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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Some boring (for some) technical stuff

Now that we have left the Meuse/Maas river it is interesting to look back on how far we have come and what has changed.  According to our GPS we have travelled over 522 km since leaving Roermond in August.  I don’t know how many locks that has been but I think we climbed over 650 feet before we left the Meuse and came downhill into the Moselle valley.  Coming into Toul we went through 11 locks in 2 hours. In contrast,  our first trip in May from Sloten to Roermond was about 550km and we probably went through 5 locks in total for a net gain of maybe 50 feet.

The locks have been in all shapes and sizes, from the giant ones on the Meuse that were 14 x 146m to the “Freycinet” standard in France of 38.5 x 5m and level changes from 6 inches to 50 feet in one lock.  The big ones, while daunting being in there with the very big boats, are are often the smoothest as the little boats (us) are in the back and don’t get the wash.  The smaller French locks can be the roughest as the water can come in quite quickly and move the boat around a bit.  Then there are the bollards.  Having a firm place to tie to is important and when going up it is not always easy to obtain.  Sometimes there are bollards set into the walls of the deeper locks and in some of the big ones bollards that float up with you.  In others the lock keeper will drop a hook over the side and take your ropes up -  better make sure they are long enough - while many involve scrambling up a ladder, rope in hand to drop around a bollard up high.  Most of the time the it has been possible to loop them on from the boat.  The trouble is that just when you think you have it figured out and you think you know where the bollards will be they change it on you – got to keep on your toes.  Going down is a lot easier than going up as you just motor in and drop your ropes over the bollards but … you have to make sure the ropes are long enough and they don’t get caught, otherwise you have have your boat hanging on its side in the lock as the water goes down and it doesn’t.

Armida’s engine is cooled from river water that comes in under the hull through a filter and a heat exchanger that takes the heat out of the closed cooling system that goes through the engine.  The water from the heat exchanger then get’s mixed with the exhaust gases and goes out through the pipe in an arrangement called a “wet exhaust”.  This helps keep the fumes down and means that you can tell if the cooling system in clear by looking over the stern at the exhaust.  In Holland I would check the water filter once a week when I checked the oil and coolant and would occasionally find a small stick or a leaf.  Since entering France with the smaller canals and locks there is a lot more debris and I have been removing the equivalent of a  nice house plant every day.  One more thing to do.

Monday, September 27, 2010

There goes the sun.

From Saint Mihiel the weather stayed warm and sunny and the cruising was lovely and relaxed and we said to ourselves, “Does it get any better than this”?   And the answer was no!   We stayed at the surprisingly nice town of Commercy, an overnight in a small village and then left the Meuse valley via an 800m tunnel and dropped 50m through 12 locks into Toul.  This was surprisingly relaxed and our first downhill since leaving Holland.  Toul was a pleasant enough, fully fortified town with a nice mooring but after one night we were ready to move on to Nancy so I walked over to let the lock keeper know we were leaving the harbour.  Mais Monsieur c’est une grieve.  Another general strike and the two big locks on the Moselle were closed.  Oh well, the weather was still nice and we spent another day in Toul.

That night the clouds came in and we were treated to a thunder 2010-09 969storm and the next day was cold and rainy.  We left anyway and spent the day on the Moselle and then into the Canal de la Marne au Rhine to Nancy and doing locks in the rain.  With the bimmini on the back it wasn’t too bad but one of us did get pretty wet. 

Since then it has been cold and grey but the rain is easing.  We  are hoping that this is not the end of the autumn and that we will see some more sun.  Nancy is a lovely town with a pleasant harbour and we will write more about it soon.  We will either leave the boat here for the winter or in a little town called Lagarde a couple of days away that we will check out soon.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Here comes the sun

After weeks of cold and grey we have been blessed with four days of glorious Indian Summer. I’ve got washing on the line, Rob needed the dry weather to get some work done on the teak deck, even the dogs are happy not to have to walk in wet grass.

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We’ve just spent two nights moored in a little town called St. Mihiel.2010-09 663 They call themselves “The City of Flowers” and we saw some beautiful gardens scattered throughout, flowers line both sides of the bridge over the river and the outlook off our boat was stunning along the path in both directions.

This weekend they held the regional Petanque finals, similar to the Italians Bocci Ball but with metal balls, just next to the Town Hall. We visited the Benedictine museum with its collection of religious art. Next door, behind glass, we were able to look into the very long room that has France’s best collection of old books, collected by the monks over the centuries. For me the most impressive part of the library was the ornate Rococo ceiling depicting lush scenes from garden to jungle. Later that evening we attended a concert at a 16th Century church performed by the students of the local school of music. The “students” ranged from 12 – 70 years of age. All have 2010-09 681been playing less than two years. They tackled six pieces some better than others. A Tchaikovsky number was actually quite good and the audience gave them a well deserved long applause. Some of the other pieces didn’t sound any better than Skye’s middle school band. The second half was a quartet of the better players. It was fun.

