Legends from our own lunchtimes

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Suffering for our art.
Saturday 30th July - Gent

Over the course of the last few days we’ve wandered and hobbled along so many of the cities old waterways that we’ve heard pretty much the entire commentary of the tourist boats as they pass.   We had a ride on one of them on our first visit to the city now four years ago, and we are tempted to do so again to fill our re-fill our heads with information that we will be sure to forget by the next time we are here, but we don’t see anything about them that’s vaguely in keeping with the concept of “social distancing”, and we are quite privileged to have travelled on most of their route in the comfort of our own home, albeit with commentary of an entirely different kind.

We’ve been a bit reluctant to click away with the camera in the face of all the cleanup in progress, but with scaffold now cleared sufficiently that photographs could shape the memories we want, rather than the reality of the post-Festivities apocalypse, we thought we might venture out  in cool of the evening to see what we could see.  Perhaps we could join the evening throng on the banks of the old dock and watch the sun go down.

The glaring flaw in that thought is that our daily routine on board tends to be partly in sync with the the way that farmers live in that we tend to find ourselves in bed at sunset.  "Partly" because in the mornings as we do tend to depart from farming schedules a bit as we rise as long as we possibly can after the sun does, but let’s just focus on the “sunset” part for now.

In what comes as close to “planning” as we ever like to get, we had a nice lie down in the afternoon to prepare for the big night out, and by the time our phones sounded their gentle “we’ve turned off for the night” chimes we were well on our way back to the heart of town.  

There we happily sat with a score of others until quite some time after the street lights came on, and we took some photos to prove it.


Saturday, July 30, 2022

A city with a hangover
Friday 29th July - Gent

We have been told that the week after the Ghent Festivities is referred to as “empty pockets” week, because after attending what is said to be the biggest Outdoor Festival in Europe, no one has any money left.  It is apparently a very big deal.

As we have walked around the outskirts of the city centre over the last few days, there’s very much a “morning after” feeling about the place, with an enormous amount of dismantling and cleanup to be done and an equally enormous amount of lethargy being applied to the task.  It is happening though, and one gets the feeling all will be back in order well before the start of next year’s Festivities.

There’s a cloak of silence hanging over the place as well, although not in the well trod tourist paths where it seems to be business as usual.  Even there, piles of scaffold and temporary fencing await collection, and a few businesses are closed “for cleaning”, so no photos of the tourist end of town today.

Some of this silence for which the hung-over will be specially grateful, is no doubt due to the very strict restrictions of vehicular movement in the centre zone introduced in many European cities as an anti-pollution measure.   The bonus to residents and visitors that comes with this attempt to clean the air in city centres is a corresponding and quite startling reduction in noise and dust.  The minute particles of tyre rubber and brake dust which once filled the air combined with dust stirred from the streets, that once used to settle on the nearest boat (and attempt to line the nearest set of lungs) are conspicuous by their absence.

We don’t think it’s our imagination.  While perhaps last time our judgement was somewhat clouded by the bed-ridden state of one of us, as an outsider looking in, this might be one case where the theory is born out by the results of the measures taken.


Friday, July 29, 2022

But we know what we like
Thursday 28th July - Gent

It’s not as though we don’t like art of the modern genre, we do, quite a lot.  The current exhibition at Gent’s Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art is titled “Solitude” in commemoration of recent lockdowns is a curious and sometimes thought provoking collection of works by artists who have created a series under self imposed or forced restrictions.  We were even prepared to part with enough money to pay for a couple of family sized pizzas to see it.

As usual, among the thoughts provoked was that recurring question of what would happen to the arts if the same level of drug testing were applied to, particularly to procurers and curators, as are applied to athletes competing at the highest levels.

It’s a story told before, but one we like to recall every time we see a particularly esoteric work of the  “modern” genre:  

Many years ago we were in the Australian National Gallery in Canberra, with our three quiet and it must be said, very well behaved little primary school aged mice. who had pottered off a chamber or two ahead of their pondering parents.   Suddenly there was a clatter of running feet and a shout from all three clearly returning with some urgency to the consternation of all in the entire gallery:

“DAD!…. DAD!” they shouted as one, at a terribly indiscreet level of decibels, followed by the inverse of what most parents think in galleries of that ilk:


Which is why we giggled together yesterday while standing in front of a few squiggles of black ink beside a plaque reading: “Untitled No5”.   

I wouldn’t even have to think up a name!


Thursday, July 28, 2022

Scarred for life
Wednesday 27th July - Gent



“How they’ll greet us!” - and all in that moment his roan 

Rolled neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone;

And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight

Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate,

With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,  

And with circles of red for this eye-sockets’ rim.

