Our Barge, Odysseus

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.

Accolay and Mailly le Chateau

The village of Accolay is on a 3 km long side canal that branches off the Nivernais and heads over the the Cure River in Vermenton. We stopped for the night in Accolay and rode our bikes down the excellent tow path to Vermenton and back in the afternoon.

The Accolay halte.

The Nivernais is one of the most beautiful, and most popular, canals in France for cruising. There is no commercial traffic because the canal is small, shallow and some of the locks near the top smaller than the standard 39.5 meters long and 5 meters wide. Also there are some really low bridges.
The canal was originally begun in the late 1700's but because of the difficulty of it's construction, wasn't completed all the way through until 1842. The section we are on now parallels the Yonne River, occasionally sharing it's banks. Major commercial traffic during the canals heyday was wood carried from the Morvan forests to Paris for construction and firewood. As commercial river traffic dwindled throughout France, many canals were abandoned. Here I'll quote from one of our bibles, "Cruising French Waterways," by Hugh McNight

"One of the key factors in saving this ravishing navigation for posterity was Roger Pilkington's voyage on his motor yacht Commodore, which was so beautifully described in Small Boat Through France (1964). But the decisive event that determined the canal's future was brought about by waterways enthusiast Pierre-Paul Zivy, an Anglophile who had cruised rivers and canals in England and established the first inland hire cruiser fleet in France on the Marne (in Chateau Thierry. We visited in June. dc) Having obtained assurances that neglected maintenance would be tackled by the authorities, he set up his Saint-Line cruiser base at the Baye summit level in 1964 and campaigned for the threatened section to be transferred to the local Department. This act was astonishingly courageous and foresighted. It would be another five years before the second such boat operation appeared on the Canal du Midi. There are now many holiday boat firms and hotel barges using the Nivernais, not forgetting private craft. The canal has become of of the most popular routes in the network..."

We can speak to the canal's popularity. Those hire boats are everywhere, mostly captained by people who have never driven a boat before. Since we're steel and they're fiberglass, they are more bothersome than dangerous, though they do provide endless hours of entertainment.

Our next stop was about 20 km down the canal; the village of Mailly le Chateau and, yes, there is a chateau.

And the village below.

The canal here parallels the Yonne River, which was visible from the chateau.

It was Sunday afternoon and the village was hosting a petanque tournament. The game is much like lawn bowling except no lawn and the balls are made of steel. Usually it's a game for the retired set but we saw an old master sharing his wisdom with some up-and-comers.

Since our travel days are so short, these villages so small and the days still pretty long, we usually just spend the afternoon in a place and then move on the next morning, as we did here. Next stop, The Rochers du Saussois.

Auxerre to Clamecy July 23-27

Our first stop out of Auxerre was the village of Bailly. What nice people! They helpfully put their tieup spot directly below the 10 acres of the Bailly Lapierre Wine Cellars where they give guided tours and tastings! The cellars are the home of about 70 winemakers responsible for "Cremant de Bourgogne," the burgundian sparkling wine. Made by blending pinot noir, gamay, chardonnay and aligote grapes, the wine is made using the "methode champenoise," where the fermentation creating the bubbles takes place in the bottles. The rules for producing the wine are very strict The grapes must be harvested by hand and transported in open crates. No more than 100 litres of juice can be extracted from 150 kilos of grapes. The juice is then stored in giant stainless steel tanks to make the "still" wines that will be blended into the cremant. After filtering and bottling, a temporary cap is placed on the bottle and its laid to rest for between 18 and 24 months. The bottles are then put on revolving racks that turn the bottle 1/8 turn every 6 hours while progressively tilting the bottle to move the sediment into the temporary cap. After freezing the neck of the bottle, the cap with the sediment is removed, the "dosage" is added to create the type of cremant (dry, brut, etc.), the bottle is corked, labeled and ready for sale.
We took the tour through the 7 million bottles stored in the cellar but the vastness of the old quarry sucks up the light from the flash. I did get some shots to come out.

