Apart from Mick Jagger singing ‘Emotional Rescue’ in my head, my constant companion throughout our recent river experience was a new book ‘Slow Boat to Paris ‘ by my friend and fellow traveler Mary Koyl. The story is relates Mary and Marc’s experience on their 20 meter barge Nooit Volmaakt. It is a tale of adventure, food, characters, challenges and the mechanics involved owning a barge in France. It was a great support as I felt that I was no longer alone in my tale of woe, as my friend of many years (Mary and I have known each other since 1981) lived though similar experiences and survived. To me, this meant I too would survive. ‘Slow Boat to Paris’ is a great read as she expresses, more eloquently than I, the many joys, delights, sorrows, costs and ambushes of owning and using a canal boat in France.
Given we were in the boat yard on Thursday afternoon, and the French are the inventors of the thirty hour week we had very little hope than anything would happen before Monday. We had asked the owner of the repair company to get us an estimate and schedule for repairs in the hope we could continue our journey. As it turned out, Bruno of Valence Meconautic was his own man, who worked at his own pace (slow). We thought it would be best to leave town instead of living for a couple of days at 30C in the boat on the hard as this was no fun.
So we looked at the map and headed out to Annecy in the Alps. Who knew about Annecy? Obviously a lot of people including my mum who said it had a great reputation as a picturesque tourist resort/destination and was a great place for just enjoying the French Alps.
Annecy was about two hours drive, close to the Swiss border (near to Geneva). We could feel the temperatures go down a little as we ascended into the mountains. We found a motel style hotel residence on the edge of the downtown area (about 25 minutes walk from the Lac Annecy).
It was similar to hotel model we had seen in Dunkirk, largish room, basic bed, small kitchen (two electric burners, microwave, fridge and sink plus plates etc), TV, desk and small table with chairs. It served us well as it took dogs and we could make breakfast and feed Kerry. It was located in a new development which was complete contrast to the ancient downtown area.
It was still quite warm 26C, the first weekend in September and the town was packed with tourists. It was quite delightful – a system of small canals off the lake created a lovely environment and earned Annecy the moniker ‘Venice of the Alps’. It is a large city of 120,000 and a regional centre.
The centre of the city is a medieval, narrow streets full of ancient houses, churches, restaurants and stores. We wandered the streets and enjoyed the ambience of a busy tourist city in the middle of the surrounding Alps.
Our second day – again quite warm, prompted a two hour boat trip on Lac Annecy. It was nice to be on the water – Martin thought it was very funny when I told him I had propeller envy of the tourist boat.
The lake is about 15km long and 3km wide, surrounded by mountains and is circumnavigated by a road dotted with resort villages,. Our boat trip took a couple of hours. It was a lovely sunny afternoon on the boat.
Our return from Annecy was via Lyon St Exupery Airport as I was booked onto a ‘ Flybe’ Flight to Gatwick England leaving Monday afternoon. Martin dropped me and I went to check in. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, there were a few people waiting to check in, as the ‘ Flybe ‘ App was not working on my Ipad.
Then there was a sign on the bulletin board –‘ the airport was closed as there was a security incident’. The passengers had no idea what was going on, there were lots of police and firemen around the airport but no-one was giving out information. After a couple of hours wait I thought it was time for a coffee and a bite to eat. The restaurants ran out of food, so I went to the store and bought a sandwich etc and waited again. Everyone in the airport was on the phone – I had no functional phone but I could access the WIFI so spent some time calling Martin.
Red Alert at Lyon airport
I spoke to a couple of Brits trying to get home on the same flight. We were in the middle of a ‘terrorist’ incident – they happen frequently in France and go largely unreported as French authorities do not want encourage this behaviour with notoriety. Apparently some guy in a fast Mercedes car had crashed through some glass doors, driven the wrong way down the highway then through the barriers on to the runway at Lyon airport. He was chased by the police, shots were fired, so he abandoned the car then ran away. I believe was caught by the police. The guy may have thought himself to be James Bond or someone of that ilk with this high speed chase. All it did for me was to create a problem, as all the UK flights out of Lyon were cancelled that day. The incident on September 10 (maybe the date had some bearing on his behaviour) was given a short paragraph in the Guardian – but we have heard nothing since.
About three hours into this wait and I decided to try the train station. There is a TGV station at St Exupery) to find out if I could get back to Valence or even take the train to the UK. I was visiting my mum for this last time this summer and was concerned that I would not see her again until spring 2019 if I did not make it to the UK for at least a few days. Part of our reasons for living in France during the summer allows me to visit my 91 year old mother more easily and frequently than I can from Victoria.
