Come with us as we travel round Europe in our floating home

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Rolompont to Pontailler-sur-Saone

Hello again,

We finally made it up to the last lock before the summit on Tuesday morning and were met by our lovely lady lockie who operated the lock for us and then phoned the control centre to check that we were clear to go through the 5km long Balesmes tunnel. We'd been cleared to pass but when we arrived at the tunnel entrance all we could see were red lights!  Looking through the binoculars we could see red lights on the roof all the way into the tunnel and didn't know if we should go or not.  As we'd been given the all clear at the lock we decided to trust in VNF and their ever-present CCTV and go for it. It tuned out that the red lights were for the CCTV cameras but I have to say I wish they'd chosen a different colour light as they were very off putting!  Proper traffic lights at the tunnel entrance would have been a good idea too. We came out the other side of the hill into glorious sunshine and checked into the control centre beside the first lock on our decent, little knowing then how much contact I'd be having with them this week. The locks on this side of the Canal Entre Champage et Bourgogne  don't appear to be as well maintained as the locks on the other side and I've had to phone the control centre 4 times when the lock hasn't worked properly. My French is definitely improving 😊 which is a good job as the VNF here staff don't speak English.

Our first stop on this side of the hill was at Villegusien alongside a disused silo. Not the prettiest of moorings but safe and quiet and bollards at the perfect spacing for our boat.  It was a hot sunny day so we took Chico for a long walk up to the lake/reservoir. This was the view from the swimming "beach"

The road leading up to the lake was lined with a stone wall which was populated by lots of small lizards basking in the sunshine.

Just before the locks shut for the night at 7pm we were joined by a large commercial barge who moored behind us.  Shortly after that another commercial arrived from the other direction and moored alongside them.

Then just as it was going dark yet another commercial barge arrived, breasted up totally blocking the canal and from the sounds of it they had quite a party!  At 7am, as soon as the locks reopened, they set off again so quietly that we hardly noticed them leave. They seem to work very long days and it's slow going on this canal as it's not very deep, they hardly ever get above 5k/hr.

Over the next 2 days we had 2 more broken locks but to give them their due, a VNF van arrived each time within 10 minutes and got us going again. Each time it was a problem with the remote controlled mechanism that had to be manually reset.

Good moorings on this side of the hill are few and far between although every few kilometers there are these mooring dolphins.

We've never seen anyone moored to one but decided to give it a go the other day. We originally thought we'd moor at the end of the gangplank but realised we'd be too far out into the channel and on closer inspection found mooring bollards in the bank 15metres either side of the dolphin, so we attached the bow to bollards on the structure, checked the depth at the edge and fastened the stern to the bollard on the bank.

It was perfect for us and we stayed for 2 nights while Roger did some work on the boat.

You can tell that Autumn is here as we've seen several groups of men, women and children gathering in fields or car parks all with shotguns!  We also had a visit form the local hounds as they were taken out for a walk

And instead of there being tomatoes or courgettes for sale at lock cottages it's now truffles!

When we got to the last lock on the canal there was a machine beside the lock for us to deposit our telecommande unit

Unfortunately this was another lock that failed to work and I needed to phone up for help once again. This time the control centre re-set the mechanism remotely and we left the canal and cruised onto the River Saone. We've moored on the quayside at Pontailler-sur-Saone along which a car boot sale was being held.

It's a section of the river where speed boats are allowed to race or tow water skiers and while it's entertaining to watch we're being bounced about a lot. I'm sure things will be quiet overnight though. It's also a section of river heavily populated by hire boats and we met our first one coming at us around a blind bend on the wrong side of the river!  These hirers get hardly any tuition before they leave the hire base, whereas we had to take a competency test and get a permit before we came to Europe.

That's all for now, see you again soon 😃

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Reims to Rolompont

Hi, nice to see you again. Doesn't time pass quickly when you're having fun? I didn't realise it was 2 weeks since my last blog!

We're now on the Canal Entre Champagne et Bourgogne and the locks are once again operated by a telecommande. We had a bit of a problem  at one particular lock which was out of sight round a couple of sharp bends.

