Saturday, May 27, 2017

Pouilly Tunnel

During the last three years of cruising in France we have been through a number of tunnels - short ones, long ones, well lit ones, fairly dark ones, straight ones and bendy ones and even one where we had to be pulled through in convoy by a chain tug as it was over 5kms long and there was no exhaust/ventilation so we couldn't have our engine running. But we didn't stress out about them, didn't do heaps of homework, didn't ask anyone we came across on the canal whether they had a problem - until now!!
Entrance to the tunnel is preceded by a narrow canal to get a feel for the width of the tunnel

The Pouilly Tunnel's reputation precedes it. Stories abound about how horrific it is, how people have damaged their wheelhouse, or hit the sides of the tunnel because they couldn't keep their boat straight. That there are stalactites hanging down that push the boat off course, hardly any of the lights work, that there are electric cables in the ceiling that reduce head height. That the only safe way to get through the tunnel in a straight line is to slash logs to the side of your boat so that if you stray off the centre line it will push you back.
The problem arises due to the profile/shape of the tunnel - it is semi circular in the ceiling so a wider boat will have problems the higher it is. For the first time, Kevin actually superimposed the profile of our boat on the profile of the tunnel to try and work out if we could fit without having to become a convertible i.e. dismantle the wheelhouse which would take about an hour.
Profile of Pouilly Tunnel

Even after doing this Kevin was convinced that we could hit the sides of the roof with the wheelhouse, so we were resigned to the fact that we would need to dismantle the wheelhouse. However, we ran it past the VNF (French company that run the waterways) and they assured us that we would fit without any problems. And to make it even easier they had dropped the water depth from 2.6m to 2.2m. 
There are 8 locks up to the entrance of the tunnel and at the last one the VNF check to make sure all crew have life jackets, that you have a spotlight on your boat, a waterproof torch and they then give you a VHF radio so that you can radio them when you enter the tunnel, halfway through and when you successfully leave the tunnel. You then sign a document to say you are approved to enter and given a time slot to enter.
There's not a lot of room but it is well lit

So after all the homework and preparation, it turned out to be relatively easy. It just meant Kevin had to maintain concentration for a little over an hour to ensure that we kept a straight path down the centre of the tunnel. And the photos show that we had about 60-70cms from the corner of the wheelhouse to the wall/ceiling. 
Looking behind us
The fact that we were the only boat in the tunnel probably was a plus. We had heard stories of boats being followed by a large hotel barge where the skipper was getting impatient at the slow speed of the boat and almost tailgating them. Maybe the fact that we chose a Sunday to go through was a positive as well. We've done it now so can cross that one of the bucket list!
Lot of room at the top but not a lot of room on the corner of the wheelhouse


Monday, May 22, 2017

San Sebastián - pinxtos aplenty

After a rather dismal stay at Salou on the Costa Dorado in Spain, with terrible weather, not so good accommodation and a town that was basically shut down over winter we decided to cut out losses and head off to the, hopefully, warmer and livelier area on the west coast of Spain. As we came out of the mountains and headed down the coastal road to San Sebastián the sun came out and illuminated a beautiful vista of the Atlantic Ocean and sandy beaches. We hoped this was an omen of better things to come.

As we drove into the town it became clear that there was definitely more happening here than on the coastal resorts of south eastern Spain. As it was lunch time we decided to park the car and go in search of the renowned pinxtos (tapas) that are associated with San Sebastián. We didn't have far to walk to find tapas as there are so many bars serving all manner of tapas. But which one do you choose? We followed our general rule of thumb to find somewhere that was busy with locals - not tourists. And our first foray into San Sebastián tapas was amazing. Very few patrons spoke English and they were focussed on Nadal playing in the semi final of the Australian Open. When it generally became known that we were Australian we were suddenly everybody's best friend - we had the tapas process explained to us, wine bought for us and people wanting photos taken with us. What great food and a great atmosphere. It was going to be tough to beat this place.

