Saturday July 22nd.
It was a long day.
We departed Mareuil-sur-Ay early, 8am, in convoy with the Australian boat Le Piglet. We were both heading up the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne to Sillary.
Along this shortish canal the locks are controlled in ‘chains’, once you start at the beginning you should continue until you reach the end of the chain. The locks hold two boats at a time. The first chain was eight locks close together.
Unfortunately for us, although we started early, there was a commercial barge (that took up the full length of the lock) and another boat (smaller but the three of us couldn’t fit in together) in front slowing down the chain and so we had to wait at every lock. Very frustrating on a windy day!
The 2.3km Billy tunnel was fine, we just had to wait half an hour for a green light. After the tunnel things were just as slow and the day seemed to go on forever. After eight hours we still hadn’t reached Sillery and it started to rain.
Finally after nine hours we cruised into Sillery to find the port full. But there were plenty of helpers on land and we managed to squeeze onto the wall, tying our ropes around some hedge trunks. No power but we were happy to be there!
Sunday July 23. A boat left at 7.30am so we got up and quickly moved Silver Fern onto a pontoon with power. The weather continued to be patchy but we went for a walk around Sillery finding an Intermarché and what is proported to be The Best Boulangerie in France. I don’t know who decided that but the baguettes were outstanding so maybe it’s true!
There was a Vide Grenier (flea market/garage sale) on with loads of other people’s rubbish for sale. With a limited amount of storage space on a boat we don’t buy anything we don’t need so left empty handed, apart from the baguette. Priorities.
Monday July 24- Tuesday July 25th we mooched around Sillery and stayed out of the on/off rain. We stocked up at the Intermarché and enjoyed those delicious baguettes every lunch time.
Wednesday July 25th. We caught the 10.09am bus to Reims. What a beautiful city, in particular the Notre Dame Cathedral is stunning. It was on this site, although a previous church, St Nicaise, where Clovis the Franc was baptised by St Rémi, on Christmas Eve c.498, the beginning of the Christian tradition of the Francs. From 816 to 1825, 34 Sovereigns came to Reims to be coronated as Christian Kings. From 1211-1280 the new cathedral was built in the Gothic tradition of soaring to the light and to be closer to God (if I remember Art History 101).
Since the 14th century war, plague and famine as well as a roof fire and then the devastation of bombing during WW1 reaped havoc on the building but thanks to donations, particularly from the Rockefeller family, the cathedral has been beautifully restored, (although now it is under attack from pollution and weather). There are some incredible stained glass windows by Marc Chagall (1887-1985), a French very famous painter.
Next door is the Palais du Tau, built as the bishops palace and now a museum of treasures found and restored from the cathedral and displayed here. There are massive tapestries from the choir, ornate vestments of the priests and huge sculptures. The treasury alone is stunning. Well worth the 8€ entrance fee.
After lunch we decided to walk to the musée de la Reddition, or Surrender Museum, where on May 7, 1945 at 2.41am in the War Room of General Eisenhower’s SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces) secretly set up in a Reims technical college, the Allied Forces obtained the unconditional surrender of the armies of the Third Reich. The room where the meeting took place has been preserved exactly as it was and is fascinating. What I also find interesting is that the site has continued to be a school, now called the Lycée Roosevelt!
Later we caught the bus back to Sillery having enjoyed an excellent day in Reims.
Thursday, July 26th.
That morning we tuned in, at 6am, to our dear friend Mike William’s funeral on the Gold Coast, Australia, via a live feed. It was a very sad morning but we appreciated being able to have attended in this way.
Directly afterwards we departed the Sillery port, again in tandem with Amanda and Peter on Le Piglet, and, this time much more quickly, headed back along the canal and down to Chalons-en-Champagne. We heard there is a bridge under repair further along the Canal Entre Champagne et Bourgogne closing the waterway until August 4th so were very pleased to take the last two spaces on the pontoon in Chalons. We will stay there for a week as it’s a beautiful city with lots to see and do and it’s a reasonable price. We also heard there are problems on other canals, generally due to lack of water with some boats running aground, so plans are, as usual, very fluid. Shame the water isn’t!
This week’s stats:
Mareuil-sur-Ay to Sillery:
7.8 engine hours, 33kms, 13 locks and 1 tunnel
Sillery to Chalons-en-Champagne
7.5 engine hours, 40kms, 13 locks and 1 tunnel
Year to date:
Engine hours: 133.5