Friday, September 18, 2009


Rhonda's Comment: Oh my goodness, is that Onslow on board? I wonder where Mrs Bucket is? Still asleep I see!!!!!

Yep, there is a distinct cooler feel in the air in the early mornings and late evenings. The Plane and Elm trees which seem to dominate the canal paths are turning red in colour and starting to have leaf fall along with some of the other deciduous tree varieties. Sadly the evenings are getting dark earlier so no more sitting up on the top deck until 10.00 pm. Gosh what a whinger I sound to be, but we have been spoiled I guess and have such wonderful memories of this fast fading summer but still do look forward to what lies ahead. Today I have put on a tracksuit and socks for the first time since leaving England last October but the day has been perfect with no clouds or wind so by midday it was back to shorts and a singlet again. So life isn’t all that bad.

We left Decize and pottered along the Canal de Lateral stopping over at more little ports or mooring places finding so many amazing places to call in to or to see in passing. One of these was the Abbaye de Sept-Fons which appeared through the forest scenery alongside the Loire River and is so notable due to its huge sprawling size and history. The amount of spires first takes your eye, typical in its livery of lead coloured tiles and general great condition.

The Abbey was founded back in 1132 by the Bourbon family and coveted of course by the church. By the 15th century it had fallen into a state of disrepair due in part to the scandalous behaviour of the monks at the time until they were finally banished. During the Revolution, the monks returned, however this time, they distinguished themselves by their faithfulness to the Pope and to the Church with many of them becoming martyrs. The Abbey still operates today, however, it is not open to the public so viewing is from afar or via a video centre at the entrance but is really impressive to view even from the distance. Sadly we could not get any pictures due to moving along the canal and trying to see it all through the forest but one day we may well return.
One of our over night stopovers was at Pierrefitte sur Loire as it offered water and safe mooring. We were the only barge there apart from some folks from North Carolina who pulled in behind us after tailing us all day through the canals and locks. Gene and Margaret were experiencing their first year on the canal in their 12 m ex-rental canal boat which suits their needs just fine. While moored up they and then Rhonda took a walk into the little village which offered some limited shops so Harry and I wandered over the stop bank to find this amazing man made lake and park with all the facilities.

I guess the park area would be 10 acres of clear and lightly wooded areas for shade with the lake being approx 800m long by 150m wide and the whole area is set up as a full recreational centre. Fishing is allowed from some areas with others reserved for kayaking or using the pedallo bikes which were parked on the banks, other areas were reserved for volley ball, beach soccer, football and a full obstacle course. Changing sheds, toilets and even a lifeguard patrolled a beach of lovely sand was all set up for users. Sadly, there was only a couple of kids playing at the beach despite it being really hot, and two or three fishermen making use of the facilities. I noticed that at the clubhouse, there were photos of the last fishing competition winners where pictures showed fish of up to 15 kilos being held on display. These were mainly of carp, trout or catfish varieties but there were plenty of participants vying for the trophies which looked to be pretty good.

Adjoining the park is a very nice camping ground and caravan park with all the facilities one needs and again they have used hedges to give each parking area its own privacy which adds to the meaning of getting away from it all. Just amazing really.

In my earlier blogs we referred to our sadness at finding so much rubbish in the canals in the north, so it would be remiss of me to not now say that we noticed a very different state applying as we have moved south. While some people may still get up from where they are picnicking and often leave their papers, bottles and scraps behind (they believe that to put them in the bin does someone out of their paid job), it is nowhere as bad and in fact the recycling facilities have to be seen to be believed.

Almost every where you go there are these large bottle receptacles for recycling and folk will drive to them to dump their empties as putting glass or cans or plastic bottles out with your general rubbish is frowned at. The reason I raise this now is that at our mooring there is a set of these receptacles which are approx 1000 litre capacity and even at the park I have written about had a set and there are sets of two standard size rubbish bins about every 25 meters apart right around the lake and then others are dotted through the park.

There were probably 50 park tables or as we call them BBQ tables set up ready for folk to use and I don’t know what is wrong with the kids over here but not one was burned or spray painted or vandalised. Gee they have a lot to learn. This same respect seems to apply to gardens, art works and street ornaments which show no sign of any damage. Wonderful.

