Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Germigny-l’Eveque – Dormant (Or, ‘Is that the Champagne Region I See Ahead??’)

Vines and Grain galore at Dormant

Our original plan back in April, for this section of our travels, was to leave Paris, head back up the Yonne and then turn down the Loing, Canal du Briare and Lateral de la Loire, then back along the Centre, out onto the Saone and retrace our steps up to St Jean de Losne but rather then turn onto the Bourgogne, keep going and take the Champagne Bourgogne canal onto the Marne, and back to Paris before heading back down the Loing or Nivernais to our winter mooring off the Centre at Roanne.  However, we realised that this was incredibly ambitious for the time left of the season and didn’t leave any wiggle room should we want to stop off anywhere, or take some time off the boat for a road trip or trip back to the UK.  So we came out of Paris and straight onto the Marne to go the other way than initially planned and keep the Loing, Briare and Lateral de la Loire for next year.  It’s been the right decision as we have been able to pootle along, spend a couple of nights at nice places and are just chilling out and taking our time – which is what it’s all about after all.  And there is so much to see and do!!!  I had no idea the the Marne was one of the main battle sites of WWI and there are many memorials and cemeteries to visit, and of course, we’ve reached the champagne region so we’re doing tastings as we go – well, would be rude not to!! 

Anyway, enough of my blethers, here’s a glimpse of what we’ve been up to!

Friday 29th was another short hop to our next mooring at Mary sur Marne, where we had tried to eat at Le Quai de Brunes restaurant when moored on the Ourcq.  We knew there was just the one 15 metre pontoon so we set off early hoping to get there before anyone else and hopefully secure a table for lunch at the restaurant.  The gods were with us and we smugly tied up, booked a table and then set about washing our rather dirty girl before having a lovely lunch with a couple of small glasses of rose wine to wash it down.  The restaurant is very popular with locals and we very quickly realised that they didn’t need and weren’t that bothered with tourists as we were left for ages before they brought menus and again before they took our orders.  Every other table was given tap water, and offered an aperitif – not us, but the food was really good when it came, so we let them off with their poor service to us.

The next morning was sunny and we set off for St Jean les Deux Jumeaux, seeing very few other boats on the move despite it being the weekend.  At lock 10 we were given a remote control and instruction sheet for the next 7 seven locks, which are automatic, but unmanned, so you operate them yourselves remotely from the boat – exciting!  The mooring at St Jean was empty and was a pontoon behind a little island, so really quiet and very cute.  We liked it so much we stayed two nights there, enjoying sitting in the sun reading our books and only saw two or three boats on the move.  There wasn’t much to the town; a baker which provided pudding for Saturday night and an large empty car park which we noted as a good surface to get the Ninebot out…….
There are still one or two working barges on the Marne

My first realisation of the Marne's importance during both World Wars; there was a plaque on this bridge that said it was destroyed on 12 June 1940 and recontructed 13 November 1940. It's the main line into Paris.
Lovely quiet mooring at St Jean Les Deux Jumeaux

Monday took us another 10kms and 0 locks to La Ferte sous Jouarre where again the pontoon moorings were behind a little island, sheltering you from the traffic.  It was a longer pontoon with a few boats moored, including Luv from Northern Ireland, with Paul and Elaine on board.  The moorings were free as was the water and electricity so we plugged in and got the washing machine going before heading to the LeaderPrice supermarket, which was a bit of a disappointment.  The town itself was very nice though and we were next to another empty car park for more Ninebotting.  We were getting so close to going solo on it……
Pretty Mayor's Office in the square at La Ferte sous Jouarre

Deep concentration......

Bit of a wobble.......
And she's off!!
The overnight rain hung around on Tuesday morning but the afternoon was hot and humid and got hotter as the day went on.  We took a walk to the WWI memorial which was very impressive, not least because it was to commemorate 3888 UK soldiers whose graves are unknown.  They landed in August 1914 and between then and October 2014 fought at Mons, Le Cateaut and on the Marne and the Aisne.  It was really odd to see local regiments and their men from Scotland and York listed on this huge monument in this little French town – quite moving.
Each of the four outer pillars are carved with the crests for England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

When we got back we had another go on the Ninebot and I managed this:

On Wednesday we started to spot vines as we headed into Champagne territory.  Again, there were few boats around and the Marne simply seems to ooze the chill factor, inviting you to take your time on the tranquil waters and enjoy the views.

We finally had the chance to use our remote control on the locks and all thankfully went smoothly.  In fact, it was much easier and much less stress as you can take your time roping up, not having to rush as the lock keepers champ at the bit to get you in and up and out as quickly as possible.  It was a longer day for us covering 24kms and 3 locks and we reached Charly mid-afternoon.  We walked into town and managed to sniff our way straight to the first champagne house to see what was on offer.   

The owner, Denis Roberts, was in the middle of packing for a trip to Belgium the next day, to have a stand at a conference/food and drink festival there, but shifted his boxes out of the way and introduced us to three of his champagnes.  His family have been making champagne since 1755, so they know their stuff and he is now passing on his knowledge to his sons and daughters with their own brand of the family champagne.  We bought a couple of bottles and headed back to the boat via the big, new Super U to top up on groceries and where we noticed their diesel was only 1 euro 16.  So a trip back with the jerry cans and the boat was fuelled up too.  As we were unpacking the shopping, another boat came up the lock behind us and Paul and Carol on Triona, whom we’d met in Paris, appeared.  Paul was busy studying his canal book and Carol was sorting their ropes so they almost went past, but Mike honked our horn and when they saw us they decided to reverse and moor up behind us for the night, having done over 70kms already that day!!
The sun was still out and we had a lovely big grass bank to sit on, so we took along a bottle of champagne and joined them for a drink, then we had some wine, then some more wine, then the brandy and port came out……  We ended up doing a pot luck dinner as we’d both made dinner but put everything on the table and had a taste of each others’.  It was good to catch up with them but we were pretty rough the next morning, and whilst they set off just after 9am, we battened down the hatches, watching the day get windier and windier and realising the gusts were 61km per hour, decided we probably shouldn’t move anyway…… 

