Christchurch, Paris, Toul, Canal de la Meuse. We’re off!

The sun’s shining, the birds are singing and all is right on the canal. We have liftoff. After a week and a half since leaving New Zealand we are finally on our way! Bring on our 2019 adventure…

We flew Air New Zealand from Christchurch to Sydney and Etihad to Abu Dhabi and on the Paris. Both airlines did a great job with excellent service and the A380 was impressive. However. We were unimpressed with Etihad’s new food service. Very basic, no menus and the feel of it was very much of the low cost model. Air New Zealand did a much better job on the first leg. On those long sectors (15 hours and 7 hours) you need the food to punctuate the utter boredom so these things do matter. Come on #Etihad, what are you doing?

Anyway we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport, collected our luggage and headed into the city on the Roissy bus which drops you off in the Opera district. From there we lugged our luggage (!) to a hotel I had found online, Hotel Atheneé, very cute, highly decorated and teeny tiny. Perfect Parisian experience, the staff are excellent, the lift takes 2 people or one and a bag and about 2 hours to reach the top floor. All part of the fun.

Our room Hotel Athenee
The hotel is very theatrical.

We had 2 nights in Paris, mainly to get to the Free mobile shop to buy a new phone number and internet connection then we walked for hours, checking out the sad Notre Dame after the recent fire and then along the banks of the Seine onto the Rive Gauche and just meandered along enjoying the sunshine.

Note Dame minus its spire.

Dinner was in the Place Vendôme in the 1st , sitting outside enjoying our meal a police car pulled up and the officer wished us “Bon Appetit”. Gosh I love France!


We took a TGV from Gare d’Est to Nancy and picked up a Europcar rental to drive our final leg to Toul where we left the boat last year. Luckily it was still there! The Capitainerie are good here and our mechanic had sorted out our battery charger problem, there was no mould and it all looked pretty good. Yay! After last year’s sad reunion with Silver Fern this was a relief!

Having a car for a week meant we could stock up on food and water, buy pots of herbs and geraniums and do a bit of sightseeing away from the reach of the canal by walking or biking.

Bargain. A good quaffer.

One day we drove to the area around Verdun, scene of the catastrophic Battle of Verdun during WW1. Here we have an account of our day out by a guest writer, Captain Alan Hodges (Retired)…

Last Wednesday, while we still had our rental car, we drove to some of the WW1 battlefields & monuments around Verdun. Verdun is a small city on the banks of the Meuse River & has several forts (in varying stages of disrepair) dating back to the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. The German forces at the start of WW1 decided that if they could take Verdun & the surrounding forts, it would be a major strategic setback for France. So in February 2016 they began the largest artillery battle of the war, with 1400 artillery guns packed into an 8 mile front, firing up to 100,000 rounds per hour towards Verdun. In the 300 days of the battle millions of shells were fired from both sides, devastating the surrounding towns & countryside. Nearly one million casualties, 300,000 deaths shared almost equally from both sides, for no strategic gain. Makes you wonder of the futility of it all.

We first visited the memorial & museum at Fleury-devant-Douaumont. This was first opened in 1967 & documents the battle of Verdun with lots of interactive displays. Excellent museum. We then walked around the fields that had once been the town of Fleury-devant-Douamont, totally destroyed, along with 5 other towns that were never resettled.

Fleury-devant-Douaumont memorial at the site of the mairie (town hall).
Another memorial at Fleury-devant-Douaumont

Fleury changed hands between the German & French Force’s 16 times during 1916. The whole area is referred to as Zone Rouge (red zone), a term familiar to Christchurch residents from the earthquakes. Some 42,000 acres were never resettled & were allowed to revert back to forest & bush, although in some parts nothing has ever grown due to soil contamination that still exists today. They say it could be another 300 years before the contamination from gases & acid in the soil disappear.

Our next visit was to the Douamont Ossuary, a memorial where the skeletal remains of 130,000 unidentified soldiers, from both sides, are stored in alcoves under the floor, which can be seen through small windows at ground level. Inside the impressive building is listed all the names of the French soldiers who lost their lives in the “Battle of Verdun”.

Ossuaire de Douaumont
View from the tower of the Ossuaire

On next to Fort Souville, completely derelict & overgrown. Didn’t wander around this one too much as apparently still lots of unexploded ordinance in the surrounding area.

Fort Souville

Then a visit to Fort Vaux, which is in much better shape & you can visit inside & imagine what it must’ve been like for the French defenders. During the battle it was defended by a garrison of 670 men. After a 100 day siege, a week of fierce fighting inside the fort, & running out of food & water the 22 French survivors surrendered to the Germans in June, 2016. The numbers of the soldiers garrisoned in Fort Vaux are from info at the fort itself but does vary a bit in various articles on the internet. Suffice to say that the bravery that the French fought & in particular Major Raynal, the fort commander, was never in doubt & was recognised by the German Command. Even the last courier pigeon sent back to French command headquarters with a message requesting help was supposedly awarded a posthumous L’egion d’Honneur! After a counter offensive by the French army, the Germans retreated & gave up Fort Vaux without a fight in November 1916.

Fort de Vaux
Fort de Vaux interior

So all & all an interesting history lesson about a battle that lasted 300 days, 300,000 lives lost for naught. Makes you wonder………

Thanks Alan. Well said. Back to me…

After returning our rental car to Nancy and taking the train home we made ourselves ready to head off on this year’s adventure. After a week in Toul we finally cruised out of our winter mooring, east along the Canal de la Marne au Rhin, through 12 locks in 14kms and the Foug tunnel to Pagny-sur-Meuse where we stopped for the night. A really pleasant village with no charge for the mooring although no power or water. It was a quiet day with not much boat traffic.

