June 1

So, after the family guest adventure, I stayed in Mulhouse for a bit. Allowed me to explore the museums (amazing!), and a side trip to Basel (Bale) in Switzerland. Lots to see and explore. I went to the train museum, where the French train  history from about 1850 to the present day, is shown in the real train carriages and locos they have used. There was also a miniature, ride-on train, but the queue was long, and i am not willing to wait….

The canal is fine: not  lot of traffic,  and easy to navigate.  I spent a night on the summit, between the Rhine watershed (headed for the North Sea), and the Mediterranean, via the Rhone river system. Now on the downhill side, locks are very much easier, and farther apart. Then gradually down the big hill, from Montreaux-Chateau, all the way to St. Jean-de-Losne.

Highlights are Montbeliard, and the fancy chateau that was a Germanic Duke’s palace in the day, now a museum, and music conservatory. The next major place is Besançon, which has a most impressive and commanding citadel, designed by France’s golden engineer of fortifications, Vauban. His works are all over (see Sedan, Verdun, etc!). The river Doubs makes a sweeping loop around the city center (commanded by the citadel), and one can navigate the long loop (though there are shallows and rowing boats all over), so most (including me) used a tunnel under the citadel.

Dole, showing the and the new: church and rental boat base.

Then, along, and sometimes in, the Doubs, I continued down the cliffsided valley, arriving at Dole. Lots of character in the town- and just across from the moorings, they were setting up a carnival. In fact, I couldn’t stay, because the port was the location of the fireworks display, and boats had to move along. The city was full of culture, history, and interesting things.

Then the scenery changed dramatically. Gone the pleasant river valley, cliffs, chateaux, and welcome to the plains. Industrialized (one section stopping was forbidden because of the dangers from the petrochemical plant along the canal), and very much flatter, the canal leaves the Doubs and heads for the River Saône. Then a very short stretch of this wide river, and arrival at St. Jean-de-Losne. A small village, there isn’t much here except the crossroads of the inland waterways of France. Boatyards, 5 waterways, large ports for long-term mooring, a hire boat place: this is boat central, but not much else!

And, thus ends my trip on the Rhône au Rhine canal.

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May 13

Well, a lot has happened, yet not much spectacular.
I finally moved on from Saverne, after the (delayed) reopening of the canal due to the breach.

It took me two days to go from Saverne to Strasbourg: gentle times, but not many good mooring options. However, the swans are nesting, and that makes things special. Although there were a couple of pontoons, under a motorway bridge, and another with nothing around except sports stadia…

I moved on to the marina, and although expensive, it was secure, safe, and facilities available.
My family guests/crew joined me is Strasbourg. Wow! My first family experience… They were so keen, yet tentative. Ages 3, 5,and 8, they provided me with all sorts of experiences. Thanks for coming aboard, for trusting me that I would look after you all, and for the memorable moments…
We cruised on from Strasbourg on the Rhone au Rhine Canal Nord, which parallels the Rhine river. Lots of little locks, no current, and very tranquil. We stopped overnioght in a rural, canal side mooring, as the nice people closed the canal (1730h) despite being open on the schedule until 1800h. We were held up for more than an hour at an earlier lock that just wouldn’t open one gate. Such is canal life!
The trip iup the Rhine was exceptionally anticlimactic! Wide, calm, little traffic, and humongous locks, all to ourselves. No document checks, no crew checks, just poodling around at two locks, awaiting traffic down against us.
Then off the Rhine at Niffer, and on a wee branck canal to Kembs. Great mooring, except I got a prop full of weed, that made for serious vibrations. My crew (thanks, Matt!), dove underneath and removed the offending weed, and on we went.
Then, on to Mulhouse, which was unexpectedly wide, until just before the town, when the canal narrowed, a lock interruopted things, and the bridge clearance suddenly dropped, making for a quick collapse of my canopy!
Then, into Mulhouse, where we tied up securely because of strong winds. then my guests departed, and I explored the wonders of this town.

