Thursday, December 11, 2014

           Happy Christmas!
Snail ready for adding her bit to the Christmas Market celebrations here.
Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) continues to help St Niklaas give out sweets to children at the beginning of December. There is much debate about this tradition continuing but continue it does.

Woken at 6am by this crane being put in to position to dig out a swimming pool in the back garden of the grey coloured house. This method is apparently normal in Belgium.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Snail is comfortably settled in Lokeren until the spring. Next year we hope to cruise the waterways to the north of Amsterdam as Snail hasn't been there yet. But as ever, we'll see what 2015 brings.

It's even got a garden in which we display Skipper's carved pumpkin as it's Hallowe'en during the time we desert Snail for a few weeks. It's a lonely pumpkin, here the Dutch don't follow these American ways and while admiring the skill involved, are quite dismissive!  

We enjoyed the north of Holland so much that we bought a little 'holiday home' there, the bonus being that we can keep Snail there too. These are the views from the front and side windows.

September is getting away and we must paint the boat while the weather remains good and dry. The pressure wash at Vermeulen's in Terneuzen reveals an unexpected amount of corrosion, including the newish plate inserted after the JCB incident. We get to work and voila, Snail's hull and sides look good again.

Thankfully the yoofs didn't crash in to the disused Pommeroeul lock, one of the deepest in the country. The lockkeeper (yes, he is still employed there and kindly let us in to use the water tap on the office wall to fill up our tanks) remains hopeful that one day the canal will be dredged again.
There is a sign posted walk around the edge of the canal, leading to the village of Pommeroeul with its crazy steeple apparently built of unseasoned wood. We took a picnic on the walk and ate it under the spread of an old oak tree, the tree and the steeple (cf Chesterfield) all strangely reminiscent of England.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Now at Pommeroeul in good time for our slot at the boatyard mid-August, moored on the waiting wall for the first lock on this fairly new but silted up and long disused canal in to France. Temujin is being bow hauled in the traditional way to nestle up to Snail as we are in for a long wait. The boatyard that Temujin booked many months ago is not ready for us. There is a boat on the trolley that arrived for its fortnight slot in March and is still there. By the end of the month, we all realise that nothing is going to change and we make alternative arrangements with a more reliable if expensive boatyard in the Netherlands.
Before we leave a rave takes place one Saturday night across the fields, followed on the Sunday morning by two yoofs in a van going over the wall a few feet behind us, nose first in to the canal. They miraculously survive to tell the tale and so did Snail this time. Memories of JCB's.....

And so to the 73m Strepy boatlift. Unusually busy compared with all our previous visits when often we had had the tank to ourselves. It remains an awesome experience, however many times you do it.
This little escapee had made its new home among the girders of the busy Gosselies lock. Made a change from the noisy gangs of green parakeets who were thriving in the trees near the Strepy boat lift.

No change at the ancient but still functioning Charleroi steel works.

No memories of visiting this abbey brewery at Floreffe, although it is open to the public. In 2008 the only 'mooring' was a wall so high I couldn't get off and with the bollards really too widely spaced for Snail's comfort. Now, here was a change. A pontoon had been provided, admittedly full of cruisers but the chance was there. Perhaps next time.

The next citadel to be seen from the Meuse is this stunning one at the city of Namur. We turned off right just after the bridge to head up the River Sambre which was where in 2008 we had moored up with the citadel providing an atmospheric back drop. How things change - as at Huy there were no longer boats enjoying the free moorings so close to the city as it was now a no stopping zone.
 There was more of the lovely River Meuse to enjoy and we remembered the first time we had come to Huy in 2008 when we moored up by a bridge on the river and walked in to town to see this citadel amongst other attractions. So glad to have done it then as this time around there were 'No Mooring' signs everywhere, forcing boaters to stop at the expensive Huy yacht harbour if they wanted to explore.

We had arranged to meet up again with Temujin and share the cost of a lift out (the trolley's so large it can easily take two narrowboats side by side) at the same boatyard we had first met them at in 2011. Here we are, a narrowboat sandwich, at Ampsin with holidaying commercials.

We stop at the Walloon town of Engis, flanked by a variety of commercials ( you can just make us out towards the back of the photo) to wait for nbTemujin to catch us up. Causing the usual interest among the locals we knew we were back in Belgium when the artist living in the house with the wall invited us in for a drink and his neighbour turned up later at the boat with a bottle of wine.

Back in to the commercial waterways of Belgium and soon see the biggest of the big stuff that has passed us so far on our Europe travels, weighing in at 4,809 tonnes. Thankfully invited to tie to this slightly smaller one (yes, it's a barge, not the lock wall) in the deep Lanaye lock as there were many broken and unuseable bollards in the chamber wall itself. On through Liege, passing lots of Dutch cruisers all returning home but not many commercials as a lot of the big stuff takes a break in August.

