Wrapping up Ajaccio

Hello Everyone,

Ajaccio’s claim to fame is as the birthplace and hometown of Napoleon Bonaparte, from there he joined the French army and went on to become Emperor of France and conquered most of Europe. Today his image and statues are everywhere and his name used on everything including Airport and streets.

There are several museums dedicated to him, including one in the house he was raised in, The Maison Napoleon. None of the three of us were real museum freaks, but we decided we needed to visit a couple, so one day we chose to take in the one in his former home. We knew the address and general area it was located, but finding it in the maze of narrow lanes proved more difficult than we ever believed possible. Even with a map, we found it by walking a circular route, slowly working our way into the center where we finally saw the sign on a narrow alley we had passed twice. That was on the Monday of our final week in Ajaccio, the museum was closed on Mondays. But we had a couple more days in the city after our trip to Bonifacio so the day after we returned from there, we did the museum tour. It was not very impressive but interesting. The house was added to and changed a lot since he lived there, but it had many displays of his childhood, family members and his life in general. We figured we had done our duty and didn’t bother with the other Museums dedicated to him.

One other museum we did visit was the Musee Fesch, dedicated to the art collection of an 18th century Cardinal and famous as the largest collection of Italian paintings outside the Louvre in Paris. It was located next to the pedestrian only shopping street so very easily found. The first couple rooms were interesting, especially the 18th and 19th century paintings of the city of Ajaccio. But after that all the rooms were filled with Italian religious paintings; after about the first dozen they all looked the same. So our stay there wasn’t long but again we had done our duty to the arts.

One shop we particularly liked was U Stazzu, written up in the Lonely Planet Guide, it specialized in Corsican sausages and cheeses. It had a wonderful selection, some of the offerings were different from anything we saw anywhere else and we did get some to take home with us. The most memorable things about the shop though were the decorations and displays. I collect masks and carvings from my travels, and on the wall of the shop was a wood carving of the symbol of Corsica, the profile of a black slave wearing a white scarf tied across his forehead. The actual symbolism is a bit odd; a black slave from Spain, the scarf originally was as a blindfold then changed to a head band. Why that image would be taken as the Corsican symbol of freedom and independence seems weird to me, but it does and goes back hundreds of years, some say to ancient Greece and Carthage. Today it is the symbol for both Corsica and Sardinia. Unfortunately for me, they would not sell the plaque and were unable to give me any idea where I could find one other than at the local flea market which sets up every Sunday near the beach. There were several other display items in that shop and others that we all really liked but it was always the same story, they were not for sale.

It was Saturday when we found out about the flea market so were able to go there the next morning. Unfortunately, that was also the day we had the heavy rains. While walking down from the apartment we got caught in the downpour and forced to take shelter in a small café called The Pigalle Café, named after the famous red light district in Paris. As we squeezed into a table under the awning, the waiters were busy lowering the plastic curtains to block out the blowing rain as it poured down. We sat there for quite awhile watching people run for shelter and cars speed through the storm while we sat in relative comfort with a warm cup of coffee.

When the downpour stopped we continued to the flea market, the vendors were hit hard by the rain, some were trying to dry out their displays and others loading up their cars, not willing to chance more rain. A few were uncovering their wares and as we browsed, came across a few things of interest. Becky found a wonderful antique jug made from a small gourd decorated with scrimshaw and I found a small carved wooden bowl with lid (about 5 inches in diameter), the bowl was severely cracked, but the lid was nearly pristine with the carved head of a peasant woman in profile. Inside was a small sticker from the shop that originally sold it in Ajaccio. It wasn’t the iconic image of the Moorish slave, but will make a welcome addition to my collection.

On the whole, Ajaccio was a wonderful place for the three of us to visit. Corsica is far from being off the grid with several flights a day to Paris and other cities, daily car ferries and all the amenities of a major tourist destination. But Ajaccio is definitely off the destination radar for Americans and that proved wonderful. The people were as friendly and courteous as anywhere in the world, and seemed truly surprised and pleased to have Americans visit their city.

June 20th, 2014: When it was time to leave, our land lady picked us up at the apartment and drove us to the airport. We left some money on the counter for the cleaning lady and were enthusiastic with our thanks to Madam Traffort for the comfort of the apartment; it had everything we needed or wanted, more than any nearby hotel could offer and for less than one third the cost.

