Thursday, 20 December 2012

Encore France: Day 14 - Back to Paris

A slightly warmer morning in Amiens, which goes to figure as it is time to return to Paris. After our usual wander around town we headed off to the railway station for our train back to the beautiful City of Light. 
On arrival we grabbed a taxi and went first to the Hotel Agora Saint-Germain to collect the luggage which we had left there before heading to the 7th arrondissement and the apartment we had booked on rue de l’Université. We had arranged to meet the apartment manager at the hotel at 14.30 and had confirmed this to her by email, giving her our train details etc. However, on arriving at the apartment block we discovered - surprise, surprise – that she wasn’t waiting, despite the fact that she had assured us that she would be there. I telephoned her and she expressed her own surprise, claiming that she wasn’t expecting us until later. She then said that she lived in the 14th and so it would take her some time to get to the apartment. She suggested that in the interim we should walk down to rue St-Dominique to check out the shops and said she would meet us outside the complex in an hour.  
Unfortunately, we now, of course, had all our luggage with us, but we had no choice and so we walked down rue Malar to rue St-Dominique. We noticed two supermarkets just literally around the corner, so fantastically convenient but the nearest place we could spot to sit down and have a coffee was a Starbucks. Now, not being American, we are not fans of Starbucks, finding their coffee pretty ordinary and not being enamoured of the whole way the place works, but at least we could sit down with our suitcases and while some time away in comfort and so we decided to go for it with one of their watery offerings. 
In due course we made our way back to the apartment, and within a few minutes the delightful young woman who managed the apartment came rushing along the street, ushered us into the building and up in the elevator to the apartment which would be our home for the next week.  
I had found and booked the apartment through VRBO, and realise that photographs on such sites – as with professional photographs of hotels – are often not that reflective of the reality. What looked quite stylish on the website looked rather tired and in need of renovating in reality. However, it was a fairly modern apartment, in a lovely quiet complex with a really attractive courtyard garden, and with fantastic double glazing (and the weather was cccold, shiveringly cold) and window shutters.  
The décor was, shall we say, different. The bathroom really gave us cause to pause. It was all gold and marble and – well, basically, gaudy, and also in dire need of some work as there were tiles which were chipped or loose, a mirror which was cracked, a cupboard door which didn’t quite close, and a toilet that needed three or four goes to flush each time. The bedroom was so OTT it was amazing. There were heaps of cupboards, which was great, and the bed was very comfortable. However, there was a bamboo-like wallpaper behind the bed, wallpaper that had the texture and look of one of those thatch fences which seem so popular amongst people wanting to create the Bali look in suburban homes. But then we noticed the wallpaper on the ceiling. My mind tries to forget, but I think I remember it as being very ornate and with lots of gold flecks. Eeee!  The kitchen was functional, as long as you kept a dish sponge in the sink to absorb the sound of the drip, drip, dripping of the tap which was probably in need of a new washer. There were plenty of glasses and dinnerware, and a great waste chute which we made good use of, not being used to such things. There was a second toilet, in a small room which also housed the washing machine, and at least this one seemed to have no issues regarding flushing, but it did have one of those wooden seats, which I always think are very suss hygiene-wise. The living area looked fine, containing a couple of settees and a dining suit. The dining suit was great, but the two settees were well past retirement age, sloping dangerously towards the floor at one end and just offering a selection of different sized lumps and bumps in other places. We found it far more comfortable to just sit on the floor. The carpet was pretty grotty, being quite badly stained and also quite worn in places. 
Nevertheless, this was our first apartment in Paris and most of these things just seemed quirky. Besides, the place was beautifully warm, the bed huge and comfortable, the location fantastic, and we simply looked forward to living there, in a complex with locals and being able to get a feel of living in Paris. So, happily accepting the keys and signing the contract, we promised the manager that we would call her if we had any issues but assured her that we had no doubt all would be just wonderful, we walked back to the entrance hall to see her out. Oops, where had that front door gone? Hang on a moment. We came in through a door here somewhere, we know we did, but there was now no door leading off that entrance hall other than the doors to the bedroom, kitchen and laundry. Where was the front door? As we chatted to her I looked all around the room – yes, door, door, door, curtain. Curtain? Why hadn’t I noticed that heavy floor to ceiling curtain when we came in? And why would there be a window there, on an internal wall? And then she moved toward the curtain, pulled it to one side, and – voila – there was the front door. This was the first time we came across that (to us) crazy concept of hiding the entrance with a curtain. I’ve heard various theories on why it’s done, from thermal insulation to hiding possessions from tax assessors (yes, seriously). Whatever the reason, it does strike us as passing strange. We sometimes closed that curtain just to confuse ourselves. Weird. 
I unpacked our luggage, checked out all the nooks and crannies in the apartment, and then we headed off to the famous rue Cler, that favourite street of American tourists but which is almost a cliché, to fill our basket with delicious cheeses, pates, olives, hams and tomatoes. We found a wonderful patisserie on rue St-Dominique just before rue Cler and bought some delicious bread and a couple of delicious Opera cakes 
After depositing our goodies back in “our” apartment we wandered – of course – through to the river, strolling arm in arm down to the Eiffel Tower, and then back the other way as far as the National Assembly building. We then turned again, took a walk around les Invalides and then back along rue St-Dominique where we passed people dining at tiny little Parisienne tables outside charming looking bistros, enjoying the wonderful aromas issuing forth from inside, and pausing to admire the lovely wares on offer in the shop windows along the way. 
Ah, and we knew that we were back in Paris when we saw this classic piece of Paris parking. 
How do they get out in the morning?
(Actually, how do they get in?)
Tomorrow I’ll be offering more photographs as we visit Tour Montparnasse for the best views in Paris, drop in to the Madeleine to listen to angelic voices united in song, and have our eyes glazed over again by the opulence of the Garnier Opera House. I hope to see you then.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Encore France: Day 13, Amiens

