Amiens, Albert, Louvre-Lens. War and Art.

The Somme

Continuing on from my previous post we made the most of having a rental car and made a trip to Grévillers where there is a New Zealand memorial at one of the many British Cemeteries, which evokes the defence mounted by the New Zealand divisions in that sector from March to April 1918 and their role in the victory advance between August 8 and November 11. New Zealand lost 2600 men of which 450 are named on the memorial wall with no known grave.

New Zealand and British Cemetery in Grévillers

Memorial wall with the names of 450 Kiwi soldiers who have no known grave.

We then drove on to the city of Amiens. We had a lovely lunch at a brassiere, did a walking tour of the old town, the Saint-Leu quarter and visited the impressive Nôtre Dame cathedral, built mainly by help by the ‘waidiers’, medieval dyers from Amiens who made their fortunes from the ‘guesde’ or woad, a dyeing plant that produced the famous pigment Bleu d’Amiens. At the Place du Don there are the oldest houses in town, called the ‘maisons à pignon’ or gabled houses.

Amiens Hotel de Ville

Notre Dame, Amiens

Inside Notre Dame

The Memorial to the New Zealanders who fell in the Battle of the Somme. Inside the Notre Dame.

Amiens old town

Amiens old town

Amiens old town

From Amiens we headed to Albert to see the unusual church, Notre Dame de Bresbieres, shelled repeatedly in the First Wold War as it was a significant landmark, Albert being the centre of the Battle of the Somme. In January 1915 the golden statue of the Virgin and Child tipped over, still attached, into a horizontal position. From 1915 to April 1918 she stayed in that precarious position and became famous amongst British soldiers who sent postcards home of the “leaning Virgin”. They said “When the Virgin Falls, the war will be over”. They had it almost right, she fell very close to the end. After the war the basilica was rebuilt in the same style, the Virgin and child recast.

Notre Dame de Bresbieres with the Virgin and Child, rebuilt. During the last restoration in 2000 it took 40,000 gold leaves to cover the dome and statue

The horizontal statue until 1918

The Somme Museum, next to the church, is underground in the tunnels originally built to link the church to its gardens. A very good movie and interesting memorabilia in the fifteen different alcoves and 25 display cabinets, telling the story of both trench warfare and life in the tunnels.

It was a long day with four hours driving so we headed back to Valenciennes for the night.

Abbey Mont-St-Éloi

But the next day off we headed, this time to see the ruins of an Abbey in Mont-St-Éloi. This Abbey was originally one of the biggest of the region and now in its ruined state it is a symbol of the destruction wrecked on the area in World War I during which the top of the towers were destroyed. The weather was very changeable but I quite like the moody photo I took of the ruin.

Abbey Mont-St-Éloi

From here we continued on to Lens to visit the amazing Louvre-Lens, an offshoot of the Louvre in Paris, built on the site of an old coal mine. A very modern gallery and a fantastically curated collection. 205 works chronologically displayed from 3500BC to mid 19th century, all civilisations and techniques represented. I was in absolute heaven and could have stayed all day. And it’s free! The Louvre Paris is amazing and I’ve visited a number of times but it can be a lot for the senses, overwhelmingly so, and what the Louvre-Lens does so well is give you the right size bite of art in its many forms and allows you to place art within its time in history.

The Galerie du Temps, which is central to the Louvre-Lens project.

Athlete Holding a Discus, Roman copy of a Bronze “Discophoros”, c.AD 130-159 Marble

Fragment of a Mural: Woman and a Fawn: Bacchic Cult Scene? Pompeii, Italy c.AD 30-50 Fresco

The Roman Goddess Minerva Armed. Baccio della Porta, known as FRA Bartolomeo (1473-1517) c. 1490. Oil on panel

King Ixion Deceived by Juno, Whom He Wanted to Seduce. Peter Paul Rubens, c.1615 Oil on canvas

Ideal Landscape with Ancient Dance Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot c.1855-60

Canadian Memorial in Vimy

Having filled up on art we visited the impressive Canadian Memorial at Vimy. 9 April 1917 they and the British stormed and took the Vimy Ridge. There are still shell craters dotting the area and possibly unexploded bombs. The memorial is a tribute to all Canadians who fought in the war and bears the names of 18,000 of which 11,285 have no known graves. Heartbreaking.

We also visited the Lichfield Crater in Thelus where British soldiers are buried. There are memorials everywhere here testifying to the carnage World War I created.

So we finally headed back to Valenciennes and on Monday returned our car to Europcar.

It was well worth the €144 and we saw so much more than if we had just visited the Somme on our boat.

