Sunday, June 18, 2023

Saarbrücken - 49 14' 10"N, 06 56' 11"W

Back in Alsace, we had a weather window of a few days so we decided a little cycle tour was in order. Not a Gord Gilbertson cycle tour but a far more leisurely pedal along the canals, first to Saverne then onto Saarbrüken along the Eurovélo 5 and spend time taking in vistas and stopping to read all the informational signs. 

We had our touring bikes so, travelling light with one pannier and a front bag each, we pedalled north. We have ridden to Saverne on previous trips but decided a night's stay would allow us to explore the town. Despite much of the route being along the canals, it was a hot ride and we were pleased to arrive.  The beer went down an absolute treat!

Replenishing carbohydrates

The Chateau des Rohan, now a municipal building

The canal is just outside the Chateau

We wandered down along the canals to a lock to see how it all worked.  It is a great system.  A series of lights indicate stop, enter and I know you are here and I am preparing the lock for you. Once inside the lock, you pull a lever, the gates close and up or down you go.  

A typical user-operated lock

Blue starts the lock transition (and a blue light indicates is is working)
and red is the emergency stop

It was fairly quiet on the canal so we waited until a boat came along so we could watch the process.  The lock didn't seem to be working and the woman from the boat wandered up to see why.  And she was an Aussie!  After a brief chat, she invited us aboard to experience gong through the lock.  Not an experience we would say no to!

Kate pulls the cord that opens the lock for entry 

Belinda and Martin bought their canal boat a few years ago.  She is fully electric so purrs along silently. We ended up going about 5km and through seven locks with them.  We became quite the dab hand at line handling. What a lovely way to travel. Thanks Martin and Belinda! We wandered back along the canal being quite the experts at canal travel!

Outside our Bed and Breakfast, ready to start a full day

Next morning, we jumped on our bikes for the ride to Saarbrüken. The EV5 lead us through the remarkable Vallée des Eclusiers - the Valley of the Locks. The Canal de la Marne au Rhin used to pass through here with 17 locks lifting the boats some 44.5m.  This section of the canal was closed in 1969 after the construction of Le Plan Incliné de Saint-Louis Arzviller.  We visited this back in 2012 - read all about it here! The Valley was amazing, lock after lock all overgrown with flowers and a neat little lock keeper house at each lock.

Sunshine, scenery and bridges

slow, comfortable travel ...

... and marvellously flat, too.

A cleat to keep the boat stable while the lock fills or drains

On the right path!

Once out of the valley, the ride along the canal was gorgeous.  We took our time, stopped to breathe in the flowers and the ducks and arrived, rather tired, in Saarbrücken after a 120km day.  We decided that it was 20km too long and we should have factored in that we were on touring bikes rather than road bikes.

Saarbrücken Rathaus, or City Hall

Exploring the museums sometimes means seeing the original walls around the city.
This was a great, cool spot to be on a hot day.

Saarbrücken has been a settlement since the first century BC and has some amazing museums. It was very hot so we found ourselves exploring the museums.  One had an exhibition on Otzi, the Iceman.  It was absolutely fascinating despite there not being any signage in English.  The Historical Museum has an underground castle complex complete with moat, a dungeon and fortifications. Think trebuchet and cannon balls. It was awesome!

Then the rains came so we did the only sensible thing and caught the train back to Obernai! 

Our stats: 173.3km with a vertical of 1,160m

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Plage du Mole - 48° 38' 45" N 02° 02' 44" W

One of the things in which I find great delight about being in rural France is things close. They close for lunch, they close on Sundays, they close at 8pm. Want to do a grocery shop on a Sunday?  Forget it! Buy a dress from that cute little boutique between 12-2pm? Nope!


To some, this is extremely annoying, but I love it.  It forces a pause. It allows you to take time out. You cannot race around doing chores if nothing is open so you might as well sit and enjoy lunch.  You can go for a bike ride on a Sunday without the guilt of all the things you should be doing.


It is a very balanced way to live rather than the racing 24/7 lifestyle we live in North America.  Where every moment of downtime is tainted by a background of all the things you could or should be doing instead.  There is less mental space.  When things close, there is nothing else you could be doing so the downtime is more complete, more restorative and much more fun!

Friday, June 9, 2023

Hanging out on Emma - 48° 38' 56" N 02° 01' 22" W

We have the enormous privilege to be aboard Emma, moored on the seawall just outside La Grande' Port (the Great Gate) in Saint-Malo, Brittany. Not only are we able to explore this gorgeous city with its ramparts and beaches, but we are also able to poke around Emma and learn about the workings and workmanship of a Garcia.  A very big thanks to Rebecca and Mark!

The Good Ship Emma

Although Emma is a 52' and Chinook is a 45', the fundamental design philosophy is the same and there is plenty of overlap.  There are some lovely features that make living aboard a pleasure.  The soft-close drawers, dimmable lights with switches exactly where you want them and locker lids lined up perfectly with the cushions so when you lift the cushion, the locker opens - one cushion, one locker. Bliss!  Also, there is an incredible amount of storage. Granted, this is a far larger boat than ours but there are some very clever uses of space which Chinook will have also.

One of the cold storage areas, similar to what we will have on Chinook.

