Day 6: … Carmen’s Polka Dot Bikini

Well it finally happened. Carmen got dragged into one of our completely nonsensical intellectual arguments. And lo and behold, instead of siding with me–which would be obvious– or siding with Leslie– which while wrong headed, would at least be expeditious, she decided to introduce a third opinion into the mix. Well as you might think, we needed another bottle of wine.

It was a 2010 Gold medal winning vin D’Alsace Pinot Noir produced at Cave Vinicole a Hunawihr Haut-Rhin, or, as I like to call it, a better tasting Strawberry Angel.

Seriously, as if Carmen having her own opinion wasn’t enough shock to the system, the translucent colour and effervescent fullness sent us scrambling for the bottle to make sure we were still in France. As a Pinots go, this was the skrawny kid from the Charles Atlas ads who got sand kicked in his face. Unfortunately this particular scrawny kid is never going to put on bulk, he’s destined to be that poor pathetic cousin of a good wine for his entire existence.

But if you thought of it as a well done Strawberry Angel, it wasn’t half bad. Certainly better than Carmen’s or Leslie’s reasoning abilities…

Anyway, all this to say it was 1:50 before the second round of candles burned out.

Morning was therefore slow. A little shower, a little coffee, a quick bit of blogging and I am almost awake.u also awoke to find Carmen hanging out in her pajama bottoms and bikini top. At least that’s what she told me. Oh well, now to get Leslie up and about.

Last night across from the restaurant there was mural on the side of a yellow building. I noticed the Hansel & Gretel, Leslie commented on the fairies, but Carmen’s eyes went straight to the booby witch. After diner the hostess gave us souvenir postcards of the mural. Carmen immediately hung Witchy Boobs on the wall for the duration.

20120801-173811.jpg

After Leslie crawled out of bed we cast off and head out. For a while Carmen hung out in her bikini (top and bottoms), — again, at least thats what she told me– catching some rays and woking on the tan lines eventually she couldn’t take the heat so she went into the kitchen.

There are fewer locks now that we have reaches the plains. The German family from yesterday pulled out around the same time and they followed us through the locks for the rest of the morning. Turns out they are actually Dutch living in Switzerland. I think they were speaking German though.

A couple of locks from our destination, we came across a lock under repair. So we pulled over and had lunch and waited them out. After food Carmen remembered the Leffe Ruby she had picked so we grabbed a beer while we waited. Turns out though that the Ruby refers, not to red, but to fruit. Leffe Ruby tastes an awful lot like the Pinot from last night… Bubbly and fruity. But very cold.

Lock fixed and we were off. Today was a classic example of the weather we have been having. Cold this morning. Alternating cloud and sunshine for most of the day and then scorching heat as we approached Strasbourg. We decided to risk it and head straight for the city. I was pretty nervous as it was late afternoon and there were limited spots at the harbor. And we are cruising through some pretty industrial harbour so I am unsure of where we’ll stop.

Through the last lock, our first going up, and we are here. A lady at the marina gestures and we snag the last spot in the marina. Its stern to the dock so i back it in. Even got a thumbs up from the spectators. So we are here and that gives us power and water and wifi for 3 days.

After signing in and hooking up we wandered into town. It’s now 31 degrees and the sun is beating down so everyone’s wondering what to do to get out of the heat. So we head to the Cathedral. I can’t say it’s my favourite cathedral in France, but what can you say that’s bad about any 1000 year old edifice.

20120801-174243.jpg

After we wandered down to Gutenberg Square and indulged in Pork Knuckles… an Alsatian speciality. Salty, salty goodness. A walk around town and back to the boat as night falls. It’s been a long hot day.
20120801-174258.jpg

Oh and I can’t get the wifi to work so you will have to wait for pictures.

20120801-210327.jpg

Day 5: You’ve Got Biere!

Morning. Still no booze. I thought maybe the Booze Fairy might visit, but I guess she was too drunk on the booze we missed out on to haul her fairy ass to our boat.

Luckily after much stretching and groaning and a bit of whining, Carmen and L hit the roads in the bikes to fetch me my booze. I made a list. It had Maple Joe and booze. And booze. And booze. They came back with booze and the Maple Joe. Apparently you have to write it down at least 6 times if you really want it.

