Legends from our own lunchtimes

Sunday, July 14, 2024

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES
- SATURDAY 13TH JULY - NAMUR


The last time we were in Namur we couldn’t understand what the fuss was about.   

Everyone we knew who had been here, was quite complimentary about it, if not raving.   As we recall, and we do, vividly, days of relentless forty degree temperatures had heated to wall we were moored against, just below the citadel, and our Joyeux was slowly being roasted along with all in her.  The town was deserted, dusty, half built or half torn down, and generally in need of a clean.  

It didn’t even have a tourist information office.

We walked and walked until the point of near dehydration, enjoyed a few hours in the citadel, but no matter where we looked we couldn’t find the slightest spark of magic referred to by others.

After that it doesn’t take much to imagine how enthused we were about getting out and about today, but the sun was shining so one of us managed a few loads of washing and a bit of a spruce up inside while cooking a batch of pikelets, and the other spent an equally industrious if not more trying morning attempting to unravel the many mysteries of the dashboard wiring.

By lunchtime the band had struck up across the river a the yacht club, the dancing had begun, the sun may have stopped shining but the world was still cheery enough for us to feel guilty about not getting out.

We never did find out what was going on in town, surely all of Belgium was there.  The streets are closed to traffic on weekends, which is just as well as there wouldn’t be room for everyone on the footpaths.

It’s cleaner, brighter and no longer under construction.  

Today at least it had a vibrance that seemed to lift the mood of everyone there.  Possibly the French beer festival in the square assisted in that regard, but we’re glad to say that Namur is now on our “must stay longer next time” list.

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Saturday, July 13, 2024

THE WIPER
- FRIDAY 12TH JULY - AUVELAIS TO NAMUR

 

Yesterday had been a long day in conditions which required a little more work than we prefer, let’s politely say that we were feeling our age a bit when we creaked into life this morning.

It was raining too, and quite cold and not at all summery so we had a slow and gentle morning.  Eventually the other boat sharing out mooring departed, spurring us into action.

Curiously after conversing happily we thought for more than a dozen or so locks and bridges and as many harbours while travelling through Wallonia, today the young lady in charge of the locks must have decided that it would be easier for her to understand us if we spoke in English.  

It was certainly easier for us, as we are constantly in awe of how we are understood despite what we know are our sometimes unrecognisable pronunciations, which are a constant source of mirth for many (and ourselves).

Happily the windscreen wiper rebuild of a week or so ago passed it’s first significant test with flying colours, but since it covers only a very small small area of the glass, visibility in close quarters a little less than desirable.

Fortunately, after the reapairs we had thought to keep the old auxiliary system completely intact “just in case”.

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Friday, July 12, 2024

ANOTHER KIND OF BEAUTY
- THURSDAY 11TH JULY - SENEFFE TO AUVELAIS



What a glorious day, surprisingly hot it was too, and after travelling for far too many hours and kilometres we arrived feeling a bit like Charleroi looks - tired and terribly run down.

This may be a terrible conclusion to draw from a town which we have never visited and have only passed through on three occasions, but the fact that the economy airlines brand its airport “Brussels South” only reinforces that conclusion.

Some say that passing Charleroi by ship is not an attractive proposition, but they would be wrong.  Think of it as “Post Apocalyptic Industrial Chic”.  

With kilometres of huge piles of recycling waste glinting in the sun or floating in the air as the case may be, and factories that at first glance look abandoned, yet awful shrieks and bangs emanate from within, as once useful objects are shredded for future re-use, or perhaps they really are abandoned and aliens are rebuilding their wrecked ships within - whichever you prefer.  

It’s a super positive thing on the one hand, your old car or refrigerator being stripped to its component material, shredded and then shipped to who knows where, and there’s a kind of honesty and confidence about the place.  It is what it is.

Compare that to the cosmetic coverings of the nuclear reactor cooling towers we spent a couple of hours with while waiting for a lock.  Their glistening while forms and water vapour rising above silhouetted against the blue sky belie all sorts of potential catastrophe lurking within.

