Friday, July 14, 2017

Barge Date: 04-07-2017

Saint Quentin and long run to the Somme

It turns out our mooring location in Saint Quentin is perfect. True, we don't have a bollard as Marianne would like, but our stakes hold us where we want to be.

The train station is just across the way and in one of their large parking lots we see the gathering of
 what we think might be some amusement set-up. That is not the case. This is a gathering of petanque enthusiasts (sometimes just called "balls" enthusiasts). It is some type of tournament and there does not seem to be a lack of players. It starts Thursday night and will continue through Sunday. Perhaps the winners get to go forward and the losers get to go home. But these are serious players and I suspect there is some financial reward for the winners.

Most of the city is on the other side of the canal and we just need to walk up to the bridge to get on Main Street. It is an uphill climb all the way to the center of town and I notice that Marianne is not happy about this. But it's good exercise and I think she needs it. We end up doing a lot of
walking in this city. It and other larger towns we have seen seem to have been able to maintain their downtown look. There are unlimited numbers of stores and boutiques, bakeries, ice cream stores and restaurants to meet the needs of the locals and the visitors.

We check in with the tourist office (aside - my dictation said we checked in with the terrorist office) and take a tour of the city hall and of the architecture of the downtown area. This was an area known for its Art Deco, nouveau art inspired architecture, and we see any number of different forms and shapes. Interesting.

We also find another pawnshop that is selling DVDs for next to nothing and the Hollywood hound is inside going through all of them.

I would have liked to have departed sooner than we did, but Marianne wanted to hear a performance of the big organ in the Basilica. That is only on Sunday at four in the afternoon so we will not be departing until Monday morning. It does give us time to sample more of the local restaurants and ice cream shops.

We also take in a museum of trade-crafts from earlier times. The museum is located in the opposite direction of downtown and we strike off for a walk in a new area of town for us. The museum is in a converted warehouse or manufacturing facility and they have a nice display of the working people of yesteryear - d'antan. Nicely done. Also on display is a large number of motor scooters, motorbikes and small motorcycles. Up until the 60s, the city had a large manufacturing interest producing motorbikes and motor scooters and many of the models from this manufacturing company are on display.

The concert at the Basilica is fine but a bit disappointing as we expected the acoustics of the church coupled with this large organ would produce wonderful sound. Some pieces were better than others and those that tended to be on the loud side seemed more interesting to us. But we did not come away with the overpowering sounds we expected.

The next day, we head south on the Canal Saint Quentin and we make several attempts to stop at smaller towns but the tie up location or the absence of any good mooring facilities keeps us moving ahead until we come to the town of Chauny. What a surprise.

Not a big city but once we entered the town and the commercial section, it seemed to go on and on and on. Much larger than we would have thought. And where in some towns we are disappointed by the lack of even a basic bakery, in this town we see six or seven very fancy pastry shops. (From Marianne: One bakery advertised a special "buy 3 baguettes, get a 4th one free"; guess how many baguettes most people were carrying on the street?)

We saw a store selling appliances and we went in to talk about replacing our small refrigerator. It was purchased used for our boat, does not have a freezer, and the bottom shelves and drawers do not work as they are not part of the original equipment. We want something about the same size but also more energy efficient. We see a unit for about €130 but its energy rating is just a plus. We ask for something a little more energy efficient. The dealer can locate a plus plus but nothing better than that and the price jumps from about €130 to more than €400. We return to town the next day and check another store and the story is about the same. And if we want the more efficient units, it will take too much time and we don't want to wait any more.

The next day we start out not knowing how far we will travel but it turns out to be about 70 km. We leave the smaller canal and head north on the Canal du Nord and we pair up with a commercial that allows us to share locks. Our size and his make for a full lock. We follow him all the way to the intersection with the Canal de la Somme. This is actually our real first destination. We will take some time to explore this valley and learn the history of the Battle of the Somme.

At the juncture of the Somme, we are presented with a sign that says stay away from the left bank and we also see posts driven into the ground. No warning buoys of any color. We assume where the channel will be but as we coast through, we are told by a fisherman that we should have gone around to the other side. This presented no problems for us but did upset the fisherman.

