Monday, 27 March 2017

Counting Down the Last Few Days in Auxerre

Out stretching her legs
Well, here we are…. The final blog entry from Auxerre.  I’m now feeling slightly nervous about moving off.  I’ve been institutionalised and got used to having water, power and L’Eclerc to hand.  I will do a large shop this afternoon for milk, toilet roll, bacon – you never know when we will next be in civilisation……(Probably a day after we set off….).  We think we will move on Thursday or Friday, after Mike’s telecom with the doc about his knee scan, and we’re waiting on a delivery of Tung Oil from Amazon which should come Wednesday or Thursday and this is France, where deliveries work on canal time……

Since the last entry (a mere 11 days ago) we have been busy little Hectors and the boat is looking hot to trot.  On the afternoon of 16th, our diesel delivery arrived courtesy of Truchon supplies at Vincelle.  We had thought we’d need 300/350 litres as we were almost operating on fumes but the tank took 230 and the two cans 40 litres.  It was a tricky operation as the hose nozzle from the truck was too wide to go right into our tank, so Mike improvised forming a seal around it with a bit of rope.  But we probably stopped the delivery before the tank was properly full as we didn’t want it overflowing and diesel going everywhere as it was quite a fast flow.  The next day we topped up the domestic tank from the cans and then took the cans to L’Eclerc to fill with white diesel for the proplulsion.
Man-stuff, truck, fuel.
We shouldn't have to get red diesel for the domestic tank until next winter now.
Waterfront diesel suppliers are few and far between in France so it's off to the nearest garage with the cans and trolley :)
I got my five coats of varnish on the shutters and boating paraphernalia and moved onto assisting with the paintwork, giving the front doors a few coats of white.

A locker clear-out allowing Mike to check the hydraulic fluid for the bowthrusters.
You've missed a bit......
The garden has had a tidy and been replenished.
 We then started on the inside and what started out as oiling the worktops in the kitchen and other ‘oiled’ surfaces ended up in a major sanding back, creating lots of dust job.  There were quite a few marks on the sink-side worktop, so we ended up stripping the whole thing more or less back to bare wood.  After three oats of tung oil we ran out and discovered that the local Mr Bricolage (B&Q equivalent) doesn’t stock it – hence the Amazon order arriving later this week.  Oiless, we moved onto waxing the interior wood and floors.

Spring has definitely arrived, they’ve turned the town fountains back on, and it’s been like a good Scottish summer the last few days finding Mike not only casting off his thermal base layer, but putting his shorts on too!   
With spring came a fair!  Unfortunately all kiddies rides so we could only look on enviously.
John Lewis.  They deliver to France.  For £7.50.  It arrived in three days.  Ahhhhh......John Lewis......

Temptation won last week and we decided to take Quaintrelle for a half-hour leg stretch up to the lock, then back down to the last lock we did in December and back to our mooring.  Chris and Liz were up for coming with us and we had a great mini-cruise with Captain Chris (being ex-US Naval and all that) confidently taking the helm.  Although we were only out briefly, it felt lovely to be moving.
A wee pootle between the locks
Putting in a turn - not long 'til we'll be going up that lock!

The tiller in competent hands.

Negotiating the double bridge
And back to our mooring
Realising that it was our last couple of weeks in Auxerre we have made full use of having Maison Roy on our doorstep.  I think we will be hard pushed to find a baker as good elsewhere.
Tarte Cafe and Saint Paul
Bourgogne and Tarte Agrume
Last night we enjoyed our extra hour of light (it was still gorgeous here at 7.40pm!) with a game of boules with Chris and Liz.  We are not looking forward to saying goodbye to them and Cosette and Hugo, the cats, when we part ways later this week.
Cat cuddles with Cosette
They are heading north to then turn south onto the Loire and they will continue southwards eventually picking up the Rhone to take them to Carcassonne, they hope by June.  We’ve been invited to visit them there, so we mustn’t have behaved too badly over the winter ;)

Liz and I using a very technical method of measuring who's closest
Mike took an early lead - which he kept - and then won

Close up of Mike's balls - I mean boules - a close up of Mike's boules (showing how close he was)
Enjoying a seat in the sun and a cheeky wee glass of Lillet between rounds
I think this must be one of my shortest entries on the blog, but it’s too nice a day to sit writing to be honest – although I am on the back deck, sitting in the sunshine, which is making it a bit difficult to see what I’m typing, and I can feel my left arm burning a bit……

All being well, next time you hear from me we should be underway…….

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Carcassonne, Edinburgh, La Tania, Auxerre - Such Jetsetters!!

