Viking in Nederlands 2021 (video)

First song by Colm McGuinness. See more of his singing on youtube.
de hoef sm
De Hoef, watercolors
Windmill Nederhorst den berg
Windmill Nederhorst den berg

Preview in new tab

Delft Port Towers
scene in zwammerdam wc sm
Zwammerdam, watercolor

All of these are available for purchase. Easiest way to make arrangements is to contact me at Prices range from $150-350 for these. Size A4, approximately 8.5″ x 11″

Namur and Dinant

Namur was settled by the Celts, who were replaced by the Romans. The Merovigians (550-750 CE) built the citadel, much strengthened and expanded over time by the Spanish and later Napoleon. The Germans attacked early in WWI to use the Meuse River as a path into nearby France. It is now the capitol of the region. Located on a narrow strip along the Meuse, the majority of the town, significantly the old town sits more broadly along and setback from the Sambre River. The old town is full of medieval charm and, of course, lots of bars and restaurants, well populated with beer sipping locals chatting the hours away.

Namur is on an important railway junction as well as being at the junction of two rivers, each of which supports a fair amount of barge traffic. In addition we saw several day trip cruise trips. The University of Namur (1831) and the University of Louvain are here, both well respected institutions.

namur river
namur on way up
Namur from the cable car
dinant view
Namur from the cable car

Dinant is much smaller and its downtown less charming than Namur’s, but there are fabulous views from our mooring, along the main part of the town, and from the citadel. The citadel offers a much more interesting visit compared to Namur’s, aside from the ride up, which is more dramatic in Namur. The Dinant visit takes you deep in the mountain, passing through a tilted corridor with a fun house feel to it- the sloping path makes you a bit dizzy. The main part of the town is only a few streets wide and not as charming as Namur. The Collegiate Church of Notre Dame de Dinant has a Norman facade on the north side, which dates it a 1000 years back, its carvings badly worn by the ravages of Belgian rain, but still it’s a trip back in time. Rocks heavily damaged the Romanesque structure in 1227. It was then rebuilt in the Gothic style.

Dinant shows traces of settlement dating to paleolithic times. Celtic tribes lived there, and of course the Romans. The St Vincent church was built in 870. There was heavy fighting in WWI during which DeGaulle was wounded. We ran across the statue honoring him. I’d forgotten how old he was as President of France in the 60’s.

dinant 2
Dinant from the cable car
Pulpit at Collegiate Church of Notre Dame, Dinant
On the bridge in Dinant. The inventor Adolphe Sax was born here

Abbaye d’Aulne

Abbaye d’Aulne sits on the Sambre River. On the way aboard Viking you pass through an old industrial area outside Charleroi. The Abbaye is a ruin now, but 500 plus years after its founding it had grown large and powerful, before being largely destroyed during the French revolution. Its presence adds to what is otherwise largely landscape charm as the river winds its way through the hills of the Ardennes. The Abbaye was part of the Cisterncian order that today gives its name to some 11 brands of Trappist beer. The Trappist order originated in the Cisterncian monastery in La Trappe, France.

We took the boat to the small settlement that hosts the Abbaye, mooring just outside the lock. Already there was a music, sounding like a concert in progress, although it turned out to be live bands at one of the bars across the street from the ruins. A few women were dancing. I ached to join them. Instead we took a look at the Auberge in the ancient building complete with a road passing through it, then the restaurant at the Abbaye itself, in the cellar of a ruin, and along the quiet street. Next we came to the entrance to the Abbye. You get a good look at the remains of the immense structure. You can walk around and even take a tour. The next day we skipped the tour and just enjoyed walking through the architectural skeletons.

