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Late start to 2019 – Sillery to Vitry

(Skipper’s note: Loose plans for this year had seen us heading further north towards the Lille/Cambrai area for next winter. However with two of the three canal choices we had to get up there currently closed half way through, we decided to go Route Four – and turn south – About Face . . . . )

So eventually – after moving house, a full service and eight new solid solar panels on the roof (well done Skips) we are off, heading south on the Canal L’Aisne à La Marne – and within 10 minutes and under grey skies we met our first lock – my first for 8 ½ months!  Luckily I remembered what to do, and had good French instructions to aid me..

We had half a plan to go all the way to to Condé-sur-Marne that day, but after two hours, 3 locks, and the threat of an ‘orage’ (thunderstorm) with 98kph winds we decided to moor up on an old industrial wharf in a basin at Sept-Saulx.

The wharf edge was decorated by poppies, my favourite flower, so we took this to be a good omen and tied up. Sitting back and planning next steps it occurred to us that we did not have canal guides for the two canals we were aiming for, and it is not easy to have post delivered along the canal ….. however a call to Damien, the Capitaine we got to know so well during our 5 week sojourn at Chalons-en-Champagne last year, and somewhere we would be passing in two days time, resulted in agreement for the new guides to be delivered there.

Skipper’s aside: I have, for as long as I am still a European, furled my Red Duster and raised a defaced European Union flag – nailing my colours to the mast as it were.

I find this photo of Lesley’s poppies doubly poignant, being a symbol of the utter futility of the millions of young European lives destroyed in the First World War by the machinations of a small number of power crazed autocrats determined to reorganise obsolete frontiers for their own benefit.

At the time of writing, my simple flag is a big plea to my countryfolk not to put those frontiers back in place.

Clouds gathering at Sept-Saulx

 We managed a walk round the village before holing up as dark clouds gathered and sure enough it did begin to rain – big fat drops that splattered the calm surface of the canal. Later thunder lightning and a strong wind joined in as forecast, although not anywhere near 98kph.

Panels still looking good though . . . .

Waiting for the Billy Tunnel green light

The next day it was still raining so we hung on until about 10am before setting off to Condé– a trip of  only 14.5 kms, but including a 2.3km tunnel and 8 locks. 

The Billy tunnel is described in the Du Breil canal guide as ‘attractive‘ – an odd word for a tunnel. But it is in a lovely area with a delightful mooring place to wait your turn, and runs in a good straight line so that you can see light at both ends of the tunnel all through your journey. We waited for a full sized commercial barge to emerge before it was our turn.

Captain Stu also noticed this time (it was Calliope’s 3rdvoyage through) that the commercial barge leaving was hugging the towpath side. On closer inspection in the half light, the wooden rail just above the water line that we previously thought was a crash barrier turns out to be a rubbing rail, and if you allow yourself to get ‘sucked’ onto it (Stu’s words) you slide through ‘like a rocket slid on rails (Stu’s words).

Truly marvelous’, Stu

We ate lunch during the wonderfully simple ‘chained’ set of 8 locks down, ie the next one prepared and opened for us as we approached.  And at 2.30 we arrived and moored up at Condé-sur-Marne; day 2 of our 2019 odyssey successfully completed.

Moored at Conde-sur-Marne with lock number 8 behind us

“So far so good,” says Captain Stu.

While the Captain became galley slave I took myself off to find what the maps called an aqueduct. And this is what I discovered – a c19 way to take water from the river below up into the hills. The tower is/was a pumping house. I later met a school teacher from the village who told me that the water is for the canal, nit for agriculture as I first thought.

I returned to the French equivalent of sausage and mash with onion gravy – mmmmm – and a quiet evening aboard reading more of my latest Ian Rankin.

The only disturbance was watching another storm moving in and waiting for the heavy rain and thunder. Still, there’s nothing finer than been tucked up in the wheelhouse in a good old proper storm is there?

Next morning was far better – grey skies, but no rain – so we slipped the ropes and set off back down the Canal Lateral de la Marne towards Chalons en Champagne, our home for 5 weeks last Autumn and where we planned to collect our maps.

We were accompanied along the way by a casual stow away with an orange head.

As we came into Chalons we were amazed to see a tall tall crane above the cathedral, with a group of people seemingly clinging on at the top! I watched with a certain degree of shock, wondering what they were doing – maybe protesting about something, as the French often do. And then I saw them begin to slide down one at a time! They look like flies in these photos, but zoom in!

It was only later when we had moored up that I discovered this was part of some elaborate preparations for a huge sound and light show occurring at the cathedral in two days time, sadly after we expected to have left Châlons.

The Furies festival, taking place in the park adjacent to the mooring

Ah well, Châlons still saw to it that we were entertained. We had managed to arrive one day onto the famous Furies festival. This is a 5 day free festival held mainly at outside venues around the city, with links (I think) to the Circus school here. It focuses on the bizarre and surreal, a mixture of street theatre, circus and music.

Stewart and I had an early evening wander round, and I found plenty to intrigue; their festival currency of ‘the furie’, the airstream crepe cafe, the music of Babil Sabir 2 (google them!), the strange play illustrating the aftermath of a car crash, and the very unusual tightrope strip and sex-act-on-the-wire show (luckily rather blurred on account of my shock)!

And you know you are in the Champagne region when only alcohol that the relaxed pop-up bar by the lake serves is 2 types of champagne, ratafia and rosé wine!

The plan was to carry on next day, with our new maps to guide us. However they were not delivered by 2pm, Captain’s cut-off time for slipping away on what turned out to be another wet and windy afternoon. Well at least we are near Stewart’s favourite boulangerie, so I got some of their quiche for a comforting supper.

And in the end we were waiting another two days for our new map books to arrive. In fact it was so windy most of those 48 hours that we were quite pleased to be tied up in such a nice town.

It also have me two more days of the Furies festival! Friday was fun with the crazy ‘A Good Place’ team, where their snaking waiting crowd was encouraged to join in dance routines and other entertainment; an incomprehensible (it was in French) promenade in the Jardin d’Anglaise with the two male performers running and shouting amongst the audience and round the park; and a bit of trapeze mastery when the wind died down.

Sally, Tin Tin, Morphios and Stu

Being in Châlons on Saturday also gave me the opportunity to go to the market and buy some delicious fruit, veg and bread. We took a stroll down to the River Marne in the afternoon and returned to find our lovely neighbours on Pavot suggesting champagne in the ‘Cosy Bar’ by the lake with their dogs. How could we possibly refuse?

The evening developed into a festival before I went into the centre of town to watch a great tightrope performer in the square, with a backdrop of some of Chalon’s beautiful old buildings.

Then a rapid march back to the Cathedral for one of the most dramatic and astonishing spectacles of my life. It began with an angel appearing on the roof of the Cathedral.

Then other angels appeared, in ones, twos and threes, seemingly from the night sky. As they ‘flew’ towards earth they began to scatter white feathers which gently drifted down on us mortals below.

The angels became ever more daring, and with ever more feathers

Until finally we were showered with feathers from every direction. The delight that swept the crowd was infectious and people behaved as if in a snowstorm, throwing feathers in the sir, dancing to the music, and laughing.

I am so glad that I didn’t miss this!

My boat is covered in feathers. Did I miss something?

Next day we were up on time and raring to go. There was a quick run to the boulangerie for fresh bread, and then we set off south down the Canal Lateral de La Marne watching Châlons fade away in the distance.

Before too long we were at the first lock, pleased to see the green and red lights that told us the lock was being made ready for us

And on we went down past the villages and silos, the winding holes for big barges to turn round, locks and countryside.

Occasionally we saw wildlife, usually herons. There are plenty of young herons trying out their fishing skills at this time of year.

He’ll not catch much sat on that bollard . . .

He’s not sitting. He’s standing! Look closer.

Our lunch time stop at La Chaussee sur Marne

We carried on until we reached Soulange, knowing it to be a peaceful rural mooring and just right following city dwelling in Châlons. I have to admit that we were a little disappointed when another small cruiser squeezed onto the jetty behind us – notwithstanding that it is important always to welcome and help others to moor – even if they are rather noisy.

I took a walk over to the river Marne and along the bank for a while. There was a lovely view back to Soulange church through the undergrowth, and tranquil scenes of the river.

It seemed to be the first day of the dragonflies – they were everywhere, flitting about just out of range of my camera most of the time, but I did get a few ‘on film’.

Then back to our mooring to discover that old friends Matthew and Helen on a sister Piper barge Havelock had arrived – we shared a jetty with them at the T&K marina on the Thames when we were first in the water. A rare treat, although as Stewart was a bit under the weather it was just me who was able to enjoy their company.

Soulanges sunset

The day finished with one of the most beautiful canal sunsets I have seen, ah La Belle France.

Next day was destined to see us down to Vitry-en-Francois, and the end of our known waterways. We would be launching into a new canal by afternoon, so we enjoyed the last of the Canal lateral de la Marne.

I think that the most memorable ‘look back’ was to the quarry mooring where we stayed last year and our ropes were covered with blue butterflies.

Then at last, the junction at Vitry, and we turned left onto the Canal de La Marne au Rhin, and new vistas opened before us.

South West on the Rhône au Rhin

Part 1: Strasbourg to Mulhouse including 72kms of Le Rhin

6th to 9th September 2022

We were in Strasbourg on a beautiful mooring in the Basin de la Citadelle (Port d’Europe) with this lovely view from our back deck.

