Archive for September, 2010

St Mihiel to Toul via Pagny sur Meuse

September 26, 2010

Il Pleut….yes, it rained and rained and rained. Woke this morning to continuous rain, which had been falling all night.  The decision was made to continue on as the rain was going to be a nuisance whatever we did. 

rain Rain and more rain

Ruth and Bernice stoically donned wet weather gear and thru 10 locks efficiently roped off the bow.  Meanwhile, Roger and Roy  managed to stay under the canopy and remain dry at the stern.

overfull canal Lock gates overflowing with the rain raised canal level, also note the hard working bow crew.

Along the way the we stopped at Commercy to buy a few essential provisions before continuing on to Pagny sur Meuse. 

An unusual sight along the way was this triple bridge immediately before a lock

three bridges

short tunnel no wide bridge How to hide from the rain, a short tunnel, no, more of a wide bridge

An overnight stop at Pagny sur Meuse, a small village with a landing with minimal facilities.

pagny sur meuse Tied up at Pagny

For those interested in espaliered fruit tress this pair of houses was spotted in Pagny.  The tree on the left is a pear and that on the right an apple.


Next morning we awoke to better conditions and set off for Toul.

Before we left we were visited by a school of fish who literally took a break and swam quietly alongside the boat (moored) for over an hour. There were over 25 of them that showed no sign of concern at our presence.  The largest would have been around 15 inches.


Our first adventure of the day was an encounter with our first and only tunnel.   This was about 800 – 900 metres long and about the same width as a lock.

bridge and tunnel 2 Bridge over canal with tunnel in background

tunnel entrance Tunnel entrance

the light at the end of Light at the end of the tunnel

On this stretch of the canal we were effectively going down hill for the first time.  This meant instead of entering an empty lock and being lifted we were now entering full locks and being lowered. The first lock we came to was the deepest we encountered, 6.9 metres.  So we went down in the lock by this depth.

lock full In the first lock

going down Going down

7 metres 6.9 metres down and time to exit


Arrived in Toul early afternoon after a string of 12 locks in the space of 15 kilometres.  This is where Romany will winter over and also where Roy & Bernice will disembark and make their way to Frankfurt to pick up the motor home.

Verdun, Verdun to St Mihiels

September 26, 2010

Day two in Verdun started as a day of chores, particularly catching up on lots of laundry to take advantage of the glorious weather.   Then it was off to get to the Info Centre for wifi access to catch up on the Internet side of things and then off to do a little more exploring and shopping.


old gate One of the old gates in the walls of Verdun preserved after the walls were pulled down in the 1920s.

DSCF2183 Detail of drawbridges

from the top of the Verdun monument Top of the Verdun monument early morning

monument at the top The monument at the top

We both seem to be settled into holiday mode and are happy to wander and leisurely take our time to explore and generally relax.  Day two ended with dinner on the boat and and off to bed only to be kept awake by some noisy revellers. 

Day three in Verdun (known as Verdunum by the Gauls…….Asterix was here!!) and the four of us set off for the tour underground galleries within the fort, however we had not anticipated that we had to book a specific time for the tour so it was off to do other things until our tour booking at 2pm.  We then went to a shop to check out the sugared almonds and other delectable’s, as Verdun is the origin of these sweets (Braqees).  Had hoped for a tour but found the times clashed with our fort tour.  We also took the opportunity to have a bit of a tidy of all the paperwork and brochures we seem to be collecting.  Ann & Mike, there is a parcel on its way to you containing the said papers, please add to our stash at your place!

By this time the temperature had reached 30.8C in the shade. It was time to head back to the fort for the tour.  The tour was conducted in a small chariot holding the four of us.  It was guided by a rail system and programmed to stop at various points to enable us to view various tableau and models. The tunnels cover over 7kms, however the tour covers just a small section of the tunnel system.  They even had their own bakery producing over 2000 portions of bread every day.  Scenes were depicted onto screens with actors portraying significant events from various episodes in history including a very good explanation of how the unknown soldier was selected from Verdun and later placed to rest under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Very well done and worth every minute.

tableau within tunnels Tableau within the tunnels

Back to the boat and then out to see what else was around.

