Picquigny – Amiens
One of the other cool things about having more than two of us on Catharina Elisabeth is that we could enjoy le petit déjeuner, on the aft deck as we were actually cruising,
while Deb / Peter took the helm. Magnifique!
Approaching Amiens from this direction, there is a wonderful view of the cathedral from the river, and we were looking out for it. It is very imposing from any angle, but quite delightful to see it rise majestically above the trees as you cruise along.
And on towards Amiens, where Deb and Peter would leave us to make their way back to their own barge for their share of summer cruising. However, they still had a couple of days to spend with us, so we excitedly planned what we might do with our remaining time together.
Just as we were settling in, we saw a beautiful cruiser come up in the lock, and move to moor behind us. We offered to help while complementing the owner on his gorgeous boat but it was all under control and quickly tied off.
The boat disgorged four impeccably dressed women, who got into cars waiting at the side and drove away. The young man who remained on board called out and asked us if we would like to see his boat. We didn’t need asking twice and quickly raced over. Guillaume introduced himself and told us he had just finished a hire cruise where he had taken the four Parisian women we had seen on an overnight cruise along the Somme.
Guillaume owns the boat, which dates from 1938 and uses it to take small groups on two-day cruises up and down the Somme. He lives with his family in the nearby village of Lamotte-Brebière which we had cruised past a few weeks ago. He takes his guests out for the day, then hops on his bike and cycles home for the night. The boat is beautifully set up, with berths for four, and simple cooking facilities. Or the guests can choose to step off and find a restaurant. The following morning, Guillaume returns, and takes the helm again, eventually returning his guests to an agreed place for them to disembark.
Finishing our little tour of Nauporos we invited Guillaume on board Catharina for a drink, (and a tour of our modest accommodations). We talked a little about what we wanted to see and do in Amiens, which included another trip to the Cathedral at night for the light show, a tour of the Hortillonages (the extensive flower and vegetable gardens built in the tiny waterways left by the peat farming) and a trip to Jules Verne’s house.
After a very pleasant time with Guillaume, we cycled around the canal, parked our bikes next to a rather impressive motorcycle,
and settled in to one of the many restaurants that line the canal, seated right on the edge of the stone wall, watching the sun go down, with the cathedral facing us across the river. Bliss.
After a glorious dinner, we cycled past the cathedral to catch the light show, but it was a little late, so we vowed to return the following evening.
The following morning, both Ian and Lisette received an email from Guillaume offering a personal tour of the Hortillonages, led by his father, Michel. This was just too good to pass up and we accepted with alacrity. As it was to be in the early afternoon, we spent the morning cycling around Amiens.
One stop was at the belfry. As with so many others in the region, its early use was as a watchtower to allow for detecting the approach of enemies. It seems however, it was also used to house some of its WW1 friends!
We spent some time in the famous Basilique Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens, which we had only briefly seen when our friend Maureen, was performing in the choir a few weeks earlier.
Amiens Cathedral was founded in the 13th century and was built to house the head of John the Baptist, brought back from Constantinople during the fourth crusade. A reliquary was built to house the head, which was subsequently lost, and it is a replica that is now held, and occasionally displayed. It is the highest and largest (by internal volume) cathedral in France. It is also striking in that virtually all the construction was carried out between 1220 and 1270 and no further additions of significance have been made. Thus, this cathedral presents as a homogenous architectural edifice. During the recent world wars, especially WWI, extreme care was taken to protect the interior and exterior of the cathedral with sandbags and wooden shrouds to minimise any damage by shelling or bombing. This care helped the cathedral escape both wars with only minor cosmetic damage.
There were so many interesting object and artworks inside that it would really take hours and hours to fully explore – we shot heaps of photos – some of which are below.
At the appointed time we met Michel at the local rowing club. Now, we thought the personal tour, by boat, would be similar to the commercial ones offered, just made more comfortable by a small group, and a friendly guide. However, as it turned out, we were expected to get into small canoes, and paddle ourselves around the meandering waterways.
Firstly, this was a complete hoot. Deb, perhaps foolishly, admitted to being the only one of us with any canoe experience, so she was given a one-man canoe and a set of oars.
Ian, Lisette and Peter were launched in a three-man set-up with one paddle each.
And Michel, a lifetime member of the rowing club, and vastly experienced, in his own.
Actually, Ian and Lisette have been on a couple of canoe trips, as rank amateurs, and generally with interesting results. (The one that still has our kids in stitches, involves Ian, Lisette and Fiona in one canoe, Kathryn and Marcus in another, and Christopher and Aki in a third. We were up on the Murray River which borders Victoria and New South Wales. Literally within seconds of being pushed off the hire pontoon, one of the boats – the one containing Ian, Lisette and Fiona – tipped a little. We slid along the fibreglass benches, dangerously tilting the canoe to one side, and ever so slowly, completed the tipping process, until we were all in the water, with the canoe bobbing gently upside down. We have not yet lived that down.)
And off we set. To say this was an amazing experience is an understatement. Michel guided us through a complex series of narrow waterways,
bordered on each side by a never-ending display of private gardens full of flowers
or vegetables being defended by the local version of a scarecrow.
Over the next two hours, we glided effortlessly (oh, that might have been a dream – it was more like port, port, port !! … starboard, starboard, starboard !!…watch out for that log !!…) up and down until we were quite lost and thus totally reliant on Michel. We learnt that some of the camouflaged structures we could see perched on little islands were, in fact, duck blinds.
Michel scooted ahead of us and had a chat with a chap who he had spotted outside his hut.
We were invited into the blind, where the hunter described (in French with Lisette translating) how the evening duck shoot plays out, how they avoided getting hit by other shooters, where they were allowed to shoot (only just in front – or they would be pinching a neighbour’s territory) and the use of the ducks in the pens to attract the wild ducks to come into land nearby.
At one point, Michel led us out onto the Somme itself, and we paddled for a few hundred metres along a stretch we had previously cruised on. It was a very different perspective, being in a small canoe, as opposed to the view from Catharina’s wheelhouse.
Then back under another stone bridge, and we dragged our soggy arses back out of the canoes. With aching shoulders but huge smiles on our faces, we thanked Michel for his time and cycled back to Catharina. Where we relaxed with a few beers.
After the resting, we had some dinner and set off to get a good seat to watch the sound and light show at the cathedral. As we’ve mentioned before, the show was run with some rather average music (at least to our ears) but the lighting effects were dazzling.
However, it was almost at the end where it was the most spectacular. Some years ago, the sculptures on the face of the cathedral were examined forensically and found to have traces of paint. Rather than being mere stone figurines, the facade had once been coloured. At the end of the light show, the original (or an interpretation) colours are applied to each of the sculptures to breathtaking effect.
Have a look at the difference between the door arch from day to night illumination during the show:
The following morning it was time for Deb and Peter to leave us to go to their barge, Fairhaven. We decided to stay another day to do a little shopping and then visit the house where Jules Verne lived from from 1882 to 1900. It now houses the museum dedicated to his life and works.
It was a lovely day for a cycle through town and the house was easy to identify with its distinctive tower.
The museum extended up through several floors and was crammed with displays, recreations and artefacts. Considerable amounts of the information were in English. One could not but be impressed with the breadth and scope of his works. So many intriguing stories – about the stories! Just a couple that fascinated us:
Jules became a keen ocean traveller and one of his voyages was a short visit to the US in 1867, where he visited Niagra Falls via the Hudson River from New York. He made this voyage on Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s magnificent vessel, the Great Eastern.
Later on, Jules and his wife bought a series of ships, all called the Saint-Michel. In the third of this lineage, he sailed all around Europe over several voyages. Based at St Valery and Le Crotoy, a recreation of the wheelhouse of Saint-Michel III was a rather delicious memory of our very recent visit to these seaside towns.
Of course, Jules Verne’s most famous book was and is “Around the World in 80 Days”. There were numerous posters, papers and displays that featured this book. One that caught Ian’s eye was a picture of Nellie Bly.
Nellie was a New York journalist and feminist (and ultimately, inventor and one of America’s leading industrialists), who undertook to beat the 80-day signature journey, travelling alone, in 1889. This attracted a considerable amount of publicity for her sponsor, the newspaper New York World – and a rival woman journalist Elizabeth Bisland joined in as competition, heading westwards in the opposite direction to Nellie.
Nellie describes this journey in a fascinating book ‘Around the World in Seventy-Two Days‘ and one can only be struck by the quite relaxed, matter-of-fact approach she took to the journey. She was a 22-year-old, single woman, travelling alone, with just a portmanteau bag to contain all her baggage. Anyhow, Nellie made a special detour to visit Jules Verne and his wife in this house in Amiens. She writes of the meeting as she alighted from the train from Boulogne, “Jules Verne’s bright eyes beamed on me with interest and kindliness, and Mme. Verne greeted me with the cordiality of a cherished friend“. Nellie stayed for the afternoon in conversation with the author and was allowed to visit his small study
before leaving with his blessing, “If you do it in seventy-nine days, I shall applaud with both hands.” After an exciting journey, Nellie made it back to New York in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds beating her rival by four and half days.
Another feature was a sprinkling of realisations of some of the often prescient transportation devices that Jules Verne used in his stories.
A truly fascinating and well-presented museum – highly recommended.
The next day saw the last of the perfect weather, and we stayed on board to catch up on blogs and make our next plans while it rained pretty constantly. In the afternoon, we noticed a small canoe appear from under the bridge and pull alongside us. It was Michel, so of course, we asked him to tie off and come join us on board for a coffee. After a short chat, he put his wet gear on again and sped off, past Guillaume’s Napuoros, in the steady rain.
With better weather forecast for the next day, it was time to push on.
Plan C called for us to go back to the junction with the Canal du Nord, have a short run south to Péronne and then to retrace our steps north up the Grand Gabarit (the local name for the series of canals and waterways that takes you up to Calais/Dunkirk) with a check in at Douai about our winter mooring.