One side of the engine access.  So clean! So easy to get at everything!

We are starting to understand how the Boat Management System (electrical system) works.  It is not quite the scary black box it once was.  Despite it being a complex boat with many, many systems, there is a certain logic about them.  Being able to read the boat manuals, play with the B&G navigation system, use the shower and washing machine and the gas shut-off valve has made us much more comfortable. We also are getting to know the Garcia folk who will be assisting us with our boat.

This is ONE of the tech areas.  Designed by NASA, we think.
(or someone with OCD)

It is of great advantage to be able to have a look at the items supplied Garcia such as life jackets, spares and mooring lines. It helps us make decisions on what to have them supply and what to buy ourselves. We note that the Garcia pricing is very competitive, particularly when it comes to spares.  We absolutely love the Dyson vacuum that is an option, too!  We also have a much better feel for what we will need aboard.  

At this stage, we have not ordered the cockpit cushions, in part due to cost but mainly to do with storing the bloody things when they are not in use.  Now, after lounging in Emma's cockpit, we are reconsidering our discussion.  They are so comfortable and clip on so firmly, they are no hinderance while sailing.

Lovely cushions that stay put - even when bouncing around or heeled over

Hidey holes for the lines means a clean cockpit.  Nice!

More hidey holes for lines that are seldom used.  Hooray!

We are so excited about our boat.  The current delivery date is February 2024!

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Mont Saint-Michel - 48° 38′ 10″ N, 01° 30′ 40″ W

With close to a week to explore around Saint-Malo and glorious weather, we decided a little cycle to Mont Saint-Michel was in order.  Fortunately, the bikes we hired were E-type as the winds are vicious in this area and we bucked a headwind in both directions!  

The ride from Saint-Malo is along the Baie du Mont Saint-Michel which experiences some of the largest tides in Europe, an average of 10m.  The bay is quite shallow so around Mont Saint-Michel, the water recedes up to 10km. 

Satellite view from Google Maps

Much of the ride was along the flat salt marshes where sheep are raised for the famed salt marsh lamb.  Like wines, this is a protected designation of origin (AOC) and only lamb from this area can be sold as "prés-salés du Mont Saint-Michel" We also rode by the oyster farms for which Cancale is famous. 

The salt marshes are very flat and very windy!

Mont Saint-Michel is magnificent. An abbey surrounded by a maze of ancient buildings perched on a tiny island at the end of the vast tidal bay.  We chose our day to visit (Tuesday) well. Mont Saint-Michel is celebrating a mere thousand years since the first stone was laid in its construction and President Macron paid a visit on Monday.

Mont Saint-Michel

We were there at low tide and the sea was not visible, just sandy flats stretching beyond the horizon. This has protected the islet from those with malicious intent due to both quicksand and the speed with which the tide races in.  It is a fascinating place and France's top tourist attraction outside of Paris.

Did someone pull the plug? Where is the sea?

Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry - Harold rescuing knights from quicksand at Saint Mont-Michel
(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

We were very grateful for the electric boost from our bikes on the way back.  We ended up riding 90km into a headwind without bike shorts.  We earned our beers!

Monday, June 5, 2023

Saint-Malo - 48° 38' 56" N 02° 01' 22" W

After arriving at Saint-Malo, we decided to go exploring in the town.  Saint-Malo has a reputation as a haven for privateers, as the governor of the city gave out letters of permission for captains of ships that sailed from there to plunder non-French ships and seek refuge there.  The tides and the fortifications of the city made it an easy place to defend.  As a result, it became a very wealthy town.

Approaching Saint-Malo from the water feels like going back in time.
The skyline from the sea is beautiful.

We are approaching the 'sill' at the marina entrance.  The sill keeps
the water at a minimum depth.  The sign shows that the water level right now
is still 5.31 metres ABOVE the sill!

Wow, the tides must wildly vary here.

Yes, they do.
9 metre tides.  Crazy.

Big tides means every twelve hours it is easy to dry your boat out for a coat of bottom paint.

Here I am.

Street art, too!

Emma tied up to the city wall.  Thank goodness for her high freeboard.

Emma is parked right outside the old city gate.

One of the city gates

Tromping around the ramparts of the city fortifications

After being pummelled in World War II, much of the city was rebuilt to a
museum-quality example of a 18th century port town. It is gorgeous here.

Statue of Jacques Cartier, one of the first Europeans
travel across the Atlantic and start trading with
the First Nations of North America 

A beach that vanishes twice a day when the tide comes in.

Logs provide additional protection from crashing surf along the seawall.
Storms can be frighteningly awesome here.  

This is why the logs are there.

Look, the Australian blokes aren't the only ones who like a 'ute.

In France, it is important to read the labels carefully when buying milk.

A view down at one of the beaches outside the ramparts

Same beach, different angle

A beautiful beach that gets well-used. 
The tide is approaching in this photo, so it is almost empty.

Sunset from the ramparts

The city's emblem, a ferret wearing a cape, in the cobbles.
We are on our way to find some dinner.

Interesting fact: Saint-Malo is the only French city that flies their city flag ABOVE the French tricolour.  If you ask a resident of the city why this is so, they will likely reply,

Neither French nor Breton, Malouin I am.