I was amazed at how a small village could afford this type of facility with half of the shops being closed due to the recession. I found out that it was a district activity just completed prior to this downturn so at least it is there for the locals and visitors to enjoy. I hope they have enough funding to keep it in the lovely order it is currently in. Just along the Pier from where we berthed is a Hotel/Bar/Casino/Restaurant complex which looks lovely with great potential but is all closed up. A passing native advised us that it was a great business but the owner spent more in the Casino than what he was taking so was evicted some 6 months ago (just remember this Claude) and while it is all up for sale including a home on the site, no-one has yet put his hand up to take it over. Gee, 10 years ago I think I would have been tempted as the opportunity is right there.

We crossed a large Pont (canal on a bridge crossing a river or similar) which gave us our last views of the mighty River Loire which we have roughly followed on our adventure for so many weeks. We will miss the volume and size of this great waterway as it makes its way out to the coast while we go onto the Canal du Centre after leaving Digoin.

Well this came about sooner than we had thought as after having a brief look about the town of Digoin and spending the night in the so called port, we felt it was not our kind of place so we left after lunch and pushed our way through three locks and about 14 kms to the town of Paray-le-Monial. We felt good about the port so we moored up and off loaded the scooter ready to take off to see the sights, however, we coped a real summer storm of lightning and thunder with savage rain and no TV so it was a quiet night on board listening to French radio. Gee, what a thrill! The next morning the weather had cleared so off we went to look around the town and to do the supermarket shopping as there are 4 very large places to choose from.

We noticed that Diesel or Gazol as it is called here was being sold for .99 euros a litre which is about .26 euros cheaper than most outlets charge so off we went on the trusty scooter to fill our 20 litre container to top up the heating tank at least. Well it all went well until I went to siphon the container into the tank on board boat when it slipped off and fell into the canal so while most of the diesel stayed in the container about 10 litres went into the water and about the same in dirty water entered the container so all was lost. The language used was not pretty and that was from Rhonda alone so it was a case of getting back to the outlet and replacing the fuel so it was pretty expensive after all. The next lot was carefully siphoned in I can assure you.

We next went to look at the town centre where there is a great balance of old and new architecture and as a whole is both pretty and appealing. In the centre of it all is a Basilica of the Sacred Heart. This is the first Basilica I have ever seen so we visited it to find a full lunch time service underway with wonderful hymn singing etc carried out by only 7 priests. Naturally, the Mass was given in Latin with every thing else in French. While I don’t go much for a lot of these old churches really this was a sight to be seen. Religion is so strong in France and in this town alone there would be at least 7 or 8 churches. Goodness only knows where all the money comes from to keep them up-to-date as most are several centuries old.

In the park next to our pier which Harry adopted to be his own play area, we learned that in August some 5,000 devotees to the church camp over in tents and camper vans etc to celebrate the churches festive period of celebrating the season of plenty.

The shopping centre looked pretty good so we visited that area a couple of times noting again how well the French blend the old with the new. One must realise that when viewing our pictures of old homes and apartments buildings that they are not just preserved etc but that they are current homes and may be bought just as you or I would buy a family home back in New Zealand but not think anything about its age or history.

While travelling we have often commented to each other about the large number of pools (piscines) which are set up in people’s backyards. No fences but as so many are the above ground pools like the Para pools we had, there are so many inflatable pools like we tried to sell in Australia and New Zealand. Ranging from the splasher pools to large swimming pools these easily inflated and then demounted pools seem to be very popular as they are collapsed and stored away over winter. I guess that of every pool seen at least 95 % would have been this type.

We moved on after a couple of days through the Charolois Country which is very similar to the Kiwi landscape (great looking cattle which are so beef productive) arriving in Montceau-les-Mines, a very large town which grew during the 18th century due to the drive to get coal mined and for steel and power plants to be built in the area. The canal was a major transport route for the bulk products and some of the old photos of the town are amazing showing 50 to 100 barges lined up ready to ship the products. After the rush for these products slowed, the town died in part and has had to reinvent itself as being the centre of the rural district and Burgundy grape growing region. In the town there are a few unusual bridges which cross the canal. One is a lift-up bridge hinged at one end and then the next one lifted using a counterweight system then you encounter a pedestrian walkway bridge which looks to be blocking your passage but then it suddenly lifts from both ends to a height where you have clear passage under and on into the port to moor up.

