contentedsouls

Join us on our travels around Europe aboard our Dutch Tjalk Francoise

  • Jill Budd

    After 6 years aboard our Narrowboat Matilda Rose in the UK, we took the plunge and shipped her across to Europe. After 2 years in Europe we knew we didn't want to return to the UK so took the plunge and purchased a 1902 20 mtr Dutch Tjalk called Francoise and are now continuing our travels of the waterways of Europe in a buxom wench

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Archive for December, 2014

Iced In at Ligny

Posted by contentedsouls on 30/12/2014

Well we’ve had two visitors over Christmas – one being the lockie who came and closed the lock gates on his moped in the pouring rain – and the second being the American wife of the Papa whose daughters’ and niece run our ‘local’ She needed some fresh air and dog cuddles as she has a Schnauzer back in the states and was pining for a bit of stinky dog moustache; my two were more than happy to resemble that requirement!

The snow started to fall overnight on Saturday and, although the rain washed it away Sunday morning, it came back with a vengeance so we pulled out onto the main line to filter some water, fill the tank and stick a couple of loads through the washing machine. There is a very large barge here with liveaboards on it, so we didn’t fancy filling from here in non-moving water. A timely decision as we’re now iced in. A snow covered working peniche passed us whilst we were over on the main line – if we really wanted to move we probably could break through this ice here today and follow a peniche down. We’re reasonably happy here though and we have free electric which is quite nice for the central heating whilst the temperatures are below zero. My God it was cold out there – the wind nearly !ripped the lining out of my lungs

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Busy today: flat battery on the car, washing machine door broken off, run out of coal (incredibly difficult to find), run out of dog food and more hassle with the insurance company on a rented property after the bathroom ceiling caved in following the flashing being stolen. Up early this morning as we needed to get out and get things sorted before the 12am closure – the witching hour when everything shuts down for lunch. Didn’t achieve it all but did quite well with time left over to make lunch for tomorrow for June and Mike off NB Temujin who are driving across to spend the day with us tomorrow.

The car battery will be delivered to the local restaurant on Friday and we have somewhere to go New Years Eve if we so wish. The latter depends very much on the weather.

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Naix-aux-Forges to Ligny-en-Barrois

Posted by contentedsouls on 24/12/2014

8 locks, 7 kms and 1 communication with l’eclusier

The VNF turned up and set lock 15 for us at 9.30, so G set off on the boat (having beat me to the RCU) and I set off with Muttley – just 3 of these (not) automatics, then 5 under our control. We have a (probably incorrect) theory that we are not tall enough for the beam thingy to realise that we’ve left, so the gates don’t close and, therefore, the next lock doesn’t set. So G waved a long pole at the beam and when I reached L16 it had set, yeah! So did 17, (approached over a rather pretty aqueduct) yeah! Home and dry? ……… no. The downstream paddles wouldn’t open cause one of the upstream paddles wouldn’t close. Grrrr!

Locks 18-22 were a doddle, but I walked anyway to compensate for our Christmas excesses and it’s also quicker having someone on the bank to lift the bar rather than slow down to put someone off.

 

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On reaching the little harbour area there was a bankside slot which looked just about Matilda Rose sized. Perfik! We also have free shore power so we can fall asleep in front of as much telly as we want over Christmas.

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Showered and towpath clothes swapped for city clothes, we hit the supermarket in search of Christmas dinner; choosing prawns, smoked salmon and guinea fowl. The French have there main meal at midnight tonight and eat masses of sea food and shellfish. Fresh oysters were changing hands by the crateful. No queues, nothing in your face, no stress, no hassle. Just a time for families to come together without the hype.

 

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Yesterday we went to The White Horse for lunch. A new restaurant run by two sisters and a niece. The mother is French but the girls were brought up in Corsica. Dad was over from America to help with the restaurant launch and we received free drinks for our review on trip advisor. The food was fabulous and the service delightful.

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So it’s a Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad, Frohe Weihnachten, Vrolijk Jerstfeest, G’day Cobber, from us – we shall raise a glass tomorrow to absent friends; we might raise one tonight as well!