That little bit of gruesomeness is just one verse from Robert Browning’s piece written in 1845, “How they brought the good news from Ghent to Aix”, published in it’s entirety into our Year Six Reader in a no doubt deliberate effort to toughen up eleven year old minds in the absence of what are now called computer games.  Even at that tender age if that was the good news, I couldn’t come to grips with what the outcome might have been were the news bad!

Despite the ill-fated outcomes for Dirck and Joris en route, I can’t help but smile at what our juvenile Australian pronunciations of those very Flemish names might have been.  After a couple of years of practice we might barely make a passable rendition of them now and I’m sure the reading of the poem would be all the better for that.

On the face of it, this has nothing at all to do with the evening view from our boat but it would seem to be proof positive that sometimes at least I must have paid attention in school.  

Such was its impact on my feeble young brain that I can’t think of Gent without thinking of that poem. It’s those sometimes surprising physical connections which we regularly make with things learned in a time and place so far disconnected that is the very essence of why we do what we do.

That, and of course the sunsets.


Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Tuesday 26th July - Gent to Gent

Mooring in the shadow of a bike and motorway flyover is not everyone’s idea of a peaceful environment, even if it is at the edge of a large parkland.  From experience we know that city motorways lie dormant once the evening peak is over, and the morning traffic never seems to be a bother.  Lonely moorings are great on days like yesterday when the monster wind gusts would have made docking among other boats challenging at best or even quite dangerous.

Here, just a kilometre or so from the heart of the city, we thought we were tucked quietly away from view, hidden from the hordes of park users, and from everyone else, but we didn’t account for Charlie.  He had caught a glimpse of our odd little blue boat while flying over the flyover, found an urgent exit and a place to park and jogged over to investigate.  Somewhat bemused at what is now the third such outpouring of attention in two weeks, we of course conducted a grand tour and kept him in our clutches for a sufficiently long time that he was at real risk of getting a parking ticket. 

Perhaps it’s that the colour, for years thought to be quite eccentric, is close to being back in fashion.

On the other hand living on a parkland can be interesting as well.  

For instance; it’s not the first time we’ve been cordially welcomed by our fellow park dwellers and we are sure that had the sunrise jazzercise mob (which to be fair had carefully chosen a place as far from any residence as possible), known that we were sleeping just the other side of the trees, it may have turned down the boombox just a teensy notch or perhaps even stuck the headphones on.


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Whatever Grabs You
Monday 25th July - V.V.W. Mendonk to Gent

Fifteen kilometres of heavy port traffic, with container ships turning, bulk carriers reversing, ferries out to get us, and just unpleasantly blustery conditions, were all we had to endure, or more correctly; enjoy, until we were back in the centre of Ghent.

There’s something about the scale of a 5,000 ton ship turning in one’s direction that does cause a little consternation among at least one of us aboard, the other keeps reminding her that the ship’s captain really wants to avoid the paperwork he would have complete as much as we wants to avoid him hitting us and so far we have avoided going bump by very large margins.   

There's so much variety to observe in the industries as we pass, although attempting to take photographs with a little boat being blown towards obstacles real and imagined is somewhat fraught with difficulty.   There’s a strange blend of new and old; a nuclear reactor and wind turbines line the banks beside a derelict power station.   Container ships are loaded calmly and efficiently by cranes which are designed for the purpose while the giant grabbers that are used to unload many of the bulk carriers appear anachronistic at best.

How much fun would it be to be the operator of those cranes?  I’m sure it would be a bit repetitive, but with all that expertise, think of the fun one could have with those mechanical claw machines in every cinema lobby.   They'd be depleted of chocolate in a minute! 


Monday, July 25, 2022

Once More, Dear Friends
Sunday 23rd July - Sas Van Gent to V.V.W. Mendonk


A couple of nights ago we were watching the birds return to the exact spot on the beach that they’d congregated on the previous evening, and wondered what the attraction was and without thinking any more about it, found ourselves back here we are as well.

We half expected to stay in Sas Van Gent for a few more days, but about half-way through the process of deciding to move to a shadier spot in the face of another one-day heatwave, something in our internal homing devices clicked and quite unexpectedly we found ourselves heading back to Belgium once more.

Back at V.V.W Mendonk we were again welcomed with open arms as we reclaimed our spot at the end of the club pontoon, and without hesitation set about watching the birds, wondering where we’ll go tomorrow and playing with our favourite scientific formula.


Maybe it’s the smell of freshly washed clothes that brings the birds back too.


Nothing left unsaid.
Saturday 23rd July - V.V.W. Mendonk to Sas Van Gent

At some point during the course of yesterday we realised we weren’t terribly far from where Koos and Val keep half of their fleet, and before we could say “I wonder if they’re home”, discovered they were, informed them they were about to have neighbours and this morning, set off on the high seas in the direction of the Netherlands.