Pagny-sur-Meuse mooring

The next day we motored for about 3 hours, on to the Canal de la Meuse which follows the Meuse river up to Belgium, and only passed through 5 locks. We met a very happy VNF man who needed to know what our plans for the next few days are as until the 1 June there aren’t lockeepers at all manual locks and we need to book an ‘itinerant’ person to follow us along, operating the locks that weren’t automatic, as we go. This starts south of Verdun apparently but they track us all the way along and expect to be informed of the next days plans before 3pm the day before. It’s a bit hard to know what your plans are if you’re not sure there will be room on the next quay but we did our best.

Canal de la Meuse
Rural and very pretty

Anyway we managed to sneak in on the end of the quay in Commercy, our next port of call, most of the 60m quay being taken up with what appears to be long term residents in clapped out old boats that don’t look like they move much which is a shame as the town is lovely with an amazing Chateau, formerly one of the favourite residences of King Stanislas I, and there’s plenty for visitors to enjoy including the town’s specialty, Madeleines, little golden cakes made famous by Proust and thought to be named after Madeleine Paumier, a lady-in-waiting in the court of good old King Stanislas! We tried some with our coffee and they are delicious 😋

Commercy mooring
Chateau de Commercy
Registry office for the mairie in the chateau.
Commercy streets

Leaving Commercy after a couple of nights we headed downstream past rural landscape, lots of Charolais cows grazing, and into some cold rainy weather. We rugged up, wooly hats and all, passing down 5 locks. We hit bad luck at ecluse 7 when our telecommande (remote control) failed and I had to call the VNF base in Verdun to send someone out which held us up about 30 minutes but finally we arrived in the lovely town of St Mihiel. There was space on the quay and free power and water. Bonus! The town is very pretty, the local mairie planting out the quay side in spring flowers as I write,  and we walked to the Abbey right in town with it’s magnificent church and famous ancient library containing manuscripts dating back to the Carolingian period. There has been a tug of war over the years for ownership of the prized collection with handwritten works from the 9th century onwards and of course as we are now on the front line of the WWI, destruction during the Great War. There are 3,441 books of many subjects and we were able to go into the beautiful rooms where they are displayed.

Ancient library of St Mihiel
Sculptured organ chest in the St Michael’s Abbey church dates from 1680
These guys are rather creepy!

Also in the same building was one of the best exhibitions of WWI we’ve visited, explaining how St Mihiel was occupied during the most of that time. Frightening stuff but an incredibly well curated display, especially as we were able to use an English language hand held translator.

And so we are here in St Mihiel, the weather has been all over the place with sun, rain, wind, I guess classic Spring weather. Tomorrow we continue North towards Verdun and what looks like a warm weekend to come.

Mooring in St Mihiel

The journey so far:

Toul – Pagny-Sur-Meuse:

Engine Hours 3.5,

Kms 14,

Locks 12

Tunnels 1

Pagny-Sur-Meuse – Commercy:

Hours 3,

Kms 15,

Locks 5

Commercy – St Mihiel:

Hours 3.5,

Kms 20,

Locks 5

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Road Trip! South Island of New Zealand.

‘Don’t leave town ‘til you’ve seen the country’. Who remembers that tag line of an advert for New Zealand Tourism in the 80’s? It’s still relevant advice and some I needed to take so when Alan suggested we buy a campervan or caravan and spend some time checking out the many places we haven’t yet seen in New Zealand, having spent many years travelling overseas, I was all in.

The choice in options is huge. Motorhome, bus or caravan? How many beds, what were our necessities versus niceties when it came to kitchen and bathroom facilities? Lots to think about but we made our decision, settling on a ex-rental motorhome (MH), 3 years old, quite a few kms on the clock but well cared for and serviced and with the excellent staff at Smart RV in Christchurch helping us, the decision was relatively easy.

Once we returned from France last year we took the MH, now called Riley as in ‘Living the Life of Riley’ and we spent a weekend up in daughter Sarah and husband Steve’s vineyard in Hanmer and then on to Kaikoura for a shakedown trip and all was great.


Hanmer Springs Winery


Kaikoura Coast


South Bay, Kaikoura

We had to get our heads around living and cooking in a space that makes the 11.5m boat seem roomy not to mention our cavernous 80m2 apartment. And the whole toileting issue takes a few days to come to terms with! But once you get into the habit of dealing with grey and black water disposal it’s not that bad. Alan’s great at it.

Over the Christmas and New Year break we spent time at Lake Benmore Halden Station campground with friends Terry and Roz and in Twizel, parked up on the lawn with family in a rented holiday home and having the van was really handy, making us self sufficient. But our big trip was mid February to early March when we spent 3 weeks touring the southern part of the west coast of the South Island, through the Haast Pass and down South to Queenstown and the Catlins.

We left Christchurch mid February hoping to have avoided the school holiday crowds but there were still plenty of tourists especially since our trip coincided with Chinese New Year. Lots of camper vans out there, lots of people. But it’s usually a time of settled good weather so it’s just one of those things we all have to deal with and it wasn’t too bad.

The first day we headed to Lake Pearson, on the way to Arthur’s Pass. The lake is very pretty and has a Department of Conservation (DOC) camping area right on the lake front with one toilet available. The weather was very windy but our view was lovely and we shared the space with a number of other MHs, some tents and a school trip, out in kayaks.


What a great spot. Lake Pearson.


Lake Pearson

The following day we moved on to Arthur’s Pass, stopping at the excellent tourist centre and parking in the Avalanche Creek DOC park while we walked up to the Devils Punchbowl waterfall. Be warned, there are A LOT of steps on the 3.8kms return walk to the parking spot.  The waterfall is stunning and well worth the effort and we enjoyed an excellent coffee at the Arthur’s Pass cafe while being entertained by a local Kea, hopping along the tables.


Walking up the Devils Punchbowl


Cheeky little Kea

Deciding not to stay the night at the very busy DOC camp we continued on to the Otira Stagecoach Hotel, a mad pub full of an extremely eclectic collection of collections including stuffed animals, bones, photos, period furniture, bottles, toys, paintings, mannequins. You name it, they had a few. Plus a (live) parrot called Gracie. If you get a chance, drop in. The restaurant does good pub grub and they have rooms to rent. We parked the Riley in their car park for the night and enjoyed a drink at in the beer garden to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary.



