Our Barge, Odysseus

Monday, July 26, 2010

Through Town on a Boat! and Let's Go to Germany

Along with one of the oldest universities in Europe, Strasbourg is home to several pan-European organizations, including the European Parliament and the Court of Human Rights. They are housed in futuristic building in the "European Quarter" of the city. We would go by in Odysseus on our way out of town but we decided to take the boat tour on the River Ill to get a better view.

Home of the European Parliament.

Home of the European Court of Human Rights

Strasbourg was really busy with summertime activities, especially at night. Beginning every night at about 10:30 there was a show with lights, music and spouting water in the basin just next to the one where we were moored. It featured a really innovative rear-projection setup, a scrim, on a mist of water, for a backdrop. There was also a light and music display on the facade of the cathedral. Because of the presence of the University and all of the European institutions, Strasbourg has the feel of a big city without being overwhelming. We decided we really liked it here.
The next day, Inez decided to walk some of the city she hadn't seen and we decided to take a bike ride to see theTwo Shores Park and Footbridge. In 2004, Strasbourg and the German city just over the Rhine, Kehl, united to build this over 100 acre park on both sides of the river, with a footbridge linking the two sides. Just a 20 minute bike ride from where the boat was tied up, it seemed an easy way to visit Germany, if only for an hour or so.

The footbridge over the Rhine.

A grain carrier passes a moored Rhine passenger ship under the bridge.
Wednesday it was still hot but time to leave the city. A new piece of water, the Canal de la Marne au Rhin, awaited us, along with what is supposed to be some of the most beautiful scenery along canals in France.

Alsace and Language

The two regions in which we'll be spending the rest of the summer, Alsace and Lorraine, are almost as closely tied to Germany as they are to France. Strasbourg joined France in the late 1600's but Germany annexed both Alsace and Lorraine after the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870's. The regions returned to France after World War 1, only to be taken over again during WWII from 1940-44. The food, the architecture and the attitudes owe much to Germany and the language shows it. We can hear the German influence in the French spoken here and, in fact, there is a kind of "high" German called Elsassisch, that is still spoken locally. People here seem to get along fine in both French and German, although they are usually more comfortable in one than the other. Listening to people speak in Kunheim while we watched the third place match in the World Cup between Germany and Uruguay, one person would speak in French but the reply might come in German, or some combination of the two. In Colmar, when Tim asked the girl cleaning the capitanerie if it was alright to walk across they newly mopped floor, her reply was a perfect example of the language combination. "Alles c'est bon," she said in German and French.

Strasbourg July 16-21

Once again the mighty Rhine was easily navigated. There was a bit more commercial traffic so the washing machine effect was more pronounced but, since it was still very hot and more electricity was being generated by the huge hydroelectric station at each lock, the current was even stronger. On some portions Odysseus was making over 12 k per hour! We entered the river about 10 am and left it behind about 2 pm traveled until about 4:30 and found a spot in the deep shade to tie up for the night. The weather forecast had one more hot day and then thunderstorms but it was already cloudy as we went to bed. If it was hot, we'd stay put but when we got up the clouds had thickened and rain looked possible. We figured we'd travel the last 16 k into Strasbourg. We arrived a little after noon, found a spot to moor in the Bassin l'Hopital and settled in for a couple days. Our friend Inez would be joining us on Monday.

It did rain a bit on Saturday but it was sunny on Sunday. Into the city we went.
One of the first stops in the city has to be the cathedral Notre-Dame of Strasbourg. Built on the foundation of an old basilica from 1015 that later burned, the cathedral was constructed over a period of almost 300 years, from 1176 until the steeple was completed in 1439.

The stone statues around the door are intricately carved. This is the center of the three portals along the front of the cathedral.

A couple of days later we would take the 332 steps up to the porch just below the main steeple. This gave a great view over Strasbourg.

It would also give a good view of the famous "flying buttresses," a feature of all gothic cathedral. This method of reinforcing the walls let the designers add more window space, greatly illuminating the interior of the previously dark churches.

The River Ill surrounds one side of the the old city, the Canal du Faux Ramparts the other; the Canal Rhone au Rhine crosses south of the city just south of the river. Private boats are no longer allowed through the center but there are tour boats that will take you around and then up the river to where it intersects with the Canal Marne au Rhine, the next canal we'll be traveling.
Just where the river splits is an island, "Petite France", Strasbourgs most picturesque neighborhood.