We had been there since late July, originally planning to use the Canal des Vosges to travel southwestwards, but water shortages through this very hot dry summer had resulted in several canal closures, including the Vosges.

So the change of plan was to use the Rhône au Rhin canal, now separated into two branches and necessitating a 72km strip of the Rhine itself. To go on the Rhine we have to have a pilot aboard – someone with a Rhine license. All boats over 15m must have a qualified person aboard on this big and often commercially busy river – although this regulation is due to change from 15m to 20m – which will let us off the hook.

It isn’t too difficult to find a pilot with the licence – and our search was made even easier by discovering two of them working at the Port d’Europe; one of them was free to come with us – Alain. We booked him in and set about enjoying our last week in Strasbourg!

Alain was to join us at the lock where the northern branch of the canal joins the Rhine at Rhineau; on September 6th we set off for a gentle two day trip down to meet him.

It was interesting to move through the edge of the city on the water, seeing some of the more modern buildings after all the historic houses in the city centre.

We were soon at the first lock with a holiday boat practicing the ups and downs of inland waterway navigation with the help of a friendly éclusier. The first few days on a new boat can be a bit of a steep learning curve, though it is our experience that nearly every other boater will help immediately if help is needed, and often even if it’s not!

If we are early to a mooring it’s our practice to step off Calliope and catch the ropes of a later arrival; we have many friends to this day made from that simple gesture.

Soon we were out of the built up areas, enjoying the shade of the trees lining the banks – it was still rather hot!

We quickly discovered, after that first lock, that the method of lock operation on the Northern branch of the Rhône au Rhin is the pole, or ‘perche’ in French.

Here one must give it a good tug, whereas on other waterways in France it is necessary to twist the pole.

No confusion here – it is clearly marked.

And when you get beyond it, is is also clearly marked to leave it alone!

The VNF don’t want people leaving a lock to pull the pole again!

We were going rather well until we got to Plobsheim, just on lunchtime. The lock was not working; in order to find the phone number to call for assistance Stewart had to put me ashore in a rather precarious position, onto some narrow wooden guide rails, some rotten. So I had a Russian Roulette walk ashore – would I lose my balance and fall in, or would the wood give way?

In fact neither happened and I scrambled through a bush and up a steep bank to raise the alarm. Just as I was looking for a number to call from the lock a VNF van sped up and out jumped a friendly female éclusier. Our predicament had been caught on camera, and leaving her lunch half eaten she had rushed to the rescue.

Before long we were in the lock, accompanied by a family of swans who had to be persuaded to leave before the lock gates closed.

Almost immediately the Captain had another obstacle – a narrow aqueduct over the river Ill (pronounced ‘ill’, and very difficult to explain any other way…). Lovely lovely spot.

We continued on to Krafft, a village with a VNF (Voie Navigable de France) depot, office and quay. Although not immediately an attractive mooring we found it just what we needed. It was quiet at night, secure, and with a nearby boulangerie for the morning bread!

The local VNF team had gone to the bother of making one end of the quay a haven for boaters.

A line of huts included the rubbish bins, and also a covered seating area with barbecue, picnic table and garden .

We could easily go into the office and organise our trip through the lock onto the Rhine for a couple of days time – you have to book your lock slot.

As the sun went down and dusk crept in we felt very fortunate with our mooring.

Next day we did not go far. We began by crossing the Canal de Décharge de l’Ill, essentially a man-made way for the river to escape ever since the canal system here was built. It meant , for us, going through a narrow barrage, which can be closed off to protect the canal Rhône au Rhin if l’Ill is in flood, then over the crossway, where on the day we crossed there was little flow of which to be wary.

If you have read my blog before you may by now be bored of my interest in the changes to the canal system over the centuries.

Sorry!

But here is another example of the ancient and modern kilometre markers.

We had considered going to a mooring right by the last lock, but it was not clear if there would be space for us, and if the water would be deep enough. So to be safe we stopped a few kms short at a mooring recommended by the éclusiers.

The last lock, immediately before our mooring, also had its interest. As we approached we saw a boat heading towards us, which then turned mid stream just by the perche, and pulled it sending the lock in motion.

Although we could have fitted in the lock with them we wanted to stop before the lock so that I could run up and check that the desired mooring was free.

So once more I scrambled ashore ( I wish I had photos of my 74 year old valiant scrambles) and went to the lock – only to find two New Zealand friends of ours on their boat.

We had a quick explanatory chat and catch up before they went on their way.

It was an excellent choice for us – another rural tranquil setting, and after a walk of 20 minutes into the nearby village of Boofzheim found another good boulangerie!

Back on the boat, just in time – it poured with rain. We all needed this water so much after the long dry spell, so were pleased to hear the heavy rain continue all night.

As night came in we could see distant thunderstorms through the trees and hear the lovely sound of raindrops on the roof.

It was quite a big day the following day – which we new was going to be a long one. So we were early to bed.

Then we were on our way, with navigation lights on, at 6.45 – a time we are usually still sleeping – and picked up our pilot, Alain, at 7.45. We dropped him off almost 12 hours later.

Alain joined us at the lock from the canal down onto the Rhine so we were straight out onto the big river, heading upstream towards our first lock.

All the locks on this section of the Rhine (maybe on all of it) have two locks side by side, one twice as wide as the other, but both the same length. They are less deep than many we have been through on theoRhône but big enough thank you! We were in the smaller lock most of the time -though not every time, as you will see. As Calliope floated to the top of the first lock at Rhineau it had become almost daylight.

Alain encouraged us to use a lot of the power in our 150hp engine – something you cannot do in narrow canals where we would create too much wash and damage the banks.

Our here on the Rhine we were up to 1700 rpm which was giving us 13kph according to Alain’s app.

Calliope loved it!

The wake we set up here was allowable, and the movement through the water looked beautiful as the sun rose.

That is Germany on our port side; France ran along to starboard.

We all took turns at the helm, although Alain did most because he was so enjoying being back on a boat rather than in an office. Stu and Alain were in charge for the locks, and I was trusted not to hit anything in between on such a big wide open waterway!

We met up with other, much bigger, barges at the locks. I certainly would not be trusted with, or even want to try, to put one of these wide commercial barges into a lock that is about half a metre wider than the boat! How do they squeeze in? It made us look very narrow!

You will notice we now have our mast upright; it is normal for barges – commercial and pleasure – to travel with them half lowered to fit under the many low bridges we pass under, but with no such encumberments on the Rhine our pilot suggested raising it so that the VHF communication with the locks could be accomplished with more ease.

In many ways these locks are far easier to navigate than the narrow self-operated locks in the canals.

Such a breeze for the crew – I could put a rope round a floating bollard, secure it, go below and make a cup of tea whilst watching my rope through the window!

Most of our journey was through countryside, and to our East we could see across to the Black Forest mountains. I tried to explain to Alain the significance of the Black Forest, in terms of gateaux, and how I had a huge one made for my 60th birthday!

Later, as we got towards the end of our time on the river, there was a far more industrialised section at Ottmarsheim; this is on the French side, despite its name. We like to see these big modern quays, demonstrating the importance of water transport in the 21st century.

At last – 10 hours later and in fading light – we saw the sign for the southern part of the Rhne au Rhin canal – our exit.

The sign was telling us that we could aim for either of two locks. We had already agreed with Alain that we would go for the larger of the two, on the first side of the little islet.

So at last we get to our last lock of the day, Niffer, an extremely interesting and different lock! I have searched and searched for information on the architect of this building but cannot find the answer. Interestingly it is the smaller of the two locks, known as Niffer-Kembs, that seems to have the notoriety, having been designed by Swiss architect Le Corbusier.

At this lock we had a different design of floating bollard – initially rather nice, but with the ability to trap your rope when you get to the top!

Alain was leaving us here, and as he stepped ashore he was luckily on hand to pull the rope free.

Bye bye Alain – thank you!

Cheers Captain – our pilot has left, we are off the Rhine, and back to our own devices. We have done it! It may not seem much to most of you, but we had been apprehensive about being on the Rhine and needing a pilot. In fact it was simple, enjoyable and educational, though a long day for people who usually aim for a maximum of 4 hours cruising!

Then, as we look for a mooring, and the sun sets behind black clouds, we hear that our Queen Elizabeth II, Lilibet, has died. It cast a sombre mood over what was otherwise a feeling of success and relief. We drank a toast to the passing of a very special woman.

Then as we relaxed and settled down, out of the darkness came a bright light!

A big barge passing us, working late. Thank goodness we had our navigation lights on again!

After the ghostly giant had passed though we had a very welcome peaceful night at the halte nautique at Hombourg.

The morning light was glorious; it made it all the easier to get up and move on to Mulhouse, a few kilometres away.

And the daylight gave us a better view off where we had spent the night – a good VNF pontoon on the canal, offering respite to those who have left the Rhine – or are about to join it!

Before we set off Captain Stu lowered the mast again to its normal cruising position.

The run into Mulhouse started with a wide canal capable of accommodating commercial barges like the one that passed us in the night. We reached the right angle bend in the canal and found the wharfs where these barges dock and turn.

Then the canal narrowed to freycinet size – the size of the smaller 38 metre commercial barges, and closer to Calliope size, though they are still almost double our length.

We arrived at a very modern lock – so modern that the VNF had not yet finished it so it was not yet automatic.