“The high seas” in this case is actually a rather large canal, big enough for ocean going ships to ply their trade. Someone once said quite correctly that the size of a boat is inversely proportional to the volume of water it’s floating in and we really felt quite small as we motored gently down this enormous millpond in company with ocean going container ships.  It may have been only a dozen or so kilometres but it was such a stupendous day on the water that we really could have just kept on going.

To the astonishment of us all, as we closed to secure ourselves beside the good ship Hennie H some sort of jump through space and time occurred. Parts of conversations simply picked up from where we left them four years ago, as though there’d been no interlude, and they continued without pause for breath for the rest of the day and well into the night as well.  

They didn’t stop during Hennie H’s afternoon sea trials.  If there was a lull while Val and Koos popped off for a bit to “clean up” for dinner, (which seems unlikely), no-one noticed.

Perhaps they would have continued without ceasing at all had we all not been of an age where turning into a pumpkin at the stroke of twelve is a very real possibility.


Sunday, July 24, 2022

Keeping the crowds at bay.
Friday 22nd July - Moervaart

We’re not in Ghent at the moment because there’s a huge festival happening there, and even if there was a spare berth to be had, which apparently there is not, we don’t particularly relish the thought of mingling with the more than a million visitors who are presently crammed into the city.   

The village of Lokeren on the other hand, by all accounts is small and picturesque and has just a few quiet moorings available at the end of an equally scenic waterway, so it seemed as though it would be a fairly good  spot to sit for a few days. 


We had been warned that there was a big festival based there too, starting in the second week of August, and presumed that we would have long gone by the time that commenced.

Then just as we were to arrange our brige-lifting escort for the journey, when we were advised that things were a bit chaotic there, with boats already three deep staking out their spots for two weeks hence.   This was a bit disconceting at first, until we pulled ourselves together and looked around.

One more day spent watching water birds and fish and rabbits and the insides of our eyelids while we thought about where we might go next would surely not be a terrible imposition.


Rain Dance.
Thursday 21st July - Beernem to V.V.W. Mendonk


For three years one of us has struggled to deal with cold toes whenever the temperature popped below twenty or so. The question as to the whereabouts of his ugg boots always met with the same dull response: “they’re on the boat”.

With the forecast of a few days of post-heatwave showers and cooler temperatures than we would prefer, our thoughts naturally turned in the direction of the whereabouts of our rain jackets which for reasons that are best left unexplored, appear to be “in the van” and therefore not particularly accessible should the need arise.

Despite holding a vague superstition that if we bought new jackets it may never rain again, when the opportunity arose we bought one each.  

There is a bit of a water problem in Europe at the moment, so in an equally superstitious attempt  to offset the meteorological effects of owning raincoats, we gave the boat a second coat of polish yesterday and didn’t even attempt to fix the windscreen wiper.  Perhaps only one of those was necessary, for we woke this morning to the sound of rain on our roof for the first time this year.  

Curiously perhaps, there really wasn’t enough rain to warrant getting the jackets out, but just enough to make seeing anything through the wet windscreen a bit of a bother.

As usual we set off late in the morning with only the vaguest idea of where we might end up, and arrived there in time for lunch as it turned out.  By then the weather hadn’t deteriorated but neither had it improved.  it was quite cool (some of us would say “cold”) out of doors although apparently not particularly unpleasant for those dressed for the conditions.  As we watched hikers and bicycle riders pass by with only little ruddy circles of cheeks and red noses visible, we decided that we don’t do “dressed for those conditions” particularly well when we have a perfectly good indoors in which to remain.

Instead, in the face of plummeting temperatures, we continued on our merry way snug in the confines of our little boat, dressed for the conditions, toes tucked safely away in our ugg boots, until by just about tea time, we’d really had enough for one day.


Thursday, July 21, 2022

Finally On the Move
Wednesday 20th July - Bruges to Beernem


We remembered we’d decided to leave this morning, but we couldn’t quite remember why, so we spoke with Dirk our heavily overworked volunteer harbour master and re-booked our departure time to a much more civilised eleven o’clock than the nine we’d originally scheduled. 

This gave us plenty of time for a rather relaxing breakfast and actually morning tea as well and perhaps to think about where we might end up for the night. As an unintended bonus it also gave plenty of time for the intermittent spits that pass for rain here to leave us for the day.

Having thought about it and not having reached a conclusion, we decided that we should do as we usually do and make it up as we go along, which is all very well in theory but once we are actually going along we tend not to think too much at all about anything that isn’t whatever is passing by our windows at any given time.   

So with a parting glance over our shoulder we said our farewells to all of those wonky chimneys and tall gables and cobbled streets and set off in search of who knows what.

At about half past lunchtime, we had the little boat club at Beernem on our beam, and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing we decided that twelve kilometres or so beneath our keel was more than enough for one day, so here we sit, unless someone can suggest a better plan.


Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Dry Roasted
Tuesday 19th July - Bruges


For much of the day we felt a bit the way peanuts must feel when they are about half way through the dry roasting process, with sub 20% humidity and quite unreasonable temperatures.  In the cool of the evening, say by nine, when the temperature drops to say 35 or so, we are quite grateful for our little bit of shade.

We get the occasional odd look when we moor on the opposite side of the canal to many of the locals.  Even when it’s not 40° we tend to drift towards the shady spots, and if we are lucky, positioning ourselves for a bit of early morning warmth which, according to folk who live for a sizeable part of the year in the absence of actual sunlight, is just not done.

They don’t understand why anyone would want to be in the afternoon shade preferring instead to drape all manner of sheets and covers over their boats in a somewhat futile attempt to stave off the heat, spending their days not hiding from the sun, but near naked and having regular cold showers.  The more sensible among them simply drive home for a few days until the worst of it is over.

We didn’t think the heat was affecting us too much, it’s only been for a couple of days after all but it must have been, because we’ve decided we’re leaving tomorrow.   

We don’t know where we are going, or even when, just that we are leaving.

As soon as the rain stops.


Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Monday 18th July - Bruges


Here we are as we have been for almost two weeks trying to stay cool in a particularly nasty bout of heat, good friends moored astern of each other.  Since parts of Max were planned aboard Joyeux we can probably claim that our boats are part of each other’s families too, at least that’s the way it always seems.

Our Joyeux, terribly battle scarred from three decades of charter work before we adopted him, cared for now like an old working dog in retirement, fits comfortably like an old pair of shoes.  Their Max, barely in double figures, his first tiny rust spot appearing just today, the gorgeous show pony glittering like a finely cut jewel, always attracting covetous glances from passers-by.

So it wasn’t unexpected when a stranger walking by stopped as we were hanging around in the heat, introduced himself and proceeded to heap what could only be described as praise on “our” Max.  We were certainly not prepared however, for what followed:

“It’s beautiful” he said, pausing to take in Max’s fine details, where exquisite rope work met sparkling stainless steel, before slowly turning in our direction, “but this” he said, moving towards our Joyeux which in all honesty looks a bit like someone’s Bull Terrier has used it as a teething toy and then had a really good try at repairing the damage with a bit of toothpaste,  “This,” he repeated with a good deal of excitement in his voice, “is something very special”.  His eyes even seemed a little glazed as he took in every detail, every curve, apparently oblivious to its many faults.

We asked him if he’d like to inspect ‘below’ and he almost burst with surprise and enthusiasm, gasping at the glorious 80’s interior, the odd detailing and gushing at the fact that we’d dared to keep the pastel blue outside.  

When later he returned with a small token of appreciation for our hospitality, appropriately annotated “(Warm) Greetings, Rafael” he could never know just what pleasure he’d given us all.


Sunday 17th July - Bruges

We had a visit from the Politie today.  Not the “Grumpy”, or the “Bossy”; the “Politie”. For one who barely understands one language and therefore reduces every word he reads back in any other to a familiar phonetic context the very word is almost deliciously oxymoronic, perhaps harking back to the days when the word “Police” always had the word “Service” after it.  The officer concerned actually did very politely check our paperwork and safety equipment and went on his helpful and happy way, having notably conducted the entire interview in our language as a courtesy to us, not as one would have expected in that of his own country.

There was a time before terms like “roaming data” were invented, when every encounter on foreign soil was an adventure in itself.  Now even somewhat tongue in cheek mis-interpretations of words such as “Politie” are a thing of the past.  There’s an app for that now, the use of which takes all of the adventure and sadly, perhaps most of the romance out of travel.

If you are the sort of person who always eats hamburgers while in foreign lands lest you should accidentally point to the fresh monkey’s brains written on a chalkboard menu in some indecipherable script, worry no more.     The sheer wonder of watching the words on a sign or menu transform before one’s very eyes into something you can actually understand is a magical phenomenon that in times past may well have been mistaken for the sort of activity that had one burnt at the stake.

Anyone who’s ever ordered andouillette because it sounded nice (I actually quite like it), in a language they didn’t understand might be appreciative of this technology, yet one suspects that even they would lament the loss of that adventure that it brings.   

It’s no longer good enough to make a guess and hope for the best.  Have data, will travel!


Sunday, July 17, 2022

This boating life
Saturday 16th July - Bruges

It’s strange to find ourselves on a boat in the middle of a drought that’s so severe that there’s a very real risk that some of the canals in France at least will be doing impersonations of the Todd River in Alice Springs if rain doesn’t arrive quite soon.   In Belgium things are not much better, with some waterway systems at risk of closing and all farm irrigation has been stopped in some areas which will have serious consequences for crops in a month or two.

If we had had a plan, it might have been thrown into chaos by all this uncertainty, and even now, fifty kilometres from our home port, there’s no guarantee that we will be able to return at a time that suits us.

