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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Special Times

Saint Florentin

Last week was a very special week.  Not only was the weather mostly perfect (maybe a little hot at the end) the scenery and the towns and Chateaux as wonderful as I remember them, but Caroline and Phil were here to appreciate them too.  If you read the blog for August 2012 you will see how we also  had a special time with  Audrey and Richard Hope in Paris. They had semi-adopted us into their family when we lived in London from 1978-80.  It was their fond remembrances and hilarious stories about the canals of France that stayed with us and started us on this adventure.  Sadly Audrey has passed on and Richard is lost to Alzheimer's but their spirits were with us as their daughter Carline and husband Phil joined Lilou and me on Armida in Pouilly-en-Auxois. They both brought the enthusiasm and great humor I remembered from the Hope family.  I had told them that we could start down lower and cruise slowly past the Chateau towns or higher up with more locks.  They responded “more locks please”.  So that’s what we did.

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Consequently we breezed through the 26 locks down to Marigny-le-Cahouet  early enough to visit the mystical walled house that feels like it is still in the 15th Century.

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The next day, with my expert crew and ace locking team, we completed 20 locks before lunch.  And we didn’t start until 9:30! Given that 4 locks an hour is normal, 8 locks an hour was amazing!  Another 10 locks after lunch to complete the locks staircase to Veneray-les-Laumes by 3pm and we aced it.

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The next few days were more leisurely and took in the highlights of this rich in history canal including the serene and gorgeous Abbaye-de-Fontenay and the quirky and slightly weird Chateau de Tanlay as well as the bucolic scenery and charming villages.They were great guests and did so much I felt like the honoured guest.  They even braved the “clown bikes”.

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The week was over all too quickly and they were off.  We all agreed it had a poignancy to it as well as a lot of fun.  I have a feeling they may come again..

We left them at Tonnere and then pottered down in the heat to Saint Florentin where we will turn around to head back up and over.  I finally got Lilou a haircut – it is supposed to be in the mid 30s this week and next and she doesn’t like the heat.  We’ll spend a day or two more here in the updated port and then take a couple of slow days back to Tonnere where there is shade in the late afternoon.  I may do some more painting before Dennis arrives from Sweden on the 10th.  At least the paint won’t take long to dry.


Saint Florentin is a very interesting little town on a hill over the Armancon river and the canal.  It is not on the tourist roadmap and has not been overly “prettied” up like many other places in France.  Nonetheless it has some charming aspects and a very local feel. Here are some photos and some others.

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The carnival is setting up right next door. Time to leave.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Watching Paint Dry

Compared to the last week and weekend this week has been like watching paint dry.  In fact I have actually been doing that.  I am taking the opportunity of a slow week here to paint around Armida’s cockpit which needed attention. Being a boat means that: 1) Everything is more expensive and 2) It takes longer.  There are a few little places where rust has appeared; this means scraping and removing as much of the rust as possible.
Treat the rust with a rust converter and wait 12 hours.  Prime the treated area with two part epoxy primer and wait 24 hours.  You get the idea.  I hope to have two top coats on before Caroline and Phil arrive on Friday.  In between coats we have been wandering around this little town at the top of the canal.  The port is on the outskirts, about 1km from the centre back down the canal to where the 3.3km tunnel emerges from under the hill.
I had hoped to watch the World Cup final in a French bar as there is one right by the port but it was closed up tight.  Rain was threatening so I watched on TV on the boat and enjoyed all the cars out with their flags and horns afterward.  Everyone is still smiling.   Symbolically it was also Bastille Day weekend complete with a Parade and a Band (right past the boat) and Fireworks in the Port on Friday Night.  Lilou was not happy and was looking over her shoulder for a couple of days. Saturday had a fishing competition for the kids, Vide Grenier  in the town (where I managed not to buy anything) more music and free aperitifs.
The week before, I left the little Port of Pont d’Ouche after a pleasant day of rain, and another watching the Friday night concert in the port  restaurant.  The “Hillbillies”  did not really play hillbilly music but quite good ‘Ol 50’s rock and roll.  They attracted the bikies on their Harleys and a ‘57 Chevy (so I had one of those “Where am I” moments),  but also families, and everyone had a good time and left in time for me to get a good nights sleep.
A half day brought Armida to a rural mooring at the foot of the hill with Chateauneuf on top, one of the iconic views on the canal.  Anyone who has driven south from Paris on the Autoroute de Soleil to the south of France will remember this Chateau magically appearing on the left as you pass over the hills of the Cote d’Or.  The mooring is far  away from the autoroute noise and a delightful place to spend two nights and a walk up the hill for an afternoon glass of Rose (for me).
Two more locks up the hill squeezed in with a 14m cruiser and only 3 bollards expanded my solo experience. This is where the Hotel boats turn around and go back down to Dijon as most can’t get through the tunnel.  Most had left so i had the port almost to myself.  The other boat was a full sized Peniche beautifully fitted out as a home with all (and I mean ALL) amenities and occupied by Tom and Lisa from Thousand Oaks next to where Tess and Tony live.   They had come up from Saint Jean de Losne and were thinking they might just sit there for the whole summer.  I don’t blame them and hope to see them there again when I come back. We had lunch in what I call the “cheap and cheerful” restaurant by the lock.  It looks like a tiny place but has a huge dining room and at 12 noon people magically appear in this otherwise deserted village and stream into the restaurant for the “menu du jour”.  After that I think they all go home for a nap – I did.
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It was a small village though and I wanted to be somewhere bigger for Bastille day and decided to leave Friday and told the VNF.  They said there was a Hotel boat booked for the opening time of 9am so I should get there at 10 to.  OK.

