The Rain Queen cometh to Europe – sorry to say my home is now gripped by drought. Vancouver Island has dried up and watering restrictions are in place while France is gripped in the middle of some of the worse flooding ever seen in Europe.
Loire in Flood
May seems to be a very wet month in Central Europe and as in previous years the rivers are closed to traffic – including the Soanne and Rhone. Luckily we are a few weeks away from either river so hopefully the floods will have subsided and the mop up has been completed. Towns we had cruised through are featured in the Guardian, but we felt quite safe as we live on a boat. So check it out yourself : http://gu.com/p/4k4z8/sbl .
We had our own little flood when we arrived back in Nevers. The drainage system on the boat had been blocked and water backed up in the bilge. Martin devised some amazing pump system and cleared the water quickly – not damage but everything had a bit of water discolouration on it. So our flood was dealt with. We had to leave to French government and the VNF to deal with the rest of the flooding in France – although I must admit it is very comforting to live on a boat (aka Ark)
The Fouls- ups refer to our flight out from Victoria to Paris. About 10 days before we were due to leave on our Victoria – Toronto – Paris flight, Martin casually called up WestJet ( the Air France/KLM/Delta partner in this venture,) to ask if he could talk Kerry for a walk when we got to Toronto ( as we had a 4 hour lay-over).Westjet informed us that Kerry was not booked on our flight and would not be flying. Martin was shocked and dismayed and spent the next 6 hours working through the problem of ‘code-shared’ flights (who knew what they were ) to find that Flight Network – our booking agent had told us truthfully that we needed to check with Air France if we wanted to book the dog on the same flight sequence. We did contact Air France who told us all was well and Kerry was booked from Victoria to Paris. Westjet told us their policy would not allow them to fly the dog on a code-share flight –ie. our ticket had an Air France flight number for the whole journey even though we flew with Westjet to Toronto. (Confused yet – it gets better!!!) .
So Martin patiently worked with Westjet to get the dog on the same flight as us by booking her cargo. However, for Kerry to travel cargo she needed to be booked in two hours before the flight – our flight with Westjet left Victoria at 6:15am and the cargo department was not open until 5:00 am – so she could not be on the same flight. After calling the contracted cargo department at Victoria Airport they agreed to come in 45 minutes early to get the dog on the same flight as us for $60 extra. The cargo cost was $300 ( she normally flies for $50 with Westjet).
So Kerry was on our flight – she was taken to the cargo bay for Westjet – 10 kms from the arrivals hall at Pearson airport. We asked Westjet if she could be unloaded at the passenger terminal – but oh no that was too simple. Luckily we were meeting friends at Toronto airport and they took us via a very long route to the cargo bay where we could pick up Kerry ( otherwise it would have been a $50 taxi ride). Eventually we went to the Air France desk and checked Kerry in – all the way to Paris.
This was very stressful for Martin who sorted out this airline bureaucratic nightmare with patience and logic. Then he remembered we have to come back …………………. with the same problem – although this time we will be flying Paris – Amsterdam (KLM) to Vancouver then Victoria.
Undaunted he set about making a formal complaint to Air France who had placed us in this position – everyone like Westjet and Air France and Flight Network were very nice and apologetic (which does not seem worth very much these days), but I must say I was most impressed with Air France. who have agreed to pay the extra charges for Kerry ($410) plus the cost of a one-way rental plus ferry from Vancouver to Victoria for our return journey ($250). It means we have to get off in Vancouver but at least it won’t cost us anymore.
However no-one seems to want to take responsibility for the time and stress all of this hassle with airline flight numbers seems to have caused for Martin. Lesson for all you readers – check about code-share flights before you complete your booking. Being your own travel agent is a lot of work and seems to require more knowledge than is easily available.
Our difficult beginnings in France got a lot more difficult over the first few days of our arrival. Martin’s sister and brother in law met us for supper and breakfast in Nevers. They parked their camper van,that they use to travel between London and Aigue Montes in the south of France, in the parking lot beside the marina on our first night there. It was quite warm at that point so I endured lots of bug bites. The bugs got bigger as some kind of vicious spider bite my hand in the middle of the night and it began to swell. My hand looked like a balloon, so after wrenching my rings from my fingers we went to the emergency department at the local hospital, where after three hours of waiting and processing (it was quite busy) we left with some antibiotics and some antihistamines
That was Thursday – on Friday we ventured into the belly of the internet beast and asked Orange France (the phone/internet company) for a contract. We were successful so went to lunch to celebrate. I had mussels – a favourite of mine – but within three hours my body felt as if was exploding as I dealt with a bout of food poisoning to go along with the jetlag we were working on.