The arrangements we made at the Air France office worked fine, we were given complimentary hotel rooms by the airline at a hotel near the airport which made our night in Paris much better than if it was spent curled up in a corner at the airport. The only bad part of the return trip was negotiating the distances at Charles de Gaulle airport including long walks from the Orly Airport bus to the hotel shuttle bus and from the hotel bus to the check-in counter then waiting area; Charles de Gaulle airport in immense. A direct flight on Delta Airlines from Paris to Seattle was much better than the original flight thru New York and from SeaTac the shuttle van delivered us back to our mother’s home, adventure over. Happy to be home, and just as happy we had made the journey, making plans for our next adventure together…who knows, it might just be back to Ajaccio.

The End

Enjoy the Journey

Scott

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Tour to Bonifacio

Hello again My Friends,

Our daily routine was fine, giving us lots of time to see the city and spend time together but we wanted to do at least one side trip to see a little of the island outside Ajaccio. Several tour companies set up Kiosks on the waterfront across from Place Foch. We checked out the different tours they offered and chose to do a day trip to the city of Bonifacio, at the southernmost tip of the island, on the strait between Corsica and the Italian island of Sardinia.

The tour was not offered every day, and often sold out. The first day we tried to buy tickets the next day’s trip was already full and wouldn’t offer another until the next week. I went down on Friday afternoon and bought three tickets for the trip the following Tuesday.

We had to be on the pier at 08:00 that morning so got there early and sat in one of the pier side cafes having coffee until the boat began to board. It held over 50 passengers, both inside and in the open on the upper deck, when it finished boarding nearly every seat was filled. When we left port we crossed the bay to the small beach resort town of Porticcio. There we picked up a few more passengers, filling the tour boat to capacity.

Two days before was the only really rainy day of our two week visit, but the weather was still cool and windy with threatening rain clouds. During the three hour cruise to Bonifacio we hugged the coastline most of the way. Cutting through the rough water at about 30 knots but the modern and comfortable cruise boat had no trouble, except the occasional rain shower would drench those seated on the top deck.

All along the rugged coast, ancient stone watch towers poked up on every point of land, always in sight of the next tower all the way around the island. They were built during the middle ages to give early warning of pirate and Moorish raiders attacking the settlements on the island. When a raiding party was sighted, the nearest tower would light a fire for smoke signals during the day or light signals at night which would then be repeated at the next tower and so on until the entire coast was warned. There were beautiful and totally isolated coves and beaches all along the coast, separated by rocky headlands. Occasionally we would pass another boat or be passed by a large yacht, but never passed close to any towns or cities.

After about three hours we came to the town of Bonifacio, built on the top of a long slender outcropping of land, a narrow strip of land connects the narrow peninsula to the mainland, separating the peninsula from the island is a long narrow fiord maybe 100 meters wide and cliffs 2 or 3 hundred feet high protect it on all sides. Our boat docked at the small waterfront at the end of the fiord, next to a small ferry dock, farther along there was also a small marina. From the waterfront a tractor and carriages made to look like a train took us up the steep road to the city, since the peninsula is so narrow there are only one-way streets and we had to drive up the same road that cars used to reach the parking lots at the end of the peninsula. We merged into the heavy traffic, passed through a tunnel then everything stopped. A car had stalled on the hill and all of the traffic had to gingerly squeeze by to get to the top. The tourist train let us off in the center of the small town. The brochure had said it ran every half hour from the city to the dock, but that was a lie. Once in the town, we were on foot and would have to find our own way back down. We had a 4 hour stay there so we stopped at the tourist information office, where one person spoke a little English and got a map of the town. Then we found a small café for lunch before going for a walk through the ancient city; most of the town and the fortress dated back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Because of the unique location and ancient buildings, it is a tourist Mecca, and crowded. The narrow one-way streets through the center of town were clogged bumper to bumper the entire time we were there. The only parking was in the huge lot on the tip of the peninsula and it was full; cars were backed up waiting to enter, as one car would leave, another was allowed in.

