Susi's Blog

Maastricht & Zuidwillemsvaart

After a stop in Maasbracht where a lovely dutch lady befriended us and presented us with an enormous Dutch flag, we sailed back into Mosae Trajectum, the name the old Romans gave the town around 55 BC, which later became “Maastricht”.

Two days later, our very good friend Eva from Munich was set down by a Flixbus right into the middle of the Post-Tour-de-France Maastricht bicycle race, which has Hollands best cyclists circle the cobblestone streets of the centre in neck breaking speed. We managed to circumvent the cordoned off streets and beer drinking spectators and got Eva safely to the breakwater wall of St. Servaas' Bridge where the Freshwater was moored. 

This called of course immediately for a "safe arrival” drink which set the precedent for the next week. 

While we cruised from Maastricht into the Zuitwillemsvaart back into Belgium, Apérol Spritz remained the drink of choice and the card game “ Golf “ the daily challenge. To our shame, Eva, being a bit of a card shark, won most of the time. But we all had lots of fun in the process.

The first and last day of our little tour we stopped at the small town of Rekem. It is one of the oldest and most picturesque places in the area. Although temperatures had cooled down, we were still able to have coffee and cake in one of the café gardens. The canal itself was framed by allées of trees, a haven for cyclists and fishermen. We also stopped at Bocholt where the Zuitwillemsvaart meets the Herentals-Bocholt Canal which we had cruised in an opposite direction only a week prior. There we found a lovely nature walk to an old abandoned arm of the canal, where a coot had just built a nest on top of the water.

The weather now had really changed and the extreme heat wave was long forgotten. Intermittent rain showers set in, but luckily always when we had already settled in for dinner or a game of cards. As soon as we came back to Maastricht the rain periods increased and were accompanied by a cool, biting wind. An exception was the sun shine on Eva’s birthday. We spent the day strolling around the city and ended it with a delicious dinner at a Thai restaurant.

By chance a nice couple from the Rheinland we had already met in Rekem was looking for a spot on the popular breakwater wall, and we invited them to tie up to us while waiting for a free spot. To say thank you they unnecessarily and unexpectedly presented us with a bottle of Rheinhessen wine and a “Früh”, the famous beer from Cologne. Thank you again, and sorry I didn’t ask your names!

Unfortunately it was soon time for Eva to return to Munich, and for us to get to our winter mooring in Maastricht Marina.

We are in our winter berth now, trying to fix a leak through one of our windows and do general maintenance. The next week promises dry weather and sunshine, so we might get to explore more of Maastricht before we leave for Oz.

For more on Maastricht also see our 2016 blog.

Fishermen with their nets along the Zuitwillemsvaart Canal

Street Art under bridge at Bocholt

Aalst to the Bocholt-Herentals Canal

Great shoes seen in Aalst. Don’t leave in the sun - they are pure Belgian chocolate

A funny story we heard about the old town gate in Ninove, one of the only historic buildings among the greatly modern town.

When the city was threatened by enemies, the key of the gate couldn’t be found. 

So a very “smart” citizen apparently got a big carrot and jammed it into the lock. But a donkey came and ate the carrot which allowed the enemy to push the gate open. Nevertheless, the carrot man has his own statue in town and his place of honour in the yearly carnival proceedings.

We finally got the ok to move further along the increasingly pretty, winding river. An array of wildflowers grows along the banks and the towpaths are lined with beautiful trees and lush paddocks. At Aalst the river widens and only from there on can commercial barges use this waterway to transport the local produce of grain and seeds for bio-oil and animal feed. 

While Ninove has a relationship to the carrot, it is all about onions in Aalst! Aalsters themselves are jokingly called “Onions”. The opinions as to the origin of this nickname are divided. It could be due to a large onion plantation on the polders of the river in 19th century, or come from the local dialect in which the “yes” sounds like “ui”, the Dutch word for onion. 

