Our Barge, Odysseus

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Nancy - Friday, Aug. 6

There's a pretty good sized marina for pleasure boats in Nancy but it's crowded and relatively expensive. Luckily, there are many free, convenient places to tie up along the bank and, since we can do without electric hookups for quite a while, we just found a good spot and settled in.
We can thank the dethroned King of Poland and the early twentieth century Art Nouveau movement for Nancy's high points. In the mid 1700's, King Louis XV of France awarded the Dukedom of Lorraine to his father-in-law, Stanislas Leszczynski, on the the understanding that on his death, it would revert to the king. Stanislas embarked on a massive, and largely successful, urban renewal project that transformed most of the central city into a model of then-current Classicism. The main square, named after the last Duke, is a fitting monument to his work.

At each corner are magnificent wrought-iron gates, two with beautiful fountains.

And triumphal architecture abounds: one of the other entrances to the square.

Nancy's other major claim to fame is the early twentieth century "L'Ecole de Nancy," one of the principal parts of the Art Nouveau movement. Nancy was a handicraft and metalworking town (thus the Stanislas Square gates), and the principals in the "School of Nancy" attempted to join the artistic styles of Baroque and orientalism with the then-modernism. There is a huge park, the Park de la Pépiniére, near the center of town. It contained this bandstand, a good example of Nancy's work.

We wanted to sample one of Nancy's many fine restaurants but it's the middle of August so all the best ones are closed for summer vacation. We'll have to try again later.
We were able to attend Nancy's "Son et Lumiere," however. Cities all over France put on these spectacles. We saw a great water and light show in Strasbourg. Nancy projected an elaborate spectacle on the facade of the City Hall. It was truly a spectacular. Stanislaus Square was filled with people oohing and ahing at the show.
The weather was a little marginal, gray and drizzly during our stay, so picture taking was not the best and, since Nancy will be our train connection back and forth to Lagarde, we'll be here again.
Saturday morning we were off on the next leg of this years journey, down the Moselle River.

Staff Cutbacks at VNF Really Hurt

VNF stand for Voies Navigables de France. They're the people that run the canals. Like every other government agency worldwide, they've been trying to do the same job with less money, meaning less staff. Many locks are now automated but we sleep better at night knowing they're being watched over by experts.

To Nancy - Aug. 2-5

Since we had cleared the boat lift we were at the "top" of the Canal de la Marne au Rhine; we had completed the climb up from the Rhine, we would now begin the decent toward the Marne. We would not be going all the way to the Marne, we would be turning north on the Mosell River just after the city of Nancy. Leaving the valley of the Zorn River, we set off across what we thought looked like the American Great Plains; rolling hills and lots of agriculture. And the summit pound, the space between "up" locks and "down" locks is really long, about 24 km. We went all of Monday without going through a lock. The first lock on Tuesday made up for it, though. Part of the improvements to speed commercial traffic in the 1960's, along with the boat lift, was the elimination of six locks with a single one at Rechicourt le Chateau. This meant that our first "down" lock would drop us 16 meters, about 50 ft.

An aerial shot of the lock complex from a nearby sign board. The lock is full for boats going down.

A hire boat gets ready to make fast it's lines for the ride up.

Once that hurdle was completed it was on to our next stop, the marina and hire boat base in Lagarde. We had stopped by this place on our way to France when we were first looking for a boat to buy and thought it looked like a possibility for winter storage sometime in the future. It is out in the middle of nowhere but the people are very friendly, speak excellent English and we kind of like being in the middle of nowhere. It also gives us the option of retracing the trip back and forth from Saverne next year if we want. We made the necessary arrangements Tuesday afternoon and then set off Wednesday in the pouring rain. It was only 45 km to Nancy, the next big city on our trip, but that's too much for us to do in one day so we made an overnight stop bankside in the village of Sommerviller. Just before Nancy was a supermarket right next to the bank. Your shopping cart can be pulled right up to the boat. One of the problems with being out in the middle of nowhere is that we hadn't visited a supermarket since Saverne. We tied up and restocked the wine locker, bought a few groceries and by 3 pm we tied up bankside in Nancy, Art Nouveau hq.

