Our Barge, Odysseus

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Cruise Is Complete - August 29, 30

It was a good thing we made our bike trip on Saturday because we got up Sunday morning to more rain and wind.  Luckily, Odysseus has an inside steering station so we wouldn't have to get cold and wet between locks but we did have 13 to do on Sunday. Luckily they were all pretty close together and, with an hour out for lunch, we'd finished them by about 2:30.  About 3:30 we left the Saare Coalfields Canal and reentered the Canal de la Marne au Rhine, completing the loop we'd begun back at the beginning of the month.
We spent Sunday night tied up just before the giant lock at Rechicourt in the rain. (See the post about our previous visit here about a third of the way down the page.)
It again took quite a bit of time to negotiate the lock.  We weren't in a big hurry, a hotel barge was coming up and so we didn't get through until about 1130. 6 locks later, at about 3 pm, we were tied up in Lagarde, where Odysseus will spend the winter.

Navig France, a hireboat company, has it's very active base at Lagarde.  The owners, Jacques Lucas and Patrice Yax, are really building an empire here.  Patrice has a nice guesthouse a couple of kilometers away and they are in the process of building a restaurant just across from where Odysseus is in the picture.
I mentioned earlier that Lagarde is out in the middle of nowhere; McNight calls it "intensely rural."  This time, instead of being on one of the pontoons, as you can see we were tied to the bank, making it much easier to do the maintenance tasks we wanted to complete before we locked the boat up for the winter.  It also gave us a great view of the horse corral right across the towpath.
The view out our window.

There is also a Michelin starred restaurant in the nearby village of Languimberg, Chez Michele. We thought we deserved a night out; our first Michelin star.
We had asked Patrice to make a reservation for us for Friday night;  since it's a ways away, a member of the restaurant staff will come and pick you up and return you to the marina.  The appointed time came and we sat forlornly waiting for the car to arrive.  Patrice drove up with a group of people he was taking out on one of the boats for the weekend.  I asked about the reservation and his face fell.  He'd forgotten to call.  He said, "No problem, I'll take you!"  We said, "Without a reservation?"  He says, "Pas de problem!"  Off in the car we go.  We show up with our smiling faces about 8pm and the Madame looks us up and down, seats us and then proceeds to ignore us for about 20 minutes.  Luckily, we think they had a couple of cancellations so we were able to eat. The meal was very good, surprisingly reasonable and we think we had five desserts!
We made the trip into Luneville, the closest big town, to rent a car on Wednesday, and by Sunday had completed our painting, cleaning and winterizing.  We still had a week before our flight left for home from Switzerland so Monday late morning we were off for a little sightseeing in Germany.

Return to France

Our first stop in France was Sarrequemines, about 15 k upriver from Saarbrucken.  There is a very nice set of pontoons right in the middle of town in front of an old casino. 
Sarrequemines was once a major ceramics making center and the casino was built by the ceramics manufacturers to keep their workers out of the cafes (and presumable to recoup some of the wages they paid to the workers!).  Now the factories mainly turn out floor tiles and the casino had been a restaurant but was closed for renovation. We spent a full day in town, first making a trip to the grocery store to restock and then taking the afternoon to take a very enjoyable bike ride along the Blies River which runs into the Saare in town.
Wednesday morning we set off, passing thru eight locks and covering about 25 k until we made a bankside stop for the night. Thursday we pulled into a very nice marina at the village of Mittersheim.  We wanted to ride the bikes out to the medieval village of Fenetrange, about 8k from the canal so we figured we'd spend a day or two.
The marina was great.  It had pontoons with free water and power, the facility provided by the village and the French canal authorities.  It's a good thing, too, because the weather turned horrendous, with rain, wind and big thunderstorms.  We saw in a local paper a couple of days later that what they thought was a tornado had taken the roofs off several buildings and tossed cars around in a nearby village on Thursday night. Luckily things improved on Saturday and we set off across the rolling hills on our bikes.
We had left the Saare River just above Saareguemines and were now in the romantically named Saar Coalfields Canal (Canal des Houilléres de la Sarre), but, as the French section was never enlarged for the really big barges and the coalfields are now shut down, traffic is pretty restricted to pleasure boats. Our bike ride would take us across the fields and back to the riverside and another impossible picturesque village.
Note the medieval satellite dish.