The good news is our favourite boulangerie has reopened after their 3 week congé (leave) and we’re back to delicious baguettes only 10 minutes walk away. Dangerous! The big supermarket is about 30 minutes walk each way but there is a Lidl closer for potluck grocery shopping. The weather has turned very autumnal compared to last week with temperatures 22° and under. Some nights the temperature is down to 5°! So it must be time to head back to New Zealand. We have a couple of weeks to tidy up the boat and get it ready for winter then it’s back on the Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi, Melbourne and then Christchurch.

We’re looking forward to getting home!

Our total statistics on Silver Fern for 2019

Engine Hours : 84.3

Kms: 503.7

Locks : 98

Tunnels : 3

Boatlifts : 6

Lifting Bridges : 4

Posted in 2019 adventure on the French Canals, Albert, Amiens, French Canal boating, Grévillers, The Somme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Dunkerque, Matisse, Cambrai and Arras.

Having planned to do a few day trips by train we realised it was more economical to hire another car when a deal came up for 7 days at only €144. This has the added benefit of visiting small villages and memorials where there are no train stations.

So on Monday we picked up another car and headed out on an exploration.

First, on a very warm 35° day, we decided a day at the beach was in order. We drove two hours to Dunkerque and firstly visited the 1940 Museum just in front of the beach where the famous evacuation took place.

Dunkerque 1940 Museum

A great space and display.

The display is excellent but what was really striking was walking to the beach afterwards, which was packed with holiday makers. Quite a juxtaposition! We had lunch in a beachside cafe and a paddle in the North Sea which was actually a reasonable temperature. We brought our togs but the onshore breeze was so cooling we didn’t need to swim.

We headed home in the cooled air conditioning of the car after a long but enjoyable day, stopping briefly in Esquelbecq, a village of bookshops, a beautiful chateau (unfortunately closed to visitors) and another interesting church.

The chateau, As close as we could get. Looked very nice.

Lots of picturesque bookshops.

The next day was another warm one and we decided to visit a village called Le Cateau-Cambrésis, the birth place of one of my favourite artists Matisse. The Matisse Museum was established in the Fenélon Palace and is the third largest collection of the artist’s work in France. There are also temporary contemporary exhibitions to enjoy including one outside. Very interesting.

Matisse museum

Captions on a postcard please.

From there we drove to the nearby town of Cambrai and checked out the Maison Espagnol which houses the Visitors centre. We had un cafe in the Place in front of the Hôtel de Ville and then checked out some of the sights including the Chapelle des Jesuits (1692), the Cathédral Nôtre Dame de Grâce (1703), the Porte de Paris (towngate) and the Bellfroi (15th century).

Chapelle des Jesuits (1692]

Notre-Dame de Grâce (1703j

Porte de Paris (15th century)

Heading to Flesquières we visited the Tank museum to see a Mark IV tank from 1917, (unearthed in 1998 from 2.5 metres of mud) named Deborah! The display included some excellent archive footage and explanations of how this new tank warfare changed the World War I. Attached to the museum is a Commonwealth war graveyard where 62 New Zealander soldiers are buried.

Meet Deborah

Another day, another trip, and we drove over to Arras to visit La Carriere Wellington (the Wellington Tunnels). Originally caverns dug under Arras for chalk extraction (since the Middle Ages), they were joined up by New Zealand soldiers who were tunnelling experts and the space was used to house up to 24,000 soldiers in secret. On April 9 1917 at 5am they surprised the Germans emerging from the underground just meters from their positions on the front lines in Arras . The tour takes you 20m underground and through some of those tunnels with projections on walls, soundtracks of soldiers thoughts, letters and poems and signs still visible on the wall.  There are drawings of women and soldiers on the walls, done to bide the time while they waited for the attack. It’s very stirring stuff, very bloody sad too, but an excellent place to visit.

Very close quarters

Exiting onto the battlefield.

Looking for a drink we headed through the Grand Place, unfortunately hosting a fun fair, garishly chaotic,  and turned into the Petit Place or Place des Heroes, a gorgeous square where we had a Panaché and enjoyed the ambiance. We had a look in the Bellfroi (1554, destroyed in WWI and reconstructed in 1934) and the Church St Jean Baptiste which contains a Rubens work.

Petit Palace or Place des Heroes, Arras

Arras. We really love it here.

Church St Jean Baptiste.

Panaché for the driver

One of the ‘giants’ used in French towns for carnivals and festivals, originally representing biblical stories. Very popular in northern France.

