The weather during our final few weeks in Auxerre, before we headed down the Yonne (locks due to open not before March 24th partly on account of flood damage) to Migennes to be craned out, had indeed brightened up from the previous months of grey dullness and rain. In equal measure we had some very cold, some warm, and some very sunny days, but only one day of snow and no more flooding.
I started to remember all the things that we had, in November, intended to do in town but somehow not yet got around to. The Leblanc-Duvernoy Museum (tapestries, pottery, art and history) remained closed from October to April except to pre-arranged groups. I did manage to book a tour of the Eckmuhl Room in the City Hall (treasures once belonging to Marshall Davout, one of Napolean’s loyal generals) but it turned out to be a long 1 hour talk, in French, standing in a small room with very few items of much interest to us, although it is nice to learn some more French history – I hadn’t realised how relatively short a time it was that Napolean 1 ruled as Emperor. I visited the garden of the Natural History Museum but not being that much interested in fossils etc never made it inside. The CGR Cinema with Cinemanie ran another batch of Original Version films and we watched Wonderstruck (La Musee des Merveilles). We thought that we would enjoy a Sunday afternoon ‘Escapades Celtiques’ at the Theatre with the Dunbrody Duo but arrived to find it sold out and had to content ourselves with a brief visit to look at some modern art ‘Fragments d’une collection’ – part of a local private collection being exhibited in the small gallery Hors Cadre across the street. The Silex Theatre just across the roundabout from the Port seems to feature some rather more alternative concerts but we didn’t notice one that looked like it was our ‘truc’ (thing). The 5eme Salon Vins & Terroirs put on by the local Rotary Club also proved to be a short visit with nothing of unusual interest although a few choice tastings were on offer. The Saint-Germain Museum however warranted several repeat visits and I enjoyed their special changing exhibitions as well as repeat visits to the permanent displays.
And then there are the things that one finds out just as one is about to leave. We already knew about the location of the Grand Frais Market (for those in the know, by far the best French chain offering of fresh food) out on the furthest away retail park but only in March realised that it is at the terminus of the #1 Bus route which also runs near the Port – and so only a short walk and an easy 25 minute bus ride (€1.20) away.
It was during a couple of emergency runs (thanks to Bob, nb Lazy Notes, and his car) for compressed logs to the Brico Depot next door that I spotted the bus stop. And more galling still was to find that the integral Marie Blanchere Boulangerie there sells my favourite ‘Pain Nordique’, for which I have been pining all winter. Bob and Penni also drove us on a day out to Avallon, a trip that had been on our winter list four years ago, some 50 km (26 miles) south – site of a Roman citadel and believed to be (by Bob and others) the Isle of Avalon from Arthurian legend. We had a light lunch at Dame Jean, a Salon de The recommended to Penni by local friends for its desserts, and a wander through this very picturesque town to view the Cousin Valley from the old ramparts.
On board entertainment has been expanded after our introduction, by Bob and Penni, to Mexican Train Dominoes. Having practised a bit we thought we’d try this out on John and Rosemary (Forty Roses III) who were still beating us at Six Qui Prend, only to find that John, an ocean going sailor of long-standing , was not only more than familiar with the game but had his own set of ‘house rules’. Yet another defeat or two ensued.
We were not tempted to try any new restaurants and that included Les Cocottes gourmet burger van which is soon going to be facing some stiff competition from the new restaurant now being built just the other side of the Ibis Hotel – Burger King – which we would definitely have popped into frequently for a Whopper or two.
Otherwise we watched life passing us by on either side – joggers, walkers, with and without dogs, and cyclists on the town side, shoppers, workers and camping vans parking on the station side and more curiously a steady and regular parade, one at a time, of an assortment of people who scavenge though the public rubbish bins which are situated in the side road along the car-park/ port/park/ fence. Over the winter I have been trying to figure out what they are scavenging for. One man drives up in a small white van and simply takes whole unopened black bags out of the bins and puts them in his van and continues on – I recently learned that he was in fact from the council doing an interim pick-up due to the high use of these bins by recreational vehicles. An old lady, with a purple woolly hat, takes everything out and seems to be placing things into piles, including stale baguettes and books, but I realised that my binoculars were revealing more than I needed to know when she squatted between two bins and appeared to be peeing into a bottle which she then used to wash an old piece of uncooked meat found in the bin. Ever since, I have relied on the naked eye, and am perhaps confusing the old lady with an old man in a red hat who takes his plastic bags of booty over to feed the pigeons on the town side every Sunday. There are others, some in cars and some on foot and I can only imagine that they are looking for certain materials that they are able to recycle to some good use or profit. We observed the same activity from an old man on a bike in Clamecy who, whilst we were there in October, would go through the bins by the port every morning and evening, obviously looking for some particular items. Perhaps it is time to be moving on! VNF have been busy, in their workboat, clearing logs jammed across the bridge piers and on the weirs in preparation for opening the river to traffic, then scheduled for March 26th. The Nivernais Canal though will remain closed for repairs at the Vaux barrage, which will not be complete before May 15th, so we are lucky to be heading North this year.