Sure enough we were off at 9am on a beautiful day. With my crack team of lock keepers and my improved locking skills we  knocked off the 8 locks to the tunnel in an hour and 15 minute when the norm is 4 locks an hour.  Less than an hour though the tunnel – just long enough for the complete album of Dark Side of the Moon (the BEST music for tunnels) and in Pouilly-en-Axois in  plenty of time for lunch.
Last night on our after dinner walk Lilou and I passed a big barge with three couples from Melbourne and were invited on board.  While I drank a glass of wine she circulated from lap to lap (Pass the Pup) and was a big hit.  She is now officially promoted to Ambassador.
After the paint has finished drying by Friday I will do washing and cleaning in preparation for guests arrival in the afternoon.  Then Saturday we are off downhill!

Friday, July 6, 2018

In the Valley of the Ouche

Pont d’Ouche

Up to Dijon the canal crosses the flat flood plain of the Saone.  OK there were 22 locks so it’s not that flat but it is dead straight.  Dijon sits at the foot of the hills of the  Cote d’Or and the canal wends its way into those hills  by following the valley of the pretty little river Ouche.

2018-07-01 001 001IMG_20180704_081222Leaving Dijon the weed was still there but  by following the path cut by Hotel Boats I kept clear of it.  The weed

issue was on the front page of the regional paper so at least it is noticed.

This valley is very  green and pretty so is very popular with the large and exclusive hotel barges.  There are more of them than cruisers like myself and there are hardly any rental boats. Being stuck behind a Hotel Boat is a painful process and meeting one coming the other way can be interesting.  As they seem to start their Journey on Mondays I decided to set off first thing Sunday morning to get a head start.  It was another hot day and the VNF lock keepers met me at the first lock at the appointed time - 9:00am for me, 9:15 for them.  The weed cleared after about 6 locks and we made very good time.  I did a total of 21 locks and even in 34C heat did not feel stressed.  All the locks from here  on are manually operated and when there was only one lock keeper i was able to get some upper body exercise by getting off and helping to open and close the lock gates.  Most of the time there were two and they were not at all concerned with my solo status. There were two Hotel Boats warming up at the little town of Fleury so I kept going. The stop that night was a lovely little lock keepers cottage that has been converted into a B&B restaurant and small mooring. So far I have kept all my paint but the strategically placed fenders have been doing good work and acquiring some extra dirt.  My chilled Pastisse was very much appreciated.

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My first guests Caroline and Phil will be meeting me at the top of the canal on the other side of the tunnel on the 20th which gives me plenty of time to potter along this stretch at my leisure.  Accordingly the next day I only did one lock to the little town of Gissey, a favorite from out trip down this canal in 2011. The buildings of the old railway line are still there.  Interesting that the line has gone but the canal it was meant to replace is still here.  They take the knitting of trees to a whole new level here.


The next afternoon we moved a little further to the town of La Bussiere where it was Armida and two hotel boats.  When you look out your window and all you can see is Wine and Water you must be in France.


This boat is owned by Max, a Frenchman and his wife Bea unlike many of the others that are owned by corporations.  Max was born into the working barge life and went to the boarding (boring) schools set up specifically for the children on bargees. Their little dog Johnny and Lilou found some time to play together.


Many places along here are the backwater of the internet and at time only had minimal cell phone service – I think you needed to know Morse code.  The next day was the 4th of July so how do you celebrate in France?  Well a nice lunch at a Chateau of course. Well actually the restored Abbey La Bussiere that does a relatively reasonable and lovely lunch in the garden side restaurant.  Lilou was a big hit and was interviewed by a coupe making a popular Video Log of the region.  When we left I let her off to run around the beautiful grounds and she promptly turned around and ran back to the restaurant for more attention



Rain had been forecast starting on Monday but although the clouds circled and occasionally came close with some welcome breeze is had stayed in the 30s. Wednesday we moved along to the cozy little port of Pont d’Ouche (where they have internet) and the clouds started closing in.  A big black mass of cloud went by to our west and the thunder rumbled continuously for 2 1/2 hours but fortunately for Lilou we only got some rain and a couple of flashes of lightning. The next day was cool and rainy, nice excuse to hang about in our lovely cozy boat.


Here is another addition to my collection of weird watercraft of Europe.

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