A Danish couple that we met at a mooring a few days back also attended. They are in their 70’s and have been on the canals for 13 years. In winter they have a small apartment in Malaga, Spain. Spring and autumn on their boat, July, August in Demark where they have two married children and one grandchild. They tell us it’s too hot and crowded on the canals in the summer. They are the first to say that, but I think it might be true.

As Rob mentioned there was horrific fighting, particularly during WWI, in the valley of the Muse River. In the 1920 there where whole towns to repair and build. Few have the former charm of the lost 17th and 18th architecture. But in this town, one or more architects had a say as to what style should be used and they chose Art Noveau.2010-09 6822010-09 646 The structures run from grand homes to small businesses that are just so lovely I wanted them all. Sadly many of them are now vacant going to ruin. The pigeons are moving in.

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Just as the state of Michigan has such high employment that people have walked away from homes, so it is here. And by the looks of it, it started here many years ago.

Real estate is not very expensive here. You can buy an apartment for 35K Eros, a three bedroom house for 160K and for 495K you can buy a beautiful three story 14 fireplace home on an acre river front. We walked past the house. Manicured garden with large old trees, a pond and the house itself so pretty and in nice condition. It’s sad that no one will probably buy it.2010-09 707

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Still on the Meuse – but not for long

Today we realized that it has been a week since our last post and this isn’t because there’s been nothing to report – quite the opposite, we are having a lovely time.  But with no free Wi-Fi we are using the “stick” for email only and not spending much time on the computer.  Since the last post we have had a quiet rural night in secluded mooring, spent 3 days in Verdun, and two days in this nice little town of St. Mihiel.  And you can’t spend any time here without being educated on the WWI as this is where is all happened.

Verdun was a nice city of 21,000 people with moorings (free) right in 2010-09 503the middle of town and some very nice buildings.  We had the best meal so far in a little restaurant near the quay, thank you again Trip Advisor.


The next day we bought tickets for the “hop on hop off” bus tour to the battlegrounds.  My impressions of the WWI battlegrounds were of pitched battles on flat fields, but the land around Verdun is hilly, wooded and very pretty. The first stop was an excellent museum that lead you through the war and the particular battle of Verdun that lasted 300 days and took ½ million lives. We had 50 minutes before the next bus so we followed the signs to the village of Fleury  which was the most moving of all the monuments.  Imagine one of the prettiest forested landscapes you have seen, with the light sifting through the trees on a gentle slope and lush ground cover with occaisional flowers.  Then you notice that the ground is not really smooth but is many hillocks and hollows and in some of the hollows there is the odd brick or concrete rubble.  In amongst the forest along side of the path are small concrete posts with a plaque on top -  Boulanger,  Farm, Boucherie and, near a small monument, Hotel de Ville, other than that there is nothing there.   The forest is all that remains of the village that was unfortunate to be in a key strategic position and changed hands about 16 times during the battle, by the end of which it was completely destroyed.  There are 12 others like it in the area.  The land was so devastated after the war with so much explosive buried (over 60 million shells fired) that it was all turned over to the forestry department. Now it is a tranquil beautiful landscape covering reminders of unspeakable horrors.

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The day continued with more formal and dramatic monuments.

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The next stretch of the river is still uses manual locks so we had to call the day before and tell them when we were leaving so there were people on hand.  I think I told them the right thing as it worked OK.
We got our own personal lock keeper who travelled with us through several locks and then passed us off to the next guy. Our last keeper gave Terry a pink rose and a “madeleine” cake. As we did 10 locks between Verdun and St. Mihiel this was helpful.  Our first lock keeper was very helpful and even delivered us apples from his tree after Terry admired them, not knowing they were his.

St. Mihiel was the one town on the Meuse held by the Germans throughout most of the war until liberated by US and French troops.

Today the weather was perfect and there were lots of activities in town including the Petanque championship, and a concert by the music school in the local church.

In a couple of days we will leave the valley of the Meuse for that of the Moselle.  We first encountered the river as the Maas at Heusden in Holland back in June.  Since returning we have been on it,and it’s canals, continuously climbing over 600 feet. It is a lovely river and we have learned about it’s historical importance from before the Roman times.  It will be like saying goodbye to an old friend.


