Commercy - Le Chesne

After three nights we left Commercy on Monday the 27th of July. It took less than two hours and only two locks when the female half of our crew (it’s always her) saw a lovely spot in the shade and insisted on mooring there and then. It was only just noon! But we did and had a lovely afternoon. That evening we decided to have supper ‘al fresco’, a barbeque to be more exact. While being busy outside we were surprised by a thunderstorm. We have taken out our big umbrella –an ugly greenish one, bought in a specialized shop dedicated to our eternal friends, the fishermen- and continued ‘suppering’. Of course our ship was covered under leafs, little broken branches and all things imaginable, falling out of trees. A remark to end with for the discerned reader about the mentioned shade around noon on the 27th and now visible at a completely different angle: this picture was taken the next morning.

On we went the next day, Tuesday the 28th. Our plan was to have an overnight stop in a place called Saint-Mihiel, a distance of well over 10 kilometers and only three locks –the heat wave is still there- but it was not to be. All the available spaces were occupied which meant that, after a good 4 hours of going forward we ended up around 1.00PM in a place called Lacroix-sur-Meuse, 10 more kilometers and just two extra locks. We had a walk into this rather uninteresting place in the afternoon, which at least offered us the chance to buy an ice-cream in the local shop. And there was a bakery too! After our walk we were sitting outside (spot our chairs in the shade!) when a fellow country man arrived and moored his boat against our ship without asking, though it was rather obvious that the owners, being us, were sitting and watching. We would never dare to act like that! Just ask politely and ‘no’ for an answer is not an option. The place is visibly popular, no doubt because electricity and water are for free. Yippee.

Wednesday the 24th of July we left Lacroix-sur-Meuse at 9:41AM sharp, planning to reach Verdun. And that is exactly what we did. To achieve this our engine ran over 5 hours, we descended 7 locks and tackled over 27 kilometers. It was 2:55PM when, at the very end of the large pontoon, we found the only available space exactly big enough for our ship. Lucky us, this time! Later on a late arrival breasted up with us. (Most of the time we offer voluntarily to do so to other boaters – and we wish they would do the same to us and not look the other way, as if there is something highly interesting visible.) The beautiful building on the opposite bank is ‘The Officer’s Canteen’. No longer in use as such – as far as we could determine. In the past Verdun of course was a very important garrison town.

Next subject Verdun and surroundings, where we stayed for 5 nights. This has nothing to do with the free electricity and water (bless them, the Verdunians!). No, no, no visitors arrived on Thursday – among them our grandsons and we thought it to be a good idea to have a look together at Verdun as a city and her relation with the unthinkable terrors of The Great War. One of the first things we noticed was this statue called ‘The Defense’, by Rodin. It depicts a wounded warrior, supported by a winged Victory. Initially the statue was meant to symbolize the resistance of the Parisians against the Prussians in 1870. But it was refused, considered to be too violent. In 1916 The Netherlands asked for permission to make a bronze replica to give to the city of Verdun. Permission was granted, Verdun accepted and the statue is placed in Verdun since 1920.

Another monument in Verdun, this one being for the deceased and the children of Verdun. The monument represents the five bodies of the French army, recruited during the battle of 1916. From left to right a cavalryman, an engineer, an infantryman (‘poilu’), an artilleryman and a terrain explorer. These five soldiers form a wall, symbolizing Verdun’s slogan ‘On ne passe pas’.

The battle of Verdun continued for over 300 days, from March through December 1916. It took some eight hundred thousands of casualties, be it dead or wounded, be it French or German. Millions of shells were fired. It is really beyond comprehension what a horror it must have been for all those people involved. ‘Never will anything able to grow again on this battle field’ has been said. And look at it now, still heavily scarred but even peaceful.

The French defenses still bear witness to the never ending shelling from the other side. It’s good to see that the German flag flies next to the French one. It took another terrible war before French president Mitterand and German chancellor Kohl declared France and Germany ‘friends’. May it last forever!