Landing stage on canal  Landing stage on the canal

signs of ww2Evidence of WW2

multicoloued shutters  Multicoloured shutters

not lens abberation No not lens abberation, just an old building with middle age spread

Verdun gate late at night Verdun gate at night

Came across a small shop where a man was making sugared almonds in various styles.  He offered us samples of a range of his products, standard sugared almonds, chocolate (like a Snifter with a chocolate layer inside the exterior coating), other flavours of layering, also other almonds that were chocolate and cocoa surrounded.  He also produced a range of small crisp biscuits in a range of flavours, lemon, orange, violet, ginger etc. as well they were shaped in animal forms.. needless to say we spent some time and some money in his shop.

Off to bed ready for away in the morning.


23 September

We left Verdun by 9am with lock keepers manually having to open the gates for us all along the trip today to St Mihiel. 

autumnal colours Autumnal colours as we leave Verdun

Tractors seem to be everywhere and Mike, they appear along the canals as well!

tractors 1 Tractor crossing canal lock bridge.  Harvest time for maize in this area.

tractors 2 and again

A quiet day cruising along the canal, by now, both Roy and Bernice have become reasonably adept at the rope work involved in the locks with Roy stationed at the stern and Bernice at the bow.  Roger manoeuvres the boat expertly and Ruth manages to loop the ropes onto the land based bollards.  Today we had a lovely lock keeper who followed us along to do the last 4 locks and at the final lock he presented Bernice and Ruth with a lovely rose each!

Into St Mihiel where we wandered the town to see what is around.  Here we found great examples of flower pots, the French seem to have them every where and on every building and lamp post, all potted up beautifully.

window boxes town hall   Window boxes in every window of the town hall

detail window box Detail of a typical window box


It was here we also found a lovely greengrocers where the fruits and vegetables are laid out beautifully.

tomatos 1 Tomatoes

tomatos 2 and more

DSCF2252 Radishes

decoration on the market building Decoration of the Market building

And in passing down one of the side streets we saw a familiar figure trying to get away

tintin Tintin and Snowy on the run

Today it reached 27.6C before cooling off in the late evening with a little rain accompanied by lightning. Tomorrow could be cooler and damp. 

Consenvoye to Verdun

September 22, 2010

After picking up our baguettes from the hotel and Bernice availing herself of their showering facilities, we were underway.

Early morning consenvoyeEarly morning Consenvoye

All of the locks we used today were manual, and to confound things further we were accompanied in every lock by a boat called Grand Duchy.  Both of us went through each lock together, obviously this is the easiest way for the lock keepers when two boats of suitable size are close within the canal system.  As they were slower than us this delayed our passage slightly.

converted lock keepers houseA converted lock keepers house on the way.

It was a perfect day with little cloud, warm temperature and mirror like canal water.

perfect reflection Perfect reflection in the canal water

We arrived without mishap at Verdun.

Bernice and Roy then took off on a town trip to get a handle on the place.

gate of verdun Gate of Verdun

Rodin sculpture Rodin sculpture

Verdun fortress walls Verdun fortress walls

portcullis inside Verdun gate Portcullis inside the Verdun gate

All in all a quiet day and certainly holiday like.

Stenay to Consenvoye

September 22, 2010

Underway again, in fog this morning but not as dense as the day before.

foggy day  Early morning fog at Stenay

For the first time we struck a significant amount of traffic going in the opposite direction.  These varied from craft much smaller than us to large commercial barges.

combarge 1

combarge 2

Also saw a number of old bridges which had been partially destroyed and never repaired.

bridge 2 Two partially destroyed bridges

bridge 1


Along most of the canal there are kilomtetre posts measuring the distance to the Belgian border.

kilo post

Very leisurely, with automated locks all the way except for the last few.  Could not see any automatic switch point so had to organise a lock person to come and let us through.  After this he went ahead and set up the locks and then operated them for us to go through.

manually letting water out Letting the water out before we enter the lock

manually opening the lock gates Opening the gates to let us out of the lock

ruth showing strength Ruth shows us how it is done

Arrived in Consenvoye which is the smallest of the ports of call we have made in our journey so far, no boulangerie, or any shop of significance.  We moored in the canal, as there was very little room to turn around in their harbour .

sloping wall lock Sloping wall lock with Romany tied to canal bank in background


consenvoye Yes we were there!!