We were assured by the tourist bureau, that Aalst is THE carnival town of Belgium. There is a yearly three day celebration with processions of decorated wagons and men dressed as women, not in a sexual way but rather a stereo-typical or glamorous “Dame Edna” style way. The epitome of the carnival spirit is the statue of the “Ijlster” (a person from Aalst) on the Hopmarkt. 

The main market place of Aalst is overlooked by the statue of Dirk Martens who introduced printing to the local people in 1473. This is also the site where one of Aalst’ most notorious murderers, first held prisoner inside the beautiful Belfry Tower, was executed. Two other notable persons of Aalst are the writer Louis Paul Boon and the priest Adolf Daens. The latter committed his life to help the poor labourers, farmers and small businesses. His efforts to achieve political and social reforms caused many conflicts between him and the conservative church elders and christian party.

In Saint Martins Church we admired the Rubens painting “Christ appoints St. Roche as patron of plague victims”, a powerful work of art showing some hope in the darkest of times. 

From Aalst it is only a few kilometres to the top of the Dender where the tidal lock goes onto the River Schelde. To get there at high tide and travel in direction of Antwerp, we had to start off at 7:15 am, a new record for us! This way, with the tide going out with us we broke another speed record, but also did the longest distance ever in one day! After finally making it through the other side of the tidal waters at Antwerp, it was very windy and we couldn’t find a safe mooring on the busy Albert Canal. So we just carried on until we turning off into one of our favourites: The Bocholt-Herentals Canal. With nearly 100 km travelled, this was a marathon for us! (on the right statue “Marathon Runners” found in Ninove.)

In Herentals we indulged in “Mussels and Frites” at the same restaurant as 4 years ago and rested up before moving on to a pretty little mooring just before lock no. 9. A new Café Brasserie had opened there in June and their terrace seatings were packed with cyclists and other patrons. We joined them gladly for a Belgian beer- or two in Austin’s case, which got him a little tipsy and had him talking a little too loudly about the features of diverse dogs and their owners around us. Luckily they didn’t catch onto his Belgian beer tainted Aussie accent and no offence was taken.

We enjoyed cruising down the rest of the picturesque canal and watching hundreds of cyclists passing us on the tow way.

Tomorrow we will be back in Holland. Adieu Belgium for now!

The River Dender

After three days of extreme heat we left the canal behind and cruised on the Dender into Flanders. The first stretch of the river has little movement and winds in tight bends quite narrowly through the rural landscape. A team of lock keepers were still accompanying us up to the boarder of Wallonia and Flanders. As we were followed by a 30m long barge, they had to refill the locks and re-open the lift bridges again after us, so our progress was rather slow waiting for them to catch up. Luckily it had cooled down to around 30 degrees. 

We stopped at the first little town in Flanders called Geraardsbergen and were immediately welcomed by the harbourmaster and a very young man on a cycle, who we learned was in charge of the next lock and two bridges. 

Even though the Wallonians weren’t unfriendly, the people here seemed so much more welcoming and happy to chat, which might have had to do with, that they actually understood what we were saying. In Wallonia hardly anyone speaks English or Dutch, so communication was solely in Wallonian hard- to- understand French. 

We also saw a difference in the houses and streets. In Flanders they seem cleaner and better maintained. 

In Geraardsbergen we finally got some cooling rain. Sadly the effect from the long dry spell and heat on the waterways had become visible as a layer of toxic blue algae and a number of dead fish moved slowly downriver.

The rain didn’t deter us from doing our usual visit to the tourist office. And what should we find, but “Manneken Pis”! We were assured that this Manneken Pis is 160 years older than the one in Brussels and has its own story. But that’s not all! The tourist office had a museum full of Manneken Pis' in all different outfits: dressed as an Irish dancer, a Jamaican, a Beekeeper or baker etc. In Belgium, there seems to be an endless fascination with the little man which I don’t really share, especially as peeing in any which corner is a French/Belgian custom I do not cherish.

My preference goes to the giants of which Geraardsbergen has some very jolly ones, which are paraded through town during Carnival. 

