Our Barge, Odysseus

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Reims and Paris, Sept. 12-17

After the 2 hour bus/train trip from Pont a Bar, we stopped in at the Riems tourist office, booked a room for two nights and headed out onto the streets.
A brief word about the French tourist offices ... WONDERFUL!! The employees usually speak at least a little English, will help you book a place to stay, making the phone call for you after consulting their exhaustive list of available rooms, provide you with maps and information and are just generally very helpful. It makes traveling in France very easy.
Reims, along with Epernay, are the champaign headquarters of France and we wanted to tour some of the cellars but the only ones available for visits without reservations are the big houses like Mumms. We'd rather visit the smaller houses and since we'll be heading through here next spring we decided to leave the tasting til next year.
We did, however, visit Reims fabulous cathedral. Cathy Jo says it was her favorite gothic church of the summer; and we visited a few, as you know.

It has some fantastic stained glass windows and the carving around the inside of the entrance doors is amazing.

Sunday we had a 45 minute ride on France's fast train, the TGV, to Paris for three days of food and fun before we caught our flight home. We must have walked a million miles and had some great meals. We also had a great location for our room, right on the Rue de Lyon, just steps from the Bastille Monument. When we were here three years ago I took some pics of the Bastille but the weather was cloudy and grey. Not this time.

And what would a visit to Paris be without at least one picture of the Tower.

The Tour Eiffel from the Tuilleries and the Louvre.

Wednesday morning early we caught the Air France bus to the airport. About 20 hours later we landed in Los Angeles. This summers adventure was done.

Heading North, Sept. 2-9

After a brief stop in Stenay we headed further up the Meuse under grey skies with occasional rain. We spent the night tied to the bank at a nice little park above a lock and the next morning headed back to Sedan.
When we last stopped there our second wandering day was washed out and it appeared as if it would be this time too. Luckily the rain stopped, although the skies were still very threatening, and allowed us to visit the huge fortress that looms over the city.

Begun in the 13th century, greatly enlarged in the 15th and modified continuously since, the fort has walls that are about 100 ft. high.

This a view of town
from atop the walls.

There is a very enjoyable walking tour that takes you all through the fort and there Cathy Jo tried to distract some soldiers from their duties.

Unfortunately, the guys were made of plastic and didn't respond well.

The next day is was just a couple of hours to the entrance of the Canal des Adrennes.

The first lock opens on the Canal des Ardennes.

From there is was only about 2 km to Odysseus' winter resting place, Pont a Bar.
The weather was terrible for the first couple of days but after the weekend it cleared and we were able to complete the fall chores we had planned: a little painting and lots of cleanup.
You can see the shadow of the photographer as he
takes this shot across the countryside from the back deck.

Pont a Bar

There's really nothing in Pont a Bar; about 10 families live there and there is a bar but the "bar" in Pont a Bar is actually for the River Bar which is close by, thus the bridge over the Bar - Pont a Bar). The Madame at the bar will take your order for bread so you can pick up your baguette and breakfast bread after the truck arrives at 8 am. The closest real shops are in Sedan, about 8 km, and Charleville, about 15 km away.
On the right is the charter boat base and up on the left, past the flags, is where Odysseus will rest for the winter.
On Friday about noon we said goodbye to Monique and Cedric who will be looking after the boat for the winter, and boarded the bus for Charleville. We'd be catching the train to Reims for a couple of days stay and then on to our last stop for this year, Paris.

Friday, September 19, 2008

One Last Food Posting

Hopefully my sister is still paying attention so she can see these pictures taken at the Reims Saturday market.

A whole table of shrooms.

And this one of a patisserie, also in Reims.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Another Oops! Aug. 30-Sept. 2

Ah boating! Just when you think things are going great you get bit on the ass!
We left Verdun in the bright sunshine, the first in a couple of weeks. We're pulling into our second lock of the day when the control cable from the upper steering station to the transmission snaps. No brakes! In addition, the boat was stuck in gear. Luckily Odysseus is not a high power machine so no great damage was done to either boat or lock; some chipped paint on the bow of the boat and a broken handrail on the lock gate. We made our report to the friendly waterway official (his name was Pascal ... really!), creating our own little piece of paperwork for the famous French bureaucracy, and headed on our way.
We stopped again in Consenvoye to lick our wounds and unhook the cable to prevent further mishaps and the next day stopped along the bankside beneath the lock in the village of Dun-sur-Meuse.