However it did have an Hotel close to the mooring area so we decided it could be a good day to sample the local produce. 

 a range of local productsRange of local products

They provided a free toilet and shower for the use of people on canal boats.  We negotiated for them to supply us with Baguettes first thing in the morning which they were happy to do.  Very enterprising and deserving of custom.

Decided to have our evening meal on the canal bank.  So the meal, confit of duck and mushroom risotto  was transported from the boat to the table on shore.  Accompanied by a nice red wine, it went down very well.


Sedan to Stenay

September 21, 2010

Woke to a very foggy morning.  Hardly able to see the other end of the mooring site. 

prer dawn Predawn looking across the river

Trot off to the boulangerie to get the days Baguette supply.  On the way I pass the covered market where the stall holders are just setting out there wares.  Primarily produce of all types including butchery (beef, veal, horse, halal meat, rabbit and also all types of pate, terrines and offal), poultry (chicken, duck, rabbit quail and again various pates, terrines and offal), cheese (from large rounds of the harder cheeses to small soft and aged cheeses, mostly local but also from Belgium, Switzerland, Holland and Italy), eggs (duck,   hen quail), vegetable stalls and flower stalls.  All very interesting, some of the meat cuts almost unrecognisable.

Also outside the covered market people setting up other selling stalls for clothes and junk.

We set off from Sedan about 9 o’clock, after some careful manoeuvring to avoid the grip of the current and the finger to which we were moored.  Seeing ahead on the canal and river was a little difficult to start but as the day wore on the mist lifted. 

under way Underway in a lighter patch

We negotiated several locks successfully until the last one for the day.  Here we tried to activate the automatic lock control system but were unsuccessful.  This left us at the gates of the lock with two red lights and the gates firmly shut.  Had to contact the lock management authority by phone and they sent a Locksman along who arrived about half an hour later and managed to manually operate the lock so we could continue.

Scenes from along the way

cattle Cattle grazing on the canal edge

relaxed Life of ease

 wharf Wharf, perhaps past its use by date

Arrived in Stenay late afternoon and moored.  Roger and Roy took off to the largest beer museum in France.  Very well put together and very interesting, but no free samples!!!

moored at stenay Moored at Stenay

Sedate Sedan

September 18, 2010

17th September 2010

We have been in Sedan for three days now, the first two days were the end of the annual fete so we seemed to spend a bit of time wandering around the myriad of streets and stalls. 

An early morning walk around after buying baguettes revealed the river further down from where we are moored and the existence of a very large fort.

river River through the town

Fort Sedan Fort Sedan

Wednesday was spent in and around Sedan at the fair and then at various supermarkets stocking up on food.  Following Mike’s comment re Leclerc Roy found one in his travels.  It is a superstore cross between a very large Foodtown and a very large Warehouse in addition they have petrol and gas stations in the same crapark area.  It was all a little overwhelming and quite confusing to get around to start with.

Leclerc 1 Inside Lerclerc, very hard to depict in a photo.

Yesterday (Thursday), it was decided that we should have a go at riding the spare bikes that Roger & Ruth have on the boat, and with a  hiss and a roar we were off, sedately at first, but with no hiccups we were soon at Fort Sedan.  This is an amazing structure, it is the largest fort in Europe covering 35,000sq m. 

DSCF1977 In the lowest parts of the fort

Snowy 2 detail of Snow

Throughout the fort there were a number of tableau illustrating various activities

tableau 1 Guards on duty and preparing their meal

tableau 2  A wedding between two royal families


Then after a good wander around the fort we were back onto our bikes to head off to Le Clerc, a huge supermarket store to stock up on provisions.  Duly loaded up with goodies, Ruth & Bernice headed back to the boat whilst Roy and Roger looked at another store before mounting their bikes to return to the boat, this was where Roy was seen doing his papal imitations of kissing the tarmac!!  Suitably recovered it was not too long before they returned to the boat.

That night was the last of the fair and there was a fireworks display

Fireworks 1

Fireworks 2

We have been eating well and enjoying the cheap wines, we seem to have drunk some very very good wines that were retailing at only a couple of euro a bottle!  We really love the Boulangeries and in particular the baguettes that we buy each day early in the morning for lunch… c’est magnifique!