A very helpful éclusier came out to meet us, taking the details of Calliope and making sure that we had a current vignette – the equivalent of road tax, but for a boat in France.

Then the giant lock doors closed down behind us and we began what was to be quite a trip upstream over the next few days – but that is in the next blog post!

For now we were happy to cruise into Mulhouse, past good floral displays, and the development of what will be a lovely modern garden (not shown here). Stu tells me that the upside down writing is for reflections in the canal, but not calm enough or the right light for reflections as we went past.

We had called ahead to book a mooring at the Mulhouse port. Soon we were able to moor up to the hammerhead reserved for us – in plenty of time for me to find a local boulangerie – good fresh baguette towards our lunch.

There are only two more things to report before I sign off and leave Calliope in Mulhouse.

One is the city itself.

The city is full of interesting and architectural buildings – just a few shown here from our short walk around. To be honest we did not do justice to the place – we were still a bit tired and shell-shocked from the Rhine and the news about Elizabeth R.

It is worth a longer visit.

The other less glamorous delight of our stay was to find a working ‘pump out’ in the port. It really helps the black tank system to occasionally have a good clear out from the top via a pump out system, but they are hard to find in France and Belgium.

This tine it meant mooring against another very helpful barge and running the pipe across to Calliope.

It all worked exceedingly well, despite Stu’s slightly worried face!

We spent the evening and the night feeling ready for the Rhône au Rhin uphill journey ahead, as you will read in the next blog.

One week to reach Strasbourg

On Canal de la Marne au Rhin Est

20th to 26th July 2022

As we came to the end of the Canal de la Sarre we reached a T-junction and the sign above. For now it was an easy choice – we were heading for Strasbourg where our niece and her family would join us for a few days.

After their visit we might come back this way and travel towards Nancy – if the canals in that direction had not all closed. We were in the middle of a second heatwave and long weeks without much rain. The waterways of France were drying up; many had an ‘arrète de navigation’. But that is me getting ahead of myself.

We were now on the eastern branch of the Canal de la Marne au Rhin. Our last canal had brought us up to the heights of the Sarre river and we found ourselves looking down at the landscape, rather than up to the hills of the past weeks.

Our first stop was at Xouaxange. We had several attempts at pronouncing it and I am not sure if we ever got it right. The internet was not much help, suggesting equally unpronounceable phonetics. We found a nice empty quay in a simple park setting, and were joined later by some other boats, and camper vans.

It is a small village, with a few nice structures. These include the bridge from the quay to the village, and the church with its unusual tower.

An earlier decision had been made to eat out; we were short on provisions after several pleasant quiet rural moorings. There appeared to be one restaurant in the village and it was not the French cuisine we expected!

It was a very friendly, slightly quirky place with a mainly Madagascan menu. It began to rain (very welcome) as we approached so we sat inside next to an open window and enjoyed a tasty different kind of meal.

It did not rain for long, despite my rain dances and the country’s prayers.

By next morning when we left the skies were mainly blue again, but there was a freshness to the air that had been missing for a while.

The canal leading out of Xouaxange was narrow and on a long curve, following the line of a hill; lovely cruising as long as you don’t meet anything. 

We didn’t.

One reason for the narrowness was that we were about to cross a short aqueduct over the very upper limits of the River Sarre. It was proud to describe itself as one of the first (maybe the first) steel built aqueduct in the country, and is appropriately named Aqueduct de la Forge.

We had joined the Sarre on 29 June, where it joined the Moselle in Germany. At that point it had its German name – the Saar. Three weeks later we were looking at its beginnings – the first full journey of a river for us.

We continued along our high plateau looking at at countryside that was greener than it should have been after the dry spell. Maybe last night’s rain has got to work already.

Captain and crew had been wondering what mechanism would be used to open and operate the locks, bridges, tunnels etc along this canal.  We had handed in our remote control for the locks on Canal de la Sarre and were watching for clues.

The answer came big and bold!

We were coming up to two tunnels and a system of ‘detection’ was in place to know when a boat arrived at the end of the tunnel. We had to moor up behind a holiday boat that was already there and wait for the traffic lights to turn green.

After a while two boats appeared from the first, shorter, tunnel (Niderviller) and it was our turn to proceed.

As usual there was a long narrow cut leading to the tunnel entrance; we followed the holiday boat into the darkness.

At the other end we were required to wait again at a second ‘detection’ point – and again behind the holiday boat, which was tackling the tunnels quite a bit faster than us! I guess it’s not his own paintwork that is at risk.

This time, unusually, there was a second tunnel alongside the one for the canal. This was for the railway and trains came rushing past as we waited.

Then it was our turn for souterrain (tunnel) two – Arzviller – the longer of the two.

Stu had noticed a wooden ‘guide rail’ at approximate zig-zag fender height in Niderviller tunnel, and in the hope of the same construction here he gently steered towards the starboard side of the tunnel. I adjusted the zigzags to match the guide rail and Calliope glided through.

We emerged into a wide right angled basin – the ‘gathering and waiting area for the Inclined Plane of Arzviller.

The plane replaced, in the 1960’s, a series of 17 locks that took the canal slowly up a wooded valley – very beautiful, but also very slow for the working barges that were using it at the time.

As only 38.5m (length) of boats can go up or down at one time we were expecting to wait until there was a suitable space for Calliope’s 19.8m. The length was designed to carry the 38.5m freycinet working barges of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In fact we waited two hours, firstly in a queue of other leisure boats, and then because the passenger boat took precedence over us. People can buy a ticket to go on a passenger boat down and back up the plane, plus a small cruise.

But that was fine because we were able to get a good look at what was going on.

I found a good vantage point to watch the caisson (watertight box) come up the plane with three boats inside.

Then I had time to go into the building where you can see the huge winding wheels.

A sense of scale is seen when you notice the white van at the far side of the photo!

Next I watched the tank fill up with boats at the top, and make its slow majestic way down the side of the hill to the lake below, where the boats are able to ‘disembark’ as a door rises at the front of the caisson.

For those wanting to know more about this monumental structure you can read it here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint-Louis-Arzviller_inclined_plane

At last it was our turn and we entered the caission. This was our view, from Calliope down to the bottom.

Here are three photos to show aspects of our descent. In the centre photo one can see the door to the caisson lifting up to let us out – with cooling water dripping down on the crew’s head!

We moored up for the night below the plane – and in plain sight of it!

In many ways it is a lovely peaceful mooring, although the road on the opposite side of the lake has fairly constant traffic during the day – not quite what we expected.

The first interesting thing we passed next morning was the entrance to the first of the 17 locks mentioned above. We have heard that the walk up past these old locks is well worth doing, but with our need to get to Strasbourg we could not stop this time.

It’s on our list for next time though.

There are so many fascinating and architecturally interesting structures as you pass along a canal – here is a rather lovely railway bridge, beautifully constructed of mellow bricks.

Now the wooded hills on this side of the uplands are becoming more obvious.

Locks are definitely downwards; lock houses are yet another design. One day I will collect together on one post all the many shapes and sizes of lock keepers houses we have seen.

By now we were getting closer to our overnight stop. Lutzelbourg castle could be seen atop a hill as we continued descending towards the town.

On the way into Lutzelbourg we saw an example of the little engines that pulled barges along the canals and through the tunnels for a short time between the days of horse drawn boats, and the era of boats with their own internal engines.

Initially these were apparently electric (not sure how), and later were run on diesel.

Coming into Lutzelbourg was a revelation. We had no idea that it would be such a pretty little place – almost Alpine in the way it clings to the side of the hill.

As we came through the lock above the long mooring we were able to look around a bit and see the river Zorn below us.

The other half of the town is down there, the other side of the river. .

And then we were there – tied up alone on a long long mooring in (rather hot) sunshine and with green forests all around; wonderful yet again!

Once more we were not to be alone for long!

Luckily we had, as usual, moored up by 1130. This second photo is the quay at 4pm.

It was nice to see so many people enjoying the canal. After all it is what keeps them open and navigable.

We did find a rather nice small shop in Lutzelbourg, with a good mix of fresh local cheese, vegetables and meat, wine and beer, and a reasonable array of dry goods too.

Almost next door was an excellent boulangerie, and across the street a few restaurants – including the one we  chose for a summer’s evening pizza.

We watched with interest next morning as the ‘great get away’ began.There are locks either end of the long mooring, so whichever way the boats were headed there would be a queue for the lock.

We waited a while until there seemed to be a queue of one in our direction and set off down stream.

One of the effects of the lack of water is that boaters are asked to share locks with other boats to save water. We were therefore expecting to share with the boat ahead of us, but they moored in the centre of the lock. Despite our polite calls in English and French they did not seem to understand so Captain ‘hove to’ and we prepared to wait our turn.

A passing lock keeper was not too pleased about this. He recognised it was not our decision not to share, and told us he had called ahead to the next lock to hold up the boat in front until we arrived to share!

At the next lock we discovered a very nice Norwegian family who had only collected their boat the day before. The previous lock was the first they had ever been through and to them our 20m barge looked much too big to fit with them.

But we soon got a system going for the pair of us and continued all morning sharing locks with them, getting to know them more and more in each one.

Down and down we went, through the trees and valley, with each turn as beautiful as the one before.

We passed plenty of lock houses, this one ready for winter already with a good stack of wood outside.

