Spring 2012 – Week6 Recap (he said)26 Jun 2012
Lots happened this week — adventures in the wilds of France, reunions with friends and a lot of biking to villages both officially beautiful and unofficially beautiful. Let’s just say it was a full, rich week, including our writing an outline plot to a new horror film, “Breadless in Burgundy”.
This week, une catastrophe (a catastrophy)! We left civilization (the outskirts of Dijon) Sunday, and headed west towards deepest, rural France. There were only a couple towns with boulangerie over the next 4-5 days, and the first opportunity for bread acquisition occurred on a Sunday evening. Traditionally, boulangerie close Sunday noon and don’t reopen until Tuesday morning. So, strike one. Then, Tuesday afternoon, we arrived at the second boulangerie, to discover that they’re normally open Tuesdays (good news), but that this week is their annual vacation (la catastrophe).
Fortunately, the Mariner’s Law of the Sea, requiring that one vessel give assistance to another in distress, apparently also extends to crises involving baked goods. Monday we were parked near a big hotel barge, Après Tout (After All), and were chatting with the captain, lamenting the lack of bakeries in this stretch of canal, when he said “just a minute,” disappeared below, and returned with half a fresh baguette. Because these big tourist boats travel with their own supply-and-guest-touring vans, they are able to procure twice-a-day fresh baguettes. So thank you, Captain Ross of Après Tout, you definitely helped preserve culinary sanity on our little vessel!
Before leaving civilization Sunday, Marianne and Jean-Pierre (from last week’s Saturday picnic and driving tour) stopped by our boat to drop off a partial bottle of Genépi, a liqueur made only in the Haute-Savoie (French Alps). We became fans years ago on a ski vacation with the Minister of Leisure, and have been searching for it ever since. During our picnic, we mentioned to Marianne that we have been unsuccessful in our quest to find Genépi (similar to Chartreuse, but much smoother and more flavorful). Now, here they were giving us some from their house! Wow! After lunch we set off to the west, spening the night in Fleury-sur-Ouche, a pretty town with only marginal moorings.
Once we settled in Fleury, we cycled a few km back to Velars-sur-Ouche, then walked the steep paved and then dirt roads up to the big statue/chapel/monument on the hill, Notre Dame, a fun, if steep, excursion. This hill doubles as a major delta (hang glider) and parapente (paraglider) launch spot, and there were probably eight or ten fliers lined up for their turn on the launch pad, along with twenty or so spectators. The view looks east, and in the distance we could see Dijon. Heather cooked up the marinated veal we discovered Saturday morning at the big Dijon market, a delicious dinner after our 15km and 300 vertical meter bike ride and hike.
Monday we entered some of the most beautiful sections of canal we’ve seen in France, and with close to 1,500 kilometers traveled over the past couple years, we can say that with at least the appearance of authority. The scenery is straight out of the foothills of the Appalachians; hills, valleys, forests, fields, tiny villages – absolutely gorgeous. Just. No. Boulangerie. Monday night we parked in Gissey-sur-Ouche, a pretty village that boasted a 13th century bridge, still in use.
Tuesday morning we biked back a few km to lock 34, which has a nice restaurant and gift shop, along with a new mooring area still under construction. Hoping to stop for lunch, we confirmed yet again that much of France is usually closed, as the restaurant was, yes, fermé Mardi (closed Tuesdays). So we biked back to the boat, made sandwiches on some pain industriel (factory bread) that will most assuredly not make our list of the best baguettes in France, then set out again in the company of a nice Swiss couple we had last seen parked next to us in Dijon. That evening we stopped at the twin villages of La Forge / La Bussière-sur-Ouche. We originally told the éclusiers (lock keepers) that we’d continue the following day at 10am, same time as the Swiss boat, but then decided we wanted to take a morning excursion up into the hills, so dropped into the VNF office to change our request to 1pm Wednesday.
Let’s just say we almost started an international incident! The woman in charge showed us a big white board with close to a dozen boat names (ours included) in a big column, along with departure times, lock numbers, éclusier names, etc., and said that they had to cover 10 boats over 19 locks with only six lock keepers and that they could not accommodate a 1pm departure. Fortunately, an older guy, clearly a longtime éclusier, said (in so many words), “pair up those two boats, then move Florence to this lock, and it will work.” The supervisor studied the board, huffed and puffed a little, did some scribbling, and then agreed that yes, we could leave at 1pm. Whew – who knew it was so complicated?! So a quick aside to any canal boaters reading this, you’ll be doing your lock keepers a big favor if you keep to your stated schedule, or at least let them know well in advance of any changes.
Wednesday we woke up to overcast & clouds, but the rain was holding off just to our south. We rode (actually mostly walked) our bikes 2.5km up the very steep hill to a beautiful overlook near the tiny village of St-Jean-de-Boeuf, then did a 5km coast back down the hill to Barbirey-sur-Ouche, which we had passed yesterday on the boat. We made it back to the boat in time for a hot soup lunch (still no baguettes), then continued south-west to the port of Pont-d’Ouche. The Englishwoman running the place is very wise and knows her audience; the first thing she asked us once we got tied up is, “might you be in need of a baguette?” The English are so very civilized, even when they’ve lived in France for 20 years!
