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Vitry le Francois

Our decision to stop here was determined by the need to link up with our dear friends from Norway who were travelling by plane to Paris and thence by train.  We arrived in the city knowing it is quite a big place and thinking we could easily find a spot to moor.  However, the canal was tiny and tortuous, no room to turn and the Port de Plaisance was too small for us.  So Esme reverted to the old days and pretended she was still a trading ship.  A commercial barge kindly offered us their hospitality and we tied up along side them. Guy and Brigitte and their two children live on board and that day were busy painting.  They kindly gave us a lift to the rail station to meet Johs and Grethe.  Johs is 90 and we were concerned he would have trouble clambering over a massive commercial ship but no, he took it all in his stride.  Soon he was at the helm as if he was a young man again. A lifelong friendship with Chris's family meant that the chance to cruise with us on Esme was a very special opportunity for him. We spent four very happy days together which took in the route up the Canal de la Marne au Rhin to Bar le Duc.  So many locks,  but all automated and very easy.  Several evenings moored up at lovely places and time to chew the fat and talk of the old days. Incredibly, Johs stayed up late every night and was on the ball before us every morning!  What a guy! They don't make them like than any more..........

Moored with 'the commercials' Place des Armes, Vitry

Moored with 'the commercials'                  Place des Armes, Vitry


Johs at the helm Skol! Grethe, Chris and Johs

Johs at the helm                               Skol! Grethe, Chris and Johs

Bar le Duc

On arrival at Bar le Duc, Grethe and Diana set off on a serious sightseeing mission, leaving the boys to reminisce.  What a fabulous historic town with amazing renaissance architecture - a real treat to see all the lovely buildings.  There was a Mediaeval Renaissance Fair on that weekend and we enjoyed mingling among the locals and sharing some French culture.  The old town is set on a very high hill and you can tell the locals from the tourists by their highly developed calf muscles! (see picture)  Lots of amazing crafts, street events, food and a flavour of their history made it very civilised, very French and so interesting!  Even the street names were altered to make a different meaning in the old French, in a new phonetic way (language lesson for Grethe and I, there) not to mention the incredible bunting made of skimpy underwear. The Michaux family, father and son who claim to have invented the first bicycle came from this town - it looks a bit terrifying with no pedals. No chance for Diana to ride that thing..........After a nice time together it was sad to say goodbye to Grethe and Johs when we saw them off at the train station. Let's hope we can do it all again.

La Basse Ville' Inventor of the bicycle

La Basse Ville                                 Inventors of the bicycle


Renaissance buildings Hilly town = strong legs

Renaissance buildings                          Hilly town = strong legs


Renaissance mediaeval fair Street banners - underware

Renaissance Mediaeval Fair                     Street banners - underwear!


A hat made just for you View from the top

A hat made just for you, anything goes!        View from the top

Towards Lorraine

Back on our own again, it was not long before we made acquaintance with Pam and Nick on their lovely boat "Avalon".  We originally met them in Chalons and now found them again by chance. We enjoyed some nice times cruising together on this lovely route which was new for all of us. Somehow we just "clicked". This area has some of the loveliest scenery in this remote part of France, the water crystal clear so we could see the bottom, moving eastwards and up, up through  many locks (70 in 10 days) towards the source of the great River Meuse - (she flows nearly 1000 km to emerge into the North Sea in Holland)  We hardly saw other boats, much the time we had the waterways to ourselves, really something in July!  The friendly waterways team looked after us incredibly well, too.

Ligny en Barrois' Flower displays on lock bridge

Ligny en Barrois                               Flower displays on lock bridge......


and wild flowers everywhere Canal Marne au Rhin

......and wild flowers everywhere              Canal de la Marne au Rhin


Naix au Forges Field of sun flowers

Naix au Forges                                 Fields of sunflowers

Mauvages Tunnel

At the summit of the Marne au Rhin Canal is the Mauvages Tunnel - an interesting experience where you are handed a multi lingual sheet explaining  that you MUST be towed through the tunnel and on no account are you to use your engine.  When you get there, the towing mechanism is "en panne" and you start your engine and motor through!  Nothing is said about the rules. The VNF boys accompany you by bicycle just to check you are OK.  It's quite a long way, nearly five kilometres and takes over an hour.  Not for claustrophobes!  Incidentally, many visitors to France want to participate in the Quatorze Juillet Celebrations.....we mistimed it and that day we found ourselves in the tunnel instead!