 

So that was our first few days with the car. I’ll write again soon about the rest of what was a fun week of exploration.

With only three weeks before we are off to our other home in New Zealand we have a few chores to catch up on!

 

Posted in 2019 adventure on the French Canals, Canal boating in France, France, French Canal boating, French war cemetaries, Holiday 2019 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Tyne Cot, Passendale and Brugge.

Valenciennes is our home port for the winter and due to low water levels in some of the French canals we have found ourselves tied up rather early this year. With more than six weeks before we head back to New Zealand for the Southern Hemisphere spring we find ourselves with time on our hands and plenty of interesting options to choose from.

So first up we hired a car from Europcar near the Valenciennes railway station and headed to Le Quesnoy as I mentioned in my last post. It’s only a 20 minute drive from Valenciennes and well known to Kiwis as the place where, in November 1917, NZ soldiers liberated the German occupied town by literally going over the wall. Using a ladder. Sometimes the simple ideas are the most cunning. And who doesn’t love a cunning plan! The town has NZ place names and memorials to commemorate the victory and a good walking map to follow.

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Fortified gate in Le Quesnoy

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NZ place names

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St Thérèse school excellent mural

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The site where the NZ soldiers went over the wall.

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We drove back to the boat for the night but next morning headed up again to Belgium, first to a chandlery in Antoing, to purchase a couple of new ropes.

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The floating chandlery in Antoing, Belgium

Then on we drove to Tyne Cot, (named after Tyne Cottage by the Northumberland Fusiliers who saw a resemblance between the many German pill boxes and typical Tyneside workers cottages), a cemetery near Zonnebeke, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world, anywhere. There are 11,900 commonwealth servicemen graves of World War 1, more than 8,370 are unidentified, a very sad statistic. The memorial wall commemorates nearly 35,000 servicemen from the UK and NZ. We found an R B Twisleton listed on the wall who was a distant relative of the Alan’s family on his mother’s side. Considering the population of NZ at the time most people probably have a connection to someone who was killed or injured here in the Passendale area.

(As a side note Passendale is the new spelling of Paschendaele, as is Ieper is the new form of Ypres).

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Tyne Cot cemetery

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Tyne Cot cemetery

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Tyne Cot cemetery

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Tyne Cot cemetery NZ commemoration

Again we returned to the boat in France for the night. The trip is only a hour each way and saved us the cost of a hotel room.

The next morning we drove back into Belgium and to Zonnebeke where the Passendale museum is situated. This is a great museum with an excellent depiction of the realities of WW1 including trench life and the horrors of what happened here. The 12th of October 1917 was the worst day in history for New Zealand casualties, 2700, of which 843 died thanks to an ill advised attack amongst the mud and rain on the battlefield. The objective was the Bellevue Spur but it was never reached, the soldiers and weapons sunk and stuck in the mud while the Germans relentlessly gunned them down. Horrific but visiting is an experience any New Zealander should undertake if in the area as a mark of respect. Similar to my trip to Gallipoli in the 80s.

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Passendale museum, Zonnebeke

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The trenches

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The trenches

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The trenches

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More trenches. They depict different construction methods.

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The New Zealand memorial

To lighten our mood we headed further north to the beautiful and historic Brugge (Flemish spelling!). Wow, this medieval town is unbelievable. Unbelievably stunning and unbelievably full of tourists. Of course it’s worth the hassle of having to weave through the hordes while avoiding losing an eye to a selfie stick because there’s a good reason so many people visit Brugge. The place is all medieval buildings, breweries, canals and chocolate shops. What’s not to love. We did all the touristy things, walking all over the old town, visiting the Museums, the churches, cruising the canals and tasting all the chocolate. Ok not all the chocolate. We also did justice to the Moule Frites (mussels and fries), Jupiler beer and waffles amongst other Belgium favourites. We stayed at the Novotel Centrum using up some Accor hotel points which saved us some €. It was a great three days.

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Stunning medieval buildings are everywhere in the 9ld town, Brugge.

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Me and a canal 🙂

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Horse drawn guided tours are popular and the sounds of hooves (no cars) is very evocative.

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Church in St Amand-les-Eaux

Finally we headed home to Valenciennes. The weather has been really quite cool lately and the next day it rained all day so we stayed in but the following day we made the use of the rental car by firstly visiting the nearby town of St Amand les Eaux (which was mainly closed due to it being Monday) and then did a big shop at the huge commercial centre in nearby Petit-Forêt. Handy not to have to lug everything by hand!

On Tuesday we took the car back (7 days rental cost €234) and got back to walking everywhere again. It’s amazing how much more exercise you get when you don’t have a car. Our next excursion will be by train. Cambrai looks like an option or further to Arras.