Part of the old town wall gate still exists.

We had a nice lunch at the restaurant in town, biked back to the boat and made preparations for departure on Sunday morning. We'd have a long flight of locks to do before reaching our next stop, a return the the giant lock at Rechicourt le Chateau, back on the Canal de la Marne au Rhine.

Noise and Thunderstorms - Saarbrucken

We wanted to enjoy Saarbrucken. We really did.  They have a nice small art museum we visited (admission was 1.50 euros!), and like Germans everywhere, their blood runs thick with beer. Unfortunately, they placed their mooring spot for pleasure boats right across from the autobahn that runs through town which, because it is backed up by a big wall, makes the tie up unbearable noisy.
Not much traffic now but wait 'til later!

A German rowing club doing what Germans do.  Note the accordian player in the stern providing the entertainment.

The upshot was we only spent one night there and then about noon on Sunday after visiting the art gallery and taking in a classic car show across the river (beer for breakfast!), moved to the "Motor Boat Club Saar," just 2 k up the river. The people were very friendly and a couple of them enjoyed practicing their English with us.  They also offered a great side benefit, cheap beer!  They were providing us with the equivalent of a 15 oz bottle of Bittburger, one of our favorite German beers, for 1 euro! As the afternoon wore on, however, the clouds thickened and lowered and about 2:30 the heavens opened and a torrential downpour, complete with wind, thunder and lightening broke up the party.  We were thoroughly drenched.
One interesting thing we did learn before the downpour: in the distance of the mooring picture, you can see a very tall stack.  Here's a shot from the MBC Saar-

That is the city heating plant.  It is oil fired but the residents are very proud that it has won several "green" awards.  In the winter, steam is generated and shipped through pipes into the city. There are heat exchangers in the basements of the big building connected to radiators and major parts of the city are heated from this plant.
Monday morning we were off.  By afternoon we would be back in France.

A Food Blog Interlude

The next morning it was off to Saarbrucken, the capital city of the German state of Saarland. We hoped we wouldn't be too late for a Saturday market if there was one. We were too late but as we wandered through one of the city squares, Cathy Jo's eyes lit up as she discovered an American delicacy we sorely miss.
We love sweet corn. There's almost nothing better than a fresh ear dropped in boiling water for about 4 minutes then slathered with butter and salt and consumed. The French grow alot of corn; we see fields of it everywhere but it's either animal feed or used for biodiesel. Since we leave California in mid May, just as fresh corn is coming into the market, and return in September after it's gone, we really miss it. In the square was a friendly farmer with a whole pile of fresh, golden corn, still in the husk. He spoke English pretty well and invited us out to his farm for a festival he would be having in a couple of weeks but it wasn't close to the water and we would be gone anyway. We bought a couple of ears and did what was required.
Had to get a couple of bites before the picture was taken!

We now return to our regularly scheduled blog.

Up the Saar in Germany - mid August

Our next stop was the town of Saarlouis. In 1680 along the new eastern French frontier with Germany, Louis XIV gave the order to build a fortified town to his old friend Vauban. Thus Saarlouis. Parts of the old fortifications remain; one section of wall that was used as ammunition bunkers has been turned into some really nice restaurants, cafes and art galleries.
We also had our first introduction to the German method of driving shopping carts. There was a huge grocery/department store called Globus just a five minute walk from the pontoon in town. We take advantage of these opportunities to stock up on food and wine because it makes returning to the boat with the plunder a whole lot easier. It was Friday afternoon and people must have been stocking up for the weekend because the place was packed and we learned that Germans drive shopping carts like they drive their cars; very fast and with no mercy. Luckily the carts had no horns to honk or lights to flash; we would have been in deep trouble with our more leisurely pace.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Mettlach and the Saarschleife - August 18, 19