After we loaded the fridge with wine, beer and cider we cast off and headed for the first lock. At the first lock a VNCF fellow was painting so he started the cycle for us. These automatic locks are odd.

We cruised on down the canal and stopped for lunch around Dettwiller. Fresh baguette, Dijon mustard, ham, tomatoes and some French white pepper: France incarnate. Soon we were on our way again and eventually a German family in a large steel boat (Kuhnle lines) slid into a lock behind us. They followed on a few locks and then disappeared. I assume they stopped for lunch.

Coincidentally, so did we. At the next lock the lock was stuck in upstream position, so Leslie whipped out her French and used the intercom to ask them to activate ecluse 38. Nothing happened. Eventually a few boats coming from the other direction entered the lock at the same time as the VNCF employees showed up to cycle the lock by hand.

Once agin we were floating. Today’s travels featured storks. Apparently storks hang out in fields while waiting for the next delivery. I posit that the corn fields have something to do with baby production. Carmen just thinks the storks are misguided and a bit lost.

Eventually we passed through the last lock in Waltenheim Sur Zorn and moored up behind a huge converted barge. A few moments later everything was locked down and locked up and we hoofed it into town. These Alsatian towns are distinctly German in feel. It is at least what I’ve always imagined German feels like. Lots of cuckoo clock-like balconies, half timbered frames and colour. Lots and lots of colour. And a goat.

20120801-173736.jpg

One of the interesting features of the architecture is the homes seem to be built in a giant ‘U’. One side is a home, one side is a barn and the centre is a courtyard. The U is generally closed off by giant sliding doors. As we strolled around we’d often see the interiors with old tack, broken down tractors…typical average farm yards. But in the middle of town.

In one yard there was a family of goats milling around. As we passed by, the Billy took one look at Carmen and bleated “Now there’s a woman who will appreciate an old goat!” He immediately charged on to the street, making Leslie run and Bruce jump and Carmen smile.

We all said hello and proceeded up hill. The goat decided that was a great plan. As we toured the town, church, schools, lovely rose gardens, Mr Goat showed us the sights and commented on the taste of the various rose varieties and a small taste test of the rosemary. It gave Carmen ideas, but this year she managed to refrain from petty herb theft. It was a bit disconcerting when he charged to catch up. The clippy-clop of the hooves on the cobblestone coming up behind you combined with the 18″ horns generally made you dive to one side or another.

As we reached the outskirts of town we decided to turn back and see if we could drop off our guide at home. About half way back we found a lonely goat herd in search of a goat. She grabbed him by the horns, pointed him home and started dragging. A few badly phrased words revealed his name was Willy and from her severe countenance, we gleaned that escorting tourists was definitely NOT an official duty.

In another note, Carmen had whipped up a dough this morning before we cast off and all day watched it rise. Since she had no Zak this year (Zak, if you read this, you are missed), she basically had to amuse herself in the bow watching yeast rise and the occasional bit of laundry. Since I saw her wear at least 4 sets of pants by noon — she had some weird-ass excuse (pun intended) about slippery butts and waist slippage — I guess she needed to start in on the laundry, even though it’s only day 5. Anyway, there’s dough.

On the way back we watched a few boats go through the lock, including the German family we had met earlier. The lock employee had met earlier was also there and another German fellow in a beautiful private boat was up front in the lock. And then the shout. Somehow the stern line in the hire boat got tied off and the water was dropping. This would eventually hang up the stern and potentially roll the boat. The private boat owner notices first and the lock guy dived for the emergency cutoff. They caught it in time and as the lock keeper was actually present, he was able to reverse he lock until there was enough slack to untie the line. Reverse the cycle once again and it was all good. Nice to see my worst nightmare happen to someone else and not me.

Back at the boat we unshipped the bikes. An anonymous French dog-walker had informed us there was no boulangerie in Waltenheim sur Zorn and, while there was a bread truck, we’d have to head into Mommenheim to find anything else. Since Mommenheim is only 2k down the road we pedaled our asses over and toured around and picked a few emergency baguettes.