Viaduct through the Otira Pass

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast in the pub then carried through the pass to Hokitika on the West Coast. This place has changed considerably since I was last there and is a mix of cafes bars, tourist shops and adventure companies. We saw dolphins surfing in the bay, a bonus! The heavens opened later on but luckily we were tucked up nice and dry in Riley, parked at a NZMCA campground, and played scrabble and rummy safe from the thunder and lightning outside.

Onwards the next day to the Walk The Treetops rain forest canopy walk. Amazing! The platform is 20m high and 450m long with a tower of 105 steps. We saw a kereru (NZ native wood pigeon) fly close by and heard grey warblers, tui and bellbirds. Just stunning amongst the native forest.


Tree Top Canopy Walk


The tower


Rimu trees

After a coffee at the cafe we continued to Lake Mahinapua which has a DOC campsite and is a definite must do next time we come this way but we carried on to Ross, where we walked the Gold Rush walkway which follows the water race built in the 1870s for the gold mining operations. The weather had turned lovely and warm and we camped the night in the Ross Top 10 motorcamp, $50 for a beach front site where we enjoyed a hot shower and then settled in to watch the sun set over the stormy Tasman Sea.


Lake Mahinapua


Native Ferns


On the Gold Rush Walkway in Ross


Ross beachfront campsite


Watching the sunset, Ross

Next morning we headed away from Ross and on to Okarito where you can take a eco trip to see local White Heron in their native habitat, and something we will do next time! Next stop was Franz Josef Glacier, staying in an NZMCA campsite, close to the village. The next morning we walked up to the glacier, an hour and a half return from the car park, and a stunning experience in the misty mountains. Sadly the glacier is receding due to global warming and used to be down to the current car park site so you can imagine how far it has retreated.


Franz Josef Glacier


Intrepid hiker

Next up was Fox Glacier where we parked in the Fox Glacier Lodge campground for $40 per night on a powered site. That evening when it was dark we did the Minnehaha glow worm forest walk. There’s something magical about glow worms in amongst the forest, like natural fairy lights. Beautiful.

Alan lived in Fox Glacier over a summer in the early 70’s when he worked for Mount Cook Airlines and flew Cessna 185 ski planes so it was a trip down memory lane for him. We visited the hut on the airfield where he used to sleep and the local pub he frequented. Early the next morning we drove down to Lake Matheson, which on a clear day has stunning views over the lake which reflects Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. The morning was fine but misty and as we walked the hour and a half it takes to circumnavigate the lake we thought we might miss out on the spectacle but suddenly the mist dissipated, the breeze died out and we were rewarded with the gin clear reflections of New Zealand’s two tallest mountains. What a photo-op! We felt so lucky to live in this stunning part of the world and the atmosphere amongst the few tourists around us was hushed and in awe. I had 20 amazing photos to choose from.


Lake Matheson


Lake Matheson

We had a change of weather later on as we drive though to Haast. A brief stop at Lake Paringa had us fighting off the sandflies. Its a well known phrase that the West Coast sandflies ‘will carry you away’ if you’re not careful and they were feral here so we continued on to Haast where the weather turned wet and cool, leading to torrential rain the next day as we drove though the Haast pass. The bonus is the waterfalls are stunning through here, including the Fantail Waterfall, although sometimes they gush across the road in this weather. The downside are the slips and only a day later there was a huge landslide that took out the road for a few days so we were lucky to have got through when we did.

Now we had officially left the West Coast and that night we parked in the Boundary Creek DOC campsite at the top of Lake Wanaka, a stunning lakeside area, quite busy with campervans and unfortunately the weather still wasn’t great with a gale blowing. The lake looked amazing though and it would be a great place to swim on a sunny day.


Lake Wanaka

From there we visited Cromwell where the sun came out, the temperature rose to 26°C and we enjoyed a lovely swim in Lake Dunstan. Putting up the canopy we enjoyed drinks in the shade. This is what it’s all about!


Lake Dunstan swimming spot near to the camping area

For the next four days we stayed with our friends Tim and Bronwyn in their beautiful home near Queenstown. They kindly lent us a car, an easier means of transport than Riley, to visit nearby Arrowtown with its stunning walks, Coronet Peak where we watched paragliders and parapunters throwing themselves off the top of the mountain. We also enjoyed a great catchup with daughter Georgie who now lives and works in Queenstown.


Along one of the many walks around Arrowtown


Walking track near Arrowtown


View from Coronet Peak

Moving on we drove towards Glenorchy, up the side of Lake Wakatipu, and turned off towards Moke Lake, along a sometimes narrow gravel road. Unfortunately we met a Ute and trailer coming from the other direction at the narrowest point and when I say ‘meet’ I mean collided with. Once we came unstuck from their trailer with only superficial damage done, and swapped details we continued on to the lake, a beautiful, quiet (apart from our swearing) DOC campsite surrounded by mountains. There is a horse trek company operating here and good camping facilities including two toilet huts and a shared kitchen area. There were also the odd nudist swimming in the lake if you’re into that. Bit cold for me!


Moke Lake


Scenery around Moke Lake

Back out to the main road without mishap we continued on to Glenorchy and enjoyed some excellent walking tracks. One thing about NZ, we have great scenery and with the beautiful weather we made the most of it. We parked up at the Glenorchy Pub for the night and shared a pizza in the beer garden.


The old Railway shed in Glenorchy


Glenorchy walkway


Lake Wakatipu

The next day we travelled back to the Lake Hawea area and parked up at friends Debbie and Lloyd’s house for the night, enjoying an lovely catchup with them while the wind and rain were squally outside. The weather is so changeable down here amongst the mountains.

On down the other side of Lake Wakatipu we stopped at Kingston to have lunch lake-side and on to Lumsden, staying at the NZMCA park and enjoying coffee at their Route 6 cafe with a Dodge parked in the middle of the room. Very quirky and good coffee. There’s a good dump station and water available in Lumsden too. Not as much fun as drinking coffee but just as essential!