Our next stop was the town of Mettlach, for the last 200 years the headquarter of the ceramics firm Villeroy & Boch. Their offices are in a former Benedictine abbey that also houses a museum and display of the company's products. Mettlach also has several outlet stores; we could have bought clothing from Lands End but we controlled ourselves. Why we were really here was the Saarschleife, where the river completes a hairpin, 180 degree turn.
Just past town is a lock and just through the lock is a very nice pontoon with plenty of room for several boats. We staked out a spot and waited for the rain to stop so we could do a little exploring. A very nice bike path runs along both sides of the river from the Mettlach lock, around the "buckle" and on to a bridge at Dreisbach, just about 10 kilometers up the river. When the weather cleared a little, we hoisted the bikes off the boat and set off for the "Cloef," a spot up the hill where you can get a good view of the river. Parking our bikes and the foot of the trail, we headed up, with a couple of stops on the way to wait out showers, until we reached the viewpoint.

Mettlach is around the bend to the left, Driesbach to the right.

There is a diagram in one of the tourist brochures that shows how a 190 meter barge going one way and an 80 meter barge going the other can pass here but we weren't fortunate enough to ever see that maneuver.
We were pretty soaked by the time we returned to the boat but Thursday turned out pretty good so we left the pontoon and headed for the tieup in Driesbach.

That's the exit from the lock at the right.

While we were rounding the corner, we noticed a little niche cut into the wall at the very apex of the turn. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of bargemen and this seemed an appropriate spot for a shrine.

After an exhausting 1 hour and a little over 7k, we tied up at a very long wharf designed for commercial boats. Since we only took up a little bit at the very end, we didn't figure it would matter. We unlimbered the bikes again and made a complete circuit of the buckle, this time in the sun, stopping just long enough for one of those refreshing German beers on the way back.
The next morning we were off again up the river.

Up The Saar - mid August

The approximately 175 kilometers of the Saar navigation (Sarre in French) is actually two parts. About 95 k is the river itself while the southern portion in France is the Canal des Houilléres de la Sarre, or the Sarre Coalfields Canal. Boat traffic on the Saar River goes back to the middle ages and the Coalfields Canal was constructed in the 1800's but the river portion was not completed to the Mosel until 2000. Since the river portion is new, it was built to handle the big barges, with locks measuring 190 meters long and there are plenty of mooring facilities for big boats, many of which are also suitable for smaller craft like ours. Also the lock, being new, are all the same and well set up for both large and small craft. We saw some big commercial traffic on the river but it was easily dealt with. We saw nothing but hireboats on the canal.
Our first day would be a short one. We wanted to make our first stop in Saarburg which was only a little over 12 k away. We were tied up before noon at a pontoon on the river set up by a nearby restaurant.
We spent Monday afternoon wandering about Saarburg in the intermittent rain, visiting what they call their "Little Venice," and we mean little. A small stream connects with the Saar in town, it was blocked in the old days to service a mill and still generates electricity for the town so restaurants and flower boxes make Venice, we guess.

There is a pretty good sized hill above town with the required church. On the other side of the stream is the hill with the required ruined castle.

The view back toward town from the river.

We really did like Saarburg. We probably would have liked it better without the rain.
There was a sign on the pontoon that said mooring would cost 10 euros for a night and usually someone stops by in the evening to collect. No one showed up so we thought maybe they were on vacation. Wrong! This elderly woman was banging relentlessly on the boat about 7 am Tuesday morning wanting her 10 euros. I thought she was going to chip the paint she was hitting the boat so hard. You don't get away with nuttin' in Germany.
Next stop was Mettlach, home of outlet shopping!

