Rain, rain go away

We are now in Coupure, our winter mooring in Bruges. It has been rather a wet trip south, with rain everyday. I wish I could stuff a few storm clouds in my bag to bring back to the drought effected areas in Australia.

But all the rain did not impact on our journey. The wheelhouse is snug and as there are not many locks in this part of the world, so the crew did not have to step out very often to throw the lines. And the purchase of a new warm jacket at Willemstad offered protection when I did have to brave the elements.

Rugged up

The last part of our journey took us from Rotterdam, back to Dortrecht, then onto Willemstad and Tholen, down the Scheldt Ring Canal through Antwerp harbour to Dendermonde and Ghent, then the 4 hour trip on the Ostend Ghent canal to Brugge. Not bad for our final 2 weeks on the waterways.

In summary our 2019 year on Joie de Vivre saw us cruise the Thames, cross the Channel into Europe, explore parts of the Belgium, French and Dutch waterways, covering approximately a total of 2628kms, visiting 51 ports and welcoming aboard 9 staying guests and a number of new friends.

We said goodbye to our boat, packed up and winterise on the 22nd October, with plans to return in April with new adventures waiting.

Navigating on a rainy day
Time to return to Australia when the weather looks like this

Retracing our steps through South Holland

Our trip through the highlights of South Holland

In 2016 we had a fabulous trip through South Holland with friends on a hire boat. So it was time to revisit, again with friends, on our own boat. Our starting point was Utrecht where we meet Robin and Phil Mellet. Peter did not brave the bridges of Utrecht in our boat , as he did in the hire boat, so we came off the Amsterdam Ring Canal on a sunny Sunday afternoon, turned right onto the Vecht, and were lucky enough to find the last mooring through the lock at Utrecht.

2016 through the 15 bridges at Utrecht

Joie de Vivre in Utrecht surrounded by hire boats

We thought we had a lucky mooring until I woke the next morning to find my beautifully cleaned boat covered in bird shit! Uck, a warning to the unwary, don’t park under trees. The first day in Utrecht with the Mellets saw us walk our feet off with not only a city walking tour, but an underground tour as well.

In Utrecht with Robin and Phil

we were now off on our adventure, with our trip down the Vecht taking us pass luxury houses to Loenen and dinner at the 1 star restaurant t’Amsterdammertje, which was as tasty as I remembered it from 2016.

Then it was onto Amsterdam with a mooring at Six Haven. And that was a long day, as we sat waiting for bridges to open. We eventually found out after a lot of phoning and radioing that they were having problems with the system, that left us waiting at a few bridges for over an hour.

The Vecht with its luxury houses
At least the open lock in Amsterdam didn’t hold us up

For those familiar with Amsterdam, Six haven is across the Noord sea Canal from the city, with easy access via the free ferry. So it was Amsterdam, with a segway tour in order, a visit to the Rijks Museum (my third) and a little bit of shopping (while Peter and Phil visited the Maratime museum).

Wizzing past the Bull Dog (the first marijuana selling coffee shop in Amsterdam

And yes we would venture back again to Amsterdam, but now we headed north to Haarlem, arriving on market day. This is perhaps one of the best markets that I have visited in the Netherlands, the other being in Maastricht. The market gave us the opportunity to introduce the Mellets to a speciality of the Netherlands, the fish truck with not only fresh delights, but fried prawns with a dipping sauce, which have now become one of my go to dishes.

Lunch in the market

We had our last spurt of the European summer in Haarlem and although we were now heading south the weather worsened.

This could be the last time we use our back deck this year
Feeding the swan family
Stormy skies
Arriving in Leiden

But it’s snug inside

With a change in the weather we didn’t linger in Leiden or Delft but made a dash to Rotterdam and the historic harbour of Veerhaven. The museum in Rotterdam closed in May, for renovations that are estimated to take 5 years. With no museum to visit, Robin, Phil and I took a day trip on the train to Den Haag to see the Mauritius Haus and Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.