Ride to Sarrebourg and,Yes, A Sausage Fest, Sunday Aug. 1

The town of Sarrebourg was only about an 8 km bike ride away from the canal and we wanted to see it's claim to fame, the Chagall stained glass window in the Chapelle des Cordeliers. We set off on the bikes while the fishing couple did their work.
The Chapelle is all that remains of a church and abbey that used to dominate the central part of Sarrebourg. During the French Revolution is was taken over by the state and used for a hospital and soldiers barracks. By the time it was turned over to the city it had become so dilapidated that it needed to be torn down; the only part left was the choir of the old church.
In 1974 the city commissioned the artist Marc Chagall to design the nearly 40 ft. high window. Then, over the next 18 months, his work was turned into glass by the master craftsman Charles Marq. It was installed in the end wall of the chapel in 1976. It's a magnificent work of art. Supposedly no pictures are allowed so I didn't take any but I did find this link to the Flikr page of
someone who did.

We left the boat about 10:30 for the bike ride into town. We arrived at the chapel to find that it didn't open until 2 pm. The bonus was that entry is free on the first Sunday of the month, which it was, but we had a couple of hours to kill. Luckily for us, the city was holding it's annual vide grenier, a giant flee market in the middle of town. These happen all over France in just about every small town and village; the city closes down it's center, marks off spaces and then the residents set up tables and displays to sell whatever they want. There's usually a lot of junk but a lot of interesting stuff, too. Since we're on the boat we don't have room for "stuff" but it's fun to stroll around and see what's on offer. There's also always some sort of food being sold by a some local civic association, in this case the local chapter of the French Red Cross. It was sausage and beer for all!
The back story to all this is that when Tim was with us we went to a music performance in Mulhouse telling him he would be able to partake in a sausage fest. When we got there they only had "healthy" food. His partner gave him all sorts of grief about the "sausage fest" but we want to assure you, BJ, that such a thing does exist!

The preparation.

The result.

Monday morning we were off.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Fishing in France, the Friendly Competition

On Sunday we made the bicycle trip into Sarrebourg to see the Chagal stained glass window. As we were leaving the boat, an elderly couple was just setting up their fishing encampment right behind us. It seemed like it took an hour for them to get all their gear in exactly the right configuration, Oma put on her plastic apron and the fishing began. Several hours later, when we returned, they were still there, fishing away. An hour or two later, as we had our aperitif on the back deck, they began to pack up their gear. They had each been stashing every fish they caught a in mesh bag, one of which is owned by every French fisherman and dangled in the water to keep the fish alive while the fishing continues. First Oma pulled her bag out of the water, took some pictures and hooked it up to a hand-held scale. 18 kilos of fish, almost 40 pounds! After returning the fish to their native habitat, it was Opa's turn. He managed only 14 kilos. As we applauded their accomplishment, he raised her hand in the air. The Champion Pecheuse was crowned!

The Plan Incliné - July 31

We left Lutzlebourg a little after 9 am. Four locks later we entered the basin at the base of the Inclined Plane Boat Lift about 10:45. There were no other boats waiting so we had the ride to ourselves.

Two years ago in southern Belgium we road the Strepy-Thieu boat elevator. You can see pictures and a description of that trip a little over halfway down the page here. This lift is a little different.
In the 1960's, an international competition was held to design a boat lift that would eliminate the 18 locks and full days time it took to get to the top of the Canal de la Marne au Rhine. Opening in 1969, the Plan Incliné took 5 years and about $15 million to build. It included about 1200 meters of new approach channel and over 3000 meters of new canal cut into the cliff face at the top. It's basically a counterweighted bathtub measuring the usual 39 meters by a little over 5, weighs about 850 tons when filled with water and, because of the counterweights, operates with an electric motor that develops about 12 hp! Boats enter through a lift gate that closes, the basin moves along a track on 32 railcar-like wheels being pulled by two sets of 14 wire cables.

View from the bottom.

After just about 5 minutes, the boat has completed the 108 meter climb and the tourists at the top are waiting to greet you.

The view back down from the top.

Since we were going up we then entered the new canal cut along the face of the cliff. It was a quiet Saturday on the canal; not much traffic.

The next obstacle to be overcome are the two tunnels, the first over 2 kilometers. It's lit on the inside but still, a half hour spent underground is not one of our highlights.

The light is green so we're ok to enter the second tunnel, 475 meters long.