Trier Sunday, Aug. 15

We were not going to visit Trier; it was further down the Mosel, we were turning off at Konz to head up the Saar River and there is no city marina; the closest tieup is several kilometers outside of town. When we were in Schwebsange, however, we met an Irish couple, Mike and Rosaleen Miller from "Aquarelle" (Just back down the Danube River from Serbia and Hungary with their boat. They let us try some of the distilled spirits they brought back in unlabeled bottles. That's another story!). They told us that there was a train station a five minute walk from the Konz marina and it was a 15 minute train ride to Trier. They said we shouldn't mss it. We're very glad we took their advice.
Off in the pouring rain we went. Usually I just toss off the fact that the weather prevented many pictures but with Trier I really am sorry. It's a remarkable place and I was only able to get a couple snapshots.
Trier was founded by the Romans in about 16 BC as Augusta Treverorum. By the 2nd century it was the capital of the Roman's Belgian provinces. It was the capital of the Gallic Empire in the 3rd century and Constantine the Great made it his residence in the 4th century. At that time it was the second largest city in the western Roman Empire, after Rome itself. It's had it's ups and downs since then, losing major populations to war and famine, then rising again. Somehow I just never thought of Romans strolling the streets of Germany but the evidence is right under your feet or before your eyes.
About a ten minute walk from the train station is the Porta Nigra, the old Roman gate so named because age has blackened its stones.

Right behind is the Stadtmuseum Simeonstift that houses about two thousand years of artifacts from the town.
A little bit further into town is the The Haupmarkt.

Of course Trier has several huge churches and old palaces and the remains of some large Roman baths, one found accidentally in the 1980's during excavations for a parking garage. There's also the ancient amphitheater that could seat 20,000 people, watching gladiator contests or animal fights held for the Roman Emperor.
One amazing building is Constantine the Great's throne room. It's not that impressive from the outside, except for it's sheer size. It has none of the gothic embellishments like towers or flying buttresses and no windows on the sides, but you walk inside to one giant chamber about 220 feet long and 130 feet tall. The hall was used by the emperor for state events and since the Romans were used to a more Mediterranean climate and winters in Germany can be quite cold, they were faced with the task of heating this gigantic building. They created a basement; the ground floor of the hall is held up with stone pillars. Giant fires could be lit in three separate chambers, warming the floors. Once they had the building warm, they used about 2 cords of wood a day just to maintain a reasonable temperature.
Over the centuries the building has been much modified, parts of it torn down then rebuilt in a different configurations, but in the 1800's it was decided to rebuild the hall in its original shape to be used as a protestant church. Along with the new, major parts of the old structure remain. That's what we see today.
Sundays in Germany are even quieter than France. No shops are open, just restaurants. The only people on the streets were tourists carrying umbrellas and maps.
We caught the 3 pm train back to Konz, hustled back to the boat and prepared for the next leg of the trip. We would be turning up the Saar River, heading south for our return to France.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Up the Mighty Moselle - Aug 12-15

Since the wend of WW II, the Moselle has been completely reshaped to allow for the biggest shipping allowed on European waters. We saw some mighty big boats and negotiated some pretty big locks but everything went very smoothly and in some stretches the scenery was very nice.

This coal barge, actually a "dumb" barge and a "pusher" barge a combined 180 meters, about 600 ft, long, is leaving the lock in Thionville.

A typical riverside village.

A view down the river.

Since this is a big river with big traffic there is no tying up to the bank just anywhere like on the small canals. We spent Thursday night right at the Thionville lock; there was a good spot on the wall in front of the smaller old lock that was abandoned.
Friday about 2:30 pm we left France. Here the Moselle, now the Mosel, is the border between Luxembourg, on our left, and Germany, on our right. I believe in the past I have made mention of cheap fuel in Luxembourg and the marinas are no different. We spent the night in Schwebsange after filling our tank and jerry jugs with the 1 euro a liter fuel.
Saturday after about an hours travel time we left Luxembourg behind, now completely in Germany. About 3 pm we pulled into the Water Sport Club Konz, just after the confluence with the Saar. We would spend a day here so we could take the very convenient train into Trier on Sunday morning.

A Visit to Metz' New Art Museum

Situated just behind Metz' train station, the new Centre Pompidou-Metz just opened in May. It is a satellite facility of Paris' famed Pompidou Museum of Modern Art, the one with all the exposed, brightly colored pipework. It was designed by the architects Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines.

What you can't see, just out of the picture to the right, is the great line of people waiting to get in. Not thinking clearly, we timed our walk from the boat to arrive shortly after the opening time of 11 am. We didn't consider that, since the museum just opened it's doors a couple of months ago, we might not be the only people eager to get in. We had plenty of time to admire the interesting architecture.