Our first chore was to walk up to the church that looks down on the town. This was the view over the Meuse Valley.

When we were headed upriver we saw the church at Mont-devant-Sassey off in the distance. We wanted to investigate.
We unloaded the bikes for a ride to the village, just about 5 kilometers down the river.
Our guidebook told us that "This small village (100 inhabitants) has a very interesting church. Built in the 11th century, it was heavily modified later, to the point of being transformed into a fortress by armed bands during the wars of the 17th century.
It is very imposing.

Unfortunately, the church is open for visitors during July and August. It was September 1 so we couldn't get inside.
Back in Dun we wandered through town and discovered a small holiday camp by a little lake. They had found a unique way to reuse an old "peniche," the French commercial barges.

The brochure advertised "Bowling Americain." Two lanes!

The next morning is was off to revisit Stenay.

Verdun, August 26 - 30

We've been through so many old towns recently that we've become a bit blase about antiquity but this town is really old.
Verdun was already a major city in 843 when the Treaty of Verdun was signed. That was the document that divided up Charlemagne's empire among his three sons. But it's most recent notariety arises from "The Hell of Verdun"; the WW I battle that resulted in the deaths of over 700,000 soldiers. The climactic battles of the Great War were fought just after the arrival of the American troops in Verdun in early September 1918. The armistice was signed on November 11, 1918 at 11 am.
There still seems to be much good feeling for Americans left over from that time, even though it was 90 years ago. There is even an exhibition in town celebrating the event.
In all over 9 million were killed in the war, 3.4 million wounded, the majority on French soil. When you see the monument in each little French village inscribed with the names of their "Sons of France killed Defending Her" between 1914 and 1918, almost an entire generation, it's easy to see why they just didn't have the heart for another fight just 20 years later.

The Monument de la Victoire stands at the top of 73 steps. Beneath it is a crypt containing all the names of those who fought at Verdun.

But aside from all the war monuments, Verdun is a very pleasant town. Being the largest city in the area, most people do their major shopping here and there's a very picturesque central city.
The Notre Dame Cathedral is also very impressive. Begun in 1048 it sits on the highest point in Verdun and has a beautiful vaulted walkway around a central courtyard.

The "halte nautique" is very nice; reminding us of some up north where you can tie up right in the city center.

Verdun is as far south as we're going to get this year. After 4 days is was time to head back north, down the Meuse to our winter stopping place.

Friday, August 29, 2008

La France s'améliore

Things have changed in France since we were last here three years ago. Smoke-filled bars and cafes are no more!
If you look in the lower right corner of the picture you can see the sticker on the door that prohibits smoking in the "Smoking Rabbit."

The Europeans Pay Attention! August 28

We get our news here from occasional copies of the International Herald Tribune (published by the NY Times) and daily doses of the BBC. Both have been full of news about the Democratic convention in Denver and the nomination of Barak Obama. The Europeans are paying very close attention to our presidential campaign and their excitement over the possibility of an Obama presidency is only slightly greater than their relief at the end of the current presidential term. We had drinks with a Swedish couple last week and they observed that our elections are so important to the rest of the world that they should be allowed to vote. I don't think most Americans realize the impact that decisions made for purely domestic purposes have worldwide.

Further Southward, August 22

It's not time to head into the winter storage yard yet so we passed the Canal des Ardennes and continued south. The weather has been real spotty, not much rain but overcast and some windy days. Doesn't seem much like August! It's really unfortunate, too, because the scenery is beautiful. The river winds up a valley between the forested hills of the Ardennes, little hillside villages along the way. Sunshine would make it much nicer.
One of the smaller towns had a real nice tie up with this peculiar statue at the end of the ramp. We're not quite sure what to make of it. Any suggestions?

Out next stop was in the town of Sedan. It has a great old fort/castle whose construction was begun in 1424.

Just across the channel from the marina was apparently one of the city's best fishing holes. This guy looked like he was really enjoying his "fishing."

We wandered around town the afternoon we arrived and planned to do some more the following day but when we got up is started to rain and it rained all day long, heavy at times. Much reading was accomplished.
Saturday is market day in Sedan so while I did the pre-departure chores, Cathy Jo mixed it up at the market (sharpen your elbows if you go early!), and we pulled out of town about 10 am.
It cleared throughout the day and by the time we pulled into Mouzon about 1 pm it was pretty nice.