All these young men and women – what a waste! Words always fail us when visiting a war cemetery, wherever it is.

This grave attracted attention because of its distinctive positioning – apart from the massiveness of the cemetery as a whole. The text on the cross gives it away ‘Anselin, Ernest Francois, General de Brigade, 214e Brigade, Mort pour la France, 24.10.1916’. So it was a brigadier general, which proves that the saying ‘Generals die in bed’ does not always cover reality.

On Saturday night, the 27th of July, the venue next to our temporary place of residence was used for a concert. This happening started 9:30PM and the idea was that two bands would perform. We enjoyed the first band, as you can see sitting on the pontoon next to our ship. When suddenly a dark lead grey thick layer of clouds came in from the south/southwest it became all too clear that the second band was not to perform. A pity because sound checks in the afternoon promised us a very good female singer. All of a sudden there was a short thunderstorm, frightening high winds and we felt really lucky that a bunch of people kept hanging on to the small ‘party tent ‘where the sound engineer held residence, as the short fearsome hurricane was blowing the tent exactly in our direction. That same evening we could have a drink outside again; it was fierce but brief. Later on you’ll see a picture of a fallen tree – one of many we have seen since this Saturday.

After the aforementioned five nights it was time to leave Verdun. It’s always a big question mark where we’ll be the next night as we have never been cruising in France before. Having our two grandsons –and their mother, our daughter- with us it’s best to find a place where the boys are able to run around a little bit. So when we saw this spot at a lock/place called Consenvoye we stopped there around 2:30PM on Monday the 29th of July. Only 3,5 hours of cruising and 4 locks, a genuine piece of cake for us, the regular crew, seasoned as we are. The village had nothing to offer at all, a bit depressing really. At a petrol station we were able to order two baguettes for the next morning. We paid with a coin of 2 euro’s and the petrol man gave 27 cents change in return. We are still a bit puzzled about his price for a baguette. Well, sometimes a baguette cost 1 euro, full stop. So it was not at all unreasonable – just incomprehensible.

For a change a nice picture of Le Canal de la Meuse next to the real thing – La Meuse. When the river is too shallow, or too fast, or too winding there is the lateral canal. Or, self-evidently, there is a (short) canal and a lock next to every weir. Sometimes one’s on the lateral canal, another time on the river. It is all absolutely very, very pretty.

July the 30th, Tuesday, we reached Dun-sur-Meuse – after 3,5 hours and 17 kilometers of cruising and 5 locks going down. The boys went for a swimming pool with their mother and came back with an allergic reaction – mainly little red spots and violent itching. The swimming pool was a little lake, fed by the river(!). The intention to go again the next day accompanied by their grandmother was instantly abandoned. Fortunately the local pharmacy was able to help. As the picture shows the port is equally used by boats and camper vans. Also shown by the picture is a part of our way of life: having a drink and basically enjoying life as it is. Mind you, in Dun-sur-Meuse for EUR 11,00 a night. The next day was used for collecting our daughter’s car in Verdun and on Thursday the three of them left for continuing their holidays somewhere in the more southern region of France, together with their husband/father.

The short fierce hurricane, as already mentioned before, uprooted many trees. Sometimes the canal is blocked for more than half of its width. No problem if there is not any oncoming traffic – and even then it’s just a matter of using one’s common sense. There is, however, a lot of work to be done by Voies Navigables de France (VNF) to clear it all away. Or, possibly, there are ‘volunteers’ thinking of a way to feed their stove the coming winter on the cheap. Why not? We’d possibly be a ‘volunteer’ if we were able to store it…

We left Dun-sur-Meuse on Friday the 2nd of August at 10:30AM going again for some new, unknown perspective. Eventually, after 5 hours of cruising and 5 locks, we ended up just before lock number 34, named ‘Alma’. It is absolutely countryside, as this picture shows. The nearest place, 3 kilometers back ‘as the crow flies’, was Pouilly-sur-Meuse. When a new temporary ‘place of residence’ is taken up it is added to Facebook. Not this time, though, the Internet-signal is zero percent, absent, non-existent.