20120801-173755.jpg

Back at the boat we moved onto Restaurant à l’Ancre for dinner. An awesome little place alongside the lock. I had a meteor beer from the local brewery at Hochfelden while the other two went for a Demi pichette of Pinot Auxerrois. We’d never heard of it but it was lovely. Leslie rekindled her affair with pizza Napoli (capers and anchovies… Blech!) and Carmen had a chef’s salad with blanc de poulet, lardon, egg and I think there might have been some lettuce in there somewhere. I had a local specialty called Tarte de Flambé. It’s basically a super thin crust pizza with a different cheese. Pretty damn good. An expresso for C and I finished it off (apparently her first) and we wandered home to crack a bottle of pure Alsatian white wine education. First up: Chasselas. Not dry, but dry. Not sweet, but sweet.

Ah, France.

Note: Shoech Ammerschwihr was the winery of the Pinot Auxerrois.

Day 4: Timing Still Sucks

Morning has broken. But Carmen fixed it by boiling me water, laying out my cup and spoon and fetching my first real baguette of the trip from the boulangerie. Well she says she boiled her water, layed out her cup and spoon and fetched her baguette, but since I ended up with the coffee, I’m pretty sure I know who’s right.

Anyway after a shower and breakfast of butter, baguette and jam, I washed dishes and went for a short walk. Very pretty here. When I got back Leslie called the base and told them about our bicycle. They said they’d be here in an hour with a replacement, so we will wait to start our trip to Saverne.

20120801-173145.jpg

Still no wifi so I am posting using my 10 meg data roaming package. I will try and add images later when I find a connection.

20120801-173250.jpg

So 2 hours later out replacement bike showed up and we cast off. 2 minutes later we ties up again because the lock was closed. Luckily the Dutch boat behind us had a lovely lady whose French was sufficient to intercom the VNCF and get the cycle restarted.

I let them pass and we fillers them through the next several locks. It’s beautiful countryside with lots of hills, trees and old forts perched atop them.

We slowly got into the groove and the locks were generally smooth. Eventually the Dutch couple got one lock ahead and we didn’t see her and her husband Du Maurier (at least that’s what Carmen called home due to his chain smoking) again until Saverne.

The last two locks of the day we followed an Aussie crew in another hire boat. It was supervised by a gentleman with bigger cock-swinging issues than Carmen’s brother Craig. Which of course set off Carmen’s typical defense to such issues and Leslie and I had to keep our heads down for a while lest we get clobbered by the ever increasing swings of testosterone-like egos. To her credit, he was a bit of a nosy dick.

The lock at Saverne is deep so it backed up quite a bit. Eventually we made it through into Saverne proper but the harbor was full. Around the corner there was a low bridge that we scraped our umbrella along, bending it a bit. Hopefully not too much to get our deposit back.

One more lock and we called it a day in a more industrial looking area. Carmen and Leslie unshipped the bikes and headed to find some groceries. I read and dozed for a bit.

Quite a time later the two saddest looking girls I have ever seen showed up and announced that there was no booze to be had on a Sunday after 6. Oh and no groceries as well. But no booze. No wine. No wine in the Alsace. No wine today at all. No. Wine.

After I dried my tears I invited the girls to prove it, so we hoofed it back into town. On the way around the marina we encounter a couple of guys singing the French Blues outside a pug. Apparently sensing our country roots they immediately swung into Country Roads as we walked by. The mountain mama line is killer with a French accent!

As we walked across the old quarter, we soon encounter our first church of the trip at exactly the right time to assuage our increasing despair. Honest to God ( no pun intended) I love old churches. They are such an awesome blend of humble human and all that humanity can be. The entrance and main tower were 12 century but it had been bombed in WWI. All the stained glass was newer and, as Carmen said, quite depressing rather than uplifting. The detail on the arches were also magnificent.

We settled on the Brasserie de L’ami Fritz. I had a Licorne Black, while they shared a pichet if Pinot Gris. Our waiter kept switching from French to german, which is incredibly disturbing since you think you’re an idiot because you can’t understand. I looked especially foolish when I wondered out loud why he correct himself from ya to yes… It seemed awfully formal. Leslie pointed out it was Ja not ya with hardly a smirk in her lips.

20120801-173455.jpg

Eventually after a mediocre meal we wandered home still booze less and settled in to relax, blog and talk until lights out. Thankfully for my tender ears the dirty talk seemed to be done with the previous evening.

Day 3: Le boat

I didn’t get days one and two done before we left the hotel in the morning so I will like post this one at the same time. Maybe the boat base will have wifi as the train station doesn’t.

