Our away-day trip to Laon was overdue. Laon
is the medieval capital of France. Charlemagne was born there. It boasts the oldest Cathedral in the country. The views from the ramparts (if you can find a place to park) are spectacular.
We arrived after a leisurely lunch on the way down at the Auberge de Vendeul. We climbed up to the Cathedral from the first car park which is just outside the entrance gate of the old town. After the visit to the Cathedral, we shopped in the town where MWNN
discovered a shop selling tea and some wonderful freshly-ground coffee.
At tea time, we picnicked in the car park overlooking the view of the countryside far below.
It's a fascinating town (city?) with a long history.
is an area between the railway and canal, right beside the town centre.
The Parc d'Isle is big (47.52 hectares). It contains lakes, marshes, orientation course, a farm, and other environmentaly-friendly areas. Entrance is free.
Despite the blustery, wet weather, we managed an hour's walk along the main footpath (through the topiary) before the rain swept in again.
This is a wonderful resource, right on our doorstep (gunwales) and something we mean to make more use of during our visits to the boat.
One of the places I've wanted to visit for quite a long time, is
. The BBC series 'Merlin'
uses the castle as one of its locations. It's not far from St Quentin, on the road between Compiegne and Soissons.
|Taken with mobile phone|
The town is a little like Portmeirion
in Wales, in that it is totally geared up for tourists. There is a variety of places to eat, from the lakeside gardens to the Auberge aux Bles D'or in which we had a fairly disasterous meal (that's a story that makes Basil Fawlty look positively super-efficient by comparison).The castle dominates the town. It was a pity that the weather prevented us exploring the park around the castle.
|Taken on the climb up to the entrance|
The tour of the Castle was a long one. It's impressive, given that it was built on the ruins of a much earlier castle at the request of Napoleon III, but disappointing in that its interior is used as a display space for art and sculpture from other regions of France and other epocs.
|One of the many restored staircases|
There is evidence of much restoration, both inside and out. Climbing the many flights of stone steps and loking down from the drawbridge 'control room' reminded us that such castles were fortresses, built to repel would-be invaders.
Several restored interiors give some idea of the scale of the 'state' rooms. The grand hall, with its double fireplace has all the grandeur expected of an Emperor's 'holiday estate' in the Forest of Compiegne. The circular seating is one of the few remaining pieces of furniture from Viollet-le-Duc's
Inside, Viollet-le-Duc produced more a work of invention than
|Image from http://www.skyscrapercity.com|
restoration. He imagined how the castle ought to
have been, rather than basing his work on the strict history of the
building. On the other hand, with the exterior he showed an excellent
knowledge of the military architecture of the 14th century
There was one glimpse of part of the Merlin set left in place for the film crew's next visit (just a few days after we were there). These town cottages are merely 'front elevations'
Pierrefonds may be worth a second visit when the weather is good enough to picnic in the park.
Although we didn't get a cruise this year, we did
take time out from working on the boat to explore the area around St Quentin.
|Aerial view giving some idea of the scale of the site|
One of our first 'away days' was spent at Prémontré as MWNN wanted to see Prémontré Abbey, the mother house of the Premonstratensian Order. I forgot to take my camera so have raided the web for these images.
Of the old abbey as it was from the 12th to the 16th centuries hardly
anything remains, but three large buildings of the 17th and 18th
centuries are still standing, part of one of which is used as a church,
dedicated to Saint Norbert. Since 1867, the main buildings have been used as a psychiatric hospital. There are no 'inmates' any more , just staff of the Centre Hospitalier de Prémontré. We were unable to see inside any of the buildings as it was Sunday and no one (apart from one 'patient' with attached medical attendant) was there.It was easy to get some idea of the scale of the Abbey as it was in the 12th century, as the approach is around the outer wall. The remains are the size of a village set amid the vast acres belonging to the Commune of Prémontré.
We've just returned from taking Ron for a walk before the rain hit. It is really important that we try to keep his activity levels similar to those he had when we were in France. Before we went away, he was somewhat overweight. After nine weeks of a lot of exercise, he has lost 2kg and is looking really good.
|Port 'estate', looking north(ish)|
We spent most of those nine weeks in port. The Port de Plaisance is 2 hectares of security-fenced grounds - plenty of space for strenous ball-chasing or general off-lead mooching.