From the journal: 
Started the day with a can of iced tea (yes, I know – how sad!) in lieu of anything else, but looked forward to a nice cooked breakfast and some great coffee somewhere in town. So, after a quick shower we rugged up like Eskimaux and took to the streets in search of an inviting eatery. Huh, what a fruitless search! It was 9.30 of a Sunday morning and we could not find a single place open. Amazing. Not even McDonald’s opened before 10.00 am, which we found really stunning, not that we would have gone there but it wasn’t an option anyway. We kept wandering and wandering around the streets, only to discover that lots of places – read “lots” as “most” – weren’t even open by 10.30. 
Amiens town centre has some lovely buildings
Eventually we spotted a little café which was open - it was a tea house, actually, and quite a charming place – and so we eagerly entered and there enjoyed the most superb Croque Monsieur and fantastic coffee. And we weren’t alone: there were two English families who had similarly been walking around for ages in search of somewhere to take breakfast, plus a middle-aged German couple. 
Some great streets to wander down.
The Germans, professional people from Berlin, sat at the next table along and started chatting to us, firstly simply expressing how unbelievable they found it that this was the first place they had found to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee. They then stunned us as they talked of their amazement over the damage inflicted on France in two wars, and actually said that they had always only thought about German towns being destroyed and that they had no idea other places, other countries, had suffered so much. We were staggered. I mean, where had these people been hiding for the last half a century to be so ignorant of the devastation of two world wars? Then they were quite insulting by saying that while on their tour they had noticed quite a few memorials to Australians who fought in World War One and they asked us what business either wars had been of ours anyway. Wow! 
Not a lot of people around, that's for sure.
After breakfast we strolled down to Notre Dame d’Amiens Cathedral to have another look. What a perfect time it was to do so as there was a mass being held in the beautiful central chapel area and when we entered the organ was playing and a choir was singing. It was indeed heavenly. We sat there enthralled for 15 or 20 minutes until the service ended. It was such a beautiful interlude. 
The magnificent Notre Dame d'Amiens -
impossible to capture with our little camera.
Leaving the church, we went for quite a long walk around town to build up our appetite for a yummy lunch somewhere in St Leu, perhaps at one of the two restaurants which Bertrand had recommended to us – Tante Jéanne’s or Belu. 
And fabulous, fabulous St Leu style
As it happened, Belu was closed and Tante Jéanne’s menu simply didn’t appeal. The man really felt like that most French of dishes – steak frittes – and I just wanted anything hot and yummy. After following the local habit of slowly cruising backwards and forwards along the canal-side checking out the displayed menus for all the wonderful restaurants at least twice, we decided to opt for lunch at Le Quay Restaurant, probably the most expensive one on the St Leu strip. 
What a fantastic area St Leu is.
What can I say? What an experience. Sometimes a restaurant and a meal are truly memorable. This was one such restaurant and one such meal.  
Incredibly beautiful.
We decided to sit outside, even though the day was freezing, and so the young, and totally charming, waiter - who we were to learn had recently spent two months in Australia - brought over an outdoor heater and positioned it near our table so that we were soon comfortable. For our Kir Royale he actually uncorked a bottle of Moet et Chandon, which he opened at the table so that we could see it was the real deal. We may have intended to have a simple meal, but as soon as we sat down we knew it would be special and it was. Kir Royale made with Moet, an amuse bouche of fresh scallops with tarragon, meat so tender you could have cut it with a spoon, and crème caramel that deserved a medal, all washed down with a pichet of light and lovely red, and finished with a delicious espresso. We agreed that we could never ever return to Amiens without returning to Le Quay Restaurant 
Just open your mouth and say Ahhhh. Lovely St Leu.
Fully sated and having stored away for ourselves a lovely memory, we then walked along the riverside and through the parklands, pausing to watch a soccer game in progress. Despite the day not starting as we had expected, it had turned out to be a wonderful one and we happily wandered around Amiens for a few hours before returning to the hotel in the evening, with some simple fare and the usual bottle of vino for our evening repast.
Tomorrow we train it back to our beautiful Paris. See you then. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Encore France: Day 12, Cappy to Amiens