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April 20 Happy Easter!

meeting a cruise ship that ‘just’ fits the locks

Kathy hanging on for dear life in the bottom of the Rechicourt lock

exiting the big lock after 15.7m rise

Toul was amazing, and the canal wraps around the city walls, giving a perspective not available except by boat. We carried on and along the Moselle River for a bit, and what a difference! The river is used commercially, with large barges I haven’t seen since Belgium, as well as river cruise boats. We were only on the Moselle for a couple of hours, then turned off onto the Canal de la Marne au Rhine Est at Frouard. There is a large commercial port here, with grain, coal, aggregates, sand and other commodities being loaded and unloaded. The pleasure boat route skirts the port, and heads upwards to Nancy. We had planned to stay of the Port de Plaisance, but it was absolutely full, and so moored in pleasant city-side moorings very near a large shopping complex. After provisioning, we continued up the canal to a campsite/mooring at Parroy. Little there except a sleepy village, and with a bakery that burned down last week!

Then, up to the summit of this canal with a VERY large lock that replaces a flight of 6. The moorings were certainly thin and not attractive along this stretch, though there were several rural places we could have stopped, but we persevered, and moored in Hesse which is the first of the significant number of rental boat bases along this canal.

The Arzviller lift (or slide down).

The next day was remarkable: two tunnels, one 475m and the other 2306m. We had to follow a slow rental boat through the long tunnel, and he clearly was nervous and having difficulty avoiding the sides. Finally, we arrived at the Arzviller inclined plane, which provides a fast, exhilarating ride in a large tub, sliding down 44.5m in about 10 minutes. It is modern and replaces 17 locks that took most boats a full day.

On to Saverne, where I said goodbye to Dan and Kathy M, after we had spent a daytrip  by train to Strasbourg and back. Many thanks to them for a very enjoyable time to cruise through and visit some really memorable places.

Saverne is a lovely town, with a very pleasant marina (another hireboat bast- but MUCH friendlier than others!). I am here for a while because of a stoppage due to a breach in the canal some 20km ahead. We will see when that reopens!

Happy Easter to all.

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April 7, 2019

note the slightly twisted and leaning tower? in Mouzon

The first 10 days of cruising has allowed me to really get back into the exploration of France. First with friend Steve C aboard, we headed up the Meuse towards Verdun. This is the section that I explored with Pat and Kerry last fall, but what a difference in the river at flood, rather than in drought! The leaves are still just hinting, but the afternoons in the sunshine are really welcome, and spring-like. We moored, by ourselves, in the center of Verdun. (Last fall, the moorings were stuffed with boats awaiting rain and returning water levels, as the canal above Verdun was closed). A couple of days provisioning and exploring with Steve, and then he had to leave.

I then continued up the ever-narrowing Meuse river, through increasingly canalized sections, to Commercy, where I awaited my next guests, Kathy and Dan M. We set out, after awaiting the burning off of morning fog, further up the canal/river, eventually arriving at the junction of the Meuse canal and the canal Marneau Rhine Est, and a quiet village mooring at Pagny sur Meuse. A very sleepy village, but looming above are vast stone quarry workings, where a huge amount of building stone and other stone products are mined. Then, onward through a 0.8km tunnel and a flight of 12 locks, to Toul.

With a full marina, just outside the walled city, Toul is really full of history.

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March 26 2019

part of the Route des Fortifications, there are many of these structures along the Meuse river

the Ardennes Canal

lock with tunnel immediately, on the Canal d’Ardennes

Le Chesne

Thanks for visiting my site! I know it has been a while, but that is because it has been a while since I moved the boat. I left in October, because my French visa was about to expire, and because the waterway (Meuse river and canal) was closed due to low water levels. So, Pont-a-Bar became my winter mooring. After over-wintering, and then getting the boat ready for the season, and acquiring my long-stay French visa, I am now ready to begin this year’s boating adventures.

I set off from Pont-a-Bar, which is a lovely connection between the Meuse River system and the Aisne system. A cross-country route, there is much that entices, but, unfortunately, flooding in 2018 (!) washed out one lock and repairs have not been done. So, this canal is only open from Pont-a-Bar to the small village of Le Chesne. Steve joined me for this inaugural trip, and we serenely cruised along in spring weather (breezy, sudden squalls, and intermittent, glorious sunshine). The boat is doing well, so arrival in Le Chesne was without drama.

