This was a very pleasant 39kms trip through some of the prettiest country-side we have seen so far including the biggest camping ground imaginable. This ran for at least 2 kms along the river and where it was possible to see through the beautiful forest, the grounds sloped back up to ½ a km offering such a mixed accommodation selection it was mind boggling. Ranging from basic tent and caravan sites to motor home parking to large family tents mounted on timber bases all fitted out with very nice beds and all the amenities you could want for a family set up right on the river bank, to log cabins to mobile homes to large tree houses to standard cabins right through to what looked to be 3 or 4 bedroom homes. The whole area is sheltered by beautiful tree lined tracks and roads so walking, cycling, and all sorts of sports are played on manicured pitches etc as well as fishing canoeing and yachting in the river. There appeared to be every facility imaginable.
With only light traffic and 6 easy locks to go through, we entered the city to find plenty of mooring spots right in the centre of town so tied up right by the main street with only a little park between us and the Hotel du Ville. After a brief walk around the park and into the city fringe with Harry, we sat down to relax in these great surroundings. We are only 62kms from Paris but will give the great city a miss this time around and concentrate on heading to the champagne and burgundy areas. This city, Soissons, is dominated by the spires from St-Jean des Vignes cloisters built in the 14th century which is all that is left after so many wars, along with another cathedral St-Gervais-et-St-Protais built at the same time is the main tourist attractions. These 2 churches show signs of the ravages of the wars which have raked this area. Bullet holes are clearly visible all around the walls and facades of these buildings. It is amazing to see structures so old yet so solid which is a factor applying to the whole of Europe’s architecture and building processes I guess.
After a very quiet Friday being May Day which is celebrated strongly in cities like Paris, this town was almost deserted until afternoon when a free trash and treasure roadside market was opened along the park fringe where the locals could display and offer any furniture, bric-a-brac and clothing. It stretched for a good kilometre so the choices were amazing. It makes the street market in Waiheke Island pale into insignificance a bit.
Like life in general, as we go along there are various things which show up and I note them here for your perusal:-
(b) The people are friendly but quite rude when it comes to moving through crowded areas or so and sure don’t mind pushing in front or shoving one aside to get to whatever they want.
(c) Holding doors open etc is not practiced for sure so it is a case of get through while you can.
(d) Pedestrians are only accepted as being on a protected area on a designated pedestrian crossing if actually on the side of the crossing the traffic is flowing onto otherwise the cars just shoot right through. Used to be like this in New Zealand too until the PC mob got busy.
(e) Give-Way signs are not used so it is a case of give way to your left, right and wherever if the need is there, however, I must say that on a couple of occasions I have been given away to even when I was in the wrong, I think.
(f) Guys make no effort to find urinals but just stand up against a wall or whatever and pee regardless of who is walking past. In the toilets the urinals are often in the hall-way so ladies going to their cubicles having to walk past a line up of fellows relieving themselves and none of them appear to bother to wash their hands after finishing.
(g) Dogs are common but nobody picks up after them unlike in the UK where everybody takes poop bags to dispose of the droppings.
(h) Rubbish disposal seems to be very mixed. There are lots of bins and receptacles where one can sort bottles and cans etc but the amount of litter dropped just where people are sitting or even standing is a sorry sight to see. They don’t seem to care or realise just what damage they are doing to their beautiful landscape and waterways. Just yesterday afternoon I noticed approx 24 beer bottles drifting down the river so someone had just dumped them rather that putting them in the bins provided.
(i) Most of the homes have alloy shutters set on the window frames so the owners can shut down when wishing to keep out the sun, the snow or nosey parkers. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the streets go so quiet in the early evening too. By 8.30 pm there are very few people using the streets or walkways and even a lot of the bars close at that time. When you look at houses and you expect to see lights on by about 7.00 pm as it is darkening then, they are likely to be few and far between. Maybe they enjoy candle light only as they enjoy their evening supper.
(j) Generally the hot meal is taken in the middle of the day, hence why there is the 1½ to 2 hours closedown from 12.15 pm so many people go home, eat have a snooze and then come back and work until 7.00 pm. The restaurants cater well for those who are not able to go home so the reason why the expansive menus are there and are so tempting.
(k) Motor vehicles are what we would call small sedans and diesel is very common in all brands even though the price difference is minimal between it and petrol. The size I guess is driven in part by the very narrow streets in the towns and cities and some are so narrow you can’t believe vehicles can get down them. This is also the reason I think why all the newer cars have fold back mirrors with some being automatic. As soon as you turn off the key, the mirrors fold back out of the danger zone.
(l) Primary school children start their schooling at 3 years of age, starting at 8.30 am and going through until 4.30 pm with a 2 hour layoff in the middle of the day when the school feeds them and the little ones have a nap (sounds good to me). Schools are also closed on Wednesday to give the kids a break. As soon as they start school they begin to be taught French, Maths, Geography and History. Can you imagine Kiwi kids doing that at 3 years of age. We are told that parents are very strict with their kids almost to the point of being cruel, however, we have only seen what seemed to be well behaved children at restaurants etc. I do think they are somewhat cruel to their animals which is upsetting and I have had a word or two on a couple of occasions when dogs have been receiving a thrashing. I think they love their animals but it is just that they don’t respect their needs and feelings very much.
As I think of other things which I think are worth noting I will add them to a blog.