The feel in San Sebastián was great so we opted to stay for 3 nights to explore the town and the area. Loaded with information from the tourist bureau we knew we would easily be able to fill 3 days wandering around San Sebastián or driving a short distance to some of the colourful fishing villages nearby

Abbaye la Bussiere

Sometimes when you travel around you come across a gem of a place. Abbaye de la Bussiere is one such place. A short walk from our overnight stop of Bussiere sur Ouche on the Canal Bourgogne, it was certainly impressive.
The abbey has been converted into a lovely hotel and classy restaurant
This former abbey was bought from the church by English couple Clive and Tanith Cummings about 12 years ago and has been restored and converted into accommodation, a bistro and a 1* Michelin restaurant. The attention to detail is amazing and the grounds are a delight to walk through.
This lady surveys the abbey and guests as they sit in the alfresco area
The owner greeted us when we arrived for dinner and told us a little about the problems associated with a renovation of this magnitude. He then proceeded to tell us how he had spent time in Donnybrook some 20 years ago when he was backpacking around Australia.
As we sat with our predinner drinks in the upstairs lounge we were able to take in all the details of this impressive space.
The vaulted ceilings in the upstairs guests lounge area
A quiet nook to have a predinner drink
We ate in the Bistro which has a set menu, usually limited to brunch and lunch, however, we were able to eat dinner here. For €45 we had four courses. I believe lunch is between €25 and €35. Obviously, if you eat in the Michelin restaurant then you can expect to pay a lot more. I believe the chef's suggestion was €98 a head for 4 courses. Even so, we had a lovely dinner in the Bistro with attentive service.
Only guests are allowed to wander around the grounds so if you want to see this abbey then I would recommend making a reservation for lunch or dinner. If you're feeling especially flush with funds you could stay the night in a suite at a mere €600 for the night. Hotel rooms are cheaper.
This lake was the original sewer. 
Stream running through the back of the property

Lovely outlook from the alfresco dining area

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Auxonne to Dijon

Auxonne is a fairly typical medieval town with remnants of a town wall, a church, a Chateau, a market place. Auxonne also has an army garrison and it was here that Napoleon Bonaparte started his military career. While not a huge town it does have all the facilities you need for an extended stay.
Pauline and Stewart arrived to splendid weather and spent a couple of days recovering from jet lag by taking advantage of the sunshine to mosey around Auxonne and relax before starting our cruise.
Medieval town walls overlooking the Saône river
Notre Dame, Auxonne
Our cruise started after the obligatory trip to the boulangerie for bread, cake and quiche - lunch sorted. As we left Auxonne another two smaller cruisers were ahead of us so we assumed they were together and would go into the lock together. But no. After the first boat went in, the second boat stuffed around so much that they shut the lock gates before he entered. So then the sequence of opening was out of whack and we when pulled the cord to announce our arrival the other boat went in, effectively taking our place. It would have been so much easier for them to have turned around and re-pulled the cord but instead we had to reverse back to the cord and pull it again. Instead of taking 30 minutes to do this small section, it took 90 minutes.
It was then a relaxed and uneventful cruise to St Jean de Losne. This port is very popular, particularly with overseas boat owners, who only cruise for 2-4 months. The reason for this is that it is located almost in the centre of France and a number of canals and rivers pass through this area  so it's easy to do the Canal de Bourgogne, The Canal Rhine au Rhine, The Canal du Centre, Canal de Briare, The Nivernais, the Saône River and the Canal Entre Champagne and Bourgogne. We were pleased to be able to find a mooring, with power and water, right in the centre of town on the stepped wharf. This area would be great in summer as there are a number of restaurants overlooking the Saône.

St John the Baptiste in St Jean de Losne
P1080279From St Jean de Losne we turned into the Canal de Bourgogne. This is one of those lovely rural canals with trees lining the canal and views of amazing yellow canola fields in between. These canola fields are even more impressive when viewed against a backdrop of black thunderstorm clouds. Fine weather in the morning - thunderstorm in the afternoon.
Canola fields glowing in front of advancing thunderstorm
On the smaller non commercial canals it's not unusual for the VNF to have a lunch break between 12 and 1pm. So they usually leave you in a lock to eat lunch and then come back after an hour to let you continue on your journey. If they leave you in a lock at the top then you can take the opportunity to go for a stroll.
Lunch time stop in the lock
Farms with rich soil surround the canals

