Sunday, January 17, 2010


From 19 December 2009 to 16 January 2010

Just sitting here looking at all the fellows in their shorts and singlet’s, beers in hand while their ladies, who are dressed in not a lot more, sprawled out under umbrellas enjoying the blue skies and hot sun. The temperatures are reported to be in the mid 30’s so who can complain. Hang on a minute, sorry folks, I am actually watching the cricket test in South Africa on telly while in actual fact we are freezing our little bums off. Grey skies, 50mm of snow at least and tonight it is freezing to 12 below so all the snow which has been falling for the past 3 days is turning into a big slippery surface which is a trap for the unfamiliar so lots of falls or stumbles are being experienced.

While it is all very pretty and some big kids like Rhonda have been out building snowmen, I have to be honest and say I would rather be at the cricket test than sitting here.

Rhonda's Comments: I love it - bring it on.

“Somewhere” is lovely and warm with both the heated radiator system and the log burner going we could grow tulips inside but we do get out and about in the car or take a walk for Harry’s sake to get some real fresh air.

Rhonda's Comments: "Mum drags me through the snow - just as well I can warm up by the fire."

Harry loves to tear about in the snow and has great fun with the local staff at the H2o workshops who enjoy tossing snowballs at him while he skitters in one door and out the other. He thinks they are there purely for his entertainment and enjoyment, I think.

It is much colder than last year when we were at Penton Hook in London and it was late January before we got any real drops of snow there. Icicles of up to around 200mm hang from our wheelhouse roof and while it is supposed to be less cold tomorrow with rain coming we surely will get more snowstorms this winter.

On Thursday evening 17th December, we drove some 10 kms out of town to a small hamlet where the local Gite (rooms for holiday let) had been hired by our River Rats Social Committee for a Christmas Dinner party which was just wonderful as they decorated it out beautifully with everybody contributing a plate of hot or cold food plus desserts and wine etc.

Our friends Grahame and Iris who have their own boat wintering over in Dijon came down by train to stay with us so as to be able to attend as well. It was great to have them and in addition a couple of local French couples came along as well which also added to the good fun of the evening. We were seated at tables of up to 6 people so the chat was loud and so much fun that if any one didn’t enjoy themselves they would be hard to be pleased.

As this was the first day of the snows arrival, it was a bit unnerving driving in the continuous flurries, however, we negotiated the trip without any untoward incident but I was glad that I had stuck to water and soft drinks at the dinner. Yes, soft drinks, can you believe it? But I made up with the amount of great food I ate I think. A very nice evening anyhow and it was great to be made so welcome as newcomers to the area.

Christmas day dawned fine but cold and after a night of strong winds and storms almost all of the snow had melted so we didn’t get a white Christmas but not far off. The ice was still on the water of the canal and the port and any surfaces which were metal or plastic were extremely slippery so care was the call.

Rhonda's Comments: There will be no going out for a drive today!!

It was lovely to get early morning phone calls from Michelle, Thelma, Russ, Grahame Smith and then Kerry Anderson later in the day so while these calls made us feel a bit homesick it was sure good to talk to them all enjoying their summer weather and good temperatures with BBQs and other typical hot Christmas weather activities. In addition to the phone calls we received lots of Christmas emails from all around the world so were spoilt really.

In this photo: Allan, Ken, Sandra and Terry
In this photo: Ann and Janna

Rhonda and I had thought that we would be having a very a quiet day onboard “Somewhere” on our own as most folk seemed to have their own families or visitors to spend time with, but following an invite to have aperitifs with Lawrence and Ann (Ann is Rhonda’s Art teacher and also runs the Walking Group) who also have a lovely home some 12ks from here where they had prepared delightful snacks and so on, some of the other attendees insisted that we join them at a local restaurant for a typical French 3 course meal. This we did and it was sure a couple of hours of good food, wine and company with lots of laughter and banter so by the end of the day we were stuffed with food and drink so the evening meal was passed by and walking Harry was the only answer to our over-indulgence which he didn’t mind at all.

The Christmas decorations used by the local authorities was very good and added that touch to lift a fairly dull scene at night but also a lot of homes were decorated as well and lit with fairy lights and so on. There seems to be a propensity here for inflatable Father Christmases to be tied to upstairs railings etc in various poses which is quite novel. Even roadside bushes are decorated by the locals with tinsel and imitation wrapped presents which again amaze us that nobody interferes with them at all. We have a lot to learn in New Zealand about respect of other people’s property for sure.