Abbaye d’Aulne
The old lock, our restaurant at the far end on the left

There’s a well recommended restaurant at the lock. We’d made reservations. We ordered an Irish steak with a Roquefort sauce. I assume they imported it from Ireland. It was not a pretty piece but the sauce was out of this world – Belgian sauces are outstanding. The vol au vent, which features a pastry shell normally in the shape of a volcano with the top blown off. This one had grilled chicken breast and a cream sauce, all excellent. The third dish was a rack of lamb with another great sauce, this a brown gravy. The wine prices were out of this world so it was beer or a glass of wine. My beer was the Abbaye d’Aulne label. This is not a Trappist beer so no monk had approached the production but it’s just as good. I got the blonde en fut (on tap). We were there two and half hours, munching on the superb bread while we waiting the first hour for our entree- in French an ‘entree’ is the starter course, not the main course as it is in the US, which uses the French word but not the meaning for some reason.

The auberge. Their restaurant is closed

There are few rivers more charming than this section of the Sambre. The hills through which it passes are heavily forested with multiple shades of green (see next photo). The river’s edge flows with a pleasant irregularity, unlike a canal’s sharper edges. Trees occasionally push their way a few meters from the shore. There are a half dozen or so old locks, manually operated with cranks. They allow boats climb the hills. The river remains in its natural path at the junction with the lock. On the way back I was able to close one side of the lock, saving the lock keeper a walk around to the other gate and us a few minutes of engine time.

There’s an excellent cheese shop, Temp du Fromage. We bought some goat cheese, Morbier, as well as fresh, rich and creamy ricotta, just like I remember from my childhood when you could get raw milk ricotta. Some mighty fine stuff. Around the corner there’s a boulongerie (bakery) selling boules (large round rolls, the shape of a ball- boules is the word for ball). From “boules” you get the word “boulangerie,” or so it seems. Just makes sense that it would.

Thuin also has a rail museum containing street cars starting from late in the 19th century. They have all been restored and are now indoors. There is one in use for the tourists. We took the 40 minute round trip ride. The other passengers came well equipped with cameras. There were two stops for photos along the way, and click away they did, with real cameras.

On the hillside at Thuin

The morning after our lovely dinner at the lock near the Abbaye we left, with the cliff lined Meuse our goal. It hosts the Citadels of Namur and Dinant. Between the two cities there is more dramatic scenery and fabulous chateaux.

Chez Gina and the Blaton-Ath Canal

The Blaton-Ath Canal has a long series of locks, some 18 in all, that takes you from Blanton to Ath at which point you are back on the Scheldt River. These are old locks. The Wallonie waterways authority sends you through with a team of lock keepers in a small truck or car. You go part of the way with one team before another takes over. It took us two days to do the approximately 25km. The scenery is lovely along the way. There are some attractive houses, including the old lock keepers’. The locks are easy to handle so it is a relaxing experience.

We stayed one night in each direction at Ladeuze, a scenic setting with a small village nearby, and several days in Geraadsbergen, back in Flanders at that point. The latter has a small town square up the hill, but otherwise there is not much to see. The people are especially friendly in these small towns. We tried some local beers at the marina’s bar. The owner received a package for us, a replacement for our failed marine radio, texting us when it arrived.

I noticed a sandwich press behind the bar. I asked if she could make a croque messieurs. Yes, but for those who had too much to drink. She was not about to offer to make me one just because it was lunchtime. When you drink beer, you drink beer. You do not eat. I keep forgetting.

ath scene
One of countless canal scenes

Our lovely journey on this canal began with a night near a bridge outside the first lock, as a barge had just entered the lock, leaving no room for us. He said he was bringing a load of hops to the brewery up the canal. So we drove some stakes into the ground, I charcoal grilled a few few chicken thighs, and spent a quiet night there. On the way back we’d picked up a guest, Peg’s sister, but we sailed past that quiet spot, one of few free ones we’ve found in Belgium. It wasn’t pretty though, unlike the one in Ladeuze, and unlike Ladeiuze, there is no Chez Gina.

Chez Gina is a bar just off the canal. Gina is 80 and still runs the place. She has one tap of Jupiler, the crap from the national vat, or Maes it could be, I’ve forgotten. She has a half dozen bottled beers, fortunately. I ordered a St Feuillen (approximate spelling) Reserve, another good blonde. She does a magnificent job of delivering a small bag of ‘ships’ (chips, crisps for you Brits). Lays – they are everywhere in Europe. Quite a few locals stopped in for a chat and a beer. And maybe eat an entire ounce of ships.

chez gina
Gina at the bar. Decor by Gina.

