Maas or Meuse? It is Meuse from now on, but it is still our river
We are at last in France – Martin was a little concerned about crossing the border between Belgium and France as there seemed to be a number of qualification and documentation requirements. Needless to say entering France was not the bureaucratic nightmare we expected – they just wanted the money – it costs quite a bit to use the French waterway system. In return for paying our monthly tariff they gave us a list of locks and a remote control – go figure ……. – more about that later.
I went to England on September 5 – it cost me a small fortune because of a series of financial errors. Firstly I bought an inflexible ticket out of Nancy to London – this was a mistake as we are three weeks behind schedule and I left from Liege. This meant I forfeited the cost of the ticket – about £60 and had to by a new one. The return journey was even more money – it cost me £75 – plus an £8 booking fee as I was not returning to Nancy but was coming back to Namur in Belgium (although I must say the Netherlands and Belgium have these ticket deals called ‘Any Belgium station’ or ‘Any Dutch station’ that are very reasonable when attached to a Eurostar ticket). I had spent £120 that I lost because I changed stations and it cost me an extra £133 to get to England and back. Total so far was £253 for my weekend away. It was all well and good until I got to Kings Cross Station in London and discovered that I could not access the ticket I had booked ahead (for £58 to Hull) because I did not have the card I had booked it with. I talked to Kings Cross Station who indicated they could not help me as I had booked through a travel agent called ‘Rail Easy’. Needless to say I was upset and had to buy another ticket for £95 – so my trip from Liege to England cost me almost £400. It would have been much cheaper to fly from Schipol to Hull and taken the train to Schipol from Liege. I may get something back from Rail Easy as it was their system that required me to buy another ticket. Rail Europe weren’t sympathetic.
Anyway I did get to England and did have a great time visiting my mum and my cousins despite the bit of financial pain. Having no siblings, my cousins are super important and my trip was very worthwhile as I able to spend time with my cousin Conrad from New Zealand. I have not seen him for over 13 years so our evening together was very special. My cousin Vince (Conrad’s brother) hosted us all – we are quite a small family – our paternal grandmother only had 5 grandchildren and it was great to get together with the surviving elders my fathers brothers; Uncle Walt ( 84) and Uncle Pal (81) and my mum 85 (she has only been in the family for 62 years!). The Knapp family motto, according to my dad, was “Why stand up if you can sit down and why sit down if you can lie down?” So we had an evening in which we all stayed awake, a great dinner and a celebration to remember on a lovely warm early September evening.
Didn’t do much otherwise – a trip to Beverley one day with my mum and Joan – Mum treated us to a lovely lunch in the Green Dragon pub, and we did a bit of shopping and enjoyed a small slice of summer weather. In the meantime Martin was doing home improvements on the boat in Liege. He took out the bathtub (yes we had a bath tub on the boat suitable for children, dogs and contortionists, but not especially useful for Martin and I). Taming the beast (our hot water and heating system) meant that we did have lots of lovely hot water, but now we have a shower base in which to enjoy it. Martin worked so hard while I was in the UK on my very expensive trip. I felt a tad guilty about being away but as he pointed out if I had been on the boat I would have been in the way as he tore everything apart. I feel so lucky to be married to such a clever hard working and motivated sailorman!
Talking of sailing it was time to move on – we are about three weeks behind schedule and need to boogie to get to our winter mooring near Dijon by mid October. The River Maas (which we have followed more or less since Rotterdam) changed at Maastricht to the River Meuse that flows through Belgium into France. It is a mighty European River – perhaps underestimated and underappreciated. It is a shame we had to hurry through the beautiful city of Namur, capital of Wallonnie province in Belgium (the French speaking part). I must take back some of the things I said about Belgium and say the only apply to Liege (a former steel town), because Namur was spectacular, honoured it’s history and had great shopping. The problem in Namur was the rainy weather, still we did have a little look around and it is a place I would like to come back to.
