Sunday, July 26, 2009



Hello Everyone,

Well, we are stopping over for 3 nights in the small town of Belleville-sur-Loire situated still on the Canal Lateral a la Loire which means this canal runs parallel to the great Loire River. It gives straight access from Briare right through to where it joins up with the Canal du Central and will take you onto the great Rhone River and right through to the Mediterranean. However, we are headed for St Jean-de-Losne where we will winter over at the port of H2O which is a huge complex and a good winter service centre. Meantime, we have lots of cruising to do and lots of interesting areas to see.

As I have been recuperating over the last few days following my fall, we stayed put until I was strong enough to manage the boat again and hence we are here at this nuclear power plant town. It is a town where the people must be very proud of their environs as everything is so tidy and every home has nice lawns and gardens and the place just has the feeling of being cared for. As tomorrow is Bastille Day which is a huge day for the French, we will stay for another couple of days as everything is closed for this celebration day and it is so pleasant.

We look across the canal one way and across the paddocks to this huge nuclear power plant which has two towers standing about 80m high and even the main office and admin blocks are 10 to 12 storeys high. There is no comment from the locals about the dangers of this plant or the end product, in fact, I believe that approx 37% of all of France's power is generated from nuclear reactors such as this one. I guess it is a case of if you want power, you had better make it from what is available.

We have taken some photos of the parks and grounds which are included for you to appreciate just what can be done when a community cares. We can't believe how works of art and ornaments are left on show without any sign of vandalism whatsoever. Rhonda and I often comment with sayings like "gee look at that, it wouldn't last one night in New Zealand before it was stolen or vandalised."

We attended the local Bastille Day Celebration Ceremony attended by the Mayor, the chief gendarme, a small colour party of 4 and about 30 people only. We were pleased to be there to represent New Zealand on this auspicious day.

Well as they say, before long all things can be reversed as last night there was a Bastille Party across the street which was relatively noisy and was to be expected, however, in the early hours some of the louts decided it would be fun to let go of our mooring lines off the wooden bollards. We awoke around 6.00am to the noise of being clunked into the opposite bank as we drifted quietly across the canal. No damage done as there is no current and no wind but it was annoying and while we couldn't do anything about it we reported the event to the local Lock Keeper.

We decided to move off out of the town so as to avoid any further misbehaving so travelled some 6kms further along to the next village of Lere and as we pulled in a couple off another boat came to take our lines and to welcome us to this small but very pleasant township. These folk are from Cambridge New Zealand and have been on the canals since 2004 so are a wealth of knowledge about where to go and what to see.

This village, Lere, is on the edge of the Chablis and Cab Sav grape growing area so we look forward to sampling some of the fine products on offer. The village was built away back in the 5th century and has remains of buildings from that period which are still available to view and the church was built in the 8th century and offers small tours of the crypts underneath. Amazing really when you consider what has gone on during these past centuries of ravaging storms and wars and civil unrest. The home of Jeanne d Arc is also here where she lived in 1421 in the house which shows in our blog, is still lived in and is in pretty good order.

On Thursday we got a phone call from Allan and Kate, my nephew and niece from Hamilton who have been touring London and now France, to say that they were staying on the other side of the Loire Valley some 2 hours drive away and wished to come over to visit. Well, the day was another perfect one weatherwise so we were able to sit up on the deck under the umbrellas and have a great chat with them and their kids, Rebecca and Ben.

They had bought with them a whole lot of English papers, plus chutneys and pickles from Harrods so added to a typical french style lunch that Rhonda had prepared and we had a great time all round. It was so good to see them and the day came to a close all too soon and after they left we sat upstairs rejoicing at how blessed we were when we noticed a cloud bank coming over and sure enough we experienced one of the worst storm I have been in.

We just had time to get everything packed down, closed up and tied down when the storm hit with the most amazing electrical storm followed by a huge hail storm. The pieces of ice were about half the diameter of a golf ball and then teeming rain with winds up to about 60kms hit which stripped the leaves off all the nearby trees and plastered the boat like a wallpaper job. I honestly thought that the windows were going to break, so strong was the storm and force of the hail hitting us. We are 45 tonnes and were pushed about a lot on our ropes and that was worrying until you looked at some of the fibreglass rentals which were also berthed in front and behind to see them bouncing around like corks so everyone waited with baited breaths until the worst had passed then helped each other to re-tie lines and to collect stuff which had been blown off boats while others helped clean up water which had forced its way in through windows or vents.

Today dawned with much improved conditions so we all cleaned up and relaxed again. It just shows how mother nature can sure dish it out when she wants to and during my morning walk with Harry we noticed trees blown down, many of them fruit trees so that is a sad loss as they are all loaded with fruit almost ready to pick. We just imagined how the grape vines would have suffered as the winds flattened the wheat crops nearby as well.