After two very serene days we arrived in Dijon. By this stage Stewart and Pauline had totally relaxed into the barging lifestyle and I don't think it would take much to convince them that retirement isn't such a bad option.
We were a bit apprehensive about staying in Dijon as we had been warned that it was difficult to find a mooring in the port for a boat of our size. The only suitable place was a Quay alongside a park overlooked by apartments. A number of barge owners had said there were issues with drunken and drugged people making lots of noise and that things had been stolen from boats and people jumped on your boat. Well we stayed 2 nights and it was so quiet. I think we were the noisiest people on that section after our return from Le Sauvage restaurant late on Sunday evening! And come Monday we were the only boat moored here.
Le Sauvage restaurant - very busy on a Sunday night
Yummy scallops en brochette
No trip to Dijon is complete without a trip to a "moutarderie" . We found Moutarderie Fallot down a side street near Notre Dame Cathedral. This cathedral has a carving of an owl on one of its exterior walls (Rue Chouette), where you make a wish and rub it with your left hand to make your wish come true. Anyway the mustard shop has a vast array of different types of mustard that you can sample before you buy. The honey and balsamic as well as the provencale are both very tasty without being too hot. I'm not sure whether its the association with mustard but there appears to be a number of good restaurants here - from Le Sauvage that we ate at on a Sunday night to a cheap and cheerful bistro,  L' Edito, next to Porte Guillaume, where we had lunch on Monday. The wine is pretty good as well - Pinot noir, Chardonnay, aligote to name a few.
Fallot Moutarderie
interior of Notre Dame, Dijon
Lovely rose window in Notre Dame
Dijon was also the centre of the Ducs de Bourgogne with the Palais and Cathedral St Benigne where all the Dukes are buried.
Palais des ducs de Bourgogne - now the town hall
Interesting font in Cathedral St Benigne in Dijon
Tuesday arrived where we said goodbye to our guests, who were heading on to the next part of their adventure in Ireland, and we continued our voyage up the canal de Bourgogne.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Where is the best patisserie/boulangerie in France?

I'm sure every town and village in France thinks their boulangerie/patisserie is the best. I have to say we have tried a few and when we find a really good one we think it's the best - until we find the next good one. But so far I think the patisserie, Valette, in the town of Branne, east of Bordeaux in the Gironde, has to be our number 1 choice - until we find the next one. 
Who can resist a triple chocolate gateau
Lemon and lime with crunchy little balls added texture to this yummy gateau
This one was my favourite - pear belle helene

Airbrushed edible colouring added the final touch to this mango and passionfruit bavarois

Nancy to Auxonne

Ryan was speeding his way back to London via the TGV and Eurostar so we decided to start our journey to Auxonne. We were meeting some very good friends, Stewart and Pauline, there and taking them to Dijon on the boat.
We decided to go via the Canal des Vosges as many people had commented on how pretty it was but we were also mindful that many had hinted that water levels could be a problem. Travelling early in the season, we hoped, would alleviate this issue.
This canal is indeed very pretty and the landscape is very undulating. This however, means there are lots of locks. Between Nancy and Auxonne we travelled through 129 locks and covered close to 300km.
Our first night was spent in Richardmenil on a free mooring (at the height of the season local volunteers do collect a fee) at the edge of the village. While there was electricity there was only a water spout so you can't fill up your water tank. The sunset this evening was spectacular.
P1080191From here we travelled south but up the river/canal to Charmes where we met a lovely Swedish couple, Britta and Lars, travelling in their ex rental boat. We played hopscotch with them all the way to Corre and got into the habit of daily 5pm drinks either on our boat or theirs.
Charmes hasn't had a very charmed life having been demolished several times through various wars and getting the plague twice in the span of 2 centuries but there are still a few charming views in this town. The mooring was next to the camper van park but it was still very peaceful.
House over the Moselle tributary running through Charmes
Epinal was our next destination. This lovely town is set on the Moselle River down a side canal from the Canal des Vosges. A number of people suggested we stay here but did warn us that water levels can get really low. It was a lovely Friday afternoon as we cruised along the side canal. We couldn't believe how many people were out enjoying the warm weather - why weren't they at work or school! We started to feel a bit like royalty as we were waved to by every person and had numerous photos taken. If we were given a Euro for every photo we would be very well off!
The mooring here is a little way out of town - maybe 1.5 km but it is set on a lovely park where locals come and stroll, run, cycle, picnic.
place des Vosges, Epinal
The Moselle River flows through the centre of Epinal
From Epinal we headed up the Vosges Mountains via a staircase of locks. Going up in a lock is much more work than going down so after 14 locks in the space of 3.5 km in warm weather I was getting a little weary. We had, however, reached the summit so had a good 10kms of plain sailing before we started our downwards voyage and our stop for the night at Girancourt, where we, once again, had very welcome evening drinks with our Swedish friends on their boat Queen Elizabeth.
Peaceful vistas on the canal des Vosges