As we haven’t been out in the boat we have no new statistics but here’s the year to date again.

Total year to date

Engine hours – 84.3

Kms – 503.7

Locks – 98

Tunnels – 3

Boat lifts – 6

Lifting Bridges – 4

Posted in French Canal boating, Holiday 2019 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Seneffe to Valenciennes, back into France we go.

Bonjour, we are back in France after an interesting and generally enjoyable trip through southern Belgium. The last time I wrote we were in Seneffe and planning our trip down the historical century old but recently renovated four boat lifts on the Canal du Centre.

Seneffe is a great marina with a lovely English Capitain and a small book swap bookcase! We replenished our library, making us very happy readers after having to re-read old books from last year.  

So onto the UNESCO world heritage historical boat lifts and what fun we had. The trip takes a few hours with staff operating them just for us as no other boats were around. There are two tanks or caissons which counterbalance each other, one going up and the other down. Between each lift there is a pretty canal to cruise down, very green with lifting bridges the following staff operated for us. After lift number three we stopped for lunch, attaching ourselves to an old commercial barge for an hour then onto the last lift, a total of 66.2 meters. It was a beautiful day and we had a lot of fun.

The two different boat lift options. The historical four lifts or the modern one. Both interesting.

Heading into the lift basin with its guillotine door.

Heading out again.

Historic boat lift number 1

The canal between lifts was filled with fluorescent green duck weed.

Pretty and easy to sail through.

One of the four bridges the staff operated for us.

Manning the ropes as we descended.

Lunch break with lift three in the background.

17m drop on each lift.

Finishing about 3pm we moored at Thieu boat harbour. The next day we biked up to the new boat lift, Strépy-Thieu, built to replace the historic four and it’s very busy with commercial boating and massive! It climbs 73m in one go, that’s over 20 stories! We spent an interesting hour in the newly opened visitors centre, learning how the lifts work and the massive job building them. We also bought 200litres of fuel off a tanker delivering fuel to the marina, at service station prices. Very handy.

Inside the Strépy-Thieu boat lifts from the viewing platform

Engine room, one on each side as there are two lifts. Only one was working when we used it.

Lift number four of the historic lift, lit up at night. So pretty!

The next day we decided to try out the Strépy-Thieu lift for ourselves. There is one on each side, operating independently of each other but only one was in operation while we were there. We lined up behind a few very large commercial barges and waited for a green light. We duly headed into the pound behind a commercial and tied up. A staff member came to take our papers and once we were at the top she brought them back with our official permis de circulation. This was the only time we needed it although we had heard we would be asked for them  

Strépy-Thieu boat lifts. One on each side. 73.15m total vertical lift.

Heading in following a commercial barge. As you can see there is plenty of room.

Tied up and ready to go while our paperwork was being sorted out. Very efficient and friendly staff.

The pound is big.

Once up to the top we cruised out, along the aqueduct then turned around and lined up for the trip back down. Great fun and so interesting. A couple of commercials even waved us on in front of them which was so nice!

Panorama as we descended.

It’s a long long way up!

After all that excitement we carried on along the canal through two deep locks (with useful floating bollards) and arrived in Mons, finding a mooring by the boat ramp. We stayed for a few days, biking into town unfortunately on a Monday when pretty much everything is closed but did enjoy a coffee in the Place and the bike ride was fun, if very hot, the temperature rising to 37°. During the next week or so this rose to 43°. Very uncomfortable in a steel boat without aircon!

Belfry of Mons, 1672 and. UNESCO site. Unfortunately for us it was a Monday and closed.

Rub the Guardhouse monkey’s head with your left hand for good luck apparently. Tick.

Mons mooring.

After Mons we headed off early one morning through commercial locks and in incredible heat to find a lovely mooring in Péronnes, on the edge of the Grand Large lake area. Lots of yachts and windsurfers to watch and we enjoyed the breeze. The yacht club has a restaurant so we tried the moule frites (mussels and fries) and meat plate plus the drink of the day, sangria  

Moules frites for dinner at the Yacht club in Peronnnes

Our lovely mooring in Personnes. The breeze from the Grand Large was welcome.

The Grand Large Péronnes

Finally it was time to head back into France and our winter mooring of Valenciennes near the border. We have booked for a year and figure we’ll do another trip before we go home but come back here. The marina is new, has security with locked gates and a Capitainerie to keep an eye on things. The city has been rebuilt after the world wars and a lot of the buildings are red brick, not something we’ve seen before. There is a tram line near the port and also a TGV train station only a 10 minute walk away. Very handy.

