Sunday, 19 February 2017

Some Sightseeing Whilst Hingin' Aboot

Are we being served? - The wine cave at Bailly
So, what happened after the cremant?  We went to bed!  Next morning dawned bright but cold and after a leisurely start we got the bikes organised to cycle down the canal to Bailly where there is a cave where they make the Bourgougne Cremant.  Our neighbours Liz and Chris kindly lent us one of their bikes for Vicki to use and we set off around 1pm for the 10km ride.  I’d like to say the ride was uneventful, but it wasn’t.  As we approached the village of Vaux where we would cross the river briefly, Mike pointed to the bridge ahead and told Vicki that’s where we cross.  What he didn’t tell her was that he was about to do a right hand turn ahead of the bridge to get onto the road to cross.  Vicki was on his inside and he ploughed straight into her taking both of them down, dragging them and the bikes a few feet.  It looked quite nasty but thankfully they were going slow enough that no heads bounced off the road as I was the only one wearing a bike helmet!!  A bit shaken, but not stirred, they climbed back on and continued, with the main casualty of the accident being Vicki’s best new jeans which were torn, as was the flesh beneath.  Bailly is on the other side of the towpath, so we had to cycle past it, cross a bridge then cycle back up to it, walking the bikes up the final steep hill to the cave entrance.

It was just gone 2pm when we arrived and the next tour was 3.30pm, but it turns out there’s nothing else to do or see except the tour.  So, when the tour guide arrived shortly after us, the man at the bar told her we were here for the tour and she very kindly offered to take us around now rather than wait for over an hour.  It was a really interesting tour and of course we got a taste at the end.  Having had our whistles wetted we then bought a bottle and polished that off before heading back to Auxerre.
You drive (or cycle) right into the cave carved out of the hillside

Me looking like a lemon pretending to listen to the audio guide and Vicki demonstrating what she will look like if she loses a leg after the crash.
The damage

Each year a sculpting competition is held and the winner gets to carve theirs into the wall of the cave.  Mike was particularly taken by this one.....

The original plan had been to get the train back, but it was a nice afternoon and fuelled by the bubbles decided to cycle back.  I was really struggling to keep up with the others, I don’t think I’m built for biking really, my long legs seem to have to work much harder to complete a circuit of peddling!  When we got back we had cycled 25km and were hungry, so had a late lunch and before we knew it, it was wine time and time to crack open a bottle.  After a delicious mushroom risotto made by Mike there was nothing on tv so Mike and Vicki watched a film and I went off to bed to read – rock and roll.

The next day was a visit to Chablis.  Mike and I had gone there when we were in Auxerre last March, but had been so unwell with bad coughs that were keeping us up all night, we spent a couple of hours in the carpark in the car with the heating on and only ventured out to pop into the pharmacy for a cough bottle.  So it was good to be going in good health and able to visit some of the wine caves for tasting.  We took a taxi and then headed to Le Bistrot for lunch where Mike thought the local speciality sausage sounded good.  How can you go wrong with sausage?  When it’s an andouilette………  It turns out it’s a sausage made with stomach lining and it’s disgusting.  Even the smell of it was putting me and Vicki off ours…. Poor Queenie is usually so good at eating anything, but he didn’t even manage half of it.  When the guy collected his plate, he asked it if was Mike’s first time trying it and admitted that it is an acquired taste.  We’ve now seen it on nearly every menu we look at and thankfully know to avoid it.  Having enjoyed a bottle of Chablis with our lunch, we headed off to La Chablisierre for some tasting.  Firstly we were offered a film to watch of either 3 minutes or 30 minutes.  We opted for the 3 minute one, but when it finished we felt a bit short changed so put on the 30 minute one as well.  Then we had a taste of the wines in order; Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru, Grand Cru.  We all agreed the Premier Cru was the best so bought a bottle to take home.  We then wandered through the town, which is very pretty and I can imagine heaving in the summer, until we found Domaine Laroche which has been producing organic wine for 10 years.  Again we preferred the Premier Cru, tho’ whilst Mike and I enjoyed the 2014 vintage, Vicki preferred the younger 2015.  Having bought a bottle of each and taken up some of Regis’s afternoon with our tasting, he then presented us with the opened bottle of Chablis to enjoy with friends as an aperitif this evening.  Our final stop was to the little wine shop in the town, where we tasted some more Chablis and the local aperitif, Ratafia, which we’d seen in the video at the first cave.  We were only allowed to sniff the bottle of Japanese whisky.  With a bottle of Ratafia added to our collection we got a taxi home and enjoyed a good conversation with the driver – it’s amazing how good your French gets when you’re pissed……..  We staggered back to the boat and Mike, taking Regis’s word to heart that we should share the Chablis with friends this evening, invited Chris and Liz and their Belgian friends who were visiting, John and Josiane to come in for drinks.  John and Josiane were doing a dry February, so only had soft drinks but the rest of us had some Ratafia, then the Chablis from Regis, with some cheese, pickles and sausage.  After they left, I managed to rustle up a pasta dish for supper, which I remember cooking and eating but not much after that – we probably went to bed!
The first tasting at Le Chablisienne in Chablis.  I'd smile like that too if I had her job!

