Visitors and visiting – welcoming friends and family

Kalavati arrived by train on Sunday and Monday Martin went back to Nevers to pick up our car Scarlett. The Sunday trains seemed fine but Monday held the threat of strikes and a work-to-rule by the train employees that was both annoying and frustrating (but I guess that is the idea of industrial action – to get your attention)

chagny willows

Willow trees in Chagny

Kalavati is a petite but very strong 69 year old woman who I have known for 25 years. She has done all sorts in her life following a variety of spiritual paths that have lead her to Amma (the hugging guru and leader of an Ashram in southern India) and her relocation to India. She has family in Canada and had decided it was time to go home for a while and see her family (grandchildren etc) and friends.

It seemed only logical, as she was so close, that she returns to Canada from Spain via France (and us). She had visited us in 2012 on her way out to Kerala and was already a seasoned boater. Trouble was that she arrived a week to 10 days later than I anticipated. We were preparing to leave for our friends in Germany, and Martin was continuing on by train to Linz Austria where he was a keynote speaker at a conference on mediation

My dear hospitable friends welcomed Kalavati to their home and we all set off for Germany in Scarlett. It only took 3 hours to get to Brigitte’s house through the rain. Temperatures had cooled down. The next day Martin set off for Linz Austria where he was giving a paper on mediation in Canada and his own version of ‘ journey to empathy’. It was a long train trip, he stayed in a nice hotel and attended the conference with his own translator. As the keynote speaker he took the floor in first thing in the morning and wowed the crowd. It all went well and you can sample his work http://www.worldmediation.org/journey-to-empathy.pdf

we 3

Meanwhile Kalavati and I went exploring. She had never been to Germany before and was amazed at the high tech nature of the place. After living in an Ashram for the last four years and walking across northern Spain for 42 days, staying in a house with gadgetry was very novel.

Kalavati in Freiburg

I took her to Freiburg where we did some shopping and had a walk around the city centre. It was quite miserable so we did not linger. The next day I tried to take Kalavati for a walk in the forest – got a bit lost so Kerry, Kalavati and I returned to Brigitte’s covered in mud and a bit soggy. Needless to say Kerry was the muddiest. But Brigitte was quite busy with life while we were there, but was fun to hang out and have some girl time. Jana and Laura (Brigitte’s daughter and granddaughter ) also came to visit – Laura is a very bright four and a half year old. Martin returned from his successful trip to Austria and we had a lovely Thai restaurant in Emmendingen.

We all drove back from Germany on a rainy Saturday, dropping into Ikea on the way back to France and Kalavati got ready to leave the following day for Canada and her family. Her backpack, by some miracle turned up on the boat when we got back to Chagny – it was brought by a kind woman she had met on the bus on their way from Spain to France.

She had a long journey with an overnight just outside the Charles De Gaulle airport. In the meantime we had to clean up the boat, do laundry and some grocery shopping as we had our second set of visitors arriving the next day.

Melanie, Martins daughter, and his granddaughter Ayja arrived in Chagny by train in the late afternoon. We had a wet and miserable day so we had dinner inside and planned our next moves. Ayja is training to be a sommelier so she really wanted to visit some wine caves and other emporiums. We spent the next morning walking around the town of Chagny so they could acclimatize and start to remember their French language, visit a supermarket and get over their jetlag.

mel and Ayja in Santenay

We took a short excursion back down the canal to Santenay. We had no locks to deal with, which was lucky as the lock-keepers were on strike that day as part of the national protests against the changes proposed by the Hollande government. We tried a couple of caves in this very ’wine’ village and bought a couple of very nice whites to sample on the way. The overnight in Santenay was without power but we managed a dinner as Melanie and Ayja settled in. They had brought some of their own entertainment – a flash drive with the new series of “Orange is the new Black”.

The next morning we headed east along Canal du Centre through 11 locks – many of them were 5 meters or more deep. Going down hill on a boat is much easier than going up – even a steep hill like the drop into the Saone river was very manageable. Melanie and Ayja soon got the hang of the locks and we stopped for an overnight in a tiny port called Fragney. Our last day on the canals also involved a major lock into the Saone. Luckily we were going downstream and joined the river as it flowed into our next port of call –Chalon sur Saone.