From the journal:
After a light breakfast and a quick tidy-up of the boat, we completed the handover formalities with Bertrand, including giving him a box of Australian chocolate-coated macadamia nuts (yum yum) and receiving from him a Locaboat cap. All went very smoothly and there were, of course, no hassles with the vessel.
We were now ready to say goodbye to Cappy, and so Bertrand phoned a taxi for us and it turned up very quickly to whisk us off on the next stage of our holiday: a little time in Amiens. The fog was incredibly heavy, but the driver drove surely through the greyness and we were in Amiens in no time at all, with him pulling to the kerb outside our hotel.
Our room wasn’t ready as it was still only mid-morning, and so we left our luggage with the receptionist and went in search of the famous Notre Dame d’Amiens. The hotel was very, very close to the Cathedral and all we had read said that you could see it from the hotel and so would have no trouble locating it. However, the fog was so heavy that nothing was visible in the sky, and it was actually quite difficult to get our bearings as the visibility was so low.
Nevertheless, by a very circuitous route – probably covering double the actual distance – we at last came upon the Cathedral, which is actually the largest in France, and we were indeed duly impressed. The dimensions are absolutely awesome, and somehow the incredible soaring ceilings inside make your soul soar also. You feel so tiny in this space but somehow so lifted up. Were such structures really built for the glory of God, or for the glory of man? Whichever is more true, I doubt that anybody could visit such places without thinking of God.
How sad, though, and what a reflection on society, that outside all such monuments to God’s love and grace one always finds beggars holding out their paper cups for alms while inside people spend so much money on candles, postcards and – frequently quite tacky – souvenir medallions.
After visiting Notre Dame we wandered along the main shopping mall and found a jeweller’s store where we were able to buy a watch for the man’s battery. That the watch hadn’t been working for a few days on the boat was no big deal: time becomes almost irrelevant when you are drifting slowly through the beautiful French countryside.
By now we were both beginning to feel, however, that we had stepped out of France and into the Arctic Circle – it was absolutely FREEZING. We spotted a Galleries Lafayette and went in there to buy some warmer gloves, getting the shop attendant to remove the labels so that we could wear them straight away as our normal gloves just weren’t doing the job.
Now much warmed – no, now less freezing, we went to a café, La Forum, for a truly delicious lunch of Ficelle Picardie, a truly great ham and mushroom crepe, and local cider. Wonderful food, and also wonderful to have heaps of room in which to enjoy your meal, so different to the usual matter of sitting almost thigh to thigh with strangers at cafés and bistros in Paris.
Beautiful building opposite the Cathedral
It was now time to return to the hotel, which we were glad to do because as soon as we left the café we were hit once again by the cold, cold air.
What a surprise awaited us in our room! We were allocated room 130, which was obviously VERY newly renovated (smell those paint fumes!). One wall was covered in totally gorgeous wallpaper of drawings of sheep, white on a black background, obviously a little something for when you can’t sleep. Another wall was painted bright, bright, bright lime green. Wow! And then we checked out the bathroom. Truly amazing! The vanity, which was a large glass bowl raised up over a lime green cupboard, was quite groovy enough, but then – the piece de resistance – we noticed the burnt orange/vermilion glass shower screen over the bathtub. It was the same colour as the paint on the walls above the tiling, which mercifully was white. Incredible décor indeed. It was just so delightfully quirky and unexpected that we absolutely loved it, I have to tell you.
My man then opted for a shower in that fantabulous bathroom while I decided to walk back towards the town centre in search of a hairdressing salon. I found one only a couple of blocks from the hotel, and was delighted with the treatment I received there – shampoo, trim, blow-dry, and a great cup of coffee all for about 20, a damn sight better than the 60-odd I had paid in Paris previously.