Carcassonne revisited
Yikes – this is turning into a monthly blog – sorry…….  I can’t believe that our four months in Auxerre is speedily drawing to a close and I still can’t speak/understand French like a native.  This week we’re in the throes of varnishing, sanding, painting, getting Quaintrelle looking ship-shape for setting off in a few weeks’ time.  We’ve had some lovely warm days, equivalent of a hot summer day in Scotland, which has been ideal for stripping back the wood and getting some more coats of varnish on.   We’ve ended up being out and about quite a bit the last few weeks so it’s nice to be back on board and catch up with a few things – like the blog!!

So, we were on a road trip…..  Mike had been caught speeding on one of our last days in the UK last November and had sent back his licence to get some points on it so the car was hired by me to do the long drive down to Carcassonne, with a stop overnight in Toulouse to (yet again!) see Teenage Fanclub.  They were very good, and it was a great venue in Toulouse, we managed to get two or three rows from the very front and Norman only looked slightly perturbed when I shouted, “That was beautiful,” after one number, followed by, “You made Mike cry!”….. We had a leisurely breakfast the next morning before heading off for the last hour and a half drive to Carcassonne.  It was nice to be in familiar territory with the sun shining brightly and the thermometer showing a healthy 18 degrees centigrade.

We reached Pam and Charles in time for lunch accompanied by a couple of glasses of celebratory fizz and some vin blanc.  We had a good catch up, then headed back to our hotel to check in, have a nap and get ready to come back for dinner.  We left the car parked at Pam and Charles’ and took the bus across town to our hotel which was near the medieval cite and just up the road from the house we stayed in last winter.  In the evening we walked back across town and had a lovely evening on Xenia.
Sunset over Le Pont Vieux
Dinner awaits on board Xenia
We indulged in a very long lie the next morning, then wandered into town and back over to Xenia in time for lunch – again!  We decided to have dinner on board again that evening, but Mike offered to cook, so on our way back to the hotel for a nap (again!) we picked up some ingredients for a courgette and goats cheese risotto.  We thought about having a swim at the hotel but opted for a bath and a nap instead, before getting ready to cross town to Xenia for 7pm.  The next day we had a big breakfast at the hotel and caught the bus across town to say goodbye and pick up the car.  I would again drive the 7 hour journey back to Auxerre, which sounds horrendous but the roads in France are so much better than in the UK and generally on the toll sections you hardly see any other traffic.  It was a smooth journey back until the last hour and a half, when as well as getting dark and travelling on a smaller road, it started to rain heavily.  Although their roads are better maintained than those in the UK, there are no cats eyes and much of the paint marking the edge has faded (if it was ever there in the first place), so it was quite exhausting trying to make sure I stayed on the road at times.  However, we were back in one piece, but realised we had gone over our limited mileage on the hire car (250km per day is all your allowed or you have to pay extra).  We worked out if we extended by one day, but just left the car sitting for a day, we’d have a few extra kms to use on the Saturday, rather than paying a fine for doing too many miles if we returned it on the Friday, as arranged.  This was sorted out with a short phone call, so the car spent the day in the port car park on the Friday while we recovered from the previous day’s drive.

On Saturday with 65kms in our ‘bank’ we headed off to Vezelay, 31kms away.
Vezelay is a Unesco World Heritage Site and is beautiful - here is the impressive Cathedral
Beautiful light, airy interior
View from the Batiments
Entrance to Vezelay
On the way back to Auxerre we stopped off to recce the Canal du Nivernais - can't wait to get going!!

The chateau overlooking Mailly-le-Chateau (Tim and Pru stopped off here on their Nivernais cruise!)
The River Yonne runs alongside the Canal du Nivernais at this point

We returned the car at 5pm and paid our extra 14euros for the extra day.  It had been nice to be on the move, even though by car, but it’s always a slight relief to hand it back in one piece!

This left us Sunday to pack for our next trips; Mike was heading to York on Monday for his long-awaited MRI scan on his knees, returning Tuesday, and as I was missing my mummy, I decided to head to Fife for a mummy-cuddle on Monday, coming back on Thursday.  My visit, as it transpired, meant I could deal with some issues with the flat we let in Edinburgh.  Having had a new boiler fitted in October, it wasn’t working properly and I was advised the pipes and radiators also needed replaced.  This had been done the previous week, but only whilst doing the work did they then tell me I’d need to arrange to have the laminate flooring throughout the kitchen replaced as it was unable to be relaid…….  So, on landing at Edinburgh Monday morning, I headed to Leith to clean the flat and look at what needed done.  For the first time on one of my returns I was spotted, in M&S getting Mike some hankies.  My friend Joan appeared, pointed and said accusingly, “You’re not in France!”.  I was so chuffed to see her and we spent a lovely 10 minutes catching up.  I got to my mum’s for my cuddle in time for tea and on Tuesday managed to arrange a joiner to meet me at the flat to sort out getting a new floor.  This done, I enjoyed vegging out on my last day with my darling mum before flying back to Paris on Thursday afternoon. 