Thank you for sharing our European journey.

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Possession is 9/10ths of the helm

Posted by contentedsouls on 21/12/2014

We’re dropping down the last 12 locks into Ligny-en-Barrois tomorrow, our destination for Christmas. 3 more of the, supposedly, automatic locks and I’m just praying not to have to speak to Bar le Duc control – 3 locks, it’s not a lot to ask that they could set automatically, is it? The nice man there has become so familiar to me I feel that I should swap the ‘vous’ for ‘tu’ when I address him!

After that we’re back on the remote control unit and can set our own locks. Whoever has possession of that RCU has the helm and, at the moment, Graham is quietly confident that the helm is his as he, generally, gets up first. I, however, go to bed last and will be slipping that RCU under my pillow!

A domestic day today really, followed by dog walking and a slap up lunch – turkey with brandy, morels and farcie followed by pancakes. Is it Christmas?

I checked out the River l’Ornain today, I’ve been desperate to kayak this ever since we encountered it (it’s perfectly feasible to take the kayak out in the winter without wet or dry suits). It’s not feasible now – not at my age anyway! A tad too lively.

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So, when we reach Ligny tomorrow (hopefully), we should be able to settle down for 5/6 days; do a bit of shopping, eat out and swap towpath clothes for City gear.

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Treveray to Naix-aux-Forges

Posted by contentedsouls on 21/12/2014

4 locks and 5.5 km

There was not one, but two bar/restaurants in Treveray. Unfortunately they were 1km away and it peed down with rain all night and all day so we didn’t fancy going out to lunch in full wets. It’s been yonks since we had a drink out let alone a meal,as we are deep in rural France, and neither of us wanted a wine free lunch so that we could drive – rather wait until we get to the civilisation of Ligny. We ventured out in the car instead and did our Christmas food shop – I use the term ‘food’ loosely as it seemed to consist mostly of alcohol, chocolate, biscuits, nuts and cheese: it might be the 4:3 diet throughout January!

We had booked passage, yesterday, for today’s cruise and decided that 4 locks and 5.5km would be sufficient if we were going to experience similar problems to Thursday’s cruise, also more rain was forecast. That’s the only problem we’ve encountered here travelling in the winter – so far – you have to ‘pre-declare’ your finishing point.

This morning we were woken at 7.30 by a passing peniche (the 3rd in 3 days) to discover it wasn’t raining. What’s more, we didn’t have to remind them to set the lock; a man in a VNF van came out and set lock 11 for us at 9.45. I wasn’t going to risk the leap again so Muttley and I left G and MR descending and set off for L12. As we rounded the bend I spotted the light – red; gate closed. My heart sunk and I really didn’t feel up to the conversation this morning that now had to take place. I rehearsed in my head and pushed the button, determined to be jolly, ‘bonjour, ca va?’ yes it was the same chap from Thursday. Please could you open the gates? Instead of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ I received a torrent of French of which I only caught ‘English boat’.  I replied that yes it was us again and would he open the gates please and he hung up. Nothing’s happening with the gates, G has now arrived on MR and is gesticulating for me to contact him again but I didn’t know if he’d said he was sending someone or not; in fact I didn’t have the faintest idea what he’d said. I did, of course, have to go back to him and the gates opened – why he didn’t do it the first time I have no idea!

By now, G and I had established a theory that we weren’t sufficiently tall enough for the detectors to realise we’d left, so the gates weren’t closing behind us and, therefore, the next lock wasn’t setting. So, as he left, he waved something at the detector on a long pole. I approached L13 and – it was red….aaaargh! Then, miraculously, it went to red and green and set, as did L14. L15 went to green and then broke down – what did we care; we’d moored up by then. A man in a van came out and fixed it and gave us a remote control unit, so only 3 more of these daft locks before we are masters of our own destiny again.

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Demange-aux-Eaux to Treveray

Posted by contentedsouls on 18/12/2014

9 locks, 9 kilometres and 5 communications with eclusier control requesting help!

