18 July, 2011

“Vive le 14 Juillet” – Bastille Day

While we did not break open the Bastille and set the prisoners free we did crack open a few bottles of Burgundy wines because we had been released from the Cote du Rhone wine area and moved into Burgundy.  We just happened to be in Macon on the Saone when the day arrived and Malua was on a mooring overlooking the fireworks area for the celebrations of Bastille day.  Unfortunately it rained all day but cleared at sunset so the crowds could gather round and see the marching, military vehicles, speeches and of course the fireworks.  The local louts had been practicing all day with crackers and rockets right along the quay so we were immune to the bang bang of a few loose crackers.
The real show was great taking place right in front of our bow.  I like the smell of cordite in the air and we sure had that.  Fortunately none unexploded items fell on the canvas work of Malua although I had a bucket of water ready.
The move from the Rhone to the Saone is different, the flow less and the banks are more wooded but the main difference is the depth.  We now only have 1 to 2 meters below the keel and the banks are much shallower.  We pulled alongside a mooring and ran aground 3 meters from the pontoon.
The wine has also changed from Rhone to Burgundy.  We have in fact been drinking Beaujolais wine since Lyon but rode through the change to Bourgogne however when we reached Macon it was on to the local Macon and its 42 named villages.  The major wine is white with as they say rather unmemorable reds.  We purchased a couple of bottles of white Chardonnay from the Chardonnay village.  A great drop, quite unlike the bland wines of that name in Australia.
One of the most memorable rides was through the vineyards in the hills adjoining the river and to pickup a few bottle along the way.  However the French don’t seem to want to sell their produce from the cellar door.  It is more like a side door of a rather ordinary farm house.  Being about lunch time every door was closed.  Try as we may to find an inviting place to purchase the local; drop they were all closed.  At one vineyard we saw the fellow standing in front of a door having a smoke but by the time I locked the bikes to a pole and turned to enter the shop, the door was closed only to reopen at 3:00 that afternoon.  No wine for us that afternoon but back at Macon where on a side street was a great wine shop with a proprietor who has a brother in Melbourne so we were able to discuss the nuances of the Chardonnay grape in Oz and locally.  We purchased a fair quantity of the local drop and was able to walk to Malua’s cellar.  Thankfully it has rained the last few days so the river will have some extra depth to accommodate the weight.

07 July, 2011

Belleville McDonalds – food for thought

I have been in search of the authentic French meal ever since I was so bitterly disappointed in Lyon.  Yesterday while out on a walk I stumbled upon it under the golden arches of a roadside McDonalds – a McWrap and chips – French fries to be exact.  Now here is the quintessential meal…….  The real reason I was in a Maccas store was to update my Smartphone using the free wifi service.  Data cost on phones if you don’t have a 24 month contract are exorbitant here in France, like €2 a minute which can use up all your credit if you are a slow typer like me.  So off to the local eatery for a coffee and an update on data - very helpful.
Travelling through Europe and especially the coast of the Mediterranean has been a challenge to connect to the web.  There are many cruisers who pride themselves at finding a “free” wifi signal.  They pass the information on, record it in their blogs and perpetuate the theft of some unsuspecting person’s bandwidth.  No they don’t see it that way but to me it is exactly that, be it a home or a business.  Their counter argument is that person should be more tech savvy and encrypt the signal so it cant be used by others.  Fine some bars and cafes provide a free signal but they at least expect one to purchase the cost of a beer.  I remember a ozzie group anchoring opposite a bar to which one member was sent to obtain the entry code for access.  For days after they used the bandwidth without the purchase of a single item – not on mate.
I liked Venice which provided free wifi access to whole districts.  Most marinas now provide wifi for their patrons.  At Port Napoleon the locals park their cars outside the fence and access the free network, so it is not only the cruisers onto this scam.  Where will it all go?  France tries to justify the cost but the networks are owned by the Government.  In Australia we are installing the largest infrastructure project in the country’s history by laying a data network of optic fibre to the house.  Great we will have super fast data transfer directly connected to the PC but what of our wireless Smartphone.  That will still use wireless (wifi) and the slow speed associated with it.  Walk outside away from your node and you are limited.  I think the authorities have got it wrong.  People want wireless access wherever they go from a device held in one hand (ie not an ipad) at a cost that’s reasonable.  Fine pay but not the prices now being charged.  The infrastructure and spectrum is there just go for the Maccas food approach – low cost, high volume and quality you can depend on no matter what store you enter – even in France.

04 July, 2011

Markets come to Malua at Neuville

One of the many delights of being in Europe is the local open air markets.  The range of produce one can purchase is vast, it is always fresh, the prices low and the purchase experience enjoyable.  I have tried by Turkish, Greek, Italian and now French on the locals and they always seem to understand what I want to buy.  It is surprising how many speak English particularly the Arabs.  They think we are British but we set that right immediately and they point out how far we are from home! Our temporary home, Malua is usually just down the road.

