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Toul's down, ready for a rest!

Sunday, 5 June 2022 4:41 pm

From Épinal we went in tandem with a German/Dutch team, lovely people! The VNF had already started preserving water resources and encouraged grouping of boots going through locks. Rain clouds were developing above and brought some welcome downfall at night. As things went very smoothly, we cruised longer than originally intended. We made it to Toul on day two clearing the last lock just before the 6pm lock closure. Sure enough, there were our good friends Jan and Bill welcoming us from the other side of the harbour.

Within minutes of fastening the ropes, we were sipping drinks on deck of their boat "La Bonne Vie“ and caught up on all the news. Instantly, the last two years were like wiped away! In the usual "Jan fashion", we were fed some delicious food followed by her home-made sloe-gin.

For the next two weeks it is “tools down” for us. We just intend to enjoy Toul with our friends before visiting Austin’s uncle and family in Colchester, UK for a few days.

A stroll around town showed us that not much 

had changed in Toul. As usual, sheep were chewing grass in the amazing Vaubin designed ramparts. Colourful flowerbeds adorned the entrance of the Port de France. The cafés circling Place des Trois Évèches were full of customers enjoying a sunny Pentecost holiday. To Austin’s delight his favourite “Mademoiselle" was still selling the best baguettes and pastries at the boulangerie next to the harbour.

However, a noticable improvement had been made to the beautiful Saint-Étienne Cathédral. Most of the ancient walls had undergone a clean and looked a lot brighter than we remembered. Vaults and windows were greatly restored or still in the process of restoration. New information boards had been added to the many artefacts, giving background of their historic and religious significance in French and English. As, for example, at Saint Mansuy's sculptured cenotaph. Originating from the early 16th century the sculpture shows a small child standing next to the Saint, and we learned that this was the son of the then Roman governor and that, when the child accidentally drowned in the Moselle, Saint Mansuy performed a miracle bringing him back to life!

Near the Port de France, which is our closest entrance to the old fortified city, we came across this seemingly out off place painted elephant. A sign explains that the elephant was gifted to Toul by it's German sister city of Hamm and features a streetscape of the city centre. We found the connection between the towns quite a coincident, having just been in Hamm with my brother a few weeks ago. 

Well the party in Toul kept on going with dinners, drinks and lunches, until it was time for us to leave for the UK. We hopped on a train to Paris and had an afternoon and morning to stroll through the French capital before catching the Eurostar to London the next day. The streets, cafés and metros were buzzing with people and it seemed as if covid had never happened. Nobody wore masks or attempted to keep a safe distance, and as the metro is the only way to move easily around the city, we didn’t have much choice. We tried to go by bus to Montmartre instead, but this was worse and made us feel quite claustrophobic. 

Choosing the backstreets rather than the main tourist walks provided us with new discoveries and the longed for distance from crowds. At Montmartre we learned that the "Moulin Rouge" is not the only Mill but that there are three others still in existence. The Moulin Rouge was built in1889 as a nostalgic notion, remembering the country village with dozens of windmills it had been in the distant past.

In more recent times, Montmartre has been an artist hub where people like Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Émile Zola and many others have worked, lived, and yes, also died. The Montmartre Cemetery where the likes of Zola, Berlioz, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir are buried feels like an assembly of who's who. 

(Not sure which artist painted this one over the door of a backstreet house?)

Of course we passed Nôtre Dame and seeing it from the eastern side the facade and towers look great, but unfortunately access to the cathedral won’t be possible for another 2 years or so, until the windows can be re-installed and scaffolding removed. It still is such an iconic sight!

The next day, the queue going through customs for the Eurostar was huge, and we were glad that we had arrived early. When we got off the train, it seemed unreal to be suddenly in London heading to Liverpool Street and onwards to Colchester, Britain’s oldest recorded town.

This is where Austin’s uncle Alan, aunt Jean and cousins Eleanor and Liz are living, the reason for our visit. We were warmly welcomed by this lovely family and taken to Michelin recommended restaurant of 18th century Greyfriars Hotel for a very fancy dinner. 

18th century is not at all old in this town, dating back to 5 AD when a warrior called Cunobelin was the ruler. 35 years later Roman emperor Claudius came to town. To honour him a temple was built. Then, around 60AD, the queen of the British Iceni tribe led an uprising against the Roman Empire and destroyed the temple, the town and it’s inhabitants.

The Normans later built a castle on top of the temple's foundations. Now the castle is a museum of the most amazing archeological finds. A historian at the museum showed us chards of Roman pottery with a glaze which couldn’t be replicated by modern technology up to now! There is also evidence of the foundations of a huge Roman theatre, seating at least 3000 people. A 12th century chapel and 14th century church show that the Normans used Roman bricks together with with half-timber and local stonework in rebuilding Colchester.

The “Red Lion Hotel” on High Street, where we stayed, was almost as old. No chance of sneaking in late at night as the floors were creaking loudly under our weight and the plumbing had it’s own challenges. 

Much better tunes were sounding through town on the Sunday with a variety of musicians and bands on every corner. 

The best, no doubt, was the fantastic West Bergholt Concert Band with Archie, the son of Austin’s cousin Liz, playing the clarinet and being the youngest player on the day by a decade or more. It was sad saying goodbye to everyone, but then Lodi was awaiting us in Toul. 

We tried to get a quick transport via Hogwart at platform 9 ¾ but were sadly rejected, and finally arrived in Toul harbour at 10pm. 

The next morning, Austin wasn’t feeling great and had all signs of a flu. Just in case, he did a RAT and the result appeared within seconds: Positive!

Now after 2 days of moaning and groaning, the local boating community has decided, that he definitely suffers from the worst case of “Man-Covid”. God help me!


Austin’s cousins Liz and Eleanor

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Cheers,

Austin Robinson

austin@robos.com.au