Now you really can count sheep.
Fabulous, isn't it.
When I got back to the hotel we checked out our local map and, as the fog had now lifted and we could actually see where we were going, decided to head out to have a look at the St Leu area, which had been described to us as the “Venice of the North”. Well, the streets we walked down in search of this particular Venice certainly did not inspire confidence: lots of scary looking skinhead types, young yobs, beggars, and graffiti everywhere.
But then – ah, doesn’t this happen so often – we turn a corner and … no, it wasn’t “Venice of the North”, but suddenly it was there in front of us, charming, quaint, absolutely lovely, lots of old houses squeezed together fronting the canal, many of them restaurants offering wonderful-sounding dishes and with great smells emanating from inside. We decided to return the next day for lunch.
We then retraced our steps to the hotel, stopping at a supermarket along the way for some iced tea, chocolate and wine. And, hey, here are some of those yummy French party mix type lollies. Must have some of those. A good idea?
Back in our room we drank our iced tea and munched on some lollies while we read a newspaper (our first in over a week). We then opened a bottle of wine for a little pre-dinner drink, thinking of what culinary delights we might sample this evening.

The buildings opposite the cathedral.
(Just bought my first ever photo-editing software and have to try it out - sorry.)
Hm! I quite suddenly started to feel really, really tired. I had no enthusiasm for dinner, but was quite sure that once we were out I would be okay and so we rugged up and headed to the centre of town. By the time we got there I was almost sleepwalking and was once again experiencing strong stomach pains. The thought of food was decidedly unappealing, to the point where I couldn’t even face watching my husband eat and so there was no way we could go to a restaurant.
My poor man; it was happening again.  He was so sweet and settled for a waffle from a street trader which he ate while we walked back to the hotel. I wasn’t as ill as I had been in Picquigny, nowhere near it, but it certainly spoilt the evening for us.
And the lesson is: avoid those French mixed lollies, as they must be the culprits. My man thinks it’s the blue ones, that blue lollies are just wrong. I can’t agree there, instead feeling that there is simply a sweetener (or some additive) used in the local lollies which my whole system objects to.  Such as bummer as they taste so good.
And so to bed – a lovely, comfortable bed with crisp white sheets and a fantastic pillow. Ah, heaven.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Encore France: Day 11 - Corbie to Cappy

From the journal: 

Thinking for some reason that Corbie to Cappy was only a three hour run, we had planned to visit Villers-Bretonneux in the morning and then make our run into Cappy after lunch. Luckily, my trusty Captain decided to check the distance in the cruise guide, and the amount of locks to pass through, and discovered, to our horror, that it was at least a five hour trip. Oops. 
We had another quick walk about in Corbie – do so like that town – and picked up another Flamiche (couldn’t help ourselves) and some of the wonderful local Picardie cider to wash it down with.

Beautiful scenery along the Somme between Corbie and Cappy
The countryside between Corbie and Cappy really is quite, quite beautiful and it is just a shame that it bucketed down most of the day and so we had to stay inside the boat instead of being in our favoured position up on top.  

Street scenes in Cappy

We reached Cappy at about 5.30 in the afternoon and tied up at the quayside, the jetties being fully occupied by other Locaboat vessels which had found their way home, like little lost sheep, during the week that we had been gone. 