Meanwhile, Mike had been scanned and was back at the boat pining for me.

On Friday we did one lot of laundry from one trip whilst getting our ski gear together ready for our departure to La Tania on Saturday.  Our friends Fran and Sally were coming with us and were driving from Yorkshire to Auxerre on the Friday, so as we packed, they were heading towards us.  They checked in to the Ibis hotel next to the Port for the night and joined us for a late dinner and couple of glasses of wine, then it was time for bed and an early (for us) start on Saturday.  We all had breakfast on board and were off on the road just before 10am.  We had all checked google maps and were shown a four and a half hour journey from Auxerre to La Tania, so we reckoned that worse-case scenario, with lots of ski traffic, we’d maybe take six hours and hoped to be there by 4/4.30pm.

We finally reached La Tania at 7.30pm after over 9 hours on the road, the last of which was agonizing for us all.  Our average speed was 30kms per hour for the day.  A combination of heavy rain, two accidents, a couple of breakdowns and then the anticipated ski traffic made the journey almost unbearable, but Fran did a sterling job at the wheel and got us all there safely – if a little numb in the rear………  We were dropped off at our luxurious catered chalet while Fran and Sally headed to their self-catering apartment above the supermarket.  Mike’s dreams were shattered immediately.  Not only were our 12 chalet-mates for the week not the Swedish Female Under 21s Netball Team, but our hosts were Australian retirees in their sixties and seventies – oh how I laughed……  But seriously, we got really lucky again with our chalet-mates, they were a great bunch, even if we were the second youngest…… We thoroughly enjoyed their company and had many, many laughs over dinner.  Speaking of which, it pays to have hosts who have been cooking for many years – the food was simply the best we’ve ever had in a catered chalet, truly delicious, well cooked and presented. On the hosts’ night off, a similarly delicious affair was provided for us at Chez Fran et Sal’s with some fizz to start followed by a local white – very nice, but no late night as we were all shattered!

The weather was a mixed bag through the week, bringing a large dump of soft snow over Monday and Tuesday, which I had never skied in before and really struggled, then it went slightly icy, then it got really warm and sunny and by Friday afternoon the huge dump was disappearing again!  We enjoyed our week though, it was great skiing with Fran and Sally and we loved being back in the Three Valleys at La Tania as it was nice to know our way around the slopes there and around Courcheval.  All too soon we were having our last soak in the hot tub, our final canapes and fizz and it was back into the car for the ride home.  Thankfully this time we did not meet with the same blockages on the roads as we did on the way and we were back in Auxerre within 5 hours.  Fran and Sally and Mike went for a quick walk around the town and to pick up some kebabs for lunch, then while we got on with the laundry, Fran and Sally continued their journey back home to Yorkshire – another 10 hours to go!
Conditions on the last day were great and I finally got my camera out.....
Watching the ants come down the slope waiting on Fran and Mike to come off a black (Sally and I having done the blue...)
No, it's not perspective.  It's the biggest glass of Hoegarden we've ever seen! Enjoying the sun at the Bouc Blanc restaurant at the top of the La Tania bubble.
24 hours earlier the other side of the valley had been covered in snow.  By Friday Spring Green was the in-thing.
Getting slushy in La Tania.  I mean underfoot, not me and Mike.... ;)
Needless to say we had a lie in on Sunday, then bacon butties for breakfast before doing the rest of the laundry and starting on boat work.  It was Mike’s birthday, but he didn’t want to go out, wanted to stay in in his slippers with his pipe and cook a roast – rock and roll!!  We did treat ourselves to some cakes from Maison Roy, but I must apologize that they were eaten before I remembered to photograph them – sorry.

We’ve played a few more games of petanque or boules with Chris and Liz and we have now been joined by Steve and Pay-chon (apologies for most likely getting the spelling of this name incorrect!) on their boat Kokoro.  The Port has been quite a hive of activity this week with more people returning to start getting their boats organised for the season and the port staff have been shuffling boats around and doing maintenance here and there.  Our current project is sourcing heating oil for our domestic tank.  In the UK we just fill up with red diesel which is easily available along the canals, but in France, red diesel is extremely strictly regulated as it must not be used for propulsion.  Regulations have made it very difficult for the vendors so they’re reluctant to come and fill up boats, however, we think Lesley has found someone who will come and fill our tank for us.  We can run our heating off kerosene (paraffin) as well, which we think we can get in the supermarket, but our French isn’t that good and we’re scared we put the wrong thing in the tank and break our stove…….

Tomorrow, I will be applying another coat of varnish to the exterior wood on the shutters, boat poles and plank while Mike touches up the paintwork.  Then we’ll start on the insides…………..
Some more pretty streets discovered in Auxerre, along with their rather delicious prune liquer - can only be good for you!