The final leg of our Journey: A Week on the Yonne River
Last night we stayed at the Hotel De Greuze situated at the foot of the 10th Century Abbaye Saint Phillbert in the village of Tournus. We ventured down the road to Le Rempart for dinner; a beautiful first class restaurant in this quaint French town in the Bourgogne region.
Next morning we left for Joigny, arriving at 1.30pm. We found our hotel and then went to find Europa Car. We organized to drop the car off the next morning, after depositing our baggage at the Locaboat office and doing our shopping for the trip. While there we booked a car for the following Friday; we would drive into Paris instead of catching the train. Our flight home was at 11.30pm; we would sight see along the way.
We saw Ben off to Paris at 3.10pm and drove around to Locaboat. They were happy for us to drop our bags and shopping off in the morning. While there I noticed they had a washing machine. I would make use of this in the morning before we left on our holiday.
We found the local grocery shops and bought food for the week. We also bought rain jackets and gloves to handle the ropes. Tomorrow we would get our cold items. We drove into the main part of town, parked and had a walk up the cobblestone alley. There were many restaurants and little shops.
We found a place to eat; Joigny is on the River Yonne and was the subject of sketches by William Turner in the 1800’s. The city was rebuilt in the 16th century after it was destroyed by fire. Hired canal boats travel down the river following the path of the Canal de Bourgogne. Tomorrow we would be on one of these boats travelling down the river and through the many locks on the canals.
After dinner we went back to the hotel and had a quiet evening. I repacked our clothes so we would only have to open one suitcase.
We left early and found the local McDonalds and had breakfast. We relaxed there for a while and waited for the shops to open, used their wifi, sent emails, played words with friends and uploaded our latest batch of photos. Later we went shopping, bought some bread, cheese and cold meat for lunch and drove to Loacaboat. We dropped off our suitcases and groceries and put on the washing. While the second load was on we took the car back to Europa. Checked our booking was ok for the following Friday and walked back to Locaboat.
While Steve organized the paperwork I packed our gear onto the trolleys so we could walk them down to the boat. Frank, a Locaboat staff member gave us pointers on driving and mooring the boat. We went for a test drive. First I had to untie the boat and secure the ropes on deck, then on our return I had to step off the boat onto the pontoon and tie the ropes to the cleats. Being boating people at home, this was an easy task.
With everything signed off we left. Down the river and around the corner and there was our first lock. When we first began talking about spending a week on a canal boat I had visions of the boat floating around inside concrete walls, bashing itself on either side, and me unable to secure it. I did as much research as I could, asked as many people as I knew had done this trip before, but there is nothing like doing it yourself.
So here we were motoring into our first lock. The lock keeper took the ropes from me and secured us to the bollard. We were the only boat in the lock. I sat up front, rope in hand and Steve was at the helm, rope in hand. The lockkeeper closed the gates, the water began to rush in and when we were at the level of the dock, he opened the gates at the other end. We flicked the ropes off the bollards and motored out; all very simple and uncomplicated. I felt foolish for all my protestations.
We passed through another lock. It was getting late so we decided to spend the night at Laroche-Saint-Cydroine. There was no actual mooring so we pulled up on the river bank, Steve hammered in a couple of steel stakes and we secured ourselves for the evening. With dusk came many insects. Steve took one of the bikes and rode into the little village further along the river. He was gone a while but eventually came back with some well needed fly spay.
Dinner tonight was soup, pasta, bread and wine. I sent texts to both Ben and Mike. All was good; Mike was in Venice with the family and Ben in Munich with the wedding party and friends.
We woke around 8am after a restless cold night. The bedding consisted of two small quilts, not very practical. Today I took the quilts from the other bedroom; tonight we won’t be cold.
After a quick cup of tea we left. The fog had floated in overnight. We were having trouble seeing the bridges and locks, but fortunately they had flashing lights prominently displayed. The turnoff to Canal de Bourgogne was on our left. We went straight on down the Yonne River towards Canal du Nivernais. We passed under two more bridges and reached the first lock of the day. The lockkeeper took my rope and Steve secured the back; another easy entrance and exit.
We continued down the river in the fog, passed under Pont de Bassou and into the next lock. This lockkeeper was young with wild strawberry blonde hair, a Mick Hucknell look alike.
