Monday 4th June 2018
London to Roanne
The journey to our boat is always long. We’re not from Europe. And we don’t have a car we can use. Hence, we rely on public transport. Which is fine if all goes well. Unfortunately, the French rail services were on a protracted strike. Three working days followed by two strike days. My husband had to spend two nights in Lyon to be able to catch a train back to our boat in Roanne. Not a huge hardship as both he and I LOVE Lyon. We think it’s nicer than Paris. Lucky for me I arrived a week later on a non-striking day. I left London at 09.00am and took a series of trains and flights before I arrived in Roanne at 19.45pm. Absolutely exhausted.
It never ceases to amaze me how culture transcends borders. If one looks at the demographic profile of people on a bus in the UK. And the demographic profile of people on a bus in France. There are huge similarities. Yet behaviourally, they are worlds apart. The French culture inhabits all who live in France. People from other cultures in France may eat different food and dress differently. What makes people in France different from those in the UK is subtle. It’s how loud they are in public. It’s mannerisms. It’s choices in clothing. Even body shape comes into it.
My better half had made a big fat ratatouille and salad. And had the wine ready. He’s a keeper. It was damp on the back deck, but not too cold. So good to be back on our beloved boat – Shangri La. I crashed soon after that and slept well. I always sleep well on the boat. It is a happy place for both of us.
Tuesday 5th June 2018
I never unpacked my suitcase the night before so that had to be done. I usually take photos of what gets left behind on the boat but despite that, I ALWAYS overpack. My brain seems to remember using every hat I had and then I pack extra hats or not having enough comfy shoes and pack far too many of those. I had three loose dresses on the boat and had brought over four more. Let alone shorts, skirts and pants. My hat count was eight. Not even going to say how many shoes. Comfy shoes are heavy. I was already dreading taking this stuff back home. Especially since we were hoping to sell Shangri La the upcoming summer. Something we were both very sad to do.
The plan was to leave Roanne and head toward Digoin, and on to Decize. Apparently very nice and we’d never been there. Then back to Digoin and branch off toward Chalon-sur-Saone, along the River Saone to St-Jean-de-Losne where we would leave the boat for 6 weeks. If we’ve learned anything about the waterways of France, it’s this. July and August months – are full on. Full on summer and hot as hell. Lots and lots of holiday makers. Many French places close to escape the hoards. I can’t begin to name places we had hoped to visit that were not open during that time.
So late July and early August, we would take a 6-week break and explore a bit of the south of France. Go back to the UK for a month to work on an organic farm in Cornwall. And do a hands-on cooking course at an academy in Bath. Hopefully by then things would have eased up and then we would go back to boating. The second stint we would go from St-Jean-de-Losne along the Saone toward Gray and see how far we wanted to go for one last month. Then back to St-Jean-de-Losne and that would be our boating for the year.
One of the best bits about traveling in France is enjoying French foods. Words like chef, gastronomy, cuisine, Michelin stars and café spring to mind. They take food seriously in France. Very seriously. Lunchtime, anywhere from 12.00pm to 14.30pm, is sacred. Lock-keepers on the waterways go off for déjeuner (lunch). In smaller towns – the shops close. We like that. My other half and I are often asked what we eat. I thought I would share what vegans eat while barging in France. We eat similar food back home.
Soy yogurt and berry confit parfait
French food varies considerably from region to region. In the south it’s all olives, garlic and tomatoes whereas near the German border they love sauerkraut and sausages. Where we had been traveling, in Burgundy, they’re famous for Boeuf Bourguignon, Bresse Chickens and good quality wines – amongst other things. Don’t underestimate the influence North Africa and the Middle East has had on French food. Couscous is a favourite meal. In Paris we hunt down one of the many Lebanese restaurants. They serve the most delicious made-on-the-spot falafel and salad plates.
As a vegan couple I won’t lie, it is trickier to eat out. But it’s tricky no matter where we go. However, each year it gets easier. People don’t realise how fast the plant-based food movement is growing in France. In the world actually. We check out Happycow.net before we get to a place. If we can’t find anywhere to eat, then we improvise, taking inspiration from what we find in the French supermarkets and see on the menus at cafes and brasseries. You don’t have to be in France to enjoy French food. Plenty dishes, particularly what is known as peasant cuisine such as Ratatouille, are already vegan. Swap out eggs for corn starch and dairy cream for soy cream to make a crème brûlée. Skip the beef and use mushrooms to make a Mushroom Bourguignon. Maybe some of the ideas that follow might add a Gallic touch to your vegan home cooking?