The town does its name Geraards-"bergen” (mountains) proud! To both sides of the river cobblestone streets steeply rise uphill. It nearly killed me cycling up to the market place, and that’s only where the serious ascent begins. It’s called The "Muur” and for the cyclists of the Tour de France this ultra steep incline is at the end of a 240 km stage. Austin and I decided to walk the “Muur" (Wall) while some very fit Belgians cycled past us. By the time we reached the little chapel at the top, I think, we huffed more than the cyclists.

Maybe we should have gone easy on the local speciality called “Mattentaart”, a cake made from curdled milk tasting like a dry version of a cheese cake.

We got some more training walking the so called “Alley Route” which led us up and down small lanes where metal plaques engraved with poems of local artists were affixed to walls and houses. Unfortunately, google translate does a shocking job with poetry, and so the poems didn’t make much sense to us. But we enjoyed the walk nevertheless.

A favourite of ours was the "Saint Bartholomew's Church", a mostly baroque style building with wonderful wall paintings of Louis-Bert de l’Arbre. A little gruesome is though the statue of Saint Bartholomew holding his own flailed skin.

How cruel life can be today, we experienced when moving further up the river. Intending to cruise past Ninove we were told by the lock keeper, that this was not possible until the next day as a dead body had been found in a lock ahead. The news got worse the following day when another person was found in the water. 

So we are currently staying at a mooring in the small town of Ninove until the police has finished with investigations and we can get the ok to move on.

Ath and Brussels

In spite of our mishap at the beginning I like to give the Blaton-Ath Canal a little promo! The canal flows through beautiful rural and wooded land and is a nice alternative to the busy, industrial Charleroi-Brussel Canal where the Ronquières Inclined Plane has been a problem of late and been closed more than open. The itinerant lock keepers are friendly and put boats through quickly and efficiently, although only few speak English. A good opportunity to practise French or your acting skills! The Marina Chièvres at Ladeuze with a long pontoon along the canal has well kept lawn, shade providing trees, picnic tables, water electricity and clean bathrooms, all thrown in at 10.- euros a night. The castle at Beloil is not to be missed and has a nice brasserie with simple but delicious dishes. It is only a 4km bike ride away from Ladeuze. Around the corner of the marina is a pub full of memorabilia owned by a 84 year old lady, called Gina, who still serves drinks to visitors. 

The next mooring opportunity is in Ath at the end of the canal. Here the moorings with the railway station right next to it are not so pretty, yet the trains move through very slowly and quietly and haven’t disturbed us at all. There is unmetered water and electricity, and in the three days we have been there, nobody has come to collect any money.

Ath itself offers a lively square and a 19th century castle accessible via the tourist office which has become the house of the giants, “Maison des Géants”. The giants play a very big part in this area of Belgium and neighbouring France. The tradition of parading giants through the city streets during the yearly festival is 500 years old and started when the church incorporated legendary or religious giants into its processions. They became so popular that over time more giants were created, some representing local characters or professions. The male giants, like Goliath e.g. was paired with a Mrs. Goliath and their Giant children. Constructing and parading the giants is a family affair and has been passed down from generation to generation. It is heavy work as the wooden framework is carried on padded shoulder bars, all hidden under the giants garments and danced along the streets by a single person.

Unfortunately we will miss the processions this year as we will be back in the Netherlands then, preparing to fly back to Oz.

The predicted heatwave -" the hottest ever in Belgium” - hit us on the second day in Ath. No shade cloth, ice bucket or fan would have saved us from sizzling on our steel boat, so we took advantage of the adjacent railway station and the 6.50 euro seniors fare and hopped onto a train to Brussels. We did the same on the next day when temperatures hit 43 degrees. By then the trains aircon and ventilation system had shut down and there were long waits for trains in all directions.