While in Paris we chose a market day in a particular district then spent the day in that area seeing the sights after first purchasing our lunch from the selection of vendors. Bread, cheese, olives and some fruit.  Lyon was no different except we did target the food market on quai St Antoine.  Set under the plane trees on the banks of the Saone it is supposed to represent the best food and fruit of Lyon.  Now I’m not trying to make up for the previous eating experience but I was giving the city a chance to redeem itself.  Here we stocked up on fresh fruit, veg and some veal chops.  We did not make it back to the tram within our allotted hour so had to use a second ticket. Lesson learnt from previous day but no ticket inspectors this time.
The next day we left Lyon marina at the southern tip of the Pesquille and started our journey up the Saone.  The trip through Lyon city is delightful experience for you see all the building in their true setting along the banks and on the hills and can see the wide expanse of a streetscape.  Out of town the banks are wooded with trees and grass with little industrial development.  The water level is much shallower than the Rhone.  It is only 2.0 m under the keel with some spots deeper so I have had to change my mind set to start to worry if we are going aground when the depth finder registers less than 1.5 meters.
We chose Neuville sur Saone for the nights stop along side a wall right in the heart of town adjacent to the car park which started to empty as we arrived.  By sun set it was clear and we had the quay to ourselves.  A quick walk through the town and back to Malua for Veal al la Denny with tiny potatoes, mushrooms, peas and tomatoes accompanied by some Merdoc wine.  I can recommend this restaurant – location unknown.

The following morning I woke to some different sounds, not the normal cars and traffic but the sound of people close by.  I put my head out of the companionway and I was in the middle of the local market.  It had come to Malua.  I sat in the cockpit with my early morning cup of tea and watched the market develop around me on the once vacant quay car park.  I soon realised these venders had done it before and were experience in setting up their wares and moving their goods in and out of the allotted space.  There was defiantly a joyful air of market day with a good banter between the people.  The surprising element is the trailers and vans that the vendors use to transport the goods and sell their wares.  Most are purpose built for the type of goods they are selling.  The butcher has an air conditioned glass covered display area while the fishmonger displays his catch on ice draining into a special container.  The cheese and sausage merchant a wooden board so one can taste the goods.  The sides lift up into a roof and there the goods are ready to sell, just connect to the electricity point and you are in business.  At the end of the day some things are packed away, the roof folded down, connect to the van and off you drive to the next venue.  By 13:00 everybody has moved along and the cleaning team moves in to return the quay to the cars and Malua moves up the Saone to another market, maybe not so close but the same experience.

02 July, 2011

Lyon – we walked our legs off

For those not familiar with the Afrikaans idiom- we set off and walked and walked and walked a long way in exploring the city of Lyon.  After the initial expedition on day one up the hill to Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere then walked down through the rose garden into the old city and along the banks of the Soame back to the boat located at the southern tip of the Pesquile.   A short afternoon, evening stroll to orientate ourselves.  We also established that there was an audio guide for hire from the tourist office at the Bellecour square.
Day two with audio guide at ear we took the metro to the Hotel de Ville – the Town Hall to get the background of the new Lyon National Opera house built inside and on top of the original walls.  The roof is a black barrel vault of steel and glass which hovers over the Neo-Classical shell with its statues and columns.  One wonders why Sydney Opera house is acclaimed as great?

From there back onto the metro for the ride up the hill in to the area of the silk workers of the past, the Croix Rousse or working hill.  (Fourviere is the praying hill with all its churches).  This area was the main silk producing district of Lyon which gave birth to the canuts apartments (not dissimilar to Venice) where the work was conducted on the ground floor with its long, large windows for light and high ceilings, the next floor for trade and the top levels for living.  This area is regarded as the site of the first social revolt of the workers against the silk merchants.  The local still view themselves as rebels and different which it is apparent in the architecture and streetscape.
From the top of the hill we walked down the main Boulevard to the site of Croux Rousse which was in the C16 a large limestone cross but today it is marked by the Gros Caillou – big pebble which now looks like a stone too large for a frontend loader to move so the city fathers turned it into a tourist feature!  It’s a long walk for a look at a rock but the view east over the city is rewarding and one realizes just how extensive Lyon is and how it has been built in waves extending outwards from the river and not in circles like other cities.
From here we took a Traboules - they are corridors that connect the internal courtyards of the adjoining buildings and apartments but also link the parallel streets.  A short cut to get to work quickly if you know the route.  The one we followed was through four courtyards and down many steps before we can out at the Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls said to be the largest in Gaul but not used then or today to martyr Christians or to host concerts.
We were back at river level and walked down the Rue de la Martiniere to a mural of the famous people of Lyon painted on the side of a five story building.  Next we crossed the bridge back into the Old Lyon - the narrow strip of land between the Fourviere hill and the bank of the Soame.  The largest Renaissance area in France so the tourist guide states.  Bounded by the three churches St Paul, St George and St Jean which we had visited the previous day and would return to hear a choir on Wednesday.  Inside we watched the astronomical clock of the 14C go through its routine right on the hour.