Marinated tofu steak with veggie risotto
I was prompted to write this section as one of the books I took with me to read on the boat was – The Happy Vegan – by Russel Simmons. I thought he did a great job explaining why he went vegan. It made perfect sense. He backed up all his arguments with supporting information. One thing he speaks about – is how he finds and makes food when he goes away. I thought this information might help someone who follows a plant-based diet on the French Waterways or even visiting France – to plan and make meals. Or maybe help someone who wants to increase the pant-based quotient in their diet?
One of the things Russel says, and it’s so true, is that vegans eat the same as everyone else. They just make their food differently. Burgers, cheeses, omelettes, meringues and yoghurt for example, are not off the menu. It just requires using different ingredients, techniques and flavourings to make them. The easiest way to find recipes for your favourite food in a vegan version is to go on-line and search for food you would like to make – with the word vegan next to it. Try vegan meringues or vegan omelettes. You will not believe how many recipes come up.
Most boats have a gas hob and oven. Ours has a ceramic electric hob – but no oven. So, baking and grilling are out of the question. Since we like to eat as much fresh and raw food as possible, it’s not been a problem. We have a small kettle BBQ that we sometimes fire up and make food like kebabs, stuffed foods or fire roasted veggies. We have a small fridge/freezer which means we must shop fairly regularly. A stick blender is an absolute must. If you don’t have one available, then pack one. They aren’t particularly heavy and are extremely useful. The more powerful the better. You can make delicious smoothies, soups, juices, pâtes, nut cheeses, nut milks, salad dressings, pistous and sauces with a stick blender. I also cannot live without a coffee grinder. They are small, and not only do they make fresh coffee, I use ours to make flours from grains and nuts and also to mill flax seeds.
This would be our 5th summer barging in Burgundy on our beloved Shangri La. When my better half bought the boat, I had grand ideas of traversing the Inland Waterways of all Europe. My other half was much more realistic. And thank heavens for that. We spent 2 and 1/2 summers in the Netherlands, a hectic season trekking through Belgium into France. This would be our second summer in France. We had barely moved from Burgundy the year before. And it didn’t look like we were making great progress anytime soon. And the best bit – it was entirely OK. We had been taking our time stopping off at myriad little villages. Languishing at markets and dropping back on our intended schedule to enjoy just a bit more of a lovely place we discovered. Barging in Burgundy is indeed. a special experience. You can see a video of the inside of our boat – on this link.
Shangri La lifted out for a scrub
My husband went a few days ahead of me to get the boat ready and do a few small repairs. I was coming over with my mother on the Eurostar. This would be her first time on our boat. And her first time barging in Burgundy
Filling up with fuel
Day One – 28th June 2017
London to St-Jean-de-Losne
The trip from London to St-Jean-de-Losne is always hectic. There are only a handful of trains to this itty-bitty village. Our entire trip hinges around making sure we don’t miss one of those trains. It’s tight. I didn’t want my mother to have to dash with all her luggage. Luckily my better half came up to meet us at Gare du Nord and helped carry her stuff. Would not have coped without him. There is a taxi we could take for the last leg from the station to the boat but it’s so expensive when we convert it back to our local currency. It’s just over a kilometre. So, we walked. My mother walked too. She was tired when we got to the boat.
Apparently, it had been hot and dry for 9 weeks prior to our arrival. It was a warm evening so we sat outside on the back deck listening to the frogs, fish and birds. Eating and chatting. The shops were closed when we arrived so it was a meal of leftovers and what was on board.
St Jean de Losne
Day Two – 29th June 2017
Our second day was spent in St-Jean-de-Losne. I wanted Mum to see a bit of this important junction on the waterways. My other half had last dealings with H2O Marina. We needed to do major shop up for 7 weeks of boating and there is a lovely Casino supermarket easy walking distance from the boat.
One thing about H2O St-Jean-de-Losne is they have great wi-fi. And thank heavens as there was a major plumbing drama back home in South Africa. We did a little walkabout in the village. Visited the free Barge Museum. Popped into an eatery along the River Saône for a drink. And then back to the boat before the rain came down. I made a pasta packed full of French veggies, aubergine, courgette, onions, garlic and hearty tomatoes. Plus, some Violife vegan parmesan cheese I had brought over from the UK. Add a few glasses of Burgundy red wine. What more could a person want?