Morning was another cool shower and down stairs for breakfast. Carmen had beaten us there and had the café ready. 3 glasses of juice later and I started to perk up. The coffee helped too. French baguette and croissant, a little jam and we were good to go. A very loud gentleman (Spanish or Spanish-speaking) with better French than ours complained/discussed loudly things with our hostess and then the front desk clerk. I don’t think anything was actually bugging him, he just felt the need to loudly organize and discuss every little detail of his morning.

After breakfast Leslie and I zipped up the bags, and then we checked out. We grabbed our tickets at the train station for the short hop to Sarrebourgh and caught our regional on platform 33. Our train shenanigans continued. Since this was the first tickets we’d bought from a machine this trip, we forgot about validating them and were a bit shame-faced later in front to of the conductor.

A lovely 30 minutes later (it’s very beautiful and wooded here) I camped out in the Sarrebourgh station with the bags to write thus up while Carmen and Les shopped at Simply Market down the street. When they return, we will catch a cab to Hesse and the Le Boat base there and our rabbit hole for the next 11 days.

Well once agin we forgot about taxis. If you can’t get a taxi right away from the train station then you have to call. You can’t call unless you have a phone. If your cell doesn’t work, then you need a pay phone. Pay phones don’t work without a phone card. Train stations don’t sell phone cards. Hmmmm, I think I remember this from last time ,,,

Anyway Leslie smiles sweetly while butchering her sentences and the nice ticket lady called a cab. It was going to take 30 minutes though, so that and the girls leisurely shopping trip put us behind in my carefully planned schedule… but that’s ok because I’m breezy.

20120801-172657.jpg

Eventually the taxi arrived and then so did we: at the Le Boat base in Hesse. We checked in, loaded up and after a short bit of formalities were floating eastward. A private boat pulled out right after us so I pulled over and let him pass as I was still orienting myself to the boat.

We basically followed him the rest of the day. He was a Dutchman soloing and a joy to watch. As we three slowly worked to try and work together, he was steering, photographing, docking, locking and generally demonstrating a level of competence I’d love to acquire.

We cruises for about 15 minutes before he first tied up we followed and he gave us a hand with our ropes. The first docking was tucking in behind his beautiful boat, so I appreciated the help. After a brief chat we learned the ropes about a passing through the tunnels.

At this point of the Canal du Marne Rhine we are at the highest point and all the locks, east and west, go down from here. Just west of where we started are two large holding ponds that supply the water for the canals. Another feature of canal is that at this highest point there is usually a tunnel; this is so the water level stays below the actual ‘highest point’.

We were waiting for the light to turn green and give us permission to enter. After a short wait, 2 boats emerged and we were good to go. The first tunnel was short and you could see the exit: maybe 300 yards. It’s is narrow and cool and quite beautiful in its own way. After that we had to tie up again as the second tunnel was also occupied.

20120801-172828.jpg

The TGV line is about 5 feet off the other side of the canal, so when the first train gave barreling out of the tunnel it was less than 3 meters away.

The second tunnel is 2 km long and while the narrowness is a bit nerve-wracking, it’s also a bit exciting. In parts it is lined with brick and in others, just raw stone. There is an emergency phone about halfway through but thankfully it was unnecessary.

After that we cruised for another 30 minutes or so enjoying the hilly countryside – its a bit if a mini mountain range here – until we came to the Arviller Boat Lift. This lift was completed in the late 60s and replaced a series of 17 locks which had taken over 8 hours to go through. It is the largest inclined boat lift in the world. Basically you drive into a lock and then the lock just slides sideways up and down the hill. Pretty damned cool.

20120801-173003.jpg

One of the neat things about this trip is that we will be able to see it again in the leg back. Maybe I’ll be able to pay more attention since I’ll be more comfortable with the process.

About 5 minutes after the lift we hit our first lock, the first of 5 before we stopped for the night in Lutzlbourgh. Everyone remembered their jobs and we quickly traversed the remaining kilometers and pulled into the quay around 6pm.

Supper was baguette dogs and tomato salad. I went for a short bike ride before dinner and discovered one of the bikes had a faulty derailleur. Hopefully we can contact the base tomorrow and get it replaced. Dinner was accompanied by a Gold Medal winning Gewürztraminer which met with mixed reviews.