Maison de Prévôt, Valenciennes

Valenciennes

Next week we’ve booked a rental car for a week and plan on visiting Le Quesnoy, a 17th century fortified town which was liberated from four years of German occupation by 14,400 New Zealand soldiers without loss of civilians but at a cost of 142 NZers. It seems to be a place for Kiwis to visit. Also on our travels we’ll be heading north back into Belgium and the city of Brugge for a couple of days. I’ve never been so we’re looking forward to that.

Luckily the weather has cooled down into the 20s so life is a lot more pleasurable! Long may it continue as the French waterways are getting very dry!

Here are the stats since I last wrote:

Seneffe to Thieu

Engine Hours: 3.3

Kms: 14

Locks : 0

Boat Lifts : 4 (66.2m total climb)

Lifting or swing bridges: 4

Thieu – Mons

Hours : 4.1

Kms : 17

Locks : 3

Boat lifts : 2 (Strépy-Thieu x2, a climb of 73.15m)

Mons – Peronnes Yacht Club

Hours : 4.9

Kms : 38

Lock : 1 (12.5m deep)

Peronnes (Belgium) – Valenciennes (France)

Hours : 4.7

Kms : 30

Locks : 4

Total year to date

Engine hours – 84.3

Kms – 503.7

Locks – 98

Tunnels – 3

Boat lifts – 6

Lifting Bridges – 4

Posted in Belgium canal boating, Canal boating in Belgium, Canal boating in France, French Canal boating, Historic boat lift Belgium, Holiday 2019, Mons, Strépy-Thieu boat lift | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Charlesville to Seneffe. Into Belgium we go.

Last time I wrote we had heard the Meuse would be closing locks 1-8 July 4th. With no time to turn around and head back that way and the Canal des Ardennes closed in the middle, we took the only course available and headed north. (Annoyingly the VNF decided to delay the closure to the 14th and then the 19th of July so we could have made it through). However the Northern Meuse in France and Belgium is beautiful so we’re glad we have headed up this way.

After we left Charleville-Meziere we travelled with a couple of boats also heading north, an Australian couple, Peter and Dorothy on their catamaran that they have sailed from home, and a Swiss couple, Herbie and Elsie, and we joined them for dinner at a local restaurant when we stopped for the night in Bogney-sur-Meuse. Peter speaks English and German and so translated between us and the Swiss!

Bogny-sur-Meuse

Lovely dinner out with new friends.

The next day we moved on to Revin, a lovely mooring and as there was a World Cup cricket game to watch on Alan’s ipad we stayed two days.

Revin mooring

We were on our own again and traveled on to Vieuw-Wallerand, another very nice mooring, a well looked after town and an excellent boulangerie (priorities)!

Vireux-Wallerand

We had a bit of a wait the next morning at the first lock which is attached to the following tunnel and as there were two boats coming from the other direction there was a delay. The éclusier, when we did get in, asked about our depth requirement as they can adjust the water if needed. All good though and no trouble going through the tunnel. We did take the canopy down, just in case. The river here is beautiful with a National Park on either side, very green and pretty.

Entrance to the Ham tunnel.

Givet was our next port where there are pontoons on one side and a quay on the other. €9.40 a night and the capitainerie required our insurance documents which was a first. Lovely town with an excellent sunset that night.

Givet

Silver Fern moored in Givet.

Sky on fire. Givet.

On to Belgium! We travelled with a Danish boat this time and at the first lock we were expecting to get a free permit for this Wallonina area (that I’d read we would need) but the éclusier didn’t mention it so we assume it’s not required any more. Time will tell.

Heading into Belgium waters.

Waulsort was our first stop in Belgium, a very scenic town with the mooring in the other side of the village with a free ferry boat to connect the two areas. The little ferry is hand pulled across by the guy who operates the capitainerie and a very nice young guy he is. It started to rain later and we hunkered down for the evening amongst the surrounding green countryside. Very pleasant. The temperatures have dropped significantly thank goodness and the next morning it was actually quite cold!

Little manually operated ferry in Waulsort.

Back in jeans and jackets the next morning we headed further down the Meuse, the scenery more rugged and lots of cliffs.

Château de Freyr

Rochers de Freyr

The boat traffic increased as we came to Dinant, a spectacular town with it’s Collegiate church almost built into the cliff side. We moored just past the restaurants and bars on the waterfront and enjoyed a few days exploring the stunning buildings and Citadel.

Stunning Dinant

Collegiate Church of Notre Dame, Dinant.