Thursday morning we did a little computer work, then set off north (after acquiring another baguette from the port captain). Climbing towards the summit of the Canal de Bourgogne, we spied a splendid castle on the hill in the distance. From our tour last Saturday with Marianne and Jean-Pierre, we knew we were looking at Châteauneuf, on the official list of the most beautiful villages in France. At each of the next seven locks I’d grab the camera and burn through another dozen photos of this amazingly picturesque hilltop village.
And then, as we pulled into Vandenesse-en-Auxois, we spied a big, black iron hull with white and blue trim, which meant only one thing; Tom and Lou of the converted 1906 barge Herkelina were in town! We had barely finished tying off to the quai when they rode up on their bikes. We met Tom and Lou last autumn in Montargis on the Canal de Briare. It was a classic “floating village” reunion; they are traveling south on the Burgundy Canal, we’re heading north, so we exchanged notes on what to see and where to shop. They are really fun to hang out with; the éclusier stopped by and asked “ça va bien?” (things going well?) and Tom replied, “Non, en fait, notre bateau coule” (no, actually, our boat is sinking), all while acting very nonchalant. Just love the English sense of humor.
Herkelina’s prop shaft sprung a leak last week, and the person who did the conversion from cargo barge to liveaboard several decades ago had just poured cement around the prop shaft instead of properly welding everything into place. And over time things rusted (cement is corrosive to steel), so Tom has spent the past week alternately driving the boat and carrying buckets of water up and over the side. Fortunately, Herkelina is about 23 meters (75 feet) long and weighs 65 tons, so she’ll take a while to actually sink. He didn’t seem too put out by the whole situation, but he sure gave the éclusier a start!
Friday morning we jumped on the bikes and rode (ok, walked) up the steep hill to the Châteauneuf village. While it’s absolutely beautiful, the official “beautiful villages of France” designation is also a death sentence to these small villages. According to our French friends in Dijon, the sequence is as follows: a village gets put on the “beautiful villages” list; lots of tourists show up; the boulanger, boucher, and épicier discover that it’s more lucrative to sell souvenirs and overpriced coffee and ice cream than bake bread, sell meat, or run a small grocery store. Meanwhile, visitors want to buy vacation homes in these beautiful towns, so they bid up the property values. After a few years, the full-time residents have left (because there are no longer any bakers, butchers or grocers), and the housing values have jumped, making it lucrative to sell. So you end up with a village of mostly empty vacation homes, only a handful of permanent residents, and no services; the secondary effects of good intentions.
Friday evening we hosted Tom and Lou and their friend John (as a former submariner for the Swedish navy he was well-equipped to help carry buckets of water while Tom drove the slowly sinking Herkelina) for a happy hour on Après Ski. This was only the second time that five people have all fit onto the top deck of our boat, and it took a lot of ingenuity and creative seating adjustments to make it all happen. It’s a shame we’re all headed in opposite directions, we just adore our time with the Herkelina gang.
Saturday it was time for the big 3.3km tunnel. We went up the last 8 locks of the Burgundy Canal’s southern section to the summit pound at Pouilly-en-Auxois; from here it’s 113 locks downhill all the way to Migennes two weeks from now. The tunnel is very safe but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a little weird to be driving a boat deep underground in a passage constructed 180 years ago. The brickwork has little stalactites dropping from many of the seams and the air in the center of the tunnel was quite foggy. Strangely, the overhead lights only worked in the first half of the tunnel! Passing out of the lit part, the end of the tunnel was still over a mile away and barely visible. We turned on all our interior lights as well as a handheld spotlight. Everything was fine, but definitely a bit spooky.
Saturday evening we hosted Marianne and Jean-Pierre on Après Ski for a home-cooked meal. Nominally, we hosted our friends from Dijon, but they arrived with a small arsenal of food, dishes and cooking utensils. We enjoyed a lovely aperitif of Champagne on the deck of the boat, watching the evening sky slowly turn colors. Heather served her salmon-and-goat-cheese pasta, but the real star off the evening was Jean-Pierre’s café gourmand.
Jean-Pierre happens to be a professional cook — that’s right, Heather made dinner for a real French chef! He has studied all the cooking disciplines, the production of food and different items around France, and having grown up in a Boulangerie has incredible knowledge about bread and baking. Café gourmand is a selection of very tiny desserts, giving you the opportunity to try several diffent things. Jean-Pierre made pistachio crème brûlée (he brought his own torch), chocolate mouse, petit pastries with freshly-picked currants, almond cookies and fruit salad. We finished off the evening with delicious Rooibos tea. We really enjoyed our evening, so delighted to see our friends from Dijon again!
Spring 2012 Week 6 Numbers:
- Kilometers: 52
- Locks: 49
- Engine Hours: 16
- Cost of Moorings: 6.80 euros
Spring 2012 Total Numbers:
- Kilometers: 554
- Locks: 201
- Engine Hours: 109
- Cost of Moorings: 163.60 euros