Tough job moving these racks around with a fork lift all day. No tasting!

Half-bottles almost ready for a store near you!

We sat through some really loud thunderstorms late that afternoon and evening but we were off the next morning for the village of Accolay.

To Auxerre - July 18-23

Since it was a whole 32 kilometers from Joigny to Auxerre it would take us two day to make the trip. We spent the night in a little town called Gurgy alongside the bank at the city park. One of it's features was a woman selling postcards and objets d'art and giving foot massages. Ines and Cathy Jo thought it would be a good place for a picture.

Saturday about noon we arrived in Auxerre. It's supposed to be one of France's most beautiful cities and we'd have to agree. Twisty streets lined with 13th century timber-framed buildings, hidden squares and a waterfront dominated by two beautiful churches make it very picturesque.

Religious buildings are documented on the site of the Saint Germaine Abbey since the 5th century and the crypts under the existing building date from the mid-800's but most the the building now visible is from later. The church itself was completed in the 13th and 14 centuries, the tower in the 12th while the cloister, sleeping quarters and refectory date from the 17th. The buildings now house Auxerre's Museum of Art and History with a collection of medieval and Gallo-Roman art and artifacts.

The other church looming over the waterfront is St. Etienne's Cathedral. Here, the crypts date from the 11th century with work on the main buildings as they now stand taking place between the 13th and 16th. As I mentioned before, we're now out of World War territory so most of the stained glass and statuary remains from the original, although most of the smaller outside carvings have lost their heads in the various religious wars and revolutions France has experienced.

This is the view of the front of the cathedral.

The city also has a great clock tower built in the 15th century on the foundation of what was originally a Gallo-Roman tower and first used as the count's prison. One side tells the hour, the other the positions of the sun and moon throughout the day.

The town's mascot is Cadet Roussel. Guillaume Roussel moved to Auxerre in 1763 and after serving as a servant and footman, set himself up as a private bailiff. Apparently he was just a little eccentric. One of his political enemies composed a song to make fun of him but it was taken up as a marching song by soldiers during the 1792 French Revolution and became famous throughout France. A town mascot deserves a statue.

Tuesday about noon Ines took the train back to Paris, hopefully this time the 1 hour trip is was supposed to be and about 5 pm our friends John and Patti Hardman arrived. You may remember them as the people who got us into this barging thing in the first place. A link to their blog is in the sidebar. They are in northern France and Alsace this year and left Capri in Toul to drive down for a day's visit. On Wednesday, John helpfully took me to the nearby hypermarche so I could fill up the jerry jugs with cheap diesel and exchange a butane cylinder then he and Patti were going to take us out to lunch in the "nearby" village of Avallon. It's away from the canal too far for us to visit but supposedly very quaint. Unfortunately, "nearby" turned out to be about 50 kilometers. About the time we were about ready to chew off the ends of our fingers, John said "Here!" He pulled into a small restaurant in some unknown village and, in another great French moment, we had a wonderful lunch on the terrace overlooking a park.
About 4 pm John and Patti headed off and we made one more run to the grocery store for provisions. The wine rack and the pantry were full. Time to be off down the Nivernais!

Joigny July 17

The next stop on our journey was the town of Joigny, built on the side of the cote San Jacques.

Headed toward Joigny. We'll be tieing up just before the bridge you can just see to the left of those trees on the right.

I mentioned before that we are now out of the war zones so many of the buildings remain from the 12th and 13th centuries, although much here has been rebuilt after a huge fire nearly destroyed the town in 1530. There's also a difference in the architecture from what we have seen earlier. Many of the buildings are half-timbered with carvings on the wood. Joigny had some great streets.

The view back across the river from the newer section of town. Those are chablis grape vines to the left of St. Thibault's church.

One other French curiosity caught my eye. I've never been able to figure out the huge popularity of Jerry Lewis in France. He's alway been a big draw here. Another popular figure is Johnny Hallyday. For many years the pop star has been beloved by the French; kind of like Elvis. The owner of the boulangerie you can see just above the boat in the picture before must be a big fan. I just had to get a picture of the shrine in the window.

