolan Trio, brothers share the guitar as a party trick.

The Robin Nolan Trio, brothers share the guitar as a party trick.

What a contrast, folk and then jazz with The Robin Nolan Trio, led by Robin Nolan based in Amsterdam. That was a brilliant first night in London!

The next day, in the rain (relatively light) we headed off to the British Museum on foot and as we passed Westminster Abbey and the very long queue of bedraggled people we paused and wondered if we should go in. Too wet and cold we thought. But as we passed further along we could see a sign with a wheelchair logo on it. As we approached this sign the ‘traffic’ handler (security) abruptly stuck his hand up to the people finally entering the Abbey and told them to wait as he unhooked the barrier rope and waved us through. We weren’t sure we wanted to go inside but were sort-of directed there. The cashier happily helped us to the next door and when asked how much (we could see the sign Adults: £18  Concession £15), nothing we were told.

Westminster Abbey is crammed full of amazing sculptures (memorials), all dedicated to one incredibly ancient and significant person or another, starting with Edward the Confessor in 1066.  William the Conqueror (later in 1066) became the first monarch to be crowned at the Abbey creating a tradition which continues today. Many people will be familiar with Poet’s Corner which started back in 1400 when Chaucer was buried there.

The Abbey is a Royal Peculiar, a place of worship that falls directly under the jurisdiction of the British monarch, rather than under a bishop. The concept dates from Anglo-Saxon times, when a church could ally itself with the monarch and therefore not be subject to the bishop of the area and were not abolished in the English Reformation. Wikipedia tells more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Peculiar

Touring the Abbey (with audio guide) was fantastic, although a bit exhausting, and the day hadn’t really started yet. We were aiming to get to the British Museum for the ‘Ice Age Art’ (10,000 to 40,000 years ago ) exhibition showing art created tens of thousands of years ago alongside modern works by Henry Moore, Mondrian and Matisse who were influenced or certainly fascinated by them.

Image from the British Museum website.

Ice Age Art: Image from the British Museum website.

Lewis Chessmen, red and white (not black and white).

Lewis Chessmen, red and white (not black and white).

We had to wait until late in the day to see this exhibition (we should have bought tickets beforehand) so we picked out a few “Not to be Missed” objects placed throughout this huge museum, such as the Parthenon Sculptures, the Rosetta Stone and the Lewis Chessmen.

Stewart studying the Parthenon Sculptures.

Stewart studying the Parthenon Sculptures.

Our timing was perfect. As soon as we’d feasted ourselves on our tour and absorbed ourselves in the Ice Age Art, we hopped into a taxi arriving at the Gielgud Theatre in good time for the fantastic play, The Audience. After a day of seriously interesting history and art, we could sit back and relax. The Audience (with Helen Mirren, Edward Fox, Richard McCabe and other highly acclaimed actors) was well publicised before we left Paris and luckily Stewart managed to book tickets. It tells the story (imagined) of Queen Elizabeth II’s audiences with eight of the twelve Prime Ministers of her long reign of the past 60 years. We loved the wit, pace and excellent acting; the reviewers loved it too and probably it’s heading for a sell-out season: http://www.theaudienceplay.com/home/.  

Good seats, waiting for curtains up at the Gielgud Theatre.

Good seats, waiting for curtains up at the Gielgud Theatre.

We were almost exhausted but were little over half-way through our long weekend. Saturday was go slow, with a matinée performance of Old Times by Harold Pinter (at the Pinter Theatre), http://www.oldtimestheplay.com/. Thank goodness we had heaps of time to absorb the words, performances and atmosphere of this quite complex play, which also received rave reviews.

Getting into the wheelchair accessible section of the Pinter theatre was a very interesting exercise. When the doors were opened and we looked at where we thought Stewart’s power wheelchair would enter all we could see were steep steps leading down to rows of seats.

Custom made section of floor for Stewart to turn on.

Custom made section of floor for Stewart to turn on.

Custom made section of floor for Stewart to turn on.

Custom made section of floor for Stewart to turn on.

Stewart in position - and with brakes on!

Stewart in position – and with brakes on!

Ramp removed, steps back.

Ramp removed, steps back.

Stewart in the back row - ready for The Audience.

