Saturday, March 20, 2010


26th February, 2010 - 20th March, 2010

After what seemed to be a never-ending and miserable winter, I am pleased to report that at last we are getting a few days of some relief with less colder days and even some welcome hours of sunshine at times. We are told it has been the worst winter for 40 years and personally I don’t care if it is another 40 years before a repeat occurs. While the photos of the snow appear pretty and Christmas-like, after weeks of never-ending snow, ice, sleet and overcast days with showers I can sure do without them.

Luckily our mooring has been very secure up against the bank with two other barges moored outside us so we get quite a lot of shelter and being able to use the bank to store our logs and firewood means that easy access was a plus. Our log burner has been on almost 24/7 plus the radiators which we ignite early in the mornings until the boat warms by about 10.00am. With the water supply pipes being in danger of bursting through the freezing cold, supply was cut off by management on Christmas Eve so it has been a case of requesting once a week for special hoses to be run from a distribution point so as to fill up the tanks and to get containers of drinking water to cover our needs for the off days.

This was another nuisance which added to my uncomfortableness when I had my dose of bronchitis and as you all know, when it is cold and miserable, it is so much harder to get on top of an illness, however, that is now all behind me I trust.

It is amazing how one adapts to what seemed to be unkindly conditions although Rhonda enjoyed the colder temps so we are poles apart on this but she did particularly well by keeping busy with her new found interest of painting and has turned out some works which are really good considering that she has never held a paint brush before. Joining a group of local folk she goes each week to a get-together so receives support and advice if required from other group members. A couple of weeks ago I joined the Card Making Group (the only male to do so) and I am enjoying turning out cards which have that personal touch and look pretty good even if I do say so myself.
Rhonda's Comment: Van Gough eat your heart out - but I won't cut my ear off for anyone.

Two weeks ago we were asked to go with a local teacher to a High School in Auxonne along with an Australian couple to address the English learning class and to talk about our respective countries. It was pretty interesting doing the research into our own home country to make a presentation which they could understand and to be of interest. They all knew about the name All Blacks and Lord of the Rings but really had no idea of where New Zealand lies in relation to France or Australia and were horrified to learn that the flight time from Paris to Auckland is approx 27 hours. We used a big white map we had drawn of New Zealand and on which Rhonda added points of interest to as we talked to them. The teacher was pretty impressed which made it somewhat even more worthwhile and in their test held a few days later the students scored pretty well so at least some of the facts stuck for them.

We have each read a number of books and watched more DVDs than we have ever done and a few weeks ago I bought a guitar and have started learning again from the internet which is fun, however, I have copped plenty from my mates here who have given me the knick name of Hunk Mervin (apologies to Hank Marvin of the Shadows) so coupled to the usual tasks and gadding about, we have passed the time ever so quickly really.

Rhonda's Comment: He even has the steps.

With the lightening of the skies it has become time to get on with those spring cleaning tasks of which there seems to be many to do on the boat so that we can be ready to move out of here in sparkling condition when we make our way south for the next 12 month period. Rhonda and I are excited about the prospect of visiting all the towns and cities en route via the Soane River and then the mighty Rhone and later on to making the trip across France on the Canal du Midi to Bordeaux then back to Moissac where we will winter over but more about that as time goes by.

Rhonda's Comment: The Bay City Strollers

We have some friends coming to stay onboard for varying periods during the cruising season, so the summer will go by with a real mixture of adventure, new experiences, good food and a fair amount of wine tasting I guess with lots of chat added.

If you ever want to see what the Canal du Midi is like and what is on offer for that region, get hold of a copy of Rick Steins “French Odyssey” DVD. It is fascinating and while you may not be a fan of all of his cooking (you can fast forward past those) you will sure get a good feeling for what we will see and experience.

During the past 6 months of wintering over here at H20, we have to say that the boating folk have been quite wonderful. When I was ill a couple of mates came over to our boat and cut my logs into easy to handle lengths for Rhonda and to see what else we needed done. As one of them spoke French pretty well, we were also able to use his services when we were getting the car fixed and so on. Our French has only slightly improved. Lazy, I guess but it is not easy to learn but we will get there. We will sure miss Joe and Jana when we move from here. Thanks also must go to Terry and Sandra, David and Pamela. Some other folk even went shopping for us while they were in England buying up some special foods we like and which aren’t available here and some hardware which we had seen in UK catalogues so brought the items back with them to us here. Thanks to Richard and Vivienne.

