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It is Monday – time for tea or champagne in Luxembourg

I am happier to be back in more temperate climes – although we had a dark and stormy night last Friday in Maastricht, and I thought winter had arrived early ( and we didn’t even have much of summer). On the whole the weather has been very pleasant – hovering around 23C -25C daytimes and dropping at night. It is interesting that as soon as September 1st rolls around there is condensation in the mornings and cooler evenings. It got so chilly one night that Martin decided to fire up ‘the beast’  (the name we have given to our heating/hot water system that has caused Martin so many hassles). The beast is our fire breathing (diesel) heating system that lives in the basement of our boat with Uncle Lehman (our Ford Lehman engine).  The beast behaved very well and kept the boat toasty warm and gave us enough water for showers. Martin’s problem is that he wants the beast to produce hot water without having to the heat the boat.  We have had lots of problems with the service people and parts people – so far it has cost us 427 euros of wasted money plus the purchase of an independent hot water system. Anyway all these technical issues keep Martin amused as he loves puzzles.

We spent almost a week in Roermond – it was a nice sized city with a lovely central square, glockenspiel with figures that moved around and some lovely Art Nuevo and Art Deco houses. The marina was very nice – a place for Kerry to run, really good WIFI and we were parked right next to showers. Roermond also had a number of brand name clothing outlets, so on Sunday we joined the legions of Dutch, Belgium and German shoppers (plus other tourists), walking around the shops. I was very proud of Martin who did not complain. Although I must say we have so little space on the boat that I am not able buy much – not even extra clothing! I have a new fashion tip – next new clothing sensation for women (and it is quite lovely) is ‘Desigual ‘ – clothing inspired by Cirque de Soleil

After Roermond we set off on our way to Maastricht. We had been told that we needed to go through the big locks. We had left rather late so went to a spot called Stevenswaart for the night.  This was a delightful recreational area with a large marina where we moored and walked into a really pretty village for dinner ( no cooking that night).  

The next day we set off to Maastricht through a big lock.   When I say big I really mean it. We motored into this massive box – at least 10 meters high and 10 meters across and 130 m long. There was a large (100 meter) barge ahead of us and we tucked in behind. We had to hang a rope onto the bollard that moved independently up the side of the 10 meter wall as the lock filled with water. The rope was to stop the boat from drift too far from the wall of the lock. The lock was filled very quickly by thousands of tons of water flowing into this huge concrete box and the bollard moved up the side of the lock with us hanging onto it. I have been through quite a few locks in the past few years but in this one I felt like a lock virgin deflowered by this massive rush of water. Boy did I need a drink after that experience!

 

 

Another big lock and a gin and tonic later we were on the Julianna Canal on our to Maastricht and the mighty Maas (Meuse) River.  Maastricht is located at the end of a finger of land that is the Dutch province of Limburg (think cheese – this is Netherlands after all). It is a very picturesque city in the centre – where the central squares are all surrounded by churches, city administration buildings brasseries ( yes we are moving south) and restaurants. The city itself has a long history starting out in Roman times – the Romans even built a bridge across the river. Over the centuries it became a great trading centre – especially for the textile industry and was run by the Spanish, the French, the Germans, and the Dutch and is the birthplace of the European Union and the Euro.. It finally became part of Holland in in 1632 then again in 1839 but has retained its international flavour, which is enhanced by a prolific university and a number of colleges with students from all over the world.

 

 

 

After a couple of nights in the ‘Bassin op Maastricht – a jachthaven in the centre of town we set off down the Albert canal to Belgium. We were not sure if we could actually get in, as according to all sorts of websites we needed a variety of papers showing our boating qualifications and equivalencies. We entered another large lock and when we had gone up about 30 ft Martin went into the the lock keepers office to show our papers. Needless to say they were only interested in the tax certificate showing the VAT (GST) had been paid on the boat.  So no worries. When we left the lock we looked out down the long straight Albert Canal in Belgium and saw something vaguely familiar – it was a hill – the first we had seen from our boat in a couple of months. We were moving into the Ardennes.

 

It was a mistake to travel down the Albert canal – apart from the hills in the distance it was not a pretty sight. Crossing the border in Belgium was so noticeable it was scary. The sides of the canal were decorated with the carcasses of old derelict factories, left to rot and a fall apart. Their only use nowadays was to act as the canvass for the graffiti artists, who were prolific but not very imaginative.   Belgium, along the canal, was certainly a shabbier looking place, that looked a bit depressed – lifeless and humourless. We were the only boat on the canal for three hours – it was quite eerie sailing along the wide but empty waterway.  It would have been more interesting and certainly prettier to take the Maas (now Meuse) to Liege. We were now in Walloonia, where the language is French although most of the people we spoke to were bilingual in Flemish and French. Like Canada, Belgium is a bilingual country, and there seems to be an ongoing fight for language supremacy. Belgium hasn’t had a government for a number of years – it has a constitutional monarchy and a congress.