This is lock number 34, ‘Alma’, part of Le Canal de la Meuse, leading from the Canal down to the river. The gates on one side, the ‘canal-side’ are substantially higher than on the other side, the ‘river-side’. The reason for this is that the canal is fed by the river and, if the river is in flood, the high gates keep the water mass at bay. At bay… well, if mother nature decides to bring all her power into action there is nothing to stop her in the end. Anyway, the lower gates are high enough, on the one hand because the higher ones already do the job (one hopes) and on the other because the river is substantially lower anyway.

View from lock number 34 ‘Alma’ onto La Meuse. It is just meant to show you, reader, how privileged we still feel when we are able to be in this kind of surrounding and enjoy it – just like that. For free.

A pitiful negative aspect of the country side in France and the lock houses in particular is the fact that one sees loads of abandoned houses. (‘A vendre’, or not even that.) Like this one, next to lock number 34 ‘Alma’. The house is spacious enough and situated on a 100% lovely spot. Why, why, why? It’s plain destruction of capital.

On Saturday the 3rd of August we left around 10:25AM and planned to possibly moor at Sedan (La Meuse) or Pont-a-Bar (Canal des Ardennes). Plans are made to change them and Sedan did not at all attract us. So on we went, for Pont-a-Bar, negotiating the last 6 locks on (Le Canal de) la Meuse. The next waterway, Le Canal des Ardennes, was reached at 3:20PM, we climbed (yes, going up again) 2 locks and reached Pont-a-Bar where there is one of the rare diesel (gas oil) pumps next to the waterway. We needed over 350 liters and that knocked us back a pretty penny. The mooring space we had hoped for was not there which forced us to continue – and the system comes to a halt at 6:00PM, when all the locks are switched off. (It’s all electric, automated and activated by a remote control, distributed by VNF.) We could do just two more locks, left the last one 5:59PM(!!) and moored illegally between the last lock and a short tunnel, called ‘Le souterrain de St-Aignan’. Phew, that was a really long day! Engine hours from 1.262,0 to 1.269,2 and of course not running while taking in diesel. Again neither phone signal, nor an Internet signal, it’s like the early nineties of the last century.

Sunday morning, the 4th of August, we had to leave a bit early because of our mooring position. Oncoming traffic might cause a manoeuvring problem and it’s just better to avoid that. As the system is switched on at 09:00AM and the next lock was at a distance of around 5 kilometers we decided to leave 08:30AM. Disciplined as we are, we managed to leave 08:35AM. Chapeau!! The only reachable village of some substance here is Le Chesne, so we desperately wanted to moor there, with an eye on the phone and Internet signal. The distance is reasonable, there are only one short tunnel and three locks to digest, so we expected to reach the place around noon. Bad luck however, the very last lock to do was ‘en panne’. One of us managed to jump on the bank and alarm a VNF-employee (each lock is equipped with a working intercom). We had to wait for almost an hour!! And the one on the ship, la capitaine, constantly had to move her forward, backward, left, right. That, we can assure you, is ultimately tiring. More revs, less revs, turning the wheel… Pff… There was no facility at all to moor up there. Eventually we reached Le Chesne around 1:25PM and la capitaine, her again, moored the ship in a space that was exactly the ship’s length. Bravo! See the picture. There is no phone or Internet signal here as well… We plan to stay for another day and go to a public place, like a park, to try to insert the blog page onto the Internet. We are moored close to a bridge (a stone was already thrown on top of the ship) more or less ‘deep’, so we hope that is the problem. Fingers crossed… (This page is put onto the Internet on Monday afternoon through an Internet-cafe in Le Chesne, no less!!! Bye, bye.)