Yesterday we stayed in Demange-aux-Eaux and made water, then we both donned wet weather gear and Graham drove the car on to Treveray and cycled back whilst I explored the village (took all of 15 minutes) and the countryside with Muttley

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We’d booked passage for 10 am this morning and I walked the dogs down to the first lock at 9 am and the lock was set and on green. I told G we were good to go after I’d taken the rubbish up; then look what happened! Out of the lock behind us came this big boy – he nicked ‘our’ lock (note G anxiously peering down the side to see if he pulled our pins – he didn’t) A queue for the locks..outrageous. We’d not seen ‘Manna’ before and, in fairness it was only 9.30 so we assumed they’d re-set for us at 10.

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Once you start a flight of locks, you’re exit from one sets the next. As we were starting from lock 2 (L2) we needed manual intevention from Bar le duc VNF. On arrival at L2 it was against us with a red light. Hovered for awhile and then rang, only to get an answering machine, so G had to put me off (he, understandably, bagsied the helm today) to use the lock intercom. That’s not easy as there are no lock landings and the canal is ‘V’ shaped so you have to get as close as possible and then make a leap of faith (I don’t like doing it). I rehearsed my speech and the lights went to red and green (setting) and started to fill. Despite the rain (some of which hit the camera lens) we made good progress through L3 and L4 but L5 had double reds (out of order) and the bottom gates were still open – they should have shut automatically behind the peniche. Once again I made the leap to use the intercom and they said they would send someone (I think). They did, and he sorted it out for us. I then walked Muttley through L5 and L6, operating the activator bar once G was in the lock. L7 was set but the gate wasn’t open and the light red, ditto L8 and L9. By now I was learning fast. Instead of saying what the problem was, which meant I had to understand the reply, I started asking if he’d mind opening the gates – all he could say was yes or no and my French runs to that! By now the dog was long since back on the boat (they don’t like the rain) so I walked the lot by myself in the rain, rather than have to keep making that leap. L10 worked but had the peniche in it – we’d caught it up, despite all the delays.

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I’m not sure who was most relieved that we stopped after L10 – us or Bar le duc control. I can imagine what he said to his colleagues every time the intercom buzzer went; I became more apologetic every time I called. We noticed that the radar thingy boxes at the bottom gates which set the next lock had recently been replaced and set higher up so, we suspect, we weren’t tall enough to activate them and that only one lock was, actually, faulty. 4 hours it took – an hour too long in this weather. Now moored at Treveray on a sloping gang plank but we think there might be a restaurant here.

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Through the tunnel, then starting on the descent

Posted by contentedsouls on 17/12/2014

Yesterday we set off at 9.45 to be at the tunnel in good time for our 10.00 am passage. The lights are before the bend so you can’t see the tunnel entrance from the ‘holding’ point. The lights were red and stayed that way so, eventually we ‘phoned VNF and were told to go on through. Explained that the lights were red but were told to go on, ‘pas de probleme’. It might have been pas de probleme for him, sitting safely in his cosy office, but it would be one bloody tres grande probleme for us if we met ‘Nobis’ coming the other way and we had to try and reverse 5km. Anyway, as we finished the call the eclusier came cycling round the corner and beckoning us to follow him. At the entrance he whisked out his clipboard and asked who was on board, so we declare two people, two dogs and a cat. He cycled all the way through alongside us –it took about 50 minutes – what purpose did he serve? Was he going to tow us if we broke down or phone to tell someone that we’d sunk? Perhaps he’s there to check that you don’t dispose of murdered bodies. If I ever went missing (not that anyone would know except himself), the French equivalent of SOCCO would have a field day as I’ve been having more of those projectile nose bleeds; that’s after they’ve separated my blood from that of Daisy’s mice and rabbits

Totally uneventful, like a big underground tunnel all lit up, huge and boring; I went in to peel potatoes and left Graham struggling to keep the (French) conversation going with the eclusier – I have to admit he did a mighty fine job and they seemed to be nattering away happily. Once on the other side we went down the first lock – months since we went down and moored on a floating pontoon.