The shops, cafes and small hotels in the town center all catered to tourists. About 2700 people live in the town and just a few blocks away from the crowded center, the streets were calm and quiet. We walked past the village school built in what must have been part of the fortress at one time, a tower built directly on the cliffs. I cannot imagine having an elementary school sitting on 2oo foot cliffs with only a chain link fence separating the car park from the cliffs. We wandered father out onto the peninsula, next to the car park was the town’s famous cemetery. Every family had a crypt for above ground burials, some simple and others quite ornate. On one side were the cliffs with magnificent views out to sea, and in the center walking between the crypts was like walking through a very strange and deserted miniature city.

After 2+ hours we were hot, tired and ready to go back. Not wanting to walk down the steep road we had driven up, which didn’t have a sidewalk, we found a trail we hoped would take us to the docks. Part of it was steep concrete steps then a dirt path along a hillside then more stone steps to a gate in the ancient wall surrounding the town. Finally we made it to the bottom and stopped into a small café for a place to sit in the shade and have a cup of coffee; we were only about 100 yards from our tour boat. We were not the only ones who came back early, when we got to the boat, about 20 others were sitting on the curb or wherever they could find shade. The boat was locked up, and they didn’t open the doors until our 4 hour stop over was complete.

Finally the crew determined it was time to let people back on the boat and made a head count to make sure they didn’t leave anyone behind. The return trip to Ajaccio took another 3 hours and by the time we docked about 6 pm, we were dog tired and hungry. We stopped at a small café for dinner then climbed the hill back to our apartment, more than ready to return to our regular relaxed routine.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott

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Relaxing in Ajaccio

Hello Again,

It actually took a couple of days for us to fall into the routine but it worked for us right from the start. The first Monday we were in Ajaccio, I needed to visit a telephone store and get a SIM card for my telephone; when traveling I like to carry a phone which I can use if needed; phones compatible with the network system used in Europe are not compatible in the US. Directly across the Cours Napoleon from the Post Office was a telephone shop, selling everything from smart phones, accessories, long and short term contracts and SIM cards. After a long wait for a free sales girl, and a difficult conversation trying to explain what I wanted, the young lady put the new SIM card in my phone, immediately determining that contrary to what I believed it was not unlocked; I had bought it in England the previous September. But I was able to get a cheap local phone for €20, so with the €10 for the SIM card and €10 for a load, we were back on the street for €40. Now we had a local phone if needed and could call to the US without using the phone in the apartment, there is no knowing what international calls would have cost from the land line. Becky had brought an international phone she got from her cell phone provider but it wasn’t set up properly and never did connect with the French system.

We continued down the Cours Napoleon until the pedestrian shopping street connected with it and we turned on to it to take us back to the Place Foch. Along the way we stopped at one of the many jewelry stores specializing in the red coral found in the local waters. The shop had some of the best jewelry, reasonable prices and the real kicker why we liked it, the owner spoke perfect English. The beautiful red coral came in all price ranges and styles of jewelry. Becky and Steve found some great pieces for gifts, I didn’t buy any.

Among the multitude of cafes, three particularly stood out. One was on the street running along the waterfront, near the cruise ship terminal. We first stopped there because it was next to the Air France office, Steve and Becky sat there for morning coffee while I went into the Air France offices to work out some problems with our return flights. We received a change of schedule from the airline and would have to leave Ajaccio on a Friday evening instead of Saturday morning. The airline changed the schedule because they hadn’t allowed enough time between flights for us to transfer between airports in Paris; the new schedule meant we would have a 12 or 13 hour layover. Since the airline had scheduled the original flights, and then changed them and we had already paid for the additional night in the apartment, the airline provided us with a hotel at DeGualle airport. That was much better than camping out in the terminal all night and it included dinner and breakfast vouchers. So while I was working with the airline agent, neither of us knowing much of the other’s language, Becky and Steve sat in the shade drinking coffee. The café had an antique motorcycle with side car on display and the young man working there spoke excellent English. He was very excited when he found out we were Americans and never stopped smiling or talking. As a teenager he had spent a month traveling in the United States with a school group, and wanted to practice his English since he seldom got the chance in Ajaccio.

The second café was on the street near the beach. There was nothing much special about it, but it had a simple menu, comfortable shaded tables and very friendly waiters. It was a great place to sit and watch traffic along the beach, people come and go, and school kids headed home or to the beach from the city school about a block away. When we felt like something other than pasta or seafood for lunch, they served very good hamburgers.