At least that pile of cubed cars is unlikely to suffer a meltdown at its core, which is more than we can say for the reactor, or for that matter for us if we’d pushed our day much further.  


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UP AND OVER
- WEDNESDAY 10TH JULY - MONS TO SENEFFE


It may look like something from a Star Wars set, but just because they built a taller one in China doesn’t make the Str├ępy-Thieu boat lift any less impressive. To get a better idea of scale, look closely at the lower road and find the tourist train.

It’s certainly a very easy way for us to climb to the top of a hill using only a boat, and something of a monument to engineers and of course to a certain Mr Archimedes, without whom the calculation of counterweight sizes would not be possible.

There are lots of facts and statistics that are very easy to find if that’s what floats your boat, the least of them or perhaps the most important depending on your perspective is that the height of the lift is seventy-four metres, and that the vertically moving watertight gates are designed to withstand a 5 km/h  impact from a 2000-tonne vessel.   

This is only reassuring until one starts to wonder about the consequences of a 2010 tonne vessel failing to stop while the basin was at the top.    There is a flood gate a few kilometres away which would stop Belgium emptying completely, but the thought of ships both small and large plummeting over a seventy-four metre waterfall and tumbling through flooded towns below is an entertaining one, if one isn’t a passenger on one of those vessels at the time it happens.

Anyone wishing to visit can ride the lift for a nominal fee,  and there’s a little train ride and a ferry too which would ask for a couple of other nominal fees but pleasure boats, presumably because they are part of the attraction are not charged at all.  

Therefore it would make a certain amount of sense for those more than mildly curious, to track us down next time we are passing and we’ll be happy to provide the thrill of a lifetime.  

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Thursday, July 11, 2024

CITY OF COLOUR
- TUESDAY 9TH JULY - MONS


It’s a curious thing to hop on the bus after a lovely day in town, a super lunch in the sun drenched main square, and sufficient heat to believe that summer has finally arrived, to receive a notification from the weather man that says “Thunderstorm will cease in eighteen minutes”.

The sky was a bit overcast in places, but there was not a drop of rain to be seen. Perhaps it was a wrong number.

Ten minutes later we alighted from that same bus with the sky a little greyer perhaps, but still giving no sense of impending doom, and we set off on our eight minute walk back to the boat.   The bus had barely closed its door when a drop of rain the size of a cumquat landed on the concrete pavement in front of us.    
Then another.

We had just enough time to fish our umbrellas out before firehoses started blasting us from all directions, leaving us beyond wet, walking through inches of water.  Traffic stopped, we think the street lights came on, but we had to squint against the pressure of the water so can't be sure, yet on we trudged.

Precisely eighteen minutes more or less after receiving that notification, just as we were wondering how to get into the boat without filling it with water, the rain ceased. 

Fourteen millimetres in around ten minutes made us a bit homesick.  I’d managed to get the (thankfully waterproof) camera safely zipped into the backpack just in time, but such was the torrent that when it was all over, it was basting in an inch or so of water which had found it’s way through the zippers!  

Again I digress: Mons is a really nice city we think, filled with colour and interesting crannies, that could well do with further exploration.  One laneway was so colourful that all the cobbles were carefully painted in colours so vibrant that it felt like walking across a packet of Smarties.   

I can only hope that the colours haven't run!

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Tuesday, July 09, 2024

THE DAY WE WENT TO SWEDEN
- MONDAY 8TH JULY - PERUWELZ TO MONS


With no obstacles on our route we could probably have put the pedal to the metal and been in Mons for smoko, but that’s really not how we roll.  We did make it in time for lunch and by the time we’d done nothing, and had a chat with the Port Captain, the afternoon had been well and truly underway for some time.