Voix' N J Cugnot, inventor

Voix, an enchanting village                    Supposed inventor of the first steam vehicle


Desirable property and another . .

Desirable property                             and another ......

Onto the Meuse

Soon after the Mauvages Tunnel we arrived at the junction of the Canal de la Marne au Rhin and the Canal de l'Est. (now Canal de la Meuse).  Here is the infant Meuse - a memorable thing.  The other interesting point is that there were suddenly a lot of other boats using this canal.  Up till now it was so peaceful, so now a bit of a shock.  No commercials, just a lot of Dutch and Belgian cruisers on a mission to go south, fleets of them.  We headed on towards Commercy where we met up with cousins Jackie and Steve who joined us for a lovely few days of perfect weather, catching up with all the family news and some serious relaxation.  Lovely to see them again.

The infant Meuse Junction with Marne au Rhin

The infant Meuse                               Junction with Canal de la Marne au Rhin


Cousins Steve and Jackie Packing to go (too soon!)

Cousins Steve and Jackie                       Packing to go (too soon!) 

Verdun - unforgettable

By now we were back on manual locks and of course that is an opportunity for a chat!  The weather now had improved but it was hot work so a hand here and there was appreciated.  Our next goal was Verdun.  To the French this is  equivalent of our Somme.  The city is entered after negotiating a tunnel and a lock under the old defensive ramparts.  Everything about Verdun pales into insignificance on learning that no fewer than 800,000 men lost their lives here in the most terrible battles of WW1. In spite of the savage bombardment the cathedral remains, now beautifully repaired and a place of tranquillity and the city is the World Centre for Peace.  The maze of tunnels under the Citadelle proved a worthwhile visit. This is where, in 1920, they selected the Unknown Soldier who is buried under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. We took the tour of the battlefields - a whole day out - where the events of nearly 100 years ago seem very fresh.  Nine villages were totally obliterated by the bombardment and were never rebuilt, just planted with trees. The landscape still bears the scars and many areas are still "red zones" where armaments have not been cleared, now left as a memorial to the fallen. Each village was honoured with the Croix de Guerre and although they do not exist, each village has a mayor and a parish council, a touching way to honour them. The Museum of Verdun was amazing, a shrine of history and memory, bearing witness to the suffering of not just the French but also the German and American forces who fought there. The Ossuary of Douaumont unites in one resting place the unidentified remains of around 130,000 French and German soldiers later collected from the battlefield, devasted by more than four years of appalling war. In addition, we attended the "Son et Lumiere" - a re-enactment of the Battle of Verdun in a nearby quarry - a fantastic evocation complete with explosions and  fireworks. Diana's fascination with military history continues, being the daughter of an old soldier, I suppose......

The moorings in Verdun are superb, no charge, free water and electricity and a big welcome from the townsfolk who nightly call out greetings from the quay and the bridges.  We met fellow bargees David and Lois on "Christina" and spent  several evenings with them including the Verdun Son et Lumiere; Also we met their friends Catherine and Jeanette and their guests Janet and Dick. It was while we were in Verdun that we heard the news of the birth of Chris's first grandchildren, twins (girl and boy, no names yet)!  Very exciting. Needless to say our new friends shared our champagne celebration that evening. In a couple of weeks we will be going to England to meet them. 

Finally after moving on from Verdun, we felt a need to one day return.  Tourism is what this city is about  but in the best possible taste, and it is so vital her history is not forgotten.  We now moved on downstream heading in the direction of Charlesville Mezieres and the Belgian border but lots more to see in the meantime..............

Manual locks mean time to chat Tunnel and lock all at once

Manual locks mean time to chat!                Tunnel and lock all at once


Approaching Verdun Word peace centre and cathedral

Approaching Verdun                             World Peace Centre and Cathedral


Ossuaire at Douamont Fleury, one of the nice lost vilages

The Ossuary at Douaumont                       Fleury, one of the nine lost villages


Dinner on 'Christina' Goodbye till next time

Dinner on 'Christina'                          Goodbye till next time


Belleville sur Meuse Sunset at Conservoye

Belleville sur Meuse                           Sunset at Conservoye

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