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!

New challenges conquered

I’m sure if there was a ‘Bargees Rite of Passage’ it would include successfully transversing the incline planes and boat lifts on the European canals. During our hire boat life we had achieved the passage through the Azvilliers Incline Plane and the flight of locks at Beziers. But more challenges awaited!

Heading south from Brussels the Ronquières Incline Plane loomed as our next potential achievement. We had waited the week in Brussels as it was closed, but now our day had come. An early start had us at the base about 6.30pm, but as we approached, we were radioed and told there was an hour wait at the bottom before we could ‘monter’, or ascend. It was with a sigh of relief that we consented to this enforced delay. After an early rise and 7 locks we deserved a rest.

Before long the gate opened and we were in!

One of the 7 deep locks south of Brussels

Yeah… we are in!

Well, were we in the basin, with the door shut behind us, only to be told by the eclusier that they were having problems with the water level and a technician was coming to sort it out. The time lapse, well it would be ‘longtemps’. That translates to I don’t know when.

So with nothing else to do…. we had a drink!

Another hours wait and we start moving up, to the plateau at the top, passing on the way the other basin that, (and we found this out later) had not been used for over 2 years.

Up we go!

Our mooring for the night at the top of the incline plane

What goes up necessarily must come down, and how do you sail a boat down 73 meters. How else but via the 2nd biggest boat lift in the world which seamlessly transports boats in 2 basins, the engineering marvel of the 20th century, the Ascenseur de Funiculaire de Strepy Thieu.

Our travelling companions in the asceneur
Safely exited!

Our destination was Mons, where we had arranged to pick up our friend Dori and as luck would have it we pulled into port and encountered 2 Aussie boats, Gordon and Ann on Downunder and Austin and Susie on Freshwater. This meeting, of course resulted in the consumption of quite a few refreshments, but also a helpful exchange of canal banter.

No tourists in Mons, but we invested our tourist dollar and visited an art nouveau house and a museum with an extraordinary collection of clocks made in the Louis XIV style. Most importantly there was a number of super markets, including the biggest Carrafor I think I have ever seen.

With Dori in tow we were now ready for our next adventure, the four old boat lifts of the Canal du Centre that are now a UNESCO world heritage site

We marvelled at the 19th century engineering as we ascended back up to the plateau. These locks are now a tourist attraction so there were no big barges, just us and the lock keepers organising our relatively quick passage through this historical canal. As each of the 4 gates loomed above us, they looked similar in construction to the steel work of the Effie Tower. There are 2 basins, as one rises the other lowers.

The first lift from the basin
In the ascender on our way up

Along the way there were manually lifting and swing bridges
A view of the modern ascender from the old canal
One of the old trains that pulled the barges, sadly rusting away

Approaching the last lift

We did it! What a great experience. We exited the last lift and turned right, onto the main Canal du Centre, mooring at ADEPS yacht haven for a well deserved rest.

A week in Brussels

The only mooring in Brussels is at the Bruxelles Royal Yacht Club, and unlike our previous moorings, it is not in the centre of town. But conveniently there is a tram stop just outside the club that whips you into the centre in about 15 minutes.

The population of Brussels is about 1.2 million and mostly French speaking. It has a cosmopolitan feel, with very wealthy neighbourhoods adjacent to very poor areas with homeless sleeping rough. And of course being the capital there are lots of tourists.

We spent our first day getting our bearings, organising a tram ticket and purchasing Margaret’s train ticket for her onward journey.

The grand place, one of the most beautiful in Europe
Found this fabulous Art Deco bar on one of our walks

Brussels not only offers the usual tourist musts but also, if you do a little research, a great variety of art Nouveau and Art Deco destinations.

These destinations of course required a bit of walking, so we certainly saw a lot of the city via foot.