A day and a night was enough here for us but during our stay we met up with the new owners of Afleur D’O which was one of the first barges we viewed to buy when we came over here in early 2008 to see what the market held for us. She was stationed on the River Lott at Villeneuve-St-Sylvester where she was still under some charter work which is not too bad for a vessel built in 1898 of iron with all the plates being held in place by the old method of using red hot rivets but of course has had a number of upgrades over the past 100 plus years. The new owners from Melbourne, Andrew and Laurel Hewitt have set off on a similar adventure path to us and are doing a great job in handling the Old Girl so well, considering they too are newbies to canal boating.

After leaving Montceau-les-Mines, we travelled along the Canal du Centre which unlike previous travelled canals is a “long and winding road” - Sounds like the title for a song, eh. The canal seems to follow an old river bed so we kept climbing and experiencing so many locks which told us we were crossing a high hill or mountain range. We reached the peak in Montchanin and suddenly we were into down locks by the dozen in fact in two days we passed through 19, all in 16 kms so you can imagine how we were always on the go either hooking on or casting off with everything in between and as some of them being the old 5m ones with floating bollards I can assure you at the end of each day, sleep and rest was the priority so we stayed over at St Leger sur Dheune (the words Sur Dheune means there is the river Dheune running along side the canal so most of the villages add these words to there own town’s name. Here at St Leger we caught up with our shopping, laundry and cleaning duties and then rested up before facing another few locks before we get to flatter country again.

Rhonda's Comment: Cycling is big here in France!!!!

We hope to get to Fragnes (with another 15 locks to go through before reaching Fragnes) which is at the end of the Canal du Centre and will thus mean that we will need to turn north again on the Saone river which will give us our first real experience of navigating a true river, so fingers crossed. This will lead us on towards Saint-Jean de Losne where we are to winter over and as the temperature is dropping each day, it will be about time for us to put away our summer wardrobe and dig out the winter woollies while most of you will be smiling and saying thank goodness, as you go into your spring and summer.

Locks - 278
Kilometers - 1155

Rhonda's Comment: Looks like we have a future new crew member in the making.

Friday, September 4, 2009



Time is slipping by and we are starting to feel the odd cooler early morning and slightly shorter days as we move towards the northern hemisphere autumn, however, it sure hasn’t stopped the daytime temps getting up to the mid 40 degrees over the past few weeks. Happily for Rhonda this week they have dropped to the low 30s and are forecast to stay at this level for a day or two.

Rhonda's Comment: If you cannot read what is on Ken's t-shirt - it says "Work Harder" millions of people on welfare depend on you".
We have had a few days stopover in Decize which is at the junction of the Canal Lateral a la Loire with the main Loire River and the connection to the Canal Nivernais which allows barges to head north through the centre of France and link up to the Canal Bourgogne (Burgundy). The marine port we are moored at is one of the main bases for the area for the giant hire boat company ‘Le Boat’ and at present we have about 35 hire boats tied up. Some of them are loaded with families etc finishing their 7 or 10 day cruising adventures as it is now close to the official end of the main holiday season and schools are about to commence their ‘first’ term so it is time for all those mums to get off to the shops for the last minute school attire requirements etc. Thank goodness too as it will allow the waterways to become less congested again although there has been a distinct lack of commercial boats as they too take their annual holidays mainly in August. Now it is the time for those folk who are not constrained to having to take their holidays at the peak period to get out and enjoy their time on the waterways with less crowding at marinas and with the weather promising to be a little less hot and humid.

I have to point out that it is only over the past 5 or so years that the French have started to realize and appreciate what a wonderful holiday they could be having spending it on the canals. This had previously been left to Germans, Dutch, Americans and English along with a smattering of Kiwis and Aussies and other races.

Rhonda's Comment: Hey Man

We have met up with so many great people while on the canals as previously referred to in earlier blogs and while we have been here at Decize it has been no different. We have had some great chats with fellow travellers and it is such during these sessions that one learns so much from their experiences about ‘best moorings, prettiest villages, best wineries, bakeries and service points” plus all the experiences they have had with happenings to their own barges which one can tuck away in the corner of the memory bank for recall if required when something similar happens to us.