Next up was Mandeville and the amazing Croydon Aviation Heritage Centre with aircraft from the 20’s and 30’s including the largest collection of de Havilland aircraft in the Southern Hemisphere, many of which were restored by the adjacent Croydon Aircraft Company where we chatted to the engineer himself, Colin Smith. It was a really enjoyable visit and I highly recommend it.


We stopped the night in Gore, parking in the A and P Showgrounds and walked into Gore to visit the Creamoata porridge factory museum, another interesting and quirky display included wedding dresses from 1800-1900 and moonshine memorabilia.

From here we headed further on to the Catlins, a conservation area on the south eastern corner of the South Island. This is a stunning part of New Zealand and one we had been meaning to visit for a while. Having the MH works really well in this area with DOC camps along the way and yes it was busy with other tourists but not too bad considering the natural beauty the area holds.

Our first stop was Curio Bay where we walked the beach pausing to admire the petrified forest logs along the way, dating back to the Jurassic period, that’s approximately 160,000,000 years old, killed by a volcano spitting ash, preserving them. The resident penguins were all out fishing unfortunately.


Curio Bay


Jurassic Period petrified wood

We drove further to a NZMCA park by ‘Niagara Falls’, a tongue-in-cheek name as the falls barely fell 20cm. Nearby, however, we discovered an excellent cafe housed in the old school house. The weather was beautiful that evening.


The tongue-in-cheekily named Niagara Falls (NZ).

Next day we visited a couple of waterfalls. The Korupuku Falls are tucked away along a walkway built by 2 local men, Peter Hill and Wayne Allen, through beautiful native forest and babbling brooks, with native birds singing happily. A memorable experience!


The stunning Korupuku Falls


Korupuku Falls, a little dry when we visited but stunning all the same

Next we visited the McLean Falls which while spectacular, didn’t have as much water as normal and perhaps didn’t have the X factor of Korupuku. Both are worth the walk in.


McLean Falls, lacking water somewhat.

That evening we camped at the Papatowai DOC camp, the best camp so far. Lots of room, lots of greenery, a walkway to the tidal river and beach. They even have a little grocery shop. And would you believe we ended up parked next to some friends from France, Kiwis from the North Island who have both a canal boat there and a motorhome here. Small world! We had some very enjoyable catch up drinks that evening.


Evening sky at Papatowai

The following morning we were reluctant to leave this beautiful spot but needed to head home to attend a funeral so we packed up and headed to the Purakaunui Falls, a short walk in with lots of native birdsong in the cool rainforest. We also stopped at Nugget Point, enjoying a cup of tea on the beach then walked up to the lighthouse with its beautiful 180° views right across the Southern Ocean. It’s hard to stop taking photos in the Catlins, there was so many wonderful opportunities!


Time for a cup of tea with a view!


Nugget Point lighthouse and view


This pic could be of any Pacific Island.. great spot for lunch.

From here we drove to Balclutha, parking up for the night in the Town and Country Club carpark and then we continued our travels north, stopping for a visit to Oamaru’s eclectic SteamPunk themed streets (very cool) and then, for our final night, we stayed at the NZMCA park in Waimate, a warm 24° for our last day away.


Balclutha sunset


SteamPunk craziness of Oamaru

It was a wonderful 3 weeks away. The highlights would have to be the Catlins coast and rain forest, Franz Josef glacier and Lake Matheson at Fox. Also the Devils Punchbowl at Arthur’s Pass and in fact all the waterfalls we walked up to see. Great exercise which helps with all the coffee and biscuits we munched on along the way. We loved catching up with friends and family and just being on the road.

A bit like on the boat in France but different!

Posted in Campervan trip South Island New Zealand, Life of Riley | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Toul, war and homeward bound.



So we’ve been moored in the Toul town marina, Port de France, for a month now. The locks into Toul are now shut until late October as they work on the lifting bridge. But if  you’re going to spend a lot of time in one place Toul is a great option. There are only a few people on their boats as most have gone home but there are plenty of things to keep us occupied.


This is my favourite boulangerie. The ‘Delicieux’ is, not surprisingly, delicious!


Just looking, or as the French say, “lécher les vitrines” or licking the windows!

The town is so pretty and I’ve written about the history in a post when we were here earlier this year. There is always a new view or another cute house to photograph.

One Sunday we jumped on our bikes and headed to Villey-Le-Sec and it’s 19th century fortress. The ride there and back took a lot longer than expected and with the 2 hour tour going for 4 hours we barely made it back before dark! The tour was all in French but we kept ourselves entertained by chatting to a group of 4 English guys who tour old forts on the same weekend every year as a bit of a boys trip. They were very knowledgeable and without them we would have been a bit stumped although there was a paragraph in the brochure in English.


Great view towards Toul from the fortress.


The fortress of Villey-Le-Sec was part of the defences of Toul following the 1870 war. General Séré de Rivières had it built enclosing the village houses with a wall making it the only fortified village at the end of the 19th century. Built from 1874 to 1879 then modernised up to 1914, it has a 155mm Mougin tower, the only surviving example in working order in the North of France and was equipped with a machine gun turret and two turrets for 75mm cannon, one of which they let off as a demo during our tour. A blank shell of course!


This isn’t the turret that they used as a demo!

As well as lots of armaments they have imposing concrete barracks with an extensive museum, all beautifully renovated. There is also a 1879 Hotchkiss revolving cannon. All this over a beautiful view towards Toul plus a train ride around the fortress. It was all amazing if only we could have understood the guide who was obviously had a real love of the history of the area. Biking home in the twilight was very pretty and downhill!



