Asfeld - Condé-sur-Marne

Monday the 12th of August 2013 we left Asfeld at 8:55AM without any idea where we’d end up that day. That is one of the charms of our way of life! We only knew that the Canal des Ardennes would end after 3 kilometers (less than 2 miles), that the Canal latéral à l'Aisne was to be cruised for 18,5 kilometers (11,5 miles) and that we would end up somewhere on the Canal de l'Aisne à la Marne. Are you still able to distinguish them?? We can – we must – otherwise we’d be lost on the French waterway system, which would be ridiculous for people living on a cruising ship. On the way we created this track, by splitting the algae, successfully grown during the long period of very warm weather.

That same day we moored around 1:45PM just after lock number 4, ‘Alger’, close to a little town called Cormicy. We had done some 26,5 kilometers (16,5 miles) and 7 locks – 3 downhill, followed by 4 uphill in the ‘new’ canal, direction Reims and beyond. The Canal de l'Aisne à la Marne is still used by, comparatively speaking, a considerable number of commercial boats – as this picture shows. It’s amazing to see how they fit exactly in a lock, no fenders needed!

As we moored the day before just upstream of a lock (the 4th) that’s part of a set of (5) automatic locks we had to contact the duty lock keeper to activate lock number 5, the next morning being Tuesday the 13th of August. He/she can be contacted either by VHF canal 22, telephone or an intercom at the lock itself. We first tried the telephone. A friendly lady promised to contact the lock keeper. We waited patiently. After a reasonable waiting period we tried the VHF (second choice because the VHF success rate is not that impressive) and we recognized the voice of the lady we spoke to on the phone. She expressed amazement and repeated her promise. Alas, again nothing happened. A bit desperate one of us jumped ashore and pressed the button of the lock-intercom. There she was again! She sounded slightly desperate, too, assured that this was absolutely unusual and that she would really, really bring a lock keeper into action. And yes, after a waiting period of three quarters of an hour there he was, activated the lock and cleared off before some angry boater would take a chance to ask him a question or two… Between this lock and the next one, a distance of 3,5 kilometers (well over 2 miles) we spotted his car, and him inside of it, seemingly doing nothing(?), comfortably in the shade. He even had the nerve to wave at us!

Around noon on that day we moored near to a village called Courcy. We wanted to find a hairdresser there. So we unfolded our bikes, pedaled to the village, to discover that they had the inevitable bakery, a post office, ‘tabac’ and a restaurant – none of them opened at the time. No hairdresser – though we think we know that pharmacies, beauty salons, hairdressers, bakeries and shoe shops are about the only surviving shopkeepers in France. Not in Courcy though! Disillusioned we left at 2:32PM.

Approaching Reims we made a halt mid-afternoon in a suburb by the name of St-Brice-Courcelles, attracted by the presence of supermarkets like E. Leclerc (for quality) and Lidl (for bulk). The first thing on the way to the commercial centre was this. Yes, we unmistakably are near/in a city again!

Just about 50 meters further on the second proof of an urban area crossed our path – almost literally. Why, oh why, do these morons (apart from environment and so on) at least not understand that they eventually pay for this kind of behavior themselves? (Or don’t they?????, which is an even more annoying thought.)

To top it all here is a picture of the third ‘prove of urban life’. All this was spotted within 50 meters! The so called civilized world, on the other side of the separating bushes, is only a few yards away from all things illegal. No further comment, look for yourself and be amazed…

Our second mooring spot on that day is not pictured because we took refuge somewhere else. After having done a bit of shopping three youngsters approached us and asked some questions – seemingly just for the sake of it. La capitaine got bored eventually and told them that she preferred to continue reading – in proper French of course. That did not help. That’s why, after some more small talk, she bluntly said ‘va-t-en’, which translates into English nicely by saying ‘buzz of’. They looked a bit amazed by this expression – but it worked: they left. Seconds later a fisherman approached us and warned us that they were obviously contemplating to nick some valuables, stored on the roof of our ship. We were glad that a native speaking Frenchman had overheard them and informed us. So we left and went on to look for a third mooring spot in one day – setting a new record in our cruising life. We found one, pictured, in ‘Port Colbert’, a vast and seemingly disused port on the outskirts of Reims. All in all we made a progress of 16 kilometers (yes, indeed: 10 miles) and climbed 5 locks. A trifle, was it not for the two extra stops.

We arrived in downtown Reims on Wednesday the 14th of August. One hour cruising, one lock. Based upon information from the unsurpassed DBA (The Barge Association, formerly Dutch Barge Association, hence the abbreviation) we skipped ‘Relais Antique de Vieux Port’ because of the available space (we are a bit too long for their pontoons) and the price. Just out of curiosity we visited the Relais (etc) the next day and the exploiter offered us a deal: € 15,00 a day, water and electricity included. It was a discount price we have to admit, but we did not feel like turning our ship so we stayed put. And this is what it looked like.