Yesterday we got ‘T boned’ by a couple of Austrians in their 38ft yacht while they were trying to turn around in our marina. They carried, as is typical and necessary with yachts in transverse through France, to or from the Mediterranean, to carry their mast strapped to a frame on the cabin top which is fine except when so much of it sticks out the front of the yacht. This makes them almost a marine jouster and that is what happened to us with them jamming the front of the mast into the cabin side of our boat about 50mm away from one of the cabin windows. The force was enough to push our boat (45 tonnes) quite solidly into the jetty. They then pulled back and motored off without so much as an apology. Fortunately, it is only a bit of filler and paint and a couple of hours labour to correct the damage but it is annoying when someone doesn’t follow common courtesies of at least offering to help repair or pay for repairs. Their excuse when we caught up to them was “we are new and didn’t see you as being so close” and no, I did not swear or curse them either. Rhonda thinks I must be going soft in the brain.

It is only the odd person who causes concern, just like on the roads and a lot of concern relates to the hire boat folk who are so excited when they get on board and start their adventures. They go too fast in their need to see what is around the next corner and sometimes get themselves into a bit of bother. One of the scariest things they often do is, allow small kids to ride on the bow of the boat outside of any bow rail even, so that with the slightest bump or deceleration it is possible to drop the kid into the water which would mean that he or she would probably surface right under the prop. I understand there has been several such accidents over the years.
Rhonda's Comment: No, we aren't going into the business of growing snails!!!!

I promised in our last blog that I would try to answer some of the questions we have been asked by readers, in particular regarding the canals relating to specifications, how they were built and when etc. If this part is likely to bore you then I apologise in advance and suggest you skim through until you are clear of this section.

Ok, so here goes. As I understand it the following information is correct, however, I am sure there will be folk who have a lot better knowledge of the history etc than I do, so I await comments from those readers and contributors. The canal network which criss-crosses France is approx 8200 kms in length and while it is not all joined up because some of it was only built to serve particular regional areas. The canals do cover most areas other than through the more mountainous regions and were originally built along streams or river beds by armies for their kings etc to move troops and equipment to battle fronts. Some of the earliest designs of barge locks go back to Leonardo de Vinci refining a Chinese invention dating around 1495. Napoleon was a major promoter, user and developer of the canal system in many areas. Later the carriage of goods and produce for commercial purposes dominated the need for further development but as so many of the canals were privately owned, it was not until 1878 that the National Water Board was set up under the public works minister Charles de Freycinet.

He set a standard in France for the size depth and width of the canals and locks and this standard still applies today. The canals are dredged to a minimum 1.50m deep with a 25.0 m minimum width. Of course in some places the canals are much, much wider with full turn around bays even for the 38m barges. With the locks being constructed to the following standards minimum depth 1.80m with width of 5.20 m and 39 m long (minimum) thus the standard commercial barge is called a peniché which is built of a size which fits snugly into the locks. The barges are the workhorse of the canal system and have a carry capacity equivalent to 10 x 30 tonne truckloads, so one can quickly begin to see the true value of moving bulk tonnage in this manner. In the larger canals or rivers like the Seine, the barges are much bigger and it is amazing to see these craft with the wheelhouse which is set on a scissor type lift apparatus, sitting above the stack of containers or logs so that the skipper can see forward over his load. Many of these barges will carry a car on deck ready to offload using the deck derrick so that the owner can get away to attend to business or pleasure rather than being confined to the boat.

As daunting as it seems, the first time you see one of these penichés coming towards you in a small canal situation, the skill of the barge operators which is usually a husband and wife team, has to be seen to fully appreciate how well they manoeuvre these monoliths along the canal system and particular, through the locks bearing in mind there is only 15 cms clearance space from wall to wall over the width of the barge.

There are many variants of how the locks operate from being fully controlled and automatic which are indicated to the barge by red and green signals to enter a lock, to manual locks operated by a lockmaster (eclusier) who will wind down the paddles (two at each end) to either close or empty the lock plus will open or close the main gates which means a lot of walking from end to end up to 8 times per filling and emptying the lock. This is where we generally get off our barges, if possible, and at least help with the winding or pushing/pulling of the heavy gates.

From this manual operation to fully automatic systems which read of your arrival from the magic eyes set in the bank so as you pass, the gate operations are triggered, however, in between there is a lot of other methods used which takes a bit of learning about but once you overcome the initial nervousness the system makes sense (generally) and all goes well.