Inside the guns

Another day we biked to nearby Choloy where there is a French and Commonwealth War cemetery including New Zealand Airforce personnel who died and were interred elsewhere and brought to Choloy later. We saw the graves of a Stirling Bomber crew from 75 (NZ Squadron) RAF, initially buried in Reims and later moved to in Choloy. A very stirring and humbling visit.AFC7F39C-B16F-4392-934D-5A7FB011BB02

We also attended a local classic car show in front of the Hotel de Ville with lots of gorgeous old Citroen’s and Peugeot’s as well as cars and motorbikes from around the world and just by chance on a walk one Saturday when we went for a walk to old l’Arsenal we came across the annual ‘Forum des Associations’ when all the local associations and groups held a huge open day, touting for new members and doing displays. It was packed and we saw so many people joining up to learn how to ride horses, gymnastics, genealogy, wild life groups, Thai boxing. You name it! Outside the army had a display as did the local skateboarding club. It made me happy to see how the local Touloise participated in their community. Christchurch could learn a thing or two.

We have had the local boat mechanic Jean-Paul Bier on board to fix a few bits and pieces and change the oil etc. He may not speak a word of English but he has a great sense of humour and didn’t seem to mind our fumbling conversations. I think he used to work at Blanquart in St Jean de Losne, our usual wintering port. Boating is a small world.

We met some local wildlife. This is Henri the Heron who uses our boat as a fishing spot.

These are coypu, sort of a cross between a beaver and a water rat. These two were small and quite tame. Very cute.

Every evening hundreds of the local rook community arrive for a chat and swoop before resting in the trees surrounding the port. Talk about raucous but I love it.

9DCF737A-C39D-4B78-84FD-1C5F87E07432Now with only have a few days before we head back to New Zealand. On Wednesday we plan to take the train to Nancy, celebrate my birthday with lunch out somewhere nice, then pick up a rental car and bring it back to Toul. On Saturday having finished the cleaning and winterising of the boat, we’ll drive to the airport in Paris. The plan is to stay the night at an Airport Hotel (Holiday Inn Express this year) so we are close to the action on Sunday, our checkin time is 10am. Hopefully this all goes to plan and we arrive home on Tuesday morning, October 9th.

This year has been a real highlight of our travels so far. We loved the rural feel of the Canal des Vosges and so glad we hired a car and visited further into the Alsace region, to Strasbourg and Colmar. Cruising up into Luxembourg and Germany was amazing, even though we had a little engine issue, the German mechanic was excellent, albeit expensive. The cheap tax free fuel in Luxembourg helped! The Moselle is a beautiful river, well worth seeing and the Canal des Sarre was another highlight. I guess the most exciting thing this year was the boat lift, the Inclined Plane at Arzviller. An experience not to be missed if you ever get the chance.

Looking ahead to next year we may head further north to see Verdun and then perhaps on to Belgium. We shall see! Once back in NZ we have plans to hit the road on our soon to be purchased motor home which we are planning on calling ‘Riley’ as in The Life of Riley so stay tuned for our next adventure!

Here’s a recap of this years Silver Fern stats:

Total engine hours: 154.3

Total kms: 860

Total locks passed: 226

Total tunnels: 6

Total lifting or swing bridges: 7

Boat Lift: 2

À la prochaine fois!D1449D29-CED6-42C7-89BC-B2FDC2D3B515

Posted in Canal boating in France, French Canal boating, French war cemetaries, Toul | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Saverne to Toul. Fun in the locks…

51A438C6-D882-45B6-8E71-4A5FD7F07452Saverne is a big and very prettily flowered town with the stunning Chateau Rohan opposite the boat harbour. The Grande Rue is cobblestoned and has lots of shops, bars and restaurants.

The last lock into Saverne takes you past the Chateau and on our first glimpse we saw a llama which seemed incongruous! Turned out there was a horse-clown show on the lawns in front of the Chateau! Unexpected! This is the Chateau Rohan from the town side (left) and from the water (right).

We stayed in Saverne for five days, enjoying the ambiance and festivals including a wheelbarrow race around town and two nights of music on the quay. We visited the Cloisters des Récollete,

had a look inside the Chateau (now housing a museum) and took a taxi up to the Chateau du Haut-Barr and then walked back down through the forest. This Chateau was nicknamed The Eye of Alsace and was built on three rocks 470m above the plain. The original medieval castle was ruins from the 12th century but it occupied a strategic position between the Lorraine plateau and the Alsace plain and the current Chateau was built in 1583. We could just make out the spire of Strasbourg Cathedral in the hazy distance from the ramparts.



This is what it used to look like in 1644

Eventually it was time to move on and having come as far east as we will be on the boat this year (we visited Strasbourg by rental car from Epinal in June) we were up early on Monday morning (20 August) and at the first lock (5.5m deep) at 7.45am. The red light was on and nothing was happening so I called the 0800 number for the VNF and a sleepy sounding woman agreed she would open the lock for us. That’s when things took a turn for the dramatic. 

Can I just say I do feel sorry for the rental boat hirers who get thrust into an often large boat with very little instruction (and if there is instruction you can count on it being in French so too bad if you’re not boat-speak-french fluent). 

So what happened was a rental boat followed us into the lock. We put our ropes on and so did they. All good so far. They agreed we could set the lock in motion. What we couldn’t see was the Italian guy in the hire boat had tied the back rope to the insert bollard in a knot. So as the water started filling (we were ascending) the  knot tighten and the back of their boat stayed at the bottom of the lock while their front floated up. That’s when the screaming started. The Italian was yelling “Stop. Stop!!”, his Indonesian girlfriend was screaming at him, “You should never tie your rope in a knot”, Alan was trying to get the emergency stop mechanism (a red pull bar) to work which didn’t. He was yelling back “Get a knife, cut your rope!!” The back of their boat was in a vertical angle and half the stuff on the back deck slid into the water. We were still ascending and Alan climbed the ladder with our knife but the girlfriend had finally clicked and raced into their galley for a bread knife and finally this poor hire boat was freed, bouncing up with a nasty grinding sound. This drama was played out to an audience of about 10 tourists who had stopped to watch the boats going through a lock and got more of a spectacle than they bargained for. I bet they’ve all been put off any thoughts of canal boating in their future. 