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We didn’t stay there long though for a number of reasons. The pontoon was rotten, and very slippery combined with a steep exit gangway. Daisy doesn’t use the gangways; she prefers to enter and exit pontoons by using these very narrow metal support struts

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Across the track from this pontoon was a garden housing this chappy. He was completely fascinated by Daisy and every so often lunged toward the fence and issued a woof. Daisy jumped onto the struts and nearly over balanced into the water and Baxter and Muttley burst into a frenzy of barking. So, whilst I heated up the soup I sent G round the opposite bank to see if we could moor there – the edges of this canal are sloping so you can’t moor just anywhere.

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One man and his dog on a mission. It was too shallow, but he found a lovely wild mooring a bit further on with lovely views and even lovelier horses

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On the move

Posted by contentedsouls on 15/12/2014

Our long awaited parts parcel disentangled itself from Amazon Christmas deliveries and cancelled ferries and turned up at Void poste on Saturday. G knew he was on a winner when he was greeted by Monsieur with jubilation as soon as he opened the door of the poste. I strongly suspect we are the talking point in these small villages in winter – or maybe that should be laughing point, but in a nice way. The mad Brits that live on their boat and travel in winter, ‘fou et excentrique’. So himself spent Sunday down the engine ‘ole whilst I cooked Sunday lunch (it’s been so long I struggled with the gravy!).

Amazingly, the VNF at Bar de Luc answered the phone on Sunday afternoon and we were able to book passage for 10.00 am this morning up the remaining 6 locks to the summit and the mouth of the Mauvages tunnel. Walking out with the dogs this morning the light was green on the first lock and, at 9.45, the eclusier drove down to us and checked that we were all ready to go as arranged.

Today was the first that we’d seen the sun in ages but it was mighty cold as we set off. I had so many layers on that I could hardly bend to untie the rope.

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We were escorted by Herons and an Egret (huge and white) up the flight. One of the Herons perched on the side of the lock wall and eyeballed G, completely unphased by our presence. 2 hours for the 6 locks and the sun stayed with us until we moored at 12.00. Each lock sets automatically once you set off.

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I walked Muttley and G positioned the car the other side of the tunnel – he had an almighty work out coming back over the tunnel on the bike and we’re going through with the boat in the morning. I’m hoping to helm this one for a bit a it will be reasonably large and the narrow ones have given me vertigo.

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We’ve only seen one boat, a commercial, moving up and down every 4 days ish – please don’t let me meet it in the tunnel tomorrow

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How to confuse French people!

Posted by contentedsouls on 12/12/2014

We set off in the car to Commercy as we needed food, medication for Baxter and some ‘stuff’ for the engine. Tried all the motor factor type places for the latter to no avail; they don’t seem to have a ‘Halfords’ type store here, well we haven’t found one. On the way home we found a place that did tractor servicing and parts so G pulled in, armed with Google I Translate and the Mifi, leaving me sat in the passenger seat of our right hand drive car. After quite some time, two men came out of the workshop and started opening the big doors we were parked in front of, so I indicated to see if they needed the car moving and they did. You can imagine the look on their faces as I undid my seatbelt and got out of the car!!! As I trotted round the front to get in the drivers’ side they weren’t angry, just bemused. Only when I’d adjusted the seat and mirror positions and started the engine did the penny drop and they burst into laughter.

I also needed to go into the chemist for aspirin and tissues, so I checked in my brain for 75mg aspirin and I Translate for ‘tissues’. I successfully negotiated the aspirin but was stalled on the tissues. After repeating the word several times to blank looks, I showed the young lass the written word and she promptly trotted off to fetch everyone she could find to have a look. There was much shaking of heads and Gaelic shrugging, so I took a tissue out of my pocket and pretended to blow my nose. With one voice (and not a little relief I suspect) they all exclaimed, “ahhh, mouchoir!”. I translate gave me ‘lezards’, which doesn’t exist, but ‘lezarde’ means crack or fissure. So I had walked into a chemist and asked for aspirin and crack!!

