Then we set off up the Petit Saone toward Gray. This was new territory. Quite where to tie up was a quandry as for some reason the French have decided to reinforce the quays by dropping concrete blocks only half way up. Standing on the quay, or even from the water, you can’t see the concrete block. It appears possible to tie up – but a mere metre below the surface is a big fat block of concrete guaranteed to damage the hull of a boat. Had they put the concrete blocks all the way up – it wouldn’t have been a problem.
Gray looked lovely, but of course, we had to pass through it as we weren’t about to risk damage to our boat. So we tied up at a camping site on the outskirts of the town. It cost a mere €5 per night and had water, electricity. Facilities in the camping zone were nicer than those next to the water. Unfortunately no Wi-Fi. It was a short walk back into town and we went right past a LIDL, so had a great spot to buy provisions. We had a drink at a local brasserie next to the Saone, watched the fish in the water. So mesmerising. Then ambled back to our boat. Being tied up on the outer perimeter of the town was peaceful. We slept well.
Sundays not a lot happens in France – and even less in a small town so we took the day off and had a lie in, did very little and promptly had an afternoon snooze. We were awoken by a bunch of wandering mistrels who came to have a picnic. They bellowed out lyrics, bashing away at their guitars with gusto. After a full afternoon of it, I confess I was wishing them away.
Monday we set off for the Tourism Office. Our map was a bit old and it had moved so we couldn’t find it. But we did with help from locals. Such a lovely lady working there. She couldn’t do enough to help us and gave us the one thing we had been wanting for years – a VNF waterways map of France – in English! Our original one was tattered and torn from years of use. We wanted to take one home and frame it so we would have memories of where we had travelled. They no longer print them hence our difficulty finding another copy.
Next to us people were coming and going. Mostly hire boats but some boat owners too. A party of New Zealand couples, an elderly Swiss couple. Gray is a lot smaller than we were expecting. Once we’d done the historical walk, seen the river, and got to know our way around, it seemed pointless hanging around for the sake of it. We still had this oil leak that had to be sorted and so we decided to rather return to St-Jean-de-Losne via Pontailler-sur-Saone earlier.
We’ve seen our fair share of odd things on the waterways over the years, but on the trip to Pontailler-sur-Saone, I saw some of the worst ever. First lock, three boats went into a lock. A couple on a hire boat at the rear were right next to the gadget to activate the lock. They made no effort to tie up. Or activate the lock. You can’t miss the mechanism. And you cannot get the locks to work any other way.
We all waited and nothing happened. There was a man in the drivers seat gazing around expectantly. And a woman on the fordeck cuddling her dog. We motioned for them to pull the lever. And pointed to it. She looked around in total amazement. She looked at the mechanism but did nothing. Again and again, we called to her to please activate the lock. She then tried to feebly tie one rope to the steps on the side of the lock. And promptly gave up on that. We had no way of getting off our boat. Thankfully, a bloke from the boat in front managed to jump from the roof of his boat to the quay and did the job.
Next lock, we were behind a group of youngsters. There were three boats angling to go into the lock together. As you do when there’s enough space for three boats. The younsters tied up – and immediately pulled the lever – before we were even properly in the lock. We hadn’t tied up yet! I was so cross that I shouted at them. Not sure they understood English, but I tried to explain they could cause an accident if water came in before we were secure. And further to that, they now forced the boat at the rear to have to wait for the lock to fill – and empty again – before it could pass through. For no good reason. The extremely hot summer and insufficient rain, had casued some of the waterways to close down and instead of maximising use of a lock, here this group were wasting water.
At the last lock of the day two ‘Le Boat’ hire boats went into the lock together and were not happy to share with us. There was more than enough space for two more boats. Again, I called out to the driver asking if he could move over and make space for us and the boat waiting outside the lock. He flat out refused to move and told us their party had been instructed by ‘Le Boat’ not to allow more than two boats in a lock at any given time. We squeezed in anyway but the other boat had to wait outside the lock unfortunately. I can understand ‘Le Boat’ would want maximum manoeuvreability to minismise damage to their boats. Particularly since they have novice drivers. Bit I do think that it’s a selfish policy to inflict on other waterway users.
Back at St-Jean-de-Losne we found a spot right near the marina. Handy for Wi-Fi, showers, toilets, the local supermarket, etc. My other half had made yet another appointment with someone to look at his concerns the following day. And the pre-sale inspection was to take place. We needed to find boxes and start packing too.
