Sunday, 17 November 2019

Châlons-en-Champagne (CHB2 to the rescue)

What’s going on here then?

Although we still haven’t had much rain, the weather has been pretty grey and dismal over the last week or so, consequently it’s been a pleasant change to have a couple of bright, sunny and brisk days.

Other than our usual walks we spent most of the day pottering around the port on Friday.  Saturday, on the other hand, seemed to be a full-on day looking back on it.  It started with a partly successful trip to a retail park.  I had used Guy’s battery-operated pump to empty our jerry cans into the fuel tank the other day and had been very impressed with it.  Brian, a fellow narrowboater, had been in touch saying he had found them in the UK and had sent me a link.  Our first stop at the retail park was at a bricolage to compare prices.  They were a lot cheaper than in the UK, so I bought one and also extended the very short list of items that are cheaper in France: baguettes, alcohol and now battery-operated liquid pumps.

Our abortive attempt at replacing the empty gas bottle continued.  We filled the car up with diesel and as we paid, we asked to exchange our gas bottle.  As soon as the girl saw it, she said she couldn’t exchange it.  I think we’re now beginning to understand why it came with only a €2 deposit.  The next step will be to take it to a garage we know in Épernay where we think they’re a bit laxer, failing that we will have to buy a new one.  We will then take the troublesome one and dump it at the déchetterie when we dispose of all the old engine oil currently stored in the engine bay.

We will be going to Épernay on Monday for a gig and one of our jobs was to pick up the tickets.  I forgot to mention that when we had the day of everything going wrong, I had also had a problem with the tickets.  Having purchased them online I had to go to a billetterie to pick them up.  The Leclerc store had one of these places but I had forgotten to take id with me so they wouldn’t hand them over.  Another example of the polarisation of French bureaucracy: an email and the card used to make the purchase were not enough.  Anyway, apart from having to join a queue of a couple of dozen people, it all went OK this time.

Ready for Monday night
It was beginning to get dusk when we returned from our afternoon walk and as we got back to the port we could see a crowd of people standing at the side of the water and also, what looked like a pompier frogman standing on the front of the girls’ boat.  The girls were out shopping so we were a little concerned what was going on.  Ardon had seen us returning and came out to tell us that a yacht had gone past the moorings and, despite her shouted warnings, had gone aground in the ‘no go’ area the other side.

It turned out to be three lovely Dutch guys who run a scuba diving school and were on their way south to Montpelier for the winter.  Corne, the guy on the girls’ boat, had donned his frogsuit and made his way to the pontoons with an extended rope and was trying to pull the yacht free.  He asked if we would help him and, of course, we agreed.  We suggested that rather than loads of us clambering all over the girls’ boat that it would be a lot easier to use our boat to drag them off.  It took a while to get my head together as to what to do as we haven’t moved for over a fortnight.  Not only did I have to remember the cruising hardware (I have set off without the tiller arm in the past ) I had to make sure the water hose and electricity cables were disconnected.  It’s our sort of luck that when doing something out of the ordinary that something goes wrong; I could quite easily have set off with the hose and cable still attached.

As I turned across the front of Puddleduck, Karen went to the front and took the line from Corne – that’s what’s going on in the top picture.  We gently eased over to them as we didn’t want to run aground too.  Not that there was much chance of that as their keel was 1.7 metres deep and our draught is about a metre less.

Karen making the lines fast
The two guys left on the boat were most unconcerned and one of them was even filming the whole operation as you can see in the picture above.  We found out later that they have a YouTube channel but as neither of us have really used YouTube we don’t really know what that means.  We had to run the engine hard to shift them, but in the end we were moving backwards and they were free to turn around and moor up for the night.