I have to admit, the hairdresser was also mightily relieved to see the back of me after an hour and a half in her salon – she tried so hard bless her and I felt terribly sorry for her; in desperation she fetched me a pile of magazines so that I could, at least look at the pictures.

If the weather wasn’t so wet and windy Muttley and I could certainly make a lot more use of this area and the stream I had my eye on for kayaking has become a distant dream (it’ll be over it’s banks before long. The final part we are waiting for has probably disappeared with Amazon’s Christmas deliveries somewhere in the UK waiting for cross-channel ferries to start running again.

I found the stage set, but no sign of any wise men or shepherds and the donkeys are in a different field on the other side of the River – I hope they all get their acts together in time!14-12-07 13040

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If we spend Christmas here then fine. With the car for provisions and the ability to ‘make’ our own water we’re fine. With no village shop, bar or restaurants to tempt us, we’ll save not only money, but our waistlines and livers as well!

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Indecision

Posted by contentedsouls on 08/12/2014

Ever since we refurbished MR’s saloon we’ve been umming and arrhing about replacing the seating in the saloon – individual chairs versus sofa. What wasn’t on our list was this option.

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The leather chair gave up it’s well worn hold on life and collapsed, so MR now has one captain’s chair and a camping chair. Despite having the car with us we are, actually, quite a long way from anywhere and a day trip failed to resolve the issue at either of the two stores within reasonable driving distance. We’re also thinking, if we’re going widebeam, what would we take with us if we’re going to fork out mega bucks. I’ve seen what I want and they are expensive plus an 8 week delivery so it looks like camping chair for xmas (don’t tell him but it’s, actually, very comfortable).

We trundled through one more lock which puts us in a better place for the boys and Daisy but we are still waiting more parts (evidently – it’s a man cave thing going on) so we won’t be moving for a bit. All the lock lights were out when I walked Muttley to the Chateau this morning, the entrance was clearly marked ‘private’, but it takes more self control than I possess to resist that avenue of trees!

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We just had a little peek – naughty, but irresistable

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Then there’s this stream – stunning kayak territory. I’ve found somewhere to put the kayak in but I think I might need to get out and push in places so wellies required; quite fast, so goodness knows where I’ll get out!!

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This evening we started to do the old tippy uppy thing again. It’s been ages since that happened and, sticking my head out, the lock light is green and a dirty great peniche is coming –  and a right mess he made of getting into the lock. Just goes to show that no-one is perfect!

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You see the size of these peniche and it doesn’t seem possible that they can fit into theses, relatively, small locks. I guess it’s the same fit as a 72ft narrowboat in a narrow lock – just scaled up and very tall!

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More shenanigans with the impossible language

Posted by contentedsouls on 05/12/2014

We have been waiting in Void Vacon  for the delivery of a new fuel pump to the VNF office. The internet tracking system said it was delivered on Saturday, but the VNF office (delivery address) isn’t open on a Saturday and I was advised that there would be a location somewhere in the town that would be an alternative delivery point – because everything is closed a lot there is, evidently, always an alternative!

Having checked the bar/tabac and the boulangerie to no avail, I checked out the small store with my carefully learnt French about parcel collection. Madame told me to stay where I was and disappeared out the back. I felt extremely proud and knew that G would be delighted at my getting the fuel pump; out she came, swept passed me and outside to feed Muttley a biscuit!! My accent is clearly even worse than I thought.

We have now befriended the VNF man who told me off for travelling without permission (which I had been given) and, bless him, he turned up with our parcel on Monday having recovered it from the poste.Who knows! He also told me my coffee was good – now there’s a complement from a French man. I’m loving these little French towns, I know we are providing them with a great deal of amusement but they are so happy to engage with us.

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Very cold when we left yesterday, but I was very cosy under my eight+ layers. 5 locks all set and waiting for us, now in Sauvoy; middle of nowhere.. perfik. Suits us fine for the weekend.

It is a LOT of layers, I promise; I  really haven’t shovelled the weight on despite the temptation

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