Rhonda's Comment: Oh what a night.

We have enjoyed eating some great meals on other folks boats and having them over to us in return as well and the other night we were able to have 10 people aboard for dinner and to celebrate Jo’s 50th birthday (yes, I can remember mine --- I think). He bought his electronic keyboard and another mate Terry brought his bass and rhythm guitars so with all the good food and wine supplied by all attending, we had a great evening of fellowship and it was good to be able to return a favour. Jo’s wife Jana brought over with her some fireworks which were lit to the North so we could imagine what the Northern Lights might be like (much wine was had before we did this as you can imagine!!!) but poor Harry thought he might come out to see the action but when the first sky rocket went soaring into the sky, Harry took to the boat, couldn’t get up the ramp because people where standing on it so took an almighty jump from the shore but did not quite make it and into the water he went. After my panic and others saying “he’s in the water”, Ken said “come on Harry get out of there” and out he scrambled, shook himself and casually walked up the ramp and on board looking back as if saying “you lot do the funniest things”.
Harry's Comment: "I'm not impressed"
On the odd occasion we splash out and go to a local restaurant for a meal just for a change from being on the boat, however, we do have to watch the pricing. Just to give you an idea, generally the Plate du Jour which is the main luncheon and dessert is usually around E11.00 equals NZ $22.00 and coffee is often charged at E 3.00 a cup (NZ $6.00) and even the wine served can be expensive with a 250 mls carafe being E6.00, (NZ $12.00) for pretty ordinary wine (price at the local supermarket at around E3.00 a bottle) so while it is nice to go out, one has to watch the costs. We have noticed that even the workers who make the midday meal their main hot meal will order a small carafe of red wine and then dilute it down 50% with the free water.

It is unusual here too in so much as if you go to a Café or Tabac for coffee they don’t have any eats so you have to go to the closest bakery and buy something which you take to the café with you. The odd place might offer a small croissant but this is rare. Nobody does breakfasts like we were used to in New Zealand or Australia. Gone are the weekends when we could go and spread out the Sunday papers and enjoy a full cooked breakfast wasting away a morning. We see people using the Tabacs for a coffee plus a cognac or similar to get the pipes open on their way to work but not eating anything. No wonder the population is generally a whole lot less likely to be overweight than us plus they walk so much. It is rare to see overweight people, particularly women so we feel quite embarrassed (well almost anyhow).

We are always commenting how the women take so much care with their dress and fashion. They seem to know just how to dress to show off their features and use scarves and hats, jackets, coats shoes and boots to get the best look. Even the children’s fashions are remarkable and beautiful but also expensive. We have always noticed that in the supermarkets there are huge racks of stockings and pantyhose of all sorts and styles and these are certainly bought and worn by all the women particularly in winter but also in summer when they are dressing up for some occasion.

People who have been staying here or visiting for years acknowledge how the prices have risen over the past 4 years. Why didn’t we make this adventure happen a few years earlier ?????

Harry's Comment: Another day, another city, another country. (In Geneva, Switzerland)

Rhonda had a fall a few days ago when she tripped over a small ledge in the footpath and of course landed on her knees which have always given her bother anyhow, so she is going to need some real treatment to overcome the swelling and bruising which is apparent now. We are sure hopeful that she does not find the damage causes her limitations to long term movement and activity like walking etc.

The French have this saying that unlike in New Zealand etc where one would report this stupidly set curb to the authorities and where you could likely lodge a claim for damages, the authorities here have a saying which means that “you should take care”. This even applies to the huge potholes and lack of footpath areas which are prevalent at the moment due to the rain and snow and even the roads. I guess it is one way of keeping down the claims etc. We drove into a water filled pothole yesterday which I guarantee was close to 300mm deep and felt as though the cars steering was damaged for a moment or two until I was able to regain control.
Compare this to in England where a claim has just been settled for a women who was attending a school activity day and entered in the mothers race all supposed to be in fun for the kids, however, she tripped over and broke her ankle so sued the school and got $2500.00 plus the lawyers fees which were $5000.00. All out of public money of course.
Amazing isn’t it.

Well after talking about the warmer weather arriving, I knew I shouldn’t have opened my mouth. The other day I biked off to the supermarket for Rhonda and while the breeze was cold it wasn’t too bad but by the time I had finished shopping for a few things I came out to find it snowing like crazy and in the 5 minutes it took me to cycle home I became a real snowman and since then the temps stayed around 5 degrees so the fire was back on full bore again.