On the weekend before Easter the port sprang to life with owners arriving and many out in the glorious sunshine de-winterising and preening their boats ready for a new cruising season. I managed a very thorough wash down of Xenia – her first this year – after having a major hiatus with our Sanimarin loo which had finally petered out. With advice on the phone from Leesan in England and the technical muscle of Jean-Philippe we managed to strip the whole system down and clean out the calcification clogging every pipe and part. Lucky that it happened in port with nearby toilets, as the process took a couple of days but fortunately needed no new parts – not bad after 9 years of trouble free service! Charles and Sally who had driven out to de-winterize BlueGum in Roanne stopped by for an evening on their way back home – the first we’d seen them since we both left Frontignan on our separate ways to the Rhone. On March 26th Forty Roses iii set off early heading for Paris, only to be turned away at the La Chainette lock (PK1) in Auxerre and they had to moor on the opposite quay for a night before being the first to get away the next morning – but as the Epineau lock (PK 25, just before Joigny on the Yonne) was not due to open until March 31st, they only went as far as Gurgy (PK 10, nice jetty with water and electric – not normally turned on until April 3rd).
I was getting nervous about the timing of our departure from Auxerre, wanting to be sure to be able to get to Migennes (PK 23) before April 3rd and so we moved it forward from April 1st to 29th March and decided not to overnight in Gurgy but to get to Migennes in one day. Jean-Philippe and Christophe came round for ‘aperos’ on our final night and we headed off on a bright sunny Thursday morning getting to Gurgy in time to be invited aboard Forty Roses iii for a lunch of soup and croissants and cheese and claret. What a nice start to the new cruising season!
After lunch we both cruised on the 3 hours to Migennes, where we squeezed two 18.29m boats into the 38m Laroche lock and moored up on the Burgundy Canal on the quay just beyond the busy Le Boat base above the lock (free mooring, €5 a day for water or electric – we were the first boats of the season to moor here). To round off a great first day John and Rosemary joined us for a convivial dinner aboard Xenia and beat us again at Mexican Train Dominoes.
Next morning, John needed French-speaking help to look for a mechanic – we were lucky to find Mark, an Englishman, at Evans Marine working on Good Friday, not a holiday here, but Friday is always a half day at the Evans – only to discover that the diaphragm on his 11 month old combined grey and black water tank German-made pump had split. His tank was full. The Germans obviously take Easter more seriously than the French as they would not be available to even take an order for a replacement part (not available anywhere else we could find) until Tuesday. I thought that I had seen the last of our manual pump-out kit when I put it away the previous week – but out it came again, and after some initial difficulties with priming it sufficiently, we spent the afternoon, rain and windy spells, emptying the tank – so that he and Rosemary could carry on to Paris (and the nearest pump-out machine) with at least some of the comforts of home (perhaps foregoing the use of the dishwasher and the washing machine in favour of the bathroom). It was Friday night pizza, salad and rose wine, on the Teeds at the nice little Calimero pizzeria near the port.
VNF (Voies Navigable de France) were as good as their ‘Avis’ notices and opened the Epineau lock on Saturday March 31st and Forty Roses iii was on its way again that morning making it to Sens (PK 67) that night – only 138 km and 16 locks to go to get to a Tuesday rendez-vous in Paris with their transatlantic guest.
Just when we thought we could relax – having got to the crane – an email came through from Eurostar cancelling our Wednesday train booking on account of the SNCF strikes now being held two days a week for the next six weeks or so. That afternoon nb Lazy Notes arrived from Auxerre, having fairly flown down river. Bob was expecting trouble with the port electrics – live and neutral reversed – and he got it, taking us with him (tripping out the whole Le Boat base) just before getting up for breakfast on Easter Sunday! It didn’t prevent us all from enjoying Pam’s hearty Cassoulet for Easter lunch and whilst Bob worried about electrical fires, and menaced the bornes with a screw driver, Pam managed to beat Penni and me at –yes, you guessed it! Mexican Train Dominoes.
By Easter Monday the Yonne was closed again – strong flows – from Auxerre to Le Pechoir (PK 29) until April 9th. I worried that they might not let us back down the lock – memories of getting stuck for a week in Leeds in Clarence Dock on the river just before the first Leeds and Liverpool Canal lock – to get round the corner to Evans boatyard. I worried about my mobile phone losing all signal towards the end of each day. I managed to re-book a Eurostar train for an hour later on the 4th April, but then I worried about how I would get to Paris if there were no trains running, and no-one would know what trains were scheduled until 5pm the night before.
Well I needn’t have worried. We went down through the lock at 4.00pm on Tuesday and got to Simon’s yard where he had almost completed moving boats about to fit us onto the quay by the crane, which was already in place. In quick succession the CPL transport and safety car arrived as did Andrew and Debbie, wb Nounou on blocks in the yard for blacking before they set off on their French adventure, and we exchanged our French propane gas cylinders for their English ones.
Next morning, once Simon had finished breakfast, the crane roared into action and we were loaded up, €350 bill paid, and ready to go by 10.00am.
There was only 1 train running to Paris from Migennes on April 4th and it had left at 6am. Bob came to the rescue and most generously drove us to Paris, Place d’Italie, from where we were able to complete our journey to the Gare du Nord by Metro, arriving in time for a leisurely lunch at the Terminus Nord Brasserie. A farewell and very typical good French lunch before taking the Eurostar back to St Pancras, London.
Xenia had an un-eventual journey back too, arriving at Caversham the night before and being craned off the transport by 9am on Friday morning – with only a minor delay, before being lowered back into the Thames, for welding on 4 new 2.5kg Magnesium anodes (once we noticed that the 8 much smaller Magnesium and Aluminium anodes put on in Toulouse in Oct 2016 had very little life left to give).
And so we have come full circle – having set out from The Thames and Kennet Marina in June 2011 to first explore the English wide canals and rivers before moving on to France in 2013. We eased into our new annual mooring here on Pontoon D, between Valiant and Big Baloo and started the clear up of the inside of the boat – the wardrobe had decided to topple over, as had the desk, spilling contents across each cabin – but nothing was broken and we were back to normal by 6pm in time for a Pastis and an early night!