Saturday, 27 October 2018

Réserve Naturelle de la Truchère- Ratenelle

La Truchère - the lake
Our photo club in Cluny came with a proposal to organise an outing to La Truchère. La Truchère? Yes, La Truchère. We had no idea what on earth was interesting about this village, so we decided to look it up in Wikipedia and Google Maps. La Truchère appeared to be a small village on the East bank of the Saône near Tournus, there where another (small) river, the Seile flows into the Saône.

La Truchère -swan
The only other things La Truchère has on offer are a church built in 1830 and a tiny little mooring place for small pleasure boats, neither of them very photogenic. We had no idea why the club had chosen this place for an outing.
Upon inquiry we were told that, smack in the middle between two villages, there was a Nature reserve called Réserve Nature de La Truchère-Ratenelle, where one part with sand dunes, marshland and peat district is in la Truchère, the other, with a lake, marshland and peat district, is in Ratenelle.

La Truchère -swan
The area is known to be home to some interesting birds, among others the purple heron.
We should have known better, and not go to this bird reserve completely unprepared. We have not the foggiest when birds are breeding or when they migrate, etc., and apart from that we have not got a zoom lens sufficiently strong to shoot some nice pictures.

La Truchère -swan
The chances that we would return with some spectacular bird pictures was in any case nil. An extra drawback was, that due to the extremely long and dry summer the water table was also extremely low. This of course did not add to the picturesqueness of the place.
Irrespective of this I managed to shoot some acceptable pictures, albeit not of exotic birds, but of everyday swans, and who knows, maybe we will have more luck next time….

La Truchère -swan

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Steaming Southwards

Arrival Chalon-sur-Saône
Last year we made a long trip, from Le Creusot to Mulhouse (in the Alsace) on board a train pulled by a beautiful steam locomotive, the 241P17. This was one of the last operating express train locomotives in France, and there are only a few of those left. The three first digits of the train number indicate the number of axles: 2 leading truck axles, 4 driving axles and 1 trailing truck axles. In England, where they indicate the number of wheels, this would be called a 4-8-2 locomotive.

The home base of the train is Le Creusot, also the place where the locomotive once was built (1950) by the Schneider Company. She was operating until the end of the sixties.
An enthusiastic group of steam maniacs have revived this locomotive and keeps her going. Every year there are outings from Le Creusot to a.o. the Alsace, the Loire region, Lyon, Aix-les-Bains, Switzerland, etc. It is obvious that there is a price tag attached to these trips, however a "real" trip with a steam train is quite different from a 1 mile trip on a specially installed or restored short rail track.

After last year's trip to the National Railway Museum in Mulhouse, where we had a dinner in the museum amidst historical locomotives, we decided to keep an eye on next year's program for a revival.

Between Vienne and Valence
The first brochure that came in advertised, apart from the "standard" trips, a three-days outing to Marseille, where the second day was reserved for a trip along the coast line. That sounded promising, hence we started to make inquiries. Last year we had reserved places in a 6 person first class compartment, and that worked this year as well. This year it looked like we could occupy all 6 seats, because some French friends would like to join as well.

Steam on the left bank, nuclear energy on the right bank (Cruas)
The website however did not give sufficient details, hence we decided to phone the organisers. In the meantime their plans had changed: the trip was one week later than the original one, and the trip went to Avignon instead of Marseille. For the second day one could choose between a river cruise on the Rhône at Avignon, a trip on our train to Arles where one could stay for the day, or from where one could continue to the Miramas Train Festival. We found neither the river cruise nor the Miramas Train Festival very appealing, hence we went for a day in Arles. Our French friends could not join us, because they were free during the original weekend, but they had other obligations the weekend after. Their place was taken by some Dutch friends of our friends, so we still had the compartment to ourselves.

Old next to new in Avignon
There appeared to be another bottleneck when we heard that the trip before ours had to be cancelled because of engine problems. Fortunately these were solved in time, hence our trip was still on the rails.
Two days before departure we received a phone call informing us that the departure times had been changed to one hour earlier than planned. However, since we had decided to board the train in Chalon-sur-Saône, this change did not affect us much. Instead of driving at the crack of dawn to Le Creusot (a good one and a half hours drive) to catch the 6h24 train, we drove at still a comfortable time to Chalon, to catch the 9h35 train.

The trip was wonderful. We had indeed our own compartment, we had ordered some sort of airplane lunch both ways, the weather was like in summer, hence we drove with open windows, fully enjoying the steam train noises and smells, the soot particles threatening one's eyes, the musical interludes the driver managed to get out of the steam whistle…. In a word, this was going to be a super trip.

Arrival Arles
There were only a few minor drawbacks: the whole track was more or less straight, and for nice photographs of a steam locomotive in her full glory one needs long bends. And the amount of spectators along the track was disappointing. Last year, in Vesoul, where the train took in water, half the population was at the station to wave us goodbye. In Lyon, where we also had a long stop we were only gaped at by travellers to other destinations. However, this could have been to blame on the last minute change in the time table indicated on the website; when we left the website had not yet been updated (it has been now).

Musée Départemental Arles Antique
In Avignon we stayed in an Ibis Budget hotel, not luxurious but adequate, the evening dinner in Avignon was excellent, the day we spent in Arles (a place we know quite well) was very enjoyable, also due to the summer temperatures and a for us brand-new museum, the very interesting Musée Départemental Arles Antique.

Departure Arles
Even though the heavens opened the morning of our departure, we managed to reach the station in Avignon relatively dry. And the skies cleared during the trip north.
And that was the end of a nostalgic, long weekend. I am very curious to find out what trips are planned for 2019….