Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Frank Sinatra sang about “those autumn winds” and referenced them to being cooler and that is what is happening now in central France. In fact at St Jean-de-Losne where we are moored up in the Canal Bourgogne which is part of the H2O marina empire, because of the size of “Somewhere”, we were unable to get a berth inside the main marina basin, so it was a case of taking the option of “The Old Lock” which houses a whole lot of big barges but is some 2kms from here or being moored in the canal port which is what we opted for. It is only a short walk across the lock from the main marina where we get our mail and general services to where there is a reasonably well appointed chandlery and the main office centre.

We have close access to three supermarkets, one very large hardware store and garden shop, a vetenarian, butcher and fuel service centre so on top of the standard shops in the town, we are pretty well serviced. The train runs at regular intervals to the city of Dijon which is 35kms away and buses also provide services to and from there. This township has about 8 restaurants (some close down for the winter) so choice is readily available plus there are the services of a post office, chemists, doctors dentists and so on.

The area where we are moored is really the workshop and refurbishment centre with lots of marine activity to watch but due to the huge numbers of craft in here at present boats are rafted up 3 deep in places. We are against the wall which is great for ease of getting the scooter off and on plus for Harry to make good use of the grassed verges and areas but we do have two other barges tied up outside of us so there is no chance of being buffeted by winds or wash. The one closest to us is not occupied and the outer one has two fellows who are also building a new barge for themselves in a nearby work bay but who will leave us for the winter in mid November so we will be quite alone on this stretch of bank for a while. While being hemmed in like this could be a feeling of being inhibited if we wanted to move on for a day or just go for an outing, on the other hand we feel settled and secure for the winter. The weather this last couple of weeks has been so beautiful we can’t believe it when we awake each morning to find clear mornings but with cool temperatures which will soon turn to cold as this fine spell surely can’t last much longer by all accounts.

We have joined up to the local book swap where there are many hundreds of books and magazines plus videos, DVD’s and all in English plus CD’s, and even jigsaw puzzles. This service is free and is operated by a few expat English ladies who have chosen to make St Jean-de-Losne their home, one who has been doing it for 15 years. Each morning at 9.30am there is a VHF radio service channel from which we receive information on the ports activities, either social or business and in return you can call in with items to discuss or requests for assistance for any matters. This kind of links the boating community together which can be of real help particularly if folk are feeling a bit isolated living on their boats away from the main populated area.

Each Wednesday there is a boaters information morning where any items which are thought to be of assistance to other fellow boaters or if advice is sought regarding repairs, services or general information is exchanged over a “cuppa” and then on Monday mornings. There is a walking club which is another social activity as you stroll or stride according to your ability and this is a good way to get to know the town and its environs and lastly there are French/ English lesson classes and quiz evenings at one of the local restaurants so we have become fully immersed in SJL (as the locals refer to St Jean-de-Losne) life and its activities.
Already we have had a host of visitors who simply call in to say “Hi” or to ask about the boat and the Kiwi flags we fly proudly at our bow, stern and masthead. It seems as though coffee and tea are on the go onboard almost continually which is great and when the afternoon draws to a close the odd glass or bottle of red is shared. Life’s tough at the coal face I can tell you…..

We have commented in the past about the numbers of French military aircraft which we see (or more to the point hear as they are going so fast) streaking across the skies from an airbase which is not too far away. We have since learned that you can park your barge at the end of the main runway and watch these aircraft roar overhead including once a month when they have night exercise with up to 6 aircraft taking off in formation. I sure look forward to seeing this one day. Well the other day we could hear this scream across the sky then a few seconds later the loudest rolling thunder-like sound, shook all and sundry. For a moment I feared the worst then realised that I had heard that sound once before and that was while in Wellington in 1954 visiting the USS Tarawa, a huge American aircraft carrier and one of the Phantom fighter planes from aboard had broken the sound barrier above the Capital and when they tallied up the broken windows, the terrified kids, dogs and other animals plus grandmothers, they passed a law prohibiting this amazing event occurring again. No such problems for the French with their huge range of subsonic fighters and bombers which we see from time to time. Perhaps the Kiwi government could go cap in hand to the French to see if they could borrow a few planes or swap some for the Skyhawks which I understand are still sitting in mothballs in New Zealand awaiting a buyer after around 10 years costing as much to store as it used to fly them. Well done Helen Clarke eh.