Towing Betsy backwards
By this time the girls had returned, and we were back into the usual banter of them being glad we’ve decided to move elsewhere and us saying we couldn’t stand being moored next to such a large boat etc.
Corne under instruction from Karen as Buddy & I reversed back onto our pontoon
After an early dinner Gorete came around and we went off to our first ice hockey match.  Fortunately, it’s one of those sports that have very few rules, so we had read up about it before going.  Mind you, some of you may know that we used to run an online sports arbitrage business, so we do know things about different sports around the world, such as their rules and team and league names.  Ice hockey is also billed as one of the most exciting sports to watch and, although we (Châlons) lost it was indeed great fun and something we would do again.  Final score was Evry-Viry (a Paris suburb) 8, Châlons-en-Champagne 3 and, to be fair the superior team won.  Our goalie was distraught at the end and had to be comforted by his team mates.

Puck off
The father in the family in front of us was playing in the game and was sent to the sin bin at one point.  The sin bin was just below us and his young daughter was distraught at seeing him locked away!

The daughter, happy before her father was sent away for two minutes
Just before the start, the three Dutch guys appeared, and thanked us once again for rescuing them.   I had forgotten that I had told them we were off to the hockey and that’s why we couldn’t join them for a 'thank you' drink.  They too, had decided to take the opportunity to go their first ice hockey match.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Châlons-en-Champagne (one of those days)

As many boaters will know it’s very common, when living on a boat, that only one job a day can be accomplished.  Living here in the port at Châlons is really bringing that home and it is a thought also shared by the other two couples living here over winter: Nikki & Gorete and Guy & Ardon.  Tuesday’s job was to go for a walk with Nikki and the dogs (Gorete was away in Paris with her sister for a couple of days).  As we go for walks every day, I suppose the real job was to get the food shopping done but by the time we got back and had a late lunch we didn’t really feel up to doing a big supermarket shop.

We were determined to go on Wednesday but nearly didn’t make that either.  The girls came around to try Karen’s latest cake and Ardon also joined us, Guy having gone back to Oz for a couple of weeks.  Once again it was a late lunch, but we then forced ourselves to go shopping afterwards; Karen went into the supermarket while I went to get diesel and a replacement gas bottle.  That’s when things started going wrong.

I filled up four jerry cans with diesel and queued up in the line of cars to pay.  When it was my turn I said I wanted a gas bottle and the girl asked me to show her my empty bottle before she would come out and open up the cages.  As soon as she saw the bottle, she said it was no good as I had bought it from Auchan, a competitor of the Leclerc store I was at.  Oh well, I would get the gas another day.  Then my debit card was declined for the diesel and unfortunately it was the only card I had on me.  I wondered if some sort of outlet type limit had kicked in to say the amount was too large for a fuel transaction as it was over €100.

I explained that my wife was in the store and she would have the means to pay.  The girl wouldn’t lift the barrier for me (understandably) so I had to reverse back to find somewhere to park on the forecourt.  Of course, there was now a line of cars behind me and as soon as I started reversing the guy behind panicked and started honking his horn.  Once he realised what I was doing he did the same and got the same reaction from the guy behind him.  It worked out alright in the end and I managed to park up OK and went to find Karen.

The same thing happened to her when she came to pay but a UK card worked.  We found out later that the bank we were using was having problems authorising transactions that afternoon.  Another thing we found out later was that the nearest Auchan where we could exchange the gas bottle was 75 miles away.  It looks like I’ll be searching for somewhere that’s not so concerned about the origins of the bottle, in other words not a supermarket fuel station but a simple private one. 

We went on one of the town’s heritage trails on Thursday.  This was a 7 ½ mile walk to the west of Châlons taking in a couple of villages, a disused canal and the canal we’re currently on.  Considering the length of the walk it was surprising there were only nine points of interest shown on the map/leaflet.

Unusual sculpture in St-Martin-sur-le-Pré
We started off along our canal, the dead straight Canal latéral à la Marne until we arrived at Recy.  This was a small village with a few modern houses and an interesting public garden (not mentioned in the guide).

Crossing the Canal latéral à la Marne at Recy
The garden was well kept and had a poetry theme; there were a dozen or so sections enclosed in beech hedging.  Each section contained a few laminated poems with seemingly unlinked and diverse subjects such as water birds, comets and recipes.

