Monday 25 November 2019

Châlons-en-Champagne (Mangelwurzels & troglodytes)

It was back to the empty gas bottle saga on Friday.  You may recall that we are finding it impossible to swap our currently empty bottle for a new one.  Usually it’s a case of visiting somewhere like a fuel station or garden centre where they take the old bottle in exchange for a new one.  We ran out three weeks ago and every time we have tried to replace it, the outlet has refused to take it.  As with most boaters we always carry a spare but also try and replace it as soon as we start using it in case there’s a problem with it.

The reason nowhere has agreed to take it in exchange is because it is clearly (to the trained eye, not ours) a bottle we bought from an Auchan supermarket in Paris and can only be exchanged with them.  As the nearest Auchan is 75 miles away we had resigned ourselves to disposing of the bottle at the déchetterie.  We popped into the déchetterie on Thursday to get rid of old engine oil, but found they wouldn’t take the empty gas bottle. 

The outlets we tried during this week were out of propane and weren’t going to be restocked until Friday.  We tried again on Friday and were just going to give up when we passed a small independent garage with a cage full of propane bottles outside.  At first the guy wouldn’t take our bottle but after making him and his wife feel sorry for us, he agreed to take it.  We do find that asking people to help us to pronounce words seems to make them drop their defences and become eager to help 😉

After a couple of frosts this week, the weather has turned milder again and it looks set to be that way for our last few days over here before returning to the UK for three months next week.

Sunset from the port on Friday
Saturday’s plan was to drive out through the national park (Montagne de Reims) which runs along the hills above the vineyards to the west of Reims and then visit one of several villages built on the site of old cave dwellings.  On the way back home, we would visit the Christmas market in Reims.  We’re not really Christmas market people but have to admit to feeling a bit disappointed that the one here in Châlons doesn’t start until the day after we leave.

Decorations going up on the roundabout by the port
By the time we got back from our morning walk it was practically lunchtime and what with one thing and another by the time we were ready to go there wasn’t really enough time to go out sightseeing.  Later on, during our afternoon walk into town, we found 12 painted manhole covers that were new to us.  This brings the total to 43 and here’s a montage of most of them.

If I’m honest we had also planned to do the Reims trip on Friday but never seemed to get around to it then either, so we were determined to do it when Karen got back from her run on Sunday morning.  It felt a bit too close to lunchtime to be worth the bother of packing a picnic, so we had lunch on board and this time we got away. 

We were heading for Paissy, one of several cave villages built in the limestone hills on the way to Laon.  Once we were past Reims and heading for the hills it started getting misty and by the time we were up in the tops it was really foggy which was rather ironic as one reason for the visit was to enjoy the views.  On the way we found three lavoirs, each in tiny settlements that hardly seemed like they would warrant their own wash house.  Please click on the village name to see pictures of the lavoirs: Ouches-la-Vallée-Foulon, Vassogne, Cuissey-et-Geny. 

Looking out at the fog from the lavoir at Cuissey-et-Geny
Paissy is a single road village running on a small plateau just below the escarpment.  The plateau is just wide enough for the road and houses along one side which are built right up to the cliffs.  Unfortunately, because of the fog, we were unable to share the views from the houses as we walked along.  It seemed all the houses were using the caves as garages or store sheds although some had open land in front of them so still had free access for the general public.  Apparently, the village primary school was in one of the caves and didn’t close down until 1955.

Many of the houses looked recently built

One of the caves not enclosed within the boundaries of a house
The plains in the Champagne region are given over to arable and root crops and we have particularly noticed the number of mangelwurzel fields as we have cruised through the area.  Over the last few weeks the mangelwurzels have been harvested and every so often during our recent walks we have come across great mounds of them.  They are stored outside during the winter and we went past quite a few piles today during our drive.

A mangelwurzel pile
We have to admit that we didn’t stop off for the Christmas market on our way back through Reims so really that’s three failed attempts.  As I said earlier, it’s not really our scene and Buddy seemed to have sprained a leg so it wouldn’t have felt right dragging him around especially as the smell of food would have been so tantalising for him.

During the afternoon we had received a notice from VNF that the lock by our mooring was closed with a commercial stuck in it.  We got in touch with Guy who is moored closest to the lock, but he was already aware as there were plenty of sightseers watching events.

Not clear here why the boat was stuck
All was revealed – plant pot stopping the gates from opening fully
By the time the divers had found and removed the pieces of pot, there was a bit of a queue waiting to get through the lock.
Probably the first time we’ve seen a lock landing in use
We’ve moored for a few nights on that lock landing before so just as well we weren’t there today.

With only three days left before we leave, the next couple of days will see us doing things like packing, getting Buddy checked out and his passport stamped by the local vet.

Friday 22 November 2019

Châlons-en-Champagne (Groundhog day)

An old mill.  No, we couldn't see it either
Sunday saw our first frost of the Autumn but at least it meant we were left with a lovely sunny day.  It was brocante day in the town so the centre and one of the parks were given over to market stalls.  Walking around it we felt as if the whole town had turned out to browse, chat and make the odd purchase.  Our only purchase was a new wrist band for me; a rasta cotton bracelet to replace one that had worn away and disappeared last week.  We ended the afternoon hosting Nikki, Gorete and Ardon for tea, coffee and cake.