There is an unwritten law that when one is entering or leaving a lock, slow is the go, no matter how tempting it is to rush into an apparent benign empty awaiting lock. After solidly clouting a lock wall at around 3 kph, one day due to my feeling that I had this entry and exit business sorted, I bent the toe rail and scratched the hull quiet deeply, I then learnt that ‘slow is the go’ as 45 tonnes of moving barge just does not stop like your car can do. As some of the old bargees say, “there are only three main rules to observe in barging, slow, slow, slow”.

Well enough of this hilarity and news of canal and lock specifications for now but if you have any specific questions we are very happy to answer to the best of our ability.

This week has seen us make two trips to the dentist for Rhonda who snapped a tooth and then re-snapped it a couple of days later when munching on the wonderful French crusty bread. I have to comment on the service. Firstly, appointment set at 9.30 am, she was taken in on time and emerged in less than 20 mins. The dentist had taken full x-rays with a machine which just followed ones jaw shape and put a full film onto the computer for viewing or action. He mixed the tooth replacement compound and after 10 seconds only of drilling set the tooth up, dried it with a blue light. No grinding off nor polishing required and Euros 68.00 later we were on our way. Apparently, the latter failure was due to her not waiting for the full setting of the compound, however, he rebuilt the tooth two days later and she was free to go. No charge at all for the follow up treatment. Rhonda rates him as the best dentist in the world due to the No pain and the express service. Sorry about that Willie.
Harry had a trip to the vet last week due to his conjunctivitis and the vet gave us excellent service and correct medicates so the eye is now back to normal. If only we could eliminate completely the flea problem which is a real pain at this time as no matter how often we bath Harry or apply Frontline or similar, as soon as he gets out into the grass he picks up a new infestation, I think.

On top of that I have been suffering a bit from sore sides again and finding it hard to breathe deeply at times which I am sure related to my earlier fall but at that time I was told I did not have a break in my ribs but as there was a big blood mass in there, they couldn’t really be sure. As the central hospital complex is right behind this marina we thought we would go over to see if I could see a doctor.

The staff were amazing, so after expending our very limited French language skills, the receptionist sent for a nurse who could speak some English and who steered us through the paperwork and after asking about my difficulties, she asked us to wait in reception. In about 10 mins a nurse arrived with a wheelchair and insisted I got in and I was then wheeled up to In Patients or the Kiwi equivalent of the same and was sat down while blood pressure and pulse tests and temperature were taken by the nursing sister and then I was put onto a trolley bed and wheeled along the hallway to the doctor who could speak quite good English, so Rhonda and him were able to record my concerns. He questioned me pretty thoroughly and then using the Google Translator on the computer went right through the list of my tablets which Dr Thompson had prescribed over the years to make sure he understood why I had so many different types. Once he was satisfied he told us that he would commence with his own tests asking if we could I wait for about 20 minutes while they completed these!!!! We thought that they must be pretty basic short tests if they could be completed so quickly.

So off I was sent on my trolley bed to X ray for a full set of my chest, back and side, then back to be hooked up to an ECG machine and to have a shunt stuck in my arm so that blood could be drawn or drugs administered if required. He did a pretty full examination of my chest and back testing pressure points in my joints for inflammation and so on. Within 30 mins he had all the results from X-ray, ECG and blood tests and advised that I did in fact have a broken rib which was still moving a bit so was causing the discomfort etc. My blood tests including my INRs were fine as was my heart rate and pulse etc so he then suggested some pain killers etc as it could still take a couple of months for the broken rib which was hurting me with any movement and wished us well for the rest of our adventures.

No charge was levied at all and we can only offer the highest praise for the hospital staff friendliness, assistance, and efforts to please. We truly felt as though we were the only people needing to being attended to at the time. This is the second time we have experienced this sort of great treatment and I can only sing their praises as we have found them to be.

After another day of pottering around at Decize we left there on Wednesday as it looked like it could rain, however, after travelling for about an hour the sun returned and we were back to hot steamy weather again. Gee we have been so lucky with seemingly endless days of blue skies and only the lightest of breezes and the evenings being even better with the clear skies and mild temperatures allowing outside eating and relaxing such a pleasure.