Interior, Notre Dame.

Adolphe Sax the inventor of, you guessed it, the Sax was born here and there are big bright colourful saxes all around town. His home is now a Sax Museum.

A New Zealand flag on the bridge! Dinant.

Saxophones are everywhere in Dinant.

Monsieur Sax with the riffraff

We stayed in Dinant for a few days visiting the Leffe (pronounced Leff-uh) beer museum with a tasting and free Leffe glasses as a parting gift, took the cable car up the hill to visit the Citadel and enjoyed a guided tour. Next to the Citadel is a French and Commonwealth war cemetery with one lone New Zealander buried there. This city holds a very strategic site and so has seen many wars and associated carnage. It’s a beautiful city though and probably the most stunning we’ve seen this year. A must visit if you’re in Belgium.

Silver Fern on the far left of the town quay.

Leffe museum

Old bottling machine.

Dodgy bar maid.

Time for the tasting!

View from the cable car

Panorama of stunning Dinant and the Meuse river

Silver Fern 4th from the right.

Dinant Citadel

Dinant Citadel

We departed Dinant on July 10th and headed along the Meuse to Namur (or Namen). We were in company with two Belgium boats and had to wait at each lock for big commercial boats coming through. Also at one lock we waited for three other leisure boats so six in total. These locks are now 100m long and 12m wide so plenty of room for all of us.

Lots of commercial traffic nearing Namur

This is Château Dave. What a name!

Then it was a race for the moorings in Namur. We wanted to get close to the old part of town so tied up on the pontoons opposite the Citadel. Fairly expensive at €15 plus power and water which you must load a fob with money and pay per use plus €20 deposit. Still it was worth it. The old town is in the middle of roadworks and renovation but it was still fun to wander the streets with plenty of shops etc but the best bit was the Citadel where we were lucky to join an English language tour and really get into the tunnels and hear what was added as the centuries went by. Namur Citadel is one of four Citadels including Dinant, which we had previously visited, known as the Meuse Citadels.

View from the top of the Citadel

Creative displays in the Citadel tunnels made for a very enjoyable tour.

We loved our time in Namur and watched the Cricket World Cup final (excellent game, well worth watching but the end was disappointing), and also met a lovely couple Russell and Gaëlle on a beautiful barge travelling with their young daughters. Gaëlle gave us some excellent information on the Belgium waterways as we only have one map and no books so that was very helpful.

It was time to move on and so on Monday July 15th we turned off the Meuse and headed onto the Sambre. This river, at least until the turn off south, is dismal. Industrial all the way along and hardly anywhere to moor for the night.

It pretty much looked like this for 12 hours

We left Namur at 8.30am and with no great options to stop we kept on going and going. 10 locks, 74km and 12 hours of boring scenery and bleak weather later we finally pulled into the SNEF Yachting marina near Seneffe. Thank goodness there was just enough room for us, we tied up and collapsed. I wouldn’t recommend that trip and in retrospect we should have turned off onto the southern end of the Sambre and stopped for the night down there but it was a experience!

Seneffe SNEF yachting

This is the route we are taking through Belgium.

We had ourselves a day off and just chilled the next day while the weather improved. Looks like warmer weather is on the way again though but hopefully not too hot. France is still suffering from low water levels and a few waterways are looking at planning closures in the next few weeks which is frustrating. Up here in Belgium all seems ok but who knows. We don’t have access to as much information here as we do in France.

Next up is the historical Canal du Centre with its four 100 year old boat lifts. Sounds fun!

Since I last wrote:

Charlesville-Meziere to Bogney-sur-Meuse

Engine hours – 2.4

Kms – 17

Locks – 3

Bogney-sur-Meuse to Revin

Hours – 3.2

Kms – 22

Locks – 4

Revin to Vieux-Wallerand

Hours – 4.3

Kms – 26

Locks – 6

Vieux-Wallerand to Givet

Hours – 2.1

Kms – 10.5

Locks – 3

Tunnels – 1

Givet to Waulsort (BELGIUM)

Hours – 3.1

Kms – 14

Locks – 3

Waulsort to Dinant

Hours – 1.5

Kms – 10

Locks – 1

Dinant to Namur

Hours – 4.3

Kms – 27

Locks – 6

Namur to Seneffe

Hours – 11.7

Kms -73.2

Locks – 10

Total so far this year:

Engine hours – 67.3

Kms – 404.7

Locks – 90

Tunnels – 3

Posted in 2019 adventure on the French Canals, Canal boating in Belgium, Canal boating in France, France, French Canal boating, Holiday 2019, Meuse, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Verdun to Charleville-Mézières. The beautiful Meuse.