Back along the rue de Beouf for a snack – just kidding.  We entered a Traboules at 27 to come out in Rue St Jean.  The door is closed so all you have to do is ring the bell and the door will open and you will enter the world of the past with narrow corridors, steep steps and narrow internal courtyards, with people living in all the apartments.  Not the place to have an argument.
It was almost six o clock and we had to return the audio guide to Bellecour square which we did and took the Metro at 17:37 back across the Soame to connect with the venicular to the top of Fourviere to see the two excavated Roman theatres.  No people just modern lighting, speaker systems, scaffolding and a large stage.  It may have been great in its day but today it just looks like a construction site.  The heat was getting to Denny so we stopped on the steps for a rest.  The minutes ticked by.  We set off back to the venicular but just missed the down and had to wait.  The next leg across town was a few minutes wait thenout onto the street level for the tram back to Malua.
Lyons transport system is great, it works, is interlinked and simple to use.  Don’t ride it without a ticket. We had been checked twice that day. The other thing is that you can ride for one hour on the same ticket.  Jump on, jump off.   We started our hour at 17:37 taken four legs when we caught the penultimate leg across town to connect with the tram south to the marina.  The display board at the tram stop stated the next tram would arrive 18:36 and we would have just one minute to spare.  How good is the system and their clocks? The tram arrived at 18:35 I rushed in and punched the ticket and got a green light from the machine to indicate I had a valid ticket.  Relax, my legs where killing me. Just two stop to go.  Alas at the next stop six ticket inspectors stoped the tram and boarded the two carriages checking every passenger’s ticket with their portable machine.  I offer up my ticket, They swipe mine, a bell goes off, swipe again and some comment about un minute but gave it back.  Great system, it works because I could not have walked another block for I had walked my legs off in Lyon.

01 July, 2011

Eating out in Lyon

It is said that Lyon is the French capital for food and wine and one can not get a poor meal in this town.  To those of you that have heard my rant about choosing a restaurant and eating out now is the time to click to another page because you would have heard the end of this story not once but many times before.  But for those of you that are new to Harry’s helpful hints to eating out, settle down with a good wine and a few pieces to nibble on – supplied of course from your own cellar or larder and let me begin.
Being a scientific sort of chap I like to gather information, review, research and then make an informed choice on most things I invest money in.  Now try to do that in the area of choosing a restaurant is a challenge in itself.  You say read a review, yes I reply, great decide to go, phone to reserve a table…..sorry only in three weeks time.  Not the way when you are travelling.  Well look at the menu displayed outside.  If displayed outside deduct 5 points, if in English deduct a further 10 points.  If printed on glossy paper, minus 5 and if includes pictures a further 5 points.  Now on balance any loss of points would exclude a restaurant in France but having passed these test proceed to the next step.
If large with many people all looking relaxed, skip to next location – they are not locals.  I could continue as Denny would say ad norsiam but you must get the idea.
On this occasion I did my research and found in a well respected guide book that Lyon has a Rue du Beouf and on the corner of this rue and that of Place Neuve St Jean is a statue of a bull.  That must be a good indicator of the restaurant especially as the restaurant is called Le Comptoir du Boeuf right next door to a famous wine merchant Antic.  The menu was displayed but not obtrusively and there was no visible English.  We chose a good table and then decided on a E15 and E20 menu of the day from a menu given us which now containing English subtitles!  The piece de resistance for me was the thick cut beef steak with French fries.  I did choose to start with salmon soaked in dill and wine.  After tasting the pink blotting paper (for the younger readers substitute paper towel) I should have realised that something was amiss.  The steak arrived and as we do on these momentous occasions I duly recorded in digital format the meal to pass on to future traveller or to savour again and again as we discus the memorable meal while viewing our pictures.  The first cut into the juicy tenderloin was a give away.  I spilt the wine in the glass as a sawed my way through a small piece with the steak knives provided.  I realized that even my preference for underdone meat would be challenged so I requested that chef at least light a match under this piece of meat.  It returned no better in taste, cooking or texture.  To such an extent that I chose to leave the better part of the meal on the plate.
Denny’s meal – neither of us could remember what it was suppose to be because it was just bland and the potatoes did nothing to improve the meal.
Being a reserved sort of guy I held back on the answer to “Did you enjoy your meal?” and put it down to poor research and laziness because after a few minutes after sitting down I wanted to leave but chose not too.  Next time as soon as you see an electronic order taking machine in the hands of a French waiter in an “authentic restaurant” leave immediately and seek out a menu written on a black board or better still eat at home with produce chosen from the local market.