I availed of the facilities to add the 'down-stay' to Ron's repertoire. He's reluctant to play that game with his precious (Billy Ball) so I used a stick or pine cone. Once in the down-stay, I walked away, increasing the distance at each session.
Then I'd turn and give the command 'fetch'. He soon got the hang of it. Unfortunately, it seems to have been place-defined as we had to train him all over again when trying it out at the local 'rec'.
He's also sulking a bit because his 'home estate
' is tiny in comparison to his watery one. Which might explain why he's refusing to take part in eradication the mice which colonised the house during our absence.
Nine weeks of working on the boat - I hoped for a rest when we got home. So far, we've disinfected the utility room and kitchen. Evidence (poop) is also in the front room, the staircase, and my bedroom/study
|The new Berlingo outside Le Chauderon|
We wasted almost a whole day in a fruitless search for a canal bridge full of graffiti that MWNN
wanted to photograph. We differ in our recollection of where the bridge was and there are some bridges that are inaccessable by road.
However, the day was not totally wasted. On our third circuit around Menessis, we found ourselves on the way to Jussy. It being almost 1pm, we stopped for lunch at 'Le Chauderon'. We'd discovered this great little workman's restaurant during our week in Gite no2. On the first visit, MWNN
discovered leek pie; this time, he admitted to liking rabbit stew. The tiramasu which he chose for dessert was 'delicious'. My 'fruit rouge' tart was the best I'd had since I was a child.
|Ron on the Port 'estate'.|
We ate at an outside table and Monsieur le Chef came out and made the mistake of going up close and staring at Ron in his travel crate in the back of the Berlingo. Who would have thought that the dog in the photo (right) could turn into a ravening wolf at such provocation? I took him out of the crate so that he could greet Monsieur in his usual cheerful manner (especially when I explained to Ron that this Monsieur was the chef who had cooked the rabbit of which he had been given a fair share.)
There was a full moon a few days ago. On the final clear(ish) night, I decided to have a go at taking photos from my cabin, using the night and timer seettings on the camera as I'd left the tripod at home.
Some pics came out rather well. This one is probably the best and may make it into next year's calendar in some form or other.
|St Quentin Leisure Centre|
We completed two test runs, one yesterday past the new Leisure Centre (swimming, bowls, ice rink and restaurants) that is behind the Port alongside a new 'promenade' as far as the town bridge to the north of the town, the other on Friday down as far as the first lock south of St Quentin.
There were a couple of leaks to which we had to attend and a new galley sink hot water tap connection to fit. All seems to be well now and, good weather permitting, we'll head out for a a couple of weeks' cruise on Bank Holiday Monday.
Speaking of weather, it's been the most wonderful five weeks so far - warm to hot during the day and cool at night. Keep everything crossed that it continues for the next couple of weeks.
During the first couple of weeks at St Quentin, Ron found that my suitcase made a rather wonderful bed. He claimed it the first night at Gite No 1 and continued to use it at Gite No 2.
It's impossible for him to use it aboard the boat because his bed is the 'top bunk' on the cover over the hip-bath. He's complained bitterly on a couple of cold nights as his boat bed isn't as easy for him to use as an igloo beneath his travelling fleece.
Today is a Bank Holiday, because May day fell on a Sunday. It's also the 93rd anniversary of my Mum's birth - May 2nd, 1918. I've missed her a lot during the last month. When we're in France, I used to send her a postcard at every Halte Nautique and phone her when there was a kiosk available. She loved following our progress on the map and was interested in the towns and villages we visited, especially those in well-know wine regions as she knew there would be local wine heading her way on our return to the UK. Our boat is featured prominently on the cover of the Cruising Club brochure and, when I saw it, my first thought was 'I must send a copy to Mum'.
|Mum (left) with her sister C1958|
We're still in Port, thanks to a glitch with the fridge and the loo.
I'm cooking a cassoulet for this evening's dinner and will serve champagne in honour of Mum's birthday. She and her sister, Anne, loved a drop of wine and Mum's tastes became rather sophisticated once we'd discovered the wine regions and the village co-operatives of the South of France.
and Alain, the President of the Cruising Club of Haut Picardie, threw a surprise 'dessert party'.
I thought I would offer to serve Pimms in honour of England's National Day but withdrew rapidly when I saw the number of bottle of Charles de Fere 'blanc de blanks' the President had supplied.