So we went to the bakery and bought a truckload of “planning cakes” with an extra trailer-load thrown in because the baker said we’d come a very long way to try his products, put on a very large pot of coffee and spread charts and books all over the table.  With Dave and Ria’s expert eyes on the task, as a group we decided that we really should leave tomorrow.

Then we decided that it’s going to be very hot for the next few days, and we really do like it here, so we adjourned the meeting until some future date.


Saturday, July 16, 2022

Lies and Statistics
Friday 15th July - Bruges

Travel is about learning, and we all learn in different ways.  

There is no shortage of very entertaining ways to learn a little about Brugge.  There are tours by bus, by boat, by horse and carriage, bicycle, on foot and who knows what else, all packaged with their own selection of statistical information, humour and of course, lies, each of which over the passage of time will no doubt contribute to a complete re-writing of history of the town.  

We often avail ourselves of one of them when we arrive in a city for the first time because they do give a nicely packaged overview of the layout and history of the place. We are only too aware however, that if we are looking for facts  there’s nothing like a visit to the library or museum to confirm that we really were looking at a mustard plant growing in the third from top window box on the fourth highest brick building in the entire cosmos.

Our favourite method of getting a rundown on the town usually takes a little longer, and comes with a completely different set of stories.  It’s called “accepting an invitation to visit”, just as we did a few nights ago when Ria’s cousin Martien and her husband Boetje invited us for a hilarious night of what could be very broadly termed modern history instruction.

Of course we’ve spent a good deal of time over many years in the company of Dave and Ria too on what is effectively their home turf, and some would fairly ask what we possibly hoped to learn from our visit to the exquisite Restaurant Franco-Belg in their company today.

We like to think of it as “revision”.


Friday, July 15, 2022

Two Hundred Millimetres.
Thursday 14th July - Bruges

That bank is giving me nightmares!

I woke up this morning in a lather of sweat, after arguing all night with the nice man at the bank.   

In a momentary lapse of concentration it seems I accidentally deposited 200mm through the teller machine instead of 200€.   200mm of what exactly I have no idea, and it’s an easy mistake to make I’m sure anyone would agree, but there was no way they were going to give it back.  

I’m wondering if we’ll be able to withdraw it if they ever let us have another card.

In stark contrast, real life with our online bank is a pleasure, and it speaks as many languages and talks to as many devices as it feels necessary to get its point across.  Since it can’t send us cash and we occasionally still need some of that, I thought I’d head off to a teller machine in the middle of the day.

I came as close to the madding crowd as the view from a 200mm lens (could it have been the lens that I deposited in my dream?), possibly coincidentally quite near the entrance to the Salvator Dali Gallery, before deciding that I didn’t really want to do battle with all those people, bicycles, horses and horseless carriages that seemed to be picketing the only machine in a bull’s roar, so I backed quietly away.   

By four they will be gone, hopefully leaving just enough in the machine for our meagre purposes over the coming weeks!


Ready to Go!
Wednesday 13th July - Bruges

It’s almost two weeks since we arrived back at the boat, although it feels as though we’ve been aboard for ever.

After the first couple of days of frenetic cleaning and sorting, we’ve settled into a much more orderly routine in between social and sight-seeing engagements and in our spare time we almost have things on board back to the condition they where in before we left.  

We think we’ve caught up with all of the necessary updates, everything has been cleaned to within an inch of its life, Mr Perkins is looking snug and tidy in his little box, albeit with the merest trickle of black ooze from the usual places, just to let us know who really is in charge of our travelling destiny.

All that remained today was to clean the oil spill out of the bilge.  A reluctance to spend a morning hanging upside down, up to one's armpits metaphoric arm-pits cleaning up an oily mess could perhaps be forgiven, which in part is why it has taken so long to get around to it.  The other part is that it requires pretty much all of the floor to be lifted to get to the squeezy spaces that need to be accessed to do the job properly and that does lead to a little inconvenience, particularly while other things need doing.

But it’s done with nary a harsh word mumbled under, and we’re officially ready to set off.

When we get around to it.


Wednesday, July 13, 2022

My kingdom for a Hat
Tuesday 12th July - Bruges


A few years ago, perhaps many if one includes the hiatus of the last few, we returned to the boat to discover that my going-to-town hat had moved of its own accord.  We’d forgotten to seal it in an airtight bag, and in the humid confines of the wintering boat it had grown so much greenish fuzzy fur that it could have been mistaken for a small animal.  Since it no longer bore any resemblance to an actual hat, it was quickly caught and dispatched.

Through circumstance, which is to say a lengthy bout of laziness combined with an intense dislike for trying on hats, and an even greater dislike for wearing my sailing cap “out”, my head has remained as bare as the proverbial during subsequent jaunts into whichever town happen to be passing.

We are quite adept at skipping from one patch of shade to another as we navigate the streets, but the penny dropped today as a tour boat picked it’s way through the shadows as we watched, it’s skipper doing a remarkable job of gesticulating and steering with his left hand while his right attended to the more important task of providing him with shade. 

Surely life would be simpler if he just got himself a hat.

That simple thought, ladies and gentleman, triggered something of a race to the nearest hat shop where one of Ecuador’s not-quite finest products was purchased for  what was once the price of a small caravan, and we wandered about in new-found freedom for the rest of the day, to the tune of  “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”.


Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Bracing for a warm spell
Monday 11th July - Bruges

The weather people are warning us that the temperature will be into the thirties tomorrow, and sent us a “twenty-six degrees - feels like a lot more” kind of day today.  

At home with that sort of forecast we’d be thinking we could just about get away with wearing shorts.   Here while lying about in the afternoon shade one of us dons a light pullover and has another one standing by.

It might be a testament to how quickly we’ve acclimatised to life in Brugge that we’re wondering how we’ll keep our chocolate stash from melting.   

While one of us has suggested that simply eating it would solve this problem, the other (who is not addicted,) is less pragmatic in her view of exactly what constitutes a sensible level of consumption and what remains of our stock has therefore been moved to the bilge where it should remain at a delightful room temperature and out of easy reach.   

Hopefully it won’t be tainted at all by the smell of diesel.


Catching Up
Sunday 10th July - Bruges

In what would soon become the cool of the evening, after a day spent pretty much horizontally with our noses in our books, apart from a short stint polishing and repairing on the part of one of us and a bit of foraging by the other, we were sitting quietly alone except for Dave and Ria of course, in the cockpit of their “Max”, catching up on three years worth of news or at least the bits that didn’t get a mention during our video calls.

We are still pinching ourselves really, still finding our way through some of the cupboards on board, where “use by” dates from several years ago are the only clues that we’ve missed any time here at all.

As to our plans:  They will probably head north for a time, and perhaps we will head south, but neither of us have even the slightest inclination to move just yet.

We talked about when we might move on and then decided there was no point in discussing it further. As always we’ll wake up one morning and just know it’s time.  

For now though, Brugge looks nice.


Sunday, July 10, 2022

Trying to be Tourists
Saturday 9th July - Bruges


For those who have lost track of the time, it’s day two of our “return to Brugge tour” and this morning we were out and about late enough so that we didn’t have to set an alarm or anything silly like that, but still early enough so that by the time we arrived in the market square, the City Tour buses were not quite in their stride, and the cafes were entirely devoid of people.

With a bit of luck equally devoid of nasty viruses.   (Not that many in the crowd seem at all concerned about that, and at present statistically at least the risk is considerably less than it is on the other side of the planet.)

We thought that all the empty cafes presented an opportunity that was too good to miss, and since it was coffee o’clock we chose two seats at a ring-side table and ordered coffee and with an embarrassed giggle, waffles, just like proper tourists.

We hadn’t even considered that before eleven, when the crowds start pouring in, there would be no reason to employ kitchen staff.   

Defeated, we put all thoughts of a tourist waffle aside for another day, enjoyed our coffee immensely and as we wandered somewhat aimlessly through the back streets of the town to our mooring, we realised that it was a Saturday and perhaps we should take the rest of the day off.  This being a tourist" business is tiring work.


Saturday, July 09, 2022

Friday 8th July - In Brugge

A repeating line in the movie “In Bruges”, describes this place as a “(insert rude word spoken in strong Irish Brogue) Fairyland” and we’ve always thought that the scenic tour it provides as the storyline weaves it’s way through the highlights of the town’s tourist heart is quite possibly the best summary of the place one could make.

Watch it to see what we mean, but be aware that in real life, we haven’t noticed any gunfights between Irish gangsters nor have we spotted any particularly nasty little people, but there is no absence of tourists, wave after wave of them as their buses arrive, lining up in front of  shops selling ice cream, waffles, lace and of course, beer (in no particular order and occasionally all at once). 

This, as they say somewhere else in the world, is not our first Rodeo, and we have no desire nor need to join them in their battle to see all of the sights of one of Europe’s most visited cities, “the Venice of the North” in just one day.  We are in our usual spot, a kilometre or so from where the mayhem takes place each day, across a narrow cobbled lane where for the cost of a month’s worth of mooring fees they stay for a night under four stars.  

Our bus does not leave at three, and the evenings are long and delightful. and of course our mornings begin long before they arrive as well.  

If we could figure out how to stop the rotten swans mucking up the reflections life would be perfect.


Friday, July 08, 2022

Thursday 7th July - Oudenburg to Brugge

It all looks so calm and innocuous, but when the cross wind is sufficiently strong that the flag on one’s front flag thingy is a rigid horizontal sheet and directly at right angles to the direction of one’s intended travel to boot, this is generally not a particularly good thing, even if at the time the waterway is relatively wide.  