Yesterday (Friday) was one of the wettest we have had and Bernice and Ruth decided to bike into town when it was fine.

the intrepid cyclists in the rain The intrepid cyclists return in the rain.


Today (Friday) Bernice & Ruth headed off on their bikes to visit the supermarket (Leader Price this time) to stock up on the few essential items (tea bags!)we forgot the day before.  Today we are being joined by a friend of the deBrays for a few days so there will be 5 of us on the boat.  We are leaving here in the morning for Stenay and then we will be heading towards Verdun and eventually Toul.

Foodies note of the day

bernice Bernice supervising in the old days

Charlesville-Mezieres to Sedan

September 15, 2010

Woke up this morning to a fine day.  Roy went to town at an early hour and found the post office to send postcards then to the local boulangerie for today’s supply of Baguettes.

Rest of crew slept on for some time but we were only fifteen minutes late getting underway for Sedan.

On the move Underway!!

The first lock was unusual in the height of the lock walls. This presents some problems with tying up to the side wall.   Roger and Ruth handled the whole thing very professionally we were underway.

DSCF1933 Water entering the lock after tying off

moving out of the first lock Moving out of the lock

We then traversed some 30km of canal going through some six further locks.  By the time we finished we had both had turns steering the barge and had become quite good at handling the ropes in the locks. 

a working barge Working barge moored, we saw this one much later when we were moored at Sedan and it passed us.

We arrived in Sedan tied up to the wall and then found that the largest and one of the oldest fairs in the North East was being held in Sedan.  We spent a couple of hours wandering through the fair which extended over two to three kilometres of streets. 


snow conquers the pig Snow conquers the boar, straight from Asterix

Bought a couple of items and the girls had haircuts entrusting the hairdressers to do their best with no French spoken by the girls, and no English spoken by the hairdresser!  The result?  Bloody marvellous haircuts.  Meanwhile the boys shifted Romany to a better location.

moored at Sedan Moored at Sedan

For the techno geeks out there (Dad), Romany is a English built wide beam barge, 60feet long, 13feet wide and draws 2ft 8 inches (sorry….our metre person is not typing this!).  Launched in 2001, it has a Perkins 135hp diesel engine and cruises around 8knots.  She weighs 40 tonne.  She has 12, 24 and 240volt systems.  Colecraft hull built in Long Itchington and was shipped to France on the back of a lorry.  She is a 12mm steel plate hull, tiller steered with no bow thruster!   I hope that satisfies all the questions about this lovely boat.

And of course sign of the day

interesting sign roy

Need we say more!!!

Sur le canal

September 14, 2010

Firstly let me draw your attention to a comment from James.  For those that have not read the comment.

“You stumbled across a very good trivia question! Do you know the difference between a gargoyle and a grotesque? The former is used to direct water away from buildings (and the word comes from the French, gargouille, meaning ‘throat’), while the latter is simply an ornament that has no function other than decoration!”

So my naming them gremlins was incorrect but the function was correct and now thanks to James we have a complete explanation.

Now on again.  Roy was up and about early and in his wanderings took a couple of shots of the detail of the Reims Cathedral.

detail cath 1 Detail above entrance

detail cath 2 Saints lining entrance

detail 3 The downtrodden, detail of carving at saints feet

Also managed to find a market, but not just any old market, it turned out to be a specialised market selling second hand books.  However there were a couple of drawbacks, only a few of the sellers were set up and all of the books were in French.

market Setting up for book market

Also seen in the city centre was this intriguing sign.

eden park Not quite the same

We left Reims after a terrible nights sleep (roll together bed with springs poking through the mattress, combined with a stifling hot room) we had a quick breakfast and made our way to the train station.  Within 10 minutes we were on our way to Charlesville-Mezieres.  Have we mentioned before about how wonderful train travel is here?  Well, its fantastic!

Roger kindly met us at the train station and we made our way to the boat, where we unpacked and were soon sitting down to a lovely lunch out on the back of the boat complete with Pink lemonade.  We finally feel as though we are on holiday.

ruth and roy Ruth and Roy

DSCF1892 Roger and Bernice

The rest of the day and evening was spent relaxing and unwinding with the assistance of a little Champagne followed by Red Wine, oh and some incidental food..