One of the poetry corners
The church at Recy (in the guide)
Recy was the furthest point away from Châlons and the walk continued in a circular direction to bring us to St-Martin-sur-le-Pré.  This village contained predominantly modern buildings but was still nice and quiet and well looked after.

At the entrance to the village, large bicycles had been erected in the flower beds but with no explanations as to why they were there and, again, not mentioned in the guide.  Each was taller than us and here are three of them with Karen to provide some scale.

The mairie at St-Martin-sur-le-Pré (in the guide)
As we left the village, we met up with the now disused Canal St-Martin.  This canal used to join the River Marne to the canalised rivers that run through the centre of Châlons-en-Champagne.  It was made redundant when the Canal latéral à la Marne linked Châlons to the River Marne 30 kilometres further west at Épernay.  This bypassed even more of the river that was difficult to navigate this far upstream.  Even though the Canal St-Martin is now disused it looked ideal for a narrowboat 😊

The Canal St-Martin on the outskirts of Châlon

The junction with the canalised River Mau
We have to admit that, considering the walk was longer than 12 kilometres, the nine points of interest weren’t necessarily ones we would have picked.  We would have also included others as it was a tourist trail but at least we had had a good walk and Buddy was able to be off the lead most of the way.

As we walked back through town we passed the war memorial which had been decorated during the parade on Monday.

In the afternoon I borrowed a battery driven pump from Ardon to top up the diesel tank from the cans I had filled up on Wednesday.  I had seen Guy using it to fill his heating tank the other day and he said I could borrow it.  I was really impressed as it was much easier than using a manual syphon or pouring the fuel straight into the tank via a funnel. Not only was it easier, it was quicker and there were no spillages.  I have added it to the list of things to look for when we next visit a bricolage.

Letting the battery pump get on with it
I’ve not mentioned the weather because it’s been the same for the last few days, mainly grey, some rain at night and the only the odd glimpse of sunshine. It doesn’t feel like it’ll be long before we get our first frost too.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Châlons-en-Champagne (Le Jour de Souvenir)

We went for a walk along the banks of the Marne during Sunday morning.  I know we often walk along there, but we wanted to find a longer walk and a route that would cut across the fields to the canal thus making a circular walk.  We ended up retracing our steps as we couldn’t find a way across, but it was a very pleasant walk nonetheless and Buddy enjoyed chasing sticks as we went along.

France marks Armistice Day (Le Jour de Souvenir) on the 11th November each year with a public holiday when even the locks on the canals and rivers are closed.  The main street in Châlons was due to be closed on Monday for the parade and we went along to join in and see how the French remember the anniversary, especially in this area that was heavily affected by WWI.

Even though it was cold there was a large turnout and we felt rather sorry for those involved, especially the soldiers who didn’t move for nearly 45 minutes. 

The soldiers with school children in the garden opposite
It did feel very French as it was relatively laid back and it felt like no one really knew who was in control which led to some long pauses and, no, I’m not referring to the minute’s silence.  I said the soldiers didn’t move but every so often they alternated between presenting arms, saluting and standing at rest.  There was also a brass band that played the chorus of La Marseillaise on at least four occasions and finished with the traditional last post.

The VIPs are to the left of the band
We rather expected people to be wearing blue cornflowers as those in British Commonwealth countries wear red poppies.  The only cornflowers we saw were held by the children and presented to a line of, who we assumed were, veterans of wars other than WWI.  The parade/ceremony didn’t start until the mayor and his wife turned up and were introduced to many of the VIPs.

The mayor and his wife wearing the tricoloured sashes
The parade was moving for obvious reasons even though we obviously couldn’t understand everything that was said.  The atmosphere was very solemn and we were particularly impressed with the children who were chosen to read poems as they spoke slowly and very clearly.

When we returned to the boat, Nikki and Ardon came around for coffee, cake (walnut of course) and a chat.  As they left it started raining and it carried on for a fair bit of the afternoon, so we got on with indoor jobs.