You can just see our bow at the city tie up on that little side channel.

This is Mouzon from the top of one of the old city gates.

Our plan was to be in Pont a Bar around September 7 so we planned our most southern point this year as Verdun. There's supposedly a great free city tie up with water and electricity right in the center of town. We'll spend a couple of days there and then head back down the Meuse to the Canal des Ardennes.
We spent Sunday night in Stenay (a really small town and nothing but cafes and bars are open on Sunday; a nice cheap pontoon with services on a small side channel)) and Monday night in Consenvoye (even smaller than Stenay; there wasn't anything to be open but the tie up was in a nice city park) and arrived in Verdun on Tuesday to find it as advertised-a free, city-center tie up with water and electricity! Thank you VNF (Voies Navigables du France)!

La France! August 14

At 1:15 pm we pulled into the Ecluse les 4 Cheminées, purchased our permit to use the canals in France and crossed another border. Love the EU. Not even a sign this time!
By 2:15 we were tied up in Givet. We didn't use the marina since we didn't need the power or water, instead we tied up on the other side of the river. This was the view back across to the marina as the sun set.

Most of the major towns along the Meuse have some kind of fortification, some bigger than others. Originally built by Charles V in 1555, Charlemont Fort was rebuilt by Vauban, who seemed to have a hand in every major fortification in France, in the 17th century.

The next morning it was up and away, this time to face another feature (or is that bug?) of the French canal system; a tunnel.
In this area the Meuse is a very curvey river and rather than make you do all of the double-backs, the canal builders helpfully cut across some of the meanders. In this case, we entered the Ham Tunnel.

It's dark in there! Luckily we bought a spotlight to use during tunnel navigation. This one is only a half kilometer long. Later (in other parts of France, not this year) we'll face some that are as long as 4 kilometers!
On the approach to the tunnel we spotted a feature of the French power generation system. No greenhouse gasses here!

We spent the night at a pontoon in the small town of Haybes. We tied up about 2 pm and there was a "fete" happening in the park along the waterfront. The only problem was that they had the speakers blasting bad Europop right at the boat. The celebration was supposed to end around 7 pm so we went for a walk up to a viewpoint where we could see another of the Meuse' snakelike bends around the town of Fumay.

We'll be going through there tomorrow.

The next couple of nights were spent tied to the bank in the small village of Montherme. We wanted to do a little bike riding and there's an old railway line that used to run into Belgium that's been turned into a bike path.
This was the view across the water at the hillside town.

Our next stop was Charleville-Meziers, which will be the largest town close by our winter storage location. We found a great free tie up and spent a couple of days. Unfortunately the weather was pretty crummy so the pictures are sparse. Maybe next spring the weather will be more cooperative.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Look Back at Beer

Since we're now out of the land of beer and into the land of wine, it seems only appropriate that we should now make our beer judgements.
We have found the following beers to be worth mentioning. Bear in mind that our personal preference is for more bitter beers and the higher alcohol content of many of the Belgian beers result in a sweeter drink. Also remember: These Are Strong Beers. Nothing under 6% and most are closer to 8% alcohol or higher.
The St. Sixtus Abbey bruin and blonde may be the best but since you can't get them anywhere but at the abbey they really don't count. In Turnhout we drank Corsendonk Agnus which we really like but it's also hard to find out of the region. Another good local brew was the Litre of Palliter in Lier.
Orval and Westmalle Triple are high points of the Trappists. Duvel is widely available and Don's personal favorite for getting cross-eyed. The Brugges Zot was better on tap than in the bottle. For cheap beer (none of it that cheap) we drink the Grimbergen blond.
Now we've crossed into France and you can get a good, perfectly drinkable bottle of French wine for under €2.
And bread! Don't get us started on the bread! Less that a euro for a really good baguette! And a bakery seemimgly on every block!
Vive La France!

Under the Cliffs of the Meuse, August 12-14

We had been told that the Muese between Namur and the French cities of Charleville-Mezieres was some of the most beautiful river cruising in Europe. The scenery was gorgeous.

Dinant was right up there on the picturesque scale.

The citadel looms over the church.

The cliffs are very close to the waters edge and make Dinant basically a four street town, two streets paralleling the river on each side. It's also a very popular tourist destination.
We found a nice free tie up and intended to leave after just one day but the wind was really howling down the river on Wednesday so we decided to stay an extra day. We used the day to hike a way up the nearby Lesse River which is a popular kayaking destination. On the walk back to town we got a good look down the river toward Dinant.

Thursday morning we were off at the crack of 9:30 at what Cathy Jo describes as "faster than a speeding ox cart!" Our next stop would be in France!

Namur, August 3-11

Because of its strategic location of the Meuse and Sambre Rivers, Namur's history goes way back, even for these parts. It was originally setteled by the Celts then by the Romans. The Counts of Namur built a castle overlooking the confluence that was taken over by the French. Later the Dutch moved in and razed and rebult the fort. In WWI the theoretically impregnable fortress was taken in three days by the Germans and the town suffered major damage during WWII. Now, even though it's not Wallonia's largest city, it is home to the regional government.

This is the junction of the Sambre and Meuse Rivers,
the Sambre sort of hidden by the trees in the lower left.
This was shot from the citadel.

This is looking up the Meuse (south; just a little confusing. It flows south to north) toward France. We're tied up among those boats on the river.

And this is the famous citadel with the Sambre off to the right.

Since Namur is a major town, we decided to spend some time here because we really needed to make arrangements for winter storage of the boat. Also, there are really good train connections and our son, Cory, was going to have to be heading back to Amsterdam to catch his plane home later in the week. We rented a car for a couple of days and headed up the Meuse.
When we began the trip in June we had thought we could get over to Alsace for winter storage but that was just too far; we didn't want to rush the trip. We had heard about a small spot just off the Meuse on the Canal des Ardennes called Pont a Bar. It seemed a likely spot, highly recommended, although pretty isolated. It turned out there was plenty of room for us, the people were very friendly and the price was right.
That decision made, we turned to exploring the Ardennes, home of dense forests, beautiful river valleys and all thinks processed pork.

This was the result of our visit to La Roche; some of the most delectable ham you've ever eaten!
We also visited the Grottes de Hotten, a network of underground caves similar to Oregon Caves. Not as spectacular as Carlsbad or Mitchell but worth the trip.
On Friday we used the car for shopping; loading up on groceries, replacing an empty propane bottle and running all those errands made easier with a car. We also dropped Cory at the train station as he had to head for Holland; his plane left Saturday morning.
Saturday was market day in Namur and it was one of the most extensive we've seen. It seemed like every street in the old section of town was lined with booths. Just about anything could be bought on the streets.

This guy was selling onions.

They'd even filled up one of the smaller squares with sand and had a "beach" volleyball tournament underway.

Sunday was a day of rest and Monday morning we filled the diesel tank (ouch!) and headed off up the river to our next destination, Dinant.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Makin' Kilometers, beginning of August

The trip across the bottom of Belgium, the Nimy-Blanton-Perrones, Centre and Charleroi-Brussels canals, and the River Sambre are pretty much pass-through territory; just not very exciting.
Occasionally there is what some people (like us) find interesting. At the junction of the Brussels-Charleroi Canal and the River Sambre, the waterway passes through a working steel plant. I think the guide books would call this "an industrial outlook."

There's also a long section where the walls of whaterever plant is on the other side have been covered with some really interesting art.

By just about lunchtime on Sunday we were tied up on the city quay wall in Namur. We'd reached the Meuse and even the air smelled French!

A Boat Elevator August 1

What should be one of the wonders of the world made its first run in September, 2002; The Strépy-Thieu Boat Lift.
When it was completed, it bypassed 4 19th century boatlifts, one of which later malfunctioned and destroyed a cargo barge, and two regular locks.
Each side is a tank that is lifted or dropped 73 meters (about 240 ft.), complete with boats. Large cement blocks ride on the outside of the tower, acting as counterweights.
We entered at the bottom for an elevator ride up.

In this view as we approached, you can see the right hand tank is at the top letting boats out into the canal that stretches out to the left. We'll be following that 40 meter barge sitting by the red light. The tanks are each 112 meters long and 15 meters wide. There will be plenty of room.

Now we're tied up behind the barge we'll be following and the tank is about halfway down.

These boats just took the ride down. The tank door opens up and you leave the tank under it.

Now we're about halfway up.
We got to the top, the door lifted up and we were on our way out. The long walls on the canal allowed a great stop for lunch and some pics.

Cory is enjoying the view even if he just found out the film in that camera around his neck was no good.