Sunday, September 12, 2010


Toinight we are moored in the little village of Mouzon that doesn’t even rate a Wikipedia entry.  We are the only boat here – for that matter we haven’t seen another boat all day – not that we are complaining.
I got a mobile internet subscription in Charleville that came with the first two days free – after that it’s expensive so be prepared for some terse posts – so we have been indulging, to the point of chatting with Skye in Sydney while motoring along the canal.  Gotta love technology.
Last night we were going to stay in Sedan, which has the largest fortified site in Europe but when we pulled into the marina (which was empty) they were setting up the music stage opposite, and the loudspeaker was blaring behind us – we left.  We found a mooring off  the main river at a hotel.  Very private and peaceful and we walked up the gangplank for dinner – lovely.
Today the weather was fine in the morning and the river is beginning to peter out so there is more canal, but rural canal, up higher with lovely views and very peaceful, just as we had hoped for in the beginning.
I figure the average is about 1 great day of weather in 10 and our quota was up so it got black and cool so we decided to stop here in Mouzon.  It rained some but then cleared for the evening.  This town has a lovely Gothic Church, nothing spectacular just excellent proportions and beautiful stones, some nice houses and a patisserie that is open on Sunday, now THAT, and the four fruit tart we bought is worth something.
Terry has started the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and we have all three so I may not hear from her until Christmas.
General plans are to head south through Verdun to Toul and Nancy,  and then maybe to Strasbourg and back to Nancy where we hope to leave Armida for the winter..

Friday, September 10, 2010

Frizzy Hair

There is no doubt about it, summer is long gone. Weather is humid, intermittent rain, with an occasional gift of sun and mild temperatures.  Today I bought wool gloves without fingers so I can still do needlework and a new warm sweater for under my jacket. Bring on the cold.  We heard from PJ who had wonderful weather in Austria and Slovenia at the same time we were getting rained upon with chilly winds. 

We arrived in France over a week ago.  Until now we have traveled through small provincial villages that seem to be stuck in time and offers unassuming charms.  We just spent our fourth night in Charleville, a once grand city with a huge square surrounded by buildings of identical architecture from the 17th century.  We’ve been to three museums that offer information in French only.  We decided that their Regional History Museums (Musee de l’Ardennes) is one of the best we’d been to.  The content was interesting enough but the transformation of a 400 year old sandstone tannery into a modern museum was awesome.  The exterior was absolutely unchanged.  It was a three sided building surrounding an inner courtyard you enter through large gates.  The handsome three story structure with a high roof full of gables was untouched.  Once you entered you see that the outer walls remain the exposed lovely warm golden stone, yet parts of the interior feel as if you are in an Escher drawing with levels leading you in one direction on through displays.  All the interior beams remain intact, yet the rest is modern in a tasteful and pleasing way.  We began with the prehistoric bones of a Wooly Mammoth and ended up in the gables stepping into two rooms that made us feel like we’d just stepped into the home on a family living in the 18th century.  No book about the work was available at the gift shop.

Once we entered Belgium our culinary experience went from disappointing to yum.  After rarely eating bread, butter or cream, we eat it everyday with different pates, cheeses and fresh fruit.  Even though we are on a budget and spend about 5 Euros on wine we’re happy.  I’ve made myself sick with all this AND the pastries.  In the beginning we had croissants with our morning coffee,  Then we switched to pain au chocolate.  Then in this town we discovered the almond, chocolate croissant.  For dessert we have fresh plum, cherry or apricot tarts.

Although we’ve lunched a couple times at cafes (Noodle and Rosie too) last night was our first night out to dinner.  A couple of Englishmen who run a hotel barge, with two couples from Ohio abroad, gave us a recommendation when asked.  In the afternoon we walked over to look at it and saw that it was a Michelin listed establishment with prices to match.  When we returned to the boat later we thanked them, but said it was out of our budget.  In that case they sent us, not where they send their clients, but where they like to go. “ The Slanted Pig” a hidden bistro that was nearly full.  We did not order off the menu, but made our selection from the items offered on the 19 Euros prefix three course meal.  Nice starter, tender lamb stew with Moroccan spices and dessert.  Loved it.

I’ve finished two little needlework projects and will now begin a a more difficult miniature kit that was designed by neighbor, Marny.  I love the release and relaxation these afford me.  Rob and I have both read many books and look for English speaking material everywhere we go.  I bought Rob a quarterly magazine published by his beloved Economist.  It’s kind of like a cross between the weekly and People.  I’m loving it myself.  Please set a side any good books that you know you will never see again for us to take next year on our trip.  Listening to music and reading is how we spend most evenings.    