Just past the last tunnel was the municipal tie up for the village of Niderviller. The docks are still there but the water and power are turned off because the bridge has just been replaced. Since we're ok for several days without hookups, we decided to spend a couple of days there. We had some bicycle side trips to make.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Saverne and Lutzelbourg -July 27 - 30

I think I've quoted Hugh McNight's "Cruising French Waterways" before regarding this section of the Canal de la Marne au Rhin but it needs repeating; "Given one day to convert a person to the delights of French canal cruising, I would choose to take them along the 20 km of Canal from Saverne to Niderviller in NW Alsace. We would climb through the locks into the steep-sided and thickly wooded valley of the Zorn to Lutzelbourg; journey onwards to where the St. Louis-Arzviller inclined plane lifts our boat up a cliff face, voyage through the pine trees, and finally dive underground through two tunnels towards the more gentle countryside of Lorainne. It is a 20 km microcosm of all that I find irresistible about French waterways."
McNight would do it in a day. It took us a week. All we can say is, "Amen!"
We left Saverne on a cool, overcast Tuesday, negotiated the lock out of town and headed for Lutzelbourg.

Waiting for the green light.

After about 4 hours and 9 locks we were tied up on the bank in Lutzelbourg, surely one of the most beautiful villages in France.

We would spend about four days here, hiking and biking around the Vosges mountains.
Unfortunately, Wednesday we woke to pouring rain. Inez would be catching the 1:30 pm train back to Saverne. She was going to head back to Colmar for some touring of the Alsatian wine country before her flight back to the US at the end of the week. Luckily, about noon the rain stopped so we didn't get soaked on the walk to the station.
Since the rain had stopped, we decided to take a bicycle ride up to the Inclined Plane and check out the flight of locks it replaced.
More from McNight, "Built between 1838 and 1853, the object of the canal was to connect Paris and the north with Alsace, the Rhine and Germany. Considerable obstacles had to be overcome in hilly terrain, hence the many locks and several tunnels…. During the 1950's barge use had practically reached saturation point with many craft being…lumbering..vessels, mainly hauled by the towpath tractors…. The 1960's saw the replacement of the 17 locks in the Zorn valley by the St. Louis-Arzviller inclined plane and the substitution of 6 further locks by a single deep one at Rechincourt. On the 151 km Nancy-Strasbourg section the … journey time improved from about 94 hours to 53.
The ghosts of the abandoned locks replaced by the Plan Incliné are accessible by the old tow path made perfect for bicycles. It was a memorable ride.

An abandoned lockkeepers house and lock.

The old canal is now filled with vegetation.

We got back to the boat just as the heavens opened and escaped being soaked by minutes.
Thursday and Friday were taken up with hikes into the mountains surrounding the village, including one to the ruined 11th century chateau that overlooks Lutzelbourg. While walking around the site it's hard to imagine that people lived in these buildings nearly a thousand years ago.

Saturday morning it was off to the Plan Incliné.

A Promise Kept - Saverne and Alsace

It was still very hot when we left Strasbourg. After about 20 kilometers, looking for some shade, we found a tie up in the Foret de Bromath. Over 90 degrees F and humidity to match wasn't making the cruising much fun. We tied up about 1:30 pm and just laid around, hoping for rain. By evening our prayers were answered, the clouds thickened, the wind got up and rain began to fall. The next day was much cooler, cloudy and intermittent rain. We moved on to the village of Hochfelden, the home of the "Bier du Alsace," Meteor. They brew several hundred gallons of the stuff every day and tours are offered but we know how beer is made and decided to just wander around the village.

Hochfelden from the mooring.

The next morning it was off to Saverne.
Back in 2007, after we had tied up the boat for the winter in Holland, we traveled to Switzerland so Cathy Jo could revisit her old high school. On the way we stopped in the Alsatian town of Saverne, and, because we like it so much, stopped again on our way back to Holland. You can read the old postings here, just a little way down the page. As the Canal Marne au Rhine runs right through the middle of town, we said we would return. Finally, we were here!
We once again hiked up to Haute Barr, the chateau that overlooks Saverne, some of it built during Roman times.

The happy wanderers. We found an old Roman rock to set the camera on.

We tried to rent a car to tour the "Route du Vin" and sample some of that delicious Alsatian wine but, since it's busy vacation time in France, no cars were available. We managed to sample the wine anyway.
Monday, Cathy Jo and I decided to hike an area we hadn't been in before, on the north side of the canal, and Inez wandered through town. The Club du Vosges has set up signed hiking trails all through the surrounding mountains. They are much better marked that when we were here three years ago; we hardly ever get lost.Tuesday morning it was off down the canal.