After a decent nights sleep we were up and off into town for a little wandering, shopping, coffee and pastries.

palmier Palmier for anyone?

We then were to go to Lidl (Mike & Ann, Ken & Hilda will appreciate this store).  for some shopping.  Following instructions we boarded a number 5 bus to go to stop  CRS23.   After a scenic tour of the town we arrived at the end of the line at CRS23, was Lidl there, well no, we were out in the middle of nowhere right on the outskirts of Mezieres.  Oh dear, a mistake had been made, after some dashes into bushes to sort out needed functions we reboarded the number 5 bus and headed back to town after explaining our difficulties to the bus driver, who acknowledged that she did not know where the Lidl store was.  After a reverse trip of the town we arrived at the stop where we boarded only to have the driver tell us not to get off.   She then started around another circuit of the town, still as a number 5 bus but on an entirely different route.   It turns out there are two segments to the 5 bus route and we had chosen the wrong one, also the bus driver had called her base and been told where the Lidl store was.  She dropped us right outside and we completed our shopping trip.  After completing the shopping we proceeded back to the centre by bus and then walked back  to the boat to catch up with bits and pieces.

romany Romany at marina

french pukeko French Pukeko at the marina

Then off to Sedan tomorrow which should be fun as  we will be going through 6 locks.


September 12, 2010

After a dreadful nights lack of sleep, we both woke late so it was up and straight off to the train to Epernay.  But what do you know?  the train station is just 500metres from the hotel…..why did we have to walk/bus/trudge our way around the place yesterday dragging our suitcases along behind us??  I am sure it is just to make me walk a zillion miles each day!!  anyway, onto the train and zooming off to Epernay.  We arrived in Epernay sans map so it was off to the Information Centre to find out where we should be going.  But what do you know?  it just so happens that there is a complimentary Champagne tasting in the centre so breakfast consisted of four glasses of champagne!!

breakfast epernay Breakfast at Epernay

Across the road is the House of Moet et Chandon so we go and book a tour for later on in the day as we figure it was best we go and have  a bite to eat somewhere to soak up some of the alcohol.  After a lovely brunch of Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame, we again set off to wander the streets.  We came across a side street that looked interesting and just along a little we came across a place offering Champagne degustation tastings.  We made ourselves comfortable and were quickly into some serious tastings.  I might add that the tastings were in fact full glasses!  Along with the Champagne of different varieties and producers, we were also given small shot glasses of a chilled smooth gazpacho and cheese with olives.   What a great way to spend and hour or two.

us and snow All three together

snow lovinfg every minute of it Snow loving every minute

too much for snow Too much for Snow

cellar Too much to choose from in cellar below tasting room

DSCF1760 Colin this one is for you


Soon it was time to head off to Moet for our tour, thank goodness we were heading underground to their cellar as by this time the temperature was well up and we were melting.  Off into the labyrinth of the caves of Moet et Chandon.   The tour was extensive in the 28 kilometres of caves.  No we did not walk it all but enough to see all the various stages. Vary complimentary to the wine tasting we had had earlier.

endless rows

its been a while Been here a while

end of tour End of tour

sizes No Snow you cant have one of each

wine glass chandelier Wine glass chandelier at Moet

On our way back to the station finally solved the problem of the multiple griffens seen on many of the old stone buildings not just churches.  Whilst looking at one on a church at Epernay noted that it had an open mouth.  Then saw that it was connected to the spouting of a roof section.  Voila (as they say locally) the griffens are to carry the water away from the stone to stop water damage.  Used where it is inappropriate, impossible or too early to have downpipes.

DSCF1826 Griffen spout

Also spotted atop a building were these two who had obviously been turned in to stone, rather than salt, for their exploits in Epernay!!

some celebration

Upon return to Reims we visited the Mars Gate erected by the Romans in the third century.  Not in bad condition for being 1800 years old


Oamaru in 60 years Oamaru buildings in 1600+ years

Time for a quiet drink in the main street before heading back to our room to relax for an hour or two before heading out for a bite to eat.  We headed out to dinner at around 8.45pm (a la locals) where Bernice decided to try Fois Gras and Roy indulged in a glass of Absinthe as part of the experience! 

dining out Dining out

We cannot believe how many people are out and about, all the restaurants are full with the sidewalks overflowing with tables.  Families with young children are out eating (with no need for entertainment or special meals a la fast food outlets),  along with young and old,  it is all very civilised with lots of conversation going on and lots of noise. Of course all the outside tables are for the smokers, and it seems as though every second person is a smoker and the place is littered with cigarette butts.  Back to the hotel room for a customary fruit finish for the day two peaches and two nectarines between us, certainly getting our five pieces a day!!