We pulled up in this little port of Vanneaux which has a full modern boat building operation going as set up by an English business person called Mark Vardy. We can surely recommend this place to any other bargees as he is most helpful and is setting the place up to really look after passing boaters needs. Moored further along from “Somewhere” are two other similar boats all built by Delta Marine in Warwick England and the owners have left them here under Mark’s care while they have travelled on by car or train to other locales or returned to England. It is unusual to see so many sister vessels to ours so Mark is going to get the owners to email us when they can so we can discuss features of our boats etc.

Right alongside the port is a neat restaurant, Tabac, ice cream parlour which opens early (for France that is) and stays open until around 9.00 pm in the evening, so you can imagine how popular this place is in this heat. Near to the port is a small village called Gannay-sur-Loire which has seen much busier times but is quite quaint and the Post Office (La Poste) offers good service and the small general store has a fair range of provisions. Also moored here is another couple of Kiwis from Diamond Bay just outside of Christchurch so of course we swapped tales of our experiences with them.

Rhonda was updating our log last night and determined that we had just completed travel of 1000 kms in France on our boat and while that is a lot we seem to be so relaxed at pottering along and stopping over so often that this distance seems nothing at all so we sure hope it all continues as well as the first 1000 kms have.

We moved on from Decize on Tuesday as per our planned journey towards Digoin which is a big city with a large port so we look forward to ‘doing’ the shops when we get there. Meantime, we stayed in this little port which is near the town of Beaulon. This port offers free power and water facilities set alongside the dock. This is to encourage barges and boats to stopover and for travellers to spend money in the nearby village.

We were the only ones here apart from a Dutch couple Andrew and Rita Middelbos on their 1920 barge named “Weltevreden”. Andrew has spent over 30 years on the canals of the Netherlands and France so what he doesn’t seem to know about canal barges, these waterways and the best places to visit etc plus so many points about the culture seems not worth knowing. Rita who had spent many years working in Dutch television has also a wealth of knowledge about Europe in general.

We spent a lovely evening sitting out under the trees with a bottle of wine plus dutch cheese and other niblets listening and hopefully learning so much from this lovely couple and then we were later joined by a French couple who just arrived to stay for a couple of days also. It was amazing to listen to Andrew and Rita talking in French then English and then Dutch if the need arose. They were able to keep up with all the ‘talk’ answering our many questions and offering comments as we tried to follow the French folk who didn’t speak English. It was amazing to witness and again emphasised how lazy us Kiwis are when it comes to being able to talk or understand any foreign languages. So far we haven’t had a need to speak Maori so will continue with our French lessons in the hope that we can at least become fluent enough to be understood one day.

Yesterday, we heard the hoot of a barge horn and looked up to see “Empress” pulling in to say hello. This lovely barge is owned by Stan and Betsy Golland who originate from Florida are the couple we met up with in Nevers some 3 weeks ago and spent some very pleasant time with at the local Asian restaurant and so we caught up on their news and again learned more about the canals that they had travelled on and places they had visited. In return, we were able to tell them about a larger town some 12 kms from here called Bourbon Lancy which Rhonda and I visited on the scooter.

It is a Thermal Spa town built up on some hill tops and dates back to the 14th century with so much history and interesting spots to see and must be a popular weekend or holiday stopover as there must have been 30 odd hotels ranging from No Star to 5 Star standard. We were fascinated and are determined to return one day and actually stop up in one of those hotels for a couple of days so we can really soak up the features.

Well this blog has got to be pretty long, so I do apologise but as we have been away from a good email service centre this blog has just sat waiting to be sent so I have kept adding to it. Hope it is not too much to take in.
Rhonda's Comment: OK Dad where are we off to now?

Finally, I am now able to advise that at last we have a proper mail address so if you want you can post to us at:

K W and R G Blakie
MV ‘Somewhere’
c/- H2O Port de Plaisance
21170 Saint-Jean de Losne

We will have this postal address until March 2010 and any mail from home is always good mail.
Locks - 215
Klms - 1033

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Summertime in Central France 16/08/2009

Rhonda’s Comment: Don’t you mean melting away in central France! It is so hot @!!!@@!!!

Hi everyone,

Again, many thanks to those of you who have sent us encouraging comments regarding our blog pages to date and the sympathy notes etc. It is sure good to know that you enjoy the blog pages and we will do our best to keep them coming in an interesting format.