I was in luck – there was a train leaving downtown Lyon in about 90 minutes from my decision to take the train. I took the tram into Part Dieu train station in Lyon – 30 minutes and €16.20 later arrived to catch the Eurostar to London. Another stroke of luck was that this train went from Lyon to Lille where we did passport control and avoided Paris. The cost was €108 Lyon to London arriving at 22:15. But my luck went missing again as the train was 35 minutes late. The late arrival in London meant I could not get a train to Peterborough and I certainly could not ask my cousin to pick me up at the station at midnight – it was far too late.
I contacted my dear friend Abigail who lives in St Albans and asked for a bed for the night. St Albans is on the same line as St Pancreas International so I was able to catch a train without leaving the station. I arrived at Abigail’s around 23:45 – exhausted but glad to be there. I immediately booked a train to Peterborough on the next day and emailed my cousin to meet me. Off again early the next morning, but my visit gave Abigail and I time for a catch up chat and a couple of whiskeys (she is a whiskey afficianado) before crashing out around 1:30 am.
I got to my mothers by lunch time the next day and started the process of getting my money back from Flybe airline and some compensation for my trouble. Needless to say the airline flatly refused to take any responsibility and referred me to the operators of the flight Stobart Air. I am also dealing with travel agents ‘ E –dreams’ who charged a whooping 26% for booking my flight on ‘Fly by Night’ airlines. So this is another mess I am sorting out over the internet.
In the meantime poor Martin caught a nasty cold that laid him flat so he and Kerry drove to his sisters in Aigues Mortes, instead of suffering in the boatyard. Suffering in the boatyard was a real thing, as the guy with a sailboat rebuild beside us is sand blasting and creating all kinds of awful silicon dust in the air that coated everything. If he wasn’t sandblasting then he is painting generating noxious paint fumes. According to other neighbours (who also complained) the regulations regarding the fumes and dust are not enforced in the boatyard.
Martin stayed with Carol for a few days while I was in the UK visiting with my mother. My cousin Paul from New Zealand also arrived at my mothers home. I related our tale of woe and was concerned as Paul and his partner had booked a train to Dijon and planned to join us for a few days on the boat. We talked and he agreed to join us but understood we were in the boatyard. I spent a few sunny days with my mum, she is slowing up, but was excited as she off to Scotland for a few days in late September.
I returned to France without incident on Easyjet. Martin met me at the airport. We decided not to stay in the boatyard and booked into a motel-style hotel in Valence for the next week. It allowed us to work on the boat and leave the boatyard behind. During that week we learned that Valence Meconautic had not even sent the parts to Cannes, where the prop-shaft was being made, to have the machine work done. They waited until mid week to even give us an estimate on the cost. Once the shaft is made and shipped to the boat yard it would only take a few hours to put in. This made it clear to us that we would not be in the water before we left for Canada and we would need to manage on the boat for another week or so.
My cousin Paul and his partner Emiko arrived a couple of days later than planned in Valence and we all managed on the boat. There are no toilet facilities on the boat or in the boat yard so that made life much more complicated.
We did manage a day out up to the mountains to a lovely place called Pont du Royons, and Paul took Emiko out for another drive to some of the surrounding villages.
Pont du Royons
Our last evening was spent on the west bank of the Rhone at Chateau du Crussol, where a walk and lovely French dinner was our farewell. I did feel sorry for Emiko as this trip from New Zealand to the boat had been planned for my months and we were all disappointed. But such is the unpredictability of boat life.
We are preparing to leave Skookum in the boat yard in the knowledge she is still broken and in the hope that Valence Mecoanutic will fix her soon. The ‘not-to-be-hurried’ Bruno (the mechanic) has assured Martin that the repair will be done once the prop-shaft arrives (he says the week after we have left – I have my doubts, but it does not matter). It has been a very difficult four weeks living in the boatyard and I not yet convinced that everything will turn out fine. There is, however, nothing more we can do at the moment. We could not waste our homeward bound tickets and try to find a new date for our return to Canada, as any date may also fall short of the actual date that Skookum is fixed.
So we are on our way home on October 3rd, our boat will remain on the hard for the winter and we will return to Valence in March to put Skookum back in the water and get her ready for sale. This will be a short trip as we cannot actually move Skookum north to Burgundy until next July/August, when we can safely travel upstream against the current on the mighty Rhone. She may be sold over the spring as she is a tough, well equipped, well maintained boat at a reasonable price in an ideal location for anyone interested in living in the south of France. So you never know………..
In the meantime we are looking forward to seeing friends and family and spending a relaxed winter in our home in Victoria. Thanks to all the blog readers for sticking with me on the tale of woe this year, your support has been truly important to me. Most of all thanks to my darling husband Martin whose cool head and calm demeanor have seen us through this mess. I know it has been difficult for him, but he kept his sense of humour and direction throughout these trying times.
This whole episode in our life on Skookum will be a great story in years to come, and be fondly recounted with smiles and jokes, while the sting of reality will be a distant memory like many of the bug bites we have had in our lives.