Namur is twinned (you know; cities ‘twin’ with others in other countries) with Quebec City. Namur is a world heritage site with a Belfry dating back to 1377 and a citadel on the hill above the city dating from Louis XIV. The city is on the confluence of the Meuse and the Sambre rivers and had been a valued trading centre for years. It a lovely city with great shopping (especially chocolates) and well laid out historical walks. Unfortunately we could not spend much time there, and the time we spent there was a deluge (number 6 on my scale) so we pottered around the shops and had an incredible lunch, then onto Dinant.
Belgians believe this south east corner of the country is the most beautiful part (after Liege I would agree). Dinant was a particularly interesting spot, beautiful setting and dotted with saxophones – reason being this was the birthplace of Adolphe Sax – inventor of the saxophone. We spent an evening cruising this medieval and Art Nuevo city before heading to France. Dinant is on the Meuse River that winds its way through a range of highlands called the Ardennes into France.
We crossed the border in a lock where we given an automatic lock gate opener (remote control) with instructions on how to use it . The canals and locks are like an off ramp to the main river. This slight detour takes the boat up a notch or two while the river changes height at a weir – a kind of water ladder. The weir allows some flood control along with the barrages visible along the river. The opener button had to be pressed about 300 meters before a lock, and it connected with a signal station on the side of the canal. The automatic lock gate then signaled we had been seen with a red and/or green light, we had to wait or could go straight into the lock. Once we had a single green light then we drove into the lock, moored up and pulled a blue pole that changed the level of water in the lock. After the blue pole was pulled the back gates closed and thousands of gallons of water came rushing out of the gates ahead we are (going uphill right now) and our boat bobbed around on the rushing water. Some of the locks provide a 4 meter rise so Martin has to stand on the roof of the main cabin to reach the mooring bollard and hold the mooring rope to stabilize the boat (to stop it being bashed from side to side.
It is quite a dangerous procedure firstly because I am driving the boat – a three metres wide, 41 foot long boat into a five metre wide concrete box, water rushing up from beneath the boat that makes it unstable as it rises 12 feet in a few minutes, and there is no-one else around but us. So we wear life jackets, gloves and keep the top of the boat as dry as possible (no slipping). We started our journey in Givet on the border. The weather was really quite miserable really – damp and cool. After Givet we meandered down the Meuse through some remote spectacular landscape, which felt a bit like going up a inlet on the BC coast. Indeed we drove along the Meuse for a couple of days before seeing another boat either coming or going. It is the end of the season here and children are back in school and we had two days of miserable weather.
The weather improved after Riven (of course we were in France) and we have enjoyed quite a few warm sunny days ( after cold foggy mornings) and life took on a French flavour – lovely wine, bread and cheese but no internet or even cell phones (back to basics on the communications side). As I mentioned – we have to boogie as we are picking my mum and Norma up, and need to be 200 kms and 130 locks south of here by October 15. Boogieing at 10kms per hour with numerous interruptions is not my idea of speed but again we have booked our winter moorage ahead and need to get there. Our days are simple – after breakfast and some shopping (groceries etc) we fire up Uncle Lehman ( the engine) and move down the canal for about 5 hours then pull into a ‘halte fluvial’ for the night. With only one exception we have been delighted with the municipal marinas that are cheap (about €7 per night ) and provide information, showers, water and electricity.
We stopped in one really interesting place called Charleville – Meazier, home the Institute of Marionettes. It was such a pretty city (actually two cities joined by a long Champs). The marionettes were a large presence indeed, there was a show on the barge just across the water from us. So in the heart of the Ardennes we had puppet shows, teaching institutes and museums.
Again we had to move on the next night we were in the town of Sedan (maybe famous for the Sedan chair – who knows) , and after that along the canal and to the last automatic lock at the village of Stenay. This sweet little place was a peaceful halte fluvial with one exception – very noisy ducks. They seem to be saying ‘bring out your bread, bring out your bread” ( think Python!)
All jokes aside, we are now in the killing fields of Europe where World War I was fought almost a hundred years ago. Millions of young men were sent to their deaths in this area and there are reminders of those battles everywhere. But more about that next time.