That was the first half hour of our day. After we motored out and got far enough away that we couldn’t hear the shouting match going on behind us we cruised onwards and finally stopped for the day in the basin below the Plan Incliné d’Arzvillier, the boat lift. 

Instead of going up the lift straight away we decided to bike up to the old 17 locks that the lift replaced. All overgrown now with some sad looking old lock cottages but one or two were renovated and looking rather pretty and it was a pleasant bike ride. We lucked into the only spot with power in the basin and enjoyed a warm evening watching the sun go down behind the surrounding hills. 


A doer-upper, ex lock cottage.

Up at 7am the next morning we moved to the space to queue for the lift and were first in at 8.20. Up and out and then back through the tunnels, we stopped at Hesse for a baguette (5min walk into the village) and we continued on the lovely long stretch of canal with no locks. Hurrah!89A8071B-15D2-40D5-86F1-4D5E69BCFC02


On our way up.


Through the tunnels.

We tied up on the side of the canal that night and enjoyed the quiet.

From there we cruised through to Parroy and stayed 2 nights as the mooring there is lovely, shaded and quiet even though there are some campers there as well, the cost was €5 a night plus power which you activate by jetons (tokens) bought from the office, €2.50 for 4 hours so you can choose whether and when you want it. Another bonus of Parroy is a boulangerie van calls at 9.30 every morning. Very handy as there aren’t any shops nearby. There is a lake though, l’Etang de Parroy, a bird sanctuary and fisherman’s paradise. We also saw some yachts on the far side.  


A great mooring in Parroy


L’Etang de Parroy


Two of these machines passed by, really close! What are they, Sarah?

From Parroy we spent the next day or two cruising on to Nancy, the weather having turned cold and raining so not a pleasurable time although the rain stopped for long enough for us to tie up beside a big supermarché so we could stock up our sadly depleted grocery supplies. We finally arrived in Nancy during torrential rain but the weather cleared up the next day and we really enjoyed the sights of Nancy especially the Son et Lumiére, sound and light show, on every evening at 10pm from June to mid September.


There is a beautiful park to enjoy (Parc de la Pépinière) and lots of historical sights. The main square, Place Stanislas, is massive and all around the edges are bars and restaurants. The port, Bassin St-Georges, is conveniently close to this old part of Nancy and we loved our few days there. We wandered through a ‘vide grenier’ or antiques market, running through the cobblestone streets. Nancy is famous for its Art Nouveau architecture.


The Craffe Gate, the oldest party of Nancy’s fortifications, 14th century



And now for something completely different! Is it just me or does this apartment hotel look like a cheese grater for a serious wedge of cheese?

Finally it was time for us to move on to our boats winter home of Toul. From Nancy we sailed 35kms, past 3 lifting bridges and through 8 locks, most of which were the big commercial locks which we had to radio through to let them know we wanted to pass. At one of these locks as we cruised though the entrance gates the lock keeper stuck his head out of his control tower window and yelled, “Nouvelle Zelande!” and cheered. We yelled back our greeting and it was a great feeling knowing kiwis are liked around here. And a great last day on the canals!


A chateau along the Moselle near Liverdun


Under the bridge into Toul.


Our last lock of the year perhaps. Shared with a Swiss barge flying the Luxembourg flag.

After 6 hours we arrived in Toul, moored up for probably the last time this year apart from turning the boat around as we do a little maintenance on some scratches we’ve accumulated this year. A bit of TLC and Silver Fern will be back looking as sharp as she usually does. 

We still have 5 weeks before we fly back to NZ and we may do a little train travel to keep us out of mischief so I will probably post again before we depart.

Here are the stats:

Savern to Plan Incliné de St Louis

Engine hours: 4.2

Kms: 17

Locks: 13

Plan Incliné de St Louis to PK216.5

Engine hours: 6

Kms: 35.5

Locks: 4

Tunnels: 2

Boat Lift: 1

PK216.5 to Parroy

Engine hours: 3.7

Kms: 16.5

Locks: 6

Parroy to Crévic

Engine Hours: 3.2

Kms: 15.5

Locks: 4

Crévic to Nancy

Engine hours: 4

Kms: 20.5

Locks: 7

Nancy to Toul

Engine hours: 5.9

Kms: 35

Locks: 8

Swing/lifting bridges: 3

Total year to date:

Engine hours: 154.3

Kms: 860

Locks: 226

Tunnels: 6

Lifting/swing bridges: 7

Boat Lift: 2

Posted in Canal boat, Canal Marne au Rhin, France, French Canal boating, Holiday 2018, Moselle, Nancy, Parroy, Plan Incliné de St Louis Arzviller, Toul, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Saarburg to Saverne. Back into French waters.

Last time I wrote we were in the pretty town of Saarburg on the Saar river in Southern Germany. It made a lasting impression and we probably should have stayed longer than 1 night. Next time!

We were up and on the water by 7.45 the next morning (August 6th) and ready to face some big locks. 14.5m, 11m and 8m in depth in 7 hours within 50kms kept us busy all day. What we like about the German locks is you call them on the radio and they actually (usually) reply, the locks, while deep, fill from the bottom and with inserted bollards you move your ropes from bollard to bollard as you rise (or fall). No huge gush of water (usually) and everything runs very smoothly. 

We arrived in Saarlouis to find the small 2 boat quay free although the other space was quickly taken by a British couple who live on their boat full time. 

We had a swim in the river followed by a beer in the nearby biergarten. Very refreshing after a long day.

The next day the temperatures soared to 37° as we continued south to Saarbrücken (can you guess we are on the Saar river with every place name starting with Saar…). We had a wee mishap in one of the locks, losing our ropes as a sudden surge dragged the boat away from the side. It was a strange set up whereby, although a long lock we had to go up to the front and a door half way back closed the front off.  But we got the boat under control without loss of life or limb. Or any scratches of the paint work so that’s a win. We tied up in the Osthafen marina, just out of town. That night a storm blew through causing thunder lightening and, at 4am, gale force winds which found us out on the deck in our undies trying to tie down the Bimini to save it blowing away. The temperature was still warm though. We succeeded and went back to bed. The storm blew itself out and the. Next day was 29°, a mild temperature compared to the day before. 