The design is really a cover, the white fabric stretched over the wooden framework, that encloses three floors of modules that contain the exhibits. It took us about an hour and a half to wind our way to the front door. We had lunch at the museum cafe, cheap beer but expensive food, and headed for the art.
One of the museums most striking features, beside the excellent collection taken from the parent museum, is that the end of each module is a window that gives a view out over the city, treating the vista as a work of art as well. On the wall next to this window is a statement by Oliver Mosset quoted by Ellsworth Kelly and translated by Cathy Jo, "In October 1949 at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, I noticed that the windows were more interesting than the art displayed on the walls." We wouldn't go quite that far but the views are stunning.

Thursday morning we were off down the Moselle River headed north toward Luxembourg and Germany.

Metz, the Ville Jardin, Aug. 9-12

Just before 3 pm we had arrived in the Port des Régates, The Metz marina. It's just a short walk from the center of town and the view from our back deck was very nice.

Metz is the capital of the Region of Lorraine and originates at least from Roman times as it lies at the confluence of the Moselle and Seille Rivers, a major trade route. After Charlemagne died in the early 800's and his empire was carved up, Metz became his son Lothar's capital. It managed to retain its wealth and power into the Middle Ages, when it proclaimed itself an independent republic, until it was absorbed into France in the mid-1500's. It traded hands several times between France and Germany, like the rest of Alsace and Lorraine, between the 1870's Franco-Prussian War and WW II, until it was finally liberated by Allied troops in 1944.
The center of town is just an easy walk along the bank you see in the above picture. Just through the bridge behind that hotel barge is one of the first sights, the Protestant church on an island in the river, the Temple Neuf.

The town center is dominated by the Gothic Cathedral of St. Etienne which contains one of the tallest naves in France.

The cathedral, with scaffolding, of course.

It's hard not to feel a little insignificant when faced with this enormous space.

This being August in France, the best restaurants were closed but an island just up the river did feature "Metz Plage," or Metz Beach, complete with sand, umbrellas, a swimming pool and playground.

Tuesday we took a walk around what's left of the old city walls, including the "Porte des Allemands" that guarded the city's east entrance along the Seille River.

The city is also filled with green spaces. In fact, the city contains more park space per capita than any city in Europe. We spent alot of time walking in greenery.
Wednesday we would visit one of the main reasons for our stay in Metz, the new art museum, Centre Pompidou-Metz.

To Metz - Aug. 7-9

Saturday morning we threw off the lines in Nancy and, after about an hour and a half, completed this portion of the Canal de la Marne au Rhine and entered the Moselle River. We turned north toward Germany but would make a couple of stops before the border.
The first was Pont-a-Mousson, famous as a foundry town. All throughout France you will find manhole covers made here. There is a very nice, quiet, free tie up in a park just off the river, and, as the name of the town is "Pont," there is one of the few bridges over the river, with the beautiful St. Martin's Church at one end.

Just down the river is the Abbaye des Premontres which dates from the early 1700's. It was devastated by Allied bombing during WW II. That important bridge, remember. It has been almost completely restored and is now used as a conference center, museum and art gallery.

Saturday night we had one of those "only in Europe" evenings. We'd seen posters for the weekly free outdoor concert in the place Duroc and seen the stage being prepared so after dinner we headed into town to see what was up. The helpful lady at the tourist office had informed us it was "accordion music" and from the look on her face she didn't think two Americans would be very interested. We joined the crowd listening to an hour or so of some pretty enjoyable French chausson, complete with the jolly fellow with the slicked back hair and the nimble fingers on the keyboard, accompanied by a drummer, guitarist and bassist. But when they brought another accordion player on stage and the guitar and bass players picked up theirs, meaning no less that four accordions sawing away, we had to beat a hasty retreat.
We spent the day in town at the museum and catching up on chores. Monday morning we thought we would leave early so we could arrive early in the day at our next destination. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas. We turned the corner out into the river to find a thick blanket of fog. There is some big commercial traffic on the river and we would soon be entering a narrow stretch. We found a spot to tie up in front of the Abbey and waited. Luckily, just a half-hour later visibility had improved and we were off down the river. Next stop, Metz.