Both boats were on their way to Saverne for the night and our last lock as we entered town was a bit more of a challenge, both in turns of its structure (with a high sill at the top end) and the audience of ‘lunchers’ at the two restaurants alongside!

It is also twice as deep as all the previous locks as two locks have been combined into one. So it looked a bit awesome to our Norwegian friends.

Initially we were trying to space the two boats out to allow us all access to the bollards in the wall of the lock, allowing us to move the ropes down as the water level dropped. But then Stewart noticed that there were ‘sliding poles’; metal poles the full depth of the lock to put a rope round and ‘slide down’. That made it easier for us.

We all came through unscathed. I wish I had photos as it was an interesting experience, but it was a busy time!

There is a big modern marina at Saverne, with open air bar and food stalls, mini golf, and generally a nice place to relax – but it was full. So we continued round the corner to the stretch of the canal pictured above. The first section, complete with water, electricity and boards, is still part of the marina. This was also full (disregard the empty space you can see as mooring was not allowed there the day we arrived.

We went on to the end of the line, grabbed the mooring pins and a hammer, and jumped ashore to make fast! We are the second to last boat along, inn the distance. The last boat was our Norwegian friends.

I was soon off to find a supermarket and buy some good fresh produce. This meant crossing a bridge, where I took this photo.

In fact it turned out to be a quiet and pleasant mooring.

The Norwegians and their holiday boat were scooped up by the Capitaine of the marina as they needed water.

That left us at the end, right at the edge of everything, for the night.

All ther locks since we joined this canal had been set on motion by sensors that knew we were approaching.

It was therefore lucky next day that we suddenly caught sight of a pole suspended above the water and in the shadow of the tree on the right a sign saying ‘Tirez Ziehen Pull’.

We were back to the most fun of the lock initiators – the pole to turn, or in this case pull, suspended above the canal. It then reopen ds on the helmsman’s skill in taking Calliope close enough, and the crew’s coordination, to hang on with one hand and reach out for the pole with the other.

Although, to be honest, Stu is such a good Captain that I can usually reach the pole with no exertion.

While I am mentioning canal side signs, here is a nice example of the old and new together – the old stone kilometre marker, and the new PK sign for the same point.

It was another scorching hot day and we were glad to have the front windscreen down, back doors open, and a breeze able to blow through the wheelhouse as we moved through the countryside.

There was no dozing off ih the heat though. Apart from several locks to descend there were also narrows in the canal where bridges passed over.

Some look impossible to squeeze through as we approached them, but I guess they are the same width as the locks.

Anyway Stewart steered us through them all with no bumps or scrapes.

Our next mooring was one of the most magical ever! It was a kilometre or two from the village of Ingenheim, out in the countryside, and so so quiet that most of the time we could not hear anything! Not even a bird.

There are just three yellow bollards set into the grass bank – but that is just enough to make an easy secure mooring.

Next to us, and the reason for occasional short term company, was an old boat imaginatively converted into a rest place for cyclists and walkers. A hut at one end provided shelter from rain or sun; a barbecue could be used by those with the food and fuel; and there were cycle stands at the front plus flowers for decor.

I have mentioned that it was hot – maybe 36°C – so many wasy were deployed to keep core temperature down!

Supper was preceded by long drinks in the shade of the bankside trees; the river Zorn, a short walk away, was a cooling place to paddle and sit in the shallows; hair was tied up any-old-how off my neck; and the Red Ensign jooined forcwes with the parasol to keep the sun from the back deck.

Together these measures meant we had a really pleasant summers day and night at Ingenheim.

As the sun went down, around 9pm. I went up to the nearby bridge to try and capture the lazy evening atmosphere.

Our mooring, and Calliope, can ben seen adjacent to the trees on the right.

In the other direction, towards the village, the sky was fading from blue to pink.

The end of a beautiful day.

Next time I want to stay there longer!

But as you know, we had a deadline to meet so next morning, an other blue-sky day, Stu reorganised our fenders while I walked up to the next lock, just half a kilometre ahead.

The lock system had changed again. Now we were in a loose ‘chain’ where each subsequent lock was expecting you to arrive. But we had ‘broken’ the chain by stopping overnight and I now needed to go to the lock and call up the VNF to open it for us.

I could have called from the boat using my mobile, but I like the exercise of the walk in the cooler morning air.

And its lovely to be off the boat and able to watch her glide up through the water, a scattering of ducklings ahead of her and last night’s mooring behind.

Mother duck and her babies kept out of the way, popping up in the breakwater by the lock.

Lock 41

The lock house here, at Lock 41, is yet another of the abandoned ones. What a place to be able to buy, revamp and live in.

It was a bit of a day for birds, but not good photos.

Nonetheless here is a parenting Egyptian goose with some of his/her goslings …..

…. and here is one of many storks we saw in the fields, but they are never close enough to be in good focus.

When we were cruising on the south of France, on the Midi and Garonne, we often saw golden fields stretching away from us, full of sunflowers. And I managed to grow quite large and glorious sunflowers aboard as well.

This year had been disappointing up to here, but suddenly we had a field of sunflowers, and my first bud showed signs of opening!

Coming on down towards the Rhine valley we realised we were getting closer to civilisation as we passed a working barge.

(Later, moored in Strasbourg, this barge passed us on an almost daily basis, moving up and down the canal carrying cement.)

Thos of you who have read a few of my blogs will know that I have a certain love of the differences I find in locks.

We often see white or yellow lines painted on the wall of a lock below the position of a bollard so that you know where to throw your rope when deep down in the lock and unable to see the quayside.

On this occasion as well as a white/yellow mark, there was also the outline of a bollard shape cut into the lock wall.

Rather lovely I thought.

By lunchtime we had arrived at Foret de Brumath – a mooring described as being rather gravelly and dusty. It was both those things at the commercial end, but quite pleasant and close to the trees at the leisure boat end. We tied up and waited for the sun to move round and bring the shade of the forest over Calliope.

As the afternoon drew on and the shadows lengthened towards us we were surpised to see another boat – another Piper boat – appear from the Strasbourg direction.

Naturally we went to help with mooring and discovered Gabriel, owner of Vagabonde and Capitaine of the harbour at Kembs, handling his boat single handedly.

We were invited on board later and had one of those unexpected delightful evenings of Franglais conversation, champagne and chocolate!

Thank you Gabriel – our turn next.

All to soon it was the next day and the parting of the ways – Gabriel continuing upstream for a short holiday, and us onwards towards Strasbourg.

I just mention that we passsed lots more storks – with their images captured no better than the ones before!

Easier to see, and more interesting to some, was the swing bridge at Vendemheim. (Have you noticed how Germanic many of the names are around here? Of course Alsace is onie of those areas that has swung back and forth between nations over time).

The bridge was shortly after two locks – all three structures controlled from the building at Lock 47. When we arrived there was small queue. It seemed that there had been a fault in one lock, boats of various sizes waiting to go in both directions, and also one holiday boat that had broken down all together. All they could tell us was that their engine had stopped working. We did not feel capable of helping, and they were not in any danger, so we had to leave them behind.

After the suburbs of Vandenheim we only had 10 kilometres and 3 more locks to go before we were well and truly in Strasbourg and looking at the visionary building that holds the European Parliament.

Sadly this is a place without British representation any more, but we can still admire the reflective curved walls.

I think we had just the right kind of sun and clouds for this photo – lucky me.

The next marvel was the Russian Orthodox church on the junction of the Canal de la Marne au Rhin and the Bassin des Ramparts.

This is where we turned to starboard, heading along the basin towards the Port d’Europe and our mooring.

We cruised past a long line of old barges, some now houseboats and others waiting for new life to be injected into them.

Then we spied the port and the fuel pontoon where we had been told to wait until directed to our final mooring. We ‘double parked’ against another big barge – Melba – who were waiting for their mooring to be free. Naturally we got chatting, and when we all moved too our pontoons we found ourselves moored directly behind her! Mark and Debra are now firm friends.

Across Strasbourg port from the mooring

Relaxing that evening in the knowledge we had got to Strasbourg a day before our guests arrived we looked out over the port and marvelled that yet again we had been lucky enough to get an ‘end of pontoon’ mooring with our back deck open to this view.

As the sun set we planned our route by tram to the station the next day to meet up with Jo, Warren and Ollie.

Our last quiet evening for a few (fun filled) days).

And here they all are – well Warren took the photo. And it is not of their first evening, but of one of the breakfasts we enjoyed.

Warren and I liked the walk through the citadel park to the boulangerie for fresh croissants, pain au chocolate, croissant armandes, pain au raisin and anything else that looked tasty!

Well balanced of course by fruit and juice!

Of course having visitors gave us the perfect excuase to be tourists in this fascinating city, We all set off together and over their stay we sam any of the sights.

One of the best for us was seeing a statue of Calliope – the muse of epic poetry – on top of the opera house with the other muses. There she is – the wonder woman who gave her name to our boat.

We saw many of the special places ion Strasbourg and these photos are a tiny sample of our wanders.

It was still hot, the heatwave continued with everyday riding into the lower thirties by afternoon. Thankfully the cathedral square includes a line of cooling fountains – just the place to get soaked and then allow the water to evaporate off, taking body heat with it. I was pleased that Jo and Ollie joined me in the fun,

We cooled down at the right moment as the next thing we did was climb the 300+ steps to the top of he cathedral and look at the spectacular long views from the top.