Cappy War Memorial
Once all was secured we wandered around this interesting little town, the closest to where Manfred von Richthofen aka The Red Baron was shot down during World War One. We took a few photographs before returning to the boat and our last meal onboard and snuggling down for our last sleep on the lovely bateau Labreilloire.

And tomorrow we sadly hand the vessel back to Locaboat and then depart Cappy again for Amiens, but this time by road. See you then.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Encore France: Day 10 - Picquigny to Corbie

From the journal: 

Wow, amazingly I woke up feeling totally rested, quite buoyant, and with absolutely no after-effects of last night. Can’t believe how good I felt. It seemed to really bode well for a great day’s trip back to Corbie, even if the morning was an exceedingly cold one.
However, shortly after breakfast we noticed that the heater wasn’t working and so we had no heat, and no hot water. Brrh!  We phoned Locaboat and they said that Bertrand would meet us at Corbie to investigate the issue, and so we set off once more, wearing a couple of layers of sweaters plus gloves, hats, and scarves pulled up over the lower half of our faces.
Lovely riverside homes which we passed
in Amiens

We had a delightful little experience while cruising back through Amiens. As we passed a lovely area of parkland we notice a whole group of very young school children in the park, with their teacher. We both waved. The teacher said something to the children and then they all, in unison, waved and called our "Bonjour monsieur/dame". We called back "Bonjour mes enfants". It was just the loveliest thing and put a big smile on our dials.

Modern - and I think quite lovely - Amiens houses

The current was running quite strongly, and of course we were going up the locks instead of down, which is such a different experience. Sitting (or standing) on the front of the boat and firmly gripping that bowline while the water comes pouring into the lock like a mad cataract let loose requires quite a bit of effort in a lock of any size as the swirling waters want to turn the boat this way and that. Holding on, keeping the boat steady, sure works the shoulder muscles. In one particular lock – a very large one – it took 45 minutes from when we nudged our way through the gates into the lock until it had filled and we were able to sail out. Have to say, though, the Somme lock-keepers, who are mostly young men, were just delightful. They were very professional, very convivial and always an absolute pleasure to deal with.
We arrived in Corbie at quite early in the afternoon and Bertrand and a young lad were waiting there to meet us. And here’s a thing: we tied up right in front of the English barge “River Dog”, last spotted in Cappy when we started out on our journey and home to the kind couple who bought us a baguette that first morning. We saw no sign of them, though, and so assume that they were off around town somewhere. 
Some shops close to the port in Corbie

While Bertrand and his offsider worked on the vessel we went for a wander around Corbie, marvelling at the hotel de ville, which looks like something out of a fairy story. It was market day, and we spent a couple of really happy hours just wandering around slowly, finding so much to exclaim over. Whatever you could possibly think of was there, from fruit and vegetables, to cheeses, olives, meats and sausages of every description, underwear, men’s and women’s clothing, shoes, handbags, kitchen tools. Quite fascinating, and lovely just to be amongst the people who were, like us, ambling from stall to stall to check out the wares.
Very moving war memorial outside the Corbie Hotel de Ville

After that we popped into the patisserie for a couple of their superb éclairs and also bought something which is a local speciality, a flamiche. Basically a leek tart, the casing is apparently a sort of brioche pastry, quite scrummy, and the beautiful creamy leek filling just heavenly. Honestly, my taste buds are going just thinking of how good they are. Note to self: get onto google to find a recipe for them. I really  wish we had decided to try them earlier as they are just delicious. 
And, yes, this is the town hall, not a fairy tale castle.
Beautiful, I think.

When we arrived back at the boat with our purchases the men had finished work and we were able to just sit back and enjoy the lovely toasty warmth onboard with some great food and, of course, wine.
Just to give it some perspective

After the upsets of last night it was great to just feel peaceful and well, and so we simply passed a pleasant evening with a stroll along the riverside and then a little soft music, some chatter, and a fairly early night – that seems to be about normal, actually, on this beautifully restful sort of holiday. 

I hope you’ll be back tomorrow for the last day of this canal trip. Catch you then.