To start off I am able to give the following comments re the French and their way of life, such as it doesn’t matter which town or small city we go to, visit or stop over in, it always seems like a Sunday. The streets have so few pedestrians or even cars on them apart from 12 noon which is the rush hour for people to get home for their lunch and relax period. It seems as though life is only meant to be at a relaxed pace and you can walk past so many shops and think they are shut as there will be no lights showing and the doors can be closed, then again they can be closed for the day particularly on Mondays with some closed on Wednesdays as well. Everything including large supermarkets can and will close for up to 1.5 hours for the midday break and I can assure you that you become less popular if you delay the staff getting away.

The houses are mainly closed-up with their shutters to keep the heat out and in the winter the cold out, however, I have mentioned in a previous blog, in the evenings the folks will be having supper in a room with what appears to be a max of a 40 w bulb going for light and without the signs of a flickering TV. They seem to like dim to dark rooms to habitat. Hence all is generally quiet by 8.30 pm.

It is impossible to find a breakfast bar open as we know it, as they don’t seem to have a breakfast other than a quick coffee or maybe a schnapps, a cigarette and away. It is only around 11.00 am can you get a muffin, croissant, omelette or something, but nothing like a full English breakfast or even the old Kiwi Farmers breakfast which we used to look forward to some Sunday mornings. While restaurants may be open at 6.00 pm after closing for a couple of hours around 2.00 pm, most will not serve food until after 7.30 pm, so you have an hour of drinking first. We have taken on a new found drink here “Panache” which is a bottled shandy from Germany and which is a great thirst quencher while being light enough to allow one to drive safely afterwards.

While on this point we have said how nobody seems to be in a hurry other than at lunch times and I can tell you that each time we go to a supermarket or department store the checkouts move at true snails pace. You can be assured that if there are 5 or 6 people queued to pay, there will be only one operator then if there are 7 to 10 they may get another checkout open. Gee it is annoying but what can one do as they just smile and carry on - great really.

At the supermarkets all the shopping trolleys are secured to each other by linking lock chains which can only be released by inserting a Euro or a shop’s own token into the lock slot. You can only reclaim your Euro when you re-link the trolley back to the correct base or trolley group. Even the shopping baskets have alarm buttons fitted so you have to leave them at the checkout or the alarm goes off. If you forget to take your own shopping bags with you, then you had better have long arms and a good sense of balance as no plastic shopping bags are available, nor are there any empty cartons to pack your stuff into. A great little assistant for the environment I believe.

At the fruit and vegetable area there is often a set of scales accompanied by a show board listing all the products which are on display with a code and price per kilo so all you do is put your carrots say onto the scales, press the associated picture on the board and a sticker showing weight and cost of your purchase is printed out which you put on the bag ready for the checkout operator to punch the details onto your bill.

Another thing we have noticed is the lack of use of mobile phones. While most people seem to carry one, there is never the sight we were so use to in New Zealand of seemingly half the people sitting in a restaurant or similar using text or mobile calls. It is so refreshing. Maybe it is the higher cost of calls here in France which means fewer calls or use.

We have previously commented on the tow paths which run alongside the canals. These have been in use since the days when the canals were constructed and horses or men pulled the barges along, so on each side of the canal there is a strip of land approx 5 to 10 meters wide which on one side or the other is the public “tow path.” This path is almost always kept in pristine condition, mostly with a bitumen surface which is smooth and safe to walk on and ideal for cyclists as well. In built up areas much of it can be lit with overhead or side path lights. You can cycle for many, many hundreds of kilometres along these mostly tree lined paths. No wonder cycling is so popular and safe here and often we have had Kiwi cyclists call out to us as they whizz past on these almost flat tracks. On weekends and evenings so many walkers, strollers and mums and dads pushing prams or pushchairs join the cyclists to enjoy this great facility.

If you or anyone you know is planning to come to “do” the canals, or is planning to holiday in France, make sure they are aware that they should not fail to bring, buy, hire or borrow bikes and for kids who may need a bit of exercise after a couple of days on a barge, this opportunity to cycle in safety and freedom should not be missed.
Rhonda's Comment: Note the empty bottles and glasses and we are still standing.

Ok, now to bring you up-to-date. We told you we had moved up to Nevers and had settled into the local marina where we had met new folks from the nearby barges and had shared drinks and meals both here and in town so it has been a great week looking at the ancient buildings and learning all its history.