I love this painting
And then onto the Peace Palace

Sadly the day came too quickly and we farewelled our last visitors for this season. As I sit writing my blog, with the rain tinkling on the cabin roof, I think, like the swallows we should be heading southto Australia and a warmer climate. The start of this journey has been delayed by storm warnings, but hopefully we can throw off our lines tomorrow and commence our trip to our winter mooring in Coupure.

Around in circles in the Netherlands

There is only one thing I can say about these last 2 weeks, and that is, ‘how do you pronounce the name of that city’!! However, the haven master at Leerdam gave me a good hint, if you see a ‘g’ pronounce it as an ‘h’ as in hospital, but then he confided that most English speaking people don’t even try.

So we left Nijmegen (pronounced nighmaygan), for Tiel, then up the Amsterdam Ring Canal to Wageningen (the ‘w’ is pronounced as a ‘v’), to Arnhem. This is on the Nederrijn, which is a tributary of the Rhine. Then back to Culemborg. From there we left the major rivers for a trip down the Merwedekade to the Linge and the town of Leerdam and Gorinchem. (There’s that ‘g’). We rejoined the commercial route of the Bowen Merwede to Dortretch, then up the Noord to the Lek, stopping at Kinderdyke, then Schoonhoven. Sounds confusing? Well don’t run off to find a map, I have included one below. And if it looks as though we have been travelling around in circles, well yes we have!

Map of travels

Each town or village has its own unique character. Arnhem was the site of a major battle in the Second World War. The town was heavily bombed, but the church was in its final stage of rebuild, with the reopening scheduled to coincide with a 75 year commemoration of the battle at the end of September. We went to the top of the tower by lift, to admire the view and stand on the projecting glass floors.

Glass floored outcrop from the church tower. A bit more like Disneyland than a church!
No I’m not going out there

Gorinchem gave us the opportunity to unpack the bikes, to ride along the top of the dikes and take a ferry to the other side of the river to explore further a field. Who said bikes weren’t a good investment?

Windmills and cannons
Windmills and defensive walls
The historic harbour of Woudrichem

The church in Dortrecht boasts beautiful stained glass windows, from past centuries and from present time, and of course an opportunity to light a candle.

Modern stain glass windows in the church at Dortrecht

We planned a visit to Kinderdijk and and the world heritage listed windmills. The nearest harbour to the windmills was across the river, so it was out with the bikes again, and onto the ferry. After the peaceful seclusion of the towns along the rivers and canals, it was a bit of a shock to be back in the land of the tourists and even though we are late in the season, there was still plenty of them.

The windmills are not only a museum, but still operate dragging the water from the land below sea level, and pumping it out into the river. You really have to admire the Dutch ability to manage water. Perhaps some should go to France to educate the VNF.

The Kinderdijk windmills

We have admired windmills, ancient fortification, (this part of the world has been fought over for years), lovingly maintained listed buildings, harbours full of historic barges and of course the river traffic, both the monsterous barges that dwarf our Joie de Vivre and our fellow pleasure boats.

With the auto pilot on Peter spends his time taking photos of the commercial barges
Still a little sail

And finally, it was fun discovering the small statues hidden in obscure places in some of the towns.

The medieval lady in Woudrichem

These fellows guard the town gates at Gorinchem

And this in Culumbourg

From Kinderdijk we cruised up the Lek stopping at Schoonhoven for a sleepless night on the town wall, suffering from the seemingly continuous wash from the commercials, who still ply the river at night. This wash surged into the harbour and threw us against the wall. This combined with about a 1 metre tide, saw us up and off early to dive off the Lek and back into the quieter environs of the Mederweder canal and our journey to Utrecht to meet the Mellets on Tuesday.

Big rivers and big boats

I really can’t be more blunt about this part of our journey. The Meuse in the Netherlands becomes the Maas, and of course as with any rivers, it becomes wider as it meanders to the sea. It is also a busy commercial route with 2 very deep locks. A lot of people asked about the traffic on the channel, but that was a walk in the park compared to the barge traffic on the rivers.

