Our Barge, Odysseus

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Up the Saone, Onto the Centre - Aug. 16-23

Tuesday it was up the river again but not before one last good look at Tournus, a town we really liked.

We still had several days until we were expected at the sales dock in St. Jean de Losne so we decided to revisit one of the places we really enjoyed when we were in this area two years ago.
Tournus to the village of Fragnes, just at the beginning of the Canal du Centre, took up Tuesday. Wednesday we continued up the canal to a bankside mooring a couple of kilometers below the village of Rully. There's another great chateau in Rully although since it's still in private hands, only the gardens were open the day we were there. It's still a very imposing residence.

Some winemakers in Rully specialize in Cremant de Bourgogne, the sparkling wine made in the champagne style. We found one whose output combined the usual chardonnay grape with the sharper aligote grape. Delicious!
The next morning it was off to Santenay.
Santenay is a beautiful village just on the southern end of Burgundy's Cote d'Or and the quay looks out on a beautiful view of the valley of the Dheune River. Once again we found our preferred spot vacant and tied up.

The picture from 2 years ago. Nothing's changed.

Friday we rode the bikes through the countryside to see the reason this is all here.

Pinot on the hoof!

After another great dinner at Du Terroir, a restaurant in town, it was off again Saturday morning.
It had turned punishing hot on the canal so we found a shady spot in Fragnes Saturday afternoon and spent some time seeking shade in the nearby park. Sunday we bicycled to the river, about half an hour away, for a little swimming. Monday after a brief stop at the waterside grocery store, not a supermarche, not a hypermarche, but an Espace Cultural complete with canal bank mooring, we reentered the Saone.
The afternoon found us on the pontoon in the village of Gergy where swimming was in order.
Tuesday was a long day, 45 kilometers but only two locks and another good look at what the French call "fishing."

By 4 pm, Odysseus was in the slip where it would spend the winter and, maybe, find a new owner.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Back to the Medieval - Brancion and Cluny

Sunday started off clear but by the time we hit the road it had clouded over again. We headed for Brancion anyway; when we visited on Friday we hadn't gone inside the remains of the chateau and it seemed like we really should.
Only residents are allowed to bring their cars into the village, everybody else has to park outside and walk in.
The town is perched on a spur of land between two ravines overlooking the countryside. Its dominated by the remains of the feudal castle which dates back to the 12th century.

One wall of the ruined interior showed an old fireplace with it's flanking windows.

Climbing to the top of the tower gives a great view of the village, with the church on the end of the plateau and the limestone-roofed market hall.

After Brancion, if was off to the abbey town of Cluny, and now it was really raining.
The monastery in Cluny was formed in 910 and it only took a couple of dynamic abbots to build the abbey into a major power. The abbot was very close to the Pope and the abbey church was, until the 1800's second only to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. All over the region, monks from Cluny built their distinctive, romanesque churches. But, as happens, the power of Cluny declined and in the 1800's the abbey church was mostly dismantled for it's building materials.
We never could figure out why the tower in town is called the Tour des Fromages, the Cheese Tower, but we climbed it for the view.

After Cluny it ws back to the boat. The car had to be turned in Monday morning and after a train ride back to Tournus, we'd be heading back north.
But first, one of the reasons we're here.

Touring the Countryside - Aug. 11-15

When we were in Tournus before our trip to the Seille, we had moored on a pontoon south of the city's main bridge. Stays there are limited to 2 nights. On the north quay, however, stays of up to three weeks are allowed and, if you know where to look and get there early enough, free power is available. We satisfied both criteria when we arrived Wednesday afternoon so we decided to take advantage of the situation, rent a car for three days and tour the Maconnais, home of the Burgundian white "noble grape," chardonnay.
Since there were no car rentals offered in Tournus, we took the half hour train ride south to Macon and picked up a car at the train station. Off we went in our Peugeot 107.
Our first stop was the Roche de Solutre, what the Michelin Guide calls a "true emblem of southern Maconnais…that can be seen from miles away. The superb limestone escarpment, with its slender outline and sphinx's profile, is one of the major prehistoric sites in France." It positively called out for a climb.