Leaving Verdun we continued our trip north with no fixed destination in mind and stopped for the night in Consenvoye where we cycled up to the German war cemetery. Here lie 11,146 German soldiers, a nurse, a Russian and 62 from the Austrian-Hungarian army in a beautifully kept treed cemetery.

Nice mooring in Consenvoye

German cemetery in Consenvoye

We tried out the bread from the bread machine as sadly there is no boulangerie in Consenvoye and actually the bread was excellent, much better than the offering from the machine in Toul.

The next day we headed on to Dun-sur-Meuse having our first incident in a lock this year, getting the rope jammed while descending and forcing us to quickly cut our way out of it, losing another good rope. These things happen though and we will just have to be more creative with the ropes we have left until we can replace it.

Pretty village of Cléry-le-Petit-Le-Petit on the Meuse

Dun-sur-Meuse is a great mooring although lots of biting bugs that had a good feast on me. You’re welcome. There is a steep hill with a fortress and church at the top with stunning panoramic views of the Meuse. The heat has really pumped up the volume with temps over 35°. It was a hot climb!

View from the top

On the way back down the hill

The following day, June 20th, was a cooler day (yay!). As we pulled up to the first lock the door jammed with a massive tree stump lodged in the way. We called VNF and reported the problem. A man arrived half an hour later but he struggled to move it. Eventually he put the lock through a cycle and let the tree stump out and an hour later we were on our way again.

On our way again

Remind me not to swim downstream!

It rained on and off all day and we tied up on Stenay for the night. The mooring is nice here but the town was a little disappointing with a lot of closed shops. The next day was market day with a few fruit and vegetable stands and a rotisserie chicken/paella caravan. We bought some salad veges then headed to the local Lidl for other supplies (wine and beer). Having ticked all the major food groups it was back to the boat to spend the day catching up on washing.

Heading further north we motored 25kms to the next stop in Mouzon. There’s a strong current here and we took a few attempts to get close enough to the quay to moor but finally managed and what a lovely spot it is. We visited the Abbey church, did a walking tour and tried to stay cool in this heatwave.

The buildings here are beautifully restored

Abbey church

Sunday Mass

The mooring got very busy during our two days there and we had a lovely surprise to meet up with friends and fellow kiwis Tony and Kay on their new boat. We enjoyed having a drink with them on Silverfern that evening.

We dragged ourselves away from Mouzon on June 22nd and had a long day on the water to arrive in Charleville-Mézières and yay! a spot under some trees on the long quay.

That’s us at the front

Shade!

As I said the canicule (heatwave) that is hitting all of Europe is upon us big time with talk of temperatures over 40°! Luckily there is the odd breath of wind on the river which is very welcome. This city is beautiful, well cared for with stunning architecture. Named after it’s creator, Charles de Gonzague,

The man himself

the ‘new town’ was built in the 17th century with roads leading to the beautiful Ducal Place with arcades running along all four sides, offering bars and restaurants as well as shops.

Place Ducal

Place Ducal

Museum of Rimbaud, the famous French poet who was born here in 1854

There is an amazing patisserie close to the Place with the best baguettes I’ve tasted this year.

We visited the museum of the Ardennes which has artefacts from 2000BC through to current day art works. They have a great collection marionettes from different countries as well. Charleville-Mézières is known as the World Capital of Puppetry Arts.

Last night there was a salsa dance class next to our mooring on the river. Great music. Brought back memories.

So we are here In Charleville-Mézières until Sunday. Today we found out just by chance that this canal/river will be closed at the southern end due to lack of water. Next Wednesday. Not very good news for us as the only other way south is the Canal des Ardennes which won’t reopen this year due to a broken lock. You really have to be flexible doing this lifestyle! After working out we would have to really put the accelerator down and race back (in the raging heat), in order to get through those locks by the closure date we’ve decided to carry on northwards and see what happens. Maybe it will rain all of July and everything will be open again, who knows. This is the hottest June on record apparently and the earliest waterways have been lacking water that we’ve encountered.

The journey this post:

Verdun – Consenvoye

Engine hours – 3.6

Kms – 25

Locks – 4

Consenvoye – Dun-sur- Meuse

Engine hours- 3

Kms – 17

Locks – 5

Dun-sur-Meuse to Stenay

Engine hours- 2.3

Kms – 13

Locks – 3

Stenay-Mouzon

Engine hours – 3.5

Kms – 25

Locks – 3

Mouzon- Charleville-Mézières

Engine hours – 5.7

Kms – 40

Locks – 8

Total so far this year:

Engine hours – 34.7

Kms – 205

Locks – 54

Tunnels – 2

Posted in 2019 adventure on the French Canals, Canal de la Meuse, French Canal boating, Holiday 2019, Meuse | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

St Mihiel to Verdun. Taking our time.