In one lock, we were called in as the second boat, wedged between 2 110 meter barges. As in all locks, once the lines are secured, it is important to control the movement of the boat as the water is let out or in as the case maybe. The next challenge is to hold the boat secure and not to be thrown around, as the boat in front motors off. As the big commercials throw out a lot of wash this can sometimes be quite a task.

Philip Island in front of us
The barge behind us

And Karen still has to smile for the camera!

But big rivers and boats aside, back to a commentary on our visits along the river Maas and Waal.

We had a lovely 4 days in Maastricht moored in the historic harbour (the Bassin), close to the city centre. Wednesday and Friday were market days, and the best thing in the market, the cooked fish stands!

Our new bikes also got a bit of a work out, as we travelled further afield than the historic centre. Not that the suburbs were exciting, but we did find a watchmaker to fix my broken watch, at a very Christian price, €0!

The next European heat wave was starting to kick in as we headed from Maastricht to Maasbrecht. Fortunately all the marinas along the river are equiped with power, so once moored up, we kept cool in air conditioned comfort.

The 2 day stop in Maasbrecht was to accomodate a visit to Linnson boat builders, which only confirmed that we preferred our Piper boat, not only for the cost, but also the detailed fit out and finish.

From the Maas we turned onto the Waal, which is the Rhine in the Netherlands and travels to Rotterdam. We motored upstream a few kms to the port of Nijmegen. Even at this time of the year, with a reported drought, the river was flowing at 2.5 to 3 knots, that slowed our uphill passage quite considerably. Just as well it was only a few kms! Nijmegen sits on a bend in the river, so the commercial barges were indicting to pass on the starboard side, instead of port. Quite a challenging traffic situation.

The interesting town of Nijmegen is the oldest town in the Netherlands, being settled by the romans and boasts the ruins of a castle built by Charlemagne. It was also the home of the medieval painters, the Limbourg brothers, who produced 2 book of hours, and are considered to be the fathers of Flemish art.

Spotted our first windmill
Black swans, where did they come from?
Barge traffic

And if you asked what Peter did on his birthday, it was navigating from the Maas to the Waal, dodging the commercial barges and battling a strong current.

Happy birthday Peter

The port in Nijmegen

A boulangerie guide to villages on the Meuse

If I was to write a travel guide it would have to include a recommendation for the best boulangeries in the villages or towns on the Meuse. So as we meandered downstream the focus of each village, was ‘where is the boulangerie?’, and ‘is it open’. We are in the middle of the summer holidays, so the ‘is it open ‘ question was pertinent. For example in Revin, (which had a beautiful port), a notice on the door of the boulangerie indicated it was closed for August, as she needed a holiday and in Haybes I was lucky to catch the boulangerie open, before it closed at 11am. Again holiday hours. All in all had had success in each town except for our first day in Dinant where they had sold out of baguettes 🙁.

In all, our return journey to Namur took 9 days. We had a few days of rain, when we decided to stay put instead of braving the elements, then a few days in Dinant to see the bath tub races. This is a picturesque part of the world, that I hope we can return to one day.

Our mooring in the pretty port of Revin

The Maison d’espangol in Revin

The mineral museum at Bogney

The Hotel de ville in Haybes

When we arrived in Dinant, were advised by our French travelling companions, who we had shared the locks with on both our outward and return journey, that there was a bathtub race and associated festivities the next day. Luckily when we arrived we were able to secure the last mooring in town, but were soon assailed by another boat wishing to raft up. No problem, as long as they had sufficient fenders.

The festivities involved an all day market along the quay and of course the race. The weather was rather inclement, with showers and intermittent wind gusts, but although it played havoc with the stall holders, it did not deter the brave aquanauts, who if they didn’t get wet enough in their bath tubs, made up for it by jumping in the river. Our neighbours were sure we had never seen anything like it until I told them about the birdman festival we have for Moomba.

Bath tubs coming under the bridge at Dinant with water hoses aimed at the crowd

To the rescue

From Dinant to Namur we were back in the land of commercial barges, jagged cliffs and riverside chateaus. We specifically planned the stop at Namur to refill the cheese in our fridge, that was unfortunately lacking since Charleville.

