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 January, 2017

Interesting mooring (or not) and observations on the French medical system

Posted by contentedsouls on 27/01/2017

The Gods clearly haven’t stopped messing with me yet and I could no longer ignore the fact that I needed to see a doctor so, after a week in our idyll, we moved on to the town of Lagny-sur-Marne. This was always in our plans anyway – after a steady 4kms without encountering either locks or ice flows, we encountered our mooring pontoon and could see electric bournes. I started to get a weensy bit excited even though I knew they’d be switched off as sometimes, just sometimes, we can turn them back on. Whilst I was getting excited, Graham’s (whose eyesight is way better than mine) jaw was starting to drop – it was awhile before my eyesight caught up and I could see the reason why.

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Just how were we meant to get off, as the gangway to the pontoon had been removed and our passerelle wasn’t long enough to bridge the gap? After extensive research by European Facebook friends, it became apparent that the gangway is removed from November to March every year for fear that the odd hardy winter cruiser might turn up and spend money in the town. My French boaty friend, Zag, says it’s a new system the French have introduced to avoid vandalism – if you make the pontoon unreachable, then no boats stop and so there is no vandalism. Problem solved! She says they are thinking of exporting the idea to Belgium and the Netherlands.

So we did our usual and found a couple of trees to tie to on the opposite bank. As we are now on the opposite bank we are, strictly speaking, in Thorigny-sur Marne and less than 5 minutes walk from the station with trains to Paris every 30 minutes (not that we can take advantage of trains to Paris as we can’t leave Baxter for long enough). It’s only a short walk back to the shops and restaurants in the pleasant town of Lagny.

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The internet tracked down a doctor not too far from the boat and we rang the following morning and I was offered either an appointment or ‘walk in and wait surgery’ between 2 and 6 pm. Encounters with the medical profession in France are a whole different experience from those in the UK. Firstly, they are usually in the front room of the doctor’s house. Secondly, there are usually no receptionists or clerical staff and thirdly, the doctor has a credit card machine on his/her desk so you can ‘pay as you go’. I’m not good with fixed appointments; I always tend to be 10 minutes late and G likes to be 30 minutes early so he starts nagging me and we both then end up in a foul mood, so I opted for the walk in and wait session.

At 2pm we trundled down to the doctor’s front door and let ourselves into the nicely warm waiting room, congratulating ourselves that there was no-one waiting ahead of us. We made ourselves comfortable and I observed that it would be a lovely place to go for a sit down and a warm if you were homeless. When nobody else came in or departed, it occurred to G that all was not progressing as it should, so he popped outside and had another look at the plate on the wall where it said that surgery hours on Thursday were 4 ‘til 6pm. We returned to the boat, amazed that they would leave the waiting room door unlocked outside of opening hours (if you’re homeless,  cold, or just in need of a sit down in this area then let me know and I’ll give you the address).

Returning at 4pm I was 4th in line and settled down happily with my Kindle – away from the constant interruptions of Baxter deciding he needs another pee (or, when he gets out there, perhaps not). Each time the door opened and another patient came in, there was a chorus of ‘bonjours’ around the room. At 2 minutes past 5 another patient came in and I thought I’d get in first with a jaunty bonjour – it died on my lips as a chorus of ‘bonsoirs’ echoed around the room. If anyone can give me a definitive time when ‘jour’ ends and ‘soir’ starts, I will be eternally grateful.

Eventually my turn came around – the doctor came out to fetch me and shook my hand before leading me into her office. I was not asked for my address, date of birth, or even my age!!!!!!!!!! I had a very thorough 45 minute consult and, after producing my European Health Insurance Card, paid the standard 23 euros. This (I understand) is the doctor’s wage, there is no salary from the Government. Same day appointment (or wait your turn) and a consultation that takes as long as it needs (instead of 10 minute slots) for 23 euros is worth every centime to me – however, the 85 euros worth of prescriptions I picked up, that would have been free at my age in the UK, was not so funny. Equally, there was no wait at the phlebotomist’s laboratory I was sent to this morning however, a further charge of 35 euros was incurred. In theory this can be claimed back but…….

Once we reach pensionable age in the UK it’s a whole lot cheaper/simpler – but by the time that happens we’ll be out of the EU.

Anyway, I did get a battery for my watch at last and topped up our badly depleted vegetable stocks at the market. G met me in town for a 2 course 12 euro lunch in a buzzy little place with staff that were great fun. I had a glass of wine and G had a beer – the first alcohol to pass our lips in over 3 weeks, and our first meal out since November. It’s not all good times you know – although there are quite a lot of them.

I guess I’d better leave you with some pretty pictures from our mooring at Vaire – or someone I know will moan that there aren’t enough photos on this blog.