Joining the Saonne

The river had been closed a couple of weeks before, as it was two meters higher than when we entered it from the canal.

saone height.jpg

While we were on the canal and the earthquake that was the win by the Brexit forces in the referendum on the EU in the United Kingdom occurred. It was a personal blow as I really believe that the EU for all its faults and foibles is the best chance European nations have for a peaceful, prosperous and healthy life. However the English – and it was the English, frightened by racist rhetoric and nationalist fervor voted themselves an economic nuclear bomb and that was dropped by the world’s reaction to such a wrong headed decision.

This was followed by a resignation of the Prime Minister David Cameron, and Conservative Party backstabbing worthy of a Shakespeare play. On the other side of the House of Commons the Labour Party was in complete disarray, as its leader was voted out of office by 172 Labour MPs, and yet refused resign. Leaving a Constitutional free-for-all over the validity of the vote, the validity of the Labour leadership and concern that Brexiters had no plan and no clue as what to do next.

In the meantime the right-wing champion of Brexit Nigel Farage (or Fromage as I like to call him) who is a sitting Member of the European Parliament proceeded insult and taunt other MEPs with whom the British government must now negotiate. Talk about a lack of grace – but bully-boys are like that. The winning of the Brexit vote has caused violent attacks against anyone who these young, white, ignorant, failed men consider not to be ‘British’. It is not just the Eastern Europeans who are the recipients of this mob mentality but other groups including Muslims and Black people, who are easy visible targets for these detestable yobs.

Their anger is also reflected in the comments, whispers, rumours, hearsay and hateful talk of ordinary people who feel that ‘England’ has been overrun by non-English, benefit grasping migrants. To have conversations with normally pleasant people about the migrant workers is like listening to the hateful conversations about Jews in Germany during 1930’s, when they were scapegoated for the country’s problems.

Older Brits complaining about lack of service and opportunity in the NHS failed to compute the fact that this has been going on for five years (since 2011) just after the Conservatives first budget when they effectively cut funding to the NHS, education and welfare services. These cuts have gone to breaking point so the English (and it is mainly the English) have found a unsubstantiated scapegoat in migrants. Do they seriously think that things will improve now they have voted themselves out of the biggest economic market in the world?

But it is now down the politicians to sort out this monumental mess that they created through a total lack of political leadership. In the meantime they must deal with constitutional crises that have devalued Parliament and the Rule of Law. I also think English people (of all races) need to take a long hard look at themselves, because their attitudes and prejudices are fuelling the growing civil war of words in England. We all know that civil wars end in misery and pain for everyone on all sides for a long time and it is only conscious kindness and compromise can change that. (Rant over).

Hat people

Meanwhile back in sunny France where the wine flows and the people just shrug and get on with their own protests, we parked our boat in lovely marina tucked in behind an island in the Chalon sur Saone. Melanie and Ayja jumped on bikes and took the train north to explore the vineyards in the Grand Cru region of Burgundy between Beaune and Dijon. They spent several hours touring vineyards in 30C heat and very hot sun as they biked between the villages that are to the home to some of the world’s most delicious wines.

Martin and I tidied up the boat then also jumped on the train the Chagny where Scarlett (our car) was patiently waiting to picked up. We were caught up in a protest march that included a protest of the railways – some trains were delayed and some were not running. Ayja and Melanie also got caught by the strike so Martin had to pick them up once we had collected Scarlett. It was two and half hour journey to get them, the bikes, and the wine and return them for a very late dinner on the boat.


Strikes in France

Martin and I had a look around Chalon – a pleasant historic city (aren’t they all?) on the Saone. It was founded in 250 BCE developing as a major trading centre under the Roman. It was a supply depot for Julius Caesars conquering armies, and evolved a market town by the Middle Ages. By the nineteenth century and the opening of the Rhine/Rhone canal Chalon had developed a steel industry which fueled the economy until 1984.

Chalon market

Chalon Market in front of St Vincent church

Since then tourism has taken over as the major financial driver. Monasteries, Ursuline convents, and unusual houses are the main features in the old town. One museum in particular took my fancy, although we never went in, was Niepce museum. Nicephore Niece is reputedly the father of photography and a native of Chalon. We went to the market another vibrant part of French life and came back with bags full of veggies, flowers, spices and bread.

We took an excursion with Melanie and Ayja to the city of Beaune. This has been on my list since I saw a travel program (Rick Steeves) pointing out the beauty of this old town and its famous restored old hospital.

