We spent two days coming down the side canal to Roanne (Canal de Roanne à Digoin) in blistering heat. Not many cruisers take this canal as there are no big chateaux or major sites but it is a nice cruise through a pretty rural area of Bourgogne. It is also the farthest south we will go this summer.
There are only 10 locks over 55 km but some are the deepest in the country’s canal system. The deepest is 7 meters (22 feet) and there are no floating bollards (the things you tie your boat to) so the lock keeper has to lower a big hook on a long line on which you place your mooring line. He pulls it up and puts it around a fixed bollard on the side of the lock. Then you wait.
I hopped out and helped the lock keepers a few times, which is always appreciated. Even more appreciated is the cold beer I would hand them. Just doing our part for international relations.
Roanne is nice little city with the requisite allotment of impressive churches (that no one seems to go to), a nice pedestrian shopping area (which Roberta checked out, several times) and an indoor market with regional foods. They have the best produce here. I am eating a funny looking flat peach that is, seriously, the best peach I have ever eaten.
We took a “rest” day here – that means laundry, shopping and cleaning. The first day we walked to a little mall and were able to buy the last two small fans (AC powered so we can only use them in marinas) and two battery powered fans.
Tomorrow we head back north with promise of cooler weather!
Yesterday we reached the eastern terminus of the Canal du Centre in Digoin. The Canal du Centre links the Saône river valley to the west with the Loire valley. It officially ends at the Loire River where an impressive canal bridge crosses the Loire.
Today we begin a little side trip down the Canal de Roanne à Digoin towards Roanne. Hopefully it will cool off – temperatures have been in the 90’s the past few days. We met a nice couple from Florida who have been barging in France for 8 years a few days back and have been locking with them since Montceau-Les-Mines. They invited us to dinner on their boat (they actually cook!) and gave us all kinds of useful info about barging and the Great Loop (which they have done three times).
After four weeks on a canal boat in Burgundy we can definitely say… we like wine. We really, really, really like wine. We’ve done about 500 Km and 230 locks.
In the process we managed to lose overboard:
1 stake (for securing the boat to the canal bank at night)
1 sailing glove
and 1 plastic chair
The water is a hungry monster that must be fed! So far no human sacrifice has been required but…. well…let’s just say we have people visiting us for a reason.
Life on the boat…. is nice. The day starts with a cup of coffee and (usually) a stroll to the local boulangerie for the day’s baguette and something tasty for breakfast. Sometimes we will also get something for lunch if it looks good. Depending on what we’ve told the lock keeper we are usually underway by 9:00. We motor along at 6-8 Km/Hr (a good jogging pace), hitting a lock every 2 Km or so (if varies a lot) enjoying the scenery, which is always interesting.
We usually stop for a picnic lunch at a pretty spot (no choice if the locks are manual). This is when we have our first wine of the day. It’s all downhill from there. In the afternoon we motor for another 3 hours or so. On average we do about 15-20 Km and 5-15 locks a day. Sometime we moor at a town dock (if it’s pretty) or just out of town at a nice spot. We walk into town to check things out. Each town, no matter how small, has a stunning church and a memorial to the local people who died in World War I.
Almost every town also has a tobac and a boulangerie. The little epiceries (grocery stores) are dying out, unfortunately, because of the supermarchés. Sometimes there is a cafe (or two) and a pharmacie (I think the French are hypochondriacs)
Dinner is either something simple (cheese, pate, bread, salad) on the boat or a walk to a local brasserie or cafe.
We left the lovely Saône river this morning, heading west on the Canal du Centre. Our first lock was one of the deepest we will encounter – more than 30 feet. It was exciting (Roberta says it was not exciting, it was creepy. We were in a big, dark hole that reminded her of an alien spaceship).
But the Canal du Centre is quite lovely – we just have to get used to canal travel again (after a week on the river). The locks are deep but when we came out of them we were on a ridge – we were above a train a one point.
It is pretty … until the thunderstorm hit! Hail, wind, rain! Oh well. And did we mention the troll who reached onto our boat and pulled one of our plastic chairs into the river? We raise our glasses to a chair that served us well. It joins an umbrella and a cushion as offerings to the water gods.
We rushed to Chalon-Sur-Saône so we could have a full day in the “city” for sightseeing. Turns out that Chalon is actually quite a big city. Wiki says 45,000 but it feels much bigger. Definitely the biggest town we have seen since Dijon. To put this in perspective we usually stop in a river/canal town and walk in hoping there will be at least a boulangerie and, if we are lucky, a restaurant. Often there is just one and it is closed. Sometimes there are two and one is open. We often have no choice. Not complaining, we have had some wonderful meals from little brasseries in small towns.
This is not Chalon, however. There are dozens of restaurants. And we hit town on a marché day so a double win! Fresh produce and a choice of restaurants! Also the home of the father of photography – and no, not Daguerre – the guy that taught Daguerre – Nicéphore Niépce. They have a whole (wonderful) museum devoted to him and photography. And shopping. Roberta wanted me to mention that. Shopping. Clothes. Cute French clothes. Enough said.
And they have an absolutely gorgeous 15th century church. I’m collecting them – they seem to have an unlimited supply.
And in the “big city” port de plaisance (aka marina) things can get cosy ….
We were warned. They were out there. The French built castles to keep them at bay. Still, a few hardy Englishmen managed to breach the nearly impregnable fortress we call Burgundy and we met up with one. Turns out the English aren’t nearly as bad as all the stories would have you believe.
Some (or at least one) will help with the dishes and helming the boat. We got one of the good ones but, unfortunately, he has left us. And we are sad…
Waiting for trains…
The English Marauder Leaves
But life and the river move on…. After dropping Richard at the train station we spent the morning in the local lavarie (laundromat) and then headed south on the Saône, leaving the “Petite Saône” and entering the “La Saône a grand”, where the river is not much bigger but you join commercial traffic and the locks get bigger. Much bigger. Huge. We entered the lock at Seurre alone and the lock could easily have fit another 20 boats our size (12 meters).
Spent last night (June 8) in Gray, our farthest north port on the Saône River. Gray has a beautiful 16 century Basilica which we toured.
They also have very helpful tourist office. We headed south this morning and were attacked repeatedly by roving bands of Swans. Swan gangs. Each gang required we pay “protection” in the form of stale bread before letting us pass. This is not the France I used to know.
We are currently moored under the watchful eye of this areas capo de capo of Swans. It will be an uncomfortable night…