We have been mooring in the deep countryside of Friesland, a province of the Netherlands. Reeds, still used for making thatched roofs, line the canals. Among the wildlife are storks, who nest on the tops of trees. Their black tails help make them more visible from a distance. They have even made some special nesting spots for these large birds.
Duurstede Castle is in the town of Wijk bij Duurstede in the Netherlands. The castle dates from the 13th century.
Just north of Zwolle there are several small lakes. We spent several days there before painting the hull in Hasselt just up the river and again after a cruise up the Ijsselvecht River. Moored on the lake just a few meters from the river we were treated to a stream of water craft of all types, from canoes to river cruise ships. Families came by water and land to swim, picnic and sun bathe.
Other boaters occupied similar moorings, picnicking, swimming and playing traditional Dutch music, polkas that sound a lot like German polkas.
Often in the winter I go north to check on our boat. I look for leaks, make sure the batteries are being charged properly and the like. This year I flew into Eindhoven, a mid-sized airport in the southern part of the Netherlands. After completing the car rental paperwork and the steeple-chase effort to find the car lot, I put the phone on the seat with the route entered and set off. In about 90 minutes and an equal number of roundabouts I came to the marina, along the way piercing through the sub-freezing clouds. Once on the boat I switched on the diesel heater as well as the small electric one, and set about the few tasks I had in mind.
That night I slept under the duvet. The Dutch generally turn their heat way down at night as these duvets are more than adequate. I left the small electric heater on and woke up nearly sweating, getting up to move the heater to the cold salon. It was just 10c/50f inside the boat when I awoke, but it warms up quickly with the gas burners used to make breakfast.
So there I was, standing on the dock looking in disbelief. Then I realized I was in a jam. I was way out of sight of the office. They knew I was there as I had emailed them weeks before and the day before I talked to the woman in the office about getting water. It was she who told water valves on the dock are always removed in the cold weather.
There was a dinghy tied to the dock but there was no paddle. I called the office- luckily I had a signal. The woman I spoke to in English the day before was not in. The man on the other end spoke no English, just Dutch and German! I sent him an email so he could translate it, then thought of calling Kees in Haarlem. He roared with laughter when I told him what happened, then he called the office. Within about twenty minutes I was shoving off towards land, just 10 meters away, retrieving the paddle the man heaved to me. My only problem was the water in the dinghy. It had been hidden below the folds. Once I slid into the boat, staying low to avoid capsizing, so I was quite surprised when the icy water rushed out from the sides, covering my legs to the knees.
Before getting drinking water I went back to the boat to change into my sloppy old sweat pants and the inexpensive but terribly comfortable clogs. You’d think that the clogs were from the Netherlands. No. I bought them in Spain, after looking for them all over Netherlands without success. I made my way to land in the dinghy and filled the jugs.
After another day doing a few additional chores I drove to Haarlem to visit with our friends. It took about three hours. I wasted a good part of one hour as I’d put in the right street and number but the wrong city into Google maps.
Their daughter came for dinner that night. I met her and her husband in 2000 when we had our first Dutch boat. A few months before we met Kees and Ada on the River Eem near Amersfoort. We arranged then to meet them all in their home harbor in July to see the fireworks in Amsterdam harbor in connection with the Tall Ships. This is an annual event where large 3-5 mast sailing vessels travel to various ports in Europe. In the Netherlands during this event there are thousands of boats on the huge North Sea Canal that the ships use to get to Amsterdam.
Ada put on a fine meal that night and I slept in a warm house. The next day came the news. A big snow storm was coming, to be particularly heavy in the area where the boat is. I would not only be driving in the snow on Friday to return to the boat, where I had to prepare the boat for the rest of winter, I would be getting up on Saturday morning with snow on the docks in the pitch black, to slide on the docks to get into a small dinghy with my luggage and row to shore, hoping then to get out of the boat without stepping into the water, soaking my shoes. I had to make an early flight.
Friday dawned. It began to snow on the way to Almere, where I had to drop off some canvases for repair. These I had removed in the frigid weather, which makes canvas stiff and hard to handle. Then I had to carry the large stiff pieces down the dock and into the dingy. By the time I arrived at at the sail maker’s shop the snow flakes were huge, coming down in quantity, and building up on the roads. I did not have snow tires on this car. I grew up in New York and lived for 12 years in Colorado so I do know how to drive in the snow, but that was years ago now.