Coffee in the grand place an eye watering €9 for 2 and not that good

We missed the start of the Tour de France by 1 day
A tourist must do

Horta house

De Van Buuren house

Yes there was a lot of walking but a lot of eating and drinking as well. We have sampled all the delicacies of Belgium, beer, mussels, meatballs, fries and chocolates. Can’t believe I drank beer, but I must admit that the fruit beers are rather nice!

All too soon it was time to farewell Margaret. We are now restocked (found a supermarket not too far away,),and waiting for the Assenseur Funiculaire de Steph Thieu to reopen after some maintenance. Hopefully this will be on Monday 15th, but I will keep you posted.

Antwerp and beyond

Well Antwerp should be on everyone’s bucket list. This town, with a population of only 500,00 is vibrant , multicultural with a fabulous history. Old monuments are being renovated, the riverside is being developed, it’s really a town going all out to attract the tourist dollar.

We left Temse with the ebbing tide and were in the port of Antwerp in about 1 1/2 hours. To enter the port you must have an FD number, which Peter applied for a few days before our arrival. The cruising guide advised to radio the port on entry with the number, however you only have to do this if you are entering from the sea. But you do need to radio through the number to enter the lock. To get into the haven there are 2 bridges after the lock. We were really playing with the big boys now, with lots of commercial traffic.

This is a video of 2 commercial barges crossing in front of us before we got to the first bridge.

Margaret and I were busy keeping our eyes looking out for traffic, but we couldn’t get the bridge opened until we came across the traffic and closer!

That’s one way to moor a yacht
On the Shelde, commercial barges

We were welcomed at Willemdoc with power, water and internet. Within a 10 minute walk to the old town and 5 minutes to a great supermarket we enjoyed our 4 nights and 3 days.

A visit to the cathedral to light candles and view the Rubens

Modern art representing the plight of refugees
Rubens
Great mooring in Antwerp

Well we really did Antwerp, with a 2 hour Segway tour including a ride through the 3 streets of the red light district, a visit to the Rubens house, the Brugel museum and diamond museum. Margaret and I hired bikes, and spent 4 hours riding through the different ethic areas of the city, from the wealthy area with the magnificent houses, to the Jewish quarter, Chinatown, and then Tibetian and Mongolian festivals.

Brugel winter
Tibetian festival

Mongolian festival

We love Segways, a great way to travel

So to summarise Antwerp a great city to visit, a challenging habour, so be prepared.

Next trip was to Brussels. We exited the marina as advised by the haven master, at 12.45pm. Back up the Shelde, this time against tide. We were in a convoy so navigation was a breeze. We turned left onto the Zeekanal. Next was 2 very big locks plus a number of lifting bridges, that had us arriving at the Royal Brussels Yacht Club about 7.30pm. The journey on the canal was seemless. Even though we radioed each bridge as we approached, we were advised each time that yes they were busy opening the bridge for us. What great service!

Sailing on the Shelde
Hold tight in the deep locks
Lifting bridge on the way to Brussels

Margaret leaves us on Friday so we plan to stay in Brussels for the week before travelling up (and I say up as there are a number of locks and an incline plane) to Charleroi.

Back to Ghent

We had a restful 2 weeks at our mooring in Brugge. This is where we are leaving our boat for the northern winter, so it was great to get to know our surroundings a little better and to do a few touristy things. We took the train to Ostend (only 15 minutes away), and then a tram to Niewport. The coastline facing the North Sea is like a giant Surfers Paradise, endless stretch of beach, with an endless stretch of high rise building and a population of retirees. Not the most joyful places in the world.

The 2 hour train trip to Ypes allowed us to see a little of the countryside, including some of the WW 1 graves beside the railway line. A lot of people had told me how moving the Menen gate was, but nothing can prepare you for the 3 story high list of names, for those who do not have a grave, over 56,000 young men whose lives were cruelly cut short.

On a lighter note, back in Brugge we did one of my all time favourite tours, on a segway. Just the best fun you can have standing up.

Bondi beach on the North Sea!
Beach at Ostend

Menen gate
Menen gate

At last Friday 28th arrived, and we were all spruced up for Margaret to join us. We spent an extra 2 nights in Brugge to show her the town, then as per arrangement with the haven master we left our mooring at 10 in the morning, through 4 bridges and we were on our way back to Ghent.

My duck family. Hope they find someone else to feed them
Welcoming me Margaret
A Belgium pastime, swimming in the canal, oh no😱

With Margaret in Brugge

A sunny warm Sunday was our travel day, which was more pleasant than the rainy travel day we had with Kathy and Alan, that was until we turned off the main Ostend to Ghent canal, onto the narrower Ghent ring canal. It was like Bourke St on a carnival day, with small boats assaulting us from all directions. So we have a new rule, never on a Sunday, or in fact on a Saturday!

We moored in the same digs as last time, and walked in to the town, where Margaret treated us to a plate of chips, the Belgium national dish, and yes they are as good as they are reported to be.

Yummy chips
Boat dinner, best restaurant in town!

Two nights in Ghent and we had done the town, so it was off to new pastures, down the Zeeschelde towards Antwerp. We were now on a river, with a strong tidal flow. We left at 7.30am to catch the ebbing tide, that gave us a lift. We were targeting Antwerp, but the tide turned, as it usually does, after 5 hours so we moored up at the village of Temse. Not much to the town, unless you want a chemist or a hairdresser. We did find a very good supermarket, half of which was devoted to selling wine!

Tomorrow it’s on to Antwerp again with an ebbing tide.

Our first weeks in Belgium

Well I’m so glad I took all those French lessons, now I need to learn a little Flemish!

Jo left us in Wambrechies in the rain, heading down to sunny, hot Province. We headed north to the cold and more rain, along the Canal de la Deule. We had planned to stop the night at Kortrijk, which has an old town centre according to the Michelin guide. There was 2 moorings in town, but one was full and the other under a low bridge so we soldiered on until we were stopped before the lock at Waregem. They were doing night works on the lock, so it closed early. Luckily there was a mooring just before the lock where we stayed the night. Although the scenery was rather industrial, Kathy and Alan found the town in the morning, but more importantly fresh bread and croissants.

Through the lock and a little way on we turned right at Deinze onto the River Leie. It was almost as though we were back on the Thames, a meandering river, skirted with palatial masons. And joy, the sun came out!

The lifting bridge at the entrance to the Leie from the Grensleie

Along the Leie

Occasionally and I’m must emphasis the ‘occasionally’ I’m allowed to drive!

Our mooring in Ghent and oh I forgot to mention a new courtesy flag.

We secured a great mooring in Ghent, close to the town centre and well worth the 4 nights we spent there.

Ghent, breathtakingly beautiful medieval city with a modern artist twist.

Is that my new bike?

From Ghent it was onto Brugge, and again in the rain. I am despairing about this summer weather in Europe. Maybe we are better off braving the winter in Melbourne! Well, that was until I heard about the 7 degree day😮

We moored in the haven where we have booked our winter mooring (Coupure) and I am very happy with our choice. It is close to the city centre with good facilities near by, a bakery, post office, butcher and laundromat (with dryers!). The supermarket is a bit of a disappointment but not a catastrophe.

Kathy and Alan left us in Bruges for Sicily and although we debated pulling up stumps and motoring to Ypes, we decided to stay in Brugge and wait for our next visitor to join us. Instead we took day trips to Ostend and Ypes on the train.

Images of Bruges

Our track so far, from Oxford in the UK to Brugge in Belgium

And at last the weather is on the improve. In fact we are blessing the wisdom of the second air conditioner. It’s now getting a bit of a work out!