For those folk who are interested, the Tour de France is underway and while we won't be near the course this year we watch it on the TV and it is amazing how supportive this country is plus the great following by folk from all over Europe. It is amazing how much they know about the riders, their history and placing and when you consider there are hundreds of riders it is great that so much interest is shown. The only names we seem to know is Lance Armstrong and the Kiwis Julian Dean and Hayden Rolston plus a couple of Aussies.

My knowledge of the French language has not really improved much but Rhonda has done so well. She was a great help for Daphne and Claude in working out sightseeing routes and places of interest and in particular travel arrangements. I don't know how we would have got on without her skills and she seems to get on so well with the lockmasters (eclusiers) that we can have a laugh with them and get the best of courteous treatment which is wonderful and we just love the way of life and believe we have done the very best thing we could do.

We will stay here in Lere for another couple of days and then move on towards Sancerre which is highly rated as a true tourist stopover. We arrived in St-Thibadit which is a great little marina in a small canal extension which would without the lock at the end of the port run direct into the main Loire River, however, this river is some 30m below our canal level. The port was very busy and we really had to squeeze in amongst approx 50 odd craft. It is a great place to stay as there are water and power points supplied to each berth. The cost per day which you might find interesting is 12 Euros for our size barge per day with power at 3.50E and water at 2.50E. This equates to approx NZ$35.00 per day which while not being cheap is real value due to the security and all weather protection offered.

We off-loaded the scooter and set off up the nearby mountain which has a castle ruins perched right on top thus giving fantastic views over the wine growing valleys and fields below. The village which is spread out all around the top of the mountain is fantastic with its huge variety of restaurants and art galleries and artisan shops. Great foods and choices and at realistic prices so we ate up there twice and again just loved the chosen menu items.

We ended up staying 4 days as there was were 2 large supermarkets as well as market days offering stall products of fresh vegetables, breads and fresh meats, so we were able to buy what we wanted to restock the boat while enjoying all the town has to offer. It was hot, 35 degrees so we visited the local public swimming baths which are lovely with 3 pools one of which is Olympic size but unusually having a depth range from 1.5m to 2.5m acted as a limiting factor for small children to enter s they had a choice of the other two pools which were .5m and 1m respectfully. We were impressed with the kids behaviour. No squealing or signs of misbehaviour plus any foods purchased or taken to the complex must be eaten outside the hedged pool surrounds so everything was clean and tidy. You cannot gain entry to the pool areas without walking through a large footbath and then walking through the overhead showers before going in for a swim. Also we noticed only 2 lifeguards on duty. No bright coloured uniforms or costumes, just a white cap and a mobile phone. No whistles, megaphones or PA announcements shattering the relaxing atmosphere. The guards made just a quiet approach to anyone who needed to be talked to or who had questions in turn. I guess there were approx. 800 people at least at the complex. What a pleasant place to spend a few hours.

The next day we got really brave and stuffed Harry into the backpack and scootered down to the mighty Loire River which has a water tableway of approx 300m wide and still flowing quite quickly in some areas. We found a nice offshoot and spent a great hour or two lounging in the warm waters. Even Harry had a swim or should I say a paddle as he didn't trust the current all that much.
We met another 2 Kiwi couples and a man who was boating on his own who comes from Christchurch, in fact from Little River, were we lived for a few years with Dad being the local headmaster there. Russ (my brother) and I went to school and Thelma (my sister) used to travel by train everyday to Christchurch Girls High so we had lots to talk about as he knew names of some of the local folk who lived there in our time. We have met so many great people on our adventures.

Sadly this week my much loved brother-in-law, Mel, passed away quite suddenly from lung cancer which had not been picked up much earlier, so we are all doing our grieving at present. So I will leave you with these thoughts again, if you want to do something, no matter how crazy it sounds to others, if you really want to do it, then do it. Don't be sitting in your old rocking chair later in life saying, gee I wish we had done so in so. Get on with life as this one is not a dress rehearsal. Best Wishes to you all.

Locks: 179
Klms: 886

Thursday, July 23, 2009



We have now enjoyed more than 15 days of the greatest summer weather one can imagine with clear blue skies, temp around 30 degrees and a little or no breeze from dawn to about 10.00pm when it would get to be evening but not really dark. We feel we have certainly been blessed.

Our guests, Daphne and Claude Merriott have certainly enjoyed the best of travelling conditions for boating through the canals with us since their arrival in early June. Even though we only travelled a few kilometres, we were just forced to stay in the township of Montargris which is picture postcard perfect and some pictures are included here.