We went to the next level of planning our cruising route for next year.  You may know that we had talked about going to Strasbourg and having forays into Luxembourg and Germany but that was really as far as we had got.  Other criteria were that we wanted to go on an inclined plane, avoid places we have been to before and also those that were problematic due the lack of rain this year.  

The current plan has us:
  • Travelling the length of the Canal Marne au Rhin over to Strasbourg
  • Heading up the Canal de la Sarre which will take us onto the River Sarre for the German section
  • After joining the River Moselle, we will journey through Luxembourg then back into France to Nancy
  • Then we will pick up the Canal des Vosges which will take us through the Ardennes down to the River Saône
  • We will then join the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne and head back north again

The current plan takes us 1,300 kilometres through 500 locks which is somewhat less than the 1,850 and 650 we did this year but gives us plenty of opportunity to take detours or change our minds!  The purple line on the following map shows the planned route for 2020, the black line is where we cruised in 2019 and the arrow is pointing to where we are currently, at Châlons-en-Champagne.

Purple = 2020 plan.  Black = 2019 actual
As the shops were closed today we will do our weekly food shop on Tuesday.    

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Châlons-en-Champagne (more than a screw loose)

The canalised River Mau on the eastern side of Châlons
It was a lovely sunny day on Friday, but as we had been out visiting friends in Toul on Thursday we just took it easy around the port for the day.  The firemen were back first thing, practising diving and other lifesaving techniques just down from us.  This time there were five boats with four or five guys in each and with seven vehicles on land it must have represented quite a proportion of the local area’s pompier force.  Some were being taught how to use a boat with an outboard motor and every so often a boat would pull up alongside us, where there was a spare pontoon, so they could learn how make the boat fast using mooring cleats.

After Karen & Buddy returned from their run, Buddy was quite happy to be left alone to doze in the sun on our pontoon while we got on with jobs including some interior varnishing.  The side and rear hatches are often open with the wood in the direct heat of the sun so the wood has suffered a fair bit of fading this year.  A few coats of varnish was all that was needed to make it nearly new again.

Buddy taking it easy too
While sorting out the stuff we needed to do the varnishing I had to remove my box of screws from the ‘man’ cupboard.  This reminded me of when I first stopped work, many years ago now 😉  Like many people I had a large, compartmentalised box of screws and likewise a similar box full of nails.  The screws and nails were arranged with similar types and sizes in each compartment.  A long time previously I had dropped the screw box and all the screws scattered over the garage floor.  I was in a rush and just put the screws back willy-nilly, consequently each compartment contained a real mixture of types and sizes.  Needless to say, sorting out the screw box was one of those jobs that never made it off the job list.

At that time, we were still living on and doing up our old boat and in constant need of screws.  We had a week back at the house getting ready for tenants, so I set aside an hour or so each day to sort out the screw box.  I finally completed the task and felt really good about it and took the box to the car ready to take it back to the boat.  I hadn’t fastened it properly and as I lifted it up, the lid sprung open and the screws went everywhere.  The box is still in a mess and I doubt I’ll ever sort it out now.

Saturday was another lovely day but with a noticeable temperature drop and I had no excuse but get on with servicing the engine.  Karen took herself off for a walk with Buddy to avoid the inevitable curses and shouts from the engine bay as I did something stupid like spill oil or similar.  For once nothing went wrong unless you count the fact that I was unable to change either fuel filters.  I have yet to top the diesel tank up with fuel and, as it is only about half full, it is recommended that fuel filters aren’t changed in case the fuel lines need bleeding.  So, I couldn’t cross ‘Service’ off the job list but at least it is mainly done.

After lunch we went for our ritual daily walk around Châlons as we wanted to pop into the tourist information office to ask a few questions.  We try to take different routes and this time we came in from the east across the canalised River Mau, through a part of town we hadn’t been in for a while (picture at the top).

Our trip to the tourist office wasn’t particularly fruitful.  We found out that there are no further tours around the old circus building until next year, although there is an arty show being staged that we didn’t really fancy.  The Noël market was also of interest to us but doesn’t start until the day we have booked to come back to the UK.  We will probably end up going to Reims for a day as their market starts a week earlier.