From the top of the rock you look down on the villages of Pouilly and Fuisse, which give their names to very fine white wines.

We wound our way through the vineyards following one part of the Burgundy Wine Road; the villages of Verze, Ige and Aze. We had hoped to find a restaurant for lunch but hadn't had any luck. We did find an open boulangerie, however, and after buying a baguette, asked the woman behind the counter if there was a restaurant nearby. "Ma oui!," was the reply and we were directed to La Dirose in the nearby village of Serrieres.
Those of you longtime readers may remember the 11 euro lunch on the Marne River three years ago. This was another one of those: three courses with wine included for 11 euro 50. The "menu du jour" began with a terrine du mason, a sort of cold homemade meatloaf. Usually your plate arrives with a slice of the terrine, a salad and some cornichons, small, sour dill pickles. At Dirose, we got the whole loaf pan with a knife stuck in the middle; serve yourself! It was followed by a fish stew (it was Friday, after all), and desert, all washed down with a delicious local white wine dispensed into the bottle from a tapped barrel. We waddled back to the car.
The days touring concluded with a stop at Brancion, a feudal market town. The day was gray and overcast, not great for pictures and it had been a pretty long day already. We just wandered through the village, but since it was just 20 minutes from Tournus and the weather was supposed to improve, we decided to come back on Sunday.
Saturday was a beautiful day so we used the opportunity to travel to Lac du Bourgé, France's largest natural freshwater lake. It gave Cathy Jo a chance to dip her toes in some really clear, cool water.

And off in the distance, the Alps.

Sunday morning we used the car for a serious grocery shopping and then headed off again.

Saone Ship Traffic

While not the biggest or busiest river in France, the Saone does carry a variety of commercial traffic.

Here's a barge with a "pusher" tug.

This is the older "peniche" style commercial boat.
She's about 130 ft. long and 16 ft. wide.

This guy barely made it under the bridge in Tournus.

We saw quite a few of these cruise ships on the river.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Why Young Men Would Enjoy French Canal Cruising

Tim just emailed us these pictures from our trip.

On the Burgundy Canal all of the locks must be operated manually (check out the "Lock Game" in the sidebar and you can see the principals by which the locks operate if you don't already know). During the summer when things are busy, teams of lockkeepers, usually one professional VNF (Voies Navigables de France, the French waterways authority) employee with a student or two hired for the summer, operate a string of 2, 3, or 4 locks and then pass you on to the next team. When we left Vandenesse, the VNF guy seemed very happy, whistling while he worked and greeting us with a hearty "Bonjour!" when we approached the first lock. Then we got a look at his team. Oh, la la!

Nobody else was moving yet so we got these three for three locks.

The lock doors open with long levers and the doors can be pretty hard to open when the water is still pressing against them. Ms. Ducret and her "friend" were putting their backs into this door.

And then there were these happy boaters getting ready to go up a lock. The photographer had abandoned his post!

Thanks for the pics, Tim!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Tournus - August 2-4

Hugh McNight calls Tournus "one of the most pleasing towns on the entire river," and we would have to agree. Just big enough to have all of the necessities (grocery, a good selection of boulangeries and specialty shops), but small enough to easily navigate on foot; great old buildings and some narrow twisting streets. It also has a two day free mooring pontoon with water and electricity (if you can fight off the hireboats for a spot!).
The centerpiece of the old town in the abbey church of St. Philibert, a romanesque construction from the 11th and 12th centuries, although the crypt (which is open to the public) dates from the 6th.

The interior has been tastefully restored.