Of course, two days are no way enough for a city with such beauty, culture and history like Brussels. Also, due to the extreme heat we were slowed down and didn’t see as much as we would have liked. But here are a few impressions: 



From Mons to the Blaton-Ath Canal

As mentioned in the last blog, there were two other Aussie boats moored at the Grand Large when we returned to Mons. Austin knocked on the hull of The Downunder and he almost made some unexpected money when Gordon called out:

“Just a moment! I am getting my wallet!” He was thinking the harbourmaster had seen him arrive and had come to collect mooring fees. Fortunately Gordon realised just in time that the outstretched hand reaching over the railing belonged to Austin! Gordon and Anne, who we met last year in Friesland, still had the good grace to invite us over for coffee and pastry the next morning. Karen and Peter, from the other Aussie boat, were also part of the coffee round. We had the chance to see their beautiful new piper barge in the evening when having drinks on their “ Joie de Vivre”. We had a wonderful night with Karen, Peter and their sailing friend Dori, just slightly tainted by a bout of jealousy on my behalf of their perfect barge with everything what a woman’s (and a man’s) heart can desire.

We waved them good bye the next morning while we stayed on for another day sorting out a few things and returning our hire car.

Full of enthusiasm we went off the next day towards the Blaton-Ath Canal which connects the Blaton-Péronnes Canal with the river Dender.

We reached the beginning of the canal by early afternoon and booked in with the water authority to climb the first stretch of 10 locks the next morning. Unsure where to moor for the night we decided to check out the first lock and possibly tie up nearby.

And here we found out that the luck bringing monkey whose head we stroked in Mons is just a myth! There was no spot where we could moor, and while turning around we got hopelessly stuck in the mud - black stinking, silty, oily mud! The propeller didn’t budge at all and the motor was heating up from our attempt to free it. So “never give up and grit your teeth” Austin eased himself into the murky water with the end of three 15 metre ropes tied together to swim to the far side of the canal. He then, with Hercules like grit pulled our 14 tonnes boat out off the bog and back into the middle of the canal. He emerged victorious but looked like 'the monster from the black lagoon' with slick and odd plant life hanging off him. This was then evenly dispersed throughout the boat as the real work began! 

The motor released only little puffs of smoke instead of water and so the blockage had to be cleared. Luckily we made it to a mooring spot just across from the Bl…. -Ath Canal, and managed to clean out the filters and inlet hose with help of our deck pump. Without getting too technical and embarrassing myself by getting it totally wrong, the impeller proved to be still intact, and eventually the motor started pumping water again! Hallelujah!

The next morning we were followed into the locks ,14 all together - 10 going up, 4 down, by an English boat and crew. The day ended with a lively, even noisy (some might have thought?) get- together at a lovely mooring at Ladeuze. Hugh, Rosemary and Ed from The Blue Steel were great company, and there was no danger of the conversation turning serious!

In the morning, they were up bright and early waiting for the second team of itinerant lock keepers to get them through the next 7 odd locks while we decided to stay put and cycle to the nearby Castle of Beloil.

Since the 15th century the castle is the home of the Ligne family with the princes of Ligne still residing in one of the wings today. The castle is richly furnished and it’s walls hung with portraits of the Ligne family and past European royalty, including Napoleon and the unlucky Charles I of England. It also contains an impressive collection of 17th century chinese vases and a library with 20,000 books from the 14th to the 19th century. The 25 hectares gardens with its ponds and outdoor sculptures also include 10kms of tall hedges, and Thomas, if you ever feel overwhelmed by cutting yours, a total clipping surface of 55,000 square meters!

According to the forecast the next 4-5 days are going to be extremely hot with temperatures peaking at 40 degrees Celsius on Thursday. Our plan is to make the small journey to Ath and then take it easy for a few days, feet in an ice bucket etc.... We’ll see!

Mons and happy re-unions

As usual we took a wrong turn on our way from the Grand-Large yacht club to the city of Mons. It extended the three kilometre cycle to five and had me struggling up the steep cobblestone streets to the top of the old town! 