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Clearly my French accent isn’t improving over the years as Muttley can’t tell my ‘ici’ from my ‘assis’. Every time I call him, he sits; such a pretty sit though.

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Maisons Alfont to Vaire-sur-Marne

Posted by contentedsouls on 24/01/2017

After all the excitement of Paris, and particularly being out from under the trees and in the sun, the decision to move on in the morning was unanimous. We hoped to complete the 3 locks and 21 kms and be tied up at a new mooring by 2.00pm.

Yet again, after battling with rigid, frozen, ropes, we moved off and called the Marne lock – the second one off of the Seine … and we called and we waited and we called and we waited. Eventually we pulled onto the waiting pontoon and I hopped off to take this photo. On the noticeboard, the information saying to call on channel 20 (as per the first lock and the Fluviacarte) had been covered over with  Dymo tape and changed to ‘19’. Humph.

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So we called on 19 and received an incomprehensible reply from Mr Grumpy. After about half an hour (as long as they are allowed to delay you without explanation), he decided to empty the lock for us. Once we’d pulled into the lock and I had a rope on, I was committed to sitting out there freezing my arse off. Mr Grumpy – who clearly wasn’t getting enough at home (either that or his wife had put him on a diet and/or hidden his wine) – then decided to wander off and do something more interesting rather than close the gates and fill the lock. An hour and three quarters it took us to get through that bloody lock for absolutely no reason and, yes, I was very cold and suffering from a massive sense of humour failure.

Having exited the lock, it was straight into a one way tunnel and, fortunately, he had bothered to turn the lights green – I don’t really think of tunnels as tunnels when you can see the other end and they are big and wide and all lit up; Stanedge this certainly wasn’t.

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Along the Marne are a number of ‘link’ canals which cut out wriggly/shallow stretches. Our next lock put us up onto one of these; the Canal de Chelles and we had to wait for a commercial in front of us to go through and the lock be re-set. This canal runs straight and true for a, rather boring, 9kms. The only excitement was when I saw one commercial overtaking another – they were side by side and heading straight at us, filling the entire width of the canal! This, of course, was the moment for my camera battery to die … doh. I managed to get the spare battery in by the time the overtaking container vessel came passed us and it never feels like there is enough room – you know there is …but….

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Having reached the other end we, again of course, had to wait for the commercial ahead and the lock to be turned. The navigation continues upstream to the left after this lock, but we were turning right and hugging the right bank in search of a little mooring mentioned in the DBA files.

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The problem with this was that it was now so late in the day that the sun was sitting just above the horizon and we couldn’t see a thing other than glare and silhouetted trees and shrubs. So we went down and turned (needed to moor pointing upstream anyway) to put the sun behind us and found our little patch of heaven. Not only have we got all of the boat on the bank, we also have sun on the solar panels, sun (providing free daytime heat) through our big picture windows most of the day and a TV signal for the first time in 2 weeks. I also have a choice of circular walks along the river, canal, two lakes and woodland and there are very few people/joggers/cyclists/dog walkers around. We are moored where the green splodge is on the map. My cup runneth over. If I’d known then what I know now, we would have been much better off being ill here and then going back for the Paris cruise, but hindsight ‘tis a wonderful thing and we had no idea that we would take so long to recover. I love the way the shade from the boat keeps our outline silhouetted in the frost.

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We won’t be moving from here in a hurry – especially in these minus temperatures. Pretty much every canal in the NE of France is now closed due to ice. They started off arranging convoys behind ice breakers but lost that battle after 3 or 4 days. Due to the, pretty much, continuous commercial traffic; our little Chelles canal remains navigable.

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Rat run through Paris

Posted by contentedsouls on 20/01/2017

We arrived at Notre Dame just in time to watch the lights go from red to green – hooray! Slightly disconcerting as you arrive, because all the trip boats coming upstream turn there before heading back downstream; mostly cutting straight across our bows. Also disconcerting was that, having entered the one way system on green, we were still encountering oncoming shipping…..ooo er missus! Oh well, there was plenty of room for everyone anyway.

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Glorious weather although the temperature was –1, add to that a not inconsiderable wind chill factor and you’ll know why I didn’t spend many minutes sat on the bow taking photos. The other reason I didn’t sit there for long was because each time one of the little bullet shaped water taxis (no photos – they go so fast I couldn’t even capture one in ‘sports mode’) shot by, the resultant wake broke waves over Francoise’ bow – not the right time of year for a soaking. It was the right time of the year for the trip though; there was relatively little traffic about and we were able to enjoy it whilst still keeping a good look out. We saw loads of people taking photos of us from a bridge whilst the water broke over us – what wouldn’t I give for one of those photos.

