We were relieved to enter the Canal de Bourgogne, away from the flooding Yonne and closed locks. There are three routes from Paris to the Mediterranean: (i) the Bourbonnais route which consists of four canals to Chalon-sur-Saone and the route south, (ii) the Nivernais route — apparently lovely — and (iii) the Canal du Bourgogne, the route we opted to take.
The Nivernais was out-of-bounds for us because our height (3.1m) is above the stipulated 2.71 tirant d’air while the Bourgogne seemed the obvious route as it is described in the guide books as the highlight of any inland cruise across France and Yangminshan’s dimensions are a snug (we hope not TOO snug) fit!
We are here for a few days to do some work (we have found the ever elusive Wifi here!) and then we leave on Saturday at 9hoo to enter the famous 3,300m Pouilly tunnel — apparently dark and very narrow so we are hoping we can manage it. The height of the tunnel is likely to be millimetres above us and we could be scraping the sides. We’re off to buy two powerful torches and praying for a safe passage through. James spoke yesterday to a couple on a peniche curiously named Ex Libris II and they described an endless, frightening journey through the pitch dark. The tunnel was apparently built by English prisoners of war during the Napoleonic Wars who were promised freedom on completion of the tunnel. Very few survived apparently and many are entombed within the tunnel itself.
We have had a meditative time over the last few days, pootling rhythmically through the canals and managing lock after lock, called staircase locks as you can see the next lock as you exit the previous one. This part of the canal climbs to the summit and we did 55 locks between yesterday and the previous day. Much of the canal borders on woodland or fields and the countryside is magnificent — rolling hills, deserted abbeys, picturesque villages, chateaux and the famous white Charollais cows, famed apparently for their lean, delicious meat. The Bourgogne is a wonderful cycling route (242 km of largely flattish cycle tracks) and we’ve seen many cyclists on our journey, some carrying babies in an interesting contraption called “Le Chariot” strapped to the back of the bike. We’ve had relentless grey skies, rain and light mists on the hillside; the cyclists seem to wear tents in the rain which makes for a curious sight. Is it supposed to rain all the time in France in May?
Its been frustrating not to have time to see more of the local sights, but though these woods are lovely, dark and deep, we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep: James has regular coaching appointments and we are chasing a deadline of 14 June for Maddy’s interview at St Catherine’s school in Malta. The latter involves a sea passage of 6 days from Port-St-Louis to Malta, following which I need to be out of the EU on 18 June, as my next Schengen visa only kicks in again on 14 July. Nothing like a bit of pressure. James and I are talking of coming back to France for a week or two when we are based in Malta to catch up on what we have missed — in particular we wanted to see the perfectly preserved Cistercian Fontenay Abbey (6km from Montbard) but alas got lost when we tried to walk there. We also glimpsed from the outside the Chateau Ancy-le-Franc, a Renaissance chateau built in the mid 1500′s, with an apparently gorgeous interior and monthly concerts in the courtyard, and the Chateau de Tanlay in the eponymous village. Also nearby is something called the Treasure of Vix, finds from a 6th century BC tomb of a Celtic princess buried in a four-wheeled chariot. This is also Asterix country where in nearby Alesia in 52 BC, Gaul fell to the Romans when Julius Caesar himself commanded the Roman army which surrounded the final Gallic stronghold and starved the Gauls out. Vercingetorix surrendered to save his people, was imprisoned in Rome for six years until Caesar’s formal triumph and then strangled. There is a large statue of him looking like a cross between Asterix (viz the handlebar moustache) and a country-and western star, erected when Napoleon III was looking for French heroes.
Ben is doing well and greets every day with maximum exuberance – he’s a very sweet dog, but not really genetically designed for captivity on a 32′ boat. Every fibre of his vizsla DNA has been engineered for running 20km a day, snuffling out birds (Benny loves birds!) and other athletic feats. Commenting on how we thought Bennikins might be looking a little peaky the other day, he amazed us by ejecting from his stomach a pair of Maddy’s panties encased in banana. Not sure dogs are supposed to eat bananas but we’re mighty glad he did, as it would have been very difficult in bad French to have found a vet to ease his digestive difficulties!
Happy Birthday to my sister Linda — sorry to have been incommunicado on your birthday due to no Wifi but hope you have a very blessed and special year!
Toasting you all with a glass of Chablis . . .