The days seem to slip by so quickly and with the temperatures lifting a bit, the snow just started to melt away and we could resume normal activities which was good. Sadly the rains then arrived and set in for the next week so the grounds soon turned to slush and mud. Our cycling activity “The Grey City Rollers” went out the window as did the walking group “The Grey City Strollers” on a couple of days but we seemed to find that trips to the supermarkets stocking up for New Years Eve became a priority for all those essentials. Amazing isn’t it as the shops only close for one day here (no Boxing Day is acknowledged).

While on the subject of supermarkets there are four in Saint Jean-de-Losne and another about 7kms away in Blazey-en-Plaine, so I think shopping outings to the supermarkets must be the centre of social activity as it is the case of, spot the locals anywhere, as you pass through these towns or villages. At these supermarkets you will not find any shopping trolleys lying about in the car-parks as you have to put a Euro into the trolley lock to detach its chain clip from the ones in front so to get your Euro back when you have unloaded the shopping into your car or whatever you have to return the trolley to the designated area and hook up again thus releasing the coin. It sure makes for tidier parking areas and surrounds.

Inside the supermarkets or even in most stores there are no plastic or other types of shopping bags supplied at all so as you can imagine it is vital to use a trolley as even if they have shopping baskets available inside, you cannot take them through the checkouts as they are security coded and the bells ring if you try to bypass this secure area. Even for small amounts of shopping it is a case of taking your own carry bags or else you are left standing at the end of the checkout area with all your groceries, and trying to stack them onto your arms and no, you cannot use the emptied cartons as you can in New Zealand supermarkets as they are removed by staff as soon as they are emptied.
Rhonda's Comments: A midget snowman.

We are still working out what some foods are called in French which can make finding particular items and or selection sometimes difficult. It is rare to find a staff member who speaks or understands English let alone knows what product you may be seeking. It is amazing how much ill feeling there must be between the English and French and vice versa. You can pick up so many products, particularly those which are packeted or canned and read the labels in anything up to 6 languages but not English. They seem to avoid using it like the plague which is a pity and we are so sure they must lose millions of Euros in lost sales as English speaking people often just bypass the product until they can get it from the UK or wherever. It is ironical really that all the messages over the shops PA systems are only in French but more than half of the songs being played are in English so I am not sure how they reconcile the two.
In this photo: Ken, Terry, Sandra, Pat, David, Steve and Ushi
Well we got to New Year’s Eve which turned out to be reasonably fine with a full moon so Rhonda and I walked into town at 9.00pm to meet with some other friends and to go to Sylvie and Gerard’s (long term supporters of the canal bargees group) family’s home for celebrations. It was a marvellous evening with the usual, lots of food and drink and music (mainly English as one of our mates controlled the stereo for the evening). After eating and drinking, as New Year’s Eve got close to midnight, the hosts presented everyone with a hat to put on. Goodness only knows what it meant or where they collected so many hats from which we wore for, the rest of the evening.
Rhonda's Comments: The mad hatters!!!

We all joined in to play Charades which is something I have never been very keen on, however, it all went so well and it was a lot of fun and it was 3.30am before we realised it. I haven’t stayed up that late for 40 years I am sure, so we wobbled off to our boat having had such a great evening. Harry was keen to see us when we got home but then it was a case of taking him for a 15 minute walk in Zero degrees then to bed around 4.00am. I have to be honest and admit to having a bit of an overhang in the morning and in truth I don’t think the hangover really started until around noon. Gee I hate it when this happens so I will cancel next year’s New Year celebrations in preparedness.

In this photo: Jo, Ken and Germaine

Amongst our fellow boaters we find more and more people of talent and one of them being our mate Terry who is a dab-hand at producing semi-abstract portraits. When Rhonda admired one that he had done for another couple, art teacher and husband, almost within hours Terry presented the following portraiture of her at the New Year's Eve party - a great skill for sure.

Fully recovered at last and the day has dawned fine and clear so we are off to explore some new territory so Rhonda chose for us to visit the area of La Rochepot to view the famous chateau which is quite splendid perched on the bluffs above the town. Showing off its multi-coloured roofing style where the tiles come from various sites thus enabling the builders of the day to ensure that when the sun is shining the colours stand out so well and the chateau can be seen for miles. It was first constructed in the 14th century and of course has been extensively added to and renovated over the following periods.