Sleeping in a boat is the best. The cabins are cosy with low ceilings. Add to that the motion and sounds of being on the water. I guess it’s a bit like being in a womb. Hypnotic. Definitely conducive to a good night’s sleep.
My husband had a dream to travel the inland waterways of Europe. He found a lovely Dutch steel boat in the Netherlands. In between our ordinary real life in Cape Town, we managed to spend three wonderful summers in the Netherlands, exploring as much as we could. See my musings about those holidays if you go to the top of the page and look for – Boating Holidays.
Last year we took our beloved boat – Shangri La – on an epic journey from the Netherlands, through Belgium to France. It was an almighty journey. The distance and number of locks for one. But also getting used to the waterways in France was another thing. You can read more about that trip – also on Boating Holidays. This year we wanted way less travel time. Since the boat was already in Burgundy it made sense to explore locally.
Shangri La had undergone extensive (and costly) repairs at H2O marina in St-Jean-de-Losne. Sigh! The turbo charger had an overhaul, the underside of the boat had to be buffed and she got a new coat of anti-fouling. Also the generator and related electrics were replaced. As well as the cooling water heat exchanger.
We started our journey Monday 8th August 2016 from a flat in Surbiton London finishing up at St Jean-de-Losne in Burgundy France. Humping our heavy suitcases, we went up and down stairs and escalators, on and off trains, and walked and walked. Luckily all our trains were on time.
Checking the engine
It was lovely to see our boat again. I guess we’re biased but we think she’s beautiful. Shangri La is a Van Der Valk make custom built boat. She has oak veneers and brass nautical fittings with cream and blue fabric and trimmings. We were told her first owner was a Belgian ship captain. The second owners were a German couple who spent many happy years on board. And now she’s ours.
She wasn’t too dusty or covered in mildew as my other half had been over a few weeks prior to oversee some of the repairs. We dropped off our suitcases and dashed to the local Casino supermarket with only 10 minutes before closing to grab something to eat. We bought yummy looking local seasonal produce such as juicy apricots and plump tomatoes as well as Cote D’Or Noir chocolate and lovely Burgundy wines. For a small town they had a fair amount of plant foods like soy yogurt, coconut yogurt and tofu. I also found some Casino brand tins of things to try such as bean sprouts in brine, artichoke hearts and veggie ratatouille.
H2O marina St-Jean-de-Losne
Back at the boat we had a shower. The water smelled absolutely dreadful. A sort of rusty, sulphuric, almost mild sewage smell. This had not happened to us before. It may have been water lying in the tanks for a year. Or something related to local water? No doubt about it, all the water would have to be flushed out and refilled with fresh water and a bit of chlorine added to clear anything untoward.
We got chatting to a bloke who had a UK flag on his boat so we could get passwords for amenities and wi-fi as the H2O marina offices were closed. He had been stuck for days as his boat engine had broken down and he was waiting for an engineer to have a look at it. Wi-fi is always a problem on the water, we didn’t have much luck getting connected.
The first night was an early night. The following day my other half washed down the covers so they could dry before he packed them away. I cleaned the inside of the boat. Topped up with more food. And started settling down. We went up to the one of the local cafes where my husband had stayed previously to get wifi and have a glass of local wine.
This year we had only 2 x three week boating breaks. Significantly shorter than previous boating holidays. Travel guides and word of mouth suggested that places like Mâcon, Louhans, Chalon-sur-Saône and Besançon were good to visit. The other major consideration was two friends joining us for 3 days. Our boat had to be near a village big enough so they could catch a train to and from our boat.
We decided to spend one more day in St-Jean-de-Losne as my husband wanted to clean the bilges. And he needed the electrician to explain the new system to us as we were still on shore power. This allowed me to go for a slow jog to see a bit more of St-Jean-de-Losne. Back at the boat and freshened up I started making food for the trip ahead: – vegan mayo, raw cookies, hummus, etc
Finally after much coaxing and with 2 hours to close of day the electrician came to look at the new electrics and decided there was a problem. It would have to wait for the morning when hopefully the problem would be solved. If not, they would loan us a portable generator for our trip.