A private chateau on the out skirts of Namur

Don’t book into the Grand Hotel at Waulsort!

Is that a barge or a very large garden statue

As we were walking down the lock I noticed a New Zealand flag on a lovely Linssen, and yes before we knew it we were sharing banter and drinks with our new friends who harked from Auckland.

Next day it was onto new environs , as we turned right and continued down river. We had planned to break the journey at Huy, but on arriving found the port was opposite a nuclear power station. Not the best outlook. In fact the lower Meuse is rather more industrial, and lacks the beautiful vistas of the upper Meuse.

Chateau outside Huy, pity about the roof!

The journey from Namur to Liège was over 60kms, with 4 commercial locks. In all it took us about 7 hours, and as it was raining on and off it was better to be motoring down the river, than sitting looking at uninspiring landscape. As we arrived at the yacht haven in Liège at around 5pm, we were rafted up to a lovely old barge, built in 1916. Lucky us, last mooring available!

We were informed by our neighbours, that the largest market in Northern Europe was held the next day (Sunday), just along the dock. But as it turned out the market did not see much of us as it pored with rain all day, and it was only as the market was packing up , that we were able to venture out.

Liège, however did manage to collect some of our tourist dollar. There was a large Decathelon store in the city, where at last we purchased our much needed bikes. It might have taken Peter over 30 years before he bought a barge, but with a lot of nagging from me and advice from other boaters, it only took 4 months to convince him that bikes were as necessary part of our boating equipment.

Peter testing out the bike

Other than the successful purchase of our bikes, Liège was a bit of a disappointment. It seems to have lost its way, empty shops, rubbish on the streets and more homeless beggars than I have seen in any other city. The contrast is just 20kms down the river is Maastricht, which just after a brief walk into the centre today, is vibrant , with a busy shopping district, loads of cafes and of course people, a lot of whom are riding bikes!

Where have all the barges gone?

From Dinant we headed south up the Meuse and into France. Along the way we passed Bayard rock, which stands out on the side of the river like jagged teeth. Then it was onto Freye Chateau, built in the style of Versailles and the largest chateau in Belgium.

Bayard rock
Chateau Freye, which originally sat on the river bank by evidence of the mooring rings in its walls
The gardens of the chateau

Our guide fluvial (waterways guide) indicated there was a customs stop at Pont de Heer where we crossed the border into France, and although we kept a sharp eye out, there was no such stop, so with only a change of curtesy flag, we breezed along the river and into France. At the next lock we collected our remote control to operate the automatic locks, which were the feature of the next part of our journey. This control looks rather like the old fashioned garage door openers, and to operate it you point it at a box before the lock and voila, like magic the lock gates open to admit you. Once inside the lock it is only a matter of pulling a pole for the gates close, the water fills (or empties as the case maybe) and in about 10 minutes, you are on your way. Well, that’s the theory, and it does work most of the time, but when it doesn’t either the skipper or the crew needs to climb a ladder and contact the eculsier via an intercom, who jumps in a car and comes rushing to rectify the situation. Our first non operational lock was over 3 meters deep, so Peter kindly offered to make the climb!

Peter bravely climbing out of the lock to rescue our stranded boat
Safely back on board

Our first night in France was spent at Givet. The last available mooring was under the bridge, which was not a choice spot. We happily left early and made our way to Fumay, past the Charlemont fortress and through the tunnel at Ham which is 564 meters long. After the long tunnels in Alsace, I stupidly said as we entered”call that a tunnel” only to discover it was quite narrow and low, with rocky outcrops jutting down from the ceiling.

It was with a sigh of relief that we exited in less than 10 minutes, that felt more like an eternity.

Now that’s a fortress

Entering the tunnel at Ham

The countryside along the river is very picturesque, high cliff faces and rocky hillsides dressed in the varied greens of the forest, but of course where the terrain is mountainous there are a lot of locks.

This was originally a slate mining district so the villages are a mixture of miners cottages and large mansions, presumably once the dwellings of the mine owners. They all have one thing in common, slate roofs.