Beaune beds

Hospital beds at Beaune

The founder of this hospital for poor people was a 15th century philanthropist called Nicholas Rodin who together with his wife Guigon de Saluis established this free hospital service in 1442, the buildings were complete in 1452. The beautiful buildings (especially the roofs) continued to serve as a hospital until 1986. The 183 beds were closeted, in several rooms. Through the ages other benefactors supported the hospital including Louis XIV who apparently was concerned about the communal wards, so paid for extra space. The hospital was run by an order of nuns, the facilities included a huge interesting kitchen – presided over by St Martha ( think about Martha Stewart if that is her real name) , a herb garden and apothecary, two large chapels and water well in the middle of the court yard. Most of the hospital services were funded by the large grape growing and wine enterprise (including an annual auction) and local farms owned by the Hospice de Beaune.

beaune roof

Hospice at Beaune

Our last day in the port of Chalon sur Saone was devoted to another excursion. Martin and I took a drive to St Jean de Losne, the major pleasure boat centre in France. Funny little town that has found its niche at the centre of several canal systems. Martin had been before, and was familiar with the port. The major boat sales company in France is called H2O, we had heard stories and had our own difficulties with this company but it is the biggest game in town. so we strolled into the sales office and talked to one of the salesmen about selling Skookum. He spoke excellent English and told us that they were always looking for boats to sell, sold about 85 boats per year (the whole boating community is less than 4000) and charged just under 10% commission including VAT (GST) tax (20% in France). The salesman was very good – giving us fair warning that he was a salesman and we should always remember that!


In the meantime we had dropped Melanie and Ayja off at the Cassisium (a museum devoted to everything black currant – jam, cosmetics and of course Cassis) in Nuit St George. They also manage to get in a bit of wine tasting before we all met in the late afternoon to travel back to the boat. On the way we took pilgrimage to a small wine producing village that apparently produced the most expensive wines in the world at $26,000 per bottle. There was lots of history and intrigue around these few fields at Romanee-Conte so check it out on Wikkipedia.

romanee conte

Ayja at Romanee Conte

Mel and Ayja also took on food prep, and we all enjoyed some delicious meals and Ayja’s wine picks. She was in ‘seventh heaven’ tasting many of the wines she had researched, and then some.

wine promo


We left Chalon (and Scarlett) and cruised down the Saone for the day arriving for the night in Tournus. This small town was another Roman settlement the developed into an ecclesiastical centre, with two monasteries dominating the town. The relics of St Valerian and St Philibert are housed in the lovely 12th century church, which forms part of the monastic building complex. The narrow streets and church buildings allowed us to walk back in time a thousand years and see the architecture of another epoch.

Tournus 1


Tournus 3


We moved on to the modern and larger city of Macon. The modern marina was a little out of town so we got bikes and rode into the nearest wine cave to sample Macon wines. Mel and Ayja had these really cool bikes that were included in the marina charge so we looked like quite the convoy riding around with our panniers full of wine.

Macon bikes

Cool bikes in Macon

Weatherwise we were enjoying some very pleasant sunny warm days but the nights brought rain thunderstorms and lightning. We had quite the display of natural pyrotechnics our last night Chalon and the other towns along with river.

The river was running at about 5kms, which helped us move swiftly down stream to Villefranche sur Saone where we spent a quiet night. Mel and Ayja took our bikes and went into town but Martin and I stayed on the boat to tidy up and prepare dinner. They missed the wine tasting so came back to Skookum where we did some of our own. Our last day on the Saone took us through a river lock – only 4 meters – we had more to come after Lyon.

The river was canalized in places, which made for a straight run, otherwise we followed the meanders through relatively flat areas. As we cruised closer to Lyon the suburbs on the sides of the river became the dominant features. Starting about 22 kms before we reached the city, we saw more housing, architectural features, roads and river traffic. We were entering the big city (greater Lyon is about 2.2 million people), it had numerous quays and barges along the Saone. We headed into our port called La Confluence, which, as you might expect ,was the confluence of the Saone and Rhone rivers. We stopped in the pleasant small modern marina for our last few days with Mel and Ayja.

3 in Macon

More about Lyon in the next blog because you probably need to rest your eyes now!




3 comments on “Visitors and visiting – welcoming friends and family

  1. Sounds like a fabulous trip. Your account is brilliant!

  2. I loved the hospital in Beaune. Such fascinating history.

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