Joie de Vivre waterstepping through France

Although we planned our departure from Dunkerque in the morning true to form, we were delayed again. The sea lock to the canal didn’t open until 4.00pm, so we filled our time with a stroll to the city centre followed by a thorough wash for the boat. The wind was strengthening throughout the day, and more than once I thanked the wind gods that we were not out there crossing the channel in that weather.

A great welcome to France, a mooring reserved for Joie de Vivre at the yacht club

That’s us, in France at last

Some new friends????

Once we were through the sea lock, we entered a small basin and then into the next lock, which was smaller than some of the locks on the Thames. With a stiff breeze it was quite a difficult manoeuvre to enter! This lock was deathly slow and we didn’t exit until nearly 5.00pm. Finally another lock this time with a locker keeper, who interrogated us on our proposed navigation. Peter had spent time making sure all our papers were in order, but once we handed over our Australian ship registration documents it all became too hard and he waved us through.

We were now on the the Liason de Grand Garbarit, which is a fairway for commercial barges to access northern France and Begium from either Calais, Gravelines or Dunkerque. No charming villages to visit along the route.. …instead the view was of barges the size of a block of flats, recycling plants, cement works and soulless dwellings.

Our destination was Lille, where we planned to meet Kathy and Alan, and Jo. We set a cracking pace arriving on Tuesday afternoon, with our visitors due on Thursday. On arriving, we found a great mooring not far from the city centre, in a park opposite the citidal.

Lille is the 4th largest city in France and is probably not on everyone’s bucket list and if you have been there it was perhaps on the high speed Eurostar crossing from Europe to Britain or visa versa. The cobbled streets of the restored old quarter are lined with delightful 17 and 18C Flemish houses, a lovely square and old market place. With a great array of shops, jo and I spent an exhausting but fun afternoon partaking in a little retail therapy. Lille also has a fine museum, but unfortunately this we didn’t have time to visit. Apart from the shopping there was boat work, a new gas bottle and new SIM cards for the modem and phones.

Friday morning broke with repairs required for the spare bed which collapsed during the night! (Kathy and Alan swore they we not putting under any undue stress!) On well that’s boats for you. After an unscheduled delay we made it down the canal to the charming village of Wambrechies. Tomorrow we start our journey into Belgium towards Gent.

That’s a big lock with floating bollards that screeched like banshees all the way to the top.

The red tinge in the recycling plant shows how much coke is drunk!

A great mooring in Lille

Visitors

Navigator and pilot hard at work

Mooring up in Wambrechies

Chateau in Wambrechies, now a school

Lighting a candle for a safe passage

Third time lucky

At last we have completed the journey across the channel to France. Yes it has been a long time coming but all the better for the wait.

After spending a few days in Chatham, visiting the maritime museum, which were the naval docks yards established over 400 years ago and the gin distillery, established 4 years ago, we left on Friday for Queenborough to wait for an early morning get away across the channel. Our day started a 4am and we cast off our lines in perfect weather at 4,45.

The benefit of doing a tour of a gin distillery is sampling the product!

Making rope the old way in the mile long rope shed in Chatham.

It’s dawn in Queensborough and we are on our way to France.

We had spent time the previous night plotting our course on the iPad and the charts, just to double check. It was an ease journey from waypoint to waypoint. Luckily not much traffic but the great joy was not much wind and a slight sea.

With an average speed of 6 knots we completed the trip in just over 12 hours. A long day but we did it, no pilot just yachties in a barge. What more could you want!

Tomorrow we are heading inland to discover the seemingly endless European canals and rivers.

The wreck of the Montgomery apparently still full of bombs. We steered clear!

In the distance I thought we were being invaded by Star Wars drones! But no, these are old ww2 anti aircraft guns.

The Margate channel marker, farewell to the UK

That’s a BIG ship. Luckily it was travelling slowly so there was not much wash.

In the distance are the white cliffs of Dover

With our French courtesy flag hoisted we are ready to enter France.

This tug threw up a huge wash that we took bow on.

At last the port of Dunkerque and our bed for the night.