Belgium is a country of about 10 million people famous for beer (Stella) chocolates, horses, Smurfs and detectives ( Poirot and Tin Tin). It has been run by bureaucrats for at least the last eight years (maybe even longer). As a country it works (kind of ) but seems quite lifeless even though there has been an age old rivalry between the north west and south east. (Is there a connection, I ask myself – are politicians a necessary part of life?)  In some ways it has ‘lost the plot’ for a while now as the country seems disorganized (compared to Holland and Germany), uncoordinated and lacking a big picture vision,(which is odd when you think that Brussels is a major centre of the EU and NATO). I remember reading “The Leaky Iron Boat” by Hart Massey (the description of a canal trip through Europe on an old barge in the 1970’s) , he experienced a similar contrast between the Netherlands  and Belgium. My mum even remembered feeling similarly during her visits to Belgium 40 years ago.

Take Liege – a lovely city with oodles of history and a beautiful river running right through the middle of it. The banks of the river were a hodgepodge of development which mixed up ugly 1960’s tower blocks, ugly 1990’s tower blocks, art deco building, old churches, and baroque merchant houses. The lovely well kempt parks with lots of fountains and statues surrounded by unblended builds and terrible payments typified the unorganized nature of this part of Belgium. Martin felt there was very little visual literacy and a lack of understanding that you are part of the view  when you build a building to get the view. The people were really friendly and helpful, but they all seem to want to leave Belgium.

We went to an amazing market – lots of food and cheap clothing that followed the boulevard beside the river for almost two kms. Lots of people, lots buying and selling. We walked almost the full length of the market  and took respite from the crowds in the local museum. Very interesting, but not quite finished.

That was Sunday (nice weather we are having these days) when the temperature reached 27C, so Monday we thought it would be fun to go to Luxemburg on the train with Kerry. Another vision of contrasts is the train station in Liege. This massive and concrete and glass building designed and built by Santiago Calatrava is located in a less desirable part  of town and had some pretty shabby looking trains running through it . For me it was a bit of an eyesore, for Martin it was an architectural marvel, but did agree it was a little out of context.

Our train trip to Luxembourg took about three hours (we were on the slow train although the fast one was two and a half hours), although it was only 30 euros round trip each, through pastoral Belgium into the hills of Luxembourg and the Mosel  (Moselle) valley. The Grand Duchy has a population of about 500,000 (about the same as Newfoundland) and the city (where the castle and House of Deputies is located) has a population of about 85,000. When we arrived it was party time – no joke vendors selling their wares on the pavements along with glasses of champagne, beer, hot dogs, different kinds of sandwiches all moving to the beat of Euro-techno-pop. The place was packed with people – it was noisy and hot. Kerry, who wasn’t too impressed with the train ride, was not a happy camper. We took her to a park, which was relatively quiet .  We also had a bite to eat and a glass of wine, then set off exploring. The city is built on the top of the valley with a huge ravine parkland meandering through   the middle. This was a town of viaducts – we could see three at any one time. It was also an affluent place – people were well dressed and the streets were very clean. The place was full of Germans shopping  and German was a language spoken most on the street, although the official language is French. We walked around and saw the sights and the people – Luxemburg is a big banking centre, which could explain its affluence.

The journey home seemed to go on forever. Kerry like the train going back better – it was quite comfortable, quiet and had very few people in our carriage – but we did not get back until almost ten with a bottle of delicious Mosel wine (Ebling) from Luxemburg which we enjoyed as a whined-down (LOL) from our journey.  We spent a day on the boat cleaning and doing boat things. Wednesday I am back on the train on a new adventure to see my mum and cousins in England.

2 comments on “It is Monday – time for tea or champagne in Luxembourg

  1. Hi Barb and Martin
    Enjoying your travel log with envy. I am on the floor for 2 weeks back rest. If I remember you will get the same contrast on the canals if you go through Germany, with lots more traffic. Are you tempted to go to the Venice Biennale? Just a quick flight to see so much. Do you have a cruisers net on ham/email/text that you can access. This was a joy to keeping up with things down south and a real resource.
    Look forward to the next instalment.
    Lee and Andrea

  2. Great post, keep up with the hard work, youre doing it right!

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