Most of the locks on this particular canal are manual whereby the lock-keeper opens and closes the locks by winding the sluices and gates taking much longer to go through but the actual lock keeper houses and surrounding grounds are so pretty. Some were set with lovely gardens and lawns and even sculptures adorning the grounhds. It was while waiting to get into one of these locks that we saw our first snake swimming alongside the boat. It was over a metre long and beautifully marked, however, I can assure you there was very rapid movement on board to get away from any open doors, etc. Then the very next day we saw another one just leaving the canal to enter the vegetation along the bank of the canal, so we will have to be a bit more alert from now on and keep an eye on Harry too.

You will see some photographs which shows a series of seven locks in steps. These are the Rogny-les-Sept-Ecluses which are a site to see. While these particular locks built by Henry IV in 1605 are no longer used they have been kept to show what magnificent engineering took place at that time. There is now a set of 6 locks which still climb the same hill area but they are spaced and easier to use.

Briare, the largest town of the area became a most welcome stopover for us all, however, after unloading the scooter and then the new boarding ramp as we were moored against a sloping bank, when I stepped onto the ramp it slipped off the side of the boat dumping me onto the concrete nibway edge of the canal. After scrambling to an upright position, I soon realised that I was hurting pretty badly and after a trip to the local hospital in Gien x-rays revealed no broken bones, only torn muscles and cartilages, I have a few days of real suffering to get over this accident. I can't recall pain like it ever so I have a new respect for similar victims. Great service and every check was done and all at no charge so that was a nice touch by the local staff. It is only when something like this happens does one realise how vulnerable we are as we get older.

While I stayed aboard to recuperate, Rhonda, Daphne and Claude walked to all the main attractions in Briare including the museums, galleries and viewed many very neat gardens and local sights.

This town is famous for the amount of mosaic work which is used in buildings everywhere and its Pont-Canal built in 15th century. The aquaduct/bridge was designed by Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower, is some 662m long and 11.5 m wide and carries boats and barges from the Canal Lateral which simply means alongside the main river and over the Loire. It is quite wonderful to be boating up to 80 metres above this huge river and when you consider it was bombed and destroyed during WWII, it was deemed to be of such importance that it was reconstructed soon afterwards to allow this vital traffic route to operate fully again.

Rhonda's Comment: We did have our photo taken when we did the crossing but I must have lost it in cyberface!!!!!!! (eh Daph)

The flow of traffic across the Pont-Canal is one-way and despite the distance there are no traffic lights or signals so you just look to see if the span is clear and proceed on your way.

However, after a couple of days we decided to push ahead with our journey towards Chatillon-sur-Loire where we found all the berths full apart from one which was approx 22 metres long (remembering that our barge is 21m !!!!!) against the bank among the hire boats. It was a case of grabbing the opportunity to berth or having to move on several kilometres, so I reversed into the spot and boastingly add, it was a perfect berthing despite the sudden down pour and wind which sprang upon us. If you think I am being boastful, you had better believe it and I sure let those on board know how skilful it was. Maybe a bit of a fluke but gee I sure felt good despite the pain of driving with my injuries. Thank goodness Rhonda and Claude were ready to tie off for me.

Rhonda's Comment: Needless to say I am still hearing about it.

At this location we caught up with some of the staff off the hotel boat whom we had got to know some days earlier down the canal and whom were most friendly and offered assistance if required. One of the staff girls, Helen was a Kiwi from Wellington and she took a liking to Harry, so it was nice to talk with her and for harry to get so excited each time we all met up.

A family on the hire boat moored in front of us took off yesterday for their much anticipated boating holiday only to return about half an hour later and it unfolded that the son (10 years of age) fell while on board and broke his arm very badly, so an ambulance was called and he was carted off to hospital for plastering, etc. So much for their summer holiday, however, he returned today and away they went. Just shows how easy it is to have thos accidents at any time.

While this area is no different to lots of other French towns as far as business closures is concerned, it really hits home when you see whole streets where there are no operting shops or retailers left so you can imagine how it compounds on the home occupancy levels as well with so many properties boarded up.

Having now arrived in the famous Loire Valley district, the home of so many outstanding Chateaux with their beautiful grounds and supporting landscapes and famous wines, it is sad that we have to say goodbye to Daphne and Claude who are returning back to NZ via London. For those who have met Daphne or heard us talk of her culinary skills, will appreciate my need to get onto a diet to remove a few unwanted kilos added since she joined us on board. We will carry out the maintenance schedule required and refesh the odd paint chip and scrape along the hull while the opportunity exists.

As it is the high season of summer, there are lots of evening outdoor concerts planned for the next few weeks, so we may get to see some great spectaculars as the 14 July is Bastille Day (the biggest celebration day on the French calendar) and everyone gets out and adds to the fun and happenings. Though I don't think I will be doing too much dancing as the pain is still a bit niggly.