Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Metz, May 6-12

On our 2010 cruise with Odysseus, one of the highlights was the city of Metz (pronounced “Mess”), the capital city of Lorraine. Probably the only definite about this year’s cruise was a return. About 2 pm on Sunday we pulled into the main marina, the Port de Régates, getting a prime spot with a great view of the old protestant church, the Temple Neuf. As a bonus, the weather would be just about perfect the whole time we were here; sunny, warm days and cool nights. Lots of walkers and runners along the shoreline and, with the electric and paddle boat rental center just up from the boat, we had plenty of entertainment while sitting on the terrace.

Occupied since the Bronze Age, Metz first became an important city under the Gauls and then the Romans as it was at the confluence of two rivers, the Moselle and the Seille. It was sacked by Attila the Hun in 451 but then became the capital city of the Merovingians and one of the most important cities of the Holy Roman Empire with the Carolingians. After integrating into the Kingdom of France after a long siege in 1552, it was traded back and forth between Germany and France in the Franco Prussian War and WW II. Now it features huge green spaces, accounting for  almost 15% of the city, and 36 k of riverside walks. Besides the Temple Neuf it’s also home to the Cathedral Saint-Étienne with one of the highest naves in Europe. This time, no scaffolding!

and some beautiful stained glass.

Since it was a little late in the day Sunday for serious sightseeing we made the obligatory visit to the tourist office and made plans for the week. Tim and Christine bought train tickets for their trip to Paris leaving on Thursday and we paid for the dock space until Sunday so there was lots of time for our visit.

Monday we headed off to the Centre Pompidou-Metz, the famous Paris museum’s outpost in the provinces. When we visited in 2010 the museum had only been open for a couple of months and the line an hour and a half to get in. This time we walked right up to the ticket window. 
It really is an amazing building made up of three 80 meter long stacked exhibit halls covered by a timber and fabric framework. It was  designed by Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines.

We were a little disappointed this time because one of the features that most impressed us on our first visit was that the windows at each end of the galleries framed pictures of the city. This time, the exhibitions, “Dumbtype” about a Japanese artists collective, and “Modern Couples” about famous artistic couples, had blocked off the end windows.
What most amazed us, however, was the amount of development around the museum. What were once just big parking lots and open fields are now an array of fancy apartments and shops, many still under construction. When completed, the neighborhood will be quite modern, in contrast with much of the rest of the city.

Tuesday was “Wander About the City” day with an obligatory visit to the Port de Allemands, the most impressive remaining gateway of the medieval ramparts.

Since Wednesday would be Tim and Christine’s last day with us this year, we decided to commemorate the occasion with lunch. Cathy Jo found L’Epicurean and we had a wonderful meal. Both Tuesday and Wednesday Tim and Christine and Cathy Jo and I had gone different routes on our sightseeing but still managed to bump into each other, which resulted in a visit together to the Eglise Ste-Ségoliné.

After Tim and Christine’s departure Thursday morning, we had time for another museum visit, this time the Cour d’Or Museum, built on the site of the ancient Roman baths. The Gallo-Roman and medieval collections are among the most important in France according to the information provided. We were pretty impressed.

Next, Metz at night!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Down the Moselle, May 4 to 6

It takes going through 2 lift bridges, one very deep lock and one smaller one and about two hours, to reach the Moselle River from Nancy. We then turned north, heading down the river for our first stop on the way to Metz, the town of Pont a Mousson. Manhole covers all over northern France carry the name of the big foundry that used to operate here. Now the town features and beautiful arcaded town “square” (that’s really a triangle) and a beautifully restored cathedral and abbey that is now used as an event center.

The bridge over the river was replaced after being destroyed in WW II. 
It leads from the center of town to the Eglise Saint-Martin.

The Abbaye des Prémontrés

We found a very nice wild mooring just outside of town. Though not strictly permitted, nobody bothered us for the Friday and Saturday nights we were there and we had a great view of the wildflowers out the window.

Cathy Jo admires the barbecued chicken on tonight’s menu.

Saturday was pretty busy in town. There was a giant youth rugby tournament that brought busses full of players from around the area and the square featured the first day of a “beach” volleyball tournament, complete with imported sand. We thought of entering “Team Oldtimer” but then quickly came to our senses. 

Sunday morning we set off for the 4 hour trip to our next stop, Metz.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Nancy, April 29 to May 4

Our friends Tim and Christine were going to be joining us May 2 after their visits to Italy and Lyon. Scheduling around the train workers strike was kind of a pain. We planned to spend at least one full day in the city after their arrival so we could take in some of Nancy’s specialty, Art Nouveau, particularly the Daum art glass showroom and the Musèe de L’Ecole de Nancy.

But first, I realized I never posted pictures of the Son et Lumière from our stay in Nancy in September. Last year we took in the shows in Amien, Toul and, on it’s last night, Nancy. The huge Place Stanislaus was lit up in the most spectacular fashion.

So, Sunday.

We tied up just a little after noon and made sure the lines were good and secure. Thunderstorms were in the forecast and we wanted to be ready. Sure enough, shortly after dark the lightning started to flash and the thunder rumbled. Torrential downpours followed, along with a good amount of hail, luckily not big enough to damage the solar panels but the pounding on the metal roof made quite a racket. Then the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. Monday was not a pleasant day. We ventured out for a little stroll around town but, being Monday, most of the stores were closed and staying inside seemed the better option. We even lit the wood stove for the first time this year.

Tuesday was May 1, May Day, and we knew it was a national holiday in France but we we’ve never spent the day in a big city and it was a little eerie. Everything was closed (except for one boulangerie that we found) and there was nobody on the streets except the Communists, who were having a march down one of the main streets. There was a pretty major police presence there so we kept our distance. We did make it to the big city park, however. The spring flowers were in bloom.

By Tuesday, the weather had moderated a bit and we met Tim and Christine at the train station about 2 pm. We had a little wander about town but decided to leave the city tour and museum visiting until Wednesday. It would be Art Nouveau Day.

Tuesday’s highlight, along with trying to decipher the three maps necessary to use the tourist office walking tour’s audio guide, was a visit to the Musèe de L’Ecole de Nancy. The collection is gathered in the house of Eugène Corbin, a major patron of the movement. The collection includes works by Emile Gallè, Eugène Vallin and others. We thought if we could ship it home, this bed would look great on Laurel St.

And despite the troubles with the tourist office maps, we got a look at some great Nouveau architecture, including this bank windowed ceiling

and these typical butterfly windows.

Friday morning we made a trip to the nearby grocery store to reprovision and about 11 am headed back toward the Moselle River. We were northbound for Metz.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Let’s Get Started, Toul to Nancy, April 28/29

This year’s trip, if it goes as planned (not guaranteed after our experiences the last two years) is to spend a month or so in the Moselle and Alsace regions, then head south to the Loire and Burgundy. That means initially we’ll be spending time in territory we first visited with Odysseus in 2010 and 2011. First we’ll be heading to Nancy where we’ll be joined by our friends Tim and Christine, who cruised with us in 2016. We’ll journey down the Moselle to Metz where we’ll spend several days and then they will head on to Paris by train and we’ll be back to Nancy and east on the Canal de la Marne au Rhine to Saverne, sampling those good Alsatian white wines along the way. Then we’ll retrace the canal back to Nancy and head south, potentially on the Canal des Vosges, one of the waterways we used to get up to The Netherlands in 2016.

Here is a link to a .pdf chart of the north eastern canals, helpfully provided by the waterways authorities, the VNF. Once downloaded and saved, you can follow along much more easily. Nord-Est et Rhin 

After a little delay getting through our first lock onto the river, we made the exhausting 18 k, 3 lock, 3 hour trip to Liverdun, the so called “Switzerland of Lorraine.” Perched on a hillside over a sharp bend in the Moselle, the site has been occupied since the Paleolithic era.  Archeological digs have yielded bronze implements from Celtic times.  The Romans called it Liberdunum, "Fortress on a Rock," and an act of the Merovingian king Dagobert gave the town to the bishopric of Toul in the 12th century, when it became fortified. Now it's just a picturesque village in France. And we can’t mention the name of the town without thinking of our barge mentor, John Hardman, who got a big kick out of pronouncing the name in his best “radio announcer” voice.

Last time we were here we tucked inside a small arm of the river and tied to a small landing with a hireboat. This year we decided to stay on one of the two landings right on the river. There is some big commercial traffic but because of the very sharp bend, the big guys have to go very slow, making little wash. In fact, about 5 am Sunday a large coal barge went by but, other than the huge spotlights used to see where they were going, we weren’t bothered at all.

We had a few sprinkles during the day but nothing too terrible. Overall, the weather had been pretty nice since our arrival. 
Sunday morning we made our usual 9 am departure and, after two big river locks, exited the Moselle onto the Marne au Rhine and it’s first two small locks. Just after noon we were tied up in a spot we had used twice before. The official Nancy marina is small, crowded and pretty expensive. Just east of it, across the canal from the big movie theater, is a row of bankside rings, some of which are spaced well for mooring a boat our size. There are no services (water and electricity) but since we’d just left Toul a couple of days before, we really didn’t need any. Tim and Christine would be arriving Wednesday so we settled in for an extended visit to the home of Art Nouveau. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Toul, April 17-27

Wednesday morning it was time to get to work. The water tank needed to be filled, the boat cleaned, the pantry restocked, the garden planted, wine bought and social gatherings attended.

We filled the water tank, switched on the pump and it began to merrily work away until Cathy Jo said she heard a gushing noise from the head (bathroom). I ran back to the master cabin to find the floor all wet. We had a leak somewhere! Closing the valve from the pressure tank to the system, I started pulling up floorboards and access hatches to find it’s source. Luckily, it was on the branch line to the toilet and there was a shutoff valve there, allowing the toilet to be isolated from the rest of the system. We’d have to use buckets to flush the toilet until it was fixed, but the rest of the system would be usable (After sourcing a small part, a couple of days later all was well.). After an hour or so mopping up the water and vacuuming it out of the bilges, the carpet was put out on the deck to dry. Off to the grocery we went.
Thursday was clean up day. The outside of the boat didn’t really look too bad so we spent some extra time pulling up the terrace deckboards and cleaning underneath; something that hadn’t been done in a couple of years. We slept well that night.

Meantime, evenings were spent catching up with the other boaters that had arrived before us, such catching up usually involving copious amounts of wine and very late dinners. Terry and Hillary (Yorkshire) on Isselrust and Peter and Barbara (South Africa and Ireland) on Silabonga provided welcome diversions. We were then joined by Drew and Jude (North Carolina) on Maria. Soon after Maria left, we were joined by Frank and Penny (Devon) aboard Westfries, whom we’d met in Saint Jean de Losne in 2009, and Ken and Maureen (somewhere in England) on Tammy.

Things were a little upset at Lorraine Marine, however. The long-time owner, Duncan Flack, was retiring, heading off cruising May 1. No real plans had been made for the future of the moorings so those who had been coming back after their summer cruises were unsure whether to book new spaces or trust in the village to keep the facility open. The final decision (of course, subject to change) was that those who were already there could return but no new places would be available. We think that it’s likely that eventually the village will continue to run the moorings as before, maybe even with some upgrades, as they already operate the Port de France in town. Winter mooring spaces for bigger boats are in short supply and it would be a shame to lose this one.

The weather cooperated the whole time in Toul. It was a little cool most nights but it was sunny and pleasant during the day.

Coming from Southern California, we really don’t have dramatic seasons and since we get so little rain (half of the usual this last winter and all in March) the green and colors of a well watered countryside are exciting for us. Flowers were blooming, trees were greening and, on the Cote de Toul, the vines were just leafing out.

We made a day trip to Saint Jean de Losne because that’s really the only place in northern France with a good stock of boat supplies and there were some things we needed. It was only a two hour drive and we were able to revisit the old haunt and see more beautiful springtime French countryside. The Camping Les Harlequins provided an opportunity to have lunch right on the river on a beautiful day.

Our other excitement was the purchase of a new refrigerator. The old one was a real cheapo; plastic shelves, no freezer compartment and had to be manually defrosted (real drudgery, I know!). Wednesday the helpful delivery truck from Darty dropped off our new unit. We’ll now have ice cubes for our pastis!

Also on Wednesday, Ted and Charlotte Musselwhite drove over from Nancy for a visit. They were good friends with our barging mentors John and Patti Hardman and we had met them years ago. They bought a barge last year (their third, I think) in Dunkirk and wintered in Nancy. They were leaving Wednesday morning headed south. We hope to catch up with them again later.

Friday morning we would be returning the car to Nancy so Thursday we made the last big grocery run and drove out to the village of Bruley for a Cote de Toul wine purchase. The Laroppe winery makes a delicious gris we tasted last year and we wanted to stock up.

Friday morning we headed off to Nancy to return the car. Since the trains were running, it was just a 20 minute ride back to Toul and about an equal amount of time walking to Lorraine Marine. Saturday morning we would be off.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Planes, Trains (we wish!) and Automobiles, April 16-17

April showers are supposed to bring May flowers but in France it signals the beginning of strike season and this year is particularly busy. The government is trying to “liberalize” some of France’s very restrictive employment laws, especially on the railroads, and the unions are having none of it. Air France employees are also pushing for a wage increase. Since our travel to Oldtimer involves both Air France and the SNCF (French railroads) we knew things could be a little tough. We weren’t sure how tough…

Being French, the strikes are very organized. The railroad employees are off work 2 days out of five and have published a calendar to allow travelers to make plans. Our train reservations (Paris-Nancy, which we made in late January before the fun began) were on a scheduled strike day when the calendar was published in March. We had also prepaid for a rental car in Nancy. We decided to just wait to see what happened. About two weeks before our departure, Air France published their strike calendar and, you guessed it, our flight Houston-Paris was scheduled for a strike day. We quickly called the airline and, after a very long time listening to hold music, managed to move our flight up one day and then moved the train tickets up as well so they would not be on a strike day.

The day before we were set to fly to Paris we received two emails from Air France in quick succession. The first said it was time to check in for our flight, the second that our flight was cancelled. Another very long time spent listening to hold music resulted in a change of plans to Delta Airlines flights, the first leg Houston/ Atlanta and then Atlanta/Paris. Unfortunately, Delta doesn’t have a premium economy section so our tickets were downgraded to “cattle class.” Also, we’d be getting into Paris too late to make our train connection so we changed that ticket again, this time to a later departure (luckily the train changes could be made on the internet. No hold music.) and we would arrive in Nancy just before the rental car office closed.

Monday about 5 pm we left the ground in Houston bound for Atlanta. Upon reaching our gate for the Paris flight we were informed that there was a mechanical problem with the plane and it would be delayed at least an hour, scotching our train and car plans which were tight to begin with. Instead of our 10:30 pm departure, we finally left Atlanta a little after midnight, landing in Paris after 2 pm. When the flight was delayed we had managed to cancel the train and car reservations (free airport wifi!) and make a one way Paris/Nancy car rental booking, so at least we could get to the boat instead of having to overnight either at the Paris airport or Nancy. I wasn’t too pleased about having to drive 3 1/2 hours to the boat after the airlines fiasco but that was our only alternative. That or take a taxi. (Hello, Ines!)

We did finally make it to Oldtimer about 6 pm, threw the suitcases on the boat and walked a couple hundred meters down the canal bank to the local pizza joint to find out they were moving and offering takeout only. One pizza margarita and bottle of lambrusco later we tumbled into bed to begin our jet lag recovery.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Number, Numbers

About 1450 kilometers
230 hours moving in 65 travel days
264 locks
77 lifting or turning bridges
6 tunnels
about 900 liters fuel used

And the map for the year. Since we did some backtracking (Belgium, the Scarpe to Arras and the Somme) the colored lines are for the first time on the waterway and the stops on the return are the placemarks.

As always, you can zoom in on the map to see details of the moorings, waterways and what we saw along the way.

Still to come, the final days in Toul and three days in Paris!