After another stop in Almere Poort (as it is spelled in Dutch) for a solar panel, I started south. Almere and the Poort are near Amsterdam so I found a fair amount of traffic on the highway. There was a slushy build up on the road, especially between the lanes. I crossed two bridges before leaving the area, leaving extra room between cars as bridges ice up sooner. The snow abated and within an hour disappeared. I was not yet out of the woods, of course. The worse was yet to come, per the forecasts.
I had lunch in a roadside Eet Cafe. Eet means Eat. These are home cooking places. They offer basic cooking and normally are very good. I ordered a kip sate. Kip is chicken, sate is a peanut sauce. This is a typical Dutch menu item, coming from its one time colonial occupation of Indonesia. The offering in this charming place was mediocre, with just ordinary grocery store bread and without the excellent fries that accompany most Dutch meals.
I stopped by the office to let them know I was leaving in the unlikely event they’d worry about me. The man who does not speak English told me in English I could drive the car to the far end, much nearer the boat, a big help since the canvases are both heavy and bulky, and there are two of them, so I would have to make two trips. Then he asked me if I would be taking the dingy back to the boat for the rest of the winter. Apparently he thought the dinghy was mine! So someone left a dinghy there. It was just a matter of my good luck, not planning by the marina.
As I drove towards the boats I came to the small road along the water. It had been underwater but was now open. The river level had dropped. I was able to walk onto the dock as the land end was no longer submerged. I cleaned and winterized the boat, then headed for a small town close to Eindhoven. I’d booked one night in a hotel to avoid the risk of getting off the boat in the dark, in the snow, and then rowing to shore.
The hotel is located in the middle of a pedestrian zone in a small town so I had one more hoop to jump through- parking. It is a hassle in this country. I learned from one of the locals where I stopped to try to pay for a space with my US credit card that there are parking spots everywhere but they require special cards which only locals can buy. Each town has its own card or set of cards you can use in the machines. So if you can not find the rare free spot, probably on the far edge of town, then you have to find the rare and expensive parking lot or garage. This is what I ended up doing, at a hotel, not mine, but another about a dozen blocks away. I did not know it was a hotel when I pulled in. As I parked I realized that there might be just a pay station that won’t accept cash or my American credit cards. I wondered how I would be able to get through the gate. Seeing then that I seemed to be in a hotel’s parking lot, I went into the lobby to find out how to pay, assuming the machine they had outdoors would not work. The clerk assured me I could pay there in the morning.
I spent the night wondering if this was true. I allowed extra time in the morning just in case. It went smoothly, fortunately. I walked out to the car and drove through the gate. Surprisingly it was wide open so I needn’t have worried. I would not even have had to pay. But at least I was not drowning in the icy waters of the Maas, and in a few hours I was back in sunny Spain, happy to leave the stressful journey behind.
Aboard our boat Viking we cruised the canals and rivers of Northern France and Belgium. Chateau, forests, hills, water scenes at every turn. I depicted scenes such as this in a style mixing realism, impressionism and expressionism. This is a second version of this gorgeous and charming bit of history on the Sambre.
Aboard our boat Viking we cruised the canals and rivers of Northern France and Belgium. Chateau, forests, hills, water scenes at every turn. I depicted scenes such as this in a style mixing realism, impressionism and expressionism.
Liege is a large city in Wallonia, the French speaking region of Belgium, close to both Germany and Netherlands. We had family there although most of the people we knew are now gone. We loved its fruit filled waffles, not at all like so-called Belgian waffles, and its tart au riz (rice pie), and it’s fine cuisine more broadly. They make fabulous sauces that area world apart. making pork, beef, chicken and rabbit, as well as moules frites (mussels with fries) special delights.
A brief rundown:
Dating from Roman times, Liege is mentioned first in 558 as Vicus Leudicus. During the middle ages the bishop of Liege (Luik in Dutch and German) wielded considerable influence. As elsewhere in Europe, guilds were powerful influences on government. The Nazis took the city in three days, but much to the credit of the residents of Liege, the local Jews were saved from mass murder. Well before then the region was wealthy from coal and steel production, which began to collapse in the 1980’s, leading to significant social unrest. Wallonia plunged into steep decline from which it is just now recovering. Liege’s government is still dominated by the left wing.
Today the city has an aircraft and space industry, IT and biotech as well as chocolate production. There is a significant weapons industry as well. We visited the Maison de la métallurgie et de l’industrie de Liège. It has the oldest forge in the region as well as exhibits recounting the long history of metallurgy in the city.