Stewart in the back row – ready for The Audience.

Then our ‘fire warden’ (as he was named by the ushers), who was the one given the task of putting down a ramp to help us enter the building, stepped up to us, put his hand up to stop everyone trying to enter the theatre and pulled out a huge aluminium sheet with a curved edge to it. This he placed over the first few steps to allow Stewart to very carefully turn his chair and position it into the back row of the theatre. We have never seen a system quite like it (custom-made) but at least it meant we could see this great play.

We finished our London visit with family and friends. Brother Dean, nephew Ben and Nicky, joined us at the nearby White Swan for long chats and celebrations: Ben and Nicky have their first baby on its way, due in September. And we met up with our friend Kate at the Tate Britain (next door to the hotel) and could take one last art exhibition. Then back onto the excellent Eurostar and Paris by the afternoon. Where we found, to our shock, deep snow.

Endellion moored at the Arsenal - more snow.

Endellion moored at the Arsenal – more snow.

A hectic and wonderful time in London – we feel more positive about that great city than ever before and would happily revisit. Although we’d keep the schedule slightly more laid back, perhaps!

That was a few weeks ago now .. the snow has melted and we’re about to leave Paris.

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Paris Agricultural Show: Lorenzo the Merinos de Rambouillet

Not long after our Cornish expedition, by the end of February in fact, brother Jonney and his wife Felicity came to stay with us here in Paris. They run a 16th century pub, The Cornish Arms, at Pendoggett in Cornwall, where we have stayed for the past many visits. The pub is a few miles from Port Isaac (otherwise known as Portwenn in the Doc Martin TV series) and St Endellion (famous these days for its music festival), where we were married.

The focus of Jonney and Felicity’s Paris excursion was the Salon de l’Agriculture (Agricultural Show) in its 50th year, held in the city at Porte de Versailles.

Salon de l'Agriculture, 50th Year in Paris.

Salon de l’Agriculture, 50th Year in Paris.

The stars of the show are always the animals and this year was no exception but for Jonney, a champion sheep shearer in days gone by, it was the main event. Many years ago Jonney further developed his sheep shearing skills in Australia, at Thargomindah, western Queensland, of all places. This outback town was at the heart of the Wide Comb Dispute in 1983, where during this time massive bullying and fights, and even a death, were part of his day-to-day shearing. He was a wide comb shearer, like many of his New Zealand mates, and they were the outsiders, doing the ‘wrong thing’ and not shearing with the narrow, slower shears. More on this fascinating story here.

So we set off for the Agricultural Show much relieved that Jonney wouldn’t be a) competing in any shearing competitions, and b) getting into any fights! Instead we had a brilliant time visiting many of the stands representing all the districts of France presenting their regional delights of food and wine. Then we spent time admiring the animals and of course, in particular, the sheep. This year’s mascot for the vast category of sheep, was Lorenzo the Merinos de Rambouillet. Stewart tells the story.

As obscure as it may sound, the Rambouillet strain of merino sheep meant a lot to me and to brother-in-law Jonney.  So as the Paris agricultural show featured Lorenzo the Rambouillet we had to meet up with him and his mates.

A bit of history to explain why.

The first ever merino sheep,  the best breed  without doubt for wool production, were brought to Australia from South Africa for aspiring wool growers McArthur and Samuel Marsden. 

Wikipedia photo: A champion Merino ram at the 1905 Sydney Sheep Show, note the XXX sized jumper.

Wikipedia photo: A champion Merino ram at the 1905 Sydney Sheep Show, note the XXX sized jumper.

They were little plain bodied animals which probably produced just five pounds of wool a year – a third of today’s production.  I’d learnt while studying (if that’s the right word for it) wool classing at the Tech in Canberra that to get more wool, early Australian sheep breeders crossed their flocks with their very wrinkly French cousins.  More skin area meant more wool so they were like a skinny little person wearing XXX sized jumpers. 

But blowflies loved laying their eggs in all those wrinkles, so to make them better suited to Australian conditions the Peppin brothers pioneered a new strain of merinos by crossing them with big, plain-bodied British sheep like Lincolns. 