Le Chesne is a very sleepy village, which is surrounded by open agricultural fields, and reminds me a great deal of a Canadian prairie village. Of course the architecture is different, but the intimate connection between village and the fields surrounding is quite similar. Shops are closed on Mondays here, so there wasn’t a great deal to do or see, other than a closed college, a large but plain church, and a large grain elevator.

We are headed back to Pont-a-Bar, and hope that the Meuse is reopened to navigation after high water levels for the past 10 days.

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Oct 21 (retro)

In searching through my photos, I found evidence of more adventures, and learning moments.

look hard for the climbers!

Along the Meuse, a spectacular rock formation, with climbers enjoying the spectacular setting. Reminds me of when I was an avid climber, always looking for such challenges.

Along the Meuse, an ancient monestery (11th century) at Mont-devant-Sassey. The bells were cast in the local village, in a foundry that made thousands of bells for the local area. The church is remarkably restored and maintained.

A visit to Hackenberg fortress, the first of the Maginot defenses built after the first World War, to protect France from the continuing threats from Germany. The forts DID protect France: none was captured by fire by Germany during the second World War. However, the forts did not prevent Germany from conquering France- they went around the defenses, overran the French, Belgian and British armies in Belgium and northern France, and this caused the forts to surrender after France surrendered. A city underground, this fort was actually a collection of defences, linked by underground railway. An amazing experience to visit today.

main entry point for supplies for the Hackenberg fortress

part of the kilometers-long tunnel and rail system inside the fortress

part of the ammunition storage- the rail system on the roof was used throughout the fortress to transfer the tons of munitions

a room used for training

officers quarters- the men were much closer together!

view from an observation cupola the mushroom-like things are the gun turrets, up to 130mm, which could fire to the horizon visible

 

 

 

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October 13

A month of change for me. I finished up my exploration in France for this year, moving the boat to it’s winter mooring in Pont-a-Bar. I spent the last two weeks of September exploring by car with Pat and Kerry, and we toured all over the area: Reims, Verdun, Trier, Bastogne, Charleville-Meziers, and Luxembourg.

map room of Allied Headquarters, where the Nazis signed the surrender for WW2

Reims provided a wonderful day, where we explored another magnificent cathedral, this one where (almost) all the kings of France have been crowned. We also visited the museum in Rooseveldt High School, where the Nazis surrendered to the western Allies on May 7, 1945. The Russians were miffed that the surrender didn’t occur in Berlin, to them, so a repeat ceremony was held there later. Politics! The school was used as Allied Headquarters, but has been returned to it’s school function.

Reims Cathedral western front

evidence of shelling and the trenches around Douamont

monument, ossuary and cemetery at Douamont

inside the monument at Douamont: hallowed halls

part of the cemetery from the top of the monument. the center section are graves of soldiers from Morocco and Algeria (muslim) who died for France

Verdun was for shopping and restocking, but we also went to the nearby village of Douamont, which was one of several villages destroyed in the extended fighting around Verdun, during the first World War. The national monument of France is there, remembering almost 1 million people who died in the fierce conflict in the area. The ossuary contains the bones of more than 130,000! The cemetery in front of the monument has many identified graves as well. A monument to peace, there is a video presentation which has side-by-side scenes from both sides of the conflict. A very good video about the Verdun area and WW1.

cathedral in Trier. note the hanging organ on the right!

Roman ruins in Trier

We also visited Luxembourg, but difficulties in finding parking anywhere near the city center, made our trip a drive-through. We went on to Trier in Germany, which made that a 4 country day. Trier has a huge cathedral and church complex, and has been a significant city since Roman times. The Porta Nigre is the Roman gate to the city.

Bastogne is another center of military interest, but this time, of World War 2. A hold-out place, it was not conquered by the Nazis during the battle of the Ardennes, also known as the Battle of the Bulge. Occurring during December 1944, this was the last attempt of the Nazis to succeed in that war. There are several sites to visit, but we could only get to the main museum, and the American memorial monument.