After Inez arrived on Monday afternoon we decided it would be a good day for that boat trip through town.

The Colmar Embranchement - July 11-15

After the big, bad Rhine River, the canal to Colmar was a welcome calm. We spent the night in the small village of Kunheim, just 6 kilometers off the Rhine, then got up early to make the last 22 k into Colmar; it was Sunday, Don's birthday, and a true French Sunday lunch was called for.

Down the Colmar Canal. Picture by Tim.

Sunday lunch in France is an event. Most shops and businesses are closed and the French either gather at someones house for a table-groaning affair or take part in the three hour restaurant meal. We parked the boat in the Colmar marina about noon and asked the port captain for a restaurant recommendation. He not only recommended a place, he made us a reservation! Map in hand we set out for "La Soi," or as it came to be known, "House of Pig."
It is truly a family style restaurant up a small side street and we really didn't know what we were getting into when we ordered. It seemed reasonable to order a salad and then main course until the salad appeared. It was a meal in itself. By the time we had consumed all of the (really good) food we could, there was nothing else to do but nap. Besides, it was beastly hot again (in the 90's), so there was not much else to do. This was also our first "tarte flambe" of the trip. This Alsatian specialty is like a very thin crusted pizza but with no tomato sauce. Instead it is topped with cream and onions. The traditional comes with lardons (bacon bits) and cheese, and there are also varieties with extra cheese or mushrooms. The one we had at "La Soi" was excellent. It will be the tarte flambe to be measured against for the rest of our time in Alsace.

A "tarte flambe" on the street.

Colmar is in the very center of the Alsatian wine region. As a result, it is chock full of tourists. It's been prettified almost to Disneyfication but some areas, particularly "Little Venice," with it's small canals and streams,are very beautiful.

Tuesday we took a bus up into the nearby vineyards in the village of Turkheim, just at the mouth of the Munster Valley. The views of the small villages reminded us of last year in Champagne. We wished it was cool like that. The weather continued very hot.

Delicious wines in the making.

Wednesday was "Fete National," France's equivalent of our 4th of July. Colmar would have a huge celebration with music and fireworks on Tuesday night. Cathy Jo was feeling a little under the weather so Tim and I made our way into downtown Colmar. We endured a really bad cover band, drank waaay too much cheap beer and saw a really amazing fireworks display coordinated with ear crashing music. About 11:30 we weaved our way back to the boat.
Thursday we were on our way back out to the Rhine. We would have one more short section before we could enter the northern branch of the Canal Rhone au Rhine. We stopped again in the village of Kunheim where Tim took the bus back to Colmar. He was off to Switzerland and we were off to Strasbourg.

Odysseus in Kunheim.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Much Ado…Saturday, July 10

We left Mulhouse late Friday morning. It is about 14 k from town to the canal's confluence with the Rhine River where there is an overnight stop and we wanted to be ready to get an early start with the "big water" on Saturday morning.
There used to be a small canal, the Canal Rhone au Rhine Branche Nord, that went directly from Mulhouse to Strasbourg, our next major destination, but when the Rhine was canalised, it fell into disrepair. Now you must enter the Grand Canal, mingle with the huge Rhine barges for about 40 k until you can enter a side canal that travels 22 k to the city of Colmar. After visiting there it's 22 k back to the river for a short 25 k transit where there is a turnoff to the remains of the northern branch of the Canal Rhone au Rhine into Strasbourg. Since it is basically the Rhine, along with those giant barges is a significant current, about 5 k per hour on the day we traveled. Since we're going downstream, however, our usual leisurely 6.5 k per hour turned into 11. Screaming Odysseus!
Along with giant barges are the required giant locks. We would do 4 on Saturday, the first with Jeff and Helen on their beautiful Linssen motoryacht "Kairos."

Tim shows his manliness while Kairos prepares to leave the lock.

Luckily, since these locks fall about 15 meters (about 45 feet), the bollards that you tie to are floating; as the water flows out of the lock, the bollards drop with it. Line handling is very easy under those circumstances. Don't know how we'd cope otherwise!

This nearly 100 meter barge was leaving the Fessenheim lock.

Right about 3 pm we left the Grand Canal and ducked into the much smaller Colmar Embranchement. About an hour later we were tied up in the small village of Kunheim, safe and sound, with plenty of time for a little swimming before our aperitif.

