Wednesday, October 30, 2013

With Grace

We have reached our destination - Carcassonne, just north of the Pyrenees and not far from the Spanish border.

Among the isolation there was peacefulness, stillness and tranquility. There was no internet, so a Day in the Life of Zonder Zorg came to a halt. I am closing the blog with thanks to the readers and this photo of Grace:

The sun was shining on the day as I captured this crane taking off; the quietness of Zonder Zorg startled it. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Friday the Thirteenth

Happy 69th birthday Michael! I wish you many more boating years.

We left our mooring spot in Champagne in style; a mechanic from Paris came out to repair the ongoing engine concerns on Zonder Zorg and seems to have corrected its problem.

We retraced our path through the broken locks and found most repaired, only the swing bridge needed some help.

We arrived at Châlons-en-Champagne at 16:30 and the lock master came to help with this very high lock. It is the end of the season and there was no problem finding a mooring spot.

We celebrated the evening with a home cooked meal of St Jacques seared with mushrooms in an Armagnac-butter reduction and toasted with a bottle of Champagne Canard-Duchêne. We received several birthday wishes from friends and family.

Friday the 13th has been considered bad luck throughout history for no apparent reason. There is a superstition, thought by some to derive from the Last Supper, that having thirteen people seated at a table results in death of one of the diners. 

Friday is also the day Jesus Christ was crucified, according to the gospels and adding the day's unpopularity.

On Friday the 13th of October 1307, a date linked to the origin of Friday-the-Thirteen superstition, hundreds of the Knights Templar were simultaneously arrested in France. This action was motivated to increase the prestige of the crown. King Philip IV, deeply in debt to the Templars, was the behind the ruthless move and pressured the newly appointed Pope Clement V, who was based at Avignon. Both falsely charged the Knights with heresy, immorality and abuses. Many of the order's members in France were arrested, tortured into giving false confessions and then burned at the stake. 

In 2008 the Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics stated that fewer accidents and reports of fire and theft occur when the 13th of the month falls on a Friday, than on any other Friday.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Visiting De Venoge

We had received an invitation for a private tour and tasting at a medium sized and rather intimate Champagne house. De Venoge is located on Épernay's avenue de Champagne, amidst the other prestigous houses. 

Marquis de Venoge, originally from Switzerland was intrigued with the emerging champagne market and moved to the area to found his company in 1837. 

In the entrance hall is a marble statue of De Venoge and behind it some vintage   advertisement posters. 

We met our graceful hostess Emma Dawe-Coz who took us on a private tour of the tank room and down into the cellars far below street level.

The 1.5 km carved chalk cellars make a perfect climate for producing and storing Champagne.

The better bottles are still hand turned and the very old and rare are behind a locked iron gate. 

Racks of Louis XV Champagne with it distinctively shaped bottle. On the 25th May 1728 Louis XV of France made viticultural history by issuing a decree allowing only the wines of Champagne to be both shipped and marketed in bottles.

After taking our photos we returned to street level, where the temperature was much warmer and the setting better for some champagne tasting.

We first tasted Cordon Blue Extra Brut, their famous house brand.

This was followed by Blanc de Noirs Brut Marquis, with the image of the Marquis de Venoge sitting at the table. The final wine was the Rosé Brut and also my favourite, with the image of a glamorous Marquise de Venoge sitting at the other side of the table. This rosé Champagne has persistent very fine bubbles and delicate notes of strawberries. 

De Venoge produces about 800,000 bottles a year and the three Champagnes we tasted each were priced in France at €35.50

The labeling, packaging and the bottle shapes are exquisite, as they must be with the stiff competion in Champagne. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Autumn in Champagne

Around us the landscape is in transition with harvest time nearing and the cellars making room for the new crop. Teams of grape pickers will soon be arriving, as all of the grapes are hand picked and sorted.

Even though the town has put out many planters filled with blooming flowers, signs of autumn are all around us.

At the lock house next to where we are moored, the garden has lost its lustre.

On the other side of the lock it is definitely autumn and we moved Zonder Zorg from that spot as the leaves we pilling up all over the barge.

Far away from shedding trees she is now moored snugly for another while.

Among the golden and ochre autumn colours there remain a few sprigs of mauve.

Bits of colour still remain as the plants try to hang on.

The most successful at hanging on are the burdocks, Mother Nature's velcro; I was covered in them on my return to the barge.

Free of burdocks, I prepared a simple lunch.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Walk Through Aij

We went through our last lock and stopped for brunch just outside of Aij. The spot was rather comfortable and we decide to linger for a few days.

It was Sunday and everything was closed, shuttered and quiet. On our walk there was an old wine press on display. Modern methods have not changed much as old rules and regulations are still in place.

Aij or Ay is most famous as a centre of the production of Champagne. Aij"s vineyards are located in the Vallée de la Marne on Montagne de Reims and are classified as Grand Cru in the Champagne vineyard classification. 

The directional sign post to our favourite Champagne Houses in Aij. Many prestigious Champagne houses own vineyards in the immediate vicinity and many producers are located in Aij.

We took a stroll though the vineyards to view the grapes and have a quick taste. The primary grapes used in the production of Champagne are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

Champagne appellation laws only allow grapes grown according to appellation rules and in specifically designed plots within the appellation to be used in the production of Champagne.

The trade of wine producing is very apparent.

The grandeur of Champagne houses peek out from behind closed gates. Many are entrance by invitation only. There are about forty Champagne houses in Aij including the oldest of the champagne houses dated from 1584. 

Then there are other tastes, such as hedge hock purses.

There are owls for the night life.

Champagne bonbons in the shape of Champagne corks 

Further down the street is a row of older timber framed houses with signs of a long prestigious past. Pope Leon 10th and some of the Kings of France regularly stocked up here. 

Churches owned vineyards and monks produced wine for the use in the sacrament of Eucharist. French kings were traditionally anointed in Reims, and Champagne was served as part of the coronation festivities. The oldest recorded sparkling wine, which was apparently invented by the Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint Hillaire, near Carcassonne in 1531.

The sky was darkening and it was time to return to the barge.

The change in the weather has snuck-up on us unnoticed and suddenly Autumn leaves are starting to appear everywhere.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Town of Ay

We left our last broken lock and smiling fishermen behind us as we raced to the next lock before they close for the evening. We missed it by a minute but it didn't really matter as that one was broken as well. We spent the night outside the lock next to the lock master's house.

The area around us awakened as the morning mist was lifting off the water into the glowing rays of the morning sun.

The geese had also started their day by looking for food followed by a hiss.

Local fishermen were setting up and getting in position for the catch of the day.

Early morning joggers gave us a wave. 

Neatly groomed vineyards are beginning to line the canal.

We had arrived and were welcomed into the town of Ay