Our boat doesn’t have much to grip on the water’s surface and it does have quite a bit above it for the wind to get a hold of.  Once, when caught by a rather hefty gust, we clocked ourselves moving at 8km per hour SIDEWAYS.   Mostly like today, these conditions just need a bit more concentration and a bit of luck and it all works out in the end.

Mostly unlike today, we’ve checked the windscreen wiper is working before we set out at the beginning of the season too.  When we’ve done that, when the squalls arrive as they always do just as we are in the narrowest twistiest waterway in the confines of an ancient city with lifting bridges that require moving in close company with ships carrying thousands of tons of cargo, we can see just a little.  Without wanting to overplay the danger, it got so difficult that once or twice, one of us had to put his coffee down and stick his head out the window into the thick of it.

Much earlier this morning when the front came through, we (well, one of us who worries about these things while the other sleeps blissfully unaware) woke for the first time in memory by the change in motion of the boat, which is to say there was some hint of motion in the boat where normally there would be none.  Forty knots of wind briefly whipped the water on the twelve metre wide canal to a frenzied maelstrom with ten centimetre high white caps.   

We thought of nights long ago in another life, spent awake on anchor watch, and others spent dragging a drogue across an angry ocean to steady things down a bit, and giggled ourselves back to sleep.


Thursday, July 07, 2022

On the move at last!
Wednesday 6th July - Diksmuide to Oudenburg

It was as if they knew we were coming and were going to get us back for all those phone calls and emails!  

“In Belgium”, we were often told before we brought the boat here, “everything works”.   This no doubt is why after six trouble free kilometres after setting off for the first time this summer, we encountered a lifting bridge where nothing did.     

After thirty minutes and a relaxing morning tea, all was sorted and we were able to get underway once more, picking our way through the sailing schools in Nieuwport where our next navigational obstacle - the big lock known as Sint-Jorissluis would not be working the way everything else in Belgium does until six o’clock.

This was fortuitous as it gave one of us time to polish one of the cabin sides, and the other to slow down at last and have a rather long snooze.   

To be a little bit fair to Belgium, the lock WAS back in operation an hour early, and the nice man in the control centre did allow us through all of the bridges ninety minutes before the scheduled operating times, and before we could say “that worked out well” we were in Oudenburg, exactly where we had planned to be.

Thirty-three kilometres in eleven hours.  Not too shabby in the scheme of things.

Perhaps things do work after all.


Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Battling Bureaucracy
Tuesday 5th July - Diksmuide

By late this evening, curiously as the setting sun seemed to be concentrating its dying rays on us alone, three emails arrived at once.   After yet another prod, our Waterways Permit finally arrived, and our French Bank has found yet another reason why sending us our debit card would not be in our interests.

After some weeks of banking shenanigans, this raised the ire of our dear friend, confidant and banking advisor who shall remain nameless (as indeed shall our bank).  He wrote this note in exasperation (very slightly paraphrased to enhance the translation) which seems to sum up our position quite nicely.

“If we were writing a skit for a one man show, I would find your answer very appropriate, but I will remain calm because I know that you have worked hard with this file and that you are not responsible for these great jokes, although you do pass them on.

If your legal department once again finds my proposal inappropriate, or if you do not find a solution to have the card transferred, both of us will leave your bank. 

I have a sense of humour but even I have my limits.

Online banks have a very bright future thanks to you, in the face of very dusty and unmovable institutions like yours.

I have an equally comical file in progress at (another branch), as a result of an aberration in your insurance services.  To increase your chances of promotion perhaps you should think about retraining yourself as a comedian.

Thank you for your efforts, hoping that you will be able to operate this perilous delivery."

After reading that, there was a glow of merriment aboard long after the sun’s rays had departed even our happy little ship.


Tuesday, July 05, 2022

A Day at the Beach
Monday 4th July - Dunkirk to Koksijde

Today was one of those symbolic days; the day we returned the hire car, severing our dependance on land based transport and moving one step closer to becoming boat people once again.

Since Pat and Pamela were with us with a car of their own, and there’s nothing our unwritten rulebook about accepting lifts from others, getting back to the boat from the car hire place in Dunkirk was easy, and it must be said, extraordinarily pleasant.    

It wasn’t a speedy trip though, as the coast of Belgium is particularly seductive at this time of year, and there was no hardship in making unapologetically long and touristy diversions for chocolate and coffee and mussels followed by a long walk along he Koksijde shore with it’s wall of gaily painted bathing boxes.

We must have all been tired and happy on our mid afternoon return to the boat, because the balance of the afternoon conversation if that’s what it could be called, was clearly sponsored by the letter ‘Z’ !


Sunday 3rd July - Diksmuide

We’ve often discussed the wonder of just how inter-connected our water-based community is.  Life in our “long village” is an apparently endless round of catching up with one another and getting updates of who is up to what, and just occasionally an exchange of gifts designed to bemuse the recipient.

Yesterday, Grahame and Aileen (from NZ en-route by boat to the South of France) gave us a beautifully gift-wrapped package that contained the most extraordinary mechanical contraption designed for exterminating flies and other insects.

Today, our good friends and guests (from Mooloolaba en-route by car to their boat in the North of France) after a little practice met with some success using said contraption.

Why was it surprising then, with no knowledge of or even passing thought that the two ever having met, that when I sent this photograph to Aileen as an expression of gratitude for her thoughtful gift, that I should receive this reply?:

“Well done to Pat!” 

Well done to Aileen, I think!

Sunday, July 03, 2022

It's lunchtime, we must be in France!
Saturday 2nd July - Day trip to Douai

With a boat that’s half-ready for habitation and visitors arriving tomorrow evening we thought there was no time like the present to have a day off, so we did.

We thought a bit of a drive through the French countryside might be nice, as unfortunately did the entire population of Belgium.  

At one point there were so many other vehicles on the road that we thought that there may have been an evacuation order issued, but due to the miracle of the modern motorway network we even had time to stop in Lille en route for a bit of “maintenance” shopping and still made it to Grahame and Aileen’s mooring in Douai in time for a very long lunch in the company of old friends.

As we re-acquainted ourselves with our haunts of just three years ago during the afternoon, with nary a thought of the mountain of sorting still remaining back on the boat, we couldn’t help but congratulate ourselves on how easily we’ve slipped back into our old cruising ways.


A Very Long Day
Friday 1st July - Diksmuide


It was chilly yesterday, and we were very glad to be inside and not out in the weather scraping tar from the bottom of our 25 metre barge, and while we may have felt a little bit sorry for Roy and Shiela as they did exactly that, we didn't offer to help. 

They were having welding work done on their hull so had the interior partially dismantled as well to minimise the risk of a fire getting out of control, so it only seemed fair that when we got together to swap cleaning stories in the evening, it would be on our ever so slightly more shipshape  “Joyeux”.

For those not familiar with life in these latitudes, when there is work to do, “evening” is a very long time away, and by the time it arrived, we had our little boat in sufficiently seaworthy condition to have moved it a kilometre or so from the shipyard to the yacht club marina. This was a great leap forward for us of course and came with the added luxury of fresh water and electricity on board, but not so great for the other two, who had quite a commute to find us at the end of a long day.

When eventually reunited as the evening turned into night, either we were enjoying each other’s company or we were all just too tired to move, because in a blink it was tomorrow, and for the second time in a day we extended our sympathy to the other pair as they disappeared into the chill of the night for their long trudge “home” while we smugly and quite gratefully tumbled into our nice warm bed.


Friday, July 01, 2022

The Joy of Paperwork
Thursday 30th June - Diksmuide


In simpler times, one got one’s act together a long time in advance of travel, and if correspondence was entered into it was by a thing called “sea mail”.

Then a decade or so ago the internet happened and with a bit of luck, for the price of a cup of coffee at a certain Scottish hamburger chain, one could collect one’s electronic mail, perhaps even send a reply or two before getting on with the business of being out of touch.

These are not simple times.   The Flemish Waterways Authority for instance, have “simplified” their system, which means It’s no longer possible to walk up to a counter, pay a nice man some money, and walk out with a shiny new registration sticker.   Everything must be done online, through a website which has an English version with a hundred-item menu still in Flemish, which is a kind of Double Dutch.

To the surprise of all we did manage to get the necessary documents uploaded, the form filled in reasonably well, and even got to the part where we had to pay the bill, before simplification got the better of us: The credit card sent a code to our "home" number, which was not particularly helpful, but by turning off the phone and swapping swapping SIM cards and restarting it, we did receive the message, along with warnings about the cost of data roaming.  This process of course disconnected our internet connection, and by the time we restored it the payment session had timed out and our window of simplification closed.

A visit to the office forty kilometres away, yielded a friendly conversation, which had we been in France would have been punctuated by a dozen shrugs, and the phone number of another nice man who might be able to help.   He couldn’t, but he gave us the number of yet another nice man who was also befuddled by the simplicity and gave us yet another number to call.  The nice man who answered our fifth call wasn’t sure what he could do, but he has a dog with the same name as our boat, and very kindly pulled some strings and pressed some buttons and apologetically charged us an extra 25% to sort out what turned out to be the fault in their website.

Of course the only way of paying for this particular simple service was by money transfer, and it probably goes without saying that when our Australian bank’s online services went down at the exact time we pressed the little blue button to complete the transaction, the air turned the same colour as the button!
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