We fancied coming into town in the evening to eat so we walked around the restaurant squares to pick one we haven’t been to before.  While doing this we found yet more embellished road signs.  From a distance, I was convinced that one of them was portraying a pair of breasts 😊 I’ll leave you to decide whether you would have thought the same:

There is a supermarket in the town and when Karen pops in for something Buddy & I wander around and then wait outside.  Unbelievably, the sign next to the seat where we usually sit waiting for Karen to emerge was also embellished and we had never noticed it before.  It was the quite pleasing depiction of children in a class with their teacher next to the ‘breasts’ above.  One that really puzzled us was a cowboy trying to lasso a dinosaur on the right hand sign below:

Karen reckoned that whoever was decorating these signs was following us and putting them up after we had passed an unadorned sign.  Our interest was piqued as we had seen so many and also several dozen of the painted drain covers and a few decorated fire hydrants, so we went back to the tourist office to find out why.  Apparently, the town is trying to encourage artists and, indeed, we have seen a couple of shops with artists at work.  They have been allowed to express themselves by doing these things but, strangely, it has not been advertised; there is no marketing material in the tourist office nor information boards around the town

A shame really, as finding them would be a fun thing for families to do and also help them see some of the fine buildings hidden away in the less-frequented parts of town.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Karen designs a heritage trail taking the artistic decorations into account!

We found three more painted drain covers and it was only then that we realised that the paintings depict the shop or trade carried out in the building next to them.  The three new ones were outside the old circus school building and a veterinary practice:

We went back into town later to eat at the restaurant we had chosen and were pleased with our choice.

The square where we ate on Saturday evening

Friday, 8 November 2019

Châlons-en-Champagne (home of the circus)

The canal is on the left and our port is in front of the cathedral
I was going to service the engine on Wednesday morning, but it was drizzling off and on and it doesn’t take much for me to find an excuse to put off that particular job.  To be honest it soon stopped drizzling and was dry for the rest of the day but once I had made my mind up to delay the job until later in the week I wasn't going to change it 😉

We had a little wander around town during the morning as we needed to pick up a few things and found some more painted manhole covers that we had missed last time we were looking.  Although we haven’t been here long, we both like the town and both feel quite at home here.  Just before lunch we realised it must be the first Wednesday of the month as the air raid sirens started their monthly test across the country, which is always eerie and a bit spine chilling to hear.

After lunch we went for a longer walk out in the country.  On the outskirts of town, we passed the National Circus college which has been associated with Châlons since 1899 and we have yet to visit the original building.  Like the Porte Sainte-Croix the other day, it is only a few hundred metres from our mooring so we’re quite surprised we haven’t visited it yet.

The original circus school building
We sort of visited it when we went on the guided boat trip around the waterways of the city in August, but we only saw it from the rear which wasn’t so spectacular.  It’s on our list of things to see over the next week or two.

The current college building which opened in 1985
Big top and other marquees in the college grounds
On our way back to the boat we saw Priscilla (our commercial conundrum from the last blog entry) going down the lock out of town and it was empty.  This didn’t help explain the situation as it was empty when it arrived here, stayed three days, filled up with cob corn on the fourth day and then yesterday was being emptied at the same spot it was filled up.

Our walks to the west end of town always take us over the passerelle (footbridge) near the port which provides lovely views over this part of Châlons as shown at the top of this update.  It seems that every time we go for a walk, the weather is grey, so I'll brighten it up by mentioning we're still seeing the odd butterfly, mainly painted ladies.

Oh, and here are the 15 new drain covers we found today – we rather like the postie and his letters from outside the post office.

Postie middle row on right
Thursday was a day out for us; we drove over to Toul which is further to the east and sits on the River Moselle.  Our current cruising plan for next year is to get over to the Moselle and follow it downstream through Luxembourg and then into Germany.  When we meet its junction with the River Sarre we will follow that upstream and back into France.  We’re not to sure about what we’ll do when back in France for two reasons: 1) potential impact of Brexit and 2) whether or not we get enough rain over winter to reopen some of the canals.