The other café of note was Les Palmiers, the Palms, on the street opposite the Place Foch. We first stopped there because of the large sign describing it as a Burger Bar. But the menu had not one hamburger or other American dish; it did have fine seafood and pasta. But the real attraction was Babette, the older lady who was owner, proprietor, hostess and waitress. Probably in her early 70s, she always smiled broadly with just a couple missing teeth, a glint in her eye and cigarette burning in the ashtray. She directed seating with the air of a Maitre ‘d at the finest 5 star restaurant. When a customer sat at the wrong table or moved an ashtray from one table to another, she would briskly and with no nonsense, correct them; making sure everything in the small sidewalk café remained perfect.

The little café served some of the best food we found in the city, where with only one exception the cafes seemed to compete with each other to serve the best dishes. We ate there several times and were always greeted like long time regular customers. By the time our vacation ended we didn’t even to order from the menu, we just asked Babette or the chef to serve what they thought was best, and were never disappointed, especially when the dishes served were not on the menu or the Plat du Jour (Special of the Day).

After a great lunch, we would head back to the apartment. Doing whatever shopping we needed along the way. Stopping in the public market for a bag of olives, a small bakery for baggettes of bread and the supermarket for salad makings and a bottle of wine. The supermarket was very unique. It was on the upper floor of a small department store on the Cours Napoleon. Entering from the street on the ground floor, we would cut through the ladies undergarment and bathing suits section to the escalator. On the next floor was the grocery store with a fine selection of fresh produce. It also had the best selection of wine we found and the prices were great, one Corsican wine we particularly liked was less than €4 a bottle; €2 cheaper than the sale price we saw at another store.

Back at our apartment, we would relax in the afternoon, usually taking long naps and just chatting until dinner time when we would have olives, wine, salad and bread. Then relax and have a glass or two of scotch before turning in. The first night’s celebration had been enough and we never did hear any comment about it, evidently we hadn’t been rowdy enough to leave a lasting impression.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott

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Discovering Ajaccio

Hello My Friends,

The first morning in Ajaccio was a bit slow; Steve and I were up before 8 and Becky by 10 o’clock. Breakfast was catch as catch can from the few things we picked up the evening before. I was on my Diabetes diet, meaning low carbs. and even lower sugar. Steve had yogurt and I got by on Corsican Sausage and cheese; this would be our usual breakfast for the entire stay.

Our stay in Ajaccio quickly developed a regular routine. The mornings were always quiet, Steve and I up early, making coffee and scrounging a simple breakfast. Becky would be up later, usually by 8 am and we puttered about until heading down to the city around 10 o’clock. We would wander down to the small plaza near the waterfront, Place Foch. It was a wide, palm tree lined, brick paved median between two streets running from the water front to the main avenue through the city, the Cours Napoleon. On the paved plaza between and under the palms a public market set up every day from 8 am to 2 pm. Vendors set up large and small stalls under awnings and tents or parked special open sided trailers with their goods. It was a great place with wonderful aromas, and delicious samples of a nearly unbelievable variety of vegetables, breads, cheeses, sausages, olives, etc., much of it local from Corsica including some very good wines.

Depending on our plans for the day we might shop, wander aimlessly or head to the beach. Whatever our plans, at 12 noon we would choose one of the multitude of sidewalk cafes for lunch. The cafes opened about 8 am, all with the same menu; Petit Dejeuner (breakfast) which was coffee or tea, juice, and bread. Or you could order just coffee, tea or other drinks, but that was it; no other breakfasts available. About 11:30 all of the cafes began putting out table clothes and silverware on all unoccupied tables, being very adamant that once the tables were set no one, and I mean no one could sit down at the those tables before 12 o’clock sharp. Those already seated having coffee soon found themselves surrounded by dressed tables, their own left for last to get table cloths. Precisely at 12 noon, the lunch menus and sign boards with the daily specials came out and the same waiter who only minutes earlier had curtly turned you away would graciously invite you to have lunch.

Ajaccio is the capital of the French Department of Corse du Sur, (Provence of South Corsica) so the downtown had lots of businesses and office buildings with locals mingling with the tourists. Traffic is heavy and parking a nightmare, as it is in any medieval city which was built with narrow lanes and streets except for the wide avenue of the Cours Napoleon. Several ferries arrived from and departed for the French Riviera daily and several times a week large and small cruise ships arrived early for a port call before departing in the late afternoon or evening so there were often throngs of tourists crowding the streets. Within minutes of the cafes opening for lunch, most filled to bursting with locals and tourists alike.

