Apologies to non Canadians but we have been waiting for this election for a long long time
We are ‘Back to the Future’ after October 19. No – just messing with you – we (Martin and I) are back September 26, but I could not help poking a little fun at election fever in Canada. Even though we are far away in France, social media, news media (including the Guardian) and even our dinner table discussions seem to be dominated by Canadian election chatter. ‘Back to the Future Day’ is actually October 21 and we will know by then whether it is back to the Regressive Conservatives or some other future (one can only hope). You may want to celebrate ‘Back to the Future’ day or not, depending on your futuristic persuasion – just remember that on October 21 1985, Canada had a Conservative government.
Regardless of your political affiliations just remember the most important thing is to VOTE – people have died for the privilege of exercising their democratic right. So make sure you are registered, do all the things the new Canadian Elections Act requires and go out there on October 19 and change the world – one vote at a time (Rant over).
The past three weeks on the boat here in central France have been full of visitors. As I mentioned, we are wintering
Nevers (pronounced as Inspector Clouseau would say “nev-ver mind”). Nevers is a lovely ancient (Roman) town, with a present day population of around 35,000. It is the capital of the Nievre Department in the Burgundy region. Getting into the marina at Nevers requires going to through two automatic locks through a lovely avenue of trees into the port.
The port is on the opposite side of Loire to the city itself. The city has a number of beautiful buildings including the Cathedral of St Cyr and Juellitte, the Ducal Palace, the museum and church dedicated to St Bernadette and a lovely old town with narrow streets and fifteenth century houses. It is also the home of a Formula 1 car-racing track, Magny Cours.
More about Nevers sights and sounds later – it is our winter moorage so we have left much of our sightseeing and commentary to until near the end of our trip.
From Nevers we returned to the main canal and spent a couple of hot days getting to Decize. This port was our major stop for a couple of weeks when we collected my mum and Joan from the airport in Lyon. Decize and Nevers are literally in the middle in terms of distance from a large airport, Paris and Lyon were the same distance from Decize but we chose to go to Lyon as it was easier to deal with the traffic, than it was to circumnavigate Paris to Charles De Gaulle airport. Still we had a 500 km round trip drive in a rental car, because it was 32C and Scarlett (our tiny Toyota) has no air-conditioning and was a bit small for 4 people a dog and luggage. It was a full day journey for everyone – Mum and Joan who had to be driven from Norfolk to Luton Airport, fly with Easyjet and then another 3 hour drive to Decize. My mum and Joan were noticeably knackered, so we took the next day as one of rest for everyone as they sat out in the warm sun and relaxed into the boat.
Martin and I had decided to take them on a short 4 day voyage up the Canal du Nivernais that goes from Decize in the south to Auxerre in the north. The Canal du Nivernais is 174 km long with 110 locks, rising up into the Yonne watershed and down the other side. This canal was the location of our first ever boat trip and the place we fell in love with lifestyle and adventure of life on the water in Europe. In early October 2008 Martin and I took a trip a ‘guests’ on a boat called Linquenda for a week, travelling the meandering Nivernais from Clamecy to Chatilon en Bazois. This was when we fell in love with canal travel.
Our 2015 trip on the Nivernais was only 34 kms out and the same returning but it took us into the pastoral countryside of France where even the Charolais cattle look happy and contented as they chew the cud and graze the soft green hills. We went up a few locks then stayed at a lovely port called Cercy la Tour. This town (and the tower on the hill) is where the Aron River parallels the canal. The canal, by the way, is narrow (5.2m), shallow (1.2m) and with a low air draft (2.7m – at the corners). North of Cercy la Tour the canal is ‘manned’ by employees of the Nievre and locks are a point of pride for the local people. Adorned with flowers and sometimes painted very brightly the Nivernais locks and rural canal has transformed from a losing proposition to a winning canal that hosts lots of rental as well private boats.
We had a look around Cercy then moved on to a tiny port Anizy, which was also a camping resort set back off the main canal. My mother relaxed in the pleasant early September sun and Joan was very curious about this part of the French countryside. Mum thought the countryside was lovely – she was not so impressed with the ‘shabby chic’ style of French rural towns.
