Welcome to the 14th blog of The Olivia Rose Diaries on June 27th 2020
I think you only begin to understand a country when you stop being a holiday-maker and start living as the local people do. Ordering packages, in our case two solar panels, a charger unit and a replacement battery for my laptop, is just what any French person might do, and turned out to be an education.
For example, we now know that, whilst the courier might send a seemingly efficient email advising us that package number one will arrive at the marina office between 10am and 2 pm, what they really mean is that it will arrive at 7am, allegedly, when no-one is there and instead will be taken to a local depot overthree kilometres away. This necessitated Michael taking our portable trolley on a seven kilometre round trip on foot to pick up two sizeable solar panels. We also learnt that our local postman knows the capitaine of the port personally and decided that it was more convenient to deliver package number two to his home address rather than the office at the marina. And, for package number three, the courier surpassed himself and decided that he would put it in the post box of somebody called Pedro Digon. We only found it because Michael, in an act of desperation, took it upon himself to peer through all the little post boxes by the marina office and noted one that had a package of just the right size in it. Unfortunately it had landed with the name of the addressee face down but a bit of deft manipulation with a long kebab skewer soon sorted that out and voila! – it was addressed to me, clearly labelled for the marina, which has its own postbox, so why it went to Monsieur Digon we shall never know. We eventually located Pedro Digon, a full-time resident on another boat in our marina, who happily opened up his post box and liberated my laptop battery. The general French reaction to this saga of mis-placed deliveries was to shrug hopelessly and mutter ‘C’est la France.’
With all packages safely stored aboard we finally left Pont-a-Mousson on the Moselle and headed for the Canal des Vosges. After a long spell on the larger rivers I am always delighted to get back on to a canal. It feels a far more intimate experience; the banks are closer and so the natural world also feels closer. Most canals wind their way through small hamlets and villages so the scenery is less industrial and more interesting. We stopped for our first night at Richardménil, a rural mooring only a few kilometres up the canal and breathed a sigh of satisfaction as we watched the swifts skimming the water in that golden light that is one of the joys of summer evenings. We had eight days to kill, waiting for the VNF to to open up the middle section of the waterway after a feeder tunnel collapsed, but the delay would be no hardship. It was a beautiful spot, we had solar panels to install, plenty to keep us busy and the time would fly by – a new phase had begun and we could put the frustrations of the last few weeks behind us.
However….. three days later we received an update informing us that the Vosges would not be opening at the end of June after all. The tunnel had been repaired but the water levels in the feeder reservoir had never recovered and there was not enough water to service the canal. It would remain closed until the end of August.
The map below is hand drawn by Michael for Just Passing Through and shows the network for this north-eastern corner. Taking Nancy as a focus point you can see our routes south on the Vosges and West on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin are closed to us. We did the eastern route to Strasbourg and back last year and, lovely as it was, have no desire to do it again so soon. The route north to Metz is where Basse -Ham lies and we went north from there into Germany last year. We don’t feel inclined to repeat journeys just for the sake of being on the water.
We were crestfallen to hear of this extended closure. After much discussion, and because we couldn’t bear to give up, we decided to see if the weed situation had improved back in Toul and whether we could get out that way. We spoke to the authorities there and were told that it was now clear. They’d told us that before, even when we went there in person and saw for ourselves that it was completely choked, so we weren’t convinced. We made contact with two other boats who we knew were in the process of attempting the journey. They told tales of propellers so badly choked with weed that it took an hour diving under the boat to clear it all out; of having to turn the engine off and be pulled along by passers-by in one section and towed by the local VNF van in another; of it taking two hours to do two kilometres. One man gave them his telephone number, promising to return with his 4 x 4 and pull them along if they needed him at a later date. The kindness of strangers is a wonderful thing.
Despite that kindness we had no wish to put Olivia and ourselves in that situation. It seemed an act of great irresponsibility on the behalf of the local VNF that they couldn’t – or wouldn’t – give a realistic report on the true situation. We have no idea what their motivation was for behaving in this way. It’s not what we would expect.
Whilst we pondered what we were going to do next something came along to take our mind of it all. I had been approached quite out of the blue by BBC Radio London to appear on the Jo Good afternoon programme for a phone-in interview. Apparently they had found my book, Just Passing Through, on Amazon and, through that link, found the blog. So, on Tuesday 23rd of this week, I found myself live on the BBC talking about what it feels like to follow your dream. I’ve attached a link if anybody can bear to listen. You’ll see my name in the programme, click on that, then fast forward 37 minutes into the programme and you’ll hear my dulcet tones.
Once the excitement of the interview passed we had to face up to a difficult and disappointing decision. We have come to the conclusion that there will be no more cruising for us, certainly for the next few months, maybe for this year. The waterways network in this part of France is falling apart, crippled due to both a lack of water from prolonged drought, and also the backlog of maintenance problems caused by no work being done during the lock-down period, not to mention the management issues in dealing with the weed problem.
We are going back to Basse-Ham, which is going to end up feeling like our permanent home the way it’s going. We are trying to view this as an opportunity to do something else, rather than feeling it is a disaster, and so we shall set off on a road trip in our campervan. We have no idea where we will go yet or for how long. It will take us four days to get back to Basse-Ham, which is a place we are happy to leave Olivia, so we’ll have plenty of time to mull over destinations and the practicalities of it.
Our travelling life will continue but it feels very strange to think that it will not be on Olivia. My blog pictures will no longer be of beautiful waterways and peaceful moorings but of something else entirely. I have mixed feelings about it; mainly a sense of sadness that we can’t continue, but the hint of excitement as we try another path. Most importantly, this is only a short-term break from Olivia. If the summer isn’t too hot and dry we may try our luck back on the water in September. We shall certainly come back to live on Olivia again in the autumn even if we can’t cruise. She is our home and we can’t be apart from her for too long.
So that brings you up-to-date. We shall savour the last few days of our cruising (even though we have been up and down that part of the Moselle six times in total now and that is more than enough!) As for where our next blog will come from…… who knows? It will be a surprise for all of us.
Take care and see you soon.