Our first lock of the season
The climate in Burgundy is said to be hot in summer with wet winters. Not unlike our home city Cape Town. Apparently their recent winter had been particularly wet. August month is still European school holidays. The days are warm to hot with an occasional bit of cloud. The last two evenings on deck were warm but it can get cool on the water. There is no greater place on earth at the end of a day than on our back deck sipping something nice, watching the sun set and listening to people on holiday talking, eating or moving about. Depending on where you’re moored you can also hear birdlife and fish popping up or a breeze rustling through trees. These sounds are mesmerising and oh so soothing. Coupled with the rhythmic movement of the boat – it’s bliss.
The following day there was no sign of the electrician so my husband rustled up the staff at H2O. They eventually dropped off a generator and we decided to rather leave a day later as the trip from St-Jean-de-Losne to Dole was a good day of boating – 28 kilometres and 9 locks. I managed to drop my reading glasses in the water and they disappeared to the bottom in no time. Luckily the pharmacy in St-Jean-de-Losne was still open and I bought a pair of readers. Not what I would have wanted. A giraffe pattern on the top part and the bottom was a burnt orange colour. A tad old fashioned as well. But I couldn’t afford to be fussy.
My other half and I often have to pinch ourselves as we just cannot believe we have our very own Dutch steel motor cruiser – Shangri La. How did this happen? I have to confess I had no part in it. None whatsoever. In fact I had no desire to even set foot on a boat. Why would I? Then I met my now husband. He’d been sailing dinghys as a child and went on to become a ship captain. Boats are his whole life.
Shangri La in Alkmaar
Sailing holidays in Greece and Turkey were his thing for decades. He took me on a sailing holiday to the Greek Islands. The Sporades. Fabulous part of the world. I liked being on a boat but was less keen on the actual sailing. More like hard work than a holiday. I also didn’t like being lurched all over the place and ducking every time we changed tack to avoid getting smacked on my head by the boom.
Shangri La in Utrecht
Our next trip he took us to explore the Croatian islands, this time we had a cabin cruiser. (Read about that holiday – here) Again I loved being on a boat but that particular boat had compact living space and was all about speed and power.
The following holiday we did the Macclesfield Canal on a traditional English narrow boat. I really enjoyed that break. Boating at a slow gentle pace means you can leave a cup of coffee on a table without fearing it will smash or spill. The holiday after that was wonderful. We went barging in France. (Read more – here) And we did more similar holidays. A narrow boat in the Brecon Beacons in Wales and more France as well as the Netherlands.
Shangri La in Liege
Since we enjoyed our slow boating holidays, it started to make sense to buy a boat. Well that’s how my other half explained it to me. He favoured a Dutch steel motor cruiser. If there is one thing the Dutch have got right over the eons, it’s making boats. We did our last holiday with a boat-hire company that specifically uses Pedros, a particular design of Dutch steel boat. (Find that holiday – here) My other half knew that was the sort of boat he might like and wanted to try one out.
Over the next couple of years we looked at a LOT of boats. We had a checklist and would rate the boats according to things we thought would be important like water and fuel capacity, location of toilet for guests on the boat, engine size, air and water draft, equipment, double steering positions – something we didn’t want as we felt it took up unnecessary space. We had some idea of what boating in Europe would be like. We needed to fit under bridges or travelling would be limited. We needed to have enough fuel and water. The bigger the boat the higher the mooring costs but with two of us hoping to take lengthy holidays we needed space to move.
Shangri La in Dinant
We fell in love with a Mollenkruiser in Nottingham. Beautiful boat. And fully renovated. Sadly the sale fell through as there was insufficient paperwork in place. Paperwork is VERY important crossing international borders. Proof of tax payments and ownership papers were not available for that boat. Despite the owner of that boat insisting he had never had a problem, and we were very much in love with that boat, we took advice from multiple people and never went through with the purchase.
Since my other half was set on a Dutch design boat we knew we would in all likelihood find one in the Netherlands. And so focused on boats there. Eventually we found Shangri La, the much loved boat of a German couple who had to sell. They had enjoyed plenty holidays on her and done a whole lot of improvements. Things we never considered important like an electric hob, which we initially thought was odd, but with gas regulations and safety issues it’s actually a sensible idea. The boat also didn’t have a holding tank but rather a sea toilet. Many of the boats we looked at had holding tanks close to the living area. They smell. My other half is prepared to fit one externally if the need arises. And we keep disposable toilet liners should we be in an area that prohibits the use of a sea toilet. Shangri La has a distinct nautical interior with a ships brass clock that chimes the bells and assorted other brass and nautical hooks and gadget holders. Luckily the owners left all that on the boat for us. And a few other handy things such as German pots, microwave, spares and tools.