Each lock takes about 20mins to half hour to pass through. Once passed Pont de Raveuse, we were in Canal Du Nivernais. Another lock, this time it was a wave from the lockkeeper. I struggled to get the rope over the bollard because the wall was so high. Steve threw the rope around the bollard and I was able to hold it firm.
Next we passed under Pont de Neron and reached the next lock. This lock was fully automated. We saw nobody. The lock opened, we went in, tied up. The water came in, the gate opened and we left. Steve took a photo of the lockkeeper’s house. There was a story here that would develop later.
We passed Appoigny then Gurgy. Still on the canal we reached the flood gates and motored through. These are only used in times of flood. Now we were back on the river and the sun had burned through the fog. We were looking for a quay at Gurgy but could only see motor homes on the bank, so we kept moving.
Around 1.30pm we stopped at Moneteau for lunch. I went to have a shower only to discover we had no hot water. We called Locaboat base and were told we needed to find power so we could plug in and charge up the batteries. Apparently they weren’t very good.
Cold showers later we packed up and motored towards Auxuerre. At the next lock the lockkeeper helped us secure the boat then offered us a bottle of wine; rouge, banc or rose. We could hardly say no after his assistance, so we bought a bottle of banc. At a cost of 10 euro, this was quite expensive as the usual cost is around 3 or 4 euro.
Ten minutes later and we were at the next lock. The young lockkeeper explained; both he and his colleague took care of two locks each. As we exited from this one we saw him jump in his car and drive towards the next one. He was there before us and again helped to secure the boat.
He gave us directions to the powered moorings in Auxerre. His English was excellent. We asked a few questions about the locks, how long were they, ninety-two metres, we were told. This was because the barge boats that once carried goods up and down the canals were thirty-seven metres. It was possible to fit at least three in a lock at one time. He explained how the sluice gates worked, the hours the locks were open and the different lunch times for river locks and canal locks. Lunch on the river was between 12.30pm and 1.30pm while on the canals, it was 12noon to 1pm. We could enter the lock if the gate was open but nothing would happen until lunch was over.
We left there and passed through one more lock before reaching Auxerre. We found a mooring and while I had a shower Steve went to the information hut and paid for a night.
The shower was still cold so we called the Locaboat office again. Frank offered to drive to Auxerre that evening and see if he could fix the problem .We logged onto the local wifi and sent off emails then read while we waited for Frank to arrive. He arrived around 6pm with a mechanic and between them they pulled the boat apart. After replacing the boiler there was still a problem. They left at 7.30pm and said they would be back the next day.
Because of the problems with the boat we would have to stay another day. We decided to do some sightseeing in the morning; while we waited for Frank to arrive. There were a couple of huge churches we could see from the mooring. I sent texts to Mike and Ben; Mike and family were in Le Spezia; but heard nothing from Ben. As the night cooled down we shut the boat and settled in for the evening. After nine locks in one day we didn’t plan for a late night.
Next day we had breakfast and went for a walk into town. Frank said he would call when he was on his way. We left the key in the fridge upstairs for him.
We walked over the footbridge. At the tourist centre we found a small bus about to leave on a 45min tour around town. Cost was 3 Euros each. We paid the money and jumped onboard. The trip took us passed the three churches we had seen from the boat. We drove down the Rue de Paris into the town square and stopped at the 15th Century Clock Tower and Hotel de Ville. The churches are St Etienne Cathedral, Church of St Peter and the Abbey Church of St Germanus; all beautiful buildings some dating back to the 6th Century.
Frank called so we walked back to the boat. He replaced the boiler and checked the heating. Hopefully now we will have hot water and heating in the cabin for the cold nights. After Frank left we walked back to the shops and had a late lunch in a small restaurant. We spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on emails and resting. We will leave Auxerre tomorrow and head further up stream.
The next day we ate a late breakfast, went to the shops for groceries for the next couple of days and departed Auxerre at 11am.
We left with two other boats and went into the locks together. These locks were smaller than the previous ones. Three boats were all they would take. We went in second; the first boat was driven by an out of control, in a hurry, Dutchman. He was more interested in helping the lockkeeper than securing his boat. We watched as it floated around the lock getting dangerously close to our boat and the sluice gates. We left there and followed him to the next lock. As we drove in and secured the boats we realized it was 12noon. We were in the shade so we had our lunch and waited for the return of the lockkeeper. While we ate the crazy Dutchman took a blanket and walked into the bushes to do his yoga exercises. As I said he was strange.