The rocky outcrop of Dames de la Meuse

This one needs a bit of work.

As the locks are too small, there is no commercial traffic on this section of the river. And with no commercial traffic, may of the locks need a bit of loving care and lots of money poured into them. The title of this blog refers not only to the absence of commercial barges, but also the general absence of pleasure boats. We had all the locks to ourselves, and moorings were very easy to find, even late in the day. The towns were very quite as well, though I did manage to find a boulangerie everyday , and in Monthermé there was a great chacutier.

It was only on our way back down the river that we meet some other bargees in the port at Charleville-Meziere.

Our destination was going to be Verdun, before we turned to head north again, but the river level past Charleville-Mézières dropped quite substantially so we erred on the side of caution and turned around at Sedan. The river past Verdun was closed last month due to a lack of water, and with the rumour of further closures we did not want to press our luck.

Between Charleville-Mézières and sedan, the river level has dropped at least a foot

But it does flood sometimes, a marker indicating past flood levels

Very few boats, and plenty of places to moor

We had the locks to ourselves

Perhaps the highlights of the towns in this part of the river is the place Ducal, at Charleville-Mézières which echoes the place des Vosges in Paris, and the fortified castle at Sedan , which is reportably the largest in Europe.

At Charleville-Mézières the place was sorting a summer plaza, with ‘trucked in’ beaches, and water amusements, even a 2 story merry go round. In contrast, the fortress at sedan, as well as the town and our mooring were deserted.

Viberant town square in Charleville-Mézières
A visit to the fortress at Sedan is not a popular destination for the locals

So now its farewell to Charleville-Mézières, as we travel down the river, visiting the villages that we missed coming up, then back to Belgium and then onto the Netherlands

From the Sambre to the Meuse

One of Peter’s favourite descriptions of himself is ‘a bald headed old coute called Lucky’. Well his luck was in overdrive! In the morning I returned our electricity key to the Capitainne at ADEPS only to be told the the Ronquières incline plan had been closed again and would not reopen until 2nd August. It certainly would have put a hole in our plans if we hadn’t got through on one of the 4 days it was open.

Our journey now took us in south eastly direction, through Charleroi with an overnight stop at the small village of Auvelais, where we left Dori to catch a train to Dinard.

We were advised not to try and stop in Charleroi, and yes I’m glad we didn’t. The scenery of deserted factories and graffiti was like a scene from a Mad Max movie.

Through Charleroi, no stopping here
Abandoned factories in Charleroi
Is that your car? Recycling plants along the canal
Some of the rubbish that didn’t make it to recycling

From Auvelais it was onto Namur, which sits at the confluence of the Sambre and the Meuse. Instead of keeping on the Sambre towards Maastricht we chose to take a detour south along the Meuse. Our plans were delayed when European heat wave hit. As we were connected to power, we could run the air conditioner continuously. Why give up this comfort and move to regions unknown?

Our mooring in Namur, sitting out the heat wave

No we didn’t just hibernate, there was a bit of sightseeing, Namur has a citadel to explore and what better way to do it than on a Segway!

A view from the top of the citadel toward the river Meuse
The beautifully carved confessions in the Eglise St Loup. Must have been a sinful lot here , there were 20 double sided confessionals!

Even a little shopping!

With the heat wave breaking we left Namur in the rain. Not a drastic decision, it was still warm and the blessing of water from the heavens was refreshing. We had an overnight stop at the tiny port of Yvoir, then onto Dinant.

This section is very pretty, with little commercial traffic, a marked contrast to Charleroi.

The river is boarded by Hugh grey rock cliffs

Moored below the citadel in Dinant

Dinant is a popular tourist town, with cafes along the quay and tourist boats plying their trade on the river. They make a big fuss over the inventor of the saxophone being born here. There seems to be a replica saxophone around every corner!

But the winning attraction is the view from the top of the citadel

Can you see Joie de Vivre

After 3 nights in Dinant we plan to go further up the river to…. well we will decide when we get there!