For Friday’s entertainment we were staying local and planned to head to the market in the morning, had lunch booked at Pause Gourmand and would then look round the Cathedral St Etienne and Abbaye St Gervais.
Pause Gourmand's stunning puddings again - what's in the ball???......
Caramel mousse with a blob of salted caramel in the middle - mmmmmmhhmmmmmm
Cathedral St Etienne - the coldest church in the world, you could see your breath inside!!

The cloisters at Abbaye St Gervais
Inside the abbaye where we took a tour of the 6th century crypt.  At least we think it was 6th century, the tour was in French.......
The museum attached to the Abbaye, which was lovely and warm and had the kind of floor and beams we want in our house, when we get one....

Arsing around

By the time we came out of the Abbaye, I was knackered, so Mike and I headed back to the boat while Vicki went and did a bit of shopping for things to take back.  I sat down next to the fire and woke up an hour and a bit later……..  All too soon it was time for Vicki to get packed up and after a couple of glasses of wine and a tartiflette and salad for tea we headed to bed at a reasonable hour as it was an earlyish start in the morning, with Vicki taking the 8.55 bus back to Paris for her train later that day.  It was very quiet without her on the boat and we spent the rest of the weekend chilling out and doing six loads of laundry; sheets, towels as well as clothes.

On Monday, the red light for a pump out came on, but we decided to experiment and see how many more flushes we got before it overflows.  We visited several DIY stores to find a suitable stick to dip the tank to see where it’s up to and after 15 flushes we still hadn’t overflowed, but finding the sticks weren’t really giving us a reading, we pumped out!

This week the weather has been amazingly mild, well, during the day when the sun’s out.  After sunset it’s freezing!  We’ve taken full advantage and washed the boat, Mike has begun the neverending job of touching up the paintwork and we’ve even had lunch sitting out on the front deck.  We’ve been cutting down on our drinking, managing three or four nights with no alcohol as Mike got a fright on the scales the other week, and he’s had a couple more French lessons from Liz (who is a retired French teacher).  We’d also purchased a set of boules for Liz and Chris and have had two international matches UK v US which I’m happy to say we’ve won both times, but I’m sure our beginner’s luck won’t last.  The second match took place on Saturday and despite our win, Liz and Chris honoured their invitation to dinner that evening.  We had a lovely night with them, with Chris making us Cosmopolitans for an aperitif, along with Liz’s delicious variety of snacks, followed by mushroom lasagne and salad and a lovely chocolate cake with fruit jus.  Between our main and dessert we allowed ourselves a rest and watched a French film, Bienvenue chez les CH’tis,(Welcome to the Sticks), about a man who works in the Post Office in the South of France, being transferred to the North.  He really doesn’t want to go as they think the northerners are really backward and it’s cold and horrible, but he ends up liking it.  So, kind of predictable, but very, very funny and really well acted.
First time we've eaten al fresco on the boat in February!
I thought we'd be touring wine caves not DIY shops.... This is Bricorama at Champs sur Yonne, which we cycled to.
On our way to Bricorama - warm enough for shorts!
And warm enough for the French to come out playing boulles.
Yes, we take it seriously enough to get the tape measure out when we're not sure who's closest!
My fat arse.
Today, Sunday, we’re getting organised for a wee road trip this week.  When I was feeling quite homesick last week, Mike suggested going to see Pam and Charles down at Carcassonne for a couple of days.  He wasn’t being entirely all heart, as Teenage Fanclub are playing at Toulouse tomorrow night, so he’s tied in the visit south with that!!!  Fifth time in six months.  You can get too much of a good thing you know……… 
Super Furry visiting us for a snack - he seemed to like the lettuce best
The local flock of two swans has gone up to 11 over the last few days, so there's been a bit of tussling and puffing up whilst they get settled.
This if for Jim - the water pump was getting very loud again, so we checked the pipes around the valve and lo, there was another ball of plastic bits :)

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Auxerre - Hingin' Aboot

I was looking at another blog I follow this morning and hoping that the writers were okay as they’ve not posted anything since 17 January, which made me check ours and realise that it wasn’t just a couple of weeks since I’d written but nearly a month!!  So I hope you’ve not been worrying about us…..  Despite being busy doing nothing much, I’ve decided to doctor the date and do two entries to catch up.

We now very much feel that we’re hingin’ aboot, waiting for the 1 April so we can move.  I’ve been quite homesick recently, but not sure where home is to be sick about.  I feel displaced and long to pop into a shop and be able to pass the time of day with the shopkeeper without looking blank and getting my Collins Gem up on my kindle app……..  I am able to speak more French now,  but am completely unable to understand any response to my attempts – so frustrating.  Anyway, whilst ticking the days off til we can move, here’s what we’ve been up to.