On Saturday morning I woke to find that some fiendish mosquito had bitten my eyelid – it started to swell and itch. By Sunday it had swollen more and Monday it had grown even further. I think the mosquito must also have had a tsetse fly relative as it laid me very low for the whole day – i.e. could not move off the sofa – like having a chill or 24 hours flu. By Tuesday I could not see out of my eye so we were back to the emergency department at 7:00 am. The response was swift and decisive (as any medical intern can be) and I was prescribed cortisone, topical antibiotics and topical cortisone.
In the meantime Martin was having a bit of an angina attack from all the stress we had experienced (luckily we were at the hospital) and needed a shot of nitro when we got back to the boat. The next day I was feeling better and he got the 24 hour flu. By Thursday we both were feeling somewhat better – although very tired and sluggish. We had hoped to continue working on the boat but the weather had also deteriorated while we were ill and it had pissed down with rain for about five days (talk about the Rain Queen holding court!!!!). We had only been back in France for 8 days and we already were making plans to go back to the UK then go back to Canada as we felt so unwell, and miserable. Our saving graces were having the car and able to get around without having to deal with the pouring rain, and binge TV.
We settled in and one day watched the first four one hour episodes of the Danish thriller “ The Killing” which we had on DVD. OK so it was not very jolly and we did not laugh our way out of our misery, but it is riveting. This 20 part series was copied by an American TV network (not sure which one) and they made a series of the same name, with the same story set in an equally soggy place – Seattle in November. ‘The Killing’ (also called Commissar Lund) was set in Copenhagen and featured some familiar faces from the previous Danish program we had watched – a political drama called ‘Borgen.’ Danish is not an easy language to understand, and I hope my Danish friends will forgive me when I say it is not a pretty, expressive language either, but we soon got into the subtitles that did not detract from the great plot and brilliant acting. So if you are so inclined and like ‘who-dunnits’ then this is a series for you.
All better now
We were also dealing with the strikes and industrial strife that is France at this moment. The battles between the government and the unions and workers organizations are raging in all kinds of arenas – protests in Paris, blockading refineries, withdrawals of service at ports and the rail lines. Luckily we have had no problems on the water – although the VNF are public servants so we could be caught in the unrest. There is enough unrest on the soccer stage as France is hosting the European Cup. Soccer fans are passionate to the point of violence there have been riots in the streets caused by rival fans leaving the Gendarmarie to break up the battles.
We still had some errands to do in Nevers – and even invested in a cool summer by buying a portable air conditioner. Now we own one of these machines we are guaranteed to have a cool damp summer – so far so good. After the boiling hot summer of 2014 when we had weeks of weather at 35C+ I am a bit scared of that kind of heat, so I really wanted some back up when we go down the Rhone to the Rhone delta in August. My brain ceases to function at 30°C.
We also ordered a new bimini (overhead covering) for Skookum. The one we have is rather old, a bit tatty and does not do well in the rain. We ordered from a company situated in the middle of the Canal de Niverais, so we drove up there to confirm our deal. We were in familiar territory as the company was located in a place we had visited in 2008. Transporting the bimini back to the boat will be a bit tricky because the struts are almost 3 meters long, but I am sure that UPS can help us.
The theatre came to the marina in Nevers while we were there in the form of the ‘Crystal Canal’. There is a long tradition of theatres in these old barges, we considered but in the end did not go to Cyrano de Bergerac as it was all in French and we had seen the movie ( check out Roxanne with Steve Martin) . However it was good to see such an old tradition continuing into the twenty first century.
We have also being suffering along with all other English speaking people in Europe with the UK referendum on membership in the European Union. I am very much in the Remain camp (as I feel more Euroepan than British and always have) but the Brexit (British exit) movement has been very strident and sometimes a bit duplicitous. There are a number of subplot happening such as a silent bid by the former Mayor London, Boris, the jester, Johnson to unseat the current Prime Minister if the Brexit movement is successful (as he is the de facto leader of the leave campaign). It has pitted neighbours and friends against each other but is not really divided along income/class/ethnic lines. The Europeans are not impressed but they too must contend with different political movements that would leave the EU. I can see the UK suffering economically and psychically if the Brexit people are successful. It is a shame because like all governments and large organizations the EU is not perfect, but has kept Europe safe from conflict and people have prospered.
