Thursday, August 21, 2014

More Canola
Vitry-le-François to Revigny-sur-Ornain

Vitry-le-François is a place that breeds pleasant memories for us, fond ones even, so it was with a little reluctance we sailed out quite early this morning no doubt impressing John and Elaine with the early rising and punctuality that have made us legends on the French waterways.

If we had been travelling in company with Al and Sunny today as we were on the last occasion we sailed this route, (Is it really only three years?) it would have taken three days to get to where we are tonight, probably four and we would have been doing everything in our power to slow them down further, to make sure they took time to smell the canola, or the daffodils or whatever the heck those yellow flowers were.  

But we aren’t, and without Al to share his vast knowledge, we blundered on in ignorance through fields of corn and sunflowers, past gardens with yellow things growing that might be dandelions for all we know.  But we don’t because in averaging almost four kilometres per hour today, and travelling without ceasing, except perhaps for a time that may well have coincided with lunch o'clock, we didn’t have time to smell ‘em.   

Rest assured this is a temporary state of being.  It’s a one day wonder.  

To save unnecessary wear and tear on our guests, normal transmission will resume tomorrow. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bienvenue sur le spectacle de la douleur

Never make a joke in someone else’s language.  

Should you choose to ignore this advice, make sure that your large and looming figure cannot be construed to be blocking the doorway to your shop in a threatening, dare I say dominating manner. 

It is just possible that the customers of this bakery do not understand the words “welcome” “to” “the” and “show” in English, but thankfully it is probable that they do understand that the word “pain” in fact is French for “bread”.

The good Captain, well on the way to recovery from her little slip of a few weeks ago has probably, not to put too fine a point on it, overdone things in the last day or two, and was walking slowly if not quite gingerly by the time we met John and Elaine at the station this afternoon.   The other of us, having likewise travelled a kilometre or ten too far today was feeling his knees a little more than he’d prefer.

John and Elaine, fit and ready for yet another feat of overland walking endurance, were not so constrained.  Or weren't until John, deciding to test that particular theory in physics which asserts that flying is the act of throwing oneself at the ground and missing…. failed to miss.   Propelled by his backpack and shouldered duffel bag, it was only the skin of his knuckles which turned a major faceplant into a lesser one.  He survived spectacularly with minor injuries that have left him looking not dissimilar to a half completed mummy, but will live to buy bread another day.

Welcome to the pain show.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Cold and rain are not words that we normally relate to sightseeing, and while in truth we didn’t really have any sights that needed seeing, rather than step outside the bounds of normality we declared today a day of housekeeping.

That’s all very well, except that “housekeeping” involves shopping, and refuelling and given that the shops are more than a kilometre away and the fuel even further but in the opposite direction, it also involves walking a very long way in the rain, and worse, walking a very long way home again laden with either food, drink or fuel.  Three trips to three supermarkets and a bakery take approximately six kilometres.

In the case of diesel, it’s seven trips with a twenty litre drum and fourteen kilometres travelled.

But the afternoon was perfect for lying around and reading.

And still they ask when we return to the Antipodes, how we retain our svelte forms despite the time we spend lying around and the volume of cheese and pastries we no doubt consume.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Revisiting yesterday

It seems we woke Ian as we were leaving yesterday, although I suspect given the stealth with which we departed he was probably already awake and sensibly lying in his bunk when he heard our muted and surely almost imperceptible departure rattles.   He was awake enough to leap out of his bunk and take this photo, which I think goes a long way to confirming all that I may have written yesterday, (right down to the fairy eye-shadow, Michel!).

But that was yesterday and for now travelling through a landscape of Constable-esque inspiration is a thing of the past and for the future.  For now we are moored in the tiny boat basin in Vitry-le-François, in a pleasant, leafy suburban street within shouting distance of a shipyard.

It’s Sunday though so there is no shouting.  

Sundays in France follow a distinct pattern.  They start of quietly enough, there is no movement outdoors at all except perhaps for the occasional padding of someone almost apologetically walking a dog.  Somewhere in the morning a church bell rings, then rings again at midday or one, reminding the faithful and everyone else, that it’s lunch time.   