It was also accompanied by Leslie succeeding at out-dirtying Carmen. Something about old Dutchman, must bring it out in her. It also rained a bit and cooled down the air pleasantly.

After dinner we padded around town and enjoyed the beautiful village. France is such a visual delight and everyone in these small towns is friendly.

A bottle of Burgundy red, some penis pretzels, a few more dirty jokes and we were ready to crash for the night.

Day One/Two: missed it by ‘that’ much

20120728-111936.jpg

Well I don’t know about anyone else, but 3 pm is too late to leave on a trip. I was up by 5 and bored by 10. That left me 5 hours to fuss. And Leslie 5 hours to worry. And gave C 5 extra hours to repack. And most importantly it gave the cats 5 extra hours to look daggers at us. They were not amused by the packing.

But in the end we were on our way. 25 minutes from our door on the west Henday and we were turning off into the airport. And then the wardrobe malfunction happened. Luckily she had a small sewing kit in her luggage so she was able to sew that button back where it belonged before we checked in. As Carmen later quipped: We saw Frankfurt, We saw France, We (almost) saw Carmen’s underpants.

Speaking of which (time I mean), they only had 2 lanes going at security so our 30 minute buffer was being eaten away to the point we thought we’d have to jump the queue. This sort of set the tone for the whole journey. But then they opened more lanes. But then Carmen was ‘randomly selected’. But then it was over and we dashed aboard our Dash 8 for Calgary.

In YYC we wandered to our departure gate and then gathered round and ate a bagel; Leslie’s came with a side of RAF military transport. We’d shelled out cash for posh seats by the bulkhead so we were stoked to board.

At this point C was bored so she, as is her wont, demanded a story. Topic: boozy bear. Once upon a time a man named Jaques Hiebert lived in a town in France. Jaques drank quite a lot. So much in fact the people felt he was a bit of a drunk. When he was stumbling home in the mornings they would yell out ‘Hey Boozy!’ as he passed. And so he became known as Boozy Hiebert. The End.

The flight was good. I didn’t sleep but the other two caught a few winks. Dinner was passable but breakfast was stale muffin and yogurt. The red wine was deplorable so I had two. The bulkhead seats meant we had room to shuffle around a lot, I was even able to leave my seat, step over Leslie and go to the lavatory without waking her. Sheer luxury.

Not so soon, we arrived in Frankfurt and shuffled through customs. It was surprisingly efficient and we found ourselves at the train station hours before I had planned. This enabled us to book a different route to Strasbourgh than I had planned. We grabbed tickets, with reserved seats for 1 leg in advice of the DB Bahn agent.

Walking to the platform we were passed by Boingy Bunny’s cousin, Boingy Baby. Boingy was strapped to the back of her obviously late parent was enjoying a bouncy trip down the corridor. She seemed quite pleased.

So down to platform 5 to await the notoriously precise German trains. At around 12:45 a train rolled in and we boarded, found seats and sighed. The trained pulled out and stopped a few minutes later at Frankfurt Main (which I thought we’d avoided). We lost our seats because they’d been reserved and we settled in by the doors.

At this point I noticed the display. And I didn’t recognize the train number nor the next destination. After a bit of discussion and checking and a conversation with a British girl we all decided that not only were we in the wrong train, but it was going the wrong way, was an express and wouldn’t be stopping again for an hour. Only the fact that the seasoned European traveler (the British girl) had made the same mistake prevented us from committing ritual hari-kari on the spot.

When the ticket agent came by we found out that this train was running late so it had changed gates at the last minute and we had jumped on by mistake. She booked us tickets back to Strasbourg on the next train out of Kessel-Wilhelmshöhe.
20120728-105016.jpg
Unfortunately as the train was already running late and suffered a few more delays, we arrived at Kessel 1 minute before our connection was due to depart, 3 gates over. The British girl, unburdened by luggage made it. We did not.

So I trudged up to the ticket office to try again. As an aside, I find my French deplorable and barely sufficient to be allowed in France. My war-movie German would be better off called nonexistent and I am still a bit ashamed to be in Germany. The ticket people are nice though and likely used to us tourists.