Thankfully the wind had dropped the next morning, Friday 4 August, and we set off for the town of Chateau Thierry, arriving just before lunch mooring on the stone quayside which annoyingly had a sloping wall just under the water, so we had to sit out a bit and jump off the roof onto the side.  We popped into the Tourist Information, then did the French thing and had a nice lunch at Le Saint Jean restaurant.  We then had a look around the town, got some bits and pieces from the supermarket and then had drinks with Paul and Elaine on Luv, back at the mooring, as they’d leap-frogged us the previous day.

The next morning, we headed off out of the town on foot to visit the WWI memorial overlooking the town, a gift from the USA to commemorate the US soldiers who were key to the liberation of the town on 18 July 1918.  You can see the monument from miles around, surrounded by the woods that gave the soldiers cover coming into the town.  It was fenced off for renovation, but as it was the weekend, no one was around, so we squeezed through a wee gap in the fence to get a closer look (and better photo!).   

We then sat and chilled in the sunlit silence for an hour and then continued our walk back down to the edge of town and the house of Champagne Pannier.  There, there was a tour of the caves in English at 2pm, so we joined another family to learn the history of the caves and the champagne and do a tasting at the end.  The caves were fascinating, carved out back in the day to build the Chateau in the town and then used as shelter by the soldiers during the war and now full of champagne!

The tastings were generous and we duly bought a couple of bottles of pink for the cellar.  After a wee rest back at the boat, we headed out early evening to walk to the Chateau, now ruins, but impressive nonetheless and then picked up a kebab for tea on the way home
Lovely views of Chateau Thierry and the Marne valley from the old castle ruins.
One of the castle gates, not quite so ruined!
Mike getting a handful in the castle's herb garden....
We left Chateau Thierry in hot sunshine and had a lovely cruise for a couple of hours to our next mooring at Joulgone – we really are enjoying the Marne very much, the countryside is just beautiful and there are vines for miles.  There we practised the Ninebot again a couple of times, both now managing to ride it without holding on to each other for support, but still with quite a bit of wobbling.
Not a bad spot for a glass of wine and a good book

Monday 7th saw us on another short pootle to Dormant where our, leave early, arrive first policy worked again and the pontoon was empty when we got there at lunchtime.  The mooring was on a campsite, with open parkland next to the moorings and the caravans and tents further along hidden behind hedges.  It was well kept, had good facilities, so not surprising that there was a charge, but 9euros a night including water and electricity seemed reasonable.  We went for a walk around the town, much of which was shut as it was Monday, but the kebab shop was open, so Mike had a kebab for lunch and I ordered a salad.  The town has a chateau and impressive War memorial, so we headed towards that to enjoy our lunch in the chateau gardens in the shade.  The chateau itself is not open to the public, but houses the Tourist Information, so you got to see the entrance and one room!  But the gardens are free and just lovely and the war memorial and exhibitions within are all free too.  It was so impressive and their little ‘Marne Visages’ exhibition brought a tear to my eye reading the accounts of some of the French soldiers who died.
Nice approach to Dormant
Mooring with a view
The Chateau at Dormant within its beautiful gardens

The war memorial overlooks the town and was built after the First World War but now commemorates all the wars.
Beautiful interior which also houses a wee museum off to the side, where you can see items they've dug up and are still finding today.

View from the top of the tower.

We had spotted a L’Eclerc supermarket from the chateau gardens so topped up on supplies on the way back to the boat and as we crossed the bridge back to our mooring saw a dutch barge approaching.  They slowed up as if to moor, but by now Paul and Elaine had arrived and there was no room on the pontoon.  There was another barge moored on a stone quay next to the pontoon, but someone else was already alongside them as well, so I shouted over that they were welcome to come alongside us.  And so we met Trevor and Alison and Levi and Sacha the staffies on board Denieel (I think, I can’t remember exactly the name of their boat).  In this massive country, with hundreds and hundreds of miles of rivers and canals, we manage to bump into someone who moored their boat at Weedon!!!  What was funnier was that it was a white cruiser and whenever we were at Weedon I would comment that “That poor cruiser’s still sitting there – do you think anyone ever takes it out??”  Apart from the one time I realised with great excitement that it was facing the other way so must have been out……..  They have shares in Denieel so only travel on her six weeks a year and they still have the white cruiser, Swallow, in the UK, but have now moved her from Weedon so they can explore a different area.

They invited us over for a drink in the evening, after we’d done some more Ninebot practice on the tarmacked cycle route alongside our mooring and during which I did a good two or three minutes on my own and feel I’ve now mastered “the straight line”, which duly turned into several drinks and them sharing the curries that Mike had made that afternoon, which would have lasted us a week had they not shared them.  It was a lovely evening and nice to also share stories of Weedon and Daventry as they still live in the area.  We were amused to find that the pub in Badby that we’d stayed at whilst waiting on Quaintrelle being finished has just been taken over by Merlin, the bar man from tv's First Dates, who has renovated it and has trained all the staff in cocktail making!!!  Despite a late night and the promise of rain, we will be continuing our cruise though champagne country in the morning.
Family of swans visiting for a late evening snack.

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