Having spent a week or so with my mum – who is still quite well for her 86 years, I returned from England to Europe via the good old P & O Ferries from Hull to Zeebrugge and the bus from the ferry into the lovely Belgian city of Bruges (Bruge).
The ferry is a 14 hour trip – so it is necessary to get an overnight cabin. The mainstay of the ferry traffic is not tourists and local travellers but the large trucks/lorries and trailers that move goods back and forth from the UK to Europe and visa versa. I left on May 20th, which was a warm evening and light until about 9:30 (BST). I was treated to a sail passed Spurn Point – a three mile long spit of land at the mouth of the Humber Estuary – with an impressive lighthouse. It was quite breathtaking – unfortunately I did not have my camera (so check Google Earth).
In my travel plans I thought it would be rather nice to spend a couple of hours exploring Bruges a little more and enjoying a plate of – yes you guess it – Belgian Waffles. I parked my luggage at the train station and set off the central square in the pouring rain. I had hoped the weather would clear but no such luck it just got worse, darker wetter and colder. Pouring rain turned into buckets of water so I sheltered on one of the restaurants on the main square and tried to cheer myself up with some cherry Belgian Waffles and a cup of coffee. For €14 about CND$19 I got a cup of milky coffee and a small waffle with some warm canned cherries on top (no cream, butter etc). I was not impressed, as I also had to wait for ages for this expensive signature dish. The only thing that made feel better was that I was mildly drier and warmer than the poor horses and carriage drivers waiting out in the rain for even wetter customers. Not me – I headed back to the train station and started my five hour journey to Heidelberg.
The train went from Bruges to Brussels where I changed to an ICE (intercity express) which was not quite as full as on our outbound journey. This time my reservation took me to the very front of the train – the Panorama room where I could see what the driver was seeing and get a sense of the speed of these trains (at times 100mph +).
I changed to another ICE in Bonn where the weather was quite nice and went south to Mannheim, where I changed trains again for the short trip to Heidelberg. Kerry and Martin met me at the station and we took a tram to the boat. My journey felt very difficult as I was nursing a sore back – twisting and lugging my bags around just made it worse but when I saw Martin I felt much better.
Martin had been quite busy during the week I was in the UK. Wiring and fixing stuff – he had a great time living with his tools and wires. The Beast (our heating system) was working so we had lots of hot water and radiated heat, however he still could not get the Beast to behave without being turned on with manual switches in the bilge (which meant opening up the floor in the main cabin. Martin (being a bit of a Greenie) also had a ‘screening’ on the boat – http://www.350.org movie ‘Do the Math’ and invited a couple of people, who were listed on their website as 350.org members in Heidelberg, to see this film. The small audience consisted of a severely disabled man and his carer who managed to manoeuvre their way into the cabin for the screening. In addition to doing stalwart service for the environmental community Martin also attended the Heidelberg Motorboot club BBQ – a cheap meal and free beer plus an invitation to the Hassmersheim boat festival.
We stayed another few days in Heidelberg cleaning the boat and Martin, clever man that he is, fixed the broken hinges on my computer. He spent 7 hours working with magnifying glasses, tiny screwdrivers and a lot of patience to disassemble and reassemble my MacBook Air. He fixed the hinges and brought my computer back to life only to discover that is has bigger problems – a hard drive that needs replacing. The Mac dealers told us not bother – just buy a new computer – personally I was not keen as I have only had this machine for couple of years.
We decided to set off up river to the Neckar boat festival and made a big jump of 40Kms in one day – that included a few large locks. We sailed passed a town called Neckargemund, where I had worked 40 years ago in the local historic hotel by the river serving sausages, sauerkraut, potatoes and beer to the American tourists who arrived by boat – it is now a Greek Restaurant (the irony was not lost on me!). I vividly remember one American man shouting at me very slowly “Do you speak English?” – my quiet reply was “Yes – maybe better than you do!”
The Neckar valley is quite beautiful with castles on every bend in the river. One place actually had four castles on the hillsides, but it was impossible to get them all in one picture.
We ended our first day in Zwingenberg – a village on the west river with bridge over to the campsite/boat club recreation area. We stayed in the marina looking up at the local castle for a couple of days – spending one evening drinking in the clubhouse with the local members, swapping stories and plans in English and German.