Encore France: Day 9 - Long to Picquigny

From the journal: 

It was a freezing cold morning in Long and there was a very heavy fog, making it impossible for us to set off as early as we had hoped.  We had to be like Robert the Bruce and learn patience. The fog did eventually lift, but most of the morning had passed by the time we were able to slip the lines and set off. It’s good to be able to be flexible with plans, and also to have time on our hands.
So, well rugged up against the cold, we eventually reached the town of Picquigny, our destination for the day, in mid-afternoon. We enquired of the lady lock-keeper as to the whereabouts of a store and she pointed out that the supermarket is on one side of the river, a few hundred metres down the road, but that the town itself is on the opposite side. We felt sure that the town must contain at least a small alimentation and so we set off to explore this interesting looking place.
And what an amazing little village full of higgledy-piggledy houses Picquigny proved to be. Wandering around its streets was just wonderful.

What stories do these walls hold?

We saw very few people, but those we did see were certainly friendly enough, with one young couple even offering to take our photo. We declined that kind offer but did ourselves take quite a few snaps of some of the fascinating houses we came across. 

How could you not photograph these wonderful Picquigny homes?

And, yes, the lock-keeper was right, we needed to head across the bridge to the opposite bank to visit the supermarket because we found no shops at all. I’m sure there would have been some hidden away in some little corner, but we didn’t see any.  The supermarket, which is just a short walk along the main road, is an excellent one, large and offering a great range of food, and so we were able to fill our basket with some delicious looking fare, including – confession time – some very innocuous looking lollies, the gummy party mix sort which I am so fond of.
I love the religious statue set into a niche in the corner of the building.

When we got back to the boat we got the heater running, settled down with our books and some nice background music, and feasted on chocolate, grapes, wine – and lots of those party lollies. Quite suddenly a feeling of total and absolute exhaustion came over me. I couldn’t even sit up and hold a book, couldn’t even raise my wine glass, and that really is serious. I had to just go and lay down, feeling that I needed a doze. Before long, however, some serious stomach pains started up, and then terrible backache, a blinding headache. Added to this I was feeling hot, then cold, and felt that my heart was racing. I took pain killers and put extra bedding, plus our coats, on the bed, and after a few hours I fell into a deep sleep. My sleep was so solid that I didn’t even hear the trains which apparently ran all night long on the track which was right next to where we were tied up.
And we adored this one, which somehow made us think of a boat -
and notice the little man and woman out the front. Fantastique, n'est pas?

My poor man had a solitary and worrying evening, fussing over me and keeping an eagle eye out for any signs that my condition may suddenly get any worse. Was it food poisoning from the lollies? Was it some strange bug I had picked up? Who knows what the cause was, but it didn’t bode well for the morrow that’s for sure. 

Something completely different, and somehow very British looking
I think, opposite the tie-up point. Quite lovely.

Well, I’ll be back soon to tell you what happened on “the morrow”.

Encore France: Day 8 - Amiens to Long

From the journal:


What is there to say? This was a really lovely day’s cruise, with superb scenery all the way. We just had to ignore the smells emanating from the potato alcohol factory and the sewerage plant.

Oh, and a bit of excitement: as we cruised slowly along enjoying the colours and the beautiful autumn sunshine, we came across an inflatable vessel belonging to the fire department, and they were practising diving into that dark, silent water, I guess training for emergencies. They all called out “Bonjour” and waved as we passed.

Amazing hydro-electric plant by the canal, over 100 years old
and in use for many years.

Another thing I should mention here is the sounds of gunfire. Yes, that’s right: gunfire, the noise of men who need to show their superiority by firing weapons at unarmed creatures. While last Sunday was the worst for it – after all, what could there possibly be better to do on God’s day that kill some of his loveliest animals – this was a really popular day for hunting obviously, and the sounds of gunfire, I guess mainly from shotguns, echoed all around us. Those decoy ducks looked so phoney to us, sort of like an avian version of a blow-up dolly, that you really have to wonder how dumb ducks would be to sashay on down for a chat when they see a few of them lined up in perfect formation on a lake. But obviously it works, because the hunters were out in full force. Do I need to add that we beat a hasty retreat to the interior of the boat? Hm, no desire to become the victim of a stray bullet.

Beautiful scenes coming into Long, grounds of the
chateau on the right.

Bertrand had stressed upon us, when chatting in Cappy, the necessity of visiting Long to glimpse its chateau. Well, coming into Long with the chateau’s grounds on the right is indeed really beautiful and definitely not to be missed.