As the name “Mons” (mountain) indicates, it is built on a hill crowned by the heritage listed 87m high Belfry Tower, the only baroque style “Beffroi” in Belgium. From its top a great view over the town and surrounds can be enjoyed. Not much evidence of the old coal mining days of the 60s is visible, although further out in Mons- Borinage a couple of coal mining sites remained. It is there that the great van Gogh lived among the miners and underwent the transition from preacher to artist.

From the highest point of town the cobbled streets descend to the “Grand-Place”. It really is a “grand” place! The beautiful 15th century facade of the town hall giving it some special significance.  A little cast iron statue of a monkey right next to the main entrance comes as a surprise! It has a very shiny head, because local legend suggests that stroking its head with the left hand brings 1 year good luck. And as nobody really knows the reason for the monkey being there, we were happy to go along with that - just in case!  

Walking downhill on the other side one cannot miss the early 16th century Collegiate Church of Saint Waudru and the surrounding convent buildings. Saint Waudru, also called Waltrude in other regions, was married to a count and had 4 children before founding her own convent. The city grew around it and Saint Waudru became the patron saint of Mons. 

Every year on the Sunday after Whitsunday as part of the holy trinity procession, a gilded horse drawn cart carrying Saint Waudru's shrine is driven through the city. For the last steep hill the locals traditionally gather behind the carriage and help pushing it up. The rest of the year the “car d’or” with its buxom cherubs lives in the church.

The following day we got our own little carriage, not quite golden but good enough for us two rotund cherubs to travel to the Somme. Our eating habits have been quite bad over the last two months to the stage where I now could write my very own “Bridget Jones’ Diary “. Not altogether our fault though! For example, we ordered what sounded like a smallish lunch a “French Taco”. What arrived was a huge wrap filled with chicken and chips smothered with melted cheese, then topped with a relish and more cheese! No greens were harmed in making it! 

We knew that visiting our friends Jan and Bill, who invited us to stay on their boat, wouldn’t be a time to start our diet. They had set aside a home made bottle of Sloe-gin for Austin and Jan made one of her lovely 3 course dinners. The problem was that we had indulge already on the way to the Somme when we stopped in Péronne to catch up with Aileen and Grahame. The “cuppa” we were supposed to pop in for was accompanied by all sorts of delicacies. Enough about food! It is always fun to spent time with the lovely couple from across”the ditch”.

We had really looked forward to seeing our Toul buddies, and it was great when we finally did! Jan and Bill had “parked” La Bonne Vie at the most picturesque spot in Long on the Somme. It was a fabulous night of talking, eating, drinking and playing cards. Unfortunately Bill wasn’t a good enough host to let us win. But we’ll forgive him. 

On Jan’s suggestion, we drove the next day to the Australian War Memorial and Sir John Monash Centre at Fouilloy on the Route de Villers Bretonneux. We concurred with our friends that it is unbelievable such war horrors have played out in the idyllic, rural landscape. The memorial is set on a hill and beautifully landscaped. Shocking are the many unnamed graves and inscription like: "believed to be buried here”. 

The Museum is named after Australia’s most well known general and commander of WWI troops, John Monash, who was born in Melbourne to a Prussian Jewish family. His troops were involved in many battles and helped in 1918 to stem the German offensive. Visitors of the centre are taken through Australias involvement in WWI, from the initial decision to join the war effort to the terrible aftermath: the incredible losses, injuries and long-term psychological illnesses. The audio-visual tour is more than touching and it was comforting to come back to Jan and Bill’s boat and relax for a while.

We arrived back quite late at the yacht club of Mons and - who should be moored there!? But the “Downunder” with Anne and Gordon! Another newly arrived Australian boat had also joined the Aussie invasion! To quote Sir John Monash: “…… to advance under maximum possible protection,….” I think we Aussies have mastered that!

More about the Aussies in the next blog!

Belgian Weather!

Over the last few days, seeing our Aussie flag on the stern, locals have been apologetically shrugging their shoulders calling out ” Belgian weather!”. All it really was were a few sudden showers and wind gusts making entering the locks, let's say, ‘interesting'. But this hardly impeded our cruising.