A typical Rob story that more than anyone our girls will enjoy:

Rob says to me that he’s going to take apart the electric toilet to see if he can make it quieter.  I say that he really doesn’t know anything about it.  He barks back that I have no faith is his abilities and how can he learn about the boat if he doesn’t do these things.  A typical Rob and Terry exchange.  I’m happy to say that It’s now twice as noisy.  And I love him more for being himself. 

Rosie and Noodle went to the groomers today for a bath and trim.  She did a nice job, made it personal for the dogs, they had full run of the little shop with treats, water and a free French lesson.  In at 2:30 and out at 5PM. 

The dogs have adjusted amazingly to being on a boat and the constant changes.  One would think they preferred it to being home the way they get excited with each new outing.  They’re fine with staying on the boat while we do no dog type things, they are well behaved on the street amongst people and show good manners when passing other dogs of which there are many.  Except for a very large German Sheppard that has been walked in the park just outside our boat these last few evenings where they go crackers when they see him.  It’s great having them with us.

We have zero news from friends and would love to  hear from you. What’s happening there and with you? 

Our best to Jeanne who is convalescing from surgery this week and Stephen who will be at her call.  Hope all goes well. 

Toodles, Terry

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Taking it Slow

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We are spending a couple of days here is Charleville-Meziers as the dogs have a grooming appointment tomorrow –  they have to look their best for the French dogs.  It is a very pleasant town with the prettiest town square we have seen yet.
Taking advantage of the Wi-Fi to get some pictures posted.
There are some of Belgium here and some of France here  (now with the right link)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Connected again.

Charleville-Meziers  7 September

Apparently there’s a general strike in France today but the locks were working and so is the Wi-Fi at last.  So there are two more posts below to check out.

Lost on the Meuse – 6 September

It feels now like we are in another place.  There does not seem to be Wi-Fi to be had in this part of France so we don’t know what is going on in the world – nor do we care for that matter.   We have had a few days of lovely weather and our best mooring, so far, in the little town of Revin.  On a secluded backwater of the river with lovely flowers and grass and quiet – yet 2 minutes walk to the supermarket.  It is popular with the season’s cruisers returning home – mainly Dutch and Belgian – and very friendly and helpful.  Even a washing machine.  What more could we want?

It seems that diesel fuel on the river is very rare in France and when you can get it, quite expensive, so today I invested in two 20L jerry cans and trekked back and forward to the supermarket gas station with by little hand trolley four times.  Here you fill up and the drive to the little kiosk to pay – it was weird to be standing in line with my trolley in a line of cars, and then I had to crouch down to see the cashiers hand to pay.  We didn’t need the fuel now as we have a good sized tank but you never know when it will be as easy to get or a reasonable price.

The Meuse now is beautiful – steep wooded hillsides right down to the river which wends it’s way around hairpin bends.  We motor along at a stately 8.5 kph and just soak it all in.  A couple of days of this and then we get to the twin cities of Charleville-Meziers and maybe even internet.  The other cruisers have given us good tips on where we might leave the boat for the winter but we now need to get a full list of “chomages” (canal closures) to figure out where we can actually get to.  Seems that this time of year they like to close some of the canals to do maintenance for up to 3 weeks at a time so it helps a lot to know where they are – and sometimes they just have lock failures that can have an unknown effect. Two leading contenders are Nancy if we keep going straight up the Meuse or Sillery) near Reims if we turn right.  It is good to find a harbour that is isolated from the rivers by a lock in case of floods.

This morning was beautiful and we had our first lunch out, but while we were there the sky clouded over and now it has turned grey and windy, which is a shame because we are now in a lovely secluded mooring with free water and electricity and it would be so much prettier if the sun where out.  Oh well, it was great while it lasted.

In France

3 September 2010

Today was our first day in France  Well, technically we arrived yesterday but our mooring in Givet was mediocre and we were tired and had spaghetti for dinner, so we are counting from today.

So today we:  went to the town market, did grocery shopping, put all Armida’s covers down, went through our first tunnel (500m long – we probably didn’t need to take everything down but better safe than sorry), used the remote control they gave us to operate the locks, had the river virtually to ourselves, had good weather, had even better scenery, moored at the cute little town of Fumay, had bubbly and Paté on the back deck to celebrate being in France, watched the local band parade through town and listened to them play the Marseilles'  – and that’s it pretty much.  Can’t complain. 

Happy Birthday Tess.

Oh yes, had no Internet - seems to be the way in France so this may not get posted for a while – these towns are too small for even a McDonalds.  So if you need to contact us quickly you can call, or better, text our French mobile at +33 630 818 417.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


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Dinant from our mooring – enough said.