The 'desserts' were fruit tartes - lots of fruit tartes - huge party-sized apple, cherry, strawberry, raspberry and mirabel tartes as well as individual ones. There was enough for two helpings each and third helpings for the hollow-legged guests.
Four of the boat crews were British, the rest were French. It was a delighful evening, out in the shade of the cherry trees, the tartes and champagne set out on benches and the picnic blanket (which Elodie claimed just as Ron began his mad play-bowing and lunatic dashing hihther and thither). Ron and his lady-friend, Elodie, were very well behaved and were given tidbits as reward for their constraint. The champagne was still flowing when I left at 9.45pm to give Ron his dinner.
The President again toasted the beginning of the season with well and good camaraderie to all.
The following day was Easter Sunday and, thanks to my new slow cooker, I was able to cooker Easter Lamb, the gravy from which was used as the base for beef in beer on Monday.
Our neighbours, Bob and Anna, were returning to UK early on Tuesday so they were our dinner guests. Anna provided a trifle for dessert and Bob had chilled a rather nice bottle of Cremant de Loire.
The day was quite warm but there was a strong wind blowing so, instead of setting up under the trees, I served dinner in the front cabin.
We're still in port but almost ready to set off. We'll wait until the wind dies down and then give the engine a couple of hours test-run before committing to a few weeks' cruise.
a rose garden.
But I was
promised a holiday during the 2 weeks of gites prior to the boat re-launch. Week 1 in Gite No 1 while finishing the exterior boat painting and interior cleaning. Week 2 - finishing the boat ready for re-launch and having day-excursions from Gite No. 2. What have
I had? So far, 3 weeks of hard work, 2 while in Gites 1&2, 1 while repairing various leaks and getting the interior habitable now the boat is afloat.
So, I have no lovely pics of the beginnings of a cruise on the St Quentin canal, just some pics taken at Gite No 2 the day I 'pulled a sickie' after I'd caught a chill working outside in the cold.
The 'duvet-day' turned out to be rather nice, so I did all the washing (3 loads) and took pictures (trying out the timer on the camera) of my second seamless cardigan.
Once the boat was in the water, the weather changed and we've been enjoying 27 - 29 degrees of sunshine all day every day. The nights are cool (10 - 14 ), so the boat has time to cool down before dawn.
After all the boats were safely back in the water and those coming out secured on their blocks on land, all the club members were given a four course lunch in the club-house. There were so many of us that there was an 'overspill table' outside, at which the President and Capitaine hosted the meal for the crane crew. I took some photos and will endeavour to upload on my next visit to the wi-fi.
This is where we spent the first week of our trip. We had the self-contained flat with the five windows from the left on the first floor. There were 3 bedrooms, sleeping 5 people. There was a lounge/diner with only one armchair so we used a recliner from the boat. The table seated 6. The kitchen was well equipped, although there was no dishwasher. The ancient washing machine was situated in the ancient cellar. The bathroom had a bath with shower over. Across the corridor from our flat's 'front door', there was a BALLROOM with tables for about 30 people. Goodness knows where they would all sleep if you needed to use that room.
We move to Gite No. 2 for the second week of work on the boat before she goes back in the water next Friday. Gite No 2 claims to have wi-fi but we have yet to learn how we subscribe to it.
Work on the boat is progressing. We now have shore power restored and I have de-rusted and primed the starboard side of the boat ready for painting the coachlines and the black gunwales. MWNN
is busily de-rusting the battery box before installing the new house batteries.
The Consultant dermatologist confirmed that my rash is eczema. He prescribed cream that has to be covered with clingfilm at night. Last night's application removed a layer of skin (and with it the rash) where the clingfilm stayed in place.)
Tonight we are in a hotel as we do not take over tenancy of Gite No 2 until tomorrow evening.ETA
- Forgot to say - the gite pictured above is next to a lock on the St Quentin Canal.
Following on from yesterday's post, who woulda thunk Sillery was famous for champagne and sylabubs
? Or that Sillery was once the name of the sparkling wine from the Champagne Region?
It's such a charming little town and yet doesn't even have postcards for sale in the Presse/Tabac. I might send this picture to the Halte Nautique for them to use on postcards if they wish.