We returned to Decize on the Saturday evening – the weather had turned a bit cooler and cloudy. We were thinking of staying in the port of Decize on the Nivernais canal, but we left after we heard a disturbing story that a couple of nights before someone had smashed opened the lock gates. This drained all the water out of the port leaving the boats sitting on the bottom (about 1.3m down) of the port area. If we had been in the port at that time, it would have been a disaster as we have a ‘v’ keel rather than a flat bottom.
The next day we drove over to Nevers and took Mum and Joan for a stroll around the old town and stopped to coffee and cake in a local restaurant. The next morning we are back on the road to the airport at Lyon – another three hour drive but we arrived in plenty of time for them to catch the flight back to Luton and home to Norfolk. The drive back was a long way (250 kms) and we were pretty beat by the time we got back to the boat but we had to get up the next day to prepare the boat for our next visitors.
The next day we met some of our neighbours on the dock and some old friends turned up. Guy and Vicky of Manuka came into Decize on their beautiful Piper barge. We spent a lovely evening with them and introduced them to our neighbours on another barge – Liberte. Flora and Doug bought Liberte about 18 months ago and had sold their previous boat. They (Flora and Doug) were from northern Scotland and had an ocean going boat called – Cuanna registered in Stornaway. When we heard this we chuckled as we had been traveling with Cuanna for about 6 weeks from Moret to Decize, and had only just said goodbye to the new owners – our pals Jacqui and Mike. Guy and Vicky are from New Zealand and knew the boat Liberte, which is a barge built in New Zealand and shipped back to Europe. It was actually quite enormous – almost a dancefloor in the main cabin – but had shallow draft and a low air draft. It is a small world on the canals in France.
A couple of days later we met our friends from Germany who were joining us for a few days. We also took them down the Loire and along the Nivernais for a day and then went on our final voyage back to Nevers. We stopped in Fleury sur Loire again, along with lots of charter boats leaving Decize heading out for a week on the canal.
There was also a pilgrim who was walking from Montegais to Spain and the Compostella de Santiago. These pilgrims are easy to spot as they usually have a scallop shell somewhere on their backpack as a mark of their mission. He was walking and camping – some people stay in hotels or hostels, eating in local restaurants along the way. The pilgrim, along with other boaters were enjoying the evening ambience of the tent and tables outside the captainarie in Fleury.
We have done a few trips on the water with Peter and Brigitte, this one was short and just for fun although the weather was not really fun as it wet and rather cool. Nevertheless (sorry about the pun) we made it back to Nevers and were met at the marina by Martin’s sister and her partner who were traveling on their way back from France to the UK. Poor Carol and John had had a terrible day or so between floods and electrical problems, road closures and not being able to find a campsite so they could stay in their lovely new camper van. They set up camp in the marina car park, Martin pulled out an extension cord to give them power and settled them in. Then we set off to la Marina restaurant on the other side of the port for dinner. After a few plates full of mussels, fish and some meats and a few glasses of the local wine we were all feeling warmer, drier and much better.
The next morning we all crowded round the table on our back deck, Martin made a shield against the wind, and had a morning feast before everyone set off in different directions: Brigitte and Peter to Germany, Carol and John to the UK and we started our count down to Canada.
We also took an afternoon/evening out to visit our Victoria friends on Nooit Valmaakt. Marc and Mary have been cruising the Canaleaux du Centre for about 8 years on their beautiful 20m old Dutch barge. They have lovingly restored and renovated this boat into a gorgeous floating home, and will take paying passengers (www.divabarge.com). It was quite a long trip in the car (almost 300kms) but worth it – Marc is a great cook. We live close by each other in Victoria, but it was great to add a dinner in France as another dimension to our friendship. They go home in early October.
In Nevers we have been walking over 3 kms most days (to the lock and back) on an afternoon walk. The weather was really wet and miserable for the first few days we were moored but cheered up and then got a distinct autumnal feel – cool and damp.
Nevers as I mentioned is an ancient city with a lovely cathedral that was bombed by mistake (by the RAF) in July 1944. Unlike other cathedrals e.g. Chartres, the stained glass was left in the windows during the war. The destroyed windows were replaced over time with contemporary and quite stunning stained glass designs that produced a beautiful light in the St Cyr-St Juliette Cathedral.
The Ducal Palace is beside the cathedral – it is still in use by the city council who hold meetings on the top floor.