The streets then become truly deserted, and for the next four or five hours true silence descends, just as it did yesterday at our mooring after we had left.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ink Blots
La Chaussée-sur-Marne to Vitry-le-François

The inkblot test (also called the "Rorschach" test) is a method of psychological evaluation. Psychologists use this test in an attempt to examine the personality characteristics and emotional functioning of their patients.

In this picture for instance, I can see nothing but a clear blue sky beyond the mist.  The mist itself is a pastel blue, there’s the slightest glimpse of and gentle green in the shapes that will soon become trees, twinkling like the glitter sparkles in a fairly princess’ eye shadow.  I want to know what lies beyond that bend, on the other side of the tree.  

In my head I see a morning full of tranquility, the mist slowly burning off to reveal jewel-like reflections on the water, the colours of everything bright and fresh in the clear morning air.

The only thing missing are the ripples of a boat’s wake and the steady beat of a happy Perkins Marine Diesel in the background to complete the picture of a perfect cruising day.

It was almost eight when I took the photo, so we fired up Mr Perkins and headed off once more into the unknown, coffee in hand, even though the unknown isn’t entirely unknown as we’ve been this way before, just to see if the day would match the image.

It did. 

 I wonder what a psychologist would make of that.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Having a think.
Châlons-en-Champagne to La Chaussèe-sur-Marne

Technically today was a public holiday.

Given our particular kind of vagrancy, we are denied any benefit from public holidays anywhere in the world.  We have to just plug on stoically going about our business as though the day is just same as any other.  

Today wasn’t the same of course.  The thought was there, niggling away in the back of our heads, that given the already substantially vacant state of the town centre, on an overcast and possibly cold and damp public holiday there may not be a single living thing to observe in the town all day.

We therefore took the only sensible option, falling so easily back into our routine and moving on quite early into the grey of the morning. 

We are currently travelling on what is no longer, but was only a few years ago a busy commercial channel.  Bits of infrastructure bobbing out from the forest from time to time, much of it retired and spending it’s time sitting by the canal and staring into space wondering about public holidays no doubt.  As we glide past we wonder about its future.   

Will it fall to rack and ruin, prey to looters and squatters and vandals, blotting the landscape and eventually being overcome by rust and neglect.  Or will some benefactor appear as if from space and find a new life for the factories and silos, as we did for our boat and Mr Perkins himself.  

We were allowed to wonder, it was after just all another happy day in the office for us.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Never Lost.

Ian hadn’t brought a map.  

Actually he didn’t have a copy which was a reasonable excuse under the circumstances, although he may have had a point or two deducted had it been some sort of leadership test.  Eventually we found ourselves about eight kilometres along our intended fourteen kilometre bike trail in an outbound direction, with no turn in sight.  There wasn’t even a hint that there would be a turnoff now or at any time in the future, so once we had determined that finding the intended route was improbable, we decided to return the way we had come.

There is nothing wrong with being lost of course.  Apart from riding on the fake tourist train with the Johnny Hallyday fans it’s the best way of seeing things in an unfamiliar place which is precisely why we wandered off into the clearing skies of the afternoon with no particular destination in mind.

It’s a pretty place, we like it here, we like the parks and the back streets and the colours and the waterways and the little bridges and the poignancy of the memorial statue with the patriot tied to the execution stake staring defiantly at the (figurative) firing squad, ready to go calmly where he must, the a live pigeon standing equally as resolutely on his head, daring them to fire.

We'd like it so much we'd like to visit some of those things again next time we are here, but we have  almost no idea where we were.

We didn't take a map either. 

This little piggy went to market.

Wednesday is market day in Châlons, and there’s a splendid and somewhat ancient market building which probably had we not been there this morning, would have been bustling with farmers offering fresh produce to the throngs of customers flocking in from the surrounding neighbourhoods.   

We thought it prudent to allow a few hours for the crowds to thin a bit, so roused ourselves around nine, fortified ourselves with coffee before braving the chill and the rain and quietly so as not to wake the rest of the sleeping town, ambled through its streets.  Even at that late hour the market place and the building itself barely showed any signs of life.   Many of the vacant counters displayed simple apologies advising that the stall holders would be late this month, and may not actually be here at all next month either for that matter as they’d gone to visit someone in Australia or Africa or some other far flung and no less exotic continent.

Thankfully enough traders actually turned up to address our simple needs, so there is little chance of us contracting scurvy, at least on the next leg of the voyage.