Next, we see a sign telling us that there are no bollards until we reach the first lock. OK, that's fine with us as we know that we will be arriving after the lock is closed. We cruise down the canal at a slow speed and enjoy the somewhat African Queen look of the banks.

At the lock we do not see any bollards at first; we do find them eventually; they are covered with
brush and nettles but we have no second choice so we secure to the port bank and tie up. We certainly cannot get off the boat, so we just relax, have a late dinner and make sure all our lines are proper.

During the night, I get up to check the lines and see that the water level has dropped about 30 cm and I think we are hung up. Nothing to do but go back to sleep and I will check it in the morning. As it turns out, there is no problem. With a bit of wiggling of the boat fore and aft, we are floating.  

From Marianne: At 9am, we expect the lock keepers to arrive and the light to come on, but that is not the case. I call on the VHF radio, no answer; call the local lock number, no answer; call the local programming number and am told they will send someone in 20 minutes and the light will not come on; Tim can stop watching it. The lock men arrive and we pass through and they follow us to our next mooring location. We go through several locks and a couple of lift bridges with these men doing their work. They are pleasant and helpful.They suggest a particular marina further ahead in Cappy so we make that our destination. We are able to tie up and get water and electric and we are next to our Dutch friends (Guust and Ria) from earlier in our travels. They arrived on the Somme much earlier than us and are departing the next day. A very nice facility here in something we would recommend to others. The Capitaine fills us in on the services: internet, electric, water, trash, laundry, showers, some food (nice bakery within walking distance) and he can be a taxi.

We take him up on the taxi and the next day he drives us to the next town (Bray-sur-Somme) for a supermarket, a lunch at a very nice brasserie, a visit to the local museum and a pleasant walk along the "etangs du couchant" (sunset ponds). He provides commentary (in French) on the return and deviates to another town to show us a castle now owned by 2 Brits. Opposite is a restaurant of some renown and maybe we will visit when we return.

I look on Amazon for a small fridge.  Can get a plus plus for a good price and shipping.  Having it shipped to the marina and we will pick it up on our return and the Capitaine will haul away the old.  Now we will see if it saves some electrons.

Back at the barge, I crawl into the very stern of the boat, to the rear of the engine, to get a look at the generator side of our generator/engine combo. I am exploring some changes with the electric system and need the info. from the generator. And since I am there, I begin to sort old "stuff" that I don't think we will ever need and the Capitaine agrees to toss it for us. Next week, I will discover that I need it.

There are problems further ahead on the Somme. Weeds. This is an issue on many canals and is the bane of boaters and canal workers. They must harvest the weeds so that boats can pass and weeds do not end up in the cooling systems. We learn that we may not be able to take the boat to the Atlantic. If that is the case, we intend to take a train to the coast to see what we may see. Stay tuned.

Marianne wants to take a ride on a narrow gauge train system that is set up for tourists.  They also have a museum of old trains.  Narrow gauge systems in France were developed by the French army.  They could be built fast as in some cases the track and ties were pre-assembled.  This size of train system was widely used in WWI by both sides.

The ride is bumpy and it uses a switch back system for going up a steep hill.  On top we can see wheat and beet fields of great size. This is indeed the bread basket of France. Hope the train pictures are of interest in Scipio.

A note about this canal. Well, not so much about the canal but the Somme river. From our entrance
Note the canal and the other water bodies.
on the canal we noted that the river is more of a wide mash land; sometime you see a river but more often you see marshy lowlands and large ponds.  In many cases these ponds seem to be planned as they appear of groups of 10 or so, all the same size. And what we see around these waters are rough cabins or just docks that people have built for fishing or getting away. The number of "camps" is quite large and is obviously bringing commerce into the area.

And since it is nearly 9:30 and the sun is about to set, let me comment on the long days. Love it.

Bonus question - name this grain found growing in a field. Winner gets a free, one day trip on the barge.


  1. Pretty sure it is what is now known in polite circles as canola - ready for harvest. Still known in some places as rape but I suspect that since the advent of Google, the name change was needed or searching for anything about the crop would be quite problematic.

    Let me know if I'm a winner - one day we might meet Lionel d'Antan with you on board (we've moored next to him in Ypres in 2016).

  2. You indeed are the winner. How about the calendar you made. I have your copy. We will be in NE France so hope to see you. Tim