Monday, August 8, 2011

Reims to Vitry-le-François.

We didn’t spend too long at Reims for two reasons. The first being that we had promised our grand-children that we would have them for a couple of weeks in August. We had promised this when our initial plan was to blast down to Seté but our slow speed made that arrangement a non-starter. The new plan was to have them when we got to the Saône and spend a few weeks with them there. To do that we needed to step up a gear, or two, as we hadn’t really got out of first gear. The second reason was that a cheaper and far nicer port was only a short distance down the canal. Friends had recommended Sillery to us and we wanted to see if it lived up to its reputation. At 1030 hours on Thursday 21st July we left Reims to travel the 10km and 4 locks to the Port du Pleasance at Sillery. 2½ hours later, tied up to British-style pontoons, we weren’t disappointed. Although the rain on the way down had dampened our spirits, the sight of Sillery, located in a wide bend of the canal, and its long pontoons jutting out from the bank and boats tied up beam-on to the bank soon raised them. Although crowded (with many British boats), a berth loomed out in front of us and we just drifted into it. Sillery was up to expectation, with all the facilities of Reims but at €8.40 per night. And then the sun came out to make it a very pleasant afternoon. A short stroll around the area found shops offering all the basic needs.

With our new-found vigour, we left Sillery the following morning to travel through three locks up to the summit (at 96m), pass through the Mont-de-Billy tunnel (2.3km long) and then down a series of eight locks to Condé-sur-Marne (a total distance of 24km). Condé is a Port du Pleasance formed from a widening in the canal near to its junction with the Canal lateral a la Marne and is comprised of finger pontoons very tightly packed together with electric/water pods at the head of each berth. Typically designed for shorter, shallower and more manoeuvrable pleasure boats, we found it difficult to take one of the inside berths between the live-aboards already moored there. We were greeted by one of the British residents there who gave us the ‘low down’ about the place. He and his wife had been at Condé for eight years and used it as a base to tour the canal system. They were very informative and above all, a very pleasant couple. The village is a 10-minute walk away and has the usual bread/cake shop and bar/tabac. We popped in the bar/tabac for a coffee and found that it was also a hotel and restaurant of, lets say, meagre means. It was run by a middle-aged woman and two young girls that followed her around wherever she went. Indian-file springs to mind. By here appearance they were grand-children or nieces helping out in their summer holidays as she took time to show them what she was doing. The only patrons of the place were a group of Australians who we recognised from Sillery. As we chatted they told us they were moored near to us at the port. We spent the rest of the sunny afternoon chatting with them. As we were leaving, Hil noticed that the lady was offering evening meals and, since it was too hot to cook (as Hilary said) we booked a ‘plate de jour’ for the evening. As it happens, the Ozzies had done the same so that when we returned at seven o’clock, the small restaurant was soon bristling with eight people. This was a meal we shall not forget. A starter of home-made quiche lorraine, a main course of boiled chicken in butter sauce with two veg and couscous, bread and cheese, a sweet comprising of a chunk of possibly chocolate brownie with another chunk of soft meringue on a custard base, all followed by coffee and a large flute of the local sweet champagne. Superb value at €18 each. All eaten on one knife, fork and spoon and served by very polite children. And of course there was the banter, started by the Ozzies but soon to spread throughout the room. By the end of the evening, everyone was laughing and joking and strangely being able to understand each others’ language – I blame the champagne! As I say, a night to remember.

The following morning when we went to pay our €7 berthing fee, we were told, quite politely, that the book was full and we didn’t have to pay. A full receipt book was produced and it appears that without a receipt, no money could be paid. The man had a large grin on his face as he told us so I’m not sure really what was going on. But, as the man says, no receipt, no pay. We didn’t argue, and gingerly manoeuvred out off the berth.

A short distance away was the Canal lateral a Marne where we again turned east and headed towards Vitry-le-François where our last canal before the Saône started. This was a lovely warm sunny day and the trip, although not scenic was enjoyable. This canal is the direct link between Paris and the upper Saône and follows the River Marne where, in its upper reaches, has been widened into a canal. The ‘canalised’ section is the one we were travelling and its long straight stretches between locks soon identified it as being constructed later in the networks history. It took us 7½ hours that day to travel the 48km and 11 locks to Vitry.
 The Port du Pleasance at Vitry-le-François

The port du pleasance at Vitry is another designed for the smaller craft. Located in an un-used section of the old canal, the finger pontoons are on one side, leaving access from the main branch down the side of the cut to moor bows-to in the berths. It’s a bit tight and a it short of water but, as we found, accessible if took cautiously. My only concern was that there would be enough room to warp the stern round to get back out – we’ll see!

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