We have started the journey along the French Canal system. Over the last two days we have motored from Calais to Bethune, a distance of 144 kilometres. Sorry blogs have been late this week. I have had terrible trouble getting WIFI set up on the boat, and thus with no WIFI… no blogs! Hopefully sorted now. We got an easy start for the first two days, Saturday and Sunday (which we planned) as we did not meet any commercial traffic. Monday was a different story, on the run from Les Ardes to Arques we had constant river traffic. We are now mixing with the big boys, just look at the size of the barges in the photos!!
Tuesday we arrived in Bethune and moored at the “space reserved pour la Plaisancier Craft”. We plugged into the shore power but could not get it to work. After discussing with the locals in my best French I discovered that I had to go to the local VNF (Voies Navigables de France) office to buy a token to work the electricity and water on the free moorings. The local gentleman could not remember the address but kindly drew me a map and off I went on the Strida bicycle, its first real trip.
After the first few kilometres I quickly realised that his map did not make sense and after cycling up and down Bethune looking for the offices, I gave up and went in the tourist office which I had spotted on my way. They were very helpful, found the VNF address and rang them for me. At the same time I got them to recommend three good restaurants for us to eat in later that evening. But a valuable lesson learned – look up things on the internet yourself!
Got to the VNF offices and after ringing the doorbell umpteen times, I was finally let in. The place was better guarded than Fort Knox! After lots of discussion and form filling, I finally got a token for 2kw of power and 1,000 of water, which at € 56 was expensive. I am beginning to think that French bureaucracy is a lot worse than Irish. There seems to be far too many people in every office, a very relaxed attitude and you have to have a lot of discussion, shoulder shrugging and form filling before you get what you need. In the local government offices, a small crowd gathered around me and they all joined in the discussion with plenty of shoulder shrugging, on how to give me what I was asking for. They seemed to be bored and I must be a great source of entertainment, which is probably true with my terrible French accent.
Back to the boat where the crew were worried as I was gone for three hours. We successfully turned on the power and off we went for a great meal in La Zinc Restaurant in the Grand Place beside the clock tower. Weather is so good we were able to sit and eat outside at 8pm. – What a life!