We’ve not visited Mons before, and were recently made aware that the Vikings had settled far and wide in the sixth century or so but we were quite surprised to discover that one of the remnants of the Swedish scourge remained just a few kilometres away.

Navigation on foot turned out to be a challenge as we had to pass below or across no fewer than eleven lanes of freeway traffic on the way, with pathways so bio-diverse that jungle greens and a machete might have been appropriate.  For a time it seemed far safer walking on the road’s edge than battling with the nettle and blackberry and other spiky things including a bush that looked for all the world like the invasive species we called “Chonky Apple” when we were kids in the north of Australia. 

That particular name must be some sort of woke faux pas now, as a search for that plant turns up “Chinee Apple” which to this not quite objectively focused pair of eyes, seems to have greater opportunity to cause offence, but once again, I digress.

Eventually we made it to IKEA safely, having managed to steer one of us away from the temptation to pick a large bunch of wildflowers on the way : “we can do that on the way back”.

There, we quickly found everything on our list, stopped for a close to awful coffee and a less awful slice of apple pie, bought a very small flowering plant to match the time we will be on the boat this year, and made our way happily back the way we came, leaving the wildflowers to live another day.

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SMELLING THE ROSES
- SUNDAY 7TH JULY - TOURNAI TO PERUWELZ

Sunday is a funny day on the water in Belgium or at least in Wallonia.   

In the absence of almost all commercial traffic, the waterways staff seem to work a sort of “casual Friday” kind of day, stopping for lunch and appearing to not do too much at all.  

By eight, when we woke it was such a glorious morning that we were at sixes and sevens as to whether we’d even bother moving.   By nine, we’d decided to stay for one more day.

At twenty past nine, we cast off to try our luck with the last two large commercial locks we need to negotiate for the next few days.  

Since no one really wants to move fourteen million litres of water just so a boat that displaces barely six thousand, can move twelve metres upwards, there’s a policy of doing nothing unless three boats are present per lock movement or if no-one else turns up there is a maximum of approximately two hours to wait "just in case".  Naturally this is flexible because, well, even the waterways guys have to eat, and while we were really lucky at the first lock, the crews of the three boats who had already been waiting for almost three hours when we arrived were delighted to see us.

In any event, we had a very gentle day bobbing around waiting to the sounds of Mr Perkins throaty idle.

By mid afternoon we'd travelled a very slow (even by our standards) twenty- five kilometres or so, and were nicely settled into a pleasant little corner in the port of Peruwelz.  

There we whiled away the afternoon, wandering through the nettles and blackberries where once mown pathways lay, and generally admiring the wondrous biodiversity which we suspect was more a result of neglect than deliberate policy, but it works just the same.


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THE SHIPPING FORECAST
- SATURDAY 6TH JULY - TOURNAI


The weather forecast would have amused even the most sceptical person.  “Sunny conditions expected around 9:00 pm” it cheerily announced, right beside a little graphic that made it quite clear that sunset would be at 9:59 precisely, so you’d better get the chairs out and be ready.

Every hour before that there was one of those funny little “wind” symbols, which are a good indication that one should not venture outside with an umbrella or even a hat that isn’t firmly tied down.  A bit of investigation showed the forecast gusts would be around 65 kilometres per hour, which is somewhere around the “gale” category on the Beaufort scale and in the end we were pretty pleased with our decision to stay right where we were in downtown Tornai.

When the morning dawned clear-ish and windless, we had second thoughts about staying, but it was not long before the gusts came exactly when and as forecast and we settled in for a day of watching the slow procession of passing ships while surrounded by an assortment of washing hung in every corner of the boat.

There are a few pastimes which some describe as  being like watching grass grow, and watching washing dry is one of them.  Therefore we took the opportunity to sneak out for a few little necessities and to check progress on the Notre Dame Cathedral, which has been under constant renovation since our first visit, fifteen years ago.   

It’s not World Heritage listed accidentally, although every time progress appears to be underway, an even older part of the building is discovered.  There’s some thought that it may even have  some bits from the fourth century under those footings, but so far the impressively identified fifth century parts are winning the age race.

Like all renovation jobs, this one just keeps getting bigger, and without the budget of the better known Notre Dame, progress seems to be at about the pace we like to travel, which leaves us to wonder if we should move tomorrow, or join the cathedral team and simply down tools for one more day.

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Saturday, July 06, 2024

SOME DAYS ARE GOLDEN
- FRIDAY 5TH JULY - OUDENARDE TO TOURNAI


We tried not to be too ambitious today with a weather forecast for unpleasant conditions tending towards horrible in spots, but as things always do, they turned out well enough with just the right amount of inclement to give the windscreen wipers a nice test to boot.

Wind can be a bit of a problem for us and it did blow quite hard from time to time, but due to some sort of inverse law of nature to the one that usually applies when we are on the boat, it dropped out just enough to make manoeuvring possible each time we needed to enter a lock or avoid an obstacle or a three thousand tonne ship.

At times, with wind and current against us, despite Mr Perkins’ valiant efforts to push us along, making headway was a bit of a struggle, but struggle he did although there’s been a return of his incontinence and we are seriously beginning to wonder if after four and a half decades, the pumps he drives are beginning to feel their age too.

Tomorrow, the forecast is “worse than today”, which makes us think we might plan to do not much at all.

Will we get out and explore Tournai?  

That’s a question for tomorrow.

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SAME WINDSCREEN, DIFFERENT DAY
- THURSDAY 4TH JULY - BEERNEM TO OUDENARDE


On a long day, one has nothing much to do other than concentrating on avoiding the hard bits at the edges of the water, staying as far away as possible (see the first “other than”) from the monster ships plying the narrowish waterways at speeds we can only dream of and generally moving about every now and then to keep a bit of circulation happening.

Between those various occupations is a significant time for thinking.

Recently, in Denmark, we visited the Viking Ship museum, where somewhat puzzlingly we discovered that one of the load carrying ships was capable of transporting the weight of one and a half female Indian elephants.   

Meanwhile somewhere in North America about the same time, a sink-hole had appeared in a “sidewalk” the size of seven refrigerators.  

Perhaps it’s got something to do with wind turbines breaking up the 5G wavelength but it’s clear that more tried and trusted means of measurement, (think cubic metres or kilograms) are no longer adequate, but none the less it occurred to me that the largest of the ships passing us every half hour or so, was capable of carrying around 30,000 refrigerators, or indeed 750 female Indian elephants. 

This led me to be quite grateful that we weren’t travelling with a flotilla of Viking ships, because the queue to each commercial lock would be the 750 elephants divided by one and a half, or precisely 625 Viking ships long.

Yes, it had been a long day, and yes it was a bit tiring, but it could have been worse.  Had we been travelling at the speed of light, in the same nine hours we could have travelled around the sun sixty-five times rather than just seventy or so kilometres to Oudenarde.

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Thursday, July 04, 2024

WE CAN SEE!
- WED 3RD JULY - BEERNEM

 

Rain is not our preferred weather when moving on.   

We have to put up with it of course from time to time, but with the forecast looking quite miserable today we abandoned our admittedly hastily drawn plan to leave this morning, and replaced it with “let’s fix the windscreen wipers”, a job that’s been on our list for quite some time.

Fortunately I’d bought a new blade and arm a couple of years ago and they’d been rolling around underfoot in my little helm station to remind me they needed installing “when I had ten minutes to spare’.  

This lack of activity has meant that things have been a bit awkward on board from time to time while moving in the rain, as one of us has had to don her wet weather gear, duck outside with a squeegee in hand while the other had to multi task, contemporaneously steering and pointing to bits she had missed all the while ensuring his coffee didn’t spill.  She swears she didn’t mind, but even someone with fewer than fifty years of bliss under their belt would be aware that there was probably an end date to that arrangement.

