So Inclined- Belgium’s lift technology

From Tournai we made our way easterly, stopping for the night on a dock equipped for large barges just outside Ascenseur 4 – on the old Canal du Centre. There are four elevator locks on the old canal, replaced by the new canal and the Strepy-Thieu lock that bypasses the four locks, raising boats 73 meters/240 feet straight up in a single motion. This saves hours compared to the four old elevators.

Nearby our mooring there’s a store called Bella Sicilia. No choice, we just had to go there, even with rain threatening. The recommended route took us through a closed-off underpass along a muddy unused dirt road for a few hundred meters. Then it was a wooded country lane into town.

When we arrived there was a sign saying Bella Sicilia was permanently closed. Disappointed and about to leave, we saw that behind us stood Bella Sicilia reborn, open and doing business in a much bigger space. Inside it’s an instant journey to Palermo. Almost everything is Italian branded. There’s a huge deli counter, five employees serving the locals. You can choose among a huge variety of stuffed breads, and several arancini, the rice balls that are THE street food of Palermo. All this and more in a tiny country town in a very small country far from Italy.

I learned that almost all the employees speak Italian. I spoke with a woman who wanted to know where we were from and the like.

After two daysat the dock by the elevator lock we went to the Strépy-Thieu Boat Life. We were about to rise 73 meters straight up.

thieu lock in distance
The lift’s tower rises in the mist

Four hours later at the Viesville lock the lock keeper said it was closed for a week due to objects that had damaged the mechanism. Fortunately our batteries were full and there was plenty of water in the tank. We sailed back two hours to Menage, a tiny village with a brand new barge dock, directly across from Le Nautic Lodge, a restaurant we enjoyed several years back.

Manage has grocery stores, bars and bakeries, as well as a train station. The train to Brussels takes just a bit over an hour with one change. We visited the Victor Horta Museum, a house designed and lived in by the architect Victor Horta (1861-1949), before taking a self-guided walking tour to see a half dozen turn of the century Art Nouveau houses, some designed by him.

horta 1

After four days near Manage we again sailed away from our destination for about two hours to the WSV (abbreviation for a marina owned and run by members) at Ittre. We’d been there before and found the location to be pleasant even if barely adequate for a boat of our size. The people were very friendly and helpful on our last visit. Getting to town to make purchases requires ascending a long and very steep hill. A member drove us there to get a few things that time.

On the way to Ittre we passed through the Plan Incliné de Ronquières, the Inclined Plane, a lock that moves boats from one level to the next in a large basin that is moved along rails.

Plan Inclinee in Belgium
Plan Incliné de Ronquières
cheeese bella sicilia
Cheeses at Bella Sicilia
One of the first two arancini we tried. I biked back for 2 more.
thieu lock tower
After entering the lock the gate drops down, then the tub rises
One of the planks at the Nautic Lodge.

ittre club
Some of the friendly members in the club house

After sidling up to the visitors dock we helped a couple dock their boat. In turn they bought us a beer. There’s Chouffe on tap, one of Belgium’s best that is available nation-wide, exported as well. We spent the next few hours talking. Our story is unusual in many respects, being Americans deep in the Belgium countryside on our own boat after starting far away in Haarlem. In boat terms that is a good distance. Many boaters are confined to local travel due to time and budget constraints so are interested to learn more.

Afterwards we saw an email from Wallonie notifications. The blocked lock had been cleared. Tomorrow we have several hours to go before we get back on course, including another trip through the Plan Inclinee and several locks with 7 meter drops.

Our friendly neighbors for the night left at 9:30 the next morning. When we arrived at the lock at 11:30, they were still waiting. The backlog of commercial vessels was just clearing.