Early today we received an email from our friends on “Déjà Vu”, Jack and Jadel, advising that they had visited the nearby village of Apremont- Sur-Allier which is listed as probably the prettiest village in all of France and suggested we visit it before we moved on, so away we went on the trusty scooter for the 15 km ride to view this place. I am sure you will agree from the photos enclosed that it sure stands up to its reputation. It is truly magnificent and the stroll through the Floral Park kept Rhonda and I going with “WOW”s as we would turn another corner. It is not to be missed and it is only approx 3 kms from the double locks with the Pont over the Allier River which we showed photos of in our last blog.

Rhonda's Comment: This village was truly magical.

On the return journey we stopped below the Pont and I had a swim with the locals in the river. It was beautiful and evoked many memories of childhood days in central Hawke’s Bay when visiting some of the larger rivers there as we didn’t have swimming pools to visit.

Back at the port, we were told by the Capitainaire that we would have to move the boat to a new berth tomorrow as the local district Triathlon is set down to take place on Saturday and with our dock space being required for the transition, so our new berth on the other bank of the port will have good views of the event.

At around 8.00 am the PA system started blasting news about the event which got under way with the first race at 9.30 am. What a joke really as they had several classes racing, so the last being the open never started until 2.00 pm in the 37 degree heat. Goodness knows how they didn’t have any heart or heat related attacks. I am writing this at 5.30 pm and there are still runners going past our boat to the finish line. I think they need a few Aussie or Kiwi triathlon event organisers to get this sorted, however, this is France and everyone seemed to have great time.

As it was so hot, I decided if it was good enough for the locals to swim in the Port I would too and after extolling the virtues of the cool water Rhonda got in too. We didn’t put our heads under the water like the locals and had a shower immediately we got out but decided that this was the way to drop the body temperature as it was 44 degrees in our wheel house and still 30 degrees at 10.30 pm at night. The last two days have been around similar figures so the fans on board have been flat out at least moving the hot air about. It is nice to moor up in the heat of the day under the trees if you can find a spot to suit.

Harry has run into a spot of health troubles - again, with getting a real dose of conjunctivitis in both eyes so it was a case of stuffing him into the backpack and visiting the local Nevers Vet to get a special eye wash and ointment which he sure does not like having applied but already his eyes are clearing so that is good and will allow us to get under way headed for Decize which is some 10 hours and 5 locks from Nevers, so we may stop over on the way.

Well, we decided after 6 hours to stop over in the canal and found a nice quiet spot near a village of about 5 houses and of course the obligatory church. It was a quaint little place complete with its own public washroom set alongside a small feeder stream to the canal. This stone wall sided building with a concrete floor about the size of a single car garage was where the local women used to meet and carry out their weekly wash which was done by hand. The clothes were rubbed on the sloping concrete nib and then rinsed in the stream many times to get that Persil whiteness. I am sorry I didn’t get a photo of it as it was a sight from a long ago period but I think we did show one in our blog relating to Braire.

We moved on from there towards Decize which is actually on the Loire River so at one of the 5 locks we met put us onto the river itself so we moved right into the centre where we had been told that the moorings were good only to find that there was no water or power available and the other alternative had little or no bottom clearance due to the drought plus offered no water or electricity. We turned the boat around and went back through one lock to the Le Boat rental base where we had seen facilities but as it was not listed in our directory as a public portage we were not sure what to expect and yes, we arrived at 12.10 pm to find no-one about so we took the gamble and tied up on a long finger and hooked up power and water and sat tight waiting for someone to kick us off. At 5.30pm I wandered over to the office which was now open to be told, “yes you can stay there as long as you like all for 8 Euros a night including water and power”. We couldn’t get our money out quick enough so here we are. It is 44 degrees today and we are truly melting and alternating from showers to standing under the fresh water hose with which we fill the boat tanks. Even Harry, despite having been pretty well clipped, hides in the bathroom and as soon as I get in the shower he is in and just stands there hoping, I guess, that the water will be cold.

Tomorrow, we will off-load the scooter and check out this city and area. Every so often someone asks us how and when did the canals come into being along with facts relating to their purpose so will add these to our next blog page so meantime, take care of each other and remember, if you really want to do it, then get on and do it before it is too late.
Klms - 984
Locks - 202