We left Germany that day and cruised into France, tying up in Sarreguemines, a mooring in front of the old Casino and bandstand both beautifully restored. We wandered around town in the evening. 0CEBEC6E-AB73-4EDA-B530-392858C8894BThe next day another storm hit, this time torrential rain catching us while we were exploring the ruined castle on the hill. We sprinted down the hill and through town, stopping to shelter under storefronts and in the bandstand, finally making it back to the boat soaking wet but enjoying the break in the drought. It rained on and off all day but not enough to help with the water reserves in some of the canals. There will be closures before the season ends again this year. Global warming etc.


Pottery kilns seen throughout this area. This one was built  in 1860, one of 30. The firing lasted 60 to 70 hours and used 9 tons of coal.


Imagine the pollution 30 of these kilns caused.

From there we stopped at Sarralbe, a free mooring and a nice village with a working water wheel and then Mittersheim where we biked up to the lake with a beach and a busy camping ground. It was a beautiful evening and we celebrated the mild evening temperatures with takeaway pizza, Chianti and listened to blues on the deck. Very pleasant.


We biked to this nearby lake.


Pizza, red wine, blues music. Tick.

We have seen quite a few of these pillboxes, a type of blockhouse guardpost, as we are in the area of the Maginot Line, here on the Saar river.


The next day we finally finished the Saar river and canal and headed east onto the Canal Marne au Rhin (east). Suddenly we started seeing hoards of rental boats, a shock after not seeing any for weeks. They were everywhere, far out numbering any other boats and causing some mayhem in the locks and on the canal. We had tied up for the night on the side of a bank when 4 boats passed by going way too fast causing our mooring pegs to be pulled out and we lost one of them into the water. Very annoyed we decided to move on to a nearby marina and pulled into Niderville, shoe horning ourselves into the last little space on the visitors quay, much to the concern of the Germans in their boat behind us. We now only had one mooring stake so the next day Alan asked at the boat base if they would sell us a new one and the lovely guy came back with 3 old stakes and gave them to us, free. Isn’t that nice!


Canal de la Marne au Rhin

A couple of days later we headed through 2 tunnels (2.3km and 475m) and then came to the amazing Plan de Arzviller, the boat lift, a highly anticipated event!

The boat lift is pretty incredible. It was built from 1964 to 1968 with the first boats going through in 1969.. You cruise in and tie up in the caisson, essentially a basin of water just like a lock. But instead of the water filling or emptying like it usually does the whole basin is cranked up or down (depending on your direction of travel). It does this with counterweights that move to create the power to lift or lower. This replaces 17 old locks and instead of taking a day it takes 25 mins and most of that time is taken up with squeezing as many boats in as possible, in our case three. 

The vertical height is 44.55m. Filled with water the basin weighs 850 tons! 2 years ago something jammed and the whole thing was shut for a couple of years all up. Luckily for us there were no problems and there’s actually almost a festive mood as tourists line the top and bottom to watch the spectacle. There is a tourist boat that goes up and down and lots of hire boats. A fun experience!


Approach to the boat lift caisson.


Tying up inside the caisson


View from the top before our descent.


These are the two counter weights moving up as the basin moves down


Floating bath tub. (Not us)


Exiting at the bottom.

After we came out we tied up and hooked onto the one free power plug and went for a walk back up to the top. 

Later we cruised on to Lutzelbourg, another four locks away. Two of those locks weren’t working but we sorted it out and tied up after a long but exciting day. There are three areas to moor in Lutzelbourg and the village is lovely with lots of happy friendly people and an epiciere and patisserie/boulangerie.


Chateau ruins near Lutzelbourg.

We grabbed a very acceptable baguette (I have high standards when it comes to baguettes!) the next morning and headed on to Saverne, following a German cruiser who knew what they were doing, a relief after the dramas with hire boats in the last few days!

We will stay in Saverne for a few days as it’s a lovely town with lots to see and do.


Saverne marina.

Stats so far this year:

Saarburg to Saarlouis

Engine hours: 6.9

Kms: 49.8

Locks: 3

Saarlouis to Saarbruken

Engine hours: 4.2

Kms: 29.3

Locks: 2

Saarbruken to Sarreguemines:

Engine hours: 3.1

Kms: 17

Locks: 3

Sarreguemines to Sarralbe

Engine hours: 4.1

Kms: 24

Locks: 7

Sarralbe to Mittersheim

Engine hours: 3.9

Kms: 19


Mittersheim to Niderville

Engine hours: 7.5

Kms: 39

Locks: 13

Niderville to Lutzelbourg

Engine hours: 2.9

Kms: 13

Locks: 5

Tunnels: 2

Boat Lift: 1

Lutzelbourg to Saverne

Engine hours: 2.6

Kms: 10

Locks: 9

Total Year to Date;

Engine hours: 127.3

Kms: 720

Locks: 184

Tunnels: 4

Lifting/swing bridges: 4

Boat Lift: 1





Posted in Canal boat, Canal boating in Germany, Canal Marne au Rhin, French Canal boating, Holiday 2018, Saar River | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Luxembourg and Germany. Photos.

Here are the photos that go with the last post from the Moselle river in Luxembourg to Germany and the Saar river.

My next post will be out soon.


Porta Nigra. Roman gate, Trier, Germany


Trier has many beautiful churches including The Cathedral of St Peter.


House of the three Magi, built c.1230 when Trier’s medieval city wall was not yet finished each house had to defend itself so the entrance was the ‘window’ on the right accessible only by ladder or wooden staircase that could be pulled up.


Cloister of the cathedral.


Loitering in the cloister.


The Electoral Palace is considered one of the most beautiful of the Rococo palaces in the world.


Roman Ampitheatre, now used for concerts.



Hauptmarkt. Trier’s market square.


When in Germany, eat sausage. Thems the rules. 