We learned that in the past the townsfolk would go to the top of the cathedral for the day, taking picnics with them. There is a big flat platform there; it must have been a true breath of fresh air after the hot and fetid streets below.

The family were with us for three nights. Two of those nights we dined aboard and then sat together in the back deck as the air cooled and the sun set.

One of our favourite views was across to the boat sheds where the ‘gateau bateaux’ (passenger boats) went each night to be cleaned ready for the next days trips round the rivers and canals of the city,

According to Stewart they also had their rubbing strakes re painted; as we found out next day the boats are almost as wide as the two locks they have to go through, and with no space for fenders they cannot avoid a few scrapes.

We thought we would give the boat trip a try – a real ‘boatman’s holiday! It was very good – highly recommended. We saw parts of the city that we might have otherwise missed and from a different angle.

The accompanying commentary, delivered in about 10 languages, was interesting and informative about both the history and the culture.

We had a good plan for after the boat trip too.

A refreshing Alsace beer or wine by the river.

And then an Alsatian meal in an excellent restaurant in a subterranean restaurant.

The curved ceilings were beautiful.

The food and wine were all good too.

It was the last evening with our guests and we enjoyed it to the full.

Then they were gone, and it was back to just Captain and Crew. On the way back from the station to see them off we walked oince more through the Citadel park which is immediately adjacent to the port.

Naturally it is a much quieter place now; soldiers replaced by coots and squirrels (including at least one red one!); guns replaced by shady trees and benches; parade grounds replaced by children play areas and paddling pool.

The original ramparts, moat and gateways now provide charismatic backdrops in every direction and it is such a cool place to walk during these sweltering summer days.

By now we had decided to return to the UK ourselves for most of August. Our planned route via Canal des Vosges could not happen for a while as there was not enough water.

And, more importantly, our niece was getting married and we wanted to be there!

So just 3 more evenings watching sunsets, and wondering if they heralded rain before we left.

The day we set off to our second home (Calliope feels like the first one) was blue and warm again.

Our journey of walk/tram/train/Eurostar/train/ ferry/taxi was accomplished in around 8 hours.

In less than 4 weeks we would make the return journey to continue our voyages!

Savouring the Sarre in Slow Time 2

Part 2 – the French stretch – Canal de la Sarre (Canal des houillères de la Sarre)

12th to 19th July 2022

We arrived in Sarreguemines with extra crew aboard – son and grandson – who had joined us on the German part of our Sarre (Saar) journey – as documented in the last blog post. We had moored up on the long upstream quay of the port, most of the time with no-one behind us; a very pleasant mooring.

We liked Sarreguemines, for loltys of reasons. One was the flower displays everywhere; someone had spent a lot of time designing and planting these, all round the town.

And then the evenings there, as darkness fell. The river was a magical place to be. especially for the Bastille Day fireworks. Even the secure gate from the pontoon to the park had its own twilight architectural delight.

But probably our greatest enjoyment was on the last day when, despite the heat, we walked back to the junction with the river Blies, and then upstream to the Moulin de la Blies ceramics museum.

The museum is housed in the old ceramics works themselves, and includes everything from grinding the stones to add to the clay through to hand-painting the plates, pots, cups etc. It is fascinating and full of detail; easy to imagine the people still working there.

The views from various parts of the ‘works’ were often onto the Blies, an important part of the process.

Initially, before steam took over, the river provided the power for all the mills and wheels.

It was also the way that much of the raw material arrived, and much of the finished china and porcelain was taken away.

Some of the old ruined industrial buildings have been incorporated into a beautiful garden – very shady and welcome on a very hot day!

It is impossible tfor me to fully describe how interesting and enjoyable the museum is – but do go if you are in the area!

Next day we continued up the river, all prepared with our remote control for the locks, map and binoculars.

Officially we were now on the Canal de la Sarre (formerly Canal des Houillères de la Sarre) with the river running along to port. It was built to allow the transport of coal from the mines around Saarbrucken, hence its name – houillère meaning coal mine.

The weather was still hot – somewhere in the thirties – and we hoped to find a mooring with some shade.

Along the way, at Rémelfing I think, we had a friendly audience as we went through the lock.

All went according to plan and we waved a cheerful goodbye as we continued to Zetting.

Each stretch of river or canal has its own design of a sign to tell us to activate our remote control for the next lock – the ‘zapping stick’ as it’s called on Calliope.

Sometimes the wireless signal can be operated from a hundred yards away; other times only when you are right next to the sign.

I’m not sure what the M signifies. The rest of the stuff around the M is graffiti, in case you are trying to work it out!

Although not far out of Sarreguemines we were cruising through lovely open countryside, with all vents open to catch as much cooling breeze as we could on this beautiful sunny day.

As always we were wondering if there would be space for us at our planned mooring, and as is almost always the case, there was!

The only other boat along the quay seemed to be an abandoned holiday hire boat. No-one came near it while we were there. The life jackets were neatly piled up inside and the bikes on the back. It was bit of a Marie Celeste moment.

At this point the river Sarre is canalised, with the canal passing along the side of a valley, about half way up, and the river Sarre down below. We had a lovely view across the valley from Calliope, and a picnic bench in the shade should we be a bit warm on the boat.

I tried, without much success, to get a photo of the bridge over the canal (next to the lock) and the bridge over the river (in the distance on the left with a car gong over it).

This was just to demonstrate now close together the two waterways are at this point.

One of the daft things that I try to do!

In the opposite direction we could see the fascinating Zetting church, at the top of the hill above the village. The tower was very old, ninth century, and originally a watch tower. The nave is romanesque and the tall choir is C15th. The history is fascinating and worth reading of you like churches. https://www.roundtowerchurches.net/rest-of-europe/france-zetting/

Stu and I walked up the rather steep hill, through the village, to the church.

I was hot!

Zetting was an ideal place to get a bit more barge cleaning done. Although we have a pump and hose I do rather enjoy sluicing the deck (and myself) down with buckets of water, especially on hot days.

(Whoops, two photos of me in a row.)

All of this ‘effort’ led to the reward of a cold Kriek beer at the end of the day.

There was beer for the Captain too of course.

And a quiet night at Zetting. Mmmmmmm, zzzzzzzzzz.

The following day’s journey was on to Sarralbe, with the canal running right against the river Sarre at some points, making for beautiful scenery and vistas.

It is not a long journey – maybe 3 hours in all – and with a couple of points of interest.

We were well and truly back into France now, and the PK (kilometre markers) were in a new French style. They are very clear and have totally replaced the old stone markers along this canal.

It was also fn to see the vivid green ex-lock keepers house at écluse 21. It is now a VNF office and the larger buildings next door, presumably storage areas, are the same height colour.

Day after day the temperature was around 30°C and harvesting was well and truly under way, leaving behind views of my three favourite colours – blue, green and yellow.

All of this made for a pleasant trip to Sarralbe – so named because it is where the River Sarre meets the River Albe.

A completely renovated port is now available for bateaux de plaisance to enjoy. There is a long pontoon with electricity and water, plenty of bollards, goods rubbish facilities and – it’s all free! A park with paths and shrub style planting pins alongside, all gradually maturing; in a year or two it will be even better.

We tied up at one end where we would be shaded by trees later in the day and had lunch. Then we set put for our usual walk around a new town. What we found amazed us!

Almost every roof and chimney stack had storks on their nests!

We later read that there are about 37 breeding pairs in Sarralbe and that they have been encouraged for the past 15 years to next there.

We were fascinated!!!

Of course there is more to Sarralbe than storks!

The twin steepled church is magnificent (and even here you can see the white markings on the roof of the stork inhabitants)

Then ther is the old mill and mill pond on the Albe – peaceful now but with busy industrial history.

And for those who’ve read a few of these blogs over the years – there was the shadow of a lavoir!

A tiled roof shows where the locals would come to rinse hew soap from their washing and exchange the latest talk of the town. The notice tells of those times now gone and how it looked on the past.

All of this was in temperatures of 30°C+. Captain and I had worn hats and sought shade as we walked the quiet streets. But this was not enough for crew, who could not resist the cooling effects ofnthe fountain on the way back to the barge.

Despite the charms of Sarralbe and the very pleasant port, once more we only stayed one night; we were on a deadline to reach Strasbourg in time for family who were coming to visit.

We were also very aware of the weather forecast and the top even hotter days ahead, so set off towards a known shady mooring next to écluse 16.

Soon after we set off on the Canal de la Sarre we found ourselves passing over the River Albe on an aqueduct. There is something marvellous about one waterway passing over another; they always delight me.

Our next lock clearly indicated when it was built – some 108 years ago.

Quite a few of the locks have inset stones like this – some more decipherable than others.

And my ability to get a photos will usually depend on whether I am needing to work hard with the rope, or have an easy ride!

The cruising time on this day was around 4 hours.

We knew we we must be nearing our destination the we saw the lovely little lock house for écluse 16.

Good to see that this lock house is lived in. Many of the empty ones are available to rent at a low cost once you have entered into a contract with the VNF to repair and maintain it.

We ‘sailed’ on, enjoying the shade, and enjoying the free flow of air through the wheelhouse with the windscreen down.

And then we arrived, to find a perfect spot at the end of the quay, with shade creeping across the grass towards us, boding well for later on the day.

It did not take long to set up a cool lunch under the trees!

We passed a pleasant time at Écluse 16. There is a ‘posh’ restaurant there, sadly closed on the day we moored up, so we provided our own supper and had an early night.

During the afternoon a barge passed by in the opposite direction, carrying the purple, pink and orange flag of the WOBs (Women on Barges). I too am a member, as was the lady on the boat along the quay. We are a friendly bunch, and a bit of chatter rang across the water as we all quickly said hello and farewell.

Note the assortment of drapes the boats deploy to give shade. The was an unusual heatwave for this part of the country and I was glad of our experience in the South on the Canal du Midi where we had invented good shade techniques!

In the morning we realised there was a small problem with emptying the black tank, which was three quarters full. Captain turned engineer checked and cleaned the pump valves, but this did not bring success. The obvious solution was to go to a pump out and empty the tank that way, but we were not sure of the closest one.

Luckily my WOB friend from the night before had a sensible solution. She suggested a mobile pump-out service, such as would go to empty a septic tank at a house. So anticipating there being more chance of finding a local ‘vidange’ service closer to civilisation we decided to make a run for the end of the canal that day – a rather hot one!

Apart from the heat the cruise was lovely, with the canal passing through large areas of lakes on both sides.

We were due to see plenty of locks and their lock keepers houses. The one at éluse 16 is now a restaurant, as mentioned. But most stand empty. Some are large, some small, and all a sad sight compared to their importance in the heyday of canal coal transportation.

In fact there were 15 locks to go through, so I invented a ‘very-hot-weather’ dress style. I kept a bucket of water outside the wheelhouse with a long sleeve cotton shirt in it, and each time I went to the bow for a lock I put on the soaking wet shirt. The water evaporated as we went through the lock, keeping me cool! That plus a hat and lots of water to drink kept me fit. The Captain did the same, minus the wet shirt!

As we approached the end of the canal, after lock 2, we came to one of the last moorings at Pont Albesch. The canal widens here and there is a long quay, some of which is very suitable for mooring, and shady in the evening. We moored up, had lunch, and began to search for a vidange option.

It was the Captain who came up with an answer. He searched for farmers who empty tanks of various kinds as a side-line, and found one ……. within sight of the mooring! The nearest farm to us, whose cows we had been watching (you can just see them in the photo above), also ran a licensed vidange business! How lucky was that???

Having worked out the French for ‘can you empty a tank on a boat’ in French I rang and was soon in conversation with my new friend Eric. He came to look at the task, agreed he could do it and promised to be back after milking the cows that evening.

With this good news I relaxed and went for a cooling swim.

I frequently swim in the rivers and canals – especially if I can see plenty of healthy fish.

I keep my head above water and take a shower when I come out. So far no ill health has befallen me.

It turned out that a farmer’s work is never done; when Eric had not reappeared at about 8.30pm I walked up to the farm, and was introduced to his cattle. I love farms and livestock!

Eric and I agreed that it would be best to leave it for the morning, and as good as his word he was there at 8.30am, with tractor and pump. He and the Captain disappeared into the engine room, where Eric lovingly stroked our Beta Marine engine before connecting the pipes.

Within minutes our black tank was empty, any possible blockage easily removed, and we were ready to bid au revoir to our new friend.

Thank you Eric, and thank you to our WOB friend for the totally logical suggestion.

Off we went to complete our journey on the Sarre / Saar and its associated canals. At the final lock, 1, it was time to hand back our trusty remote control.

All the instructions are there, in three languages. And after some careful peering, without his reading glasses, the Captain returned the ‘tèlecommand’ to its rightful place.

This was all done in a little purpose built modern VNF office on the lockside.

And it was pleasing to see that the lock keeper’s house was being lived in.

The remainder of the canal, we knew, had more big étangs, or lakes, either side. But the banks were built up and we could not see them. All we could see was the circling black kites, watching for fish far below.

It was not long until we were turning to port to join the Canal de la Marne au Rhin Est.

It would only be a few days until we arrived in Strasbourg!

And our cruise down to there is the next edition I must write!

Savouring the Saar in slow time

Part 1 – the German stretch : 29th June to 14th July 2022

We turned onto the Saar at 1005 in the morning, saying goodbye to the Moselle which had been our friendly waterway for the past 11 days, and to Luxembourg where we had moored for the past four nights. Now we were in Germany and the scenery was immediately different; the vineyards disappeared and wooded valleys lined the banks.

Before long we were into our first Saar lock. We had been told that the left side (in our direction) would have floating bollards, an asset in these deep locks. With the usual great German engineering the locks operated smoothly and our ascent was gentle!

We discovered a new waterways sign on the Saar – the two white lines on a blue background.

It means that two boats can moor alongside each other between the signs, presumably because the river is wide enough at that point.

The words underneath mean it is suspended in winter service (Google translate) but dont depend on me for the interpretation.

Before we left the Mosel and turned onto the Saar we had phoned ahead and booked ourselves two nights on a pontoon owned by a restaurant in Saarburg. Usually we cruise in fingers crossed mode, and are very rarely unable to moor at our first choice. On this occasion, however, because we much preferred the idea of mooring beneath the castle at Saarburg rather than at the main mooring just outside of town we booked ahead for this ‘two-boat’ pontoon.

It was a good decision. We were then right next to this marvellous old town and could explore it easily. It is a fascinating place as you can see from these photos – quite a history.

We did climb up to the castle one morning, going before it got too hot. I think we counted 381 steps up to the very top of the tower.

Well worth it for the view! No wonder a` castle was built here.

We could even see Calliope far below.

Somehow we still had the energy for a bit of fun right at the top!

As well as getting to know the old town itself, walking the narrow streets, we also went to two of the museums because of the industrial heritage each displayed.

Just behind the mooring is a bell foundry, now a museum, but it feels as if the workers have just gone home for the night and will be back tomorrow. The making of a bell is an ingenious and time consuming process – especially making sure it rings the right note!

These photos show something of the place, but one really needs to be there to understand it all. One thing that stood out for Stewart and I was that the moment of pouring the molten brass into the carefully constructed mould is so important that the priest from the church that had ordered the bell would come to the foundry, with other dignitaries, to say prayers for a safe casting.

The other museum that attracted us was the watermill museum. Water cascades through the middle of the town, although that was not its original course. Alongside the cascade first one, then two, then three watermills were built to mill a variety of products. Two of these buildings now form a museum, with the water still pouring past and turning waterwheels.

It was a wonderful sound!

After two days and nights in town we set off for the country leaving the pretty and historic town of Saarburg behind.

We soon had another lock to rise up through. And this time I was fascinated by the structure of the gate at the top end.

Looking up from the depths I could see lines of small circles against the sky.

And down at my level there were much bigger circular spaces too.

They seem to be designed to let the water through in a slower more controlled ,manner – but I am happy for any engineer to correct me.

Then as we rose up I started to see the huge arcing mechanism that would lower the door in a curve to take it below the level fo the water when the lock was full.

This would allow barges to move over the door and into the river.

Fantastic! And a far cry from the lock gates of centuries gone when there would be big beams of wood for the bargees to push in order to open the doors – but the locks were much much shallower then!

For those as nerdy as me, or just fascinated by the movement of water, here is a little video of the gate going down, and the river beyond.

There are several long long quays along the Sarr (and other rivers) set aside for commercial barges to take a break overnight, at weekends and between jobs. Most of these have 20m at one or both end where Sportsboots (as we leisure boats are called in Germany) can moor.

We were off to sample two of these, passing along a spectacular river valley on the way, still with a few vineyards to be seen! And a chance to get the bed linen washed and dried before our guests arrived.

We arrived at the first long quay, at Hamm, on a Friday at around noon. We were pleased to see only one boat – a work boat – moored on the entire length. Surprisingly this was moored at the very far end, and was more than 20m. The other end had a sign for boats carrying dangerous cargo – definitely not us – so we went and moored behind the work boat, which was empty and seemingly there for the weekend.

Yes, that is little us, dwarfed by the landscape and the work boat!

The views to the vineyards on the hills opposite were lovely, though slightly spoilt by noise from a road opposite.

We went for a walk around the area – all countryside. It was definitely sunhat weather, and we were pleased to find a seat in the shade half way round! Then we settled down for the evening. In fact we settled down for two evenings, staying there a second night.

Just a couple of extras for this mooring – a visit from a silver fritillary butterfly and a fly past by an air balloon.

The next section of the journey was a part of the river loved by hotel and passenger boats, because it goes through Mettlach, historical home of Villeroy Bosch, and current home to one of their factory outlet shops, right on the river.

This meant that when we reached the lock at Mettlach we were told we must wait to use the smaller of the two locks until two passenger boats had left Villeroy Bosch and gone upstream through the lock.

This was the first tone on the Saar that we found the large (commercial barge) and small (private and smaller craft) locks side by side – a feature we saw often on the Moselle.

Not a problem; all part of life on the water. We tied up in sight of the lock and had lunch while we waited.

This voyage upstream towards our next mooring was even more spectacular, than the day before, including a hairpin bend with high wooded slopes each side. A wonderful ‘lookout’ has been built at the top right on the curve; we could just see people way up above us, looking down.

This photo may give a better idea of the scale, as we cruised on up river away from the ‘treetop walk.

In case you are going to be in the area, here is its website:

https://www.baumwipfelpfade.de/en/saarschleife/

Not far then to Schwemlingen, the second of our long quays.

This time there was a cabin cruiser at the far end and we went to tie up next to it. We liked it even more than Hamm and stayed three nights. A big commercial barge came and went and a couple of other Sportsboots visited for a night or two as well.

The commercial barge was carrying its family as well as its cargo and it was wonderful to see how the youngsters made use of the on board crane for fun.

It was getting hot, and they certainly had the right idea, putting the river too good use.

We too had a rolling strategy! As the weather warmed up we took advantage of the breezes by opening up the dog box on the roof. It somehow makes Calliope feel even more summery!

While we were there we took a walk over the bridge to Besseringen to find a bakery, and anything else of interest. We did find some nice bread, and an interesting piece of art at the end of the village hall, but little else to be honest.

We were entertained one evening by the local fireman and women coming to practise their rib and man-overboard skills, plus hose practise into the canal.

And we were certainly entertained, if not enthralled, by the sunsets!

While we were moored up we had seen a lovely old tjalk pass by and had exchanged happy waves with the crew. Next day we found ourselves passing them, waving again.

Then at the next lock, with only a large commercial lock top use, we were asked (told!) to wait for another boat.

And after 15 minutes or so, who should arrive but the tjalk and crew!

We would have been happy to share the lock with any boat, but it was particularly nice to get a bit closer to this lovely boast and crew.

Captain Stu, being at the stern, was able to have a good chat with them as we slowly rose up to the top.

waved

We continued on our way, with fingers crossed, towards Saarlouis. We knew that the pontoon there was only about 40m long. Luck was on our side and we found a half empty pontoon to welcome the ‘just-under-20m’ Calliope; smiles all round.

Saarlouis rather took us by surprise. We had done no research beyond knowing that there was a big supermarket near the mooring.

What we were not prepared for was finding a town immersed in the history of Franco/German conflict. At one point in time Louis, the Sun King of France, ordered Vauban to build fortifications here – and many still remain.

Also there are lovely narrow side streets in the old part of town now given over to café and bar culture. We sat ourselves down and enjoyed salad with a local ‘pizza’ – the base was made of good German potato!

We were only supposed to have one night on the pontoon, but we sneaked in a second one (sorry to disobey the rules, but no other boats came along wanting to moor there). This allowed us to see a bit more of the town, and to stock up on beer and wine before our visitors arrived. Bizarrely the huge supermarket had hardly any beer and no wine boxes!

We also got our first view of the Saar Polygon. This is a monument commemorating the coal mining industry in Saarland, which ended in June 2012. As you move around it it appears to change shape – a very clever piece of design.

I keep giving weblinks in this blog – but there are so many things that I’d like you to know more about than I can describe or photograph. So here is a link to the Saar Polygon. https://www.bergbauerbesaar.de

I tried to get a few photos as we cruised nearby to catch the different perspectives, but alas the best I got looks almost the same as before. So I have added a couple of other things I likes along the way – a church that I think is at Bous and some colourful buoys.

Next stop – Völklingen. We knew it was a popular mooring because of the UNESCO Heritage status of the huge Ironworks (steel mill) museum. As we got close we saw the magnificent outline of the old industrial site that we would be visiting soon.

We had left early, for us, to make sure that we got there in time to secure a mooring for the next few days. It was a Friday, so a little anxiety about lots of boats turning up for the weekend.

We need not have worried. We arrived to find a long empty pontoon apart from a couple of very small boats that seemed to have long term moorings. It was a far lovelier than we had hoped; we had expected something rather industrial, but in fact it was a quiet mooring with nice scenery around.

We got secure and then began the fun of registering with the town hall, in German. My German language skills date back to school about 60 years ago, and were not great then! But Google Translate came to the rescue and we registered, and got the code to the pontoon gate so that we could get back in.

We had a relaxation day before son and grandson would arrive in Saarbrucken, following a flight to Luxembourg. That allowed us a walk around town, on both sides of the river. The steel mill side was quiet and typical of a town that has had a busy industrial past, but is now mostly a suburb of Saarbrucken. But it does have two good looking buildings with verdigris weathered roofs. And some great street art running through a subway – this is about a fifth of the total work.

We also had an external view of the Ironworks, or Steel mill, that would be our focus on Monday.

So awesome against the blue sky – but of course when it was a working site the sky would have been sulphurous yellow and smoke would have obliterated all the structures.

The mooring a also by the ‘Alte Sluis’, or old lock, that served the steel mill many years ago. It is now a quiet place for turtles, kingfishers, green woodpeckers and photographers!

Apparently the European ‘pond turtle’ is now quite rare so we were lucky to catch a glimpse.

And a glimpse is about all I can include here!

By the end of Saturday we were pleased about our early arrival. We had visited the local supermarket and stoked up on German delicacies, beer and wine ready for our guests and sat back for a quiet evening. We celebrated being there with a gentle G&T on the back deck, and waited to see the sun go down.

The next day the pontoon completely filled up with friendly German and Swiss boat crews! So our advice to you is arrive Monday to Friday, as it seems popular at the weekend.

There really was a surprising amount of wildlife around.

This musk beetle turned up to delight us – I had no idea what it was, but Google helped!

And on a more ordinary note, the two Völklingen swans came by to help me get rid of all our old crusts.

(I too have read that I should not feed bread to swans, but everywhere I go I see them thriving and see people giving them bread, so I don’t know.)

Sunday was not really about Calliope cruising, but as it was our main visit to Saarbrucken I have included it. We bought train tickets online to go and meet Ashley and Harvey, walked up to the station and were pleased to see it was not long to wait for the train.

But a slight setback when the train came in! Everyone on board was wearing a mask (Covid) and ours were back on Calliope 15 minutes away! So crew made a mad dash back, returned with masks and we were on the next train. Phew!

Saarbrucken is a big modern city with some genuine old features. The area around the town hall and Sankt Johanner Markt is lovely. We did end up there for a lunch of worst and frites while waiting for the airport bus to arrive.

We also walked by the river and looked at the potential mooring – very nice and green on that side of the river, with a full motorway on the other bank. Not for us then!

Once back in Völklingen with family we had an evening on board catching up with news and planning the next day.

This blog cannot do justice to the amazing place that is the Ironworks museum. When we went there was also a music video exhibition in the Blower Hall, so here are a couple of photos from there. TRhere was everything from Madonna to Peter Gabriel, Ganman Style to Queen, Leningrad to lots of things I’ve never heard of!

I hope this photo gives a sense of scale – yes that’s me by that big wheel – not a doll!

This is where the ‘blast’ originates for the blast furnaces that we saw later.

One of the things I most loved, both in the blower hall and throughout the steel mill, was the sense that the workers had just gone home; that they would be back.

Their tools, work clothes, and things like coffee mugs sat waiting to be ;picked up and used again.

Then the steel mill itself is so large and complex all I can do is add a few photos and a link to the web site – but it is superb! We explored it top to bottom.

So here are a very few of my photos, and the link to the wonderful website.

https://voelklinger-huette.org/en/

The views from the top were far far reaching in every direction, and Harvey was proud to have his Pompey (Portsmouth FC) shirt taken to new heights!

By the way he doesn’t have pale blue hair. We all had to put on blue hair covers before we put on the hard hats!

Some of the steel mill complex has now been allowed to go back to nature; watching nature reclaim the area is wonderful, and we were all glad of the cool green spaces after the hot metallic ones!

Throughout the steel mill there were pieces of urban art, far too many to display here. Lone installation I liked was a careful placing of old work lockers – genuine lockers from various industries across Germany.

What they had in common was their connection to the people who used them – clocked in each day, hung up their home clothes, stored away their lunch boxes for later, and sometimes wrote little messages to themselves or others.

and a little more of the urban art ….

One exhibit was rather alarming!

Especially when it seemed to pick Harvey up and look round for spomeswhdere to take him!

Luckily we rescued him from King Kong’s clutches.

It was exhilarating, informational, and exhausting – so we recovered in the museum beer garden before heading back over the river for supper in a Turkish restaurant.

[I am just wondering whether to share with you my most fun moment of the day ….. it does make me laugh so I hope it will amuse you too ……… ]

Enough of that nonsense!

Ashley and Harvey wanted some cruising on their short holiday; we planned to spend a day carrying on southwards, up river, through Saarbrucken, to Sarreguemines.

The journey was lovely, passing by interesting locks, villages, and of course through Saarbrucken.

For a while we were cruising midstream between France, on the starboard side, and Germany, on the port. Although this is obvious it really helps to make clear how often rivers are borders, and areas for battles – hence the many castles we have seen.

We reached a very different lock on the outskirts of Saarbrucken. We were in a very new freycinet sized lock, with obvious work going on alongside. It looks like a big commercial size lock is being built there to allow more working barges up the Sarr.

It was quite funny because the sound emitted when one raises the blue lever to operate the lock is more like an alarm bell! It certainly caused me to check I had not pushed the red alarm lever!

The next lock was at Grosblieberstroff.

We went up the lock easily enough and sat back at the top waiting for the gates to open.

But they didn’t – and it was a few minutes before it sank in that all the notices on the nearby building. in three languages, were telling us that we needed to collect a remote control to use at all the locks from here to the end of the Canal de la Sarre!

Once the remote was collected the gates smoothly opened.

We were soon underway again, cruising in the most beautiful weather, with the front windscreen down and a happy Captain who was in both shade and breeze at the same time.

Both the additional crew members helped out at locks and, in Ashley’s case, at the helm as well.

Calliope is a lovely boat for two to handle, but it is still a treat to sometimes have someone else sitting out i the sun!

Still have to give them some time off!

The last lock, on the edge of Sarreguemines, was essentially the border and we passed back into France from Germany; time to change the courtesy flag again!

(I did say that this was the German stretch of our Saar journey, but I will allow myself a few extra hundred yards just to complete our time with Ashley and Harvey aboard.)

We knew there was lots of pontoon space there so were initially a bit despondent when it all seemed to be full of boats. Then we saw a third pontoon with only one boat. Hooray! We were soon secure on the mooring, and not long after another boat joined us, so three in a row, next to a park.

To cut a longish story short, it was mainly empty because of its proximity to a footbridge from where Bastille Day fireworks would be set off the next day. But the Capitaine said we would be fine and we settled in with front row back deck seats for the spectacular next day.

It was an easy place to settle in to. We were moored almost on front of Le Casino des Fäienceries – now a restaurant but built by Paul de Geiger, director of the Faïenceries, who had it built in 1878 to provide a meeting place for his employees. We were also treated to lovely evening skies and many wonderful floral displays – this one on the passerelle (foot bridge) just by the mooring.

As Ashley and Harvey had not had a chance to see Saarbrucken, and we all had €9 train tickets to anywhere in Germany for a month, I returned with them for another wander. Drinks and ice cream were the main requisites as we walked round!! Somehow the only photo of the trip was waiting at the station!

It has to be said that it was hot both in the city and back in Sarreguemines. We were in the shade a lot of the day, at the edge of a park, but even so we were looking for ways to cool down

Grandson had one.

And we all had another!

This was quite an eventful cooling, with Stewart spitting out beer, plus a wasp(!!!), and Ashley somehow knocking over a full 50cl of beer, trying to rescue it, the glass breaking and him cutting his finger!

But all was soon returned to normal. mainly due to a very lovely and efficient waitress, who immediately appeared with elastoplast, a new beer, and jugs of water to clean up.

The night that ended with fireworks, and began with the usual bustling fun of a French town partying. We found somewhere to get beer, Creamant, burgers and chips, with plenty of music up and down every street.

Later we watched one of the best ‘feu artifice’ displays I have ever seen outside a major city. They were doubly fabulous because of the reflections in the river alongside Calliope. Thank you Sarreguemines.

All too soon it was time for Ashley and Harvey to go home. We began by walkng through the park and over the passerelle towards the station. Then they reversed their journey from 4 days before, by train to Saarbrucken, bus to Luxembourg and air to London. Stu and I walked with them to wave goodbye, then back to a quiet empty boat.

It was so lovely there in Sarreguemines that we stayed an extra night and visited the wonderful ceramics museum and gardens – but that is in the next blog – the French part of the Sarre!

One river; three countries

170kms of La Moselle, travelling through France and Luxembourg …………. looking at Germany!

16th to 29th June 2022

We left Toul part way through a heat wave, with temperatures in the higher 30°C expected for the next few days. We were still on the canal de La Marne au Rhin for one km, going under two very different bridges – one that was part of the original fortifications around the city, and the other a modern lift bridge.

Then we went through two locks at right angles to each other and dropped down just over 6 m to join the river Moselle. At the second of these locks, 27 bis, the window of the old lock office had been replaced with a mirror! It’s me having fun – definitely not being vain.

And then we were on our way out to join the river.

In all the Moselle is 545kms long so our travels, just beginning, were along less than a third of its length.

The first section of the river, towards Pompey and onward to Metz forms the northern arc of ‘la boucle de Nancy’, a vaguely circular set of waterways comprising La Moselle and La Meurthe which go through Nancy at their south-eastern edge. It is an attractive stretch passing through lots of countryside, and in areas the river widens out to form lakes covered with swans.

After our ‘loop’ down the Moselle and up the Saar we would be heading for Nancy and see more of the ‘boucle’. For now the northern arc was our direction, and a gentle 16 kms of that on our first day.

Boating friends had told us of an ultra shady mooring at Liverdun, ideal for enjoying two or three extra hot days. There were two locks along the way and at the first we found a yacht form the UK waiting for us so that the lock keeper could drop two boats down together. They looked even smaller than us in the mighty cavern of the second 7.3m lock at Aingeray.

It was one of those locks where we needed to move our fore and aft ropes down the ‘step bollards’ in the wall of the lock.

Pleasantly, in this lock, the bollards were a comfortable distance apart for Calliope, although not quite as easy for the yacht who had to take both ropes to a mid point , and share step bollards.

Following the yacht, Magic Hen, along the river we realised that they were heading into the almost hidden entrance for the Liverdun mooring, and its 20m pontoon …….. would we both have space to moor there?

Luckily the answer was yes; the pontoon is ‘moorable’ on both sides and soon we were both secure in the small inlet with trees all round.

There was only one thing. At this tine off year, midsummer, the sun is so high in the sky that there is never any shade until sundown! Ah well, with our usual selection of parasols and drapes we will keep Calliope cool enough.

And there were colourful picnic tables under the trees just right for meals and drinks with new friends in the shade. (We discovered that the crew of Magic Hen were not only from the UK, but were from Winchester – a city we know well and not far from our town home).

During our stay there we went for a walk up (and up) the hill to the old town of Liverdun, perched way above the mooring.

There are many interesting old buildings up there, including the chateau and the church. There are also great views up and down narrow streets, some with pieces of artwork to decorate the way.

There was even a very smart lavoir building, dating back to 1901. Prior to this the washerwomen of the village had to go right down the hill to the river, then carry it all back up again!

I’m hoping that my photo of the sign outside the lavoir will give you an idea of the change for the local villagers!

It was easier on the way down!

We were also there on Farther’s Day – and had a great surprise. Our daughter called to wish the Captain a Happy Father’s Day, and said that as she could not take him out to lunch she had transferred some money so that we could go out for a meal courtesy of her!

Straight across the inlet from the mooring is a casual bar restaurant with plenty of trees and umbrella’s to keep customers cool. An evening stroll round the water meant we had a wonderful few hours eating and drinking. I think that looks like a happy Father/Captain!

The assiette of cheese and charcuterie to keep us going until our food arrived was HUGE! Sadly no room left at the end for any of their tempting desserts.

And all within sight of Calliope – actually about 50 yards away, although it looks like I could touch her. if you are observant you will realise that we are now on the inside of the pontoon. Magic Hen had gone, so we moved onto the slightly shadier side and were later joined by two holiday boats for the night.

After three nights at Liverdun the weather cooled a bit and we decided to move on down the Moselle to discover more of her charms, starting off under the bridge at Liverdun – a long and graceful arched structure.

The first lock and town we passed was Pompey – a special for me because that is my home town, the nickname of Portsmouth. It is not an exciting or scenic photo I’m afraid.

We passed various riverside industry that day, from the derelict to the functioning. I love the colour and structure that they add to the landscape.

Calliope cruised on until we reached Pont-à-Mousson, named after the bridge that went over the Moselle towards the hill named Mousson where a castle once stood.

We found the hoped-for mooring empty – one that has a notice suggesting that only VNF and commercials to use the space but the DBA (Dutch Barge Association) mooring guide says it is commonly used, so we used it and had no problems! It is a dead end start to the re-routed Meurthe river, and a nice place to stop.

There is a big abbey the other side of the Meuse, seen here through the huge windows of a building that is the covered market, open on a Saturday. Sadly, for me, we were there on a Monday!

There were other lovely historic buildings and quirky modern additions around the town, seen on our quick walk in search of a shop that sold fresh milk! The old lavoir building on the left now seems to be a centre of music, both learning and performing, and on the right is an innovative way to encourage people to recycle their plastic bottle tops – to my mind a great idea that could be adopted all over the world.

I went for a second walk later, round the park and leisure grounds adjoining the mooring. It was great to see all kinds of sport going on – tennis, boules, football, a gym, rugby – and a stunning sky as a backdrop.

We had planned just the one night stop here so were off next day after breakfast, passing by the afore mentioned abbey at closer quarters.

Before long we found ourselves part of a little convoy of four bateaux de plaisance, moving dow the Moselle through lovely scenery on another blue day.

Calliope shared a few locks with them – plenty of space for all.

And in one lock I saved the life of a little fish caught on the platform of a bollard in the wall as the water drained from the lock!

My good deed of the day.

Now we had a different set of sights to take in. On the left is part, I think, of an old roman aqueduct. Certainly there is one in the vicinity, so I hope this is part of it. And secondly the paraphernalia required on the water to repair a bridge from below.

It is one of the delights of our cruising life to every day be gently (mostly) introduced to interesting and/or beautiful things to look at. To be honest it is the main reason we chose to do this wonderful crazy thing, seeing Europe from the waterside rather than the roadside.

We were heading for Metz, apparently a vibrant historically interesting city. To make sure of our place there for three nights we had contacted the Capitaine of the port and reserved ourselves a hammerhead mooring. Unfortunately it was not to be. When we arrived another, much shorter, boat was moored across ‘our’ hammerhead and refused to move. The Capitaine could not be reached by phone and was not in her office – so after hovering around for a while in the middle of the port we decided to leave Metz to another day and find ourselves a good mooring for the night.

Continuing down the Moselle our nerves were soothed by the countryside around us, including this little old watermill on the eastern bank.