There are now no pure-bred Rambouillet merinos left in Australia, but thanks to their Rambouillet ancestry, many modern merinos still have some pesky wrinkles, particularly around their tails.  Compared to the sheep Jonney had shorn in the UK they were slow going, as he’d found in his years in the sheds of Thargomindah. And they could still be blowfly magnets if there was lots of summer rain, as I well remembered and my brother Ian well knows today. 

Felicity, Stewart and Jonney inspecting Lorenzo and friends, the Merinos de Rambouillet.

Felicity, Stewart and Jonney inspecting Lorenzo and friends, the Merinos de Rambouillet.

So after a look around the food pavilions, Jonney and I were both very keen to see first-hand what one of these wrinkly blighters who had caused us both lots of wasted time and aching backs, actually looked like.

However we were to be disappointed.  Lorenzo was there, but in his plastic raincoat – it was impossible to see any wrinkles or wool at all, just his head and horns. We can only imagine the plastic coats were probably there as protection against the pollution, heavy rain, and snow, we are experiencing these days. After all, they are growing high quality wool under there.

Lorenzo in his plastic raincoat which meant we couldn't see his wrinkles (if any).

Lorenzo in his plastic raincoat which meant we couldn’t see his wrinkles (if any).

Lorenzo’s coat was the only disappointment and we came home laden with sample cheeses and sausages, and even tropical flowers from some far-flung part of the French empire. We’ll be back again next year, all going well. We love the Salon de l’Agriculture.

 

Soon after Jonney and Felicity’s stay we would be packing our bags again this time to take the brilliant Eurostar train back to the UK with London our destination.

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Winter travels from our Paris base

We’ve crammed in quite a bit of travel since our last blog: by car and train.

We finally made it to the UK by late-January for our postponed Christmas in Cornwall. Christophe (owner of adapted hire vehicle company www.ptitcar.com) came good with our van which he delivered to the Port de l’Arsenal, right beside our boat, on the evening before departure. We bundled all the Christmas presents, suitcase, ramp, bed bar, etc. inside the small van and set off in good time the following morning with our GPS leading us safely out of busy Paris.

The day before leaving for Cornwall we had calls from family and friends telling us the snow was extremely bad and many roads were closed and were we seriously going to risk coming. Yes, we were certainly not going to postpone again, and there was no snow in the inner city of Paris, it can’t be that bad we thought. But, as soon as we reached the outer suburbs of Paris everything turned a beautiful white, although thankfully the motorway to Calais was clear of snow.

Normally we average six kilometres per hour (in Endellion) and here we were closer to 90 kph! Familiar names flashed by: Compiegne, St Quentin, Arras, Lens, Lille .. all places we had visited by boat but taking us weeks.

Arriving safely at the entrance to the Oxford hotel, hire van small but perfect.

Arriving safely at the entrance to the Oxford hotel, hire van small but perfect.

Emerging from the car train (Eurotunnel) at Folkestone, now in the UK, there was no snow but the sky was very heavy with what looked like plenty ahead. It soon became white and pretty and worrying. In fact we had no problems reaching our hotel in Oxford although, sadly, brother Dean and family couldn’t get out of their homes to meet up (per our rescheduled plan).

The towpath at the foot of the Hotel gardens, Oxford centre a short distance away.

The towpath at the foot of the Hotel gardens, Oxford centre a short distance away.

It was a very different Oxford to the one we experience when on Endellion, moored along the bank just by the hotel, in 2009.  First of all it was white, second we were on land. We had booked a wheelchair accessible room at the hotel (Four Pillars) but of all things we found Stewart could not get into the bathroom as it was too small and poorly designed (the door opening inwards and taking up most of the available floor space). Instead we had to go to the ground-floor, through many corridors into an extension of the main building where there was a gymnasium with a regulation-compliant accessible public bathroom. What a disgrace .. but they say they will fix this for our next visit and it will be a free one. Although that’s hardly the point.

We travelled on to Cornwall the next day making a stopover for lunch at Exeter, in Devon, to visit niece Jac Hawkey, a university student there. Exeter University has just been named the Sunday Times University of the Year 2013. Jac is a member of the Trampoline Club (amongst other things) at the university and in a few weeks time she undertakes a 100 mile walk for the club and charity! Best of luck Jac, hope the trampolining gets you fit for it.

