Tuesday, August 11, 2009


30th July 2009

We are finishing our 10th day at this canalside village of Cours-les-Barres which is another typical example of simplicity coupled with French tastes and beauty. We arrived here after missing out on a berth at Marseilles-les-Aubigny which some people said was a good port but due to all the holiday traffic as we get close to August which is Europe’s vacation period, we found the port to be full.

We pushed on and found this great little port, Cours-les-Barres which was occupied by about 5 other boats including Anna-Marie IV, a hotel barge which caters mainly for folk who want good, clean, basic accommodation with good meals but want to spend most of their time off the barge cycling through the countryside on the bicycles supplied as part of the package. It seems very popular with Kiwis and Australians as well as all other nationalities so they have a lot of fun. They cycle up to 60 kilometres per day so are early to bed in the evenings which means a quieter vessel and less drinking after dinner I am told. The crew helped us tie up and offered advice on the town such as where was the bakery, butcher and how far away was the local supermarket and bar.

Rhonda's Comment: Harry checks out his new park.

We look up the hill from our berth to the Mayor’s (Mairie) office which is set in beautiful grounds (of course) and which has walkways through it allowing access to the village. Just a delight with garden plots of bright coloured flower beds and shrubs. The French make a big thing of using hedges of all sorts and sizes, many which are trimmed to amazing shapes and which offer privacy even in small public gardens and restaurants. Well, on Sunday we watched as the local authority truck and van pulled into Our Harry’s park and began setting up pews and speakers etc. It turned out to be mass as this was the weekend of celebrating the Harvest Festival and commemoration of the Saint Panteleon who was in this town in the 5th century. As the day went on we discovered that up through the town, there is a great park where they had amusement rides and were having all sorts of contests typical of a country sports meeting as in New Zealand in the 50s and 60s.

After dinner that evening, we heard bands playing just up in the car park so went up and followed all the musicians ranging from school children to quite elderly folk playing a huge assortment of instruments plus drum majorettes and marching girls and boys. We noticed that people were assembling all around the lake which adjoined the park so we joined to see what was what. At 10.30pm the sky lit up with the start of a very impressive fireworks display accompanied of course by the thunder of the explosions. Well, I have to say that it sure did not suit my hero Harry and all he wanted to do was make a bolt for home (the boat) so we had to leave and he strained at the leash all the way back. As we stepped up onto the boat the fireworks ceased and the silence was deafening. The look on his face almost told us that he thought his actions of getting home had stopped the problem. So much for a good night out.

Rhonda's Comment: What conscience!!!!

Since then we have used the scooter to travel back to Marseilles-les–Aubigny to see what we had missed when we couldn’t get a berth there only to find it was a miserable little town really with little or no facilities other than those on fingers for small craft up to about 12 metres, so smiling we turned back to our little haven to enjoy another 35 degree day, blue skies with little or no breeze and just a delight to behold.

Rhonda's Comment: This is only the second time this iron has been used!!!!!

Next morning after doing the boatwork (just like housework only more difficult!!!) we again headed off on the scooter to the town of Fourchambault where there are two supermarkets or as they call them here Supermarches to choose from. It is a busy little town with banks etc so we spent a few hours pottering about looking at the shops and drinking coffee, trying to have conversations with some of the locals who were also relaxing in the shade at the coffee shop before loading up with our shopping (you can’t get too much in the backpack while on the scooter) before returning to the boat for a lazy afternoon.

We have had Dutch, Germans, Belgian, French, English, Canadian, American, Australian and even Kiwis come by or stopover in the 10 days we have been here so we seem to do a lot of chatting. One English couple were spending their last few weeks on the canal after 10 years of cruising through France, Belgium, Germany and Holland. They have a few health issues so decided to retire from the waterways and were off back to the UK to buy a home and sell the barge. Another couple who have been here for a few days also have completed 8 years on the canals, with the last 4 being in their beautifully refurbished 29m barge called Déjà Vu.

While we thought “Somewhere” is a large vessel, Déjà Vu is like the Queen Elizabeth with so much space inside you feel as though you are in a French farmhouse. This saloon area is accompanied by a huge rear semi enclosed rear deck makes outdoor living bliss. Jadel and Jack who are from Arizona, have a great knowledge of the canals and passed on many tips to us re good mooring sites etc, for which we are very grateful.

There is a whole community life on the canals with almost everyone doing whatever they can to assist other bargees depending on skills. When we had an electrical problem in Cours-les-Barres, Jack from Déjà Vu came forward to help and almost at the same time a fellow who is from Quebec, George with wife Lucie who have also spent many years on the waterways and was stopping over with his boat Black Magic 1 stepped up and said ”leave it to me, I am sure I will be able to fix it” and then added he had spend 30 years working for Volvo Penta so understood wiring and electrics. Within an hour he had traced the problem to a cracked switch and replaced it all for a simple ‘thanks mate’. Needless to add we all spent a few early evenings sitting out under the trees testing the local wines and nibbles, exchanging news and views from all over. It is amazing how quickly one can offer cures to all the worlds’ problems when you are seated relaxing with a glass of Cab Sav or similar.

As we reported in our last blog we, sadly lost our brother-in-law last week so his service was on Tuesday so it was really nice to be in a quiet spot so we could sit quietly to remember him and his life’s achievements and to offer our moral support to the rest of the family.