After an overnight in Liege we traveled north on the Meuse, spending a beautiful night on a lake about half way to Maastricht. Friends who joined us in Dinant made this an extra special evening. Along the way the river became the Maas, now a water wonderland of river, lakes and streams, a delight for water sport enthusiasts.
Maastricht came next. It is the oldest city in the Netherlands. In Roman times it was a settlement called Trajectum ad Mosam Maastricht. The Euro was born here. There is a large international student population. It has a sizable historic downtown, narrow cobbled streets lined with brick buildings from its early times, of which 667 are registered historic structures. It is well worth a longer visit, either by boat from the conveniently located if rather plain harbor or in a longer term apartment.
The city has an extensive night life. The restaurants and bars are lively and attractively lit. The streets are pedestrian and bikes/scotters/etc only in the evenings, leaving ample room for roaming about. The atmosphere is friendly and you feel entirely safe. The crowd is on the young side due to the large number of university students.
We are passing through forests and small towns on the Sambre as it winds its way north. We encounter some of the most difficult locks out of the thousands we have used, leaving us dead tired at the end of the day. We stop in Etreaux, Landrecies, the border town of Jeaumont, Thuin, Abbaye d’Aulne again, Floreffe, Yvoir, Dinant, Namur, and then Liege before crossing the border into the Netherlands.
There is a section of the Sambre which includes a series of 32 locks, some of which challenge our boating skills. We did 14 one day and 18 the next. The first 14 were not unusually difficult. The next 18 however were difficult to enter and difficult to manage once in. To get through the turbulent waters in front of the lock without banging into the narrow entrance you have to go in at a higher speed than normal- normally you should saunter. The swirling waters are created by the emptying of the lock. They push you from left to right unpredictably, effects which higher speed make less extreme.
Stopping a boat is always a bit of a challenge, which is why boaters normally approach docks and locks as slowly as possible. The only braking you have aside from the natural deceleration of the boat due to the resistance the water provides, which isn’t a great deal, is to put the transmission in reverse. So doing causes the bow of the boat to head to left or right and the stern just the opposite, depending on the prop’s rotation ( some boats it’s clockwise, others it’s counter-clockwise), the current and wind if any. This makes docking of any sort a challenge to one’s boating skills.
In the last 18 locks we had a fellow traveler. They came into the lock slowly and thus found themselves crosswise to the entrance. They somehow managed to inch their way in and secure themselves to the side. The first lock we did in this series we were behind them. We saw how they approached the problem and told them we would go first to allow more time for the turbulence to subside. It also meant that we would save a lot of time as we would be ready to go once they were secured, rather than us having to enter after they had struggled in. Still they slowed us down tremendously.
All these locks are operated by remote controls we were issued at the first lock in the series. Once secure you push a button on the remote control or lift a rod to activate the lock. After we activated the locks in the series of 18 the water came in violently, pushing the boat back and forwards and left to right or vice versa. Following 18 of these battles our arms were limp. Having to watch the other boat struggle in time after time added to our exhaustion.
The remote control in this series of is quite remarkable. In lieu of red and green lights at the locks, there are red and green lights on the device. As you approach the lock there is a message on the device’s screen telling you the name of the lock you were approaching and that the lock was being prepared for you. When it is ready for you the green light illuminates.
One lock was under repairs. The device so informed us, and further said that the lock would be operated manually, which indeed was the case. As we approached the last lock in the series, a VNF employee arrived to retrieve the device from us, notified by the device and its associated network of our arrival.
We spent two nights moored next to the locks we’d just passed through. The nights were extra tranquil, the sky full of diamonds, a fabulous ending to days replete with visual treasures.
We come to Etreaux, a tiny village of about 1500 people, yet is has a hault nautique, a mooring for passing craft. Many larger towns lack one. This small town was in the middle of various World War I battles.
Landrecies is a bit bigger than Etreaux. It’s been the location for medieval era battles between the French and the English, the Dutch, and Germans in WW1. The border town of Jeumont is unremarkable, perhaps offering an explanation for its current efforts to renovate the downtown. We walk around quite a bit looking for the outstanding restaurant we enjoyed in 2002 when we passed through with some newly found friends. We never found it. Jeumont houses several companies making heavy electrical equipment for wind turbines, nuclear reactors and naval propulsion, rather surprising given how tiny and out of the way this town is.
