Monday, October 23, 2023

Further forays into France

In September, you might remember we made a trip into the southern Champagne region of France to see the house my daughter has bought in the Haute-Marne department. We were struck then by the loveliness of the area, but now we've just spent a full week there, it has struck us even more. 

Koos and I drove down on October the 15th, a month to the day after our previous visit. This time, we went in our own car, our venerable 28-year-old Opel Astra, which cruised sweetly through the rolling French countryside as if it enjoyed stretching its wheels. There's no denying it's quite a long drive at approximately 500km, but it's not a hard one. The most taxing part is around Lille, which encompasses a huge urban sprawl, but we were able to escape most of that by ducking a bit east and following the road around Tournai. After that, there's a relatively short stretch of the A1 to Paris before we turned off onto the A26 south to Reims. I must say I was highly entertained by our Google maps lady (whom I named Karen), telling us to take the exit onto the A26 and just stay on it for 157km. As soon as she said that, she shut up and went to sleep until we reached the ring road around Reims.

I've never been much of a fan of these Satnav apps before, but I was very grateful to Karen on this trip. She was very useful everywhere except in the city of Chaumont, the capital of Haute-Marne, where she definitely got several wires crossed and had us going down a tiny track we could barely find a way to extract ourselves from. After that, she got in a total tizz and we had to switch her off to recover herself. But apart from this brief fit, she was a tower of strength and led us not only to my daughter's village, but also to Joinville, the Marne river and various other locations in this stunning part of France.

For most of the week, we stayed local, as we were there to help with the house and start cleaning the junk of ages from the barn and workrooms attached to the house. There's a lot of clearing up to do, some roof repairs needed and some serious decorating to be done, but the house itself is perfectly fine. While a bit cold and lacking in creature comforts, we were all grateful for the furniture that had been left behind. But even that mattered little when given the lovely environs, kind people and tranquillity of the farmlands around the village.

The French have not had the best reputation when it comes to welcoming strangers in their midst, but Haute-Marne has to be the greatest exception to this (underserved, in my opinion) rule. The villagers are warm, welcoming and very friendly. We've had lovely exchanges with many of them, but the absolute highlight for me was our visit to the local council offices (the Mairie). My daughter is at the early stages of learning French, but they were so kind and so encouraging when she explained what she was there for. The mayor himself joined in, asking her which house she'd bought, and when she told him, he was full of congratulations. It really was a joy to experience.

As for our brief excursions, Joinville is a beautiful town on the Marne and still more attractive to us because of its parallel canal. It reminded me of a mini Seville, with its narrow streets and ancient, shuttered houses. Chaumont, on the other hand, is an impressive city with a jaw-dropping railway viaduct. Set on a steep hill with its basilica at the top, it overlooks the Marne valley with stupendous views. Unfortunately, the afternoon we went there, it was rainy and overcast, but I can imagine the scenery and the city are stunning on a sunny day.

Here are a few of the photos I took:

The canal through Joinville

Lovely traditional blue shutters on the houses

A park next to the canal in Joinville


Restful tranquillity in the Joinville park

The canal between Champagne and Burgundy at
Gudmont in the commune of Villiers
The railway viaduct at Chaumont
Looking through the viaduct at Chaumont

Altogether, it was quite an intense but very enjoyable week in the heart of France's Grand Est region. We'll definitely be spending more time there in future. There is so much history and so much beauty in the area. I haven't even mentioned any of it here, but there will be more to come, that's for sure.

Have a good week allemaal, and I'll fill you in on some of the history we encountered next time.

Friday, October 06, 2023

Where has the time gone?

 It only seems like yesterday I was writing a summing up of August, albeit in September, but here we are at the end of the first week of October and I feel I've completely lost September in a kind of hazy mist. Okay, we had the grand adventure into France on the weekend of the 15th, halfway through the month, but for the life of me, I can't remember much of what we've done since then.

I know there's been quite a bit of boat painting involved – not major, large areas, but details like the railings on the Hennie H, which both Koos and I have been busy with (fiddly and time-consuming).

Fiddly, time-consuming railings

And I've repainted more of the panels on Vereeniging, which I need to do every year. I wish I could find solid wood in the right sizes at an affordable price. The thick plywood I've used lives up to its name as the ply part tends not to survive much in the way of wet weather, no matter how much I smear kit along the edges and paint them. I've replaced them all over the last few years, but the first ones I did are already showing signs of weather damage.

I've replaced all the side panels over the years

But the biggest job was last weekend's efforts to replace three engine cover gaskets on the Vereeniging. Again, on paper this isn't a big job, but it took time and the two of us spent most of last Saturday and Sunday doing it. The first job was to drain the sump of oil, which involved running the engine until it was warm – something Koos particularly enjoys, although I love the sound of the Samofa (aka Leaky Lou) as well. Then he sucked the old oil out with the nifty hand pump built onto the engine block. Having done that, the three covers were removed, which is where I came in. 

Two of the engine covers with their knobs
which unscrew to remove them (not my photo
by the way. It comes from a website called De Binnenvaart)

My job was to peel off what remained of the old gaskets and sealant, clean them and their mountings, (which look like the photo below when they're clean), and apply new sealant on both sides of the gaskets when replacing them.  

Also not my photo. This one comes from
a website called Marine Power Services

The most difficult part, oddly enough, was putting the covers back on. The knobs you can see in the first photo control a kind of cross bar at the back of the cover, which has to go inside the engine and be twisted round until it holds the cover in place. You then fix them by screwing the knobs back in. Sounds easy, yes? Well, no. Because the cross bars are longer than the height or width of the openings, you have to put them in diagonally. But even that is unbelievably tricky. 

Koos tried top right to bottom left; it didn't work. Then he tried top left to bottom right. That didn't work either. Agh! However, in both these efforts, he was trying to put the bottom of the cross bar in first. After numerous frustrating attempts and a bit of damage to one of the new gaskets (sigh), we eventually discovered it was essential to put the top of the cross bar in first, lift the cover up a bit and then the bottom of the bar would go in easily. VoilĂ ! The reason? There's more room to manoeuvre at the top than the bottom; it really was that simple. 

After this revelation (and a good half hour), the process went smoothly and all the covers were back in place. You have no idea how relieved we were.

The only thing left was to put new oil in the engine, which I didn't yet have. With these old motors, it's best to use 30 grade oil. Sorry for being technical here, but normal vehicles use 10-40 grade. Just so you know.  Thirty grade is a bit more expensive, of course, but luckily I can get it locally, so with seven litres now in the car, tomorrow will be the day for testing whether all our efforts have helped reduce a few of Lou's leaks. Fingers crossed!

See? This is what my memory is reduced to. I can only think of these paltry highlights to the weeks to mark the passing of the month. Maybe I need to add a few photos that I took in our neck of the woods to the mix. 

Have a good weekend, allemaal and enjoy your autumn/spring wherever you happen to be.

A rather unusual ship. I have no idea what it's for so if anyone
has a clue...?

My beautiful barge in our lovely harbour

A moving war memorial I discovered in
Terneuzen our nearest town

Zoe guarding her terrain