Kiwis catching up at the bar in Konz marina.


Old Moselle crane


We took the train to Luxembourg city. This is the Corniche that runs along the Alzette valley on the ramparts. Built by the Spaniards and the French in the 17th century.


View from the Corniche


Street view in Luxembourg city


Grand Ducal Palace, Luxembourg


Mooring in Konz, Germany


Sunset, Konz marina.


Marina in Saarburg, Germany. Steep vineyards all around.


Crazily steep vineyards all through this part of the Saar river.


Beautiful Saarburg, Germany


Restaurants and bars line the pretty waterway in Saarburg, Germany.


We stopped for a beer!


Seen from the river this is the ruins of Saarburg Castle, founded as early as 964 by Count Siegfried of Luxembourg. It is one of the oldest mountain castles in Weatern Germany. 


Saarburg from the river as we left our mooring. 


This was our view as we motored into this lock on the Saar. At 14.5m deep the Serrig lock is the deepest lock we have been in so far but it filled slowly and was drama free.


A long way up!


Half way!


View from the Saar river.


Posted in Canal boat, Canal boating in Germany, Canal boating in Luxembourg, French Canal boating, Holiday 2018, Moselle | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Luxembourg and Germany.

Well, sorry it’s been so long since I posted! (Our internet allowance outside France is only 25Gb so no photos on this post. I’ll do a catch up pictorial post when we have more GBs). We’ve had an interesting time including breaking down, getting a rope caught up in a lock while descended and spending an unexpected 9 days in Konz, Germany. 

It all started after we left France behind and cruised into Luxembourg. Maybe the boat wasn’t happy about leaving France. We heard there is cheap diesel in Luxembourg so after the debacle with the rope (we had to cut it with our serrated knife as it caught up on the cleat and the boat was hung up momentarily), we passed Schengen (as in the Schengen Agreement) and stopped in Scheebsange in Luxembourg for a night and to fill up. Fuel was €1.10 as opposed to France’s €1.55 so well worth the stop. We had lunch in the port restaurant and tried to cool off but there’s a heatwave on and the temperatures are in the mid 30s+ everyday. 

After Schwebsange we headed down the Moselle further into Luxembourg and that was when the engine started making a funny noise (technical boating term) and puffing some smoke. Not good. We struggled to find somewhere to moor and as this waterway is busy with commercial traffic and cruise liners we needed somewhere secure. 

We limped into Wasserbillig, onto a rickety old wooden quay and tied up. We found the ‘harbourmaster’ who told us there were no mechanics nearby. It wasn’t ideal but we would have to continue up to Konz. But first we decided to stay put for the night and have a look around Wasserbillig, a small town with a convenient train link to Trier and Luxembourg city. One we would have used from here if we weren’t in urgent need of a mechanic. So the next day we headed out, very slowly, and a very nice Belgian couple, also heading that way, followed us just in case the engine stopped. As I said this waterway is both busy and winding and the thought of having to put the anchor out in the middle of the river and call for help was very scary! 

Anyway we puttered up over the border from Luxembourg and into Germany, to Konz, waved goodbye to our Belgian escort and moored up in the Yachthafen marina, our home for the next 10 days. 

With help from a very nice (and English speaking) local guy, Tassilo, we finally got a mechanic out to the boat (from 40kms away) the following Wednesday and he diagnosed a fuel injector problem. We needed a new one.

During the wait and phone calls we made use of our time. Apart from exploring Konz, we took the train to Trier, a beautiful old city, settled by the Celts 4th century BC and then conquered by the Romans 300 years later. It might be the oldest town in Germany.  We travelling into Trier with some fellow boating Kiwis in port for a couple of days, Mike and June on Contessa and Allen and Sue on Suzette. Evening drinks in the port bar were well deserved after a long hot day sightseeing! 

Another day we biked back into Trier, a 23km round trip in 36° heat probably wasn’t that great an idea but we did it anyway. The bike path along the Moselle is excellent and mostly shaded. 

On Saturday we took a train in the opposite direction, back into Luxembourg and to the capital, also called Luxembourg, 45 mins away. A wealthy city with lots of building going on and lots of history to explore. It was 37° but we still checked out the sights including the Palais de Grand Duke (Luxembourg is a Grand Duchy), the fortifications, towers and beautiful squares. There was a market on in the main square opposite the Hotel de Ville and we stopped for un cafe and to people watch. 

Parked next to us in Konz was a couple, Georg and Viviane on Georiane, who live in Luxembourg and spend weekends on their boat in Konz, Germany. Just lovely people and so helpful, giving us info on the Saar river, next on our trip. Excellent English too which helps since our German is atrocious. 

Finally today, Sunday, we headed out of Konz port and up the Saar river. The first lock was 11.75m deep, quite confronting when you tie up at the bottom and watch a massive concrete door close in on you. But these big locks fill from underneath so the passage up the 11.75m is easy. There are inset bollards which we tied our front and back ropes on and just moved them up to the next one as we rose. No dramas. The engine seems to be ticking along very nicely now. 

We arrived at Saarburg and moored in the small port, just off the river. We biked into the beautiful town with a little canal running through it, lots of outdoor restaurants and bars. Later on we had drinks in the bar at the marina with fellow boatees. 

Next up we head south, further up the Saar river, towards France. 

Stats since last post

Basse-Ham (France) to Schwebsange (Luxembourg)

Engine hours: 3.7

Kms: 24

Locks: 2

Schwebsange to Wasserbillig (Luxembourg)-

Engine hours: 4.1

Kms: 31.2

Locks: 2

Wasserbillig (Lux) to Konz (Germany)-

Engine hours: 1.2

Kms: 6

Locks: 0

Konz (Germany) to Saarburg (Germany)-

Engine hours: 1.8

Kms: 11.7

Locks: 1 

Total so far this year:

Engine hours: 92.1

Kms: 518.9

Locks: 136

Tunnels: 2

Lifting/swing bridges: 4

Posted in French Canal boating | 2 Comments