Now we pass into Belgium, coming first to Thuin and then to Abbaye d’ Aulne. I have already written on these two very interesting and lovely locations here https://garyjkirkpatrick.com/abbaye-daulne/ Then we headed north to Dinant and Namur. I wrote about Namur and Dinant here https://garyjkirkpatrick.com/namur-and-dinant/
North of Namur you come to Liege, the largest city in the French speaking Wallonie region of Belgium. I first wrote about Liege in 2001 https://garyjkirkpatrick.com/nederlands-to-france-by-boat-july-2001/ I will write about it again in the next post.
A dreamy summer on the canals of northern France
The return trip through the Marne, made necessary by low water levels and damage to the Canal de l’Aisne to La Marne, was well worthwhile. Its sprawling vineyards, charming villages and forests make for a delightful journey. After a few days we made it to the Seine, mooring at the first lock, very close by and to the south. The next day, another bright and unfortunately rain-free one, took us through Paris again. It was just as magnificent as the first time. We spent the night on the Seine at a halte fluvial in Montigny-les-Corneilles, one of many such moorings affording no electricity or water. We had plenty of both already. The haulte is in front of two lovely restaurants, both of which we passed on. The heat declined as the sun dropped behind the trees on the opposite side of the river, taking us to a warm but lovely night with a star studded sky.
After the following day’s visit to Creil’s Chateau, we moved on to Jaux for lunch at the restaurant next to the decrepit moorings, then the delightful Compiegne where there were four others moored, including a Dutch couple we’d encountered previously, and another couple on a barge on the same path as us, heading north to the Sambre into Belgium’s Wallonie region, where French is the language and beer is the national beverage as it is in Flanders, the other part of Belgium.
From this point on we were largely in the countryside, aside from Soisson. Soisson is one of the oldest towns in France. It was a Celtic settlement and the seat of the diocese starting circa 300 CE. After Clovis died in 511, Soissons became the capitol of one of the four kingdoms into which his realm was divided. The Cathedral dates from the late 12th century. Joan of Arc liberated the town in 1429.
Bourg et Coming is another pretty mooring. The dock with the services was full, however the barge owner came out to say that she had cable if we wanted to plug in. We still had plenty of battery left, per the very useful Battery Volt Monitor I installed, so we did not take advantage of her offer. Her husband is in the hospital so she is there for two weeks.
Boating life can get complicated in these situations. She may not have the necessary license to pilot the boat, so to move she would have to find someone to help. Fortunately there is help if you stay connected to the boating community. There is a Facebook group, for example, called “Women on Barges” where you could seek such a person. We have friends who typically cruise with another couple where the wife had a brain tumor. She slipped into unconsciousness aboard their barge. Our friends moved the barge for them, driving back and forth and taking public transport to do so.
Chauny came next. It dates from the 9th century. Unfortunately it was heavily damaged during WWI. Nonetheless the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) is quite impressive.
The church in Beautor, our next stop
We came up a section of the Canal de la Sambre a l’Oise where you ascend the Aisne by means of 32 locks. The last 18 we covered in one day. Most were very turbulent, making entrance as well as while in the the lock very difficult as the water rushed in. By the end of the day in Oisy we were exhausted from trying to control the boat during the filling process, despite the lowered temperatures, which, when they were over 30c for days seemingly on end exhausted us in another way.
We proceeded along the lovely and sometimes overgrown Sambre, opening the locks using the remote control supplied by the VNF (Voie Navigable France). The device worked flawlessly and is easily the most intelligent of the remote controls we have used. It replaces traffic lights at the locks with its own red and green signals. A screen provides messages such as “We have registered you for this lock” and “You can now enter the lock. ” It notified the lock keeper at the last lock of the series, so he was there when we arrived, to collect the device. I was hoping the screen would at the end say, “Bon voyage, it’s been nice to get to know you,” but alas it simply went silent.
We proceeded to the border town of Jeumont, where once we delightfully dined in a small restaurant with a couple with whom we had become friendly on the waterways. This was in 2001. We were not able to locate the restaurant. It is probably long since gone.
He admitted to sexually abusing her daughter some years later, according to the wife. He’d already left her for the neighbor’s wife. The wife still lives in the same village with her ex. Last I heard he was still with the neighbor’s wife, whose ex-husband somehow blamed it all not on his wife but on our friend the wife, again according to her.
We say goodbye to France’s waterways. I doubt we will return.