Our Barge, Odysseus

Sunday, June 29, 2008

On to Turnhout!

We woke to rain pattering (more like thundering) on the rooftoop on Friday morning. Our destination was about 35k away, the town of Turnhout, Belgium. After clearing the last of three locks on the Bocholt/Herentals canal in a downpour, we turned right into the (I love this!) Kanaal van Dessel over Turnhout naar Schoten (the canal from Dessel through Turnhout to Schoten). After the morning rain it turned sunny, but windy. When you're in between two rows of big trees, though, it doesn't matter as much.

By about 2:30 we were tied up along the wall between two lift bridges in the Turnhout city marina. We'll be here until Monday morning. In another example of superior European civilization, the bridges don't operate on Sunday. There's a big free concert in the center of town on Friday night (headlining Milk, Inc. !?!), the big market on Saturday morning and more market madness on Sunday. Somehow I think we'll be kept busy.

Lommel WWII German Cemetery

Part of our bike ride down the Beverlo took us through the town of Lommel and past the WWII German cemetery.

From the introductory plaque, translated into English:

" 'The soldier's graves are the greatest preachers of peace.' (Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Prize laureate)

In the mid-fifties, this graves site was developed by the German War Graves Commission for the fallen of World War II after it was commissioned to do so by the German government...

During the American-English offensive of 1944/45, the American graves service interred the German dead in five cemeteries in Belgium and West Germany, especially in the vicinity of Aachen, in the Hurtgen Forest and the Remagen bridgehead, including one on the Lommeler Heath,

The dead from the other four sites had already been transferred to Lommel in 1946, the site then being handed over to the Belgian authorities.

The Belgian graves service transferred more fallen German soldier to Lommel, in addition 541 German dead from WW I, who were buried elsewhere. With more than 39,100 fallen soldiers, Lommel was the World War II war graves site in western Europe with the largest number of fallen. The site was consecrated on 6th September 1959,...

The dead of this cemetery admonish to peace."

2 notes - The population of Lommel, Belgium is about 40,000.
There are two dead soldiers for every cross.

If This Is Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium

After a quick stop at the fuel barge for some of that €1.40 a litre diesel it was back on the Zuidwilliamsvaart for our return to Belgium. This time we were leaving Holland for good. We've had some great times there but it is time to move on.
The book we're using for the Belgium portion of the trip, Jacqueline Jones "Inland Waterways of Belgium," describes the Ziudwilliamsvaart around Bocholt "...arable fields can be seen behind rows of chestnut and oak trees... double rows of copper beeches and poplars contrast with each other in shape and colour and give the waterway the majestic and peaceful air of a French avenue."
Both days through this section I just couldn't get the light right but this should give you the idea.

The book, published in 2005, contains a rapturous description of the barge San Remo entering a lock with them, "We were speechless. She was so long that the two bridges on either side of the lock had to remain open. Now I had time to admire her at my leisure. Her hatches were black, spotless. Her wheelhouse was sheer hi-tech, all steel and smoked glass... Only aerial photography could do her justice." This isn't aerial but it will have to do.

We met her twice on the canal and I was glad to get on the other side of a lock she couldn't fit through!

After a night along a dock in the town of Bree, it was on to our next stop, a quiet little side canal of the Bocholt-Herentals Canal called the Kanaal naar Beverlo, which doesn't go to Beverlo but to Leopoldsburg. We stopped right at the canal junction at a place called Blauwe Kei, or Blue Boulder. There were no services but it was a beautiful spot, just made for a bike ride day!

We bicycled down the canal to within 4k of Leopoldsburg in another parklike setting. All the way to this spot we had seen hundreds of bicyclists along the canal and heading off into the woods. After this day, we know why!

This is the Kanaal naar Beverlo

Cathy Jo leaves me in the dust.

Hey Mif! More Food Stuff!

Since Maastricht is in the Netherlands Limburg province you don't think we could get away without the purchase of some of that famous cheese? Cathy Jo demonstrates the proper serving technique.

It may smell like old socks but it really is delicious!

Bike Ride on the Maas

Another nice day and we really don't know how to act. Might as well get out the bikes and take a little ride. This one took us out of Maastricht past the Helport and to the southwest along the Jeker River into wine growing country. It was Monday so we didn't see any wineries open but we followed the road over to the Mighty Albert Canal.

We followed it down to it's junction with the River Maas and checked out one of the giant river locks. This loaded coal barge is probably 80 meters (250 feet) long.

And they take a pretty big drop!

We will not be going this way!


As I mentioned last year, they do festivals in Europe and you may remember one of our last "cloggy" experiences last year was the Shantykoor (beer)fest in Leimuiden. Saturday was a great street festival, literally on "the other side of the tracks" in Maastricht. We crossed the river, went through the train station, crossed the A-2 (the big highway), and ended up in a street festival/swap meet with a complete cross section of available entertainment.
On the main stage was the local choral group, one number featuring a cowboy theme.

They were followed by several youth groups from the local dance school. They did all the Britney Spears power moves.

Following them was a West African drum and dance band.

All of this in about 1 1/2 hours. LA's got nothing on Holland!

And what street festival wouldn't be complete without the cute little Dutch girl!

In Maastricht

We'd spent the last few days in the peaceful countryside and tied up early in the day on Saturday. We hit the streets. Little did we know that the entire population of southern Holland plus significant portions of Belgium and Luxembourg would join us.

Maastricht claims to be the Netherlands oldest city, the Romans building a bridge over the River Maas, which divides the city, in the mists of time . The current St. Servaas bridge now stands about 100 meters downstream of the original bridge.

From the bridge you can look back across the river at a portion of the west city front.

Every town of any size in the area has a "stadwandeling," or city walk, map available through the local tourist office. As the weather was very nice, we wandeled about Maastricht. There are several visible portions of the many walls that surrounded the city at various times. This gate, the Helport, is supposedly the oldest gate in the Netherlands, constructed in the early 1200's.

We passed along more of the first completed city wall, built in 1229.

We had originally planned to skip Maastricht but so many people said the city marina, 't Bassin, was not to be missed, we didn't. Google Earth again provides a bird's eye view.

The basin is entered from the Maas River on the right, through the lock and under the bridge. Since we are so low, we then turned right under the second bridge and tied up to the wall just past the bridge. That night was Holland's quarter final match against Russia in the Euro 2008 Football tournament and of course we had to attend. We went to one of the bars in the basin that advertised a big screen tv. This time things didn't turn out so well with Russia victorious in overtime. There were no honking cars parading through the streets of Maastricht that night. (luckily the Russians got their a**es kicked by Spain in the semis so we don't have to hear a lot of crowing from them!)

Friday, June 27, 2008

To Maastricht

We could have made it all the way to Maastricht in one day but of course we didn't; there is no rush. We spent the night on a free tieup next to the town of Rekem, advertised (by themselves and one of the waiters in town) as the most beautiful village in Flanders. (I cannot say the name of this region without thinking of Homer Simpson ... sorry.)
It really was very beautiful and, if the waiter is to be believed, you could own the nicest house in town for 1 Belgian franc.

Seems the local castle has fallen into disrepair and if you are willing to restore it, it can be yours for 1 Belgian franc. Don't take my word, or his, for it. I'm sure there's a Wikipedia entry.
It is a very beautiful town.

Someone else was enjoying the beautiful day!

Next day we continued down the Zuidwillamsvaart

and reentered Holland and the city of Maastricht.

No, This Is Not Odysseus

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Zuidwillemsvaart

Tuesday morning we were underway along the Zuidwillemsvaart, a canal that links southern Holland with eastern Belgium and then ends back in far southern Holland at the city of Maastricht. For the first time we dealt with more locks that opening bridges and we shared the canal with some big commercial barges. In these locks the smaller enter the lock first and get far over to the side and then the commercial boat enters the center of the lock. We followed this guy through four locks.

Takes some very careful driving.

We spent the night on a disused arm of the canal that has been turned into a temporary mooring spot for boats in transit and, the next day, entered some of our first big river locks.

Yes, we are going all the way up to the top!

We also passed more interesting Dutch architecture. There was a line of four of these apartment buildings along the canal. We called them toaster buildings.

Later that afternoon -

We sat through major thunderstorms that afternoon in the small Belgian town of Bocholt. Luckily just steps from the small harbor was a major beer store. Seemed the most logical thing to do in Belgium was to start sampling the beers. Careful! Can you tell which one has 11% alcohol?

Under the City

Monday turned out to be a pretty nice day and after taking Aaron and Betsy to the train station for their return trip to Amsterdam we took care of the insurance paperwork (I make that sound so easy ... it was closer to a nightmare but it's done) and then took in another of Den Bosch's tourist attractions, the boat ride under the city.
When the walled town was first built it was quite small and no one was allowed to build outside the walls; the enemy might use the houses for hiding places. There was a small river meandering through the city and it only seemed logical to build over it. The underground river was originally just sewers but, after the advent of sewage treatment, the passages were improved and the result was kind of a Disney'esque under-the-city boat ride. Unfortunately the narration was all in Dutch so we could only get small bits of what was talked about but it was an hour well spent.

One of the boats heads out.

Under the city.

This is the guest dock in town. When we arrived on Thursday it was full and we had to raft up alongside another boat. By Tuesday it was pretty quiet.

Bosche Bolls

My sister says I need to post more about the food.

