Saturday, July 25, 2015

Back to the Saone

The Canal de la Marne a la Saone (now called the Champagne to Burgundy canal) runs from Vitry-le-Francois  in a southerly direction to the Saone River near Pontailler.  Construction was started from Vitry in 1862 and progressed in various stages. It wasn’t until 1907 that it was completed to the Saone and became a through canal. It is 224 kilometres long and has 134 locks with a 4.8 kilometre tunnel. It wanders through some lovely country but does not seem to have the popularity with modern boaters that it deserves.

One of our stops was at Joinville where we moored alongside an old mill that is now converted to a small hotel. We tried the restaurant and were impressed with their menu and food.

The old millstone is now a table in the gardens.

Peter is sporting a badly damaged knee, the result of falling off his bike in Vitry.

French engineers have always been good with their bridges and there are many examples of stone railway viaducts throughout France.

This one at Chaumont was built in 1857, it is 600 metres long and up to 52 metres high. It has 50 arches and 2 intermediate walkways. Rail track on the bridge was in use 12 months after construction started and it was officially opened after only 15 months.

The canals are scattered with other bridges and examples of these lift bridges are everywhere.

Sometimes the clearances of canal-side structures are very limited as this picture shows.

The canals are controlled by the Voies Navagables de France a Government body that is responsible for their maintenance as well as supervising their use. They have teams of trained people who carry out their jobs in an orderly and professional manner.

So we are told!

This is what happens when a small but powerful boat is handled on a canal by “Trained Personnel”. The operator moved over in the canal to pass us and suddenly the vessel was across the canal in our path! He drove the front almost 3 metres over the bank. The driver was not happy when he saw the camera but then had to ask us to help him. We used Matilda in reverse to pull him off the bank and back into the water.

Marg is very proud of her gardens as our visitors well know. She gets many compliments especially on her herbs and vegetables. She snapped this little admirer amongst them. We have seen these bee/moth-type insects a lot recently. They hover over the flowers and uncoil their proboscis and drink nectar from them. They are about 3 centimetres long.

The 14th of July – Bastille Day – is a big day in France, We were at Auxonne and the town put on some entertainment and a fireworks display

There was a parade of boats down the river headed by this old restored ferry.

These fellows gave a display of walking on water.

The pyrotechnics were, as usual, very good.

We arrived at St Jean-de-Losne and moored on the steps which seemed deserted. Very quickly we were only part of the scene.

We called into Gray, another favoured town of ours and wandered around its historic heart a little more.

This is the original town library which is full of ancient books and is still used as a reference centre.

We visited Claudine at the Office de Tourisme who remembered us. She showed us a copy of a book especially printed for the New Zealand Consul who visited Gray for a special celebration. Matilda and other boats we know featured in it.

We will be back in Auxonne shortly where we plan to meet some more visitors.

There will be more to tell, so we will keep in touch.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Champagne trail again.

We had left Liz and June at Ile St Denis and continued on our way, the plan was to head back to the Saone River. We would go down the Seine to the Oise, then follow the Aisne to Berry-au-Bac where we would leave the rivers. We then take the Canal de l’Aisne a la Marne through Reims and on to the lateral a la Marne to Vitry le Francois. Then the Marne a la Saone to the river Saone. 

Those readers with a degree in European geography will instantly know the route!

The rivers are big boat country and we are often dwarfed by the size of these freight barges.

We stopped on a commercial quay to do some shopping in a local centre. A large freighter also stopped behind us. In no time a very large hotel barge came alongside and the captain insisted we move to allow his boat to moor. Size won and we both moved.

Shortly after entering the Oise river we came across this strange  passerelle. Investigation shows that it is part of a sculpture by Dani Caravan. Designed in 1988 it has 12 stations. The Axe-Majeur Cergy Pontoise. Google it to see all the detail.

We stopped at a great mooring in Pontoise and had a good look around the town. Marg went off by herself and did some laundry at a convenient lavoir. She took a stroll while the wash was happening and found two things.

The first was his lovely old church - Notre Dame – and the second, suitably inspired, a leather jacket tailor who was closing his business. The bank balance suffered as a beautiful Astrakhan jacket changed hands. Unfortunately the weather has been unsuitable to have a photo taken to show it off, but watch this space because it will be seen!

We have seen this very colourful barge all over the system and many of our visitors will know it too. This time we shared a lock on the Oise.

When we left Nancy earlier this season, we found that Matilda had a leaking exhaust. We spent some time in Toul hoping to get it fixed but it was beyond the local workshop so we decided to wait until we got to Compiegne. The marine workshop there gave us an introduction to one in Janville – a little up the river – who could.

The offending pipe was replaced and the engine room bilge is dry again.

We stopped at a very small village, Vic sur Aine. What a lovely little place! In the middle of a very rich agricultural area the town was sparkling. Full of history and people obviously proud of their town. With a known history dating back to at least 840, there are some very historic buildings.

The biggest and most obvious is the castle  and keep. Building started during the 16th century and it has been fought over many times, it was occupied by both the Germans and the Allies in the last two wars which ravaged the area.

Houses like this are reminders of the grand times at the end of the 19th century. The delicate bridge gave access from the garden to a private island in the river.

A stroll out of the village and this war grave has 6000 French soldiers from WW1. Every little village has cemeteries like this, ongoing reminder of the futility of war.

We passed through Reims finding it quite inhospitable. All suitable moorings were occupied by permanent boats and we find that tourists such as us have been forgotten by the town elders. Never mind, we will spend our money somewhere else.

We can’t always have perfect moorings in historic towns or idyllic rural settings. One evening was spent at this grain silo at a little village, Sept- Saulx. It was Sunday and even though there seemed to be plenty of people around, nothing was open.

Even this little village had a WW1 cemetery, about 3000 graves.

At various spots on the canals and adjoining parks one finds these old traction engines as historic displays. This one is at Conde sur Marne and Peter is checking the rail gauge under it. During the early 20th century the companies managing some canals installed light railway line along the towpath and engines like this towed strings of barges. Users of the canal were obliged to use the tow. The many various companies were absorbed into a subsidiary of the ONN (Office National de Navigation)  by the CGTVN (Compagnie Generale de Traction sur les Voies Navagables) At its heyday in the 60’s it operated more than 1100 kilometres of track and 1,700 locomotives. The system was electrically powered and interestingly some canals were equipped with hydro power stations at some locks using overflow water to generate power to run the system. A truly non-polluting, green freight transport system - all gone!

We reached the end of the Lateral a la Marne at Vitry-le-Francois, tied up at a regular mooring spot of ours and went to the supermarket. The cupboard and fridge needed to be stocked as we were now off up the Marne a la Saone canal now called the Champagne to Burgundy Canal.

There will be more to tell, so we will keep in touch.