We were heading over to Toul to visit Sue & Paul who’re overwintering there.  They had hoped to reach Châlons-en-Champagne and moor with us, but the closure of the Marne au Rhin canal prevented that.  They were also overwintering in Toul with Bill & Jane who we know of through several sets of friends but have never met.

On the drive over we saw thousands of cranes feeding in fields of what looked like a winter arable crop.  These are enormous birds with a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 metres and must devastate crops with such large numbers devouring them.

Buddy had stayed with Sue & Paul on one of our trips back to the UK and had been spoilt rotten.  Because of this he was really excited to see their boat and was beside himself all afternoon.  We had a good catch up with Sue & Paul and then Bill & Jane came over and we had a good long lazy lunch prepared by the girls.

Toul from the port
We’re looking forward to mooring in Toul next year and exploring the town; the ramparts, in particular, look amazing and extensive.  The north eastern area of France is somewhere neither of us know so will also add to next year’s excitement.   

Evening at the port in Toul: Sue & Paul’s widebeam, Flubs with Bill & Jane’s Lazybones to the right
It was dark by the time we got home, but on the journey back we saw hundreds of cranes flying overhead.  We found out later that they were on one of their migration routes (or flyway, one of my favourite words along with balmy and antimacassar) from Scandinavia down to overwinter in Spain with quarter of a million others.  Apparently, this is the western flyway and Champagne is a well-known vantage point to catch it in progress.  At least it means the feeding frenzy is only temporary for farmers in this area.

Impossible to take a picture in the evening light but enough to reinvoke our memory
Friday will probably be a stay at home day doing jobs and also washing as it's meant to be lovely and sunny all day.  

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Châlons-en-Champagne (day trip to Burgundy)

The golden vineyards of Ay
When I took Buddy out for his quick pre-breakfast run, the pompiers were already up and getting ready for some diving practice just along from our mooring.  They ended up putting two inflatables in the water and, as other boats are not allowed in that stretch, could perform their exercises without worrying about passing traffic.

Getting one of the inflatables ready
After breakfast I set off to get the car and, as I would be gone for about eight hours, it meant Karen would get a bit of peace and quiet for the day.  It was a lovely sunny morning which I found a bit ironic as I was going to be shut away in a train and car all day. 

Crossing a non-navigable section of the River Marne on my walk to the station
The first train took me to Paris all along the Marne valley and I enjoyed recognising all the places we had passed through, moored at and visited over the last three months or so.  Although I recognised places I wasn’t as good at recalling the names 😉 It kept making me smile that we had left Paris back in July and today I was doing the journey in two hours.  The train made three stops soon after leaving Châlons and was then non-stop to Paris.  Although it was well after commuting time (I left at 10.00am), the train was packed and passengers were standing from the last stop.

Once in Paris I had to take the metro down to the Gare de Lyon to catch a train to Migennes where the car had been stored in the port.  I had to change metro trains at Bastille where the platform overlooks the port at the Arsenal where we stayed in July.  The port was packed with winter moorers and VNF also had some large work boats there, but I couldn’t work out what they were doing.

Looking over the Arsenal basin from the Bastille metro platform
The train down to Migennes followed the Seine and then the Yonne all the way and, once again, I amused myself by recognising places on the rivers and trying to remember their names.

The journey back by car was more direct and only took a couple of hours.  In effect it made the base of the two sides of a triangle that the train journeys had formed.  I was surprised to see many fields of sunflowers in full bloom because the sunflower season finishes in August.  I then realised that they were much shorter plants and I suppose a new breed of autumn flowering mini sunflowers has been found.