Monday was a completely different day weather-wise; it was the first day we could remember since being in France where it seemed to rain all day.  Apart from our walks we spent the day inside and can finally say that we have had a result from Herve.  Herve is the captiniere of the port at Roanne and we have had an ongoing wrangle with him to get our deposit back for our winter mooring there. 

You may remember that we were heading to Roanne so we could live on the boat in the port there for a few months over winter.  Other than the large rivers, like the Rhône and the Saône, all other waterways in that area heading to the south of France are closed for winter so we had to get down there by October.  As summer progressed, more canals were closed due to lack of water and it became impossible for us to travel down there.  We cancelled our reservation and, as we did it before the end of August, we were entitled to our money back.

Other boaters, in the same position as us, have had differing degrees of success getting their money back with some receiving it immediately but with a deduction for an admin fee and others waiting several months like us.  It seemed that every exchange ended with a different reason why we couldn’t be reimbursed.  The final straw was a demand, last week, for a physical letter from a UK bank direct to the port detailing our account details including IBAN and BIC codes.  Being as our euro account is purely on-line and therefore does not have paper, we threatened to take the matter further.  This seemed to do the trick and the money suddenly appeared during the morning.

After a visit to Ardon’s boat with the girls for more tea and cake we had an early dinner and set off for Épernay to see Ian Paice and his band.  Épernay is about 35 kilometres away along probably the longest straight stretch of road we have ever been on.  It was still raining which didn’t make for a pleasant journey, but we were pleasantly surprised to be able to park practically outside the venue.  We both thought it strange that the only people around looked like they were off to dance or yoga classes but didn’t say anything to each other. 

There were no signs of where to go so we spoke to the receptionist who pointed out that we were a day early.  She also made the remark that we obviously didn’t work!  When we got home, we checked the calendar and, sure enough, we had the event on the right date so we’re not sure how we lost a day.

It was dry on Tuesday, the actual day of the concert, but we didn’t do a lot other than our walks and popping over to Puddleduck for coffee and cake with the girls and Ardon.  Karen did point out that it felt like a Groundhog Day as we would be driving to Épernay again in the evening too.  We didn’t forget about the concert, arrived in plenty of time and had a pleasant evening listening to music mainly from 40 odd years ago in an audience that was predominantly male and nearly all as old or older than me 😊

Ian Paice, now in his 70s, doing a drum solo in Smoke on the Water
Wednesday was a day of odd jobs like visiting the déchetterie to dispose of the many containers of used engine oil that has built up in the engine bay over the last few services and taking up valuable space.  And, of course, more tea and cake.

On Thursday we followed another of the Tourist Office recommended walking routes around Châlons.  We have yet to find one that has inspired us enough to repeat it and this 7 ½ mile one ended up being yet another of those.  In future we will stick to the walks in the area that we have found ourselves and definitely won't be trying the remaining one.  The remaining walk is called the ‘Walk of the locks’ which unsurprisingly takes the walker six miles down the dead straight Canal latéral à la Marne, past a couple of locks, crosses a bridge and returns to the town on the other side of the water.

Actually, the first point of interest on today’s walk was quite fascinating, it was the now disused municipal baths on the River Marne. 

Long line of changing rooms
We found out later that there are plans to redevelop the site next year into a promenading area and leaving just the diving boards as a memory of the place.  As is often the case I was unable to find out when the baths opened or when they closed but I did find a picture of a postcard of divers on the diving board dated 1936.

Even the starting blocks for racing were made of concrete
Next was the pont coupé which is the site of a bridge that was destroyed in the second world war and never rebuilt.  We have passed the site many times on one of our walks on the other side of the river but never taken a picture as everything is so overgrown.  It was no better from this side of the river either, but I’ll include a picture for our memories 😉

The road over the ‘cut bridge’ used to carry straight on here
The outside of a water pumping station had been painted in an attempt to avoid graffiti and on one side it showed a picture of the bridge that only stood for eleven years:

After walking through Compertrix we were soon approaching Coolus and passed a tiny chapel on the side of the road.  Other than saying it was the chapel of St-Gibrien, the walking guide gave no further information and later searches on the web were also fruitless.

The village of Coolus was where most points of interest were concentrated, and we looked forward to walking around the nature reserve where they were situated.  In order for you to share in our disappointment I have included a picture of the old mill (where visitors can feed the fish!) at the top of this entry.  On a similar vein this is all that remains of the railway line built by the French Vietnamese during the second world war:

We did come across a sluice that wasn’t mentioned in the guide but was probably used to feed the millstream for the non-existent mill and fish:

The village church wasn’t mentioned in the guide either:

When we were nearly back in town, we passed a barrage on the river that is used to control the flow of water to the many waterways in Châlons-en-Champagne.  We were amazed at the slimness of the metal plates holding the water back.  Mind you, once we thought about it, they were probably the same thickness as the needles used on the needle dams we pass when cruising on the river.

This barrage and the old bathing area were the highlights of the walk
Even though it may sound like a disappointing walk, we thoroughly enjoyed being out in the fresh air as usual.  Neither were our expectations dashed as we have been on all but one of the other trails in the town before so had a good idea of what not to expect.  However, we will be visiting a troglodyte village over the next couple of days where the walks look more promising 😊

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.