I speak German quite fluently and I have no English accent – in fact I speak with a bit of a southern dialect. But as I tell Germans who compliment me on my language (and most of them do): I speak German better than I understand it. This is often the reverse of most people’s experience in another language (certainly for me, I understand much more Spanish than I speak). However, in German I know what I am going to say (and do not need to translate as it is hardwired), but I don’t always know what someone else is saying so I need to listen hard and translate (a great exercise for a private practice social worker/counsellor like myself). I then have to translate out loud to Martin, who is patiently picking up familiar words here and there, and smiling a lot.
Zwingenberg in the sunshine is lovely but in the pouring rain it is a dead loss. We had expected to leave on Sunday but the torrent from the sky meant all the boats stayed in port. We left with the boats from the Heidelberg club to Hassmersheim where the annual Neckar Motorboot Fest was being held. It was also the Hassmersheim club’s 20th anniversary so the ten clubs along the Neckar met together. We got there a little early (about 2 days) and decided to stay until the festival. Martin, in the meantime, built a new cupboard in the galley and put blinds etc. he is such an industrious and erudite man when motivatedJ and everyday I am thankful.
We were rafted up with other boats in the tiny harbour so got to know our hosts and other members of the river community. The first day of the festival was a kids day – it was also a school holiday and weatherwise it was dry almost warm. The races were held in the river; kayaking, paddle boarding and rowing sculls. In the evening there were prizes and everyone was recognized. The organizers had set up a big tent and hired a catering company to sell food and beer/wine etc. The tent was the congregating place for all the boats and campers on shore for the whole of the boat festival.
That evening however it started to rain and didn’t really stop for three days (I am glad I live on a boat with all this water). We had been woken during in the night by what we referred to as Chinese water torture – incessant drips and rain on the decks and other water noises that seemed very loud at 3:30am. Martin and I had decided to go to Heidelberg, which was a journey by bike and train (60Kms). We dressed in our raingear finest – rain-pants, goretex jackets (helmets are not required here – which is fine), we rode the bikes to the lock where we could walk them across the river to the train station (about 2km). It was still raining when we got onto the train for one stop, hauled our bikes off the train, down the elevator to the next platform and then back up on the other side for the connecting train to Heidelberg. It was a slow train with lots of stops, but we could look down at the river and noticed how fast it was flowing and how empty it looked – no barges or any other boats.
View from Burg Hornberg
We had communications business; phones etc (as usual) and a little shopping to do in Heidelberg – also to see whether my computer was worth saving – it is sick (hard disk injuries) but not yet on life support. So I am going to keep it and Martin has offered to keep cobbling it back together until we get back to Canada and I can decide what to do next. (Apple computers are about 20 – 30% cheaper in Canada even when you add the tax).
After a day in Heidelberg we reversed our route back to Hassmersheim, this time getting off at the station and crossing the river on a small passenger ferry. The weather was terrible and the river was rising and the local people told us the locks were closed and we were here for at least 5 days.
That evening the club had an awards ceremony with various dignitaries from the boating community across Germany, other clubs were celebrating their ‘meet’ and Hassmersheim was celebrating its the 20th anniversary. They talked a lot about the development of tourism on the Neckar, and gave Martin and I an award for just being there. The people were very warm and friendly and interested in our story. Even the local town press were there – took pictures of us and we were congratulated on our intrepid adventure.
The problem with the Neckar is that there are no boat rental companies, so the only way you can explore is in your own boat. However, tourism has great potential as the river valley is very pretty with lots of places of interest. Our award was a medal for the boat and three bottles of local wine from Burg Hornberg – just perfect.
Burg Hornberg is an 12th Century keep/castle on the hillside that has evolved over time from this wonderful strategic position on the hillside with a commanding view of the river valley. Now it is better know for its commanding vineyards and beautiful restaurant on the hillside. One night we were treated to a firework display from the castle – apparently it is a favourite location for wedding planners and their customers. I agree with them – nice spot from which to start a new life.
The next day brought more rain and brought the local boat jousting competition indoors from its usual place on the water. We did not participate too much in the goings on that day other than cake (light and homemade) and coffee in the afternoon and an early beer with the members of other clubs
By Sunday the water had risen still higher, and we hoped it had crested. We walked down to the lock as we had been told it was flooded and not operational. The water level was the same on both sides of the lock as the river had risen by almost 4 meters. In fact even the Rhine was flooding and there were restrictions on the boats allowed to use the big river.
Neckarzimmern lock on Sunday
So we are here for a few days with all the other boats, waiting for visitors from Canada, praying for better weather and off exploring the small towns around here by train. The warmth and friendliness of the people here has been very gratifying as in a few days we have become a part of the Neckar boating community.