Wednesday 27th June 2018 Genelard to Blanzy We shared the locks with a couple from Germany. Fortunately the bollards are easy to see. And to reach. The first lock from Genelard went fine but the next few locks are set so the water flows in really fast. Not exactly expecting that, the couple in the other boat and ourselves were a bit unprepared and our boats lurched violently. It was a decidedly breezy day which wasn’t helping one bit. We had to keep the radar arch and back awning down due to the low bridges but resolved to drop the front awning in the locks as it was behaving like a sail, catching the wind and pushing our boat about. I would have preferred us to keep the radar arch in storage while we boated in France as taking the thing up and down every day and then stepping over it while juggling ropes was a right pain. But I’m not the captain.
As luck would have it a new type of grass cutter was busy at the third lock of the day, grinding away at growth next to the canal. I’ve never seen so many different contraptions and devices to remove grass as I had the last few days.
The wind was also welcome as temperatures were above 30’C – peaking at 35’C in the forthcoming days. There are three lift bridges just before the marina at Montceau-les-Mines which don’t operate during lunch time. Straight after lunch we passed through them. They must have cameras or sensors as you don’t do anything to trigger them. And then we saw a newly renovated marina. It looked amazing. All the forsaken boats were gone! Lovely new jettys. Probably had WiFi. We briefly considered changing our plans and stopping there but decided to stick with our original plan.
We arrived in Blanzy and realised where the dead beat boats had gone. Blanzy! I will never understand why these boats that are rusted, covered in black mould, rotten wood trimmings and curtains, have not seen an owner in yonks and not paid their licenses in decades – are allowed to hog prime mooring places marked on the maps for visitors of the waterways. It makes no sense.
They are costing potential income as they don’t bring visitors, they detract from a place as they are an eyesore and they don’t pay toward the waterways. Proper moorings designed for visitors should have a maximum 3-day stay and then boats must move on. Or go where boats go when they are no longer useful or loved. If it’s a renovation project, it belongs in a boatyard and not on the waterways. If a boat is not being used, it must be scrapped. Simple.
And while I’m at it. Another thing that irks us is huge big barges that tie up permanently in these places. Blanzy had a barge that took up 40% of the available space. Naturally they put the usual A4 paper “hand-made notice” ordering the rest of us boaters not to go anywhere near “their” plug point or boat. I’ve seen boats put up chevron tape between bollards or paint the quay with their boat name so visitors can’t tie up. If people want to live on the waterways I can completely understand that. But then they must invest in bollards and an electricity point for their boat further along. Not take over what precious little space there is for visitors. Rant over.
There’s a plethora of shops about a half an hour walk back in the direction of Montceau-les-Mines including a huge E Le Clerc supermarket. We took our trusty wheeler and did yet another shop up at ALDI. How does a couple get through so much food? Then we took a gander into Blanzy to see what it had to offer. On the same side at the mooring was a pizza place and a couple of bars. We went all the way to the top and no-one knew of a place where we could get WiFi. My better half suggested we try the bar on the other side of the canal. Yes they could help us out with WiFi. And for free.
I asked for a glass of red wine and the woman serving us said this region had particularly good white wines and she would like me to try one. She was right. My better half and I had a different white after that, this time a Chablis. Also excellent. We feared 3 wines and 1 beer off-the-menu might be a bit expensive but it came to €9.50. This lady was so helpful. She gave us tourist info leaflets in English and loads of tips.
Tuesday 26th June 2018 Paray-le-Monial to Genelard We were woken from a peaceful slumber by a grass cutting machine making it’s way past our boat along the canal at 06.40am. There I was thinking the French strictly observe working hours. Yet more grass to toss into the canal. Grrrr. A grass cutter was waiting for us as we entered our first lock of the day and began cutting grass right next to us in the lock. Another bloke with a Weed Eater was on the opposite side helping him. Grass cuttings and dust was raining down on us – and our poor boat – trapped in the lock. My eyes were full of grit and all I could think was – how were we ever going to clean this fine dust and grass shavings permeating our boat.
And if that wasn’t enough, we had not one, not two, but three different types of grass cutting tractors at it while we were in the fourth lock. Same avalanche of grass cuttings and grit flying everywhere. A plethora of similar machines were cutting grass the entire day. One can only assume all the local towns, the VNF and whoever else manages grass on the waterways pick a grass cutting date and they all work together. And by God they get it right.