Well as you can guess we had well had enough of this winter weather so when the forecast advised us that the weather would be good in the French Alps we took our friends Graham and Iris from Dijon and drove our bucket of bolts via Geneva to Chamonix some 5 hours away via the scenic route. It is amazing that we actually had to go through a part of Switzerland and then back into France to go to this wonderful place set high in the French Alps. The city of Chamonix is set in a valley at 1035 m and it is mind-boggling to look up and onwards up to the peaks which are on both sides and the steepness and the closeness to the city is mind boggling. No wonder it was chosen for the very first winter Olympics. Mount Blanc, 4810m, was right at our door of our chalet, so to speak and while it was a bit cloud bound on our arrival over the next few days the weather cleared so we were able to enjoy the crystal days and views which are quite stunning. I sure have never seen anything like it before. It makes the Remarkable Mountain Range in Queenstown look a bit ordinary in comparison.

We took the Rack and Pinion Train from the station which is set at 1096m and it climbed along the mountain face at a slope of between 11 to 22 degrees for 20 minutes to drop you at a viewing platform overlooking the glaciers, peaks and valleys from a stop point at 1913m. The views are just stunning as you look down onto the Mer de Glace which is Europe’s largest glacier. Opposite you see mountains of up to 4200 m piercing the cobalt blue skies. Below many ski slopes and chair lifts are operating flat out and I guess there were a thousand or more skiers up in the area judging by the numbers who offloaded from the train and could be out on the snow, etc. Looking out onto the glacier valley you can see so many (ants) or skiers who have come right across from the Italian side of the Alps and ski across this fabulous area some arriving at the cable car exhausted after the long run while others carried on to pick up stations below. From this viewing gallery you can ride a cable car down onto the ice and wander along into the Ice Caves which are huge and contain ice sculptures and pictures form history etc. New ice Caves are dug every year due to the movement of the glacier over the 12 month period. The ride in the cable car is breathtaking as it seems to fall over the edge and you ride straight down for 3 mins to the base of the glacier and from there follow a path to the caves.

Up at the main base there is the usual collection of cafes and a Grand Hotel which was built in 1880 and is where those with lots of money stay. I hope the photos at least give you some idea of how beautiful the whole area is and is worth anybodies time and money to visit.

While there we travelled to Annecy which is reported to be the Venice of France. With the town situated on a beautiful lake of which I have never seen clearer or cleaner water anywhere and even the canal which runs up through the town is clean and lovely and in summer the bridges and buildings are massed in plantings and pots of flowers like geraniums and other great colourful plants. It may not be Venice but it is surely a pretty place for the tourists to visit.

Rhonda's Comment: Love the reflection in the window.

Finally on day 4 we left Chamonix to go to Geneva in the hope of buying some fine Swiss chocolate but due to our navigator getting a bit confused we got onto a toll way which the border authorities demanded that we pay E 27.00 just to drive through so after some arguing they turned us back into France and we got to Lake Geneva’s shores on the French side but had lost so much time we could only have sandwiches on the waterfront and then headed off for the trip home via Dijon on their toll-way. E 22.00 was the charge for this which allowed us to cut 2 hours off the journey so all in all the trip was just magic and I am sure the great memories will stay with us forever.

Harry's Comment: Time for a haircut Mum!!
Well it is back to the steady life of boat living and lo and behold since our return to Saint Jean-de-Losne, the weather here has taken a huge step forward to sun and temperatures as high as 17 degrees so every one is starting to do their spring cleaning and getting their boats up and ready to head off for the cruising season. Yeah. Let it roll on as soon as possible. We plan to get out on 1st April so hope all the locks are open and the river is not flooding. To celebrate with the other boaties who have wintered over and with those who like us will be leaving, we plan to have a big BBQ next Sunday to say “Cherrio” etc so the next blog from us should be at one of our stopovers en route for the Canal du Midi region in the south of France, so meantime, “Oo-Roo” as the Aussies say. Take care and we wish you all the very best for your forthcoming winter or summer depending which part of the world you are from.

You all have our email address, so please drop us a line and let us know what is spinning your wheels in your part of the world. We look forward to hearing what you have been up to and any news of what is happening. We get so disappointed when it is only a joke and no news.
Love to all, Ken, Rhonda and Harry