We'd pressed the zapper and got a red and green traffic light which meant the lock knew we were waiting and was being prepared for us. We knew there was a commercial barge coming down the lock as we'd seen its signal on the radio screen and after a while it appeared round the bend. We should have then been clear to go up the lock as soon as the boat was out of the way. Strange things started to happen with the lock lights though; first the lights went out, then we had 2 red lights which meant the lock was out of order, then red and green, then nothing again!  As there was no place for us to moor up below the lock I had to get off and go and see what was going on. Another commercial barge was in the lock! Somehow they'd bypassed the controls and refilled the lock without waiting for us to come up. They finally descended and  went on their way leaving the lock out of order. A quick phone call to the VNF control centre had them remotely reactivating the lock and almost an hour and a half later we finally made it up.

By this time it was lunchtime so we moored up at the first village we came to. The moorings at Chamouilley were really well cared for and would be ideal for a weekend, or longer, stay.

It's a pretty village with a restored communal wash-house.

We've seen several of these in the villages we've stopped at, but this was the best we've seen. I'm really glad we've got a washing machine. I couldn't picture myself doing the laundry here, too much like hard work!

We also found a little hotel, the  Auberge du Cheval Blanche, with a great value "menu du jour". There was no choice except for how you'd like your steak cooking, and was absolutely delicious. The place was packed with locals, workmen in overalls and businessmen in suits and at under 12 euros for 4 courses it's no wonder!

The weather's changed and I've had to dig out my waterproofs. It went from Summer to Autumn almost overnight and we're now wearing jumpers and putting the heating on in a morning.

The stretch of canal we're on at the moment has 17 locks that are operated by VNF personnel and we need to pre-book our passage the day before we want to travel. The staff have been amazing. Nothing is too much trouble for them and they have all been happy and smiling, even in the torrential downpours that we've had recently.

The last few locks were operated by a single man instead of a team and he let me help open the top gates. It was like being back in UK and I really enjoyed the exercise 😃

We've spent the weekend in the little town of Rolompont sitting out the heavy rains. There's not a lot in the town, just a bakery, pharmacy and a small and very expensive supermarket.

Oh, and a road-side shack housing an egg vending machine! On display inside the shack are the certificates from the local health board stating that the eggs are free-range and have been tested.

We've booked our little man to go up the last couple of manual locks tomorrow and then we'll be back to using the zapper for the final climb up to the summit. It'll be downhill all the way then, to the end of the canal at Maxilly-sur-Saone.

That's all for now, hope to see you again next time.

Sunday, 27 August 2017


Hi, how are you?

We've stopped off for a few days in Reims (pronounced rance or ranz ) and what a beautiful city it is!  We've passed it many times in the past, hurtling down the motorway on our way south, but never thought to stop and visit.

If you don't need electric hook-up and can avoid the Port de Plaisance which is quite expensive (and has been practically empty the whole time we've been here) the moorings are good and free. The only down-side is the traffic noise from the main road alongside the canal but it's very quiet overnight so hasn't bothered us.

We've had a couple of excellent lunches out and there are many, many restaurants to choose from, catering to all tastes and bank accounts 😃

The fountains in the city centre are quite spectacular and as usual, photos just don't do them justice.

The highlight however, has been the Cathedrale de Notre Dame.  We're not "culture vultures" and are also very much agnostic, BUT we do like architecture and this cathedral has some of the most spectacular that we've ever seen.  I'd go so far as to say that we found it more impressive than either Notre Dame or Sacre Coeur in Paris!

There's a major restoration project underway at the moment and where work has already been done you can see how intricate the carvings and statues are. This is a statue of David and the display photograph shows it before and after restoration. Luckily it wasn't damaged by the fire that destroyed many of the original statues and only actually needed cleaning.

Even the lead gargoyles are pretty impressive

This is my favourite statue in the whole cathedral. She's  L'Ange au Sourire - the smiling angel and was carved between 1236-1245

I'd like to think that she was based on a real person, she has such a cheeky smile and looks to be telling the "saint" beside her to chill out and party 😀

As spectacular as the outside is, the inside is just WOW!

Unfortunately it was so sunny outside that photos of the stained glass windows didn't really show them to their full glory.  This is the main pulpit

and the marble alter

On the shadier side the windows were easier to photograph, once I could find a gap in the tourists that is. The cathedral is very popular and was very busy.

This is one of the newest stained glass windows, installed in 2011 and designed in colours to compliment the older, original windows.  It's not my cup of tea though, too modern for me.

