Saturday, 25 August 2012

A Great Big Catch-Up!

After ages without Wi-Fi today should have been a Wi-Fi-ful day. Although I’m writing about Maastricht (Netherlands) and various places in Belgium, we are actually in France and today we are just outside Reims (great Cathedral, entirely average Tourist Information Office), in a marina which boasts free Wi-Fi for boaters. Except that it’s just switched itself off.

No problem – whilst in Reims, we visited the Orange shop and a nice young man sold me a card for my dongle. And that won’t work either. So I’m writing this, not knowing if/when I’ll ever be able to actually publish it. Aggghhh!

Whilst I’m typing away, Stephen is servicing the aft head (rear loo, for non-boaty types). Yes, Life Aboard Pershilla truly is a life of non-stop glamour.

Back to Maastricht. What a lovely place! I’d been there before, about 10 years ago, on a wet Sunday and it was shut. Not this time; the sun shone, the cafes and shops were open. Wonderful. Except the Swiss couple we had to moor up against. Mrs Swiss-Lady got hugely upset because our boat was blocking her view of the city. Given that we were all on a free mooring which works on a first-come-first-served basis, we weren’t hugely sympathetic, but to try and be helpful we offered to swap places with them, so she could have her view, despite the fact that Emma was already asleep and the swapping places scheme would me starting the engines, which might wake her.

Mr Swiss-Man was all in favour of this and we agreed to move once we’d finished eating. Thirty seconds later, another tap on the window and Mrs Swiss-Lady was back “My husband has drunk too much to move our boat and you shouldn’t have moored here (we were perfectly within our rights to moor there and, in fact, had been directed to do so). Also, your boat has a funny smell, close all the windows”. That would be the delicious steak and chips rapidly cooling on my plate.

Yes, but I can switch the extractor fan on and in 5 minutes, the smell will be gone. But you, Mrs Swiss-Lady, will still be rude and unpleasant in 5 minutes.

I was tempted to start boiling cabbage and Brussel sprouts with all the windows open at that point, but thought better of it (also, I had no cabbage on aboard).

Next morning, we headed into town to the market. As you’ll have seen from previous posts, I love markets and Maastricht’s market does not disappoint. Huge and marvellous. Selling everything from fish (we had some wonderful tuna steaks, soft as butter) to clothes, to fabric, to bike paraphernalia, to plants and ironmongery.
I couldn't resist a picture of this wonderfully colourful stall in the market
After Maastricht it was back into Belgium, to Liege. We moored alongside some friends we’d made in Venlo, Sue and Mushy, and Sue very kindly offered to babysit for Emma, so we could go out. What a treat! So, all dressed up in our (only set of) smart clothes we set off into town and had a great meal at an outdoor restaurant in the Cathedral square.

Next morning – another market. Liege’s Sunday market is 2km long and alongside all the usual stuff it also had lots of livestock stalls – chickens, quails, rabbits etc. At first we thought “Sunday Lunch” but on closer inspection these were actually fancy varieties, so either to show or as pets, I think.
Not lunch, apparently.
The scenery radically changed in this area and especially as we moved on to Namur. We were now in the Ardennes and the size of the hills and the scale of the rock cliffs were a real change from The Netherlands. It is so beautiful; I really can’t imagine why the area isn’t better known as a holiday destination.

Namur was a big hit with Emma. We went up to the Citadel which involved a boat (ours) a water-taxi, a bus and a little road-train. Plus, when we got up there, there was a children’s play area. She wasn’t so fussed about the tour of the underground passages (in three languages with a rather grumpy tour guide) but has been asking about water-taxis ever since.
View of The Citadel from our boat
View of our boat from The Citadel
We did have one funny moment on the taxi when a couple got on with their two grandchildren and the grandparents said “Two adults, two children – eight and five”. Now, under six’s travel free, but the small boy immediately shouted out “No! I’m six! I’m six”. His poor grandmother looked terminally embarrassed.

Next stop – Dinant. What we hadn’t realised until the last minute was that the day we arrived was a public holiday in France – Assumption Day. This, for reasons unknown to us, is celebrated with a Bathtub Race. Which we sailed right into! The bridges and river banks where packed with people watching the races, so obviously all the mooring points were already full. However on the outskirts of the town, beside the very impressive Bayard Rocher, was a great mooring place