Yesterday being the 30th September I awoke to find that I had added another year to my age, now 68 (gee it is scary) but aren’t I lucky to be able to do what we are doing here on these canals. Again we met some other Kiwis and ex Kiwis last evening, who had been on the canals for up to 11 years so it must have something pretty special going for it. Some had been through Germany and Belgium and of course the Netherlands and each country offer so much beauty and history we are looking forward to next cruising season so much.

Just to demonstrate, how size doesn’t matter, we met a couple from the UK, or more to the point Wales, who had just purchased their first barge 3 months ago (a 10.5 metre model which is small but that is all they thought they could handle and were loving it so far. He is a big man at over 6ft and weighs in at around 18 stone but says he has no trouble getting around inside it and then in the afternoon we met another couple who had just bought a 38 metre barge as they wanted ROOM to carry 6 guests in the season for a week or two at a time so it is the old story of go set some must-haves on your list and start looking. There is bound to be a model and a price to suit your particular needs and budgets.

Well, here we are at the first of November after a very full October which included a road trip to Manchester in England and back in the middle of the month. We hired a (small car) which turned out to be a 7 seater people mover when we went to pick it up but the rental company gave it to us at the same price as no small cars were available. To be sure we would be able to find our way around we had purchased a TOM TOM sat/nav system only to find that the rental already had one built-in so it gave Rhonda two toys to play with.

Let me tell you about this Citroen people-mover first. If there was any item that wasn’t electronic then I don’t think we found it as the rear doors opened at the touch of a button, the seats moved in similar fashion in all directions plus had their own inbuilt heaters. The windscreen wipers came on automatically as did the headlights. It had cruise control, automatic side mirrors which folded back when you switched off the ignition and had so many dials you felt as though you were at the controls of a small aircraft. To top it all off, every French car must have an emergency kit inside at all times. This consists of red reflective triangles, colour and reflective jacket, a couple of flares, a fist aid kit all of which makes great sense in the case of an accident. I think the fine for not carrying one of these kits is about 500 Euros I understand.

Rhonda's Comment: Anyone for a spot of afternoon tea? This is how the truck drivers do it.

While all the toys are great it sure took me some time to get used to driving a left-hand drive on the right-hand side of the road and occasionally Rhonda would have to give me a sharp reminder that I needed to keep to the right rather than the left which is a fairly usual response to Kiwi drivers I think. Then when in the UK, it was a case of changing again to the left-hand side of the road with a left-hand drive vehicle. This adds to the need to concentrate even more and brings about those special moments which send the adrenalin pumping.

We drove from SJL to Dunkirk avoiding toll roads which took us an additional 3 hours to what we had guessed, but to where we stayed overnight. Unfortunately we did not see much of the town before moving on to Calais, for our ferry crossing at 12.15. The 1½ hour crossing is pretty much of a doddle and of course we were on the lookout for the White Cliffs of Dover which were sadly clouded in mist and murk

We then took off and stayed in Canterbury which was a pretty short day so caught up on some well earned rest. The next morning we left driving through some really beautiful countryside on a mixture of using the B roads to the motorways so all in all it was interesting. Harry travelled well and enjoyed watering some new areas on English roadside greens etc and as it was pretty normal he was allowed to stay in our hotel room which was great too.

Huntington, in the middle of England, was our next stopover and then on to Manchester the next day after skirting around the huge industrial city of Birmingham. Not a place I would care to live in at all but we did get to see the Jockingham satellite, communications and star tracking dish complex, one of the largest in the world. It sort of made the system at Warkworth look like a pimple on an elephant in comparison.