We left St Mihiel early on 30 May and headed north, stopping at Lacroix-sur-Meuse, only 9kms along the canal. We were tied up for the day by 10am! It was Ascension Day and on our walk through the village we saw families gathering to celebrate. The village is quiet with an Epicerie/boulangerie which was closed the next morning although the hours on the door said it would be open. Viva la France.

The next morning we arrived at the first lock of the day to find our éclusier ready and waiting as promised when we spoke to them the day before. Fantastic service! It was a longish day, 27kms, 7 locks and 5 hours with 3 different éclusiers. At the final lock before the Verdun mooring we passed under the city walls and into the lock where we had to wait 20 minutes for the local tourist boat to enter the lock behind us and we descended into Verdun. There was a Silver Fern sized space on the Quai de Londres right in front of the bars and restaurants. Parfait. We moored up, plugged into power (free) and decided to stay a while!

Silver Fern on the quay in Verdun, 3rd from the left on the far side.

Porte Chaussée

Over the next week we did all the touristy things you do in a town with such history. The local Visitors Centre set us off on a self guided walk, checking out 20 must see sights including Porte Chausée, a fortified gatehouse dating back to the 14th century when Verdun was made an “imperial free city” which meant the town had to maintain its own ramparts to defend itself from attack.

Bishops Palace, 18th century now houses the World Peace Centre.

16th century Cloister of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Beautiful stained glass windows inside the Notre Dame Cathedral.

The Monument to Verdun, built after WWI, has 73 steps leading to an enormous statue of a Frankish warrior leaning on his sword and looking to the Eastern frontier and symbolises the French victories of the Battle of Verdun 1916 and Armistice of 1918.

Another war memorial erected in 1928 and dedicated to those who died in both World Wars, shows five arms of service, a cavalryman, an engineer sapper, an infantryman, an artillaryman and a reservist. The motto of the city, On Ne Passe Pas, They Shall Not Pass, is inscribed here and is the Verdun’s motto. At night the statues light up in red white and blue. Very moving.

We also checked out the Souterrain Citadel, the Underground Citadel and went on the tour which includes a train ride. The citadel was constructed from 1623 when France was defending itself from Germany, (not much changes). The Franco-Prussian war of 1871 saw Verdun become a major fortress close of the frontier. 16m below the surface the Engineers carved out munitions stores, barracks, kitchens and war rooms. The tour shows the daily life of French soldiers in 1916 with light and sound (we each had an English language headset) and it was excellent, well worth the €9 each.

Above the ground of the Citadel the ramparts are enormous.

Suffice to say Verdun is an amazing town with so much to see, not all of it war related, going back 30 centuries. We stayed a while, fixing a small fresh water tank issue and then Alan has been watching the Cricket World Cup. We’ve walked all over the town, every evening enjoying another stroll amongst the diners and drinkers on the quay.

Enjoying the evening!

One night, at about 2.30am, we had a couple of ‘visitors’ on our swim platform, perhaps trying to steal our flag, and Alan had to confront them and tell them to f*** off which they did. Unfortunately they came back carrying a couple of rubbish bins, dumping them on our neighbours deck. Idiots. It hasn’t happened again but each night we bring our flag in just in case!

The vast majority of boats coming through here are Dutch, heading south for the summer, but that changed in the last couple of days with enough Kiwi and Aussie boats to warrant sharing a few drinks on the quay. The port is always busy, both on the water and on the bustling quay with all the bars and restaurants. We are really loving it but have to leave sometime so we’ll be off on Monday morning heading further north towards Belgium.

Market day is Friday.

Talk about focus!

Here are a few other photos from our Verdun stay.

There was a military recruiting drive while we were in Verdun.

The journey this post:

St Mihiel – Lacroix-sur-Meuse

Engine hours : 1.5

Kms : 9

Locks : 2 (manual)

Lacroix-sur-Meuse – Verdun

Engine hours: 4.7

Kms: 27

Locks : 7

Tunnel : 1

Year so far:

Engine hours : 16.6

Kms : 85

Locks : 31

Tunnels : 2

Posted in 2019 adventure on the French Canals, Battle of Verdun, Canal boat, Canal boating in France, French Canal boating, Holiday 2019, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments