Visitors to Bruges

After returning to our winter mooring at Flandria in Bruges we spent sometime catching up with friends and with Bruges, which really is a lovely city, despite the constant onslaught of tourists! We went with Sara, Chris, Julie and James to do a ‘free’ (just give the guide a ‘tip’) evening walking tour. Really was fun and informative – got to learn about some local myths and ghost stories and the origin of the stock exchange! It culminates at a local pub with a free beer thrown in – what’s not to like?

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The weather was so lovely that we decided trips to the beach were more appropriate than museums, so we visited both Blankenberg and De Haan.

Blankenberg boasts a pier – complete with fish and chips as the lunch of the day – and a series of statues along the promenade –

 

whilst De Haan is more sedate with some stunning 30s buildings.

Both have stunning sandy beaches where everyone was sun bathing, walking, paddling and some even swimming! Not bad for mid October!

 

And then Lisa, Freddie and Alex (Lisa’s boyfriend) came out for a few days – bit of a rush especially as they were delayed at the tunnel for a couple of hours as a train ahead had broken down in the tunnel! We did visit some museums with them – the Chocolate museum, the Frites museum, the Lamp museum and the Salvdore Dal;y exhibition. Bruges was even more packed than usual on the Sunday as the Bruges marathon was taking place so it was difficult to get through the Mrkt to get to the Chocolate museum, which was uncomfortably crowded! Learnt something about the history and production of chocolate but it was a little disappointing given the crowds. But we rewarded ourselves with gauffres and hot chocolate at the jungle café

 

The lamp museum, on the other hand, was empty apart from us, and really quite interesting!

 

Never knew there was sooo much to learn about the humble potato until we went to the  Frites museum! And I’m sure you can guess what we had for lunch that day!

 

Needed our frites to fortify us before the Salvador Dali exhibition! Have to say I am not a Dali fan but Alex, Adrian and Lisa seemed to enjoy it – Fred was with me on this!

 

Lisa and Alex went off on their last evening to do the evening walk and thoroughly enjoyed it together. Tuesday morning involved some frantic shopping for chocolate and beer before they had to head back home as Lisa had to be at work on Wednesday afternoon. I went back with them to prepare for my trip to Egypt with my sister. Adrian stayed behind on the boat complete with all the washing and a to do list!

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Statistics for 2018

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Blue line = 2017              Orange line = 2018

 

Waterways in Belgium travelled in 2018:

Kanaal Gent – Oostende;  Kanaal Plassendale – Nieuwpoort;  River Ijzer;  Kanaal Ieper;  Lokanaal;  Kanaal Nieuwpoort – Dunkerque;  Afleidingskanaal;  River Leie;  Kanaal Bossuit – Kortrijk;  Haut Escaut ;  Canal de l’Espierre;  Canal Nimy ;  Canal Blaton – Péronnes;  Canal du Centre  & canal Historique du Centre;  Canal Charleoi – Bruxelles;    River Sambre;  Bovenschelde

 

Kilometers:                 996

Locks:                            97

Lifting Bridges:            20 ish

Big rides:                       Ascenseur de Strépy-Thieu

                                        4 x ascenseurs on Canal Historique

                                        Plan Incliné de Ronquières

Engine Hours:            150

Fuel used:                     620 litres  = 4.15 l per engine hour

 

 

Last stop Ghent

From Oudenaarde we carried on along the Bovenschelde, across the Ringvaat ie ‘ringroad’  (taking great care at the crossroads) up into Ghent to Portus Ganda for a few last days before heading to Bruges for the winter.

We had a very sociable few days. Ellen and Peter (Vlinder), Diana & Chris (Esme) were there on the steps – we were invited to drinks by Vlinder, which turned into lots of drinks and a BBQ, and then to dinner on Esme the next evening. Then Jo & Tim came in (Maria of Zandaam) and so we went for drinkies at our favourite Trappistehuis bar and then dinner on Maria! All very sociable and most enjoyable!

We managed to fit in a visit to the flower market on Sunday morning and also a trip round the Industrial Museum. So a little bit of culture!

 

Then on Tuesday 2nd Oct we set off on the final leg of our season – out of Ghent and along the Kanaal Ghent-Oostende – about a 6 hour trip but all went well with a friendly commercial in front of us to get the bridges opened with little delay.

We came into Flandria at Bruges and had to raft up to another boat – people get here quite early in order to secure a good spot. But since we are not here all winter we’re not too bothered. However, the wind made it difficult to turn Piedaleau, and we ended up rafting to Jeanne rather than either of the other 2 possible options.

There really is a very friendly atmosphere in Bruges. There is a Facebook Group to keep in contact with each other and, of course, we now know quite a few people in both Flandria and the Coupure (other mooring option). So dinner on Shensi (Nicki & Andy) one evening and  drinks at the Clubhouse on another.

Decided we must keep up with the culture too and so have bought Belgian Museum Passes – basically you pay 50 euros for a whole year and can visit lots of museums throughout Belgium. Hopefully we’ll be able to make good use of our cards!

So we are currently relaxing and enjoying Bruges. Some jobs to do on Piedaleau – re-bled the new fuel filter to ensure no air in the tubes and checked the fuel in the tank for water or fuel bugs (very nasty wee things that can do loads of damage to the engine!). That was our Saturday night entertainment – yep we sure know how to enjoy ourselves!!!!!

Oudenaarde

From Bossuit we left the Haut-Escaut to travel up the Bovenshelde towards Ghent. New waters for us – another tick in our Belgian waterways box! Its a busy waterway with lots of big commercials moving in both directions! Thank goodness for AIS (Automatic Identification System) which Adrian installed at the beginning of the season. All ships over 20m have to have this operating (so technically we don’t), it tracks where ships are, which direction they’re going and how fast. You watch the little triangles on the screen for advance warning of other ships around you. Can be very helpful!

We stopped in the medium sized town of Oudenaarde for 3 nights and found it to be a delightful place. Unfortunately the mooring was rather noisy as the area around it is being redeveloped – will be rather smart in a few years time – so we had diggers, earth movers and power hammers going through the day! Could literally ‘feel’ the works through the boat! On the last morning we were awoken at 6.30am by a very loud clang – the boat shook – felt like something or someone had landed on us – I jumped out of bed to look through the window and saw that they had already started work beside us and had delivered a large tank thing nearby. A rather rude awakening!

But we liked Oudernaarde – ‘Old Landing Place’ – which was founded as a fortress on the River Scheldt in the 11th century. It has a long and troubled history  – scrapping with its rival town of Ghent during the middle ages, and often besieged. It developed as a cloth town & was celebrated for its tapestries in the 15th Century.

The Markt (Grand Place) in the centre is dominated by the gothic facade of the Stadhuis (Town Hall). Stunning in the evening sunshine – demands you sit watching the world go by at one of the local bars, with a beer.

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The Museum of Oudenaarde and the Flemish Ardennes is housed in the Stadhuis. Internally it is also stunning with superb staircases & high wooden vaulted ceilings. We visited the museum and the exhibition of Adriaen Brouwer. A Flemish artist who was a contemporary of Rubens, & Bruegel but little known outside of Belgium. He was renown for his portraying people of his time, drinking, flirting & smoking. Never seen so many paintings of people smoking! Unusually, for his time, he focused on peoples’ emotions so the faces of his subjects are never dull. Links were made to other artists of the time and the influence that they each had on each other. He died very young and only painted around 70 canvasses.

The Museum also incorporates the nearby Lakenhalle (Cloth hall) which contains a stunning selection of huge tapestries.

We bought a leaflet of 2 walks from the Tourist Information centre and set off around Oudenaarde – a very worthwhile 1.5 euros worth. We saw one of the old textile factories which has been converted into a posh apartment complex.

The housing provided for the workers consisted of terraced houses with decorative brickwork reflecting the weaving patterns of the textiles produced in the factory.

I was delighted to also find art deco and art nouveau houses

And to top off our walk around Oudenaarde we visited the beautifully kept Begijnhof!

As you can imagine we were thirsty after all this touristing, so it was back to the Markt for a local beer, or two!

Back to Bruges for the winter

Having played with all the big boys toys along the Canal du Centre – Strepy-Thieu ascenseur, Plan Incliné de Ronquieres and the Canal Historique – we are heading back –  towards Bruges where we are mooring for the winter again.

From Thieu we stopped again at Pommeroeul, the only boat there in howling wind! It took quite a while to moor up especially as the wind was gusting and trying very hard to push us away from the jetty. We ended up with 6 ropes to hold us – to be sure, to be sure…….

Adrian is cycling back to collect the car so we only cruise about 20 kms each day. Along the Nimy-Blaton-Péronnes Canal to Péronnes – but there is no party here now – just lots & lots of rain. Down the Haut Escaut but we couldn’t stop in Tournai as the town visitors’ pontoon had been removed! There is still lots of building work going on throughout the town – the canal side should be very attractive in a few years time. But not at present. So we had to keep going and moored below Bossuit lock for the night. The lock machinery was pretty noisy and the boat moved about quite a lot as the big boys trundled up and down the canal and / or turned into the lock. Busy place. Adrian had a 30kms ride to  collect the car!

We had also noticed a new engine phenomenon during the day. Intermittently the revs would drop and then go back up. Nothing too dramatic, just for  minute or so, but not what you want to be worrying about in amongst the big boys. We did some on line research and decided to change the fuel filter. Next day, as we cruised along new waters to Oudernaarde, all was well!

Autumn is now upon us, as witnessed by misty mornings. Not that it stops the big boys!    I had great fun photographing  the developing morning across the water at Bossuit…..

It turned into a beautiful day for cruising along the Bovenschelde to Oudenaarde

Canal Historique du Centre …….

……. and the Keystone Cops!

Monday 17th Sept we left Marcienne au Pont by 9.30am because the local gardener was about to pressure the pontoon beside us…….. We had a little convoy – Piedaleau, Auroa (Nils) and a Swedish yatch! Worked well with the 3 big locks we had to negotiate. Nils and the Swedes took the quickest route via the Thieu-Strepy Ascenseur but we had already decided to take the Canal Historique with its 4 old ascenceurs on our return trip to Thieu. The Thieu-Strepy lift is clearly visible from the old canal!

We had quite a laugh! There were 3 teams of 2 guys to work the 4 ascenseurs & various lifting & turning bridges. There was much kicking of equipment, lifting & dropping of gates, and shouting between the guys. Not exactly good communication between the teams – we were left waiting for a turning bridge to be opened – one team said they had misplaced the key, another said we had to wait whilst they prepared the ascenseurs for us! And then one guy wanted us to hurry up because he wanted to finish his shift……. And we had a satisfaction survey to complete at the end! How do you rate the Keystone Cops????

The stretch of  the Canal du Centre called ‘Historique’ was the original canal which tackled the 68m (223 ft) rise in the land with locks and 4 hydraulic boat lifts between Thieu and Houdeng-Goegnies. The few kms past Thieu, where the locks were, is now closed so the we just had the ascenseurs and the bridges to negotiate.

The lifts each have a pair of counterbalanced containers. The water in the container is equalised and then more pumped in to bring boats up / down. We were asked to moor well forward to avoid Adrian having an early shower from the cascade behind!

 

 

Each ascenseur has a machinery room housed in rather grand red brick buildings.

The canal was twinned with the Trent and Mersey Canal in 1988. This stretch of canal and the lifts are now a UNESCO site and are only used for pleasure boats between April and October. One guy told us that they get around 300 boats a year – and thanked us profusely for using it!

Near the top of the canal (just after Ascenseur 1 coming down) there is a place called the Cantina des Italiens. It is a small complex of barrack-type huts built after the Second World War by the steel industry to accommodate Italian workers brought over to work in the factories. A deal was done between the Belgian and Italian governments, exchanging coal for ‘man hours’ / workers. Thousands of young men came to the region to work in the mines and the steel industry and many were housed here. 32 rooms each housing 8 single men with a refrectory and shop. For the time the conditions were not too bad – fares paid, jobs for a year & accommodation. The Marcinelle mining disaster, 8th September 1956, where 270 miners died, brought this immigration of workers to an end. The site went into disrepair but was restored in 1984 and is now well known locally as an Italian restaurant. It has recently changed hands and has rather mixed Trip Advisor reviews but we decided to see for ourselves.

 

Wednesday evening we went for dinner with Nils (Auroa). It really was an ‘interesting’ experience. Unusual place, nice terrace surrounded by the barrack like buildings from yesteryear, young waiters with little finesse or customer care! The food was actually rather good in a basic Italian way. I won’t go into details but, suffice to say, Adrian and I felt it would not warrant a return visit next year.

 

Sunset at Thieu

The Sambre

After our sortie to Halle and Brussels we returned to Seneffe for a couple of days before heading off up the Sambre towards France. Our aim is to cruise along as many of the Belgian waterways as we can. We had heard that the Sambre is picturesque although the part through Charleroi is very industrial and not suitable for stopping. We decided to see for ourselves.

About 25 kms and 3 x 7m locks took us along the Canal Bruxelles-Charleroi to where it joins the River Sambre. The area here is surrealistic. Huge, many derelict, industrial constructions. Like something out of War of the Worlds – just needed Richard Taylor’s voice over….. inspired me to go black and white but the contrast with a clear blue sky was interesting to say the least!

This area would have been at the heart of the coal and steel industries, but now no longer in use.

Unsurprisingly the graffiti artists have been creative …….

We pulled into Marcienne-au-Pont for the night and met Jean Pierre & his wife – he’s the Capitaine at Beez Yatch Club where we left the boat last summer. His wife warned me that the area is not very salubrious, certainly one of the poorest we have seen, & not to leave the boat at night even though it looked to be a mooring in a park beside a ‘chateau’.  Jean Pierre gave us lots of information about the Sambre and the moorings – all seem to be free and most have free water and electric as well!

We stayed the night and then headed off to our next stop at Thuin. We left the industrial area and headed up the  increasingly rural Sambre. The locks are smaller and worked manually by lock keepers who alerted each other of our passage! They even live in the lock houses!!! Like being back on some of the older french canals!

 

Thuin is a nice little town, with really good mooring, shops and a Friday market – what more could we ask? Except, perhaps, to meet up with some good friends. We were excited to see Pavot moored at the end of the quay – we’d met Sally and Martin (+ dogs) at Leers Nord – we jumped off and went to say hello! We had a great evening together sharing supper and quite a few glasses.

As ever for us, pride comes before the fall …….. as we were leaving Pavot Adrian couldn’t find his manbag! Those of you who know us well will be familiar with Adrian’s tendency to misplace / lose items. In fact Sally’s first comment was ‘not the lost wallet again!’ To cut a long and painful story short (included cancelling some cards and a sleepless night) we were about to go and report the loss / theft of said bag to the police, when I looked down between the pontoon and wall (again & Adrian had already virtually dredged along here) to see a bag type corner floating ……. Adrian retrieved his bag after a night in the drink – everything there but decidedly soggy! What we think happened is that he put the bag on the wall whilst sorting the electric cable and must have flicked it off into the drink. There was a young couple sitting nearby so we were concerned that they may have been opportunistic thieves. Our apologies to them! We managed to dry everything out bit by bit but Adrian’s passport was decidedly washed out! Found a local photographer’s so had a pickie done and he completed an online application for a new one. Disaster averted but it cost him over £120!

We continued up the Belgian Sambre enjoying the rural scenery and quiet waterway, all the way to, & just across into, France at Jeumont. We had hoped that we would be able to replace our empty gas bottle (we have French bottles / connections) but Adrian was unable to locate a local supplier – we will take a trip by car when we are back in Bruges. The French Sambre is currently shut, undergoing major renovations so we couldn’t go much further and we didn’t want to pay for a French vignette for a few kms, so we turned around. We made our way back along the Sambre, stopping at Lobbe where we met up with Nils on Auroa, Norwegian guy we know from Bruges. We cruised together for a couple of days and we learnt a new phrase ‘a mooring beer’ when he came on board suitably equipped after quite a long day!

We really enjoyed the Sambre, pretty, mostly rural but with some industry, not at all busy, nice lock keepers, with pride in their locks. And we had beautiful weather – able to sit out for dinner until the sun went down.

After just a couple of days we noticed that autumn was fast approaching with the trees just beginning to change colour.