Since we only had two days – and some of the repairs were still not complete – we opted to take a day trip to Auxonne, and back. The previous hell hot weather had caused a few of the canals to close in France. The Saone was still navigable. Weather in September was just perfect. Nowhere near as hot as before. Definitely not cold, despite leaves on the trees beginning to turn yellow. Kids had gone back to school – so it was quieter. It was however, very windy. When we got back to St-Jean-de-Losne my other half battled to park our boat. Or “bring it alongside” as he likes to call it in boating parlance. The weed in the H2O marina was jamming the bow thruster which didn’t help. Luckily a friendly chap we’ve encountered before helped us with our ropes.
Our friends left us to go back to their new home in Holland. The engineers came back. Floorboards were up again. They came. They went. They came again. Engines on. Engines off. They fiddled – and fiddled more. Had no idea what they were doing. Just hoped they were fixing and not causing more problems. It has happened that repairs have created problems for us. Of course the boatyard will deny it, but it absolutley has happened to us. Something that worked perfectly before has been opened or moved and then it doesn’t work anymore or develops problems. But what can a person do but pay? The alternative is to be stuck in a small town with a boat that won’t move.
The “For Sale” board at the back of our boat suddenly changed to “Vendu” (Sold) without us even noticing. Was this it? Like really, over? A million thoughts pop up. We had to pack. What do we leave? Was everything fixed on the boat? My other half has fixed so many things over the years, but boats are boats. Shangri La is not new. More stress.
Three days later we hoped all was well and left for our very last journey on Shangri La together. We almost felt too scared to travel far for fear we incur an accident or something new went wrong. My other half was determined to hand the boat over in the best condition possible. He was checking the workings as we travelled. Sadly, it wasn’t looking good. There was still oil dripping into the hull. It became a dark cloud hanging over our heads that dominated our last days on our beautiful boat. How serious was it? Why could H2O not fix it? Should we even be driving the boat?
We passed through two locks and spent our first night in Pontailler-sur-Saone. Shangri La had been through Pontailler-sur-Saone when we made our epic journey from the Netherlands to France in 2015. It’s a quaint little place. Nothing had changed. Nothing ever does in small towns. And that’s the charm. We chatted to the same staff at the marina and decided to stay two nights. My other half and I wandered about the town and took a walk to the local beach to have a drink. It’s not quite a beach but rather tranquil somewhat sandy section on the banks of the river. A beer and a glass of wine cost €5.50. Not exactly expensive. Locals were playing petanq. Or boules as we know it. Much amicable rivalry and teasing went on. Back at the boat we ate and had an early night.
Tuesday 10th July 2018
Chalon-sur-Saone to Verdun-sur-le-Doubs
My better half does all sorts of things I don’t even know about. He’s a ship captain and gets (for the most part) how boats work. Before we left for Paris he closed all the sea cocks and places where water moves within the boat. As we geared up to leave Chalon-sur-Saone he started the engine and checked cooling water was coming out the exhaust. This particular morning – it wasn’t. He topped up with water. But that wasn’t working either. Turns out the water cooling inlet was so clogged with weeds that it couldn’t function. He eventually attached our hose pipe to water from the quay, pushed the hose deep into the system, turned the tap on full force, and blasted the weeds out. That worked and we got the system going. Only thing is when we took the hose pipe out we never got to the quay to turn it off fast enough and the saloon was given an almighty hose down of water. But hey, we saved €60 an hour plus transport getting an engineer in.
It’s not often we pull our fenders up as there’s always a lock around the corner but with not a single lock for the entire day, we brought them on board. Being on a river versus a canal is such a contrast. No lunch time delays. We could go a bit faster and give the engine a bit of a workout. Not too much of a workout as there were canoeists doing their thing and a wake could capsize them. It was a perfect day. A bit cloudy, not too hot, and no rain. We’d commented on how few boats were around this year compared to last year on the canals. On the Saone, we saw boat, after boat, after boat.
I defintely think boating is a two person thing. No doubt my better half can manage without me 90% of the time. But you need four pairs of hands sometimes. It’s when you’re tie-ing up and juggling ropes or fenders that having an extra person is crucial. Even if all the extra person does is hold a rope.