The white countryside continued all the way until shortly before the outskirts of this great city (Exeter) and that was the end of the English snow. Cornwall is mild, being the most southerly point in Britain and in the west of the county the shores are almost washed by the Gulf Stream. So the chances of snow are very remote.

Once again we lodged with brother Jonney and Felicity at their cottage across the road from their Pub (the Cornish Arms at Pendoggett) which has a properly accessible bathroom and shower.

Truro cathedral, the 'newest' we have ever visited, built between 1880-1910.

Truro cathedral, the ‘newest’ we have ever visited, built between 1880-1910.

During our stay we toured with mum (Joan) visiting Truro for the cathedral, a very ‘modern’ one (built 1880-1910) the first cathedral to be built on a new site in England since Salisbury Cathedral in 1220. We braced ourselves on the Atlantic cliff tops at Tintagel looking across to the ruins of King Arthur’s Castle, and took afternoon tea at the adjacent Camelot Hotel. There’s a very interesting story to this ‘hotel’, the home of three active Scientologists of some controversy.

Stewart and mum (Joan) at Tintagel, behind them the ruins of King Arthur's Castle.

Stewart and mum (Joan), bracing themselves, at Tintagel, behind them the ruins of King Arthur’s Castle.

We also visited the Duchy Nursery at Lostwithiel, chiefly to admire the building itself which was constructed only a few years ago mostly of locally sourced wood and built by local craftsmen, and to enjoy lunch in their very popular cafe, sitting around a lovely roaring open fire.

Beautiful local stone and stonemasonry at the Duchy Nursery, Lostwithiel.

Beautiful local stone and stone masonry at the Duchy Nursery, Lostwithiel.

The Duchy Nursery cafe, created by local craftsmen.

The Duchy Nursery cafe, created by local craftsmen.

And we squeezed in a brief visit to the Sir John Betjeman Centre in our Cornish home town of Wadebridge. In 1969, he was knighted and in 1972 was made Poet Laureate.

  

Sir John Betjeman's desk and typewriter at the museum in Wadebridge.

Sir John Betjeman’s desk and typewriter at the museum in Wadebridge.

He loved Cornwall and is buried at St Enodoc church set in the sand dunes near his home at Trebetherick, a few miles from Wadebridge. One of our favourite Sir John’s poems is about St Endellion, the church in which we were married. It starts: “St. Endellion! St. Endellion! The name is like a ring of bells.”

The museum is in the old Wadebridge Railway Station where I used to sit with my brothers waiting for the train to arrive for Grogley Halt to visit my grandmother, on the old steam trains!

Finally, time to leave Cornwall and with a good channel crossing on the car train we were back in France heading for Amiens. We were rather surprised to find ourselves back in white country; it had melted in the south of England.  The main roads were clear of problems but once off into the country around Amiens things changed.

Amiens, on the River Somme, is around 100 kilometres north of Paris and we can (and will one day) visit it by boat. It is yet another town in this region which has been at the centre of some of the most atrocious wars, with the Spanish, Prussians and then of course the Germans during WWI and WWII. 

On 7 November 1920 in Notre Dame d’Amiens Cathedral the Bishop of Amiens paid tribute to the soldiers of Australia for defending this city in its hour of peril, between March and August 1918.

Amiens cathedral, the lightshow photo from Wikimedia shows the original colours of the facade.

Amiens cathedral, the lightshow photo from Wikimedia shows the original colours of the western entrance.

Amiens cathedral western entrance.

Amiens cathedral western entrance.

It was in this area that Stewart’s Grandpa Austin Shepherd served in WWI. Austin was a driver then gunner with The 5th Field Artillery. Later, due to the expertise he’d gained at Hawkesbury Agricultural College, he was transferred to the Army Vet Corps to look after injured horses.

One of the reasons for our stop-over in this area was to explore boat moorings along the River Somme where we’d like to visit in the future on board Endellion.

So it was quite amusing to see the lock and pleasure boat port at nearby Corbie completely frozen over with empty beer bottles scattered over the surface. With a bit of imagination we could see it could be very pleasant, and accessible for the wheelchair.