Shangri La in Bar le Duc
The sale went well and we became the proud owners of Shangri La. We think we’re her fourth owners. Her bouwjaar (building year) is 1992. She is a Van der Valk cruiser. My husband is happy to keep on top of maintenance and repairs either by himself or outsourcing work. Shangri La has been re-upholstered, she has new curtains, her piping has been replaced, starter motor and gearbox overhauled, woodwork refurbished, new awnings and canvas covers, the broken windows and ports have been repaired. But, like any house or car, a boat has to be maintained ongoing.
Our first year on our boat was all about getting to know her. Make her our home. Our second year, we
First day was rain and more rain
planned to start proper travelling. Not that we hadn’t done any boating, it’s just we hadn’t strayed too far from our marina. We left Shangri La behind at the end of 2013 with a list of improvements and repairs for our boat yard to do.
My husband had been planning our 2014 trip for a while. Our boat would be ship shape. We were doing 3 trips. We had already explored northern Netherlands, now we wanted to see Amsterdam,
Dressed warm two days away from Midsummer
the delta where the rivers Maas, Rhine and Waal return to the sea and the southern areas of The Netherlands.
The first trip of 2014 was frankly a disaster. We ended up having only 3 days on our boat. The repairs we expected to be done, were not done. My husband delayed coming across to Holland to give the marina more time. That turned out to be a huge mistake. We actually needed to be around to make sure our work got done, something all the other people with boat repairs at the same place were doing.
The second trip my husband got to the boat a good few days before me, and to our relief all the work had finally been done. We had new curtains
Our mooring in Hardewijk
and upholstery, new mattress and carpets. My husband wanted mechanical and structural repairs done including the starter motor, window hinges, leaks, windscreen wiper, new fuel and water pipes. All this came with a hefty bill but he always says he’s happy to spend money to keep the boat in good condition.
On the 17th June, I left home in Cape Town at 16.00pm and caught a bus to the airport, plane to London, plane to Amsterdam, train to Zwolle, bus to Zwartsluis and a walk to the marina. Twenty two hours later, with only 2 hours sleep in hand, I
New upholstery and curtains
got to see our boat again. And my husband. We had supper at the local eatery and an early night. The next morning we left around 09.00am and headed toward Hardewijk.
Hard to believe it was a few days shy of midsummer. We were both wrapped up warm and the rain was pelting down. We managed 6 and 1/2 hours of motoring and got to Hardewijk, tying up in the pouring rain.
I was almost reluctant to see Hardewijk as all I really wanted to do was stay in with the heating on. But I’m glad we went up the road. A person never knows quite what to expect in these smaller towns. Hardewijk is an old historical place with a
big cathedral in the middle. We found the town square and had our obligatory Belgian beer at a cafe as we watched the locals doing whatever locals do. My other half had made a divine pea and potato curry which we devoured when we got back to the boat.
The next day we had a really early start as we had to be in Naarden to meet friends who were joining us on the boat. We feared another dreary day, but the rain soon cleared. Our friends brought South African sunshine with them. Naarden has a lovely big marina with excellent facilities. Also nice is that you pay a flat fee which includes shower,
Planes from Schipol airport passing over Naarden
electricity, water, etc. No constantly having to scratch around for coins to top up meters. We hardly tied up and our friends arrived. Our very first visitors! We had a few worries. Was there enough space? Where would we put luggage? Would they be OK with our veggie diet? Was their room warm enough? How would we all manage together in the confines of a boat for four days? We would find out soon enough.
The next morning my husband and friends were up early. We had breakfast and the blokes were playing boats. Not sure exactly what they were doing. Looked like checking maps and taking the
The marina in Naarden
canopy on and off. (No doubt important stuff.) I had a last catch up with e-mails, facebook and other comms. One never knows if and when you get Internet on the water.
We all sat on the back deck with snacks and tea for lunch. It was still helluva cold, but the rain had gone. Then we all went for a walk into Naarden. I wished we had more time there. It’s a well preserved lovely old town. It had the usual moat around it. And an Arsenal. We also discovered big arches which must have been where the city once had a gate. Luckily we found a little supermarket and topped up with food before wandering back to our boat. We all had an early shower and then enjoyed sun downers on the back deck. We had veggie burgers and
The boys playing boats
salad for supper. Our friends had done the same flight over as me so we all had an early night. I always sleep well on the boat.