I bought some of the local Champagne house's champagne in the supermarket. Fresnet-Baudot
is not my favourite type of champagne, having a larger % of pinot noir grape than chardonnay.
It was really nice to find the champagne in the supermarket. Local managers in France still have some control over purchasing, it seems.
My favourite is blanc de blancs, which is 100% chardonnay grape. N. Potié
, in Conde sur Marne, a hard day's cruise (about 25 minutes by car) from Sillery, makes a rather lovely blanc de blancs, a bottle of which is resting in the larder, waiting for an appropriate event.
In 2000, MWNN and I ate at the Relais de Sillery.
We remember the elegant building, landscaped park with stream running through. Most of all, we remember the classic set menus and the starched staff's horror @ the Basil Fawlty moment with a rat on the terrace. After a longer than remembered walk from the mooring, we found the Relais in a coaching inn with a limited lunch menu @ 18, 39, 45, 75Euro. The elegant building is now a private residence guarded by large dogs behind high walls. We had our own classic menu provided by Chef Hesadevil. 23 June 2010
Click through pictured for larger images.
The coaching inn is looking a little scruffy from the outside these days, especially the 'modern' extension and lean-to, and the locals tell us that prices have risen in a similar way to prices everywhere.
Scruffy exteriors often hide elegance behind the facade as I discovered when I visited the Relais' website. The terrace is just as I remembered it the evening MWNN and I enjoyed a rather lovely meal there in May 2000. We were seated on the terrace overlooking the 'river' and had just started our entrees when the thunderstorm struck. The canopies coped valiently with the downpour but, within minutes, were sagging under the weight of rainwater. The rather starched staff tried to remove the water without dousing the customers but their efforts were futile. Eventually, we were all re-seated inside.
It was shortly after the storm had passed that MWNN spotted a large rat crossing the terrace, heading for the stream. His offer to fetch the rat terrier from the boat did not go down well with the staff whose sense of humour was conspicuous by its absence all evening.
It's a pity we didn't eat there again this year. We were so convinced that the venue had moved to shoddy accomodation that we didn't want the disappointment of finding it was not as good as we had remembered our first visit.
Travelled home from France at the weekend. Stopped in Calais overnight, Saturday.
Took Ron to the beach at Sangat (opposite Le Nez Blanc Restaurant). He was iin his element, found some local children who were keen to play and spent a happy 20 minutes or so 'retrieving' lumps of seaweed and generally doing terrier-type things in the water and sand.
The meal at Le Nez Blanc was the best of the summer. Scallops and monkfish for MWNN, hot goat's cheese salad and a really fine steak for me. A coup champagne and profiteroles didn't affect the 1kg I lost during the trip.Summary of 2010 cruise
One of the hardest and most taxing cruises in the ten years we've been in France. Lots of boat problems and really hot weather for the last two weeks took their toll on all three of us.
More pics of some of the better times to follow over the next couple of weeks.
Leaving St Quentin Marina on 5th June.
The by-pass runs right behind the Capitainerie, crossing the canal between the Port de Plaisance and the new 'water sports' centre and swimming pool due to open in June 2010. There''s no sign of it being finished yet and no opening date announced.
I promised Ron a meal at a French restaurant after last year's very bad introduction to life afloat in France.
Before we left St Quentin, we tried a new restaurant (to us) just outside the town on the road leading to the motorway.
It was a very hot day. We arrived just as lunch was coming to an end. All the tables with sun umbrellas were full but Monsieur offered to set one up if we didn't mind the sun. I mentioned we had a little dog with us and the staff carried the table and dining chairs into the shade of the trees.
We had a great meal and watched with some amusement as the other diners struggled, without success, to position the umbrellas to shade all those seated at their table.
Eating out is much more expensive than it used to be. Gone are the 10 and 12Euros set lunches; the bottom price for two courses is between 18 and 24Euros. Add drinks and coffee to that and the cost for two quickly reaches 50Euros or more. Worth it if the food is 'special' (this day it was) not so much if the food is pedestrian.
Wi-fi is free at Sillery, included in the cost of mooring, which is only 1/3 the cost of Reims.
This monument is to Capitaine Mareshall who swam the canal at Jussy under enemy fire on June 3rd 1940. The plaque was unveiled on the morning of the 70th anniversary, shortly before we passed on our way down to Pinon.
Thank you to everyone who has recently given me LJ e-gifts