Monday, 3 December 2012

Encore France: Day 5 - To Cappy and Locaboat

From the journal:

We were up and at out so bright and breezy this morning, excited to be heading off on another canal boat trip, really thrilled to be seeing another area of France.

First port of call was a little café on rue Monge for a simple breakfast of coffee and croissant. We hoped that there would be a supermarket handy to the Locaboat marina in Cappy, but thought we would cover ourselves by picking up a few basics - coffee, sugar, toilet paper, tea, butter – from the Fran Prix just in case. The morning was freezing and so we made a quick detour to the Monoprix off the boulevard to buy a nice warm hat so that my ears wouldn’t drop off with the cold on the canal. This was a very good move, believe me.

Back to the hotel where I quickly separated our clothes and various bits and pieces into two lots: Paris, and canal trip. All the things that we knew we wouldn’t need for either boat trip or our stay in Amiens, such as dressier clothing, high heels, plus Paris guide books, we left in our large suitcase at the hotel, taking with us only two small carry-on bags and my rather large tote. The hotel staff kindly called a taxi for us, and we were off on our way to Gare du Nord for the next step of this adventure.

The station was, as it always is, insanely busy and noisy, and is not a place for relaxing, being aware always of the pickpockets who are ever on the look out for easy prey amongst tourists and locals alike. One incident which happened while we were waiting for our train was quite funny. An elegantly dressed middle-aged gent approached me and asked directions to somewhere. He had his suitcase with him and looked as though he was one tired traveller. I had to explain to him that I was sorry but that I was not a local, not French, and couldn’t assist. Goodness, you would have thought that I was intentionally uncooperative; he was so angry with me, swore and stormed off. I hope somebody sent him in the opposite direction to where he needed to go.

It was now time to board our train, and, as with the previous holiday, we found the train fantastic – extremely comfortable, such a pleasant way to travel. We settled back in our seats, and I took from my bag our baguettes and macarons which we had purchased at the famous Eric Kayser Patisserie. It was a delicious lunch which we washed down with a bottle of white from the wonderful Sancerre region.

When the train reached Amiens it was a case of rush up one long, long, long flight of stairs, along a corridor, and then down a different flight of stairs to platform 10 where our train for the short trip to Albert was almost ready to depart. This was a great little train, a two storey affair which was clean and bright with comfortable one-class seating that made for a pleasant 20 minute trip through the flattish landscape.

We had been told that there would be taxis available at the station, but found this not to be the case. However, a really helpful young ticket-seller at Albert phoned the local taxi company for us, and we were soon sitting back happily in a lovely – unexpectedly lovely – Skoda, driven fast through the winding roads between Albert and Cappy by a friendly woman taxi driver while all the while nice easy-listening music played on the car radio. It was tuned to, if I remember correctly, Cherie-FM, and I was over the moon to hear coming through the speakers the beautiful voice of one of my favourite Australian singers, David Hobson. I think he sounds even lovelier in French than he does in English. Even though the taxi ride was almost double what Locaboat had told us to expect, it was a great ride through delightful countryside, and still not expensive compared to tasxi fares at home.

When we arrived at the Locaboat offices we discovered that Cedric, who I had been communicating with by email, was away for a couple of days and so we dealt with Bertrand, who has marginally more English than I have French. This made the formalities quite interesting, but I do think we managed to understand enough to know that we were signing for the usage of the boat, some fuel, back-up services, et cetera, and not selling our souls for a mess of potage.

We had been of the belief that we could get some provisions there at the port offices, but this was not the case. There was also the issue that towels were not provided on the vessel, and nor could you buy them at the port. This sort of thing is fine if you are arriving by car and can trundle off and do a decent shop, but can make life a bit difficult for travellers such as ourselves. Bertrand then offered to run me into Bray-sur-Somme, a town a short distance away, so that I could pick up some shopping, including of course towels.

Note to boat hire companies: people cannot be expected to bring along their own towels, tea towels and such. If you don’t include them in the hire fee, at least have a supply on hand for sale.

Eventually, with a decent supply of wine, eggs, tomatoes, delicious Paris ham, and some nice little extras – not to mention towels (urgh!), we were ready to board our beautiful penichette, the bateau Labreilloire (pronounced Labraywah). She really was totally gorgeous, just the sort of lovely, stylish vessel we had fallen in love with on the website and in the brochures. The layout onboard was excellent, and the boat really comfortable. We knew we would really enjoy spending time on this delightful lady.
A beautiful stylish penichette at Cappy, in the mist.

Bertrand did a run-through of driving the vessel, manoeuvring, the usual warnings about keeping the ropes untangled and well organised on deck, and loaded the two bicycles we had requested. The store beautifully on the front deck. But then – oh then he scared the hell out of us by handing us a small mobile (cell) phone and explaining that as all the locks are managed by the Canal de la Somme authority, it was required of us before setting off every morning - or whenever we left a mooring - to phone a pre-set number, announce ourselves, our current location and state our destination. The operator would then confirm our plans and arrange for lock-keepers to be waiting at each lock we would be passing through. Yeah, right, start each day with making a phone call in French. And guess whose job that might be? Oh yes, oh yes. The first thing I did when he left the vessel was write down on a piece of paper exactly what I would say each morning, in my carefully constructed phonetic French, so that it would be a case of simply reading from a script each day.

It was too late and too foggy to leave, and so we just cruised slowly around the canalised river near the port, getting used to the handling of the vessel, before tying up again and then going for a bit of a walk around town. Oh, and it was chilly, I need to add, so we were very glad to have gloves, scarves and hats with us. I knew buying that hat in Paris was a good idea.

Almost looks like a Turner painting - except for the boat, of course.

That evening we enjoyed our usual boating meal of baguette, ham, cheese, those fabulous full-of-flavour French tomatoes, and of course a bottle of wine. It was then a case of pouring excitedly over the course we would be taking – a different one, as advised by Bertrand, to what we had planned - and then a quick shower and bed.

Ah, tomorrow: setting out on our second canal boat trip in France. How wonderful! Oh, and I will show you our fabulous bateau then - she's much prettier than this one.


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