The roof of Long's hotel de ville visible through the trees.

The grounds, on the greenest of green rolling hillsides, look just like a movie set with lakes and fountains and follies and statuary dotted here there and everywhere. And wandering in amongst all this are the most dazzling white geese, geese of such a size that from a distance we took them to be sheep. Oh, and just to add to the idyllic scene: pure white horses contributing their own elegance to it all. And the chateau? Well, could it look anything other than splendid? Of course it couldn’t.

Bummer, we're shut out of the chateau.

Fascinating as well to discover that when the chateau was being built, the owner had the river/canal re-aligned so that it flowed right by his property, just for aesthetic purposes. Ah, the power of money, and, ah, how wise of him to do so.

And I think this is the stables! Life is good for a horse
in such an estate.

It all boded so well for a lovely place to stay, didn’t it, with such beautiful countryside, the magnificent chateau, an hotel de ville to rival those found in large cities, and an awesome cathedral overlooking everything? Wrong!

Very speccy looking hotel de ville overlooking
the canal.

The tie-up point, which is just before the lock and very close to the Somme Canal authority’s premises, is by an abandoned building and opposite a couple of very creepy derelict houses, one of which had a huge and rather scary dummy in the window. This was right out of the sort of movie which ends up with numbers in the name, you know, “If You Go Down to the Canal Today 8”. Added to this, while most of the windows in the building you tie up next to were already smashed, this didn’t stop a bunch of local kids – one of whom was carrying a boomerang, for goodness’ sake – from coming along and throwing stones in an attempt to break those still remaining. Even knowing that we were on deck watching them, only a few feet away, didn’t deter them in the slightest.  Thankfully, we soon heard the sound of mothers’ voices calling their sweet little darlings home for dinner and so they wandered off. Amazing!

Now, despite our misgivings, despite the derelict building, the horrible kids, the creepy houses, I have to say that it was the loveliest, quietest night and we slept like logs. 

 Catch you tomorrow when we visit a town of unforgettable houses.

PS. I have to say, that tie-up point at Long is probably quite, quite different now. I am sure the derelict building has either been renovated or demolished. The actual services were excellent, and the location could certainly be fantastic.  

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Encore France: Day 7 - Corbie to Amiens

From the journal:

We were up fairly early (well, early for us – everything, as they say, is relative) and went for a good long walk around Corbie. I had bought a few postcards in Paris and so we visited the post office and I sent them off to Australia, making myself perfectly understood in my struggling French and having a brief chat to the woman who served me.
Accidentally, by taking an unplanned journey back to the port, we discovered a large supermarket, ATAC, where we were able to stock up on more bread, cheese, vino (of course) yummy Normandy butter, eggs and fresh greens, plus of course some of our favourite ham and terrine.  Then on the way back to the boat we called in at the patisserie and picked up – yes, of course – some Paris Brest and Éclairs, the perfect holiday food.
L'Abbatiale Saint Pierre, Benedictine abbey in Corbie
founded in - wait for it - 657 AD.

We set off from Corbie at about 2 o’clock and travelled on to Amiens, arriving there probably somewhere around 5 pm. 

Love this little box which the cakes came in
at the patisserie in Corbie. Charming.
Bertrand at Locaboat had warned us not to tie up in the main mooring site in the middle of town as it can get quite noisy and the youth there can become, in his words, rather “lively”. He advised us instead to moor by a restaurant, le Vert Galant, which is owned by a friend of his. At first we cruised straight past the restaurant because, while we could see some mooring bollards, the bank looked very steep and seemed to be covered in long reeds. However, after cruising on to check out for ourselves the main tie-up area in the centre of the town we decided that Bertrand was indeed correct as it didn’t look particularly desirable. There was a bunch of drunken guys arguing by the dock, and throwing bottles into the river. We turned the boat and headed back to le Vert Galant to tie up there for the night. 

Riverside homes in Amiens
Just as we were pulling in and I was getting ready to try my best to throw a line over a bollard, a lovely man who was strolling along the canal path at that time offered to catch the mooring line for me, which was a great help. My man was then able to jump off the boat and secure the stern line and then put the little gangplank across from the deck to the pathway. It was indeed a nice spot. 