Peg lured another child onto the boat for a ride between a few locks as we made our way back south. We are headed to the amazing boat lift at Thieu followed by the Ronquieres elevator lock. However there is a lock between us and them, and as it turned out, the lock had broken so we were forced to spend the night in Mons. Mons was not on the itinerary but it was certainly worth the visit. See for my account.

Oudenaarde to Tournai

Oudenaarde was a major tapestry center between the 15th and 18th centuries. Dating from the late 10th century, it began as a fortification. It’s location on the Scheldt was a major factor in its prosperity. Today it is known for its beer production. Oude Bruin (Old Brown) is its most noted beer, aged for a year. The Town Hall is a World Heritage site.

We stayed in the marina that sits in the shunt. It is convenient to the nearby friture. We bought mussels. As they were cooking I biked the one minute to the friture to get an order of fries. The fries are excellent, inexpensive and copious. You can get burgers and other grilled and deep fried items displayed in the large case at the shop, manned by wife, husband and daughter. I had to wait only a few minutes to get the order.

oudenarde city hall
City Hall, Oudenaarde

Across the bridge you get to the main plaza, another of these large, impressive main squares. The Town Hall is the most impressive building but there are a large number to admire. We drank a beer under an umbrella, as rain clouds occasionally spit upon us. A good small band played pop from the high balcony of the Hall.

The bus/train station are nearby. We took the bus to the Ypres WWI cemetery, located in a major battlefield. Each night the Last Post Association’s buglers honor the foreign dead who liberated Belgium. There is a good small exhibit, with excellent English translations . You pass through it on your way to the somber visit of the graves. In the town there is an arch with thousands of names of the dead from around the world. This city saw endless carnage. It remembers.

We moved along the river to Tournai, entering Wallonie, the French speaking section of the country. My wife’s family on the mother’s side came from this area. Her parents met not far from Bastogne, a major battle zone of the Battle of the Bulge. She spoke some English so she was able to communicate with the soldiers. David was housed with her family in Olne, and so the romance began. She also shuttled messages for the resistance, her guise as a tiny 16 year making excellent cover.

We first came to Belgium as a couple in 1983, and have owned two houses, which we rented. Peg’s cousin Arlette managed them for us. Her mother, Irene, ran a bakery when she was alive, continuing the business after the husband the baker died. She hired a guy named Mark. I tried tart au riz for the first time. It’s a rice pie made with raw milk cream, rice, sugar and spices. Wow! Also they made fruit filled waffles, which I like much better than the plain thick ones you find in most of the country, although add strawberries and whipped cream and anything comes palatable. Irene was a great cook so I got to try a lot of Belgian home cooking. Thumper in cream sauce- the first time I ate rabbit. Watercress soup. Moules pomme frites (mussels with fries, the national dish), lots of roasts with wonderful sauces. And of course the beer, although we had wine with all the meals as well.

Tournai main square
Grande Place (Main Square) Tournai

The ancient city (dating of least to Roman times) Tournai was quite the surprise. It has a huge cathedral and a magnificent square. The folk life museum is one of the best of its kind

Tournai cathedral
Cathedral of Tournai. Having 5 spires is unusual. You can see them from many spots.
mons jesus sculpt
Jesus giving the keys to Peter. The most effeminate depiction of Jesus I have ever seen.

Mons, by chance

On our way to locks outside Mons we were turned back. The Elcuse Havré ‘ete en panne,’ the lock was ‘broken down’ in French, said the lock keeper. It should be fixeb bu noon Monday so we had to spend Saturday night and Sunday at the municipal harbor of Mons. It is a city with some significant delights, fortunately.

