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 caf├ę 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Gew├╝rztraminer 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.