After getting yet another new itinerary we settled down at our new gate and checked twice before boarding. The original ticket agents advice to reserve seats was good advice because we didn’t sit in another chair until we reached Offenburg and the small regional French train that was our last leg into Strasbourg. At one point it was wall to wall in the vestibule we had settled in. The only really unfortunate part was the areas outside of the seating areas was not air conditioned and the temperature was hovering around 33. Oh, and we hadn’t eaten and had very little water.

Did I mention this train was running late too? An hour and a bit later and we were back where we started at Frankfurt Main. At each succeeding station the announcer (now giving us a brief English translation) would announce which connections were being held for passengers. It looked like were going to need the help too.

In the end we made our connection, finally sat in seats, enjoyed the air conditioning and arrived in Strasbourgh tired, very sweaty and hungry. My vote was for food, shower, sleep but I was outnumbered and shower-food-sleep it was. Hotel-du-Rhin was across the square from the Gare so it was a short walk to our rooms.

After ablutions, we met and upon the suggestion of the hotel clerk, headed to Petite-France, the old quarter of Strasbourgh. Dinner was pizzas, our first bottle of Alsatian Pinot Gris and a beautiful evening on the narrow cobblestone street, complete with itinerant clarinet player.

A lovely walk home in the dying moments of the day and we were home again. One last cold shower for me to try and shed the heat and I was asleep until a terrific thunderstorm woke me up hours later. I don’t think Leslie slept well as every time I woke to grab a drink of water (which was often, I was so dehydrated) she was up reading.

All in all, an adventurous 2 days.

20120728-105031.jpg

20120728-112119.jpg

20120728-105046.jpg

MacBlaze’s Weekly Tweets for 2012-07-22

Powered by Twitter Tools

The BIG Announcement

Well we are going back to Europe; France mostly. An 11 day cruise through the Alsace Lorraine. I was very close to ‘jumping ship’ and booking with Nicols, but I left it too long and the boat I had my eye on got snatched up. Then when I switched back to 2 week trip with Le Boat, that one was gone too. I compromised and ended up with a lovely Calypso for 11 days. It’s still Le Boat but it is a round trip from Hesse, France, which is the first time we have done a round trip.

We are going to fly in to Frankfurt, Germany (cheaper and closer to our end destination) and take the train to Strasbourgh. From there it’s just a short hop to Hesse the next morning.

After the canal cruise we have 10 days or so that are currently unscheduled. Maybe some more Alsace, maybe some Black Forest. Hard to tell.

Zak has elected not to go. He’s going to stay home, look after the cats and warm up for his 21st birthday. Carmen, on the other hand, has agreed to grace us with her presence. The Alsace is, after all, the third largest wine producing region after… wait for it… Bordeaux and Burgundy… I sense a theme.

MacBlaze’s Weekly Tweets for 2012-07-15

Powered by Twitter Tools

MacBlaze’s Weekly Tweets for 2012-07-08

  • Just found out season 4 of Battle of the Blades was cancelled due to Federal funding cuts 🙁 #itwasmykindofculture #DenounceHarper #
  • Yes . RT @GrammarMonkeys: Is it really too much to ask for people to stop using apostrophes to create plurals? http://t.co/adzaB2LD #
  • @akemimats Jim is going to tweet! #
  • 🙂 RT @britl: Happy Friday! And now for something completely different… A #ff to the man who created Comic Sans. @VincentConnare #
  • 120M out of 180M customers fail to change their default password! http://t.co/Zy9RS7R1 #communicationfail #
  • I noticed 😉 @EPCOR: Power is out for customers in the area of 97th St – 127 St / 140th Ave – 167th Ave. Crews responding. #YEG #

Powered by Twitter Tools

Communication Fail

120,000 out of 180,000 corporate customers of IT giant KPN failed to change their default password (welkom01), forcing them to shut down their portal due to the inherent security risks.

The story: http://www.cio.com/article/710197/KPN_Closes_Portal_After_Two_thirds_of_Corporate_Customers_Found_Using_Default_Password

The first question that pops to mind is whose fault is it? Then you realize it was everyone’s: from system designers to customer relations to customers etc. Overall it was a complete communication failure. You can see how everyone assumed that the other realized the implications and would act to prevent such a ridiculous situation. Yet no one did.

This is really why I have my job. The things people assume… Sigh.