A “ten minute job” on a boat of the age and heritage of ours never takes ten minutes, so it was not unexpected that the boat interior resembled a car boot sale by the time we’d finished.

However, with new electrical connections at both ends, a note to replace the switch at some time in the future, and a new wiper blade and arm assembled from components of various bits and bobs that “might come in handy” it is with some relief and a good deal of satisfaction that we can say we have a reliable wiper for the first time in a very long time.

Tomorrow, we will be on our way, rain, hail or shine!


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SLUIS
- TUESDAY 2ND JULY - SLUIS


Despite the impression we might accidentally give from time to time, our cruising life is not just about lolling about and eating chocolate.

There are waffles as well.

And there’s walking, quite a lot of walking.  Walking to get groceries, walking to take the rubbish to the bin, walking to see things.  There’s no escaping it, even on those rare days when we don’t leave the boat, we can do many thousands of steps (but who’s counting?) and the boat is only ten metres long overall, barely seven inside.  

Therefore when Dave and Ria suggested we might like to go for a little drive this afternoon we leaped at the chance to walk the kilometre or so to their garage, buckled in and headed for the Netherlands.  It’s easy to remain quite nonchalant at the prospect of trans border travel, when one realises the distance to the border is barely as far as it is to the hardware store and back, but the village of Sluis is at least twenty kilometres away.  

It’s a pretty, quasi touristic shopping centre that seems to exist almost solely for Belgians looking for bargains, and a range of local foodstuffs, or simply an afternoon out.

There is even a working windmill to pose for photographs.

Just to demonstrate that we don’t require a boat for lolling about there was coffee too.

And yes, (rolls eyes), poffertjes.

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Wednesday, July 03, 2024

BLIKVANGER
MONDAY 1ST JULY - BEERNEM

Just when I thought “winkelwagen” was my favourite bit of Flemish, perhaps beside “Waggelwaterbrug”, along comes “blikvanger” to challenge for the top spot.,  It turns out doesn’t really have a  translation in the context of this discussion, but we think we can pretty much work it out.   

Blikvangers (not their real name) are positioned along bicycle paths for the convenience of commuters.

Imagine riding your bike to the station, sucking on a can of your favourite fizzy pop, when along comes an opportunity for a spot of Blikvanging.  

Who could resist? 

There are no points awarded, but a successful ejection of the can is far better than turning up at the office with it stuffed down one’s shirt front.  There’d be the never ending quest to get it into the first hole I’m sure.   Failure no doubt means appearing on television, perhaps “Belgium’s Most Wanted” if that failure also involves failing to stop and trying again. 

As an aside, all over Europe public lawns and verges are being allowed to grow with the bare minimum of mowing to keep things a little tidy, which is why apart from a few mown pathways the park in the background looks a little overgrown.  

This is in the interests of promoting bio diversity, encouraging insects and birds back to places they may have left, and it can’t hurt the local authorities gardening budgets either, although shares in mower companies might not be such a great investment at the moment.

In some countries, most assuredly not here, where blikvanging is not yet a thing, one can only imagine the nasty surprises that await the mower operators in all that undergrowth when the annual mowing comes around. 
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Tuesday, July 02, 2024

SANS PANORAMA
SUNDAY 30TH JUNE - BRUGES


Just one of the things that draws us back to this place is the continually changing view.   

It’s like a life size “Where’s Wally” model, the more you look, the more there is to see.  If sweeping panoramas are your thing, it’s safe to say that Brugge is not for you, at least from that perspective, but if you like a nice vista, you may never leave.

This is why it takes us so long to go anywhere.  Everywhere we look there’s something to discover, whether it be a neat little decoration in a window, an intricately carved cornice, or a car appearing to be miraculously floating above diners in the cafe at the end of the street. 

There’s simply no escape from it, which I suppose is why we gave the mobile food truck our award for “most appropriate pun of the day”

Who could resist buying a cardboard box of spaghetti from “Pasta la Vista”?

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