There are two organs in the cathedral, a small one

and a much larger one

Surprisingly there is a type of cuckoo clock in one of the chapels. L'Horlogue du Chapitre was originally built in the 15th centuary and was installed here in the 17th centuary. It chimes it's carillion every hour and the angels above the clock face rotate as if on parade.

Every evening at 10pm the cathedral hosts a Son et Lumiere display. We haven't seen a Son et Lumiere before but it was well worth the 20 minute walk back into town.

The display commenced with atmospheric bag-pipe music and told the history of the cathedral with images projected onto the main facade.

Starting with the original church which was destroyed by fire in 1211

They showed how the designs were drawn

and then built

and then to finish, there were several scenes illuminated in multi colour


We've had a couple of really intense storms over the past few days, very welcome for the water but a bit scary too. The first one woke me in the middle of the night as it was almost overhead. Even with blackout blinds in the bedroom and my eyes shut I still "saw" the lightening. It must have been very bright outside! During the day it's been HOT!  Yesterday 29'C and only slightly cooler today at 27'C and the forecast for the next few days is more of the same......phew 😅

Bye for now, see you soon I hope

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Bonjour, Ca va?

Last Sunday we encountered our first tunnel.  We'd heard horror stories about it and as we're both a bit claustrophobic we were dreading it.  Ruyaulcourt Tunnel is 4354m long and controlled by traffic lights. When we arrived they were on red and we had a 20 minute wait while this commercial barge came through.

The first 1600m are single file

and then there is 1100m two way section in the middle which is again controlled by traffic lights. We had a red light so moored up for 10 minutes while 2 cruisers came past.

Once we got a green light we did the last single file section and cruised out into the sunshine.  I don't know what we were worried about, it was no problem at all 😃

We moored for the night at Au Bois Henry in a lovely basin off the mainline canal. The weather was gorgeous and we sat our till late soaking up the rays and listening to the radio of a fisherman across the other side of the basin.

Just before we set off next morning, a little old man arrived on his scooter selling tomatoes from his garden.  3 euros for 2kg.  They were all different shapes and sizes and nothing like shop bought ones.

The largest was a real handful

and we had half each for lunch in a salad.  They may have looked a bit manky but boy were they delicious!  They tasted how tomatoes used to taste and I'll never buy a bright red "plastic" tomato again.

Our next stop-over was at the Port de Plaisance at Peronne.

We moored on a floating pontoon beside the camp site and for 18 euros a night we had free water (electric was extra) and full use of the camp site facilities, which included a bar, friterie (chip shop) and a small swimming pool.

Of course we used the bar and friterie (well it would have been rude not too) but we gave the pool a miss as it was full of kids.

The local brew was one of the nicest beers I've found yet and the name was pretty good too 😉 (actually Colvert)

We've had a total change of cruising plans which is nothing unusual for us!  We've heard so many stories about how good the Canal de la Somme is that we decided we just don't have enough time to do it justice, so we're going to leave it until next year and plan to come back and stay for a few weeks. Instead, we carried on along the Canal du Nord to Pont l'Eveque and then turned onto the Canal Lateral a l'Oise and then onto the Canal de l'Oise a l'Aisne which is where we are now.

Although it's still a commercial canal, all the locks are operated by a telecommande (remote control)

We got to the first lock and pointed the zapper at the board, the lights went green and the gates opened and in we went. We got roped up and waited for something to happen...... and waited.....and waited. Then after about 5 minutes I noticed this at the very front of the lock.  We haven't seen this type of operation before although I have read about it.  We untied and nudged the boat forward until I could reach the pole which I tried to pull down.....nothing happened. Then we realised you don't pull it down, you push it up!  Success 😃

It's a huge leaning curve but we're getting there.  How many more different types of lock operation can there be?

Last night's mooring was at the Halte Nautique at Guny, a few hundred metres from the village which has a small bar and a boulangerie where I bought a baguette and croissants this morning. So far we haven't felt the need to buy bikes as most places we've wanted to go have been well within walking distance, but that may change later on. I haven't been on a bicycle for over 20 years and do not relish the prospect at all!

Tonight's mooring is at another Halte Nautique at Pinon with a Carrefour supermarket adjacent.  It's so close that Roger did a few trips with the Jerry cans to fill up with diesel. Info for all you British boaters paying 70-80p a litre , we thought it was cheap at 1.18 euros a litre!

He's now enjoying a beer "up top" to recover.

Cheers! See you again soon I hope 😃