By the end of the day we had passed through 12 locks. The weather had turned warm. We reached the small village of Cravant and decided to stop. I was ready for a rest. We found a mooring with water and power and planned to stay the night and next day. We would have to
turn around and motor back towards Joigny by Wednesday. We had to be there Thursday evening. Steve cooked a lovely dinner and we opened a bottle of French wine.
Next morning after breakfast we walked into town. We found a patisserie and bought some bread and croissants, then wandered around this small village, population of around 800. The town was very picturesque, although the streets were mostly empty. We will head back to Auxerre tomorrow.
We had a late lunch and then rested for the afternoon talking to other boat people moored beside us. Canal boating is great for reading, very little distractions. Before leaving Australia I had filled my Kindle with some classics like Jane Austen, a variety of Ernest Hemingway’s novels, Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and a collection of Australian writers. While in Cravant I read, Hemingway’s, ‘Green Hills of Africa.’ I considered giving up and turning to something a little less onerous, but persevered. This is a non-fiction account, written in 1935, of a month in East Africa on safari with his wife. He writes of his hunting adventures interspersing these stories with musings of literature and great authors; very strong descriptions and opinions.
We enjoyed our time in Cravant resting and chilling out. We knew the next day would be big, fourteen locks in one day. A rest beforehand was essential.
The following day we left Cravant at 8.45am. The first lock opened at 9am. We were there with plenty of time to spare. We motored on not stopping for lunch but eating as we went and arrived in Auxerre at 3pm. We signed in, paid our 20euros and went to the shop. The shops in France are huge and sell all manner of things; we bought ourselves a travel iron, great for our next trip but a bit late for this one. I bought myself a travel hair dryer, again a bit late. When we finished trolling these aisles we went to the grocery section and bought food for the next two days. It was a lovely afternoon so we went back over the footbridge and into town. Up the cobblestone roads, in and out of shoe shops, dress shops, department stores. A couple of scarves and a pair of patent leather boots later and we headed back to the boat. Before we had made it down the hill we bought a lemon crepe from a roadside van. We sat down on the edge of the town square fountain and devoured two. They were great. We got back to the boat just as the rain arrived. Dinner tonight was chicken schnitzel with potatoes and salad followed by a vanilla slice and coffee. We were glad we had gone for the walk.
We left Auxerre at 9.30am accompanied by two other boats. As we exited the first lock the lockkeeper asked us to hurry to the next one. The lockkeeper was waiting. We presumed he had somewhere to go, but no, there were already five boats in the lock. He wanted it full; eight boats fit in the large locks; ninety-two metres long.
From then until lunch all eight boats entered and left the locks together. As 12 noon approached we found the next lock open but the lockkeeper gone. We motored in secured the boat and ate our own lunch while we waited. After that lock we were down to six boats having lost two somewhere along the way.
We arrived at Joigny around 4.30pm. Frank was there and helped us moor the boat. We spent the afternoon talking to some Aussies from one of the boats we had been following all day. They were from the Sunshine Coast. We gave them some of our food and bottled
water as they still had a few days left of their holiday. Later that evening Steve cooked cous cous, potatoes, chicken schnitzel, and salad. Dinner was lovely, topped off with wine.
The holiday was all but over. Friday 27th September we cleaned the boat, stripped the bed, threw out the rubbish and packed our bags. We caught a cab to Europa car and headed towards Paris. We stopped at the small village of Villeneuve Sur Yonne. It was market day so we wandered up and down the streets checking out the stalls and the food market. We bought breakfast and walked back to the car. We still had a long drive and I wanted to see Fontainebleau Castle.
Lunctime we stopped at a Buffalo Grills and shared a plate of ribs and fries; a bit greasy but edible. Next stop was Fontainebleau. There are over fifteen hundred rooms at the heart of 130 acres of parkland and gardens. Fontainebleau is the only royal and imperial château to have been continuously inhabited for seven centuries. We walked around took some photos. There were so many squares and lakes and gardens it was huge. We walked back to the car at 3.30pm and drove towards the airport.
Sunday morning we would be home. 2012/13 had been quite a year; Christmas in Sicily, New Year in Venice and a September wedding in France. This would be hard to top. As I said at the end of our January trip – Travel – to make a journey of some length – this was certainly achieved although not initially planned.