Reims’ world famous Notre Dame cathedral (13th century). It is just unavoidable to visit this masterpiece of gothic art. The cathedral was seriously damaged during WWI but still stands proudly. Until 1825 almost all French kings were crowned and anointed here, going back to the king Clovis I (466-511) era. We did not witness the light and sound show ‘Rêve de couleurs’ on the cathedral’s façade because we were out of energy after days of intensive sightseeing (a walk to the cathedral took us 45 minutes). Besides, we have seen a good one in Nancy. Or are we a bit blasé now?

The cathedral is amply decorated with stained glass windows – traditional and modern, dark and light and in all sorts of shape. We made a photograph of this one, not only because we think it is a beautiful (modern) one, but because it was not too dark for our unpretentious equipment being a Nokia 700 type mobile phone/camera/agenda.

Not just the outer façade of the cathedral is richly decorated. This picture shows the inside of the same façade. In total the cathedral is decorated with 2.303 statues. Only.

A second must-visit church, even older than the cathedral is the Saint Remi basilica (11th century) situated at a one-mile walk from the Cathedral of Notre Dame. It takes its name from the 5th-century Saint Remi - revered as the patron saint of the inhabitants of Reims for more than fifteen centuries.

The inside of the basilica. We felt less overwhelmed here than inside the cathedral. More ‘at home’ if that’s an appropriate term for a church. (Of course it is.)

A detail, seen inside the Saint Remi basilica. A lot of the chairs, notably at the back of the nave, were equipped with a little nameplate. This one was an exception, the name of Madame Crombée is painted – or at least indelibly stamped. It is a bit nostalgia we have to admit, because in the fifties (yes, the 20th century) it was a habit in our home country too. Contrary to France, in our home country the names were on the front rows and, strangely enough, reserved for the upper class of the community.

On the 16th of August, a Friday, we booked for a ‘tour de vignoble’. As we were in the centre of the Champagne-region we absolutely wanted to see and visit the real thing with our own eyes. Well, it was not a cheap tour but it took three hours and was worth every penny. Because ‘Champagne’ is a subject on its own we have decided to keep it for the winter, in case we run out of subjects. So the plan is to have an entire blog-page about the Champagne region and its heavenly liquid later on. For this moment we can reveal that we did not forget to visit an independent smaller family owned champagne-creator - Forget-Chauvet at Ludes-le-Coquet. A generous taste of what they create was included!

After three nights for free (apart from using our generator) we left Reims on Saturday the 17th. Not with a particular destination in mind – just to make sufficient progress to arrive in time at our bespoke winter mooring. After 2,5 hours of cruising and negotiating only 3 locks we moored at 12:30PM close to a place called Sillery. Once more we omitted the marina there; the price, you know. Fortunately there are free mooring spaces available, we were told. Unfortunately those spaces turned out to be too shallow for us. Oops! A kilometer (5/8 of a mile) further on we found a space with sufficient depth. In between large factory buildings as you can see. Sometimes one’s lucky, sometimes not. It was only for one night and the landing of two hot air balloons in front of us made up a little bit for the unappealing surroundings.

During Sunday’s leg, on the 18th of August, we saw this scene – the grain has been harvested and the farmers are already preparing their fields for the next round. Oh, have we seen them working hard! During the good weather, sometimes culminating into a genuine heat wave, they worked day and night, not a day excepted, all seven days of the week. Neither heat nor dust could stop them. Note the light green coloured fields in the distance. Champagne in the making!

Sunday we started cruising at 9:47AM. We planned to go earlier but just when we were about to leave a commercial (see the second picture) passed by, our ropes testing in the process. It is not all that pleasant to follow a commercial boat – if only because they are very slow negotiating locks. Therefore we decided to wait another half hour or so. It was a fairly long day; after almost six hours of hard work, 3 locks uphill, a tunnel of 2.302 meters (near 1,5 miles) and 8 locks downhill, we were able to take the desired mooring at Condé-sur-Marne, where the Canal de l'Aisne à la Marne ends and the Canal latéral à la Marne starts. It’s a T-crossing, visible in the background (if you know it): to the right Paris and to the left less known places – to put it mildly. We’ll resist the temptation and go left in a day or two. Tomorrow three family members will arrive from the south of France for a stopover. ‘Desired mooring’ means that there is plenty of room to stretch one’s legs or, to name but one thing, to have a barbeque. Bye for now.