The morning in Demange-aux-Eaux started with the sound of church bells, loud and insistent church bells. At 6am! With no boulangerie to rush to and no need to get going until 9am, we could have slept a little later. Oh well. We were tied very close to the lock so threw off our lines a few minutes before 9 and hoped for the best.
Lo and behold, it was prepared and ready for us. We went in through the usual carpet of weed, cut grass and other detritus. The perfect mix for blocking our water intakes. Once through the lock, we headed straight round to the tunnel. As we approached, the red light switched to green for us. We had been told the previous day that we would be accompanied through the tunnel, and were curious to see how this would happen.
The two VNF staff that had let us through the lock, then got into their van and raced us to the tunnel entrance. Not much of a contest as we trundle along at around 8 kilometres per hour. By the time we got there, a bicycle had been unloaded from the back of the van and whoever had drawn the short straw was putting on a cycle helmet. We proceeded to drive through 4.8km of tunnel accompanied by a man on a bicycle! I am unsure what he would have done if we had a major problem, but as Cy pointed out, there were panniers on the bicycle, so possibly equipped for all eventualities… The absurdity of this was not lost on us. As we emerged from the tunnel, we noticed that his colleague had helpfully driven round to pick him up.
Tunnels are often at, or near the summit, so where we had been going up, we now started to head down. It is a bit easier descending in a lock as you don’t have the performance of trying to get the rope over your head to a bollard you can’t see. It has to be said, we have both improved significantly in our rope throwing. I do however, still feel the need to yell BOOM every time I get it on on the first throw (and do a strange shimmy and fist pump – Cy).
We had some heavy rain and storms in the early part of the afternoon, so the full waterproofs had to be dug out again. Several of the pounds had a lot of weed growing, so we had the usual problem with clogging. We’ve developed a bit of a routine. Once inside the lock, I manage the line (we get away with one rope whils decending) and Cy clears the water intakes.
We reached our intended stopping place, Pargny-sur-Meuse, at 3pm. It was a reasonable pontoon and the town was close, so we headed over for a look. Conveniently for us, virtually the first building we stumbled across was a bar. A cold beer always seems like a good idea and today was no exception. The owner spoke excellent English and we had a good old natter, before wandering off to locate the boulangerie ready for the morning and then returned to Doris. We enjoyed the bar so much, we thought we’d head back later for a bit of grub. It was simple and inexpensive. Cy was delighted with his huge burger and chips. I just had chips. It is fair to say that vegetarianism does not play a huge role in French culture. Still, I had a lot of chips and some beer, so was not unhappy.
We headed off the next day towards Toul. It was a relatively easy trip, with no delays. One short tunnel and a few locks later and we were there. The only minor lock-related problem was where there had been an electrical fire. A VNF agent was on site with a generator to open and close the doors, a procedure which required much plugging and unplugging of various cables. It all worked though and we arrived at our destination around lunchtime and were pleasantly surprised to see a large, modern looking port. We found a space, tied up and I went off to complete the formalities. The office was only open between 5 and 6pm, so we had lunch and went off for a wander around Toul instead.
We were very short of groceries but being a Sunday there was nothing to be done about it. With the majority of businesses closed, we probably didn’t see Toul at it best. It had a very impressive cathedral and the old town fortifications were interesting but otherwise, there was not much happening. One thing that did catch my eye was the memorial to the town’s resistance fighters in WW2. It was a large monument and covered in fresh flowers. I am not sure whether it always has wreaths on or it had been part of the recent VE day celebrations. It was a hot, sunny day and there was a tabac conveniently located near the port, so we finished our exploration of the town with a nice cold beer.
Our destination for Monday 15th was Nancy. From Toul, there is the option of heading either North or South. South takes you round the Nancy branch canal, which is said to be the more scenic but involves considerably more locks. Going North takes you on a stretch of the Moselle river and then into Nancy through its industrial area. As this is the quicker route, this is the one we opted for. We left Toul at 9 and by 10:15 were on the Moselle. We had seen nothing like it so far, it is so much wider than the waterways we had become accustomed to.
It does form part of a commercial network and the lock sizes will accommodate much larger barges than we had seen for a while. To be precise, most of the locks are 12m x 176m. We approached our first one of these quite soon. Amazingly, the light was green on approach. We went in, towards the front half to accommodate any other boats that may come in behind. We were expecting to have to wait a while for some other vessels but as soon as we were safely tied up, the doors began to close. To put it in perspective, Doris could have fitted into the lock 38 times and with a descent of 4.4m, this means that over 9000 cubic metres of water was used during the lock cycle, just for us! We felt very small indeed. At the next one, we had to wait for this barge to emerge first. 12m by 110m is a lot of barge!
There is a large commercial port at Frouard, just north of Nancy where the commercial barges load. From this point it was back to the smaller locks. We tied up in a slightly dubious spot in the afternoon as there was a supermarket for me to replenish our grocery supplies, then headed into the town itself. On arrival at Nancy, we were greeted by the harbour master, Franck. He was super friendly and helped us to tie up. We quickly headed off to the famous Stanislas Square. The blue sky and bright evening sun definitely showed it at its best, but it is really lovely with it’s golden gates.
As usual, we went for the cold beer option and then wandered off in a slightly alcoholic stupor for a bit more of an explore.
We found a small cobbled street filled with restaurants. It was early in the evening and the place was buzzing. On closer inspection, most of the eateries even offered some vegetarian dining choices. Eating out is not something we can do often due to budgetary constraints, but we loosened the purse strings (and our belts…) for the evening and went to a super Indian restaurant. The food and a little more beer were eagerly consumed whilst trying, unsuccessfully, to mimic the French casual approach to eating and conversing slowly. Oblivious to our cultural shortcomings, we sauntered home in a blissful haze.