Louis the 11th king of France took all the wine grown in the local area back to the Chateau as he apparently liked it so much he didn’t want “the ordinary people” to enjoy this tipple. He would be hell bent to manage that today as this special Burgundy area now produces over 40 million bottles of what is generally acknowledged and rated as probably the best wines overall in the world with a particular white wine called Montrachet which stands alone at the head of the list. Alexandre Dumas the famous French writer reported that this wine should only be drunk by “bareheaded folk while on bended knee”. Well I must admit to following this instruction similarly on the odd occasion many years ago.

To travel through this area is mind blowing with some of the walls dividing various vineyards dating back to the 11th century so one can only imagine what great stories they have witnessed. The little towns which dot the landscape are also so old with many of the homes and buildings almost touching each other it is all but impossible to get vehicles down many of the streets. The stone houses which vary so much in size of course serve a very real need providing accommodation to the various growers and workers plus the land owners. Looking across thousands and thousands of acres of nothing but vineyards growing up the slopes is quite breathtaking and it is amazing when you consider that heavy snow is certainly not uncommon.

The other thing one notes is that there is no irrigation to any of the vines which may be part of the reason as to why the grapes are so sweet and so high in the beaume count thus producing fantastic wines for us all to enjoy. The colours of the country are varied depending on what vines are grown in a particular areas and even though we are right in the throws of winter now, many vines still carry their old branches and laterals, hence the colour assortments.

Apparently in summer this area is choked with visitors from around the world who come to stay to sample and buy the wonderful vintages. It seems as though every second building is a winery (called caves) with tastings and sales reaching millions of dollars so from what appear to be uninhabited towns now spring to life and enjoy a great bustling period. Surely this must be a place for any wine connoisseurs not to miss in any visit to the territory. We sure hope to make a lengthy return when the weather gets better and before we head south for the coming cruising season.

Sadly upon our return from that delightful visit and a particularly cold spell and huge dump of snow, I got hit with what I thought was just a chill or a good old cold, however, eventually after spending 3 days confined to bed we determined that we would have to brave it and break out to go to our local doctor who said I had bronchitis so it has been a week of total bedrest with so much medicants so am hoping for some improvement over the next few days. Costs to visit doctor E 22.00, medicants, E 93.00 totalling equal to around NZ$230.00 so it sure pays to look after one’s health. For visitors intending to travel to such areas it is imperative to have your own full travel and or health insurance.

On a positive note, I must make and pay tribute to Rhonda who despite the cold, the snow and the ice, had to take over all those usual male run boat roles and has developed new skills like wood collecting from outside where we have the logs stacked under tarpaulins to dragging half frozen hoses to a connecting point so we can top-up tanks and to getting fresh water from the collection point and then to flush out systems etc. It sure takes time and effort, not to mention a lot of skill to work your way along the steel decks when they are covered in snow and/or ice laden with wood or hoses or brushes when fully rugged up in boots, jackets, coats, caps and gloves which sure don’t allow easy movement or balance when you are not used to effecting such chores. On top of this has of course has been the need for Harry to be taken for walks three times a day including in the dark evenings with snow and sleet flying about the place. Complaining? Who’s complaining? This is just the way it is and the need to adapt is just a part of this new adventure.

We have had visits from fellow bargees popping in to see if we are ok and enquiring if they can assist which is just typical of the care and consideration we find on these waterways.

Well there are signs today that we may be going to experience a good melt so fingers crossed and hopefully by the time of our next blog we will be reporting to you on the famous spring flowers and conditions. Some signs are already in place of bulbs bursting through the all but frozen garden beds. Sadly though due to the extreme cold, thousands, if not millions of birds have frozen to death through freezing to the trees they are perching on or starving to death due to lack of food so I know in England and so on there are repeated requests for people to buy food to spread to try to minimise the total loss of some varieties of theses little creatures. Cattle are of course held in barns, some of them huge, housing up to 100 cattle beasts and in food shelters where they just while away the days eating and awaiting their final destiny. Oh well enough of the maudlin side of life. All will move on for sure.

Meantime, to those of you who are in the south experiencing really hot temperatures we wish you a great long summer and to those who are experiencing the worst winter of 40 years in northern Europe, we say hang in there, better things are on the way.

Enjoy the pictures and take care as we roll into 2010.
Rhonda's Comments: "I'm pooped"