The amount of effort, money, and the cost in people’s lives during the major conflicts that have occurred in this area, is staggering. Such a waste! Hopefully, people are smart enough to realize that, and such conflicts never occur again. Seeing the aftermath: cities needing complete re-building, the huge cost in lives- and that is only part of the cost to people- the injured, wounded, and traumatized ones are more hidden from notice. It is difficult for a Canadian to really understand the impact of war, as we have not had war afferct us in the same way. It has been a significant learning experience!

I am now embarking on a month of land-based touring in Britain, re-visiting friends, ringing a little, and exploring a place or two inaccessible to boats.

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Sept 15

Verdun

an 11th century church, hidden away in a ravine that has protected it from the ravages of many wars

idyllic French waterways cruising

We travelled further upstream on the Meuse, with many of the river meanders cut-off by canalized sections. The river flow is very slow at this time, so going upstream is not an issue. The river valley alternates between high banks and wide flood plains, intensely farmed, but often with hay or grazing along the river, to prevent serious erosion in the (reportedly) frequent winter and spring floods. That remains the single biggest obstacle to wintering anywhere except at Pont-a-Bar, where I will be.

Verdun waterfront, with the queue of boats awaiting the reopening of the canal south. I think it will be a long wait…

one of the monuments to the fallen of WW1

soldiers of France, with the names of all of Verdun’s fallen inscribed below

The moorings at Verdun do have pontoons that look like the tidal ones: huge pylons to allow the pontoons to float in high water, but they would be very uncomfortable moorings in high water, and very public as well. So, I am heading back downstream, past Sedan, for my winter bolt-hole.

a replica of some of the fighting areas around Verdun (WW1)

bread stores in the tunnels of the citadel

rebuilt streets of Verdun, with very typical window shutters

Verdun’s psyche is permeated by the scars of Works War 1. The site of one of the longest and bloodiest battles, the area around Verdun survived (barely), mostly by digging tunnels. The Citadel here is really just a network of tunnels, where the Verdun Garrison survived in horrendous conditions. The city was 85% destroyed, but was rebuilt. There is a superb exposition on automatic train cars, through some of the tunnels, that really explains the situation, conditions, and effects on the city. Unfortunately, is is very dark, and flash photos are not permitted, so sharing that isn’t easy.

We’ve had continuing great weather, with cool nights and mostly bright, sunny, warm days.

I’m looking forward to having yet more time to deal with boat issues: the last was a jammed engine control, which (of course), occurred while in a lock, and resulted in our colliding with a lock gate. It shook things, and there is some damage, but all repairable. We are proceeding…

an innovative river-side fishing perch…

the boat in typical Halte moorings, in Consenvoye.

The canal vistas are spectacular. With the great weather, crops are mostly harvested, and the fruit trees along the canal are laden. We’ve been stuffing ourselves with pears, prune plums and every sort of apple.

Along the way, we stopped in Consenvoye. Here is a German military cemetary, where more than 11,000 are buried, all from WW1. Well kept, and certainly respected, with a very different layout than cemetaries of France or Britain, each cross represents 4 soldiers.

 

 

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Sept 9

Belgium and then France

outside the Sax museum where the inventor of the saxophone lived

the citadel at Dinant

the citadel and Cathedral from the water, at Dinant

The Meuse. An historic route from eastern France to the sea, the Meuse is a most interesting waterway. We traveled south, up the Meuse to a spectacular mooring in Dinant, sandwiched in a narrow valley, overlooked by an impressive fortress, the Citadel. The distinctive cathedral, with it’s restored bulbous spire, and carillon, was between ius and the citadel. We explored both, and ended the day with traditional moules et frites (mussels and French fries), all memorable.