The grey skies fitted well to travelling up the factory gird Sambre. Rushing past pipelines, mountains of metal and laden barges, Austin seemed to be on a mission, and contrary to common sense went past the only possible mooring of this long stretch of water. On we powered past Charleroi and luckily just made the last lock before closing time. Very tired we arrived at the yacht haven of Seneffe after 8pm, had a quick dinner and fell straight into bed.

Seneffe lays at the beginning of the Charleroi-Brussels-Canal. Here the banks are lined with pine forest and paddocks- no factory in sight! We decided to stay two nights to recover.

The next day we discovered that the small rural town has its own “Château de Seneffe”. This very decent sized castle is showcasing life in the 18th century supported by film clips, sound and olfactory effects. A special section was devoted to the then highly sought after silversmiths and their innovative ways of expanding their businesses. From the simple barber using silver grooming tools to nobility showing off intricate silverware in glass cabinets or on their dinner tables, they also made themselves indispensable to judges and the clergy and their increasingly fancy items for court rooms and churches.

Next to all the beautiful silverware, including tiny silver dishes for dolls houses of the rich kids, was descriptions of the lives of “apprentices". These were often orphans who had little choice of what trade they were placed into and what chores they had to fulfil. They lived in great poverty and had to do the lowest of jobs.

We just made it  to the town centre with our cycles when it started to pour down and we quickly took cover under the awning of a brasserie. We ordered two croques (toasted sandwiches), a coffee and a big glass of sparkling water for Austin. Austin seemed rather distracted, not really listening to the important things I had to say…! I now know why! He was practising in his head to say “Il y a un trou dans mon verre!” - there is a hole in my glass.  Although Austin delivered it in perfect French, it didn’t work as he intended! 

The waiter just smiled and said something, like “do you want to sue me”, but a second glass of water wasn’t forthcoming! Better luck next time, Austin!

From Seneffe we turned into the the Canal du Centre and descended Europes tallest boat lift, the Strepy Thieu, then cruised on to Mons. The harbour at Mons lies on a lake, The Grand Large - meaning basically the Big Big. It lends itself to all kinds of water sport, mainly involving speed boats. So we happily moored inside a protective basin.

We’ll stay here for a while and have a look at the town, hire a car to visit our friends on the Somme and go for a swim if the weather allows. 

Happy Bastille Day to all you people in France! We’ll pray for more rain your way, so you can make it to your winter moorings this year!

Huy and Namur

View of Namur Citadel from the port

Huy and Namur are two of our favourite cities. They are welcome havens after cruising along the industrial stretches of the Meuse from Liège in the North or Charleroi in the West. 

In spite of the local metal industry and nuclear power plant, Huy has maintained its old time charm and celebrates its history dating back to the 9th century and the old Romans. 

On our first visit in 2015 we saw the Tour de France scaling “Le Mur”, the "Wall of Huy", a steep hill and the finish for this episode.

On our second visit we explored the citadel which was used as a detention camp by the Germans and is now a WWII memorial. This time Austin made a new friend! After finishing his perusal of the paper, we were drawn to the Collégiale Church of Huy and its special exhibit of “Mary in the Art of the Meuse”, wooden sculptures of Mary collated from churches around Wallonia. We like the “Mosan (derived from “Meuse”) school” in its simplicity and character. However, after an hour and a half of Christian culture we found ourselves in need of some worldly refreshments and relaxed with an apérol spritz on the lively market place of the old city. The beautiful weather must have drawn out all the “Grey Nomad”- type motor bike riders, who took a break from tearing up the bitumen relaxing on the sunny terrace cafés.  

The sun has been shining here non-stop and it wasn’t any different when we arrived in Namur. 

Again, we have been there a couple of times before, exploring the biggest citadel and tunnel system of Wallonia, the old centre and watching paddle boarders and rowers on the Meuse. 