Now through Maastricht with no room on the free town mooring where cruisers are packed in two abreast. Pushing on, we pull in to what will probably be our last opportunity to anchor in a lake before entering Belgium. Narrowboats don't normally do this, indeed many haven't got anchors as they are not needed on the small, shallow UK canals. We soon realised that if we didn't get to grips with the technique of flinging the anchor, rather like tossing the caber but with more concern for paintwork, we would have to miss out on many of these lovely Netherlands lakes.

Through the years we have been given a colourful assortment of flags and pennants. This is the selection we decided on for this summer. On the left from the top: EU 'courtesy' flag; Drenthe province flag; 'moustache' pennant given to us by a hirsute harbour master. In the middle: RNSA pennant; Friesland province pennant. On the right from the top: Netherlands 'courtesy' flag; Overijssel province flag; Marrekriet flag.

Vianan, another delightful and historic town with medieval roots. Walking the remains of its moat and ancient walls, we ducked through an almost hidden stone archway and in to this 'secret' orchard garden that followed the edge of the moat. The town centre boasted an interesting assortment of 17th and 18th century buildings mixed with the new and the Radshuis (town hall) had its own resident storks on the chimney top.

 Elderly, retired sleepboots (tugs) are in abundance in the Netherlands and most have found adoring, new owners. There are two types of owner, those who take out the ancient but original engine which takes up, in their view, much too much living space and put in a new, smaller one and those for whom this is an act of vandalism. Having tied up to the last over night mooring space on the edge of Vianen, we invited the sleepboot Flipje to moor alongside. These owners were of the latter persuasion and proudly showed off their wonderful 'phut-phut' engine. They had an elderly Staffy on board who enthusiastically joined Woody in Origami to be rowed to the nearest patch of grass.

Monday, December 1, 2014

By the time we had pushed on to Weesp, past the ample town visitor moorings on the windmill side which we noted even in the height of summer were empty (so expensive), it was getting late. Luckily the lift bridge here still had its keeper and he generously let us moor overnight on the waiting steiger (pontoon) as long as we left promptly next morning. There was still time for Origami to take us to the smaller and, as we found out, normally unused town waterways. The waterlilies reigned supreme but shared their space with some light hearted floating artwork. Bemused locals passed the time of day with us eccentric foreigners in our strange folding boat. 

At last after several days, the wind and rain died away and allowed the sun to shine on us. It was ideal conditions to cross the Markemeer, a very large expanse of water, and once again (we had been here before in 2009) we passed Muiden castle and the still slowly sinking tall ship that marks the entrance to the town and the River Vecht.

On our way to Muiden and the Vecht, we pass two traditional mainstays of the local economy here. The reeds are collected on flat boats, piled so high that the steerer cannot see in front of him, and stored in these lovely floating barns. There's so many waterways here that fishing boats are a regular sight, as are the warning 'withies' (tall twigs stuck in to the water) to stop your prop getting tangled in underwater laid nets.

The unseasonal weather continued as we cruised through the popular touristy village of Kalenbergergracht with its beautifully kept thatched houses along the water's edge and with many full trip boats passing us even in the downpour that continued for most of the day.

This situation is more complicated and with no 'resident' lockkeeper to help. His control box is all shuttered up at the end of the chamber and this lock, along with many others in the Netherlands now, is operated remotely from a central office that you ring through to from the boat waiting area where it says 'hier melden'. This saves money on staff but we do miss the lockies. As can be seen, the lock looks invitingly open and the chamber is empty of boats, ready to welcome Snail in. But - the two red lights mean that the lock is closed down and non-operational. With no response from the remote operator and wishing not for the first time on our European travels that we could d-i-y, we had a coffee break.
It was blowing a gale but ever onward. This is the old and unusual Drieweg Sluis (3way lock) which we had time to walk to for the photo as the wind was pinning us irretrievably on to the waiting wall for the lock that had superseded it. The lock keeper was very understanding of our predicament and quickly re-opened his lock for us as soon as the wind had, for a moment, died down enough for Snail to unstick herself and get away, fast!

And here's another traditional Dutch custom, the art of catching the clog from a moving boat before it hits you in the face.

Friday, November 28, 2014

And of course no visit to Holland would be complete without a sighting of a molen, this one an impressive, still in use timber mill.
We also re-visit manicured Sloten to give her a taste of the Dutch style.

With Snail comfortable on her out of town mooring, we go in Origami to Sneek with its famous watergate to pick up my daughter from the station, here for her annual summer visit. One of the joys of using Origami is getting under bridges that many boats cannot unless lifted for them.

We headed for the historic boatbuilding town of Sneek with its rows of not quite wide enough boat sheds.

The 'marrekriet' moorings were not always placidly smooth but windy weather did bring out the historic sailing boats for us to admire.

This is a typical 'marrekriet' mooring and very happy we were to be using them. The volunteers who build and maintain them also manage to find the money and energy to add more over the years.We were to miss them when we left Friesland waters.