There was also a shrine to St Bernadette in Nevers. For all readers who were not brought up Catholics, the Virgin Mary is reputed to have made three visits to St Bernadette when she was a young girl in 1858 at Lourdes France. Bernadette is my Catholic confirmation name, received by me at age 7, so I heard this story of her life many years ago. After the apparition she became a nun – one of the Sisters of Charity in Nevers. After much illness she died in 1879, age 35, and her body remains intact in a glass shrine in the chapel. She still draws a large crowd, when we were there we saw four buses of Italian nurses visiting the chapel, grotto and museum.
So the logistical exercise called ‘getting out of here’ began with a bit of journey planning. It is quite expensive for us, as dog owners, to move between continents. The actual plane fare for Kerry is only €200, but getting to the airport from either side is quite pricey as it involves renting a car in France and then again in Canada, hotels, ferries and a few days on the road. However I think our European Sojourn would be a bit bland and empty without our shaggy naughty dog. She gets us out walking, and keeps us entertained as well as being a magnet for other dog lovers all over the place.
We decided to go the long way round to Charles De Gaulle airport and rented a car for a couple of days to do some sighting on the way home. We booked into a hotel outside Orleans and near a couple of incredible chateaux.
Orleans is a ‘must see’ for all visitors to France, it is a clean modern city (population 115,000), a river community ( but not really a port) and has an older city core, which includes a magnificent cathedral.
This is the home of Joan of Arc, the young woman warrior who defeated the English and returned to a glorious welcome in 1429, only to be burned at the stake a few years later for being a heretic. It took over five centuries for Joan of Arc to become St Joan. Orleans is also a major commercial centre in the Loire valley. The day we visited was the first day of the Loire boat festival. Martin, of course, was thrilled as we walked along the banks of the river enjoy the sights, and history of the rivermen and their craft. There were over a hundred shallow draft river boats powered by motor, sail and rowers and some of them were even racing.
Our overnight stop was in the lovely Medieval town of Beaugency on the Loire. We stayed a lovely hotel and spent an hour wondering the streets – walking back in time to the Keep and the Abbey and the narrow flowery streets that were the centre of this ancient town.
We were close to another chateau that was on my ‘to see’ list – Chambord so we drove the 20km down the river to this incredible castle. Building Chambord began in 1519 by the young King Francis 1, who wanted a hunting lodge near the Loire.
There is speculation that Leonardo Da Vinci was an inspiration to the architect on the project, although the truth of who designed this incredible building is unknown. The ingenious design of the central Keep and its double helix spiral staircase, where a person can be visible and invisible at the same time is attributed to Da Vinci.
Chambord had a chequered history, it was left to ruins a few times over few centuries and was revived by a number of French kings – and a Polish one. The last Bourbon king of France – Henry V never actually reigned as king, but he did renovate Chambord and had opened it as a national monument in 1871. It was taken over by the French Republic government in 1930. It has been preserved and is one of the most magical places I have ever seen. I would say compared to Versailles – Chambord rocks.
After Chambord we made a quick trip into the ancient city of Blois – which also has a chateau. This chateau was more of a town house chateau compared to Chambord. Interesting and spectacularly located but one chateau per day is about my quota.
We had thought to go to Giverny – Monet’s Gardens just outside Paris on our way back to Charles De Gaulle Airport but time and the wet weather did not permit this little side trip – next year!
Flying back – Air France – it was better than the outward journey home to Autumn in Victoria.
We arrived home a couple weeks before Canadian Thanksgiving. This wonderful harvest festival is reminder to me (and maybe us all) that we have so much to be grateful for. Watching the migrant/asylum seekers crises on TV makes me even more appreciative of our summer in Europe and the peaceful, prosperous times in which we live.
I would like to thank our family and friends, visitors and traveling companions for all your love and support through this 2015 season. Thanks too, to the blog readers – you make the writing and the pictures all worth it. I always enjoy the feedback and comments and hope you enjoy traveling vicariously with us on our European Sojourn. Next year will likely be our last – we are considering what to do with Skookum – there are a few options: time share or sell or just keep going! So please join us in our travels next year down to the south of France.
My WordPress site is called Retirement Alchemy and my other blog is called “Retirement Sojourn” so you are invited to read the blog and if it helps you with one of the biggest decisions of your life then it is worthwhile. Check it out at http://www.retirementsojourn.wordpress.com