One of the "delicacies" of Den Bosch is the "Bosche Bolls," basically a very large cream puff covered in chocolate. Cathy Jo did her best food stylist thing, I played photographer and Aaron demonstrated breakfast of champions.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

's Hertogenbosh, June 13

This city of about 135,000 is known as the birthplace of the famous painter Hieronymous Bosch, most famous to my generation for the painting on the cover of the first "Deep Purple" album cover, but also is home to Sint Janskathedraal, one of the finest churches in the Netherlands. It was started in 1336 as a Roman church but over 200 years of construction it gained a second tower and became one of the best examples of gothic architecture we've seen.

It is currently undergoing restoration, something that happens on a regular basis, so one section is covered in the most amazing scaffolding you've ever seen. It has to be specially constructed to take the tremendous weight of the stones being removed and replaced.

We wandered around the interior with the usual neck-craning posture.

After lunch we took the guided tour up into the tower, getting a good, up close look at the mechanism of the clock and the carillon and a bird-eye view of the town.

In keeping with our "Tours of the Organs of Europe" theme, we attended an organ recital at the church Saturday afternoon. The "Hendrik Niehoff" was originally built in 1622 and after several restorations through the years still sounds magnificent!

Our friends Aaron and Betsy, who have been with us since we left Kudlestaart, are going to be heading home on Monday so, since there's a train station with good connections to Amsterdam just down the street, we'll be staying at least until Monday, although insurance paperwork could keep us in town a little longer. It's a beautiful town with about a jillion restaurants so we should be able to keep ourselves happy. Also, the passanten is pretty new, and at €13 per night for us, a pretty good deal. Showers are nice and nearby, water and electricity are available. Almost like home!

Something is happening with my formatting here but We're just tied up along a bank waiting for a lock. I'll take care of it later.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hup Holland!!!

For those few of you up on the soccer world, you may know that the Dutch team, never really that good in the past, has shocked the world in the Europe 2008 championships that began last week. On Monday, they defeated Italy, last years world Cup winner, 3-0 and Friday beat France, the team Italy beat to win the World Cup, 4-1. We've managed to watch both matches with a few of our close friends, although communication is difficult, what with the beer and all. Check that ... maybe the communication is easier!

Holland Scores!

Cathy Jo's new best friend.

The Linge and on to Gorinchem

Leerdam to Gorcum

Along with a nice marina, Leerdam is an art glass center and right next to the marina is a center for glass blowing. They have a workshop all set up with seats and a narrator to explain the action. Lucky for us the narrator spoke excellent English and was willing to spend some time with us explaining what was going on. Some of the pieces made in the workshop were spectacular. Of course there was a shop next door so we popped for some hand blown wine glasses. Ever the practical ones, we are!
After lunch it was underway again, but just a short day. It was just a couple hours to our next stop, Gorinchem. After that it would be through a lock and across the mighty Waal!

Gorcum to Den Bosch

Since we had a "long" day the next day, we just had the afternoon to wander Gorinchem. Again, the mix of old and new; a medieval building next to a "Dutch Modern" glass and brick building. No new buildings along this stretch, though.

Turn around, Cathy Jo!

The city has made some major upgrades on their city docks. Again we were moored right next to the center of town. The docks were in great shape and the bathroom/shower/ wasserette building was brand new. In fact, the washer and drier were couple months old Mieles with touch screens and automatically provided and dispensed laundry soap. Since it was only about 5 euros a load, it was laundry time!

The Gorinchem passantenhaven

Crossing the Waal turned out to be not that big a deal either, although we did have to go about 1.5 km upstream to the mouth of the Maas and we were only making about 2 knots. This little offshoot of the Maas had very little current so we were able to make good time down to our next stop, 's Hertogenbosch, known to the locals as "Den Bosch," which we can begin to pronounce.

On the Linge

The Linge, like the Vecht that we traveled last year, is a beautiful, slow moving river that travels through pastoral countryside and small villages.

Aaron waits for birdspotting on the foredeck.

Just a little house on the Linge.

Unlike the Vecht, it doesn't appear to be on the hireboat circuit; the traffic was very light. After the night in Oosterwijk we moved a little way up the river to the larger town of Leerdam and tied up in a small marina. We needed water and groceries so we decided to use that as a base for a bike ride up the rest of the river. The navigable portion of the river stops at the town of Geldermalson so instead of going another 20 km up the river and then turning around to come back, we decided to do it by bike.
Up the next morning, off we went. We had done portions of this ride last year but we decided to go all the way to Buren by bike this year, a total of about 60 km round trip.
It was a beautiful day and all went well until the ride back turned out to be against the wind. And with sore butts at that! Still, the scenery was great.

This little cottage had a beautiful garden.

The roofs of these hay storage buildings crank up to accommodate more hay