You Say Mulhouse, I Say Mulhouse Thursday, July 8

Mulhouse is a large, sprawling city that was Swiss until 1798 when, overcome with revolutionary fervor, the residents voted to become part of France. It's fortune came from printed cotton fabric and all that went with it. Now it's very industrial and a little gritty but it does have a great collection of museums. Of course there is a Fabric Museum, but also a Train Museum, a Historical Museum, a Firefighters Museum and a recreation of historical life and culture in Alsace at the Eco Museum, but the crown jewel has to be the Musee National de l'Automobile. Beginning in the 1920's, local business tycoons the Schlumpf brothers amassed a collection of over 600 cars covering the entire history of the automobile, beginning with a "steam" car from 1878 up until the present day race cars. The largest group in the collection is a huge number of locally made Bugattis; coupes, limousines and racing cars, with the highlight two Bugatti Royales out of only seven made. They were made for royalty and it certainly look it.
The brothers fortunes took a turn for the worse in the 1960's but they kept collecting cars. After their bankruptcy, the collection was rescued by the state and local governments and opened for display to the public in the 1980's. It is very impressive; too much for one day, even for the most dedicated gear head. Plus it was cool in there.
Click this link for better pictures than I could have ever taken. The Schlumpf Collection Click on the photos/videos section and then "Espace Adventure" for a great slide show.
The weather was still pretty hot. Time to move on to our next adventure, the Grand Canal d'Alsace; the dreaded Rhine.

Down to the Rhine, July 5 - 9

It was really hot during our stay in Montbeliard and the marina was not a particularly cool place, although there is a very large park with lots of shade nearby. One day was spent on engine maintenance, with Herr Benz getting his first oil change and general engine room cleanup, and another with a 8 k bicycle trip to a nearby lake for a cool dip.

One of the most prominent buildings in Montbeliard, Chateau des Ducs de Wurtemburg.
Tim arrived without problems on the early afternoon of the 4th, we had a hamburger barbecue in celebration of Independence Day and Monday morning we were off for the last 11 locks to the top of the Canal Rhone au Rhine.
After an overnight stop in Montreux-Chateau, we began the decent. The first day would see us travel only 26 kilometers but clear 32 locks. We started at about 8:45 am and finished up just before 6 with an hour for lunch. Luckily, here the locks are all manually operated and a lock-keeper accompanies the boat. That allows the traffic to be managed, since boats are going up and down. We saw the most boats in a day that we'd seen since leaving Ranchot, about 6, coming in the other direction.

Wednesday was a shorter day with just 8 k and 6 locks. By just after noon we were tied up in the marina in Mulhouse (pronounced muh looz by the French) where we would spend a day.

Further Up the Doubs, June 25 - July 1

After Besancon, the river enters a deeper, more spectacular valley. There are many small villages on its banks and it is surrounded by greenery; forests and small farms. Limestone cliffs rise up nearly from the riverbank.

Our first night out from Besancon we stopped in the small town of Deluz. They have a nice new marina but, since we didn't need water or to plug in, we just tied up to a small wharf next to the city park. The end of the school year is approaching and there was a "fete" for the nearby school that evening in the park. Beaucoups des enfants!
We also found a great spot on a pontoon right before a lock to tie up for lunch.

Cathy Jo enjoys the shade.

We had developed a small oil leak in one of the new replacement hoses but when we stopped in Baume le Damme, the helpful captain of the local tour boat was able to help us get it replaced with the assistance of the local truck repair shop. Stops in Clerval and l'Isle sur Doubs followed. We then left the Doubs behind to follow the River Alan into Montbeliard. We would be staying a couple of days there. There are great train connections to Paris and that would make it easy for our friend Tim to join us for a few days.

Up the Doubs to Besancon, June 22

After spending Sunday cleaning up and generally re-preparing for departure, Monday morning at the crack of 9:30 we were off. Herr Benz was purring away nicely, and a good thing, too. All during the week of the engine replacement it had been raining and a good portion of the next two days travel would be on portions of the River Doubs.
Construction of the Canal Rhone au Rhine was begun in 1784 but not completed until 1833. Most of the canal was enlarged to it's present size by 1882 but it wasn't until 1921 that the last portion was updated. From Dole to Dampierre, the canal ducks in and out of the river. If it has been raining, as it had been, the current can be quite strong. In fact, the canal authorities had closed the canal for several days the week before because it was running too strongly. We found some of the river stretches on Monday and Tuesday something of a struggle, making only about 4 km per hour against the current. Since we were trying to be gentle with the engine for it's first few hours in the boat, we didn't want to push it too hard.
By about 1:30 Tuesday afternoon we arrived in the city of Besancon.
From McNight: "Originally established in Gallo-Roman times, Besancon has a long and rich history, sometimes as the center of an independent province, sometimes under Spanish rule. It's most notable feature is the hilltop Citadelle, fortified by Vauban in the 17th century.
Notable feature is right.