Corre was our final destination on the Canal des Vosges. From now on we would be on the Petite Saône and the Saône. This is different cruising as we are now on a river with a much greater current and generally more depth. Kevin reckons our boat responds much better on rivers than it does on canals. We are also now on the edge of Burgundy so are starting to see different styles of architecture, particularly in the churches and the colourful roof tiles.
P1080230Gray was another stop on our journey to Auxonne. We chose here to stay for the May Day long weekend. This is one of the few days when the canals are not in operation so we wanted to ensure we had a good base for a few days. In fact we stayed 4 days - the mooring was good, the electricity and water were free and there was a supermarket just a short stroll from the boat. Our Belgian friends, Vinciane and Ivan, were at St Jean de Losne for a barge rally so drove across to join us for dinner.
The Barrage in Gray

Listed building in Gray

Strasbourg to Nancy 2017

On a beautiful sunny day in the last week of March we left Strasbourg to travel back along the Marne au Rhin canal to Nancy. Ryan was catching the Eurostar from London and meeting us in Nancy for Easter.

The European Parliament was shown to full advantage from the waterways.
P1080110Our first night was spent at Hochfelden and we were treated to an amazing sunset.
The next day we headed upstream to the Artzviller lift. We arrived after 2 days cruising - this took us 4 weeks on our initial cruise but, to be fair, we did stay 3 weeks in Saverne.
P1080121After spending the night in the peaceful location we contacted the lift operator to move us up the hill in the bucket
P1080129And we get this amazing view. But the adventure isn't over - we still have 2 tunnels to go through before we can relax.
P1080139P1080135While it was only a few hours of cruising we decided to stay the night in Niderviller to go to Restaurant M. I had already checked that it was open for lunch as it was well over 1 km walk from the mooring. On arriving we were told that the restaurant was fully booked but Kevin managed to convince them that we would be quick and we would eat on the verandah. For such a small town it is a great restaurant and the fact that it was full on a Wednesday lunch is testament to that. The restaurant overlooks the kiln of the old earthenware factory and the shop sells all sorts of crockery
IMG_0881This was the dessert on the menu du jour with 3 courses for just €13.50
As we had already travelled along this canal we endeavoured to stop at places we hadn't stayed at last time. So this time we decided to stay at Lagarde, which we avoided last time due to the number of flies and the pungent aroma of either silage or cow manure. Both were missing on this occasions, thankfully. And then the next night we stopped at Etang de Parroy. As it was so early in the season there were very few other boats cruising so we had this magical location to ourselves.P1080153P1080154These views were early morning just after the mist had cleared.
Quite quickly we arrived in Nancy, almost a week earlier than planned, so we decided to head on to Toul for a week. We much prefer Toul marina over Nancy. This would mean that we would need to catch a bus to Nanacy to meet Ryan and then cruise from Toul back to Nancy. This would give Ryan the opportunity to experience cruising in the canals and up and down locks, and also to experience some of the peaceful landscapes that abound on the French canals.
P1080173View from the old medieval town of Liverdun. Also home to a great little Madeleine bakery Veritable Madeleine's
Next stop Nancy and a chance to revisit the medieval town and Place Stanislas.
The fun fair was also in town and changed the skyline somewhat
P1080179Ryan enjoyed his long weekend on the canals  - it inspired him to write his own Blog, and it was great to spend some time with him