Pleasure boat moorings at Corbie on the Somme, but this boat won't be going anywhere soon -the whole canal is frozen over.

Pleasure boat moorings at Corbie on the Somme, but this boat won’t be going anywhere soon -the whole canal is frozen over.

 

Map or River Somme: http://www.european-waterways.eu/e/info/france/somme.php.

We left Corbie to head for Rouen, using our GPS to get to the quickest and most snow free route. However, we became more and more uncomfortable as the roads narrowed, the snow became far denser and we seemed to be mostly on our own, no other cars around. This route took us right up to the Australian Third Division memorial at Sailly–le–Sec, more information here at the Australian Western Front website.

Australian Third Division memorial near Sailly–le–Sec.

Australian Third Division memorial near Sailly–le–Sec.

 

We also drove close to the village of Villers-Bretonneux where the French-Australian museum is located, almost every road is named after a place in Australia.

Deep snow and more coming, we chose to retrace our route to Amiens.

Deep snow and more coming, we chose to retrace our route to Amiens.

It’s the home of the Australian National Memorial bearing names of the more than 11,000 Australian soldiers who fell in France in WWI, and whose resting places are unknown.  

With the snow so deep, and more coming, we chose to retrace our steps back to Amiens and took the longer but safer route to our next stop of Rouen, 100 or so kilometres south-west in Normandy, not far from Le Havre. This is another city we have in mind for a waterway visit this year. Stewart’s Great Uncle Dudley Shepherd, in WWI, was based in Rouen. Dudley first served as a driver with the Transport Corp, but died in an accident in the UK while learning to fly for the Australian Flying Corps, four months to the day before the end of the War.

The snow reduced the closer we came to the coast and in fact this was the last of it .. for the time being. Apparently Rouen, on the river Seine, is the world’s leading port for grain exports, and the leading port in the European Union (EU) for the export of agricultural produce, so no wonder it is not considered a pleasure boat paradise. The river is extremely busy with commercial traffic but the city is a total delight, although extremely busy with tourists!

Thousands died in the Great Plague of 1348 in Rouen and a new cemetery had to be opened: the Aître Saint-Maclou.

Thousands died in the Great Plague of 1348 in Rouen and a new cemetery had to be opened: here at the Aître Saint-Maclou.

  

Exploring the city of Rouen - a delight.

Exploring the city of Rouen – a delight.

From the reign of William the Conqueror onwards, Rouen was the capital of the Dukes of Normandy and had its own ‘harbour’ near London at Dunegate (known as Dungeness these days) where wines of Burgundy and the Champagne region were delivered. Dungeness is not far from Hastings! During the Hundred Years War the English occupied Rouen (1418 – 1419) up until 1449.

Inside Rouen Joan of Arc church, modern but with the stained glass windows which were saved from WWII bombing.

Inside Rouen Joan of Arc church, modern but with the stained glass windows which were saved from WWII bombing.

It was during this time that Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake (1431) and it wasn’t until very recently, in 1979 (after the original church was bombed in WWII), a modern church was built and named in her memory.

We’re hoping to return here (Rouen) with Endellion in late June and tour Normandy and Brittany by van – not far away (for example) is the city of Bayeux  where we want to explore first-hand the story of the Battle of Hastings as told in the famous tapestry.

We made one last stop, at Fontainebleau, only 60 kilometres or so from Paris, south/south-east. We were by now a little exhausted with visiting ‘museums’ but did wander through the courtyard of the fabulous Chateau Fontainebleau and found out it will be easy for us to tour when we return in late March, when we start our journeys for 2013.

Looking across the impressive courtyard of Chateau Fontainebleau to the famous horseshoe-shaped staircase.

Looking across the impressive courtyard of Chateau Fontainebleau to the famous horseshoe-shaped staircase.

The highlight of our visit this time was eating at the restaurant l’Axel – run by a Japanese chef reminding us of the wonderful restaurants (in Australia and further afield) of Tetsuya.

After a whirlwind visit to Cornwall and return trip via Amiens, Rouen and Fontainebleau it was with great relief we arrived safely back in Paris and found Endellion warm and cosy, and no more snow, or so we thought.

More non-boat travels ahead ..

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