Then, further up the Meuse, to France and Givet. Despite mooring issues initially, we found a place and all was well. Then next evening, in an especially tranquil village, we moored in a natural amphitheatre, where the echo of dogs barking lasted for seconds, yet strangely super peaceful and restful.

chateau de Freyer

roches de Freyer

Fortress Charlemont, near Givet

the natural amphitheatre of river cliffs at the tranquil mooring in Laifour

natural tree sculture

supervising billy goat gruff at a lock

The river provides all sorts of interesting things to see: chateaux all along the sides, cliffs (and climbers!), and lots of fortifications. We also met some new friends, (Diana and Chris on Esme) as well as Rita and Alex, and spent a shared evening of learning Farkle ( a dice game).

 

 

Then, on to Charleville-Meziers, where we were joined by our friend Nick Seager (needing a boat fix after selling his boat of 19 years..).

We left the very posh moorings there, and made our way to the confluence of the Meuse and the Canal des Ardennes. This was the only alternate route for me, and would have led towards Paris. However, this canal suffered extensive flood damage early in the year and is now closed. Hmmm. We also discovered that the upper end of the Meuse (now called the Canal d’Est) is also closed due to lack of water. This has made a significant challenge, as the only alternatives are to stop for the winter, or to retreat to, either Dunkerque, or towards Belgium or Holland to search for a mooring. Neither is a great option, so I am staying in Pont-`a-Bar for the winter. Quite remote, and there will be winterizing issues, but such is a boater’s life.

horses on show

another of the fairy-tale book figures carved in the competition

We moved on to Sedan, where we discovered that it was fair weekend. The moorings are attached to the fairgrounds, so we were able to explore this very traditional agricultural fair. Show bunnies, chickens, sheep, all sorts of cattle, and horses (including the heavy draught horses of the Ardennes). Really quite amazing, as they also were showing the forestry skills of the horses, and some sophisticated forestry equipment. We also were entertained by the French national chainsaw

the third of 10 different sculptures we watched emerge from the tree trunks

sculpture competition- amazingly chewing up tree trunks into artwork!

 

fortified castle at Sedan

upper ramparts of the castle at Sedan

We also had a chance to tour the largest old fortification in Europe. This huge castle has evolved (as most have), through many centuries. The contrasts are evident, as the castle was never demolished to make way for new things; they simply added more. Part of huge defensive works around the main castle, it helped make Sedan an independent principality at one time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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August 31

Belgium

the crew! Thanks Pat and Kerry

We have toured from our entry at Antoing (Perrones), across the southern part of the province of Wallonie. After the huge locks at Perrones, we moored for the night beside another huge lock on a disused side canal, the Pommeroeul. This would have been a short cut that would have saved 2 days cruising, but, alas, is now closed.

13.5m lock gates at the entrance to the Pommeroeul Canal

We went through Mons, which was anti-climactic, until we met the huge lift at Strepy-Thieu, which has replaced 4 smaller lifts and a lock on the old canal through Mons. A spectacular experience!.

Strepy-Thieu boat lift approach from below

view of the Sambre valley from the lift

 

 

 

exit at the top of the boat lift 73.15m rise!

We moved along, and have seen abbeys, vast heavy industry, culminating in the seriously huge works, mostly derelict, in Charlerois.

However, unlike Britain, where there is very little commercial traffic on the waterways, and few of the heavy industrial sites are working, in Belgium, the canal-sides are lined with many heavy industrial places, from metal recycling, steel fabrication and aggregate manufacturing, through several container transfer ports. Interesting, and economically very important (and why the waterways are full of the large ships), if not entirely appealing to look at.

flood prevention gate near the boat lift

heavy industry at Charlerois

dismantling the works!

Abbey at Floreffe, from the river

We made the transition from smaller canalized river (the Sambre) to the much larger Meuse at Namur, the capital of Wallonie. There is a huge citadel fortress, begun about 1000 AD, and added to in stages through the 19th century. Not significant at all in the 20th century, both world wars passed it by. However, Namur, at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers, was a pivotal place, and suffered much damage.

Sambre River side in Namur

the citadel above the major old bridge across the Meuse, in Namur

Namur citadel at night

Searching for Utopia

confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers, from the citadel in Namur

We have seen all sorts of lock designs, from the traditional V-gates, to lift gates, and a first for us, cable-suspended slide gates. The locks continue to be much larger than in the UK.

 

 

 

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