Here's one of those narrow alleyways from the middle ages.
Wednesday morning we visited the 17th century Hotel-Dieu which the town has maintained in magnificent fashion.
We visited the Hospices of Beaune several years ago and this facility is right up there. The hospitals for the poor and destitute were constructed with donated funds; the nobles providing the money to fulfill their "Christian charity." The Beaune facility was willed several very prosperous vineyards to provide it's endowment; the Hotel-Dieu in Tournus wasn't so lucky. But because of this, little upgrading was performed over the years and when the hospital finally closed in 1982, little had to be done to restore it to it's original state.
Just like in Beaune, the patients had a curtained bed (with a stool to reach it) that had a door in the back allowing entrance to a passageway for the nursing nuns to use for access.

There were three wards, one for women, one for men and one for soldiers, all radiating from a central chapel that was visible from all the wards so the patients could join in the celebration of religious services.

The view from above; men's ward in the foreground, women's ward on the other side of the central altar and the soldiers ward to the left, out of the picture.

Another part of the building housed the Apothecary with its cabinets holding all of the elixirs required for medicine in the 17th century.

Hand-blown glass jars held these two "medicines."

Tournus is in the "Maconnaise" region, home of France's finest white wines and there's a great cave just outside of town that features the local cooperatives wines. On the site of an old gas station, it's only been open for three months and they've really gone all out to provide a first-class facility. It turned out to be a little more of a walk than we thought but, luckily for us, after our tasting and purchases, the owner provided us with a ride back to the boat in his car. Service with a smile!

Thursday morning it was off again. Just 6 kilometers down the Saone we turned left and though a lock into our next navigation, the Seille River.

Down the Saone - July 31 to Aug 3

After the Canal du Centre two years ago, we entered the Saone and headed north to St. Jean with a stop in Verdun sur le Doubs. This time we would make the trip in the opposite direction, stoping at Verdun again.

This time we were along the quay instead of tied up to a short pontoon, a situation we liked better.
We were tied up a little after 2 pm and made the short walk into town to take care of our principal task this time, eating the local specialty dish, pochouse, a very garlicky and rich freshwater fish stew. We had our fill for dinner and headed out further down the Saone Monday morning.
Chalone sur Saone was our next stop.
An important town in even pre-Roman times, Chalone was the capital of the Kingdom of Burgundy in the 6th century and a leading city when the Ducs of Burgundy ruled in the 15th and 16th centuries. Unfortunately, little is left of these old building but some artifacts in museums. It does boast the very impressive Cathedral of St. Vincent, founded in the 5th century and built mainly in the 12th and 15th century with towers added in the 1800's.

It is also the turn-around point for most of the river cruise ships that travel up and down the Rhone and Saone Rivers. This was one of the two that were tied up when we arrived.

What it also boasts is one of the most expensive marinas we've stayed in while in France, approaching Paris' prices. We didn't think the town compared much with Paris so we just stayed one night.

Our next stop we enjoyed much more, Tournus.

End of an Era? Well Maybe - July 30

We returned to the St. Jean de Losne waterfront on Friday morning and commenced our chores. There's a laundromat right across the street from the mooring so it was a good time to take care of the huge bag that had been growing in the forward locker. There's also one of the few waterfront fuel stations in France so we would fill up before leaving town. And it was time to make a momentous decision we've been pondering all summer.

It's becoming increasingly difficult to take three or four months off in the summer and we have a house in Ventura that is crying out for tasks to be completed. We are going to have to put Odysseus up for sale after this summer's cruise. Our hope is that in a few years when retirement is a little closer we'll be able to return to France and the barging life on a more permanent basis but for now we'll have to take a break.

We had planned to place the boat for sale with Christophe at Bourgogne Marine, where we spent the winter two years ago, but a business dispute ended that plan. Odysseus will be offered for sale at the H2O sale marina in St. Jean de Losne. If it doesn't sell before next spring we will be back, but for now we're planning on making this month our last on Europe's canals for awhile.

After papers were signed and pictures for H2O's website were taken, Sunday morning we were off down the Saone River, retracing a route we took two years ago.