In summer, Namur tends to display special art projects and this year ordinary objects in super size are spread throughout the city. Apart from the very popular giant park bench at the port, we saw a huge two- storey high music stand and a wooden tape measure zigzagging around 6 trees, located in the garden of Musée Félicien Rops.

Rops, a 19th century artist, known also for his illustrations and caricatures, was a provocateur of his time targeting mainly "the straight jackets of the conventional society" and poets of his time. One of his favourite subjects was the power women exerted over men, where the men are depicted as mere puppets and money-boxes, to be discarded once they had served their use. In a darker drawing the sexualised woman is in alliance with the devil. You couldn’t find a starker contrast than between the Mary exhibit in Huy and the Felicien Rops Museum!

We were confronted with a very different cultural experience while trying to register my new Belgian sim card in Namur.

The phone company led us to a small grocery shop, where we watched with fascination merchandise and customers. Baskets of taro root, sugar cane sticks, unidentifiable fruit were next to dried fish, 10 kilo bags of semolina, polenta, ordinary flour etc. Hair extensions in all the rainbow colours were hanging from the ceiling and the shelves had all sorts of hair straightening products including “hair mayonnaise”. 

Customers seemingly from diverse regions of Africa, some in western clothes, some women in those colourful large patterned gowns and turbans as worn in their original countries walked in and out, conversing in strange dialects of French with the Moroccan owner. The owner dealt with several queries and sales, holding 4 different conversations, while trying to register my phone card. When he told me that my German passport wasn’t "going through" I started to doubt his multi-tasking abilities. But finding the whole scenario in the shop so interesting we didn’t mind returning the next day with my Aussie passport. This time his mother called, but he managed to register my phone card and keep his ‘maman’ happy at the same time! 

Thank God for the Namourettes, little retro-style whaleboats taking passengers from the port to four different locations along the Meuse and Sambre for 50 euro cents per stop, saving us a fair bit of extra walking.

Our night time entertainment were two drunks on a park bench whose conversations increased in volume as the nights went on. I don’t know if my French is getting worse, but i didn’t understand a word they were saying! Quelle dommage!

Namur by night

To see our blog on previous visits to Huy & Namur, click on one of the links below:

Huy - 2015

Huy - 2016

Namur - 2015

Namur - 2016

Liège, Belgium

On our way back to France, the city of Liège is our first stop in Belgium. So we planned to stay a day or two and to be back in France a few days later, where freshly baked baguettes and croissants (which nobody can bake like the French), would be waiting for us!  - Or so we thought!  

But first we had to get our “Permis de Circulation” from the Public Office of Wallonia allowing us to travel through this area of Belgium. This goes for every boat entering the lock in Holland prior to entering Belgium. In our case it didn’t take long at all as I was very well prepared and delivered the necessary information in almost perfect French!

Soon we entered the harbour of Liège and just started to relax when we received an email from a concerned boating friend telling us that due to lack of water in the Meuse, things didn’t look so well for our onwards journey to France. 

We first couldn’t believe that so early in the year the French waterways authorities had already to shut down sections of the canal to navigation. The only other option, the Canal des Ardennes, had not been navigable since a lock wall collapsed last year. (see stolen pic on right) Still in disbelief we checked all available web sites and comments of travellers, considering to take a long way around through the Champagne area, which didn’t sound like too much “hardship” to us. But even that way was blocked off to Toul due to critically low water levels at the Mauvage Tunnel! 

It took us most of the day and a couple of Aperol Spritz' to be able to say “C’est la vie!” and start to re-adjust our plans. 

First we decided to stay a little longer in Liège, because now we had to organise a new winter mooring for our boat. We also had to think of what to do and where to go for the next 7 weeks and where best to meet up with our friend Eva from Munich.

To cool our brains we needed some distraction. So we finally did what friends many times recommended to us and visited the Guillemins train station of Liège. Wow! What an amazing structure is this creation of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava! The beams of the curved glass roof reflect in ever changing patterns with the shifting sunlight and shade. From the top level all platforms can be viewed at once and everything looks so perfectly clean and tidy.

Unfortunately this can’t be said for the rest of the town. Many buildings and streets looked quite neglected and dirty. Admittedly having spent the last 2 years in Holland, where everything is so well maintained and cared for, might have skewed my judgement. Most of the old abbeys and churches with their blackened walls were clad in scaffolding which, I suppose, is a sign that work is being done to improve things. We liked Saint Paul Cathedral, it’s old choir and beautiful sculptures and the carved altar piece in the Saint- Denis Church.

For something different we visited the weekly flea market on Boulevard De La Constitution, a 1km long accumulation of stalls with an array of old treasures, jewellery and paraphernalia you otherwise only get to see on the brocantes in Paris.

Walking back through the old town and past the university we discovered an interesting student pub and, unfortunately for our figures, a street with the most alluring patisseries.

We are still discussing where to go from here - thinking of places with no pubs or patisseries.-  Nope, just kidding!

Last days in the Netherlands

Commercial Barge carrying 44 full-size shipping containers
Affectionately called a BBB by us Boaties (Bloody Big Barge)

The Zuid-Willemsvaart and Wessem-Nederweert Canal took us from ’s-Hertogenbosch to Maasbracht a place where we had a few problems with our boat fixed in the past. And as if the Freshwater knew it, sure enough, things started to go wrong again!

But first, we almost regretted our choice of coming this way, because except of a few industrial barges there was not much to look at at all! However just when turning into the Wessem-N. Canal we found a nice green mooring, which means a free spot with bollards to tie up to but no electricity or other facilities. This one had forest all along and we cooled down on deck watching the sun set, which happens here at about 10:15pm in late June.

Putting the kettle on in the morning I noticed my feet getting wet. The fridge had defrosted over night. This could only mean two things, both of them expensive: either the old fridge had finally given up fighting the current heatwave or one of the batteries had gone! It wasn’t far to cruise to Maasbracht and there our fridge, connected to 240 volt, shook back into action again. We couldn’t believe that our nearly new batteries would be the cause and so we decided to call our friendly mechanic from 2 years ago, Guido Willems.

When we stopped at his shipyard the next morning we got the bad news: One of the batteries had gone! In the meantime our laptop was also playing up. The screen showed us just pretty stripes and colours and nothing else..

Anyhow, you’ve heard enough of me dramatising our small mechanical or technical problems over the past years that rarely impede our enjoyment of boating. We always very feel lucky of living this life we lead. Just to say that a new battery was ordered and we moved on to Maastricht where it was fitted by Guido a few days later. 

A Highlight for us was that my life-long friend, Mareike, was coming to visit us on the Freshwater. She put up with traffic jams on the Autobahn and 34 degree heat bringing home-made gifts and smiles. We spent a lovely few hours together, chatting about this and that, while we were thoroughly roasted on deck of the Freshwater. Thanks for visiting Mareike! Next time we park a bit closer to Remscheid and we choose a cooler day, so we can offer you more than just cold water!

The following day it cooled down a little and we recovered from our heat exhaustion by doing absolutely nothing!

 We didn’t get to do any sight-seeing this time because Just now the town is filling up with tourists who come to see one of several open air concerts André Rieu gives here in his hometown. 

if you wonder what glamorous things we did do for the next two days while waiting for the battery: 1. washed our bed sheets and towels, 2. cycled 2 kms to the Apple repair store, then 5 kms to a nautical supply store, another 3 kms from there to a hardware and back to the marina again, 3. cleaned our tender, let it dry, 4. Forgot to get Acetone to clean off glue - cycled back to the shops, 5. Had a nanna nap, 6. Glued the leaks in the tender, 7. Cycled back to shops to stock up with drinks and food - are you asleep yet????

If you are interested in Maastricht and Maasbracht you may want to look at our 2016 blog by clicking here:

© Austin Robinson 2019