There are two other things to mention about my Monday.  The first was that we have built up a large collection of large yogurt pots as the Champagne areas don’t accept them for recycling.  We knew that a lot of the Burgundy region does accept them, so I took them on the train stacked up in a large bag to dispose of when I arrived in Migennes.  Oh yes, talking about Migennes, the only rain I saw all day was when I walked from the station to the port

The other thing to mention was that I had thought ahead about using the autoroute.  Each time I use one on my own I get into all sorts of difficulty, either dropping the ticket or the bank card or both, all because the toll booth is on the wrong side for us Brits.  The last time was in the summer and on a busy section, so I soon had a queue of impatient drivers behind me as I clambered around the front seats of the car looking for a dropped ticket and debit card.  To make things worse the machine wouldn't accept the card so I had to scrabble around to find some cash. This time, I put my hazard lights on as soon as I stopped in case something went wrong, that way other drivers would avoid my lane.  Of course, it all went smoothly and no other traffic appeared at the booths as I went through.

Before I finish writing up Monday, I’ll mention something Karen noticed when she was out on her morning run.  Two commercials had been moored not far away from us for the last four days and we had been surprised they hadn’t moved for so long.  As Karen ran past them, one had reversed back to a quay and was being loaded with cob corn.

As you may have read in a September blog update, we missed the busiest part of the champagne vendange as we cruised away from Champagne at the wrong time.  Because of this we were doubly determined not to miss seeing the vineyards in their autumn colours.  As we now had the car back, we made sure we went for a drive on Tuesday.

Before we left, we went for our regular circular walk to the west of Châlons and came across a conundrum.  Priscilla, the boat Karen had seen being loaded with cob corn on Monday was still in the same spot.  This time, however, the load was being removed by a mechanical grab.  Neither of our French was up to asking the operators why this was happening so it’s one of those things we’ll never know the answer to.

Priscilla now being unloaded
When we got back, we headed off to Hautvillers which is on the hills above the vineyards of the Ay area.  Although we had been there in the summer it was on one of those really hot days, so we only saw a bit of the place before getting back to the boat and into the river to cool down.  We had heard that we had missed seeing a well preserved lavoir there so wanted to find that.  Apart from being the birth and burial place of Dom Perignon and having many champagne houses, Hautvillers also has over 140 wrought iron signs on the old houses.  These generally depict the trade of the family living in the house.  Having only seen a couple of streets when we were there previously meant we had many more signs to find.

Once we were driving out of Châlons, we could see the vineyards in their various hues of yellow, gold, orange and red.  They really were stunning but, as with landscape views taken on a phone, I cannot do them justice here so have just included the picture at the top.

We passed through many villages and came across ten lavoirs that we hadn’t seen before.  The one at Hautvillers was a particularly fine example complete with two fireplaces, a stand-up stream-fed basin and hardwood hanging rails:

Inside the Hautvillers lavoir built in 1833
We were at a place called Germaine and parking up so we could have a look at the third lavoir we had found there when a couple of guys wandered over to the car.  They assumed we were lost as they had seen us driving up and down the road.  I explained that we wanted to look at the lavoir and take some pictures.  The guys were council workers and putting up Noël lights around the lavoir and seemed so pleased we were showing an interest.  I explained this was the third we had found in Germain and they said there was a fourth one too.

I explained which ones we had already seen, and they said that we must have driven past the fourth one which had recently been damaged by a lorry.  One of the guys said he would take us to it and jumped in his van for us to follow him. When we arrived, we realised we had passed it already but hadn’t realised it was a lavoir.  This was partly because it was decorated to celebrate the recent theatre festival events and partly because it was so demolished that it wasn’t recognisable as a lavoir.

The lavoir we were escorted to
These are the other nine lavoirs in Avenay-val-D'Or, Fontaine-sur-Ay, Germaine, Hautvillers, Mutigny and St-Imoges (Click on the village name to see more details of the particular lavoir)…

…and some more of the wrought iron signs from Hautvillers

We’ll probably stay at the boat on Wednesday and get on with those boring jobs like servicing the engine.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Châlons-en-Champagne (the colourful bits)

We spent a few days in Châlons-en-Champagne in the summer when Lauren came to visit us, saw the main tourist sights and subsequently covered them in the blog entries for those days.  We’re spending the next three weeks here before we go back to the UK for a break; this will give us plenty of opportunity to visit places we missed before.  Also, once we get the car back this week, we’ll be able to travel further afield and visit other places in the region that we missed when we cruised through but earmarked as somewhere we wanted to get to.