At Verdun-sur-le-Doubs we slowed down and pronto a young chap came down and asked us firstly, if we spoke English or French, and then how many nights we planned to stay. He motioned where he wanted us to tie up. It’s a stern to (backwards) tie up so I had to move fenders to the back of the boat. As we were manoevreing the boat to move the rear in and were about 5 metres from the quay, a Swiss boat tried to go straight into our spot. At first we though he was aiming for the quay next to us. Then we realised he was going to cross our boat while we were moving. We motioned for him to stop but he ingnored us. The youngster from the Capitainerie had to shout at him to wait his turn. To be fair to him, I don’t think he could see or hear us. There are a lot of seriously old people driving boats.
His partner was a glamourous woman in high heeled espadrilles. Not the sort of attire conducive to boating. But gorgeous none the less. She clearly had no idea what to do. He motored full throttle toward the quay, then hit his bow thruster hard. His boat was going all over the place smashing the quay and bashing into our boat. The youngester from the Capitainerie, the glamourous woman and my husband and I were fending off his boat from all angles.
Verdun-sur-le-Doubs filled up shortly after we tied up. It was a mix of hire boats and owner boats. The bar come cafe at the marina was full as it was Soccer Cup 2018 semi finals. Boaters were sitting on their decks laughing and talking. I love the smell of food cooking, the sounds of cutlery and crockery, bottles of wine popping open, glasses clinking and people enjoying themselves. It’s very seldom people get loud or rowdy on the waterways. French people know how to behave. And then France won. They made it into the finals. Oh my word, the mood shifted to jubulation. A riot of festivities instantly broke out – church bells, hooters, whistles, vuvuzelas, singing, shouting and utter joy. It was so much fun.
Friday 6th July 2018 Chalon-sur-Saone This turned out to be a bit of a frenzied day. I’d been wanting to do a deep clean of the boat, and since the potential Swiss buyers were coming for a viewing while we were away, I knew they might open cupboards and have a thorough look around. Shangri La needed to be spotless. My other half decided to go up and visit the market. Chalon-sur-Saone have an excellent market but I had seen it before. With him out the way I could move things and wipe down everywhere. Even polished the ceramic hob and stainless steel taps.
We should have gone up the road to watch France play Uruguay in the Soccer World Cup 2018 quarter finals but by late afternoon all I wanted was to shower and relax. I went up to the facilities at the marina washed my hair and gave myself a good scrub down. Was feeling glowing after that. Then we heard cars hooting and people whooping with delight. Quite obviously France had won the game. For a nation that is remarkably subdued, the French were relishing having made it through to the semi finals.
We sat in our favourite place – the back deck – and had a glass of wine. The motley crew of Frenchies on the minuscule boat next to us were already at the rose and jabbering away. Maybe disecting and ruminating the recent game? How could we want to give up this life and sell our boat? We’d been at Chalon-sur-Saone a good few days and seen countless boats had come and gone.
Saturday 7th July 2018 – Monday 9th July 2018 Paris My brother, his partner and children were taking a summer holiday in Europe. First a week in Amsterdam, then two weeks in Paris. Since he lives in Seattle and I live in Cape Town, it was convenient that we were both on the same continent, and even better, in the same country. I really wanted to see them. My husband and I packed up a backpack each and walked to the gare (station) where our Flixbus was leaving. Paris is a 4 hour trip away. So much for the trains being on strike. There were trains running at the station. Perhaps less services than normal, who knows?
The Flixbus left bang on time. Lovely bus. Not 15 minutes later, it stopped at a highway stop where there were a few Flixbuses. We thought maybe a changeover of some sort but no, the driver took his 50 minute lunch break. To be fair he had driven up from Lyon. So we sat around doing nothing. It’s France. That’s how it is.
There’s always that one person when you take public transport that has to behave like a git. A young girl who spoke a foreign language shoved right in front of the queue and jumped on first. An old chap who had been patiently waiting for quarter of an hour at the right spot tried to fend her off but she wasn’t having it. On the bus, she promptly got on the phone to her mother whom she had just said goodbye to at the station. Her mobile was on speaker phone – full volume of course. And she spoke – loudly of course – the full 4 hours of the bus trip. She went to the loo with her phone in her hand next to her head speaking the whole time. Not once, not twice, but THREE times. She could be heard speaking inside the loo. And didn’t flush once.