Train to Reims

September 11, 2010

We had an interesting end to the day yesterday, we wanted to check on our accounts and debit cards to see what the balances etc were so we logged on only to be told at every account that our passwords and or user names were invalid and we could not access the accounts but we had to contact the bank.  So with phone in hand, we rang the number listed on the web site to be put on hold for a start, then after convoluted questions and us trying to find receipts for our last transactions, our phone ran out of money mid conversation!  By this time it was late at night here in France, so we quickly sent off an email to the National Bank as per the contact on their web site.  We also sent an email to our personal banker Megan, in Oamaru, in the hope that she may be able to assist in some way. 

Within an hour the telephone rang, and it was Megan from Oamaru National Bank – with ALL the information to hand that we required.   Now how is that for service??  HUGE kudos goes to Megan for quickly responding and sorting out everything for us.  Within minutes we also received a confirmation email with all the details we were after.

After breakfasting the French way – croissant and tea (ok so it should have been coffee) -  the first objective this morning was to top up the telephone account, again a very kind gentleman at the Orange Network did this for me AND he also changed the settings back to English for me!

Next it was off to a bank to withdraw some funds for the next few days.  And then onto the train station to catch the train to Reims, only this time we were to be travelling TGV so a different station had to be found.   Along the way the male member of the party decided to go into a supermarket to buy a bottle of water…..…15minutes late I caught a glimpse of him wandering around the aisles – a quick shout to tell him that we only had 10 minutes to get to the station and find the right platform and train!! So it was dump the water and run like hell.  We managed to get to the station, then find the right platform (why are they always located at the bottom of a huge flight of steep steps??) and get onto the right train but not quite the right carriage – ooops, we had 2nd class tickets NOT 1st class!  Oh well, we just tell people that we are Aussies when we make mistakes!

We settle into our seats for a very fast trip on the TGV train.  Wow, we figured we must have been travelling at round 200 – 250km/hour as it was not too long before we were pulling into Charles de Gaulles train station then onto Champagne Ardenne where we had to change trains to Reims. 

hi speed Pictures out the window at these speeds don’t work.  You are well past the object of interest before you have pressed the button

We met a couple of young American students who were also going to Reims who told us we were on the right train. Here we also met up with a lovely Irish woman who was also keen to make sure she was on the right train.  For some strange reason the train to Reims was labelled as going to Epernay??!!

not the TGV NOT the TGV

Anyway, we arrived in Reims to a glorious day, where through some more assistance of another helpful young woman we managed to get onto the right bus into town to the Information Centre.  The Information Centre is directly in front of the impressive Notre Dame Cathedral of Reims!  Amazing sight. 

dooleys Dooleys neat your heart out.  The exterior is being cleaned a mammoth task.

detail Detail above entrance

bronze Copper griffen detail


Sorted a hotel to stay in and made our way there.  It has the smallest lift we have ever been in.  It cannot fit more than two people (intimately) or one person and bag.  It took two trips for us to get to our floor.

DSCF1731 In the lift reflected in the mirror opposite

statue Statue in the square outside hotel

It being 3pm by this stage we decided to eat at one of the brasseries opposite the hotel.  We chose the same chain where we had dined last night in Lille and again had a first class late lunch.

3 brasseurs

That done, we set off in search of a Laundromat, as no matter what, washing still has to be done!  But we failed that exercise, obviously there is no need for Laundromats in Reims so we abandoned that plan and decided we would sort out washing once we get to Charlville-Mezieres with Roger & Ruth.  We wandered around the city for a bit – found an amazing patisserie


palmier This picture for Hilda

-  and have decided that we will head out to Epernay tomorrow to do some serious tasting.  The rest of the afternoon is for resting and relaxing for a change.

not market Local market?  No just the fresh food display in the supermarket

And finally sign of the day.  Can somebody not spell?