Week 4. Sunday June 4th. We walked around some of the sights of St Dizier, including the château. The weather was wet and grey which can taint your opinions of a town and we were happy to move on.
Monday June 5th. Leaving St Dizier we cruised down the canal, past the Robinson Airforce Base to Orconte a mooring with power at €8 per night. Only one automatic lock not functioning today but again a VNF guy sorted it out. There were lots of biting bugs in the locks and I received more than my share of bites. The weather was lovely in the evening and we took the opportunity to go for a bike ride around Orconte (took about 30 seconds) and then along the towpath for a while. Very pleasant.
Tuesday June 6th As forecasted the weather was foul, the ropes creaking and groaning all night. Rain, hail, thunder and lightening and extremely windy. Not a day to attack the locks so we stayed indoors securely tied to the little quay. One of my pot plants was blown into the canal but I managed to fish most of it out with a boat hook. I’m hoping it will survive.
We waited for a break in the weather to go to the boulangerie (the only shop in Orconte) but the bread was disappointing, tasting like supermarket bread. Gasp!
Wednesday June 7th We woke to grey skies and a cold wind but decided to move on anyway, leaving Orconte at 8.30am. It was a bit of a hard slog in the cold, Alan commented I looked like I was going skiing I had so many layers on, but the weather mainly stayed dry and we continued on all day until reaching Châlons-en-Champagne at 5pm after 45km and 14 locks. We handed back the lock door remote at Vitry and from then on there were hanging cables over the canal to pull to start the process. One lock was broken but luckily for us a commercial barge had called VNF and he locked us through manually after them.
We have seen very few pleasure boats but quite a few large commercial barges lately. Some French, some Belgian, usually with a car on deck. They all give cheerful waves as we pass.
We moored on the stone quay rather than the finger pontoons in Châlons-en-Champagne as the weed was terrible. The Capitain told Alan they had cut it all out only a month ago. That stuff grows fast and it seems to have taken hold everywhere we’ve been lately. We put in two stakes as there were no bollards to tie up to, paid for five nights (€49) and settled down for a relaxing stay.
Thursday June 8 It was a hot day, the weather has been hugely variable. VNF have started grouping boats together through the locks up in canals north of us which means water levels are running low. That’s not good news for us as we are planning to use those routes on our way home later in the season. We will be keeping an eye on that. Our neighbours from Christchurch, Jacqui and Martin on Akaroa, pulled up that afternoon. It’s great to catch up with them over here! We had aperos on our boat with Martin , Jacqui plus Barbara on Kingfisher joined us.
Châlon en Champagne is a beautiful city, full of stunning architecture and interesting history. The Battle of Châlons was fought here in AD274 between Emperor Aurelian of Rome and Emperor Tetricus I of the Gallic Empire. In 451AD another battle of Châlon saw Attila turn back his westward advances. Châlon was also on the Pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella during the Middle Ages. The Notre-Dame-en-Vaux (1157-1217) is now a Unesco World Heritage site due to its importance as a pilgrimage stop on the way to Spain. The church is incredible, inside and out as is St Etienne cathedral, a stunning building. Built between 1120-1634 due to financing problems and damage along the way it shows a mix of Romajnesque Gothic and even Baroque styles.
Both churches are gobsmackingly impressive with soaring gothic arches and huge stained glass windows. We spent the afternoon exploring St Etienne and Notre Dame and strolling through the Grand and Petit Jardin parks. The city feels well maintained and vibrant. Arguably the best place we’ve been this year so far.
Friday June 10th. It rained during the night and on and off all day. We had a quiet day. Later on we enjoyed aperos on Akaroa with a Dutch couple on Nanniguy (probably the wrong spelling!).
Saturday June 11. A hot day today. We visited the excellent Marche this morning and in the afternoon took the boat tour of Chalons, 45 mins along the small canal that runs through the town. Well worth taking. The commentary was in French and just a bit too fast for me but we were given a pamphlet in English so that helped. Very impressive light displays inside the tunnels.
Drinks hosted by Barbara under the trees was lovely that evening and at 9.30pm Alan and the others walked into the main square to see a light show and an amazing circus display including a grand piano hoisted up high by a tethered hot air balloon. A man played the piano while a woman stood on top singing! There were also ribbon dancers and amazing lights projected onto the Notre Dame church. The festival called The Furies has been on all week with music and circus displays all over town. That night the music didn’t stop until 6am but it didn’t bother us in the marina area although we did wake to find a smashed beer bottle on our deck.
Sunday June 12th was another hot day. 31°. We caught up on our washing and later on met with the usual suspects plus Alan and Di, Brits on Arwen, for aperos under the shady trees.
Monday June 13th Martin and Jacqui departed back towards Vitry this morning. We did a big supermarket run and then relaxed as we have a reasonably big day tomorrow heading up to Mareuil-sur-Ay, deep in the heart of Champagne.
We have absolutely loved Chalons-en-Champagne and highly recommend it. By the way, the best baguettes are in the boulangerie in the Place de la Republic. A-maz-ing.
So here are this weeks stats:
St Dizier to Orconte 2.8 engine hrs, 17kms, 8 locks
Orconte to Chalons-en-Champagne 7.7 hrs engine hours, 45kms, 14 locks.
In total: 4 weeks, 59.2 engine hours, 295kms, 126 locks, 2 tunnels.