We arrived in Paris Bercy and it was utter madness. Humans everywhere. A person forgets how busy cities are after so long in the country. My brother had a gorgeous place in Le Marais and it was Gay Pride weekend. The onslaught of people intensified as we got closer to his accommodation. We were shuffling along streets edging through crowds. The other big shock was how much English is spoken in Paris. Every second person speaks English on the streets and all the shops greet you in English first. I don’t think that Paris is a true reflection of France. It’s very cosmopolitan. It’s most very definintely a fashion capital. People were dressed in the latest fashions. It’s fabulous to see all these beautiful people and beautifully dressed people. Makes a person want to try harder and have a bit more fun.
We had a wonderful time with my family. Food options for vegans like us in Paris abound. It was as hot as it had been in Bourgogne (Burgundy). We had a last late breakfast at a cafe together and then my husband and I ambled back to Paris Bercy station. A train ticket cost us €35 each back to Chalon-sur-Saone. Back at our marina the exact same Frenchies, were in the exact same spot, quaffing yet more rose and blabbering to each other animatedly. It felt like we were back in our neighbourhood
Wednesday 4th July 2018 Chalon-sur-Saone For such a big place Chalon-sur-Saone marina is remarkably quiet at night. You can hear frogs croaking, fish leaping and the odd train in the distance. I hoped to get news of my mother so went on-line soonest. Not bad Wi-Fi but it drops every now and again. Might be all the people trying to use it at once. My mother had contracted viral pneumonia and was staying in hospital for a while but was feeling a lot better. Next we checked for train tickets to Paris. The dates we wanted to go to Paris were strike days. The French rail workers had been on strike for months now. A few days on, followed by a few days off. Finding out about that Flixbus was very useful so we booked tickets with them.
There’s always a list of things to do on the boat and Chalon-sur-Saone has a nice Bricolage (hardware shop). I went up to the Capitainerie to get a load of washing going as Chalon-sur-Saone has laundry facilities. Some Americans were before me in the queue for the washing machine and we got chatting. They had planned a 5 week trip on a hire boat and were two weeks in. The mother commented on how hot it had been. A pair of local youngsters were saying someone had measured over 50’C on their boat last year. And that the south is usually the hottest part of France but average temperatures last summer had put central France as the hottest place. So much for global warming being a myth.
I bought an amazing intensely flavoured tomato puree from Carrefour to which I added a bunch of veggies sauteed in vegan butter and some cooked wholewheat pasta. Then topped it with shredded vegan cheese in big pasta bowls. Good on Carrefour for having so many plant-based options. It was a tasty evening meal. With a glass or two of red wine of course. The rain started around 18.00pm and it rained throughout the night until morning. Love the sound of raindrops on the upper deck. I got to sleep under the duvet covers for a change.
Thursday 5th July 2018 Chalon-sur-Saone We had a lovely day wandering around looking at architecture, window shopping, buying the odd thing and having lunch at La Pierre Vie. Clocked 14 281 steps. The Bio shop behind the marina, La Vie Saine is brilliant. They have organic everything from dish washing liquid, to fresh produce, to skin care, make-up and lovely wines. It’s a bit pricier to shop there but we feel worth it. I went a bit mad there topping up our food.
Back at the boat there were a bunch of missed calls for my husband from the Dutch boat agent. Yet another possible buyer. This time a Swiss chap. He wanted to come past on Monday afternoon but we would be in Paris. The marina were happy to keep the keys and let him show himself around so that was helpful. My better half started cleaning up the leaking water in the hull from when the hot water pipe came loose and I wanted to sort out what food we still had on board and do a re-organise.
Every day since we arrived in Chalon-sur-Saone a bunch of elderly French blokes and one woman would come down late afternoon to sit on a titchy tiny little boat next to us, drink wine, smoke cigarettes and natter. Same group every day. They never went out on this boat. They didn’t sleep on the boat. Around 16.00pm until about 20.00pm, rain or shine, this lot would sit in deck chairs on the quay next to the boat or on this boat and talk. Then go home or where ever they came from.
I’ve learned two things from being on the waterways in France. Well actually more than that, but here are two handy ones. Thing One. When you do get decent WiFi – don’t sit inside the boat. Either go up to the marina or sit on an open deck to ensure you have access to the best signal. Thing Two. Learn to say words and place names like French people do. Fragnes in English sounds like Frag-nes. In French it’s Frun-yay. How about Chagny? Pronounced Shan-nye. Digoin is Dee-gwone. We’ve got to the point where we ask ahead how to say a place name. For years we called wine vin – varn, but it’s actually van. Like in the vehicle. It makes life so much easier when you say a word and people know what you’re trying to say.