The weekend was a mixture of rain and dry spells, but the much-heralded strong winds never arrived.  The expected winds had been the main reason that we arrived in Châlons on Thursday, earlier than planned.  On Saturday morning we popped into town to pick up a few things.  The town hall had a Halloween display outside which seemed to consist of a lot of grave headstones and the odd pumpkin:

In the afternoon we repeated the previous day’s circular walk but in the opposite direction and with a bit of an extension.  As we walked through three of the main parks near the canal (Le Grand Jard, Le Petit Jard and Le Jard Anglais) we saw a cyclo-cross race was in progress.  We had come across one in Reims last weekend, but this one was quite different and nowhere near as sedate as the course across the grassy areas had been churned up and become extremely muddy from the recent rain.  It felt like we saw more competitors laying down in the mud, after falling off, than actually cycling 😉 

The course ran along the River Marne at one point and a slipway was really busy as competitors stopped off to dunk themselves and their bikes in the water to get rid of all the excess mud.  I didn’t think it advisable to take a picture with all the bare flesh around!

Looking quite wintry on our way back home from our walk
It was another day of on and off rain on Sunday and, in the morning, we popped up to the fruit & veg market and then went in search of the only remaining old gateway to the town.  It wasn’t that far away from the centre of town and we were quite surprised we hadn’t come across it before:

Porte Sainte-Croix to the east of the town centre
Before the city walls were built in the mid-1700s, the town was encircled by a large fortified ditch and the gates and other fortifications were made of wood.  The stone gates were built when the walls went up and this one was completed in 1769.  It is the only gate still standing and there are very few vestiges of the city walls. 

Another gate was built on the west side of town where the city met the River Marne near where we are moored.  The gate was sited where the cars are on this roundabout.  The bridge is crossing the canal and the River Marne behind us.

Where the Porte de la Marne used to stand 
When we stayed in Châlons previously we noted that many of the manhole covers had faces painted on them.  The market was in the market halls and, as it was one that dogs weren’t allowed into, Buddy and I went in search of some of the painted faces while we waited for Karen. They were obviously painted a while ago as the passing of feet is clearly making them fade away.

Some of the painted covers
Another thing we had spotted was that many of the road signs had been embellished:

We also noticed several fire hydrants had been spruced up and also the odd pavement painting.  We didn’t take many pictures of these though:

One of the streets reminded us of the street in Reims that had painted cobbles.  This one didn’t have so many cobblestones painted but, nevertheless, was still attractive:

We walked back home through the Grand Jard where a gate house still has a notice banning horses and cars from the gardens. 

When I wrote about the gardens earlier and quoted Le Grand Jard and Le Jard Anglais I was reminded of a French phrase construct that I’m sure I wasn’t taught at school.  It was only last year that I found out that some adjectives are placed before the noun in French (e.g. Le Grand Jard) rather than the other way around (e.g. Le Jard Anglais).

When we were practising French before we left the UK, I learnt the BAGS acronym that explains the main adjectives that precede nouns: those that describe Beauty, Age, Goodness and Size.  Even this isn’t fool proof as some still follow the noun like ugly (laid) and mean (méchant).  Of course, there are other adjectives over and above the BAGS ones but that’s not what this blog is about.

As it was Sunday, many French families were out walking in the gardens and luckily the rain was holding off for them.

Our mooring from the ‘big garden’ with the cathedral as a backdrop
In the afternoon we took the dogs out with the girls and then joined them on Puddleduck for drinks.  Monday will be a day of travelling for me as I have nearly five hours on trains to get down to Migennes to pick the car up and then two or three more to drive back to the port.

Before I finish, a quick mention of the recent floods in parts of the UK.  As devastating as they are for people affected there was one picture doing the rounds on canal & river groups last week that took our attention.  This is the River Wye in flood in the area where the banks are lined with apple orchards: