Our Barge, Odysseus

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Map of the Year

After several days of slaving away over a hot computer I've managed to put together the map of this years adventure. As before, you can click on it for an enlarged version. You should also be able to open it in Google Earth for even more control over the view.

View 2009 Voyage - In France in a larger map
There are two pages in this version, the link to page two is at the bottom.

That will be all the posts for this year. I hope you enjoyed following along. We had a really wonderful time this year and are having a hard time not beginning the planning for next year now but really don't want to spend the next 7 months trying to hurry things along. Life is too short!

The Return - Sept. 16

And just like that ... we're back in our other life.
The return went just as planned; we think we've gotten a handle on the train thing. The French TGV arrives in Paris at the Gare de Lyon, the Eurostar leaves from Gare du Nord. There's an underground RER (the system that travels to the Paris suburbs as opposed to the Metro which is just in the city) that only has a couple of stops between the train stations. The hotel we were staying in for the night was right by the Eurostar station so we wouldn't have to hike to far in the morning.
The Eurostar stops in St. Pancras station in London. Jump on the Picadilly Line of the London Underground and about an hour later you are deposited at Terminal 5 from which at the BA flights depart. The only hard part is getting from the LA Airport to Ventura. I think, per mile, that was by far the most expensive part of the trip home!
The front door key worked and, since we'd given the house a pretty good cleaning before we left, all that we had to do was collapse into bed to begin recovery from jet lag. Monday morning it was back to work for both of us.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Back to Our Other Life - Sept 9-15

We got back to the boat late Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning found us hard at work on tasks that had to be completed before we returned to Ventura. Some painting needed to be done, engine maintenance performed and a thorough washing and cleaning was called for.
Our journey back would begin Tuesday morning. The rental car had to be dropped off in Dijon, then the TGV "bullet train" would whisk us off to Paris. After spending the night there, we would board the Eurostar for the trip under the English Channel to London's Heathrow Airport where we would place ourselves as the mercy of British Air for the flight to Los Angeles. By 7 pm Wednesday we would be in Southern California.

Much Less Than a Year in Provence - Sept 3-8

We had a medium-long list of boat chores to attend to before we headed back to Ventura but that journey didn't start until the 15th so we decided we had time for a little adventure not involving barges or canals.
Thursday morning in the pouring rain we jumped into our rental car and headed south for Provence taking the long way around through the French alps. We were headed in the general direction of Grenoble and Albertville, site of the winter Olympics years ago. Because of the weather, most of the mountaintops were covered in a cloud blanket but the weather cleared somewhat as we approached our first stop in Annecy. We parked the car in the lot at the train station and started walking toward the tourist office to find a room but stumbled on a decent, affordable hotel on the way and checked into the Hotel du Nord for the night.
What a beautiful town! Situated on the shores of the appropriately named Lac d'Annecy, the Canal du Thiou runs through town and provides several picture-taking opportunities as well as a great setting for waterside dining. Appropriately we had fondue for dinner.

We set out the next morning, heading into the mountains. The weather hadn't completely cleared but by afternoon we were up in the Alps, luckily too early for snow. We did cross the Col Galibier at about 7,500 feet with the temperature about 45 fahrenheit.

A look back down the road.

Friday night we spent in Digne-les-Baines, the chief town of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region; at least we were in a department with "Provence" in the name and the scenery was beginning to look more like Southern California, but with castles.

We didn't note the name of this village but the castle caught our eye.

Our last night in this general area was Aups; a good place to stay if you want to see the Gorges du Verdon.
Most people when they hear "France," think Paris, big cities and closely placed villages of Provence and the west. They don't usually picture something similar to the Grand Canyon.

The two lane road clings to the side of the canyon, following the Verdon River for a pretty good distance. At one point, the road curves away to cross a side canyon over a very tall bridge. We couldn't figure out why they had one lane blocked off with all kinds of activity until we saw the guy jump off attached by a bungie!

The ultimate destination for our trip was the Cote d'Azur, specifically St. Tropez. I've never seen the Mediterranean Sea, where Cathy Jo spent a good portion of her formative years, and that area seemed like a good place for an initiation.
We decided to try to find a room in the village of La Garde Freinet; it's close enough to the coast (about 15 minutes) but far enough away that we could afford to stay for a couple of days. We found a room at one of the local hotel/restaurants and set off for some exploration.

Our room was the one on the top floor with the shutters open.

The village was very beautiful, typical Provence tile roofs and pastel colors, and has apparently become very popular with British expatriates. We heard alot of "English" english being spoken and two of the local property seller offices had names like "Witworth" and "Sterling."
The guide books had warned us of horrific traffic jams and hordes of people at the coast but, maybe because it's September, we found it not as crowded as Malibu on a sunny weekend. We wandered the marina waterfront and got a good look at St. Tropez across the water.

After our picnic lunch we hiked up to the old chateau that overlooks the harbor.

The next day we planned to have lunch in Cannes ... why not? ... but first we stopped to check out the village of Grimaud. It was just too much quaint.

The traffic was pretty bad on the road right along the coast so we didn't make it all the way to Cannes, stopping in the town of Antheor for a huge lunch of paella. After that there was nothing to do but find a nice piece of beach for a swim and a little relaxation before the drive back to La Garde. I had my baptism in the Med!

Tuesday morning it was time to hit the road back to the boat. What had taken us four days to accomplish on the back roads we traveled in about 6 hours on the "A" roads, although it did cost us about 35 euros in tolls!

Closing the Circle - August 27

About 35 k after leaving Verdun sur Doubs we rounded a bend in the Saone River to see St. Jean de Losne (pronounced "loan").

On May 16, 2006, after spending three days in Paris, we traveled by train to Dijon where we met our old friends, John and Patti Hardman.
The Hardmans (their blog is linked in the sidebar) had been sailing buddies in the 1980's when we owned Arrow, a 1913 Edson Schock yawl, and they owned Freya, a 1940's Atkins Ingrid ketch. In the mid 90's they returned to Texas but we had kept in touch over the years and when they bought Capri, and early 1900's converted dutch barge, in 2003, we figured we'd have to plan a visit.
After picking us up at the Dijon train station, John and Patti drove us to St. Jean de Losne where we were introduced to Capri.

That's Capt. John posing at the stern.

After spending 10 days with them on the Burgundy canal, we decided that this was a life we could lead. We returned home, sold the house and the following spring found us in Amsterdam beginning the search that would lead us to Odysseus.
On August 27, 2009, our barge was tied up just a little west of where we had first seen Capri.

We would spend four days on the quay in St. Jean and then, on Sept. 1, make the 4 k final leg of our summer's trip to St. Symphorean sur Soane and Bourgogne Marine where Odysseus would spend the winter tied up right behind Capri.
990 kilometers on the canals and 53 days of traveling had taken us from Champagne to Burgundy.

Odysseus is the smallest barge tied up at Bourgogne Marine's lower basin. Capri is right in front of us.

Last Days Underway, August 24-27

About 2 pm on Monday afternoon we pulled into the village of Fragnes. It was the last good place to moor on the canal before we entered the Saone River for the last leg of the trip to St. Symphorean where Odysseus will spend the winter. Right at the tie up spot was a boulangerie, restaurant, hair salon and bicycle rental shop. We wandered into town to find other shops but there really weren't any, everything was clustered around the halte. By evening it had become very warm and humid again; the skies were looking threatening. By dinnertime it was raining hard again and was still coming down occasionally Tuesday morning. We weren't in any hurry so decided to say put for the day.
Wednesday morning we were off for the last 5 k of the Canal du Centre, but first we had to navigate the lock that empties into the Saone River, called Ecluse Crissey..
Back in Digoin we had met Jenny Fennell, an English woman who has spent the summer on the canals in her river cruiser, making the trip with friends as crew. As happens with limited places to stop, we had bumped into her at several places along the way and we met up again in Fragnes. She would be storing her boat in a marina near where Odysseus was going to be so we left together and shared the lock, with it's nearly 11 meter drop.

Jenny (on the left) with Joe and Ailish. Smile, or as they say in France, " wee-stee-tee!"

Our next stop was Verdun-sur-Doubs, where the Doubs River meets the Saone. Another picture-worthy town with a small marina on the river.

Verdun has it's market on Wednesday morning so we stuck around long enough to check it out. About 9:30 we were underway up the Saone to St. Jean de Losne where this whole barge thing originally started.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Santenay - August 21-24

The village of Santenay is at the southern tip of the Cote d'Or, one of the most prestigious wine making regions of France. It's also a very picturesque village with lots of wine tasting and buying opportunities.
By Friday afternoon the weather had cleared; the rain had cooled things down and we were ready for some exploration. The town was just a 10 minute walk from the boat so off we went.

One of the village streets. Santenay is divided into upper and lower sections. This is in Bas, or lower, Santenay.

The village is surrounded by hills and it was just a short walk up to get a panoramic view of the area. Below us was Haute, or upper, Santenay.

The Cote d'Or is known for several grape varieties but it's probably most famous for it's pinot noir grapes. There are a couple of wine shops in town that specialize in tasting and sales of the local wines so we just had to visit. Since we'll be leaving in just about a month we didn't want to really stock up; the winters are pretty cold here and that's hard on wine storage but we'll be back in the spring for some serious shopping. The prices are very reasonable.
Sunday morning we bicycled the 4 kilometers up the cycle path along the canal to the town of Chagny. They have a large market and we plundered the stalls for fresh fruit and vegetables. After lunch it was back on to the bicycles for a trip along an abandoned railroad bed converted to bike path to Nolay, about 8 k away. Next to the church in the village square is the covered market. Built in the 14th century, the roof is made of limestone and the framework is chestnut wood.

The ride to Nolay was a little arduous as it was all slightly uphill. The trip back was a blast. We barely had to touch the pedals.

After a serious discussion, Cathy Jo and I decided the halte in Santenay was tied with Cumieres in the Champagne for the most beautiful stop. The canal runs along the side of the hill so you actually look down on the village and the picnic tables provided for the boaters and cyclists make it very pleasant. It didn't hurt that the weather was gorgeous the three days we were there.

The view from the boat.

Monday morning it was off to our last stop on the Canal du Centre, Fragnes.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Paray to Santenay August 15-21

From McNight's Cruising French Waterways "During the late 17th century Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, a nun, witnessed a succession of visions of Christ with his heart exposed, but it was not intil the 19th century that the devotion of the Sacred Heart made Paray le Monial a town of international pilgrimage." She was canonized in 1920 and Paray is now the recipient of the second largest influx of pilgrims after Lourdes.
The 11th century basilica was begun by St.-Hughes, the bishop of Cluny and is quite a sight.

The center for the pilgrims, however, is a large collection of tents set up on the outskirts of town that house continuous religious services.
It was still really hot, well into the 90's, but luckily right before town the canal passes through an avenue of trees that almost completely overhang the water. We spent Saturday afternoon there and then moved on Sunday morning.
Sunday afternoon found us in the small town of Genelard and, still looking for shade and cooling breezes, we made it to the top of the Canal by Monday afternoon. Canals follow streams and rivers to provide them with water but when you reach the summit there is usually a lake as you are between watersheds. The Canal du Centre is no exception and just outside of the town of Montchanin we found this weeks version of nirvana, shade all day with a lake just steps away! With the temperature still in the 90's, we spent Monday and Tuesday afternoons submerged.
Wednesday it was off to the town of St. Leger and the beginning of the real burgundy wine country but it was still scorching. Luckily about 4 am Friday the lightning started to flash and by 5 the rain started pouring down. The heat had broken and for once we were not going to complain about rain. As a matter of fact, we had told the lockkeeper we would be getting underway about 9am and we did, getting thoroughly wet in the process. The fresh water rinse felt great!
By about 11:30 the rain had stopped, the sun was beginning to peek through and we were tied up just outside of Santenay. We were back in serious wine country!

Digoin, or Welcome to the Canal du Centre August 13

After a couple of days paralleling the Loire River, we entered the town of Digoin where the Canal Lateral a la Loire becomes the Canal du Centre. The Canal du Centre was built in the late 1700's to connect the Loire and the Saone Rivers.
But first it must cross the Loire. Rather than have to lock down to river level and then lock up the other side, in 1835 an aqueduct was built over the Loire to carry the beginning of the canal.

The lock gates are about to open and we will cross over the Loire into Digoin.

The view from the river.

The weather had been very hot and we'd spent alot of time seeking shade. Luckily, just on the other side of the "pont canal" (canal bridge) there was a secure place to tie up under some trees for afternoon shade. Also from there it was just a short walk to the river for a refreshing swim.
We were lucky enough to see a couple of full size barges navigating the canal, full size being about 39 meters (120') long.

The other "must do" on Digoin was the Thai restaurant. We had been told by our friends John and Patti Hardman that this was a requirement of any visit to town. We had a very good meal (including thai curried frog legs; they do taste like chicken!) but the highlight of the meal was the "digestif". The very nice young waiter brings a bottle of what he called sake (but tasted more like gasoline) and two small cups, carefully placing them on the table and filling them before bowing and backing away with a silly grin on his face. When filled with liquid, the cups display a pornographic picture in the bottom and the restaurant is nice enough to provide a different picture for the men and the ladies!

We also saw this very dapper gentleman taking his Friday morning stroll. In France, you can accessorize anything with a loaf of bread.

Saturday morning it was off down the Canal du Centre, the first stop Paray le Monial.

Decize to Digoin-the Canal Lateral a la Loire August 10-13

It turned out we were in Decize just in time for the "Comice," a kind of county fair complete with a midway, a hunting dog exhibition, a dinner-dance and a parade. We missed the first day so the hunting dog exhibition and dinner dance were out but we were in time for the parade and midway.
The parade was quite a spectacle. It took over an hour for all of the floats to creep by our spot and after wending it's way through town the marchers had been at it for well over 5 hours!

The Cub Scouts had their float.

There were the stilt walkers in funny costumes.

And of course, the Queen and her court.

They give boat rides on this sailing riverboat, typical of the older craft of the area. Behind us is "Les Troubadors" owned by Tom and Laurel from Bainbridge, Washington.

We had noticed on our way into town that the ever-helpful VNF, along with the shopping center owners, I'm sure, had put a very nice quay right next to a giant supermarket and hardware store. We backtracked a couple of kilometers to stock up and then headed out of town. As we entered our next stretch of water, the Canal Lateral a la Loire, we looked back and saw the ruins of the 12th century fort built by the Comte de Nevers that stood guard over the Loire River.

Down the Nivernais Canal August 5-9

We left the canal bank about 9:30 am and entered the first lock on the downhill side of the Nivernais. After that first lock there was what is called a "stairstep lock;" the boat exits one lock directly into the next. The first stairstep was two locks then about 45 minutes later a three lock complex followed just a couple hundred feet later by a two lock complex. It was time for the lunch closure as we completed the three locks so, after some maneuvering, we pulled into the first of the two lock combination, which was already set up for our descent, to have our lunch. When I went below to shut off the engine, something smelled a little funny. Further investigation revealed that we had ruptured a hose carrying coolant from the external cooling pipes back into the engine, much of our coolant was now in the bilges and we had a seriously overheated engine! As we had no replacement hose, I was going to have to bicycle the 8 km back to Baye where there is a big hire boat base, buy some hose (if they have it), and return before we could continue on. There was a boat waiting to enter the lock, however, so first we had to get out of the way.

We're in the center of the three lock combination. That boat below the two lock combo will have to wait 'til after lunch.

It was back to the old canal days as we used line and human power to pull the boat from one lock to the next and then out of that lock to the bank below where we could tie up to try to make repairs.
They did have the hose in Baye and after a 2 1/2 hour delay, we set off again for out next stop, Chatillon en Bazois.

Set up on a bluff over the Aron River and the Nivernais Canal, Chatillon en Bazois boasts a beautiful, privately owned chateau built on the site of the ancient fortress of the Sires of Chatillon.

The owners provide guided tours during the summer months and we were able so see some of the interior but, unfortunately, no pictures were allowed. The furniture and fixtures are elegant and ornate (think Ming Dynasty figurines and oil portraits from the 18th century) but with modern touches; the owners do live there at times.
They also have a full time gardening staff and early in the morning we spotted the head gardner dealing with moles as I'm sure many would like.

We did hear a gunshot a little later so we assumed he got his rodent.

We made an overnight stop in the small town of Pannecot (where the advertised pizza restaurant is no more; the port captain said without the bread delivery truck in the morning "we would starve!") and Cercy la Tour (we thought that sounded like a vaudeville act, especially when we noted on our charts the nearby town of Les Brunettes). We left Cercy early because we wanted to get to the days final destination, Decize, before the lunch closure of the locks. Luckily we did because it turned out their was a "Concourse de Peche,", a fishing tournament, scheduled to begin a 9 am. The French are very serious about their fishing and it would have been a nightmare to interfere.

As we were about halfway down the line, the whistle sounded at 8:50 and the bait balls began to hit the water and just as the 9 am whistle sounded for the fishing to begin we were in the clear.
We arrived at Decize, the end of the Nivernais Canal just a little after noon, having cleared the last lock at 11:45. After 187 kilometers and 110 locks, we thought we'd take a couple days off.

Monday, August 10, 2009

To the Top of the Nivernais July 30-August 4

The next afternoon found us about 14 kilometers down the canal near the small village of Asnois. There was a nice tieup with room for just one boat right by a park below the village. We were secure by about 3:30, plenty of time for a stroll thru the village and then back to the boat for an aperitif. We had just finished our glasses of wine about 6:45 when a woman drove up in a car, parked in the park and came walking down to the waters edge.
In her halting English, she told us that three boats were on their way and would be at the park in about 15 minutes. We had seen them before; they are a moveable summer camp for middle schoolers. We had no intentions of being surrounded by a bunch of 11-14 year olds on their summer vacation so we evacuated immediately! Luckily there was a "self-opening" bridge about a kilometer away that had a pair of bollards to tie up on. We spent the night there in blessed silence.
Our next stop was Chitry les Mines, so called because silver and lead were mined here centuries ago.
As we pulled into town we noticed that at the campground across the river they were erecting a stage with a big banner overhead that read "Morvanstock." We asked around but nobody seemed to know what was going on. Nothing happened Friday night but on Saturday we could hear what sounded like sound check (it wasn't that close so not really annoying). By evening the clouds had begun forming and there was some lightning around but we heard the music start and though we'd go over and see what it was all about. Our guess is that some sort of Dutch camping club had taken over the campground for the weekend and this was their entertainment. It was a typical Dutch pop-rock band playing covers of old pop songs in English and the announcements from the stage in Dutch. it seemed all very strange in Burgundy!
We only stayed a few minutes: we'd seen this kind of thing before in Holland and the sky was looking very threatening. We got back to the boat just in time as they sky repeatedly lit up with lightning, the thunder was deafening and the rain she came pouring down. If there was enough mud I suppose Morvanstock would have been just like Woodstock but I don't think they were up to it. We didn't hear any more music.

We were fast approaching the top of the Nivernais Canal which features a flight of 16 locks in two kilometers, three tunnels and then the summit lake. There is a very nice place to tie up near the village of Sardy right at the bottom of the flight so we spent the night there and then set off about 9 am on Tuesday morning for the trip to the top.

The Nivernais is lauded as one of France's most beautiful canals and, at least in this section, we have to agree. When we finally got to the top, where traffic lights control the entrance to the three tunnels (they're one-way) we had been underway since 9 am, it was 2:30 in the afternoon, we had a 1 1/2 hour lunch stop and the gps said the boat had been moving for 1 hour; most of the time was spent either in or waiting for locks but the scenery made it all worthwhile.

Approaching one of the locks. The gates are open but water continues to flow over the back gate.

Everything is manually operated. Here a lock keeper opens a gate.

Around the corner and into the lock.

The lock keepers let us stay tied up in the lock after it had filled as it was time for lunch. We went through all of the locks paired up with the French couple on the boat behind us.

On the way to the tunnels.

After you leave the last lock, the summit tunnels must be passed through. There are three, the first two about 250 meters (700 feet) each and the last about 750 meters (about 1/2 mile) and they are just slightly bigger that the barge. Before you can get to the tunnels, though, you must pass through a little over a kilometer of a massive ditch. As you can see, it might as well be a tunnel, it's just that the roof is green instead of stone.
After you exit the tunnels, you reach the summit lake, the Etang de Vaux, the waters of which are used to feed the side of the canal that descends to the Loire River. There is a dike that separates the canal from the lake and there are plenty of places to tie up.

The view across the lake.

After a night on the bank, it was time to head down toward the Loire River and the final kilometers of the Nivernais.

Clamecy July 28-29

Clamecy is the biggest town between Auxerre and the end of the Nivernais Canal at Decize so we decided to spend a couple of days.
As we entered the last lock right before town about 3 on Sunday afternoon the skies were very dark. Sure enough, just as the lock gates opened, so did the heavens. There were no available spots on the town moorings so we were going to have to drive stakes in the ground and tie to those ... in the pouring rain. Luckily it was pretty warm so we just got a thorough rain-water rinse. The next day a couple of boats moved and we were able to tie up on the quay.
Although Clamecy is on the Nivernais Canal, the Yonne River also runs through town and was the center of the towns industry for centuries; that industry being firewood for Paris. The town is on the edge of the Morvan Forest and the trees would be felled, cut into logs and then floated down the Yonne to the Seine and then to Paris. The practice began in the 16th century, lasted until the early 1920's and employed generations of residents of the area.

Downtown Clamecy with the church tower keeping watch.

Looking back toward town with part of the marina in view.

One of the best features of the Nivernais Canal is the revitalized towpath. The campers in the picture above are on it returning to the campground after a visit to the grocery store. Before barges were motorized, they were towed by horses or, in some cases, people. (In the barge museum in St. Jean de Losne there's a great picture of granny towing a barge along the Canal de Bourgogne with a tumpline!) The government has revitalized the path all along the canal and now it makes a great, and well used, hiking and bicycling path. Since the canal is level, the only elevation changes being at the locks and even those are very gradual, It's very easy cycling. The authorities have also very kindly spotted picnic tables and water points along the path to make for an easy trek. As a matter of fact, we'll frequently park the boat and then cycle either ahead, to see what we'll be facing, or back to check out things we may have missed.
While we were in town we took advantage of another feature of the Burgundy region; wine in bulk. The local cave has casks of local wine in the store and, after tasting to make sure it's what you want, the "Fountain of Wine" is filled. 5 liters for about E12. Dontcha love it!

The flowers, by the way, are sowed wild by the canal authorities at various places along the canal for your picking pleasure.
Wednesday morning we were off.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Stuff from Last Week

This lock area was a Disney wonderland and the house itself was beautifully done up.

Just a little farmhouse, the Chateau de Faulin.

Unlike Holland, the boaters are responsible for operating the bridges. Luckily there aren't too many!

This farm is ready for the vandal hordes.

The Rocks and Chatel Censoir July 26

Along the Nivernais, the locks close for lunch from noon to 1 so it's always a good idea to plan your day with a lunch stop in mind. (The locks here are really close together, usually just a half hour or 45 minutes.) This day we planned our lunch stop at the Roches du Saussois.

It's not like the eastern Sierra; we tied up about 11 am and were up on top in about 15 minutes but the view down the canal was pretty nice.

The rocks are a popular climbing location and we spotted this climber making his way up the face.

After lunch we headed off to spend the night in Chatel Censoir, again being tied up by about 2:30.

The town and church look down on the canal and the Yonne.

Our next stop would be Clamecy, about 20 kilometers away. It's the largest town between here and the end of the canal, about 2 weeks away so we'll probably spend a least a couple of days for reprovisioning and laundry.