Our first impression of Amiens had been so negative that I wasn’t interested in walking around town and wondered whether I had made a bad decision in arranging for us to spend some time there post-cruise. Of course, the man wanted to be off and stretching his legs and so I stayed on board reading and catching up with the journal while he went for an hour’s walk. 
And a few more.

We probably should have taken Bertrand’s advice and eaten a meal at his friend’s restaurant, but we really enjoy sitting up on the back deck of the boat of an evening, eating a really simple meal, sipping on some great French wine and letting the world turn dark around us, and so that is what we did. There was a little noise from people leaving the restaurant later in the evening, but nice happy noises, and so we were really glad that Bertrand recommended this spot.

See you tomorrow. 

Encore France: Day 6 - Cappy to Corbie

From the journal:
And so it was that Sunday morning, about 20 minutes before we wanted to depart, I had to phone the Somme Canal authority and say, in my bestest French, “Bonjour madam. Ici bateau Labreilloire, départ Cappy á Corbie”. Thankfully, the answer came back, “D’accord” and so my pulse rate was able to return to normal. The first time, as they say, is the hardest – or so I believed.
Before leaving Cappy, the English couple who live on a big old barge called River Dog, out of Hull, which was tied up at the port, came over and said that they were going to the boulangerie and would we like them to bring anything back for us. We said that a baguette would be great, and in due course they returned with a lovely fresh one for us. They refused to accept any payment for it but just said it was a gift. Such kindness seems to attach to the river life, yet there is also a great respect for privacy.
Farewell Cappy

After setting off we passed under the lifting bridge at Cappy and so began a day’s slow and easy travel through some stunning scenery with hills and fields covered in trees of amazing autumn colours such as we don’t see in Australia. The colours looked almost unreal, like a painting, and the canal and canal-side lakes were dotted with superbly hued ducks and the snowiest of geese. Yes, it really was like living art.

Stunning scenery

We stopped for lunch at a lovely tie-up spot not all that far from Corbie and waited there for the lock to open – remember, those French lock-keepers strictly observe the lunch break. It was just gorgeous sitting there up on deck, taking in the beautiful scenery, feeding our souls and our tummies at the same time.
Fabulous colours.

I did embarrass myself at the first lock, I must confess. We brought with us a selection of Australian souvenirs as gifts for people who were particularly helpful, such as lock-keepers. Well, there we were at the first lock and I was chatting to the lady lock-keeper. Just before she passed us back our ropes so that we could cruise on out of the lock, I reached behind me and grabbed a rather nice pen to give to her as a little gift of appreciation. However, I didn't say "Pour vous", I said "Pour voir". And she, of course, looked at the pen, as I had told her to do, and then gave it back to me. Spot the error: vous = you; voir = see/look. I kept giving the pen back to her; she kept looking at it and returning it to me. Then I realised my error, blushed probably not so becomingly, and gave it back to her for the final time. She laughed and happily put the pen in her pocket and thanked me for the gift.
Coming into Corbie.

We arrived in Corbie late afternoon and discovered the mooring area to be a really excellent one with great facilities. After securing the vessel we wandered up into town only to find everything closed, which of course is pretty normal for France of a Sunday. We did, however, discover a patisserie/boulangerie open and so we were able to indulge ourselves with some wonderful cakes.

Fantastic tie-up point.

When we got back to the boat we decided to give the bicycles a tryout. Dangerous idea. Now, my man loves cycling and has even been on cycling holidays. I, on the other hand, have a strong belief that the person who invented the bicycle was somebody with absolutely no knowledge of or respect for the laws of gravity. I have never enjoyed cycling, and feel always that I am one wobble away from disaster. Nevertheless, the path along the canal looked safe, and so I climbed onto the two wheeled contraption and set off. Or I should say I tried to set off. The bike was a horror story. I know I wobble, but this wobbled all by itself, and seemingly in various directions all at once. I quickly dismounted and offered the bike to my man. Ah, it wasn’t me: he found the bike quite treacherous himself. So, scrap that idea. Bikes back onto the foredeck, he and me up onto the back deck with coffee and cakes. As they say in The Castle, “How’s the serenity”.
And here she is, bateau Labreilloire - isn't she lovely.

See you tomorrow.