We checked into the Travelodge right in the heart of Manchester and took a good long walk through some of the city centre. It is an amazing mixture of old coupled with super modern and to give an example of this, right next to the cathedral is a smaller version of the London Eye amid huge glass panelled buildings and super-sized shopping centres. The students are just like in New Zealand and make the Malls a meeting point and despite the murky weather spent hours sprawled all over the grass sections of ground and on the few public seats available. Some of the dress code was out of this (or should I say my) world.

The hotel was fully booked due to the Cliff Richard and The Shadows concerts taking place at the MEN Arena (Manchester Evening News) which was just nearby in fact on our first morning there they ran out of most ingredients of the cooked breakfast. You would have thought world war three had broken out as people made their feelings heard loud and clear complaining about no bacon to add to their already heaped plates of scrambled eggs and so on. We are a funny lot for sure.

Rhonda's Comment: He's singing just to me.

Well, off we went to the concert and were so surrounded by the grey hair brigade that I thought we must be at the wrong venue but no, we were all going to see the same concert which to the 15000 oldies like me, just loved. It was amazing really to think that it had been 40 years since they last played together yet every note, tune and song was perfect rock and roll. To see all these folks up dancing and waving there arms etc was an eye opener. Thank goodness Hank Marvin, the magic lead guitarist for The Shadows, commented that while the applause and support was quite amazing, he did ask the ladies not to throw any underwear on to the stage. Ha ha.

Leaving Manchester the next day was a bit of a relief as we seem to have got away from liking city life so were thrilled to get out again into the English countryside and to see the thousands of acres of bush in its autumnal colours. Red, gold yellow and green make a beautiful back drop to the green English country and despite the still overcast conditions was really pleasant to view.

As we were due to visit some barge friends on the outskirts of Swindon, not far from the magic Cotswolds, we stopped off at our favourite little English town of Bourton-On-The-Water where we had stayed during our visit to the area in 2004 and just fell in love with this area and can only say “It is a must to visit if you are ever in the area. It will blow you away for sure”. We arrived at Carol and John’s beautiful country home in the hamlet of Ashbury late in the afternoon, but we where still able to view some of the area and to enjoy a wonderful home-cooked meal with them coupled with a few wines to celebrate our luck at being bargees.

The next day after visiting their nearby shopping complex and doing a large English product shop, we reluctantly left them and pushed on to Aldershot on the outskirts of London where the huge army base is located and from where so many young men leave from to fight in Afghanistan with so many of them not to return. Here we stayed at a local motel and met up with another boating couple we had as neighbours while we were moored in Penton Hook. Michelle and Jason came to see us for the evening so we had a good chinwag and enjoyed a few beers. They are still maintaining their berth at Penton Hook and just love the opportunity to just get on their launch and while they don’t go anywhere, thoroughly enjoy the rest and the feeling that only boating can give you.

The next morning on our way to Dover we stopped by to visit Lindsay and Mike who were also our neighbours at Penton Hook. Lindsay and Mike bought the most beautiful section on The Thames and had built a dock at the bottom on their garden to house Panacea, their barge. They have the best of both worlds, being able to live on Panacea and retain the use of the wooden cabin structure for all of Lindsay’s work and hobby interests. It was so good to catch up with them and see the progression if their section.

From London to Dover is only a short drive and so we stopped off at various places along the way to do some more shopping, things we can’t purchase in France. We stayed overnight in Dover and had a very pleasant evening and meal in the Premier Inn right on the harbour.

We crossed over on the early morning sailing to Calais and headed for Holland where we had arranged to meet up with my old boss at Zodiac, Tim Fleming and to meet his wife Elizabeth and son Piers who now live just south of Amsterdam. It took us a bit longer than planned to cover this distance due in part to the volume of heavy traffic I have ever seen. Trucks by the thousand clogging the motorways so when one or more decided to overtake, the slowness of this activity just slowed and at times stopped the traffic flow all together. While the roads are beautiful they must be easy to lay them as it is flat across from France and Belgium and the soil is really a light loam or even sand, the traffic volume just overwhelms the capacity available and with the biggest container terminal at Antwerp being in the middle of this area, the roads are well used by so many trucks from Germany and even further north, east and south. At the off ramps where you might find a MacDonald’s etc plus fuel stop it is not uncommon to see a hundred or more huge trucks laid up for a meal or compulsory stop. It is so mind boggling.

