Thursday, May 12, 2011

France - first 2 weeks!

Salut à tous

Nous avons arriver au France! And the adventure continues.... 

We arrived in Charleville Mézierès in good time to pick up a few groceries as the next day was May 1st – France’s version of Labour Day where everything is closed tighter than a drum. We grabbed a cab and were driven to the boatyard. So far so good. Oops – Sharlene you idiot, you left your purse in the taxi!!! Not only did it have both passports, my credit cards and all our Euro dollars but we failed to notice the name of the cab company. Merde, merde, merde!!!! The young lady in the boatyard office began calling all the cabs in the yellow pages and luckily we made contact with our taxi driver and he quickly returned with my purse. A 30 euro cab fare became a 50 euro fare, but merçi beaucoup, I had my purse back. As you can imagine Phil now watches me like a hawk – it’s going to be a long summer!

More bad news – for whatever reason (as I had emailed Cedric with the date of our arrival), Calypso was not in the water and as mentioned nothing will happen now until after the May 1st holiday. More merde! That means I have to climb a 6 foot ladder to get on and off the boat which isn’t too bad in and of itself but it means no toilet or shower! Seriously sucks! Tinkling in a bucket in the middle of the night is hardly glamorous but necessary. No way was I going down that ladder when half asleep.

We stayed in Pont à Bar for several days getting unpacked, organized and cleaning the boat after the winter storage. A British couple, Fergie and Audrey Hewer, whom we had met last year were there and very kindly drove us around to the shops so we could re-provision. By the Thursday we were ready to set off – finally we were to get underway. Well almost.... Phil had noticed that the bow thruster wasn’t working very well and I said that the toilet wasn’t flushing as well as it did last year. Phil and Cedric looked the boat over and discovered that one of the batteries was quite low. Cedric drove into Sedan to get a new one, quickly installed it and we left in glorious sunshine – surely a good sign!

 Almost in the water!

We had the canal to ourselves, if you didn’t count the herons and a million song birds serenading us as we cruised along at a wicked (NOT) 6 km per hour. We made it to Le Chesne our stop for the night. We got to bed early to prepare for a busy day ahead – a series of 27 locks that drops us over 300 metres over about 10 kms. We did really well helped along by the fact that we were going downstream so each lock we entered was already set and all we had to do was drive in, set the ropes, pull the activation pole and hang on as the water emptied from the lock. Seriously, we now have this nailed!! 

 Leaving Pont a Bar

 And we're off - down the Canal des Ardennes

Our first tunnel of 2011

Merde encore! In between lock 18 and 19 the engine alarm began to scream in a very urgent high pitch. Phil quickly shut the motor off and began looking for the cause. All systems looked normal. Afraid to do serious damage to the motor if we started it up again, we called Cedric and he said he’d be there about 5:00PM.  He and a helper showed up, checked all the usual suspects and found nothing. His best guess was that a plastic bag may have been caught in the water intake which is vital for cooling the engine (Jeez, you’d almost think I knew what I was talking about!) and that once we’d stopped the bag probably dropped off into the canal again. Have I told you how dirty the canals are? They are a minefield of floating rubbish - not at all like the clean canals of Holland. It was now too late to continue the next 10 locks in the series so we stayed put until the next morning.

 Le Chesne at sunset

We continued on our way and arrived in Rethel on Saturday where we stayed for 2 nights to recuperate from all the excitement! There were 2 other British couples – Colin and Linda, Chris and Paula who live on beautiful barges – so we had some lovely company and splurged by going out to dinner twice. The first was planned, the second occurred as a result of drinking too much wine before supper and not being sober enough to cook! We were sorry to leave such nice company. But we have a schedule and as Jamie says – “gotta make time!” 

The next 2 days went really well if you don’t include finding no place to eat lunch at the 2 villages we stopped at and the fact that a miserable sodding barge (we hates barges we do) drove us up onto the rocky sides of the canal and left a big scratch down the side of the boat. Merde is my new favourite word! Poor little Calypso – more paint to be added to her other bruises. After that adventure Phil and I decided that we would stop being so ‘Canadian’ (aka nice) and not give them so much room from now on. We’ll take our allotted space and to hell with them – they can move over. The canals may be narrow in spots but if everyone is considerate there is enough room for 2 boats to pass regardless of their size.

We are now in Reims for 3 nights – it is a lovely city with some great buildings. It was once as important a city as Paris and the cathedral of Saint Rémi is outstanding. The stained glass windows are superb including one designed by Marc Chagall.
It's all about the food!

Phil and I both got haircuts, the laundry is done and the larder is full. We are ready to head to Paris but not before going through a 2 kilometre (!!!!) tunnel. More adventures likely to follow!

Much love to all – Captain Phil and the Ropemanperson

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