Since we had an enforced early start, we were making great progress toward Genelard. Saw a family of storks aloft a tree, passed the beautiful Chateaux Digoin. A friendly lock keeper came to check on us. He said it had been a quiet day, but the previous day was busy. We mentioned we weren’t stopping for lunch and hoping to make Genelard around lunch time. The next lock had no light on but was set for us. So we went in, tied up, and pulled the blue cord and – nothing. Tried pulling the cord for longer. Nada. Tried lots of quick pulls. No luck. Tried an extra hard pull. Nope. Nothing at all. It was 11.57am. Lunch time. So we settled down to a nice long lunch and waited. As you do in France.
After lunch we phoned the VNF offices and they told us to back out the lock and try again. This time the lights were on. Maybe the automatic locks take a lunch break too. We tied up with stakes in Genelard. It’s a lovely place. They have a mini Vival supermarket in the town and a bigger one about 1 kilometre out of town. My other half made a BBQ supper on the banks of the marina and we ate on the back deck. My favourite type of evening.
Monday 25th June 2018 Digoin to Paray-le-Monial The issue of this boat being sold and a few repairs needed to be dealt with. We were still ambivalent about who to choose and how best to do it. What we did know is our boat had history with the marina at St-Jean-de-Losne. We had planned going back there. That meant the other boat sales agent would be out of the picture as they don’t work together. What’s a person to do? If we picked the wrong agent, we would sit with a boat that could have been sold. A last e-mailing session at the Tourism Office to make contact with key people was rather important.
And then an old school friend popped up and wanted to join us on the boat for a few nights. But of course. The biggest challenge was keeping in touch. Bad enough we didn’t have WiFi most of the time but for some reason both my UK mobile phone (EE) and South African phone (MTN) would not enable ordinary text messages. Hand on heart I had been into both their Help Centres prior to leaving both countries to sort it out. There was more than enough money paid in. A person gives up after a while.
Coming out the last lock before Paray-le-Monial we had a bit of a disaster. The wind blew the back of the boat across the lock so her nose was skew as we exited the lock. The canal was so full of grass cuttings that the bow thruster was jammed. We had to manually fend our way out the lock. That strip of lock canal was like a lentil soup. They had tossed cut grass straight into the canal. Big clumps of it drifted all over the water like mini islands. And then our one fender rolled up and got caught in the bridge. What a mess. As if coming out once wasn’t hard enough, we had to reverse back into the lock, get the fender loose and then come out again.
Last time we were in Paray-le-Monial was a year ago, but three weeks later. It was heaving with humans. I gather it’s a religious centre where people come to get healed and celebrate St Margaret Mary. Luckily they were setting up and it hadn’t started yet. Creatures of habit, we went back to the same places we visited last time and finished up the evening having a beer and a glass of wine for a whole €4. There is a lovely “8 a Huit” supermarket in town. Back at the boat we had heaps of food to taste test. I like Paray-le-Monial but there was only one other boat around. I suspect the busy road opposite might put people off.
Sunday 24th June 2018 Digoin Madame Capitain had told us there was a market on Sunday mornings on the outskirts of Digoin, so that was on the cards. My husband has a never ending list of boat cleaning and touch ups, so that also had to be fitted into the day. I always need to practise recipes and our boat is the perfect place as it’s a basic kitchen. Our recipes must work in all circumstances. Plus we had a monster pile of laundry. Clearly a day out from boating and a good old fashioned catch-up was well overdue. We set our smartphones to log our footsteps and trundled off to the market. The market is a bit of everything. Not specifically a foodie market. My husband bought himself a Man-Bag so he could wander around with everything he needs.
The cost for two nights in Digoin was €21 for 2 nights, plus water, electricity and tourist tax. It’s not a bad marina. I do wish they would move these dead-beat, unloved boats away from the marinas. You can see they haven’t renewed their licenses in years. The awnings are tattered and torn and these boats are rusted to bits. They occupy prime tourist space. It’s seriously off-putting when you come into a lovely town to find you get to tie up amongst a bunch of wrecked boats.
I really wanted to spend a night or two with my brother who was coming over from the USA to spend time in Paris. Not sure how this trip got to be so frenetic. Helping the Swiss guy cost us a day and a half. On the one hand we needed a day out but on the other hand we needed to make up distance so we could make this work. The original plan was a third night in Digoin but we decided to leave the following day after lunch .
Since the generator wasn’t working due to the fuse, I wanted to make the most of having electricity and got cracking making a Banana Mousse, Puy Lentil Rissoles, Savoury Brown Rice, Sauerkraut, Oat Milk and Almond Milk Yoghurt and a Carrot, Potato and Mustard Mash. Nice thing is we would have food for a while. The pair of us drank loads of local wine. Listened to Pink Floyd and Simple Minds. And crashed into bed early.