On Sunday we made for the Grande Place, the central square. It is a lined with buildings from many centuries in multiple styles, attractive nonetheless, with an oval shape center filled with flowers, sculptures and pedestrian walking zones. There are numerous bars and restaurants. Periods of sun and times without rain is enough to fill the square with locals and tourists. As normal in Belgium, there’s a whole lot of beer drinking going on, meaning one beer and an hour or two of conversation.
Mons City Hall

Our three beers, as gorgeous to behold as to consume. Later we had some fries!
From our seat I shot this view of the Grande Place. The area’s buildings are often brightly painted

Mons has been with us since around the 12th century but it was occupied well before that, with neolithic roots.  The Romans called it Castrilocus for the castrum (fort) they built there, evolving into Montes for the mountain and then Mons.  

On Monday we hope to continue our journey, taking a day or more to ascend a series of locks where the locks themselves are lifted, rather than a channel being filled with water.  This technology dates from the early 20th century.  One of these locks rises 75 meters!  I will write about this in the next blog.


Vists to the Golden Age: Ghent to Kortrijk-

Ghent (Gent in Flemish and Gand in French) has some of the most famous medieval architecture in Europe. It’s largely from the 16th century when the city prospered from its location at the junction of the Schelde and Leie rivers and the vast trade in textiles that came its way.

Merchants’ houses seen from in front of the Marriott

Flemish, which mildly diverges from Dutch, came to dominate by virtue of the Frank invasion in the late 4th century, thereby replacing the Celtic language. The first church dated from 650 CE. The cloth trade started to grow dramatically in the 14th century, aided by nearby sheep production and trade with both England and Scotland, from whom it purchased wool. As a result it became the largest city north of Paris, with about 65,000 residents. The 80 years war devastated the city, which revived in the 18th and 19th again as a result of the textile industry. The introduction of mechanical weaving was a great boon.

St Bevo Cathedral, Gravensteen Castle, the Belfry, Cloth Hall (Unesco World Heritage site) and the merchants’ houses in the area create a stunning image of the city at its height. Saint-Jacob’s church, Saint-Nicolas’ church, Saint Michael’s church and St. Stefanus are important additions to the town’s architectural treasures. There are three beguinages, also Unesco structures. Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Museum of Fine Arts) and one of a number of very good museusms, has a fine collection of Flemish masters. Some of the buildings along the old port have been rebuilt over the centuries. The changes made sometimes included the facade, so not all of those buildings are as they were originally.

Old post office
Sculpture beneath the pulpit in St Bevo’s Cathedral

There is a Marriott Hotel in town center. On its historically protected facade there are two swan carvings facing away from one another. The Marriott asked to change their orientation so that they faced one another, symbolic of a couple’s love. The city put a 1 million euro price tag on the change, too steep a price for the hotel after paying 6 million for the right to add a modern structure behind the facade, so the swans remain as they were, symbols of sex outside of marriage. However they refuse to rent rooms by the hour.

Lamgod, the famous painting by the Van Eyck brothers

We stayed in Portus Ganda, very close to the center, by foot no more than about 15 minutes, and it’s along an attractive route that takes you near the 13th century Castle of the Devil Gerard. This has been a knights’ residence, an arsenal, a monastery, a school and a seminary, as well as once housing the mentally ill (17th century), a home for orphans, and finally as a prison. It was built to protect Portus Ganda.

Devil’s Castle

The 13th century building was named after the Geeraard Vilain (1210-1270), second son of the fifteenth viscount of Ghent, Zeger III. Vilain’s was commonly called “Geeraard de Duivel” (“Geerard the Devil”), because of his dark complexion and hair.

gent castle
Gravensteen Castle

We went by train to Bruges, a very popular tourist destination and an important port until the 15th century. Then the Zwin silted up so commerce transferred largely to Antwerp. Unlike Antwerp it was not bombed during the wars of the 20th centuries, and its appearance is closer to the original than Ghent, per the walking tour we took in that city. It must be so as the entire historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Steenhouwers Canal
Steenhowers Canal (wiki photo)

The city dates at least as far back as the mid 9th century, gaining a city charter in the 12th century. Bruges had good connections with the Hanseatic league. Innovative traders adopted shared risk strategies from the Italians, and between these two main factors the city prospered. It became a major trader with Genoa which linked it with the Mediterranean trade. In 1309 a stock exchange opened, perhaps the first anywhere.