As the weather has got hotter and more humid, we are starting to see more and more of the European wasps which were in real plague form when we were in England during the summer of 2004. I sure hope they don’t get to the same level of nuisance as they did then when you had to cover your drink or food to prevent them just settling and being a real pain to shift. I remember at one tearoom advertising Devonshire Teas which I love so, we went in and ordered some for each of us. When the waitress found out we would be sitting outside in the courtyard she said “here take a dessert bowl with you to stop the wasps landing” I thought she was joking only to find she was very truthful, so we hope we don’t have that here but as the trees are now dropping fruit every where I guess it will be a problem. We have had some window screens made so had better fit them in the next few days. Also, we have experienced ticks and fleas getting onto Harry despite having his coat cut short and being bathed plus being dosed regularly. They are a real nuisance and as he loves the long grass, we have to be really diligent.

Rhonda's Comment: The drink with all the cream is what the French call a cappucino!!!!

Rhonda's Comment: Note the headwear this fisherman is wearing. Might market these back in NZ.

I have talked previously about the locals love for fishing in the canals and rivers and despite the fact that boats dump there sewage direct into the canals there are plenty of fish to see and being caught, but the point I wanted to make, is a saying that the French believe in quantity as a success marker I guess. It is like the doctors seem to believe that if 2 tablets a day are good, then 4 must be better and prescribe accordingly. Well, the same thing seems to apply to the fishermen who will arrive armed with anything up to 6 rods which they set even using a multiple rod holder brace. It is sometimes amazing to come around a corner in the canal and then watch the mad scramble as the fishermen wind in their lines and pull back their rods as often they have cast right across the width of the canal. Needless to say there is little love lost between bargees and fishermen, however, we have managed to avoid getting lines wound around the boat so far. We have also learned that one of the reasons for the fishermen to flock to the canals is that it is free, whereas if you want to fish in the rivers and lakes you pay a fairly hefty licence fee, so that answers why perhaps so many fish these areas.

Another quaint thing we have noticed is the amount of folk who adorn their yards and gardens with gnomes or miniature statuettes. Some of them are just the usual gnomes we are familiar with from the 7 dwarfs styling or similar, some of them are religious or of local notable folk. It appears as though there is little or no theft as there is no attempt to protect them in any way in fact some of them are sitting on the front steps of houses which are right on the footpath or similar. It is great to see and feel as though people care about each others properties in general and do not need to steal and or damage property to get a thrill. As we have said earlier, the same applies to the great vegetable gardens and orchards of fruit trees which are grown in abundance and would be so accessible if you wished to enter these private areas.

Before reaching Nevers, we encountered a double lock which is one lock which steps up 3mtrs and then you are straight into another lock which rises 6mtrs making a total of a 9m lift from the original canal and you exit the lock straight onto a Pont-Canal du Guetin which is a bridge high above the l'Allier river. This bridge 343m long with 18 arches. and obviously filled with water so we motored across looking down into the river below to the picnickers and fishermen and while being a little scary the experience and view was fantastic.

Our next port is the city of Nevers which is the capital of the Nivernaise region and lifted off the scooter and went exploring the city centre. As it was 10 am on a Saturday morning we decided that we would have a MacDonalds for breakfast having seen the sign on the roadside, (restaurants in rural France don’t do breakfasts as a rule) well believe it or not, it was not open as it was too early. “Come back at lunch time”. We couldn’t believe it. The Tabacs are open early but that is to sell cigs etc and to serve coffee only or beer or spirits. It is amazing to see people having a tipple at that time of the day. We have only seen a couple of Big Mackers and same for Subway. No KFCs or Burger Kings etc, but yesterday we did come across a Big Beef which was signed and painted in bright red colours like MacDonalds which only served beef meals so we will give that a try while we are here.

This city area has a long history dating back to Julius Cesar who made it his home for a period when ruling France and some of the old town ruins are still available to view. Since then due to the great growing area, commerce was strong so drew all sorts of people to live here. There is a magnificent cathedral and lots of churches from the various religions of the inhabitants (the sky in the central old part of the city is dominated by spires so they are good land marks when finding your way around. Also there is a beautiful palace (The Palace Ducal) set in a square of its own which was constructed in 1460 with nearby belfry being built in 1398. It is hard to believe that these type of constructions have stood firm over the centuries and I even find it hard to believe how old that is when you consider New Zealand wasn’t even discovered until 1769.

This area is also famous for its wine growing due to the chalk base and high-fired pottery (means firing each piece twice at 980 then 940 degrees which brings remarkable results) and the painting thereof is something to behold. The famous Charalois beef cattle are reputed to have been started here and are on every farm and are a fine breed by any standards. Along with the Roi Negus chocolates, Nougat (Nougatine de Nevers) the locals sure know how to prepare food so that it always seems to be great.

The other night I asked for Moules and Frites which is a specialty of this whole area which translates to Mussels and Fries. Well, the mussels are so much smaller than what we are used to. Nothing like the size of the Kiwi green lipped variety but they serve them in a pot which is filled with about 50 or 60 mussels plus a bowl of hot fresh fries plus of course the obligatory bread roll sections. The mussels were steamed in a very light cream sauce which is laden with garlic and other subtle spices and is sure a great meal.

At the end of our little port there is a magnificent complex of swimming pools (5 plus a complete water slide set up and as you will see from the pics, this should be a real centre of summer activity but no, the complex has not opened this year as the city fathers thought it would only be used in July/ August so would be too expensive to get ready and operate so it sits unfilled and looking somewhat unloved yet just over the bridge they have set up a full beach scene on the banks of the mighty Loire River, sand, sunshades, seats, umbrellas, kiosks, and even lifeguards. All at no charge so it can only happen in France I guess.

Ok, I will close off for now and by the next blog we should have explored so much more of this magic area, if I can wake Rhonda!!!!!
Locks - 192
Klms - 947