Vezelay

We arrived in Chapel-Censoir yesterday afternoon and arranged a cab for the 20 Km ride to Vezelay where one walks up “to the imposing basilica perched high above”, which “with its immense Christ in Glory, is one of the greatest Romanesque works of art in the West.” Well, okay.

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Approaching Vezelay
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The Basilique Sante Marie-Madelaine
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The inner entry of the Basilique
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The main part of the church

We arrived just as Vespers were starting so we did not get to see the crypt but we did get to hear some lovely singing. Vezelay is a major stop on the the pilgrimage route (Route of Santiago de Compostela) and we saw several hiker/pilgrims at the service.

At the back of the church, the hill overlooks a broad valley.

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The view from the back of the Basilique
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Two good looking pilgrims

Boat Life

Thought I would do a post about life on the boat. The boat, our home for the past 6 weeks is a ~20 year old Locaboat “Penichette” (little Peniché) called “Bray Sur Somme”. It has a “pullman berth” style double in the front (i.e. only one side has access) and a “wet” head (no separate shower stall).

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Forward Berth
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Forward Head

In the back are two sleeping areas, a second pullman berth and two single bunk beds, along with a second head in two separate rooms, a toilet and a sink/shower.

Just back of the forward berth is the galley with a stove/oven (propane), and (sizeable) top-loading refrigerator. Between the galley and he back berth is the main salon with the table and seating and also the inside helm station.

On deck there is a separate helm (the one we almost always use since it is higher and in the center of the boat so easier to use) and a table and seating for eating al fresco (which we almost always do when the weather is nice). We also have a small table and four chairs we take off the boat when the weather and mood suits us.

The boat has a 420L diesel tank and a 700L fresh water tank. We burn about 2L/Hr of diesel which means our range is about 40 days (at 5 hours running a day). This doesn’t translate directly into distance because of the locks.  Water is a lot easier to get which is good because we need it more often. Still, assuming 5-10 gallons/day/person (which is generous), we can easily go 3-4 days with four people.

The boat has a pretty decent heater which runs off diesel with radiators in all the rooms. We have only used it a couple of times (on the rainy and 40 degree days). The boat has no generator or air conditioner so we only have AC power when we are plugged in at a marina (which we do about once a week). We charge our phones off the 12 volt boat battery (there is a car-style 12V receptacle at the helm station).  We always have hot water (the water is heated from the engine and stays hot for at least 24 hours) and is usually so hot you have to be careful with it.

The toilets are electric (pump in water, pump out). Surprisingly they do not use the black water tank on the boat – everything goes overboard. We have little TP garbage cans in each head so only organic material goes overboard. This means swimming in the canal is not attractive but we have swum in the rivers.

The day starts with a walk to a boulangerie (if we are near a town) or, if not, Roberta will whip up a nice omelette. Okay, that was a joke. In six weeks we have made toast, boiled eggs and cooked a piece of salmon for a salad. We usually start motoring at 9 or 9:30 (the locks do not open until 9:00) and motor to lunch (the locks are closed from noon to 1:00). In the afternoon it varies depending on where we are trying to get to but we are usually stopped for the evening by 3:00 or so. Then a walk to town (if are near one) for sightseeing/shopping and dinner if we find a brasserie or restaurant we like.

 

Rain and Alaskans

Our Alaskan visitors, John and Christin have arrived! We had all kinds of adventures picking them up. We rented a car from a supermarché in Decize which was a little weird. Had a little hiccup getting the car because they required “un justificatif de domicile en FRANCE récent de moins de trois mois” (proof of residence) which, of course, we did not have. They were helpful, though, and suggested a utility bill from our home in Houston which we provided (via email and the internet) which satisfied them.

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John and Christin (in a brief, non-rain, period)

We ended up with a little manual Clio (no automatics) for a day and a half for 68 Euros which seemed reasonable. We drove to Nevers several hours early to do a little shopping (we have a car!). Strange driving at 90 Km/Hr when, for the past 6 weeks, our top speed has been 8-10 km/hr.

And, just as the French train system seemed to be collapsing (the arrival and departure screen showed all the trains “en retard” by 1 – 2 hours), the train arrived with John and Christin. Drove back to Decize in the rain and prepared to leave for the Canal de Nivernais the following afternoon (Wednesday). The first two days on the Nivernais have been fun but rainy. It rained almost all day today but the day ended with some excitement as we passed through our first multi-locks (ganged locks), the last of which was a triple (three lock cavities and four sets of doors) with a 24 foot ascent.

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Our newest helmsman

After suffering through 95 plus days on the Canal de Roanne last week the high today was  in the mid 50’s.

Hot, Hot, Hot Roanne

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.

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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.

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Jason helping a lock keeper.

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.

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Pedestrian shopping area in Roanne
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Our mooring in Roanne.

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.

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What the heck! June in Burgundy???

Tomorrow we head back north with promise of cooler weather!

Le fin du Canal du Centre!

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.

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The canal bridge over the Loire at night
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Boat passing over the Loire
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Canal du Centre

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).

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Local celebreties in Digoin

Four weeks afloat…

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.

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The meanderings of “Bray Sur Somme”

In the process we managed to lose overboard:

  • 2 umbrellas
  • 1 stake (for securing the boat to the canal bank at night)
  • 1 cushion
  • 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.

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An typical lock expert

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.

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The Admiral takes the helm

Barging above Burgundy

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.

 

Adventures in the “Big City”

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 ….

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Bray Sur Somme “kissing” her neighbor

An encounter with a “Marauding English Invader”

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…

 

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).

We plan to spend another day or two on the Saône then head west on the Canal du Centre in Chalon-sur-Saône (“a French canal running from Digoin, where it joins the Canal latéral à la Loire, to the River Saône in Chalon-sur-Saône.  It was opened in 1792 …” Wikipedia).

Turning South and Swan Gangs!

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.

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The local swan gang, known locally as the Crips.

We are currently moored under the watchful eye of this areas capo de capo of Swans. It will be an uncomfortable night…

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“Youse guys got any bread????”