The beauty of our aqueous home is that you can choose to stay in port or venture to new harbours further afield.
After a few days of cleaning and maintenance (varnishing and painting), then visits with our friendly Brugge bargees group the weather turned wintery, so we stayed put for a few weeks.
But then we were off. Our first stop on our sojourn was back to Ghent. Yes we have been there before, once this year and 3 times in 2019, but we still made new discoveries.
The harbour is on the boundary between central Ghent, which boasts a plethora of medieval buildings, and the Bijloke quarter, best described as a centre for arts. The Bijloke, in begone centuries was a hospital run by nuns. The buildings including the church are now the home of ballet, theatre and opera schools in Ghent. It also houses the museum of history, which tells the story of Ghent through the ages. One room is devoted to a huge aerial map of Ghent and the surrounding area. Very impressive.
Our second discovery was hidden in the shopping streets. There are 2 rather unimpressive entrances opposite one another that the shoppers rush by with barely a glance. Each entrance takes you into an 18th century house, both owned by wealthy families and now opened for our inspection.
After a few days enjoying this beautiful city, we headed south down the Shelde river towards the french border and the city of Tournai. We had now crossed from the Dutch speaking Belgium region of Flanders into the French speaking region of Wallonia. But language is not the only difference between these two regions. Wallonia is like the poor cousin of Flanders, a bit down at heel and needing considerable attention to its shabby inferstructure. Here you find street beggars and pavements littered with dog refuse, as though there is no care or pride in their historical cities.
As with many river cities, Tournai was established by the Romans due to its strategic location on the Schelde, over the centuries it passed from French to Dutch and even English rule, under Henry VIII. There is even the remains of Henry’s citadel in the city.
Tournai is home to 11 churches and a large Gothic cathedral, which could explain the impoverishment of its citizens over the centuries
Leaving Tournai we travelled back up the Schelde , turning left onto the Bossuit Kortrijk canal, which connects the Schelde River and the Lexie River. This trip was through some rather large locks as we travelled up to the plateau, then down the other side.
On our previous journeys we had bypassed Kortrijk as there is a very low bridge leading into the harbour. However we had been assured by many of our fellow bargees that we would make it. Yes we did clear the bridge with about a foot to spare and so we were able to discover a new town.
Although still close to the French boarder we were now back in Flanders. Kortrijk has 3 UNESCO world heritage sites, that are beautifully renovated and maintained. They were also hosting an exhibition of outdoor art with a rainbow theme, so there was plenty to see
In the centre of the city, not far from the main square we discovered the Beguinage. This is a 13th century architectural complex built to house beguines. And a beguines is…… a lay woman who was not bound by strict religious vows or came under the control of the church , but choose community service over the shackles of marriage. The Beguinage in Kortrijk has been renovated and the houses can be rented but only to residents over the age of 50. It also includes a small museum, cafe and a beautiful chapel around a small peaceful courtyard.
Leaving Kortrijk we headed north and had planned to stay at the next town down the river. However it was Sunday, and we discovered later that from 1st October the bridges into the city were closed blocking our passage through. Oh well there’s always another day. Instead we continued back to Ghent for a few nights.
As I write we are now back in our winter mooring in Brugge, with only 2 weeks until we make our journey home.