By the end of the 19th century Brugge was already a tourist destination. Before covid, some 8 million visited each year. The beguinage is still occupied and is perhaps the least touristy place in the old town. The port of Zeebrudge, built in 1907, is now a modern port, one of the most modern in Europe.

Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk), the Church of Our Lady, is 116 meters high, making it the world’s second tallest brick tower. It houses Micelangelo’s Madonna and Child, shipped here during his lifetime. The World Heritage Belfy with its 47 bells dates to the 13th-century. There is a full-time carillonneur, who performs often. Bruges is still known for its lace, chocolates and, of course, its beer. There are a half dozen or so local brews.


Lokeren was our next stop after bidding farewell my daughter and younger of my two granddaughters. Their visit was a long time in the planning, complicated by covid testing requirements (one each before departure, two each for the return flight). I will long remember their time here.

Lokeren is a small town to the north of Ghent on a small historical canal. You are taken through a series of hand operated bridges by a single operator who rides from bridge to bridge in her car. This takes about two hours and is done twice a day. We had to wait for the next morning’s run. It was just us through the curvy narrow canal that took us to the municipal marina on one side of the canal at the end of the navigable section. A friendly couple engaged the assistance of the harbor master to take us to a gas station. We put in 135 liters using two 20 liter jerry cans. Finding fuel for boats in Belgium is a challenge, as is finding a chandelry. Friends arrived a day or two later for a week’s journey.

Archaeological discoveries show settlement dating to Neolithic period 12,000 years ago. Written records first appear in 1114. It’s economy was based on agriculture and flax until well into the last century. It has a pleasant main square. While we were there a kermis (a fair with rides and food treats such as cotton candy) was just setting up in the square. There are concerts on the agenda for the following week but we were long gone.

We took our guests to Ghent for a short visit before heading south to Dienze so we could go to Flanders Fields American Cemetary, a somber visit. Belgians here and elsewhere in battle zones honor the lives of American and the other foreign soldiers who gave their lives to liberate the country.

Flanders Field American Cemetery

On the way back we stopped a bus headed to the train station after about a 15 minute walk as we thought we had just missed the bus (it passed us about 10 minutes later). We were on the wrong side of the road but she stopped in response to my flagging her. We boarded but the bus brakes and the passenger doors locked. We were stuck for about 15 minutes. Apparently I pushed the emergency button versus the open button, as the door did not open for us. She had to call for assistance. She said afterwards this had never happened to her. I wonder if the problem occurred before I pushed anything, and certainly if you push an emergency door button the brakes and doors should not jam as they did- we had to board by the front door.

Next came Kortrijk, another small important town. It is on the Leie River just 25 kilometers from the French city Lille and not far from Wallonie, the French speaking portion of Belgium. It was a town in the Roman empire, with written references circa 5th century. The buildings from its Golden Age largely remain with us. City Hall is a prime example.

kortrijk gates
City gates, Kortrijk

kortrijk city hall
Kortrijk City Hall

Here we bid farewell to our good friends, good travelers. We ventured south towards Wallonie, the French speaking part of the country, the French border never far away.

Antwerp, Lier and Dendermonde

At a population of 500,000, Antwerp is the biggest city in Belgium, not Brussels, which is the capitol. Antwerp is known for its diamond industry but more so as a port city, being the second largest in Europe . This made it a target of WWII bombing, with much damage done by the Nazis after the liberation. There are still many historical buildings remaining but much is post WWII, especially around the harbor, but given how inaccurate bombing was at the time, the damage was widespread.

The city lies on the River Scheldt just 15 kilometers south of the border with Netherlands. We came in on the canal as the river is tidal. This makes timing important, as coming with the tide saves fuel.