From the Place Foch, about two blocks from the waterfront street, a side street winds along, running parallel to the waterfront. It’s narrow and winding and except in the early morning, pedestrian only. It is lined on both sides with small shops and cafes as are all the narrow side streets branching off. When a cruise ship is in port, it becomes shoulder to shoulder with shoppers, mostly tourists taking the easiest route between the cruise ship terminal and downtown or the beach. The small shops are wonderful, many specializing in Corsican products such as the sausages and cheeses for which the island is renowned. Other shops specialize in the other famous products of the island, red coral jewelry and handmade knives. The long “stiletto” daggers are called “vendettas”, in reference to the island’s deadly history of revenge stabbings by the fiercely independent Corsicans. The shops and restaurants along the Cours Napoleon were frequented more by the locals and those on the pedestrian only street, near Place Foch and the surrounding maze of narrow streets and alleys catered to tourists.

Ajaccio is built on a peninsula jutting out into the Golfe de Ajaccio (Gulf of Ajaccio). At the tip of the point of land is the citadel, the centuries old stone fortress guarding the city from attack by sea since the middle ages. It is still an active military facility, closed to the public but other than a donkey grazing at the bottom of the dry moat, I never say any sign of activity inside the walls. To the west of the citadel is the harbor with a pier for the small fishing boats that call it home but most of the marina is occupied by pleasure boats, yachts and tour boats. Past that is where the super yachts moor, stern first to the pier and close to the promenade so the wealthy can more easily display their wealth and multi-million dollar boats. Then there is the Cruise ship terminal and three ferry landings. The new city continues on past ferry landings and more marinas then raps around the end of the bay to the Coast Guard station on a small point of land that marks the end of the harbor. Past that a beautiful sandy beach fringes the end of the Golfe de Ajaccio and at the end of the beach, the airport runway. From our balcony we often watched airplanes arrive and depart, flying low over the water to and from the airport, about 8 kilometers from the city.

On the other side of the citadel stretched the sandy but narrow city beach, just a stone’s throw from the down town. People would converge every morning about 10 am, meet with friends, swim or just bask in the warm Mediterranean sun. It was fun to watch the locals; mostly retires and nannies with their young charges. When a cruise ship was in port it would become more crowded with tourists from the ships claiming their own small patches of sand.

The main coastal highway ran from downtown past the beach and was lined with wide sidewalks and across the street from the beach stood a row of cafes catering specifically to the beach crowd. Wedged in among the eateries was the Municipal Casino. It was one story tall and plain looking, but old pictures of the town showed it in its glory days in the late 19th century when vacationing elite would spend their holidays in Ajaccio and it was the center of the social scene.

The cafes near the beach had the same schedule as the city cafes, but at 6 pm, the menus changed to snacks and ice cream with meals no longer served. We never visited the beach in the evening so I have no idea if they served dinner later or shut down after dark.

Corsica is a French island, but there is a strong political movement to be independent or at least more autonomous from the national government. The Corsican language is still heard but officially everything is in French. The tourists were nearly all European; we only saw or heard a few Americans from the Cruise ships and English is hardly spoken or understood. It was always an adventure in travel to walk into a shop and try to communicate anything that didn’t involve pointing it out on a menu. But with our little bit of French and the local’s small understanding of English, patience and extreme courtesy we were always able to muddle through. Anyone who talks of the rudeness of the French has never been to Corsica; everyone we met, with no exceptions, was smiling, happy and courteous.

When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.

From the Poem Ithaca by K. P. Kavafis (C. P. Cavafy)

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Ajaccio on the Island of Corsica

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This trip was a change from my usual adventures around the world. Every few years my Sister Becky, Brother Steve and I take a vacation together, just the three of us for a week or two of bonding and relaxation; … Continue reading

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Back to the Trent and Mersey Canal and Stoke

Back to the Trent and Mersey Canal and Stoke

Sept. 25, 2013; The “Lizzie” with the gentleman, girlfriend and two dogs had moored near us during the night. We were a little amazed that they seemed to be doing just fine, apparently love conquers all, including two yapping dogs.

After getting underway, it was just a short cruise to Haywood Junction where we turned back onto the Trent and Mersey Canal. At the junction we met a boat turning onto the Staff and Worc’s Canal operated by two ladies who very skillful backed down and turned their boat to let me less skillfully make the turn ahead of them. We stopped to top off the water tank then continued on our way north. While watering we chatted with a friendly group on another boat that pulled in behind us. They were three couples cruising together and having a party as they went along. They invited us to join them for beer and lunch at a pub farther down the canal but we didn’t make any promises.

Another boat we met several times was named “White Tail”, owned by an American woman and her British husband. They had recently moved to England after 20 years in the United States and were taking out their recently refurbished boat for the first time. The “Lizzie” caught up to us at one of the locks, the dogs were tied onboard and the man and woman worked together quite well operating the locks with no dogs to shepherd about.

At 3:30 that afternoon we moored in Stone, our last stop before getting back to Stoke-on-Trent. The city moorage was nearly full; pulling into one of the last two open spots. We walked into town to the High Street which was restricted to limited traffic and pedestrian friendly with lots of shops, pubs and restaurants. Rich and Shelly went off to do some exploring and I enjoyed the High Street. I stopped into an old fashioned candy store with glass jars of various candies and sweets. I asked for traditional English toffee and the lady took out a two step stool to reach a jar on the top shelf; the toffee was excellent and cost £1 for a small bag. With candy in hand, I stopped at a coffee shop for Cappuccino and Lemon Tart. Rich and Shelly found me there and I waited while they finished their own coffee and snack.

That evening when we walked out to find dinner, we were checking the menu of the “Olive” restaurant when a young man came out and told us they were booked solid for a special “Psychic” night but if we could be finished by 8 PM they could accommodate us; that seemed OK so we ate there. They served Mediterranean food and I had Traditional Mousaka which was wonderful. We left at 7:30 and the place was nearly bursting at the seams with women there for the psychic readings. We were seated at a table on the side of the room, the tables in the center all pushed together to make a long table for 30 women in one group; myself, Rich and three waiters were the only men in the restaurant.

Sept. 26, 2013; On our last day cruising on the canal, we passed through the center of Stone. The canal sides were park like from the moorage area past the highway running into the town. At the next bridge was a statue commemorating a young woman found drowned in the canal in the 1800s. She had taken passage on a cargo barge and complained of being threatened by the boatmen she was traveling with, the next day her body was found. Farther on, along one side of the canal stretched the high brick walls of the closed Stone Ale Brewery; the building now divided into shops facing the High Street but on the canal the name of the brewery remained in faded paint 30 feet above the canal.

Past Stone the towpath was closed for maintenance on the canal and the paving of the towpath. On top the water floated masses of grass, weeds and cuttings from the maintenance work. The vegetation clogged the rudder and we lost steerage a couple of times. Most of it was pushed off the rudder when I had to slam the boat into reverse to avoid a collision with a moored boat.

At the town of Barlaston we moored to visit the Wedgewood Ceramics Factory close by the canal. It was nearly a mile walk to the visitor center were we had to enter through the backdoor. For visitors driving to the center there is a very impressive entrance with tall windows and a wide plaza, but those walking from the canal crossed the employee’s parking lot, past the employee cafeteria and used the side entrance to the building. Once through the building we came to the sales room where exquisite and quite expensive ceramics were for sale, we didn’t buy anything. We did walk through the visitor center but didn’t pay the £10 (about $16) each to visit the museum; it cost an additional £2 to include the factory in the tour.

We returned to the boat for lunch and noticed that the “Lizzie” had moored near us while we were in the factory but didn’t see any sign of the couple or the two dogs. Before getting underway Rich and I pulled the inspection cover in the engine compartment under the aft deck and checked to make sure nothing was fouling the shaft, propeller or rudder. There was some debris wrapped tightly around the shaft but we were able to cut it off then closed up the inspection hole. After that the steering was back to normal with no problems.

When we cruised through the outskirts of Stoke, we passed the ruins of many old, derelict factories and noticed more trash in the waterway and along the sides of the canal. We passed under a very wide Motorway bridge and then came the final 5 sets of locks on our journey. The last lock we passed through was also the deepest of the trip, about 16 feet. It was also the only set of locks that was secured since it had a history of vandals messing with it; we were provided with the special key needed to operate the lock when we rented the boat. From there it was just a short cruise to the marina were we started and we pulled over and moored next to the gate to our rental company, Black Prince Narrow Boat Holidays. We needed to return the boat the next morning so just stayed there for the night, walking across the marina to Toby’s Carvery for a buffet dinner and a quiet night back on the boat.

Sept. 27, 2013; When the rental company opened we were all packed and ready to go, and said good bye to “Ruby” which was home for 14 days; moored almost perfectly so they just pulled the boat forward one space to fill the fuel tank and for cleaners to get on board and make it ready for the next customer. We settled up with the company, paying for the fuel used then carried our bags the few hundred yards to the same hotel we stayed in the first day in England. Our flight didn’t leave until the next morning so we stayed one night in Stoke before returning home.

We spent a very quiet day, lots of time showering, napping and packing for the flight home. The hotel had a business center where we printed our boarding passes, ready to leave first thing in the morning. The hotel had a large banquet facility and that night was a well advertised event, “An Evening with Evander Holyfield”; the promotion included dinner with Evander for only £100 a plate (about $160). It must have been a successful evening; there were lots of people in tuxedos and gowns but I didn’t see Evander. That dinner was a little rich for our blood so Rich, Shelley and I walked to the nearby shopping area to eat.

Sept. 28, 2013; This was departure day, taxi to Manchester, short flight to London then the long direct flight to Seattle. At SeaTac we said farewell, Rich and Shelley had a ride home and I took the airport express shuttle van. I was home about 6:30 PM, adventure over.

Epilogue

Our journey through the English Midlands was wonderful. Except for our side trip to Chester and passing through Stoke, we mostly traveled through farmland and forest, passing through the occasional village or town; a side of England not seen by most visitors who seldom get beyond London.

We found an entire English sub-culture on the canals. Originally built for industrial cargo barges, today the canals are home for people in private or rental boats. Many people live full time on the canal, using permanent moorage leased from land owners or owned outright by the boat owners, tied up in large marinas next to the canals or moored along the canal and moving every few days. Boats ranged in size from 20 foot long cruisers to narrow boats up to 70 feet long but always less than 7 feet wide.

Many people holiday on the canals, either renting a boat or traveling in boats they own like a vacation cabin or RV and keep moored when not in use. Everyone we met was helpful, friendly and courteous; happy to wave as we passed except when moored and disturbed by faster boats creating wakes to bounce them about.

Most towns and villages had well maintained and free long and short term moorage, water points, rubbish bins, and pubs or restaurants within walking distance. It was a great way to see England and meet the people. There are about 2000 miles of historic waterways in England, maintained by British Waterways, a government corporation, chronically short of money. Boats pay a registration fee that allows use of the canals, free water and rubbish services and provides maintenance of the waterways, towpaths, locks, tunnels and bridges. All in all it was a great two weeks, proving you don’t have to climb mountains or hike through rain forests for an enjoyable adventure. Anyone interested in a different kind of boat trip just need check out narrow boats on the English canal system to find it.

Scott C. Ames
http://scames.wordpress.com

When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.

From the Poem Ithaca by K. P. Kavafis (C. P. Cavafy)

Posted in England, United Kingdom | Leave a comment

Shropshire Union & Staff and Worc’s Canals

Shropshire Union Canal

Sept. 21, 2013; We got underway about 08:30, but only moved about 200 yards, past a narrow bridge, Nantwich was the end of the widened canal, from there on all the canal locks and bridges were designed for 7 foot or narrower boats. Past the bridge we pulled over to a pier along the canal which provided fuel and pump out services. After being underway for a week and no gauges, we had no idea how full the waste holding tanks were. It cost £15 (about $25) and took about 20 minutes; only one of the two holding tanks was full.

The Shropshire Union Canal going south was straighter and more level than we experienced before, it cut deeper into hills with higher embankments to pass through valleys, and this made it more expensive to build but with fewer locks it was faster for the cargo barges for which it was built.

After lunch at Audlem Mill the canal changed elevation a lot and we passed through 15 sets of locks; a few miles past that we came to another series of 5 locks before stopping at Market Drayton for the night. At one of the locks we passed, a local farmer had set up a small stand to sell produce and homemade goods, we bought scones, clotted cream and jam on the honor system; the stand was unmanned with just a box to leave our payment. Dinner was at the Talbot Pub next to the canal which served the huge portions we were finding common. I opted for a change of pace and had Chicken Tikki Masala, spicy but very good.

Sept. 22, 2013; It was Sunday morning and Rich went out early to find an open shop but came back empty handed, the shops didn’t open until 10 AM so we got underway. We passed a group of 5 locks then the canal leveled again with high embankments and deep cuts. Many of the cuts were through solid rock, making the sides nearly vertical so passing through them was cool and dark, almost jungle like with heavy foliage on both sides; it felt like being in the movie The African Queen.

It was an easy cruise but a long day when we finally moored at Gnosall about 5 PM. We walked about a mile into the village to an open convenience store then dinner at the Navigator Pub next to the canal, the Pork Steak and Mash was very good.

Sept. 23, 2013; About 08:30 we pulled up to the water point and filled our tank then got underway. The level canal continued with more long/deep cuts and high embankments. In some places we passed through stretches called “Narrows”. There the canal was hewn from sandstone and just wide enough to barely allow two boats to pass; narrows were not long but stressful when meeting boats going the opposite direction.

We stopped at the village of Brewood about noon. The small pub next to the canal was just opening so we went there to get Pub Grub for lunch, a nice change from our usual cold cut sandwiches; unfortunately the pub didn’t serve food on Monday so we were out of luck.

About 2:30 in the afternoon we reached the town of Autherley Junction where we needed to turn onto the Staffs and Worc’s canal. The canals were not built to the same water level so there was a set of locks to pass through going from one canal to the other, not a big deal, the locks had a lift of only 6 inches; the reason for the level change was to control the water on the different canals. The turn into the new canal was sharper than the other canal junctions we passed through, I had to stop and back down twice to make the 120˚ corner; with that turn we were going north.

We came to an unusually long and narrow section called Pendeford Rockin, it was about a half mile long and not wide enough for two boats to pass. Several short wide spots were cut into the rock so boats could pass one another but luckily we didn’t need to use them since we met no other boats as we passed through the cut.

We stopped at Coven and moored for the night. Rich and Shelly went shopping for groceries and I relaxed at the boat; I was on holiday after all. For dinner at the Fox and Anchor Pub next to the canal where I had a very good Chicken and Pulled Ham and Leek Pie.

Staff and Worc’s Canal

Sept. 24, 2013; We were headed north towards Stoke and had made up the time lost on our side trip to Chester so we took it easy; we planned to pass 11 sets of locks that day. Along the way we met up with a boat named “Lizzie”, rented from the same company as our boat, Black Prince Narrow Boat Holidays. It was rented by a gentleman in his 70s, his girlfriend and her two little dogs.

Their boat was ahead of us so we followed them through every set of locks. It was slow going because when they entered the locks, the little dogs would run off and they spent as much time rounding up the dogs as they did working the locks. About mid morning they pulled over and moored for Tea and we passed by, speculating on how long the gentleman would put up with the dogs.

At the locks in Gailey we moored and topped off our water tank. Next to the locks was a unique round brick building that was originally the lock keepers cottage. Now it is a gift shop run by a lady and her daughter. We stopped and found a few souvenirs, and took a short break. The locks were unique in that the lower entrance was under a highway bridge so it was like entering or exiting the locks in a tunnel. As we were leaving the gift shop a boat was trying to enter the upper level with an older Scottish couple on board, she sitting in the bow shouting directions and him standing at the tiller ignoring her. I think he was mostly deaf because she gave up yelling and he kept ramming the side of the lock. Finally they got into the locks and I operated the paddles and gates for them; it was a riot watching them.

About 3:30 we pulled over in Baswich, the moorage area wasn’t as well maintained as most of the towns we stopped at but there was a pub and Carvery close by. Rich and Shelley went looking for a supermarket and I walked around the area before returning to the boat. Great minds thought alike because they and I bought ice-cream bars to bring back to the boat for desert that night; not a problem, we had desert for two nights. We walked to the pub for a beer and had the buffet dinner. It was okay but not as good as many pubs we ate at. The buffet was one time through the roast beef, ham, etc. and all you could eat of the salads and side dishes; the name carvery came from carving the roast beef or ham. Then it was back to the boat for ice cream and a glass of Port.

Next time we return to the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott

Scott C. Ames
http://scames.wordpress.com

When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.

From the Poem Ithaca by K. P. Kavafis (C. P. Cavafy)

Posted in England, United Kingdom | Leave a comment