Thursday night we had a spectacular light show. The day had been very hot and muggy. About 8 the lightning began; the most spectacular show any of us had ever seen and both Cathy Jo and I spent some time in the midwest. Just a little later, the heavens opened and Odysseus got a good rinse.
Thursday was also our 27th wedding anniversary and Ines treated us to a dinner at one of the better restaurants in town (the showers stopped just long enough for us to walk to the restaurant). Friday morning, after a quick visit for the market in town, it was off toward Auxerre.

Sens July11-16

Tim would be leaving us and our friend Ines joining us during this week. There are very good train connections between Sens and Paris and, since the canals are closed for France's "Fete Nationale" (Bastille Day, July 14), we figured we'd stay put for a while. There's a good free mooring here with water and electricity, a big grocery store and nice boulangerie nearby. What more could anyone need?
From our guidebook, Sens is named for a Gallic tribe, the Senones, who captured Rome in 390 BC. In the 12th and 13th centuries it was a major ecclesiastical center but fell into decline during the religious and the succession wars of later centuries. It's pretty quiet now but has a beautiful cathedral, one of the first gothic churches in France, along with a museum that houses a major collection of Gallo-roman artifacts.
As seems to happen often, the cathedral is undergoing some renovation so the tower is covered in scaffolding but the major portions are still visible.

What you can see of the tower.

The city hall is just down the street and has a great facade.

The Gallo-roman section of the museum has a reconstruction of Roman baths that were found in the area. Tim got a good picture of the installation.

Bastille Day turned out to be much fun. There was a car show in the town square with some really nice old vehicles.

What would a car show in France be without some old Citroen CV's?

Tuesday night it was time for a fireworks show. We happened to be tied up in the perfect place to get a front row seat for the show and all of Sens seemed to know it. I tried to get a picture of the hundreds of people in the park next to us, lining the bridge behind us and standing along the road in front of us but in the dark it just didn't work. The show started about 10:30 (that's about when it's finally dark) and lasted for about a half hour. It was a really great show. Fifteen minutes after it was done, almost all of the people were gone, although a few of the local "yoots" stayed behind to exhaust the last of their firecracker stash.
Wednesday afternoon, after a little train snafu (a signal problem on the line meant she had to take the local instead of the express), Ines joined us and Thursday morning we were off in the direction of the Canal du Nivernais and the city of Auxerre.

The Yonne and a Visit to Sens

Shortly after noon we entered the Yonne River at the city on Montereau. We know we're getting deeper into the countryside when the locks close for lunch. That's right; open at 8 or 9, close from 12:30 to 1:30, then close again at 6 or 7. Friday night we missed the last lock we wanted to clear by about 10 minutes. It was really no problem as there was a good place to tie up just below the lock, the only drawback was we had to listen to the water rushing over the weir all night, kind of like camping next to a waterfall.
The next complication occurred the next morning. A large commercial barge pulled in shortly after us Friday evening and was all ready to go right at 9. We weren't quite ready yet so when the lockkeeper motioned us in, we signaled we would be ready a little later. What we didn't know was that the eclusier (lockkeeper) handled the lock we were at and the next one. He'd have to lock the commercial barge through the next lock up and then come back for us. We finally got underway about 11 am but, luckily, we only had about 3 hours travel to our next stop. We did have to wait for the lunch hour to finish before we could lock through the last one of the day but we were secured in Sens by 2:30.

Moret sur Loing - July 7-10

The bike ride to the Chateau originated from Moret-sur-Loing, just off the Seine. The home for many years of the impressionist painter Alfred Sisley, a colleague of Monet and Renoir, who died here in 1899. Many parts of town look like they came right out of one of Sisley's paintings.

The day after our wet bike ride, the skies cleared and we were able to spend some time wandering about the town.
One thing we have noticed now that we're no longer on the "War Track" (the Marne, Meuse, etc.) is that these villages were never bombed to smithereens. Some of the views are breathtaking.