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As we came back to the (supposedly) one way bit by Notre Dame the lights were red and, whilst we were checking the timings, we were called by the skipper in the bateaux mouche behind us (in several of the photos). He asked if we wished him to speak to us in French or English – not being an appropriate time for French lessons or ambiguities, we chose English. He told us to continue on but move to the left as there would be oncoming traffic, when we reached the main intersection again he advised us to return to the left bank. I’ve thought about this ‘one way system’ long and hard, but it still makes not one ounce of sense. Nor does going against a red light on the Seine in the centre of Paris but if you have a trip boat up your bum and the skipper tells you to go ………….you go.

Excitement over, we slipped back up the lock onto the Marne and our mooring at Maisons Alfort. Sunshine, excitement and adrenalin were the best tonic ever and we had the most wonderful day. We had stayed here until we were well enough to make this trip – now we were free to continue on our coddiwomples.

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Maisons Alfort and good news

Posted by contentedsouls on 19/01/2017

For two weeks now (instead of the intended two days) we have languished at Maisons Alfort. This is a great mooring for a night or two, but a bit depressing for a long stay as, under the trees, you see little sunshine even when there is some. No satellite signal either for the same reason. At only 800 metres away from the Metro, it also provides free mooring with superb access to central Paris – not a lot of use to us though when we were feeling so wretched.

A lot of different shipping has passed by our big picture windows in those two weeks and I haven’t tired of watching them – there would have been a lot more examples but my SD card dumped all of my photos.

Although the track runs along the river it’s, as you would expect given it’s proximity to central Paris, busy with joggers and dog walkers – many of the joggers run with their dogs and, for reasons unknown, Muttley has taken exception to this practice so I have to be very careful when I let him off lead. The main culprit of course is me, as I haven’t been well enough to give him the exercise he needs and is used to.

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Despite the big commercial vessels pounding up and down at speed for 15 hours a day, they disturbed us very little. Because we strapped ourselves amidships to the tiny floating pontoon, we tended to rock ‘n’ roll and bob up and down – a motion I rather enjoy (providing it doesn’t get too extreme). There was no banging, creaking or groaning which is what drives me nuts.

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Monday evening we picked ourselves up and decided that we were, at last, fit enough to move on. The even betterer news is that our recuperation co-incided with the perfect weather to do a ‘drive through’ with Francoise passed all the iconic city centre landmarks.

Timing is all for this trip as, around Notre Dame, passages upstream and downstream are allowed in only one direction at  timed intervals. We worked out that we needed to leave on the hour – the first hurdle was that the engine needed a considerable amount of priming and persuasion before it capitulated. The second hurdle was the ropes: as there were no tie off points on the pontoon (why would you install a pontoon without tie offs?) – and due to commercial traffic – just about every rope we possessed was wrapped around, under and over anything we could find and every one of them was frozen solid.

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My super hero destroyed his hands and endured great physical pain whilst dis-entangling us and I stood in the heated wheelhouse. We reckoned that if we could get a quick passage through the (only) lock, we should be able to get a wriggle on downstream and make the green light. Finally the gods had stopped playing with us, there was a gap in the traffic and the eclusier actually answered the radio first shout and immediately started prepping the lock for us. we dropped down from the Marne to the Seine and headed for central Paris in glorious sunshine – it felt so bloody good!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Christmas and New Year; then more doom and gloom

Posted by contentedsouls on 14/01/2017

Well it was certainly a social whirl. Christmas Eve with us. Christmas Day on Bella Fortuna. Boxing day on Piedaleau (with another WOB) Jenny, Adrian and their respective children and grandchild. New Year’s eve on Francoise and New Year’s Day on Sabrina with David and Anje. Not surprising then that one or two boaters became a little confused about where and when they should be. Friends of ours were quite surprised when their boat door opened and a couple wandered in with a plate of nibbles and made themselves comfy on their sofa – meanwhile, G was on a different boat where the owners couldn’t understand why their guests hadn’t turned up; it was several hours later before we put two and two together.

My one big regret was that I couldn’t eat enough of Voirrey’s food; so woeful has my appetite become. Boxing day en masse was hilarious as we played charades and throw quoites at the reindeer’s antlers – Andy came dressed for the party spirit.