Firstly we were off skiing and had a great week in Les Gets with the Coleys, Majors (x2), Ali and Stewart.  The weather was fantastic which made for some great days on the piste, but meant there wasn’t a lot of snow left by the end of the week!  The lifts are all a bit dated in Les Gets as well, compared to the 3 Valleys, and seemed to have to stop a lot to help people who’ve fallen getting off and on.  Mike was one of their victims and took a tumble on the first day coming off a particularly nasty chair, and winded himself, bruising a rib, which is still sore now.
Looking back down to Morzine (I think!)

Not that you can see him, but Mike is in these trees, looking for his snowboard after it went off down the piste on its own :D
An efficient way to warm up after a day in the cold!
Or a hot bath, with poor lighting....

Amongst the last coming down.
Mike exploring alternative employment.
Ski Buddies!!!!
Once back from Les Gets, we had a week until our first guest of the season was arriving.  Having hand-sawn most of logs we’d reached the big ones at the bottom of the pile that really needed a chainsaw.  Mike has been thinking about a chainsaw ever since we moved onto the boat really and finally bit the bullet.  Bizarrely, it was cheaper to order it from the UK, have it delivered to a friend and get them to send it over to France, than buy a similar model in France!
Taking H&S seriously with goggles, knee pads and his snowboarding helmet.
Also on our return from skiing we got a bit of a shock at our weekly weigh-in with Mike realising he was the heaviest he has ever been.  So began a regime of cutting down on the wine and trying to do daily exercise.  We’d started off doing daily planks and stretching before the ski trip to try and strengthen Mike’s legs to help take pressure off his knees, but added into that was now a daily walk (trying to reach 10000 steps on my fitbit for both of us) or a cycle.  We had a lovely ride down to Vermenton, along the river, around 25k, and took the train back.  It absolutely knackered me and I was starving by the time we reached Vermenton – I hadn’t realised we were going so far so hadn’t brought any snacks, just water.
Les Pompiers at the Port for exercises - not quite the same as our exercises....
Thinking ahead to sunnier days I have made a curtain to shade us from the sun coming in the houdini hatch.
Cute sculptures at the riverside park in Auxerre
This will be our first lock out of Auxerre on 1 April
Auxerre's pretty clock tower
On our Sunday promenade through town
This vineyard is in Auxerre, next to the psychiatric hospital and apparently one of the oldest in Burgundy
Is that thunder I hear or just my belly rumbling??
Free ride on the train as the station at Vermenton is closed and no one came round to sell us a ticket!
Not that we're fixated on this, but here is the lock that will be our first on 1 April - again!
On 6 February we headed off to Paris for an overnight stay, taking the Flixbus this time which takes about the same time as the train from Auxerre but only costs around 10euros – bargain!  Our room wasn’t quite ready for us on arrival at the hotel, so we popped across the road to a wee bistro for lunch, and had our first experience of the waiter trying to rip us off.  When he brought our bill, he didn’t put it on the table but kept a hold of it and took Mike’s card to pay, without letting us see the bill.  As he processed the sale, Mike stood up and reached over and took the bill from him, at which point the waiter immediately ‘realised’ he’d given us the wrong bill, that this was someone else’s.  It was too late to cancel the card, so he fished in his pocket and gave us the 5 euros difference of what our bill should have been and what he’d charged – not impressed. 

We took advantage while in Paris of going to the VNF (Voie Navigable de France – CRT equivalent) to buy our Vignette (licence) in person, as if you do this before 31 March, you get 17% discount.  You don’t get any discount if you buy online and print it off yourself but you do if you go to the office where one lady processes the transaction and prints off your receipts and licence and then takes you to another lady who is the keeper of the card machine and takes your cash…..  The total amount was 527euros for the year, which seems much cheaper than a CRT licence for the year until you remember that the canals in France are closed from 1 November to 1 April, so you’re only really getting seven months of cruising – unless you go north on to the commercialised rivers which are open all year.  In the evening we had an early dinner and headed out to a gig.  Yes, for the fourth time in six months we were going to see Teenage Fanclub.  It was a good gig, although I didn’t think the sound was very good but Mike thought it was better than in Birmingham.  Then, like a pair of rebels, we went to the bar next to the venue and had another drink, not getting to bed til after midnight!!
The Paris gig
Stunning Notre Dame
After breakfast the next day we walked down to Notre Dame and had a look around and then made use of our last half hour on our Velib bikes and returned to the hotel to collect our bag, which we’d left there.  We then walked up the Canal St Martin which was empty for repairs when we were there last March, had a coffee at the basin and then headed through the dodgiest bit of Paris we’ve encountered to Gare du Nord to meet Vicki off the Eurostar.  After some early dinner/late lunch, a quick glass of wine and then a rush back to the bus station at Port Maillot to catch the 19.50 bus back to Auxerre.  Back on board by 10pm, we prepared for our wine-tasting the next day by opening a bottle of Bourgogne Cremant – the local sparkling wine!
Canal St Martin in water

Le Raptor arriver