And the place set aside for us to tie up is pretty scenic, too!

Friday morning at the crack of 9 it was time to be off. Today we would leave the Seine behind and enter the Yonne River.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Chateau de Fontainbleau

France is known for the great chateaus; Versailles, Vaux-le-Vicomte,Chenonceau, but we would be passing within an easy bike ride of Chateau de Fontainbleau and it's magnificent forest so we really had to stop. One of the side benefits of that would be the stop - Moret sur Loing, another impossibly picturesque town.

Wednesday was the designated chateau visit day. Since we only carry two bikes, we visited the tourist office in Moret and they were very helpful in arranging a rental bicycle for the day, even having it delivered to the tourist office for Tim to pick up on Tuesday afternoon. The weather forecast called for "a shower or two" but it looked pretty good in the morning; plenty of clouds but lots of sun as well. It took about an hour to make it through the maze of forest trails to the Chateau.

The forest path.

And I must say we looked like a pretty sporty group.

My bike is holding the camera.

When we got to the chateau it was pretty gray so I didn't take any garden pictures but I did get a shot of one wing of the chateau.

The first mention of the chateau is in the 12th century but little remains of the medieval castle. The real construction of the palace began with the reign of Francois I in the 16th century. King, emperors and Consuls have been tearing down and building parts of the chateau ever since. It now has over 1500 rooms under over 20,000 square meters of roof surrounded by formal gardens that cover about 35 hectares and the 84 hectare park (a hectare is about 2 1/2 acres).

We followed the self-guided tour of the interior until, as Cathy Jo said, we were suffering from "gilt overload." Example -

I believe this was Marie Antoinette's bed.

By the time we finished the tour, it had begun to rain. There are no garden pictures. There are also no pictures of the muddy, soaked bike riders that returned to the boat after the trip through the forest. But it will make a great story later on if we all don't catch pneumonia!

We'd be staying in Moret for another day, leaving Friday morning, so there was still plenty oftime to visit the town.

Further Up the Seine, July 5

Around noon on the 5th we arrived in Samois sur Seine, the home of the gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. The house where he lived and died is marked by a plaque.

The place for tying up was behind an island in the river so the wash from the commercial boats didn't bother us. It was also a very small marina.

photo by Tim
We'll be tying up in that open spot on the pier and the restaurant is under the burgundy awning just beyond.

But the best part, beside being very picturesque, was that the restaurant right across the street featured music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Since it was Sunday, we were treated to a great concert by a two guitar, one stand-up bass group. The lead guitarist looked to be about 18 years old and he was very good. During one of the breaks he was replaced by Django Reinhardt's great grandson, who was about 8. He was almost as good! They played well into the night and no one complained.
A little bike riding on Monday and then Tuesday it was off to our next stop. It would be a long day to Moret sur Loing ... 13 kilometers and 2 1/2 hours! Exhausting!

Happy Fourth of July!!!

Up the Seine, Early July

After departing the Paris Marina it was time to head up the Seine. We had been concerned that going upstream on a big river might be too much for Odysseus lack of horsepower but the current isn't too bad so we're still able to make good time (that means about 6 km an hour, about 4 mph ... faster than a speeding oxcart!)

Once we were out of the Paris suburbs, the scenery turned very green.

And, like just about anywhere, the houses along the the river are pretty nice!

Also since we're on the big river, there's much more commercial traffic, although since the river is big, they don't cause us much trouble.

Along with river traffic comes the big river locks.

(another picture taken by Tim.)

One problem with that commercial traffic is that they create quite a bit of wake; not too much of a problem when you're underway but quite a problem when finding a place to spend the night. We've found that the best places are right at the locks because the barges have to go really slow either entering or leaving and, at some of them anyway, the tieups are very nice.

We spent one night above a lock with several commercial barges. It was the 4th of July and, because the weather was so nice, we celebrated with a swim and a barbecue with our peniche friends.