As we entered Belgium we were blown away by the huge, and I mean huge, IKEA centre seemingly stuck out in the countryside but with a car park so huge it would be impossible to guess at numbers but Rhonda and I both commented that the building would have to be twice or even maybe three times the size of the whole of Eden Park in size and height. Thinking this must be a European distribution centre we were simply stunned to eventually see another two similar size Ikea’s in Holland and in France. One wonders where all the product goes to and is there any trees left in Sweden.

Tim and Elizabeth’s home is set in an acre of beautiful park like grounds with small lakes and waterways creeping into the back yard giving them direct access to a lake and some main waterways. The back yard looks a bit like a mini Zodiac show room with boats, pools and toys from the old company. We hade a lovely meal with them and then enjoyed an evening of real family entertainment from Piers board game to listening to Tim play his guitar in a well accomplished manner. We so enjoyed being able to catch up with them and to chatting about the Good Old Days in Australia etc. We were made so welcome and stayed the night with them before pushing on the next morning to Amsterdam City to get to a local branch of the office equivalent to New Zealand’s Work and Income department as we had to get out passport equivalent stamped by them.

After all that driving etc however, I must point out what we found which would be so unlike a New Zealand office. This is situated in a government building which is painted white and you just go through the barrier which allows you to drive down to free parking below. It is again all painted white with not a mark on the walls and the floor is a light coloured grey with each parking space painted out in black so you sure know where to park. Up in the stream lined lifts to the waiting room which is about 100m by 60m with only Rhonda and me waiting to be served so it was an opportunity to view closely all the works of contemporary art. Many of these were porcelain standing up to 2m high and were amazing which only the photos we took being able to describe them. Not a mark or a chip could be found on any of them and despite the fact that the heads of some of the characters were just balanced on a spikes above the rest of the character, nobody had damaged them in any way.

Once we were clear of our passport duties we headed for home but stopped overnight in the town of Dinant in Belgium which again is a town which has to be seen to be believed. It sits right on the bank of the large Meuse River and is quite ancient with a castle structure sitting right atop the nearby bluffs but I think the most amazing thing is the entrance to this town is through a huge slit in the rock wall. It is no doubt a holiday destination spot with many river boats running day cruises and longer so maybe we will get our “Somewhere” to there one day too.

From Dinant we decided that we just wanted to be home so we took the fastest route despite some of it maybe under toll, however, after 6 hours we were back on the boat again despite Tom Tom throwing a wobbly right at the last hurdle so to speak. We stopped at a supermarket to get fresh food and as we left I followed Tom Toms directions only to find that the road was getting narrower and then turned to a gravel surface. Thinking that perhaps it linked to a road we could see in the distance I pushed on as requested by the sat/nav only to find that we had entered a private forestry road so an immediate turn around was necessary and once back to our supermarket we got all together instructions which got us home in around 30 mins. Great to be home and to get back to Saint Jean-de-Losne life again but a marvellous trip was had really.

We were just unloading the car when a knock at the door came and there was Jo, a friend staying onboard with Iris and Graham on “Manatee” asking if we would join them for drinks and dinner that evening. It was wonderful to see them again. They are moving up to Dijon to winter over so I can imagine we will be making a few trips up to see them through the winter.

The social calendar has been printed for the next month and we look forward to all the events including Quiz Night even though I am sure Terry and Sandra will not want us back on their team as Rhonda and I only answered 5 questions out of 60!!!!!! We couldn’t even get the last question right that was put in for our benefit “In what year was the Treat of Waitangi signed?”!!!!!!!!!!!!

The weather has since cooled down and luckily we ordered two metres of fire wood for our log burner so that was delivered the next day, stacked and covered so now we can sit back and relax in nice warm quarters. More next time folks. Love to all.