Yesterday, I walked along the river esplanade to track down what all the PA noise was about etc. At a park nearby there was the area competition going on of Horse Ball. I had seen this once before when CNN was showing unusual sports some years ago. It is played on an area about the size of 3 Netball courts by 7 players on horses on each side plus an umpire. The ball is also about the size of a net ball but has leather thongs affixed to it. The game’s intent is to get the ball down to the opponent’s end where there is a net frame with a goal hoop which the carrying player hurls the ball through if possible. It is quite a vigorous sport as you can imagine with so many horses and riders in such a small area yet they get up to a full gallop at times and if the ball goes to the ground players must reach right down to pick it up while being jostled by their opponents. Passing of the ball is a part of the game so riding while letting go of the reins to pass or catch is all part of it. I guess there were about a thousand spectators and the finals will be held today, Sunday.
After another lazy day we headed off on Monday to see if we could make it to Berry-au-Bac which looked promising, however, after 8 hours we had had enough and as we were on a beautiful canal called Canal Lateral a l’Aisne, we pulled into the bank in the middle of a farming district and tied up using our long ropes to some trees well back from the edge. It was so quiet it was deathly silent to use that horrible term. We couldn’t even get TV despite having our satellite dish set so it was a case of read and listen to our music which was good for a change. Harry enjoyed the woodlands for his run and the opportunity to chase the birds from the tall grass.
At 7.00 am we were up and about to leave when a commercial barge came through and despite slowing down which was appreciated by us, threw us about and almost pulled one of the trees out of the ground (this gives you some idea of how much water displacement they pull from the surrounding area to feed the props, then squirt it back from the rear of the craft) so we finished our breakfast and left our pretty little bank side berthage and headed off to cover the 15 kms to Berry au Bac. This canal we were on was the cleanest so far and one could have swum in it without a problem as the water was clear to at least a meter so we guessed the reason was that it has only very few commercial barges use it and it is also fed by a river which flushes it. If the water was warmer I sure would have had a dip.
Well we reached Berry-au-Bac only to find it a disappointment with poor berthages and lots of heavy duty commercials hogging the quay-side tie up points, so we decided to keep going and hopefully reach Reims which is a very large city, by early afternoon. On the way we had problems with two of the locks. One which allowed us in but then would not fill with water or close its gates so eventually we had to back right out and to re trigger the reader and do it all again which then worked and the other one locked us in completely at the bottom of this 5m walled lock and with no lockmaster on duty, the automatics just didn’t work. VHF radio call to the advertised channel bought no response (we have since found that if they hear English being spoken and have difficulty in handling the language, they just don’t answer) however after a phone call someone answered and muttered something before hanging up and about 15 mins later a young (eclusier) lockmaster appeared with apologies and saying “we are sorry but some of the locks need rewiring etc but they hadn’t had time to do them) God only knows what they have done all winter.
He saw our Kiwi flag and registration and said in his reasonable English that he wants to come to live in New Zealand next year or at the latest the following year in time for the Rugby World Cup. The jumper he was wearing was a 6 nation’s promotion souvenir so I guessed he must be pretty keen. He followed us for the next two locks in his van to ensure all worked well and we gave him a Kiwi flag and Kiwi pen which he was really excited to receive and upon leaving said he would see us at the next lock. Well, as we came in there he was with his wife, daughter and son who was dressed in an All Black shirt and was so excited to meet some New Zealanders. He, the father handed us a beautiful bottle of local Champagne as we are now officially in the champagne region. We were a little embarrassed, however, he assured us that they wanted us to be as welcome as possible and maybe some Kiwis will be kind to them when they get to NZ. He says they want to settle in Christchurch as he is a Crusader fan and he wants his son to become naturalised and be the first ex Frenchman to become an All Black. The father was clutching his copy of Lonely Planet guide to New Zealand and the wife was pretty good with her English so we wished them well and it was with some difficulty that we had to leave them and head on our way with another 4 locks to do, before the end of the journey.
The lock keeper advised us not to stay in Reims as the berthages are again set right on the main canal and have a motorway running alongside so you can imagine how noisy it is and as we came through we could well see what he meant and while we want to visit this city we pushed on facing another 4 locks and at one I made a bad move adjusting for the outflow of water from the lock right as you entered the jaws and hit the wall pretty heavily putting the first dent in the coaming rail on the boat. I guess it won’t be the last dent but as you can imagine I was so annoyed with myself, however, no-one was hurt and as they say “a lesson learned” so on we went to the small town called Sillery, 12 kms south of Reims to find this fabulous little marina with full facilities, beautiful grounds and good security for €14.00 for 3 nights so we gladly paid and settled down for a few days stopover.
Rhonda' Comments: Iris and the studious one.
Rhonda's Comments: Steve sitting and Graham.
Rhonda's Comments: Our first champagne house.
Once back to the boat, I got stuck into giving it some TLC as it is surprising how much grime builds up, so windows and paintwork got a good going over and she looks so much brighter again, however, there is some touch-up painting to do as well so with wet weather forecast for the next week I will be ‘confined to boat’ as they say. It took two full days to get rid of all of the grunge, that is, when I wasn’t having a nap or a walk with Harry. The weather is a bit overcast and muggy but we will get by and after another couple of days taking ourselves on tours of some of the local towns in the district we will head off towards Epernay which is the official capital city of the champagne area and as the canal ahead lists 14 locks, one 2km tunnel and a swing bridge to encounter we will be up early and away.
This blog is dated 12th May 2009.
Some more rhyming Cockney slang which you may find to be humorous.
Pillow Weeping willow
Pub Rub a dub dub
Quid Tea pot lid
Rain Andy Cain
Sister Skin and blister
Scouts Brussels sprouts
Umbrella Auntie Ella
Wife Carving knife