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I am not, as well you know, a fan of pontoon living (although this Kingfisher was quite happy to sit on our lines for awhile), but the marina is set within acres of parkland and lakes. We also thought we’d make several excursions into Paris – but we can’t leave Baxter on his own for more than 2 or 3 hours so that didn’t happen. Instead, G and Andy went in and –amongst other things, took in the new Star Wars Movie. Voirrey and I went in together another day and mostly just walked and talked and browsed; sadly we couldn’t get into the Dorsey Gallery as a visiting Art Deco exhibition attracted such a queue that we wouldn’t have got in before it was time to leave. We wandered around Montmartre (which has replaced the old funicular with something ‘functional’), which I always enjoy (plus a bit of nostalgia for me as last time I was there it was with Mum and Dad for their 60th wedding anniversary) and I fell hopelessly in love with a painting there. It was too much money though, but I did think I might go back another day and see if I could haggle him down to something more reasonable – it’s big and I have the perfect space to set it off on Francoise. However, it was not to be as things turned out, which will become clear shortly. I also went into a Desigual shop without buying anything (so much money I saved that day)! We rounded off the day with a trip to M & S Simply food; oh joy!!! After nearly 3 years out of the UK I came way loaded with a much as I could carry – crispy bacon, plump pork sausages (and a loaf of naff bread to wrap around them and make toast with), crumpets, hot cross buns, crispy lemon chicken, pork pies, hummus, taramasalata and pitta breads, etc., etc.

Daisy fell in luuuuuuuurve –unheard of; especially with a man. Muttley reverted to puppyhood (if he ever grew out of it) and found a new game called lets create a snow storm out of the liners we put down at night in case Baxter doesn’t quite make it out of the door in time – hmph; new plan required.

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Not that many Parisian pictures I’m afraid as it was too bloody cold to take my hand out of my pockets and the Eiffel Tower was shrouded in cold fog!

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So that was it really; we left the following morning with G expertly negotiating the very tricky exit from the Marina out onto the Seine, passed the world’s biggest Chinese restaurant (supposedly). Our destination one lock up on the Marne. Before we leave the area we want to take the boat up through the city centre; so the following day we decided to stay put, as the forecast and visibility were awful, and go for it on the Friday. G had already started a cold and, by Friday, he was quite bad and then deteriorated with each successive day – by then, of course, I’d joined in. So here we are still; 10 days later – mind you, look on the bright side; we’ve lost a lot of weight; even G stopped eating for 2 days. Both exhausted and just trying to keep body and soul together whilst coughing and spluttering and maintaining Baxter’s nocturnal toilet trips plus another 7 or 8 diurnal trips and give Muttley enough exercise to stop him boiling over and eating Baxter. If it wasn’t for the dogs we could just be ill.

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I was definitely feeling somewhat better yesterday after some drug induced sleep; so prioritised giving Muttley a decent walk and trying to rescue some of the food that I’d stocked up with before we left. Today I must go shopping and only managed 3 hours sleep again. G has managed to get 2 canisters of fuel for the generator – we are heavily reliant on it to run our heating at the moment. i know there are many far, far, worse off than us but it doesn’t stop me feeling very fed up.

So here we sit until we are feeling up to ‘coping’ with a busy waterway in central Paris and you, dear readers (I’ve always wanted to say that) are up to date. I bet you wish you’d never asked now.

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The long and the short of it …. this is not a happy blog

Posted by contentedsouls on 12/01/2017

All is not as it should be on the good ship Francoise, but I am being gently nagged back into blogging and desperate to get back into some semblance of normal. we never did manage to complete that missing bit of the loop down to Montargis. Back on canals the weather forecast was showing lots of minuses and we were concerned we would get stuck in the ice and not be able to pick up Sue and Vic from Nemours on 15th December, so we chickened out and headed back to Nemours. The plan then was to cruise them into a marina just outside Paris for the 21st before joining Voirrey and Andy on Bella Fortuna for Christmas and New Year.

Then I got out of bed and my back went ….. quite spectacularly frozen at the end of the bed and couldn’t move in either direction. G my Superhero set off to the local friendly English speaking lady at the Boulangerie in the hope that we could get to her Doctor for anti-spasm stuff but had no joy – a lovely man in the queue recommended a new lady doctor who had just opened up a new practice. I had one last emergency anti-spasm pill that got me there. Sorted! Trouble is, the plethora of pills wipe me out and demolish my appetite.

We thought we’d lurk there until time to pick up Sue and Vic and, whilst there, had a phone call from Kevin and Debs who were in Paris for the weekend and came to join us for the day on Sunday (there is some good news) who we tried to feed with the most expensive inedible chicken you have ever met. Whilst they were with us we had a phone call from Sue saying they couldn’t come because her passport would expire before their return ….. ooops!

So we lurked for a few more days before heading to our marina just outside Paris and a dinner date on the 21st. Voirrey was there to help us tie up and we had a fabulous evening – Voirrey and Andy are both amazing cooks. Then my back went again and I ended up on the floor of their boat whilst G trotted back to get the anti-spasm pills. So bloody embarrassing when you’ve only met a few times. To be continued ……..

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Nice to have a little chateau with your Christmas market

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