The entrance to town on the Doubs.

The city occupies a giant bend in the river; in fact the Doubs almost doubles back upon itself and the fort occupies the high ground at the narrowest point of the "buckle." Two tunnels, one for cars and one for boats, pass underneath the Citadelle, eliminating the need to go all the way around.
We tied up at a nice free mooring right under the walls, deciding to spend a couple of days.
Of course the next day we had to make the hike to the top of the hill to take in the view. Besancon was spread out below us and if you look carefully, you can see "Odysseus" and "Zee Otter," another barge from Saint Symphorien owned by Peter, a hot air balloon pilot, and Judy, a former ballet dancer, tied up on the pontoons below the fort.
The fort had most of the comforts of home so the soldiers and their help would be able to withstand a seige. The complex was really very elaborate.

After dark, the fortifications are illuminated, making a very dramatic scene.

Thursday night we watched the US soccer team defeat Algeria to move on to the second round of the World Cup. The only problem was we were in a bar full of Algerians so we had to be very circumspect when the US scored the only goal of the match in extra time.
We decided we really liked Besancon. It is a university city so there is a lot of activity; there was a nice "buzz" about it. We wouldn't mind coming back here sometime in the future. But for now, the river level had dropped, the current had decreased and it was time to move on.

We "Heart" Ranchot

We couldn't have picked a better place to be stuck than Ranchot. The halt is very secure with power and water available, a good boulangerie is right around the corner and a good sized grocery store is a five minute bike ride away.
Sunday morning after the bad engine news was delivered, as we were drinking our morning coffee, we noticed several people walking up and down the canal bank, peering at our boat and obviously discussing something. We saw them "framing" us with their fingers, movie director style. Since we're from near LA we immediately thought "movie!" and maybe there was some money in it for us. But it turned out they were a local plein air painting group looking for subjects for the days outing. We were picturesque enough for them. They set up their easels and went to work.
Meanwhile we were off on our bicycles. The Grottes d' Ossell is a system of limestone caverns about 15 k up the canal on the most excellent towpath/bicycle route and about 4 k up in the hills. The caves have been visited since the 1700's and stretch about 8 k under the hills, about half of which is accessible. It really is very impressive, with a very colorful collection of stalactites, stalagmites and other cave formations. The tour took about an hour and, luckily, the guide spoke English well.
There was also a rowing club nearby, We thought they may have an outboard or other small boat that we could use to get back to St. Smphorien but had no luck with that. We did see the boat "Esprit de Normandie," a boat whose owners we had met over the internet. They offered some advice but, since they were headed in the other direction and were only on the boat for a few more days, that was all they could do.
Upon returning to the boat, we saw that the painters had been hard at work and took pictures of the pictures.

We gave our boat calling card to one of the painters who told us that the press had been around and we asked if photos could be emailed to us.
When we got to Holland on Thursday and picked up our email, there was a note from the Mayor of Ranchot, Eric Montagnon, with copies of the newspaper pictures.

The Mayor and one of the Painters

There are several Odysseus' among the paintings of the day.
That's the Mayor in the back row to the left of the photo.

We replied with our thanks, using our computer to translate the email into French but composing the English version for easy translation.
Just after the engine was installed on Saturday, Mayor Montagnon happened to be walking by on the bank with a group of friends and stopped by to complement our French! We explained the ruse and he said he would stop by on Sunday afternoon. True to his word, as we were having our evening aperitif, the Mayor and his daughter Emily stopped by. We had a nice chat even through the language difficulty, and we learned a bit about the village.
About 500 people live in Ranchot but, as there is no industry and only one working farm, they use the train to commute to Besancon and Dole. The Mayor has lived in Ranchot for about 3 years and both he and his wife work for the railroad on the construction of the extension of the TGV (bullet) train from Belfort into Switzerland, due to be completed next year.
We thanked the Mayor for his hospitality but it was time to move on. Tomorrow was departure #3!