The message I am getting from these movements is that people believe their governments are not listening, and for that I have some sympathy. I am very proud of being Canadian at the moment, because we, at last, have a Federal government that is listening although we may not agree with everything the Liberals may do. Decisions are about trade offs as Justin Trudeau puts it. And other people are watching from outside Canada. (Rant over)
After 10 days of feeling sorry for ourselves we had to buck up and get going because we had people to meet and places to go. We left Nevers and Scarlet (our little red car) and set out for Chalon sur Soanne on a wet murky Saturday morning, cruising through familiar territory to Decize, where we had spent some time last summer. This was a short stop as we had 8 days to get 200kms and 83 locks, most of which were manned by the VNF.
Manual locks are fine except you must account for the lunch . All the manual locks are closed between noon and 1:00pm. Being lazy bones we usually are not leaving a port until 10:00 am which means we have to stop for a while somewhere while the lock-keepers are having lunch. We even had lock keepers for the automatic locks as the VNF follow our progress along the canals. No escape from these overseers, whose presence I find quite comforting.
We tootled along the canal for a couple of days passing by the entrance to the Digion/ Roanne canal where our friends, Mary and Marc, have their boat Nooit Markt.
They take paying guests and spend most of their time in France around this area. We cruised through Digon and after a long day arrived in Paray de Monial . Mary and Marc had told us this was a lovely place but their description did not really capture the beauty of the place. Paray is a centre of international Catholic pilgrimage. Pilgrims worshiping the Sacred Heart of Jesus have been visiting this place since about 1480. It feels peaceful and calm – the Basilica is also very quite and serene. We did not spend more than a evening and morning wondering the street of Paray, the town was neat and very clean, with some very interesting Renaissance buildings, lovingly restore and modernized.
We cruised further down the canal du Lateral du Loire to Genelard through automatic locks but followed by a lock keeper. Genelard was a lovely tiny port with a dark history as it was the border post between Nazi occupied France and Vichy France from 1940 – 1944. There is a small museum that shows some of the French heros of World War II who smuggled people across out of danger to Vichy France.
We also met a lovely American couple who had a boat that was exactly the same as Skookum – a 12.5 Altena. Martin introduced himself to them by asking what they were doing on our boat. Deerstra however was a factory finished boat so all the inside finishing, cupboards and fittings were very high quality compared to Skookum, but they did not have a washing machine like ours!
We also met an English couple on a new barge called Sheigra Bay. Donald and Helen had spent 5 years cruising in this area therefore offered us an number of tips. We were still rising up the Loire Valley and reached the top of the watershed between the Loire system and the Soanne system at Montchanin .We looked out across Burgundy and the Soanne valley and started our descent through some very big five metre locks.
Watershed between the Loire ( Atlantic Ocean) and the Rhone (Mediterranean) river systems
We met Sheigra Bay again at our next stop – a very sweet village called St Berain sur Dhuene. There was no electricity at this place so we had to be very judicious with our power consumption.
Our next stop was also a Halte Fluvial without power, in a very lovely small wine town called le bas Santenay i.e. Wine caves everywhere where we also ran out of a propane (which another little drama as we no electricity and no gas) so we went out for dinner in a lovely restaurant where I had snails and coc a vin.
Our journey on the Canal du Centre ended for the moment in Chagny – a well connected market town in the centre of Burgundy, where we connected to the grid and bought propane. We had 11 more locks to travel before we reached Chalon Sur Soanne so decided to stay, power up and spend some time with our friend Kalavati.
Kalavati is a transplanted Canadian who now lives in India and is a devotee of the hugging guru Amma. She had just finished the Compostala – Camino de Santiago – walking 700kms across northern Spain following the Pilgrims Path. Kalavati had come from Spain to Chagny by bus and lost her backpack when changing buses somewhere in northern Spain. She is a very spiritual person and therefore seemed very optimistic and at the same time accepting about her pack and its probable return. However, we also had a problem as we needed to pick up our car and drive to Germany as Martin was going on to Austria to make a presentation at a conference in a couple of days. But more about that story on the next blog……………….