After you cross the border from the Netherlands you are required to check in at the first bridge. Our VHF radio calls were unanswered so we proceeded to Willemdok, the downtown harbor named after William I of the house of Orange. We arrived in the rain. The harbor master met us in a dingy, his head uncovered in the downpour, and guided the boats to their berths.

I spent the next two days replacing the heat exchanger after I noticed antifreeze pouring out the exhaust pipe. The harbor master referred us to Evers Herman, a retired mechanic. He helped us get the job done for a reasonable price. Unfortunately the hoses still leaked, as I learned after we left several days later. I had to do a bit of disassembly to resolve the problem. This was the second serious issue to occur during the journey south. Over the winter the hydraulic pump started leaking. I added oil to get it working again at the beginning of the season, hoping to find someone to replace the seals later on. I did just that in Papendrecht, getting a name from a fellow boater. They replaced the seals for me. However the steering failed completely on the big river not far from them. Fortunately I had hydraulic oil nearby and added some, restoring the steering. I got back to them. After several efforts they finally bled the air from the system.

After a few days my daughter and granddaughter joined us. We walked to the castle that sits on the river, taking the convenient tram to other parts of the city.

Antwerp’s castle

The Cathedral

The city was alive with pedestrians, bikes, with comparatively little motorized traffic in the center. The cafes were generally busy, mostly with people drinking one or more of the hundreds of craft beers produced in this country. It is the best beer in the world, with many Trappist monastery beers leading the way. The national dish is moules frites, mussels with fries, served natur (plain) or with one of several sauces.

Grote Markt

With the cooling system repaired, we set off for Emblem, a small marina in a rural area to the south of Antwerp. We called ahead to the marina and were greeted by a friendly Canadian born retiree. He and another kindly gent helped us moor. We had drinks with them and the others in the clubhouse, located in an old push barge. I spent an hour or two reinstalling the hoses on the heat exchanger to stop the leaks. My daughter and grand daughter swam in the river off a floating pier with a group of local teens. They found it quite pleasant, and both are half fish so I was happy they got some time in their element.

We went to Lier the next day, a small town a few hours away. Dating at least from the early 8th century, Lier lies on the River Nete. My daughter and I visited the town on the bikes. It has a famous beguinage. A beguinage was housing for women who lived a religious life without taking vows. There are a number of these in the Flemish section of the country, all Unesco World Heritage structures.


Town hall in the main square
The gorgeous Zimmertoren

This tower was built in the 14th century.  The clocks were added in 1930 by Louis Zimmer, an astronomer and clock maker.  There are 12 clocks surrounding the main clock, which is 1.4 meters in diameter.  They show time on all the continents, moon phase and tides, and other such natural occurrences.

The next day we started our journey to Ghent (Gent in Flemish), with a stop about halfway in the historical town of Dendermonde.  We would now be going against the tide, dropping from 10 kph to 7.5 at first.   You moor on the river so you need to come in against the current.  In this case we were going against the current already.  A couple of locals were there to give us an assist, not needed but always welcome.  One turned out to be the harbor master. 

Dendermonde sits at the junction of the Scheldt and Dender rivers, and  is another delight to visit.  It’s a 10 minute ride by bike from the moorings on the Scheldt, over a bridge and along the river a bit until you turn left to enter the town.


Dendermonde town hall
Dendermonde town hall

Dendermonde town square at dusk

Traces of human settlement date well back in pre-history.  Graves show activity in the second century and Merovingian times.   The Treaty of Verdun (843) references Dendermonde.  It received a city charter in 1243, having at that time a thriving cloth sector.  In 1384 it came under the control of the Dukes of Burgundy.  It suffered along with the rest of the low countries under Spanish rule.  A the beginning of WWI the town was heavily bombed by the Germans.  There is a Unesco beguinage in addition to the prosperous looking buildings of the town square.

The next day we went to Gent (Ghent is the English spelling), some 48 kilometers.  We go with the tide this time, taking our speed from 7.5 to 13, a huge boost.  Had we been able to do so for the journey to Desdemonde we would have saved almost three hours of the six hour journey.  However this would have required night time travel, too dangerous for those not familiar with the river.