Saturday 23rd June 2018 Diou to Digoin I suspected some of the lockies we encountered were students. A lovely young man told us operating the locks was his summer job. He was studying to be an engineer. Spoke perfect English. The jokes always on us when we try to parler (speak) and someone asks if we would prefer to speak English coz it’s obvious we’re bad. And then is fluent. We had a mini convo about how we pronounce things with English vernacular in mind. He was so friendly. I wish we could vote for a lock keeper of the year award because some of them are fabulous. I would be happy to contribute toward something nice for them to win.
There are a lot of low bridges on this canal and each time we came up to a bridge it was a guessing game with us. Would we or wouldn’t we fit under the bridge? Obviously the radar arch and back awning were down. But a person needs some protection from the elements and so we kept the front awning up. If we suspected we couldn’t pass under a bridge, we quickly dropped the awning and I held onto it until we passed , then we clipped it back up again. Meanwhile my better half had been popping into the boat to peer under motor and when we tied up to keep an eye on the oil/water leak. Since we left Roanne it had been fine. Clearly the new gasket had worked and the dried up seals were back in action. Thank heavens.
Weekends are obviously a great day for cyclists as hoardes of them were on the velo (cycle) route. All friendly and waving at us. In the outbacks of France it’s dead normal for complete strangers to greet each other. A boat passes. Wave. A cyclist passes. Wave. See a fisherman. Wave. Farmer drives by on a tractor. Wave.
We tied up in Coulanges at 11.20am and hot footed it to the fuel station. They close midday on Saturdays and only re-opened on a Monday. We hoped to fill our 2 x 20 litre Jerry cans at least twice. That put a spark in our step. Our wheelie shopper had been stripped of the canvas bag down to the frame so we could tie the Jerry cans on and not carry them. Forty litres is heavy. Once filled we raced back to fill the fuel tanks and I went ahead with the one Jerry can while my other half filled the boat with the other one. We made it with a minute to spare. It’s a nice, quiet stopping point. They have a machine that dispenses jetons (tokens) for water and electricity. But we opted to keep going to Digoin.
We needed to shop, so tied up in the marina which is central. Made a bee line for ALDI and topped up on provisions. Fortunately we remembered what they had in stock and loaded up. A 200 gram bar of dark chocolate was €1.50, vegan mayo was €1.50, soy milks were €1.20. Like a LOT cheaper than anywhere else.
Then we went to our usual bar for a drink and WiFi and they were closed. We asked at the nearest Presse/Tabac/Lotto shop where we could go. He suggested the hotel come bar down the road next to the river Loire. Luckily they had WiFi. We ordered a drink. And then another. Finally our batteries were flat and we staggered back to the boat.
Friday 22nd June 2018 Vanneaux to Diou While I was tossing out our rubbish and recycling I got chatting to some people on a hire boat. They said they found France difficult and preferred their boating holiday in the UK. We forget how much we’ve gotten used to France and French people. I guess our earlier impressions were similar. The French run on a different time to the rest of the world. And that’s how it is. Thing is, once you get used to it. It’s actually really nice. Kind of makes sense. We now look forward to lunch time. We know to try and speak French first. Are French people difficult? Not in our experience. They’re a proud nation and not trying to emulate any other culture. When in France? Do as the French do. And you’ll be more than fine.
We hoped to make Coulanges but that was a bit ambitious so settled for Diou. If we’d gotten going earlier it might have worked but both of us are partial to a bit of a morning lie in. It was so nice to encounter a few lockies from our previous trip. We were getting bolder and helping them open the lock gates. Anyone living in this part of the world has to be grateful that they live in a safe, beautiful and tranquil area. We were both super relaxed apart from bouts of sneezing and scratching our eyes out due to allergies. My main allergen is cut grass and they perpetually cut grass all along the canal. My other half is jinxed by pollen and the tree lined canals in spring with a gentle wind set him off good and proper.
We wanted to tie up outside an artsinal brewery call La Saint but feared we might be too close to the cycle route. So moved on to just past the bridge. Mistake. The banks and supports had collapsed and there was no way that would work. Next bright idea was to tie up on the opposite bank. Which sort of worked. But there wasn’t a tow path so we beat a new one through stinging nettles and waist high grass to the brewery. We arrived covered in all sorts of growth and bits of nature.
The brewery was closed. It had a Ferme (closed) board outside. But a friendly chap told us to go in anyway. So we did. Another equally friendly lady was helping a customer. We bought a mixed 6-pack of their beers. It was her birthday and she was trying to prepare food for what we must assume was a party and get us out the door as quickly as possibly – but politely.
Back at the boat we did a 30 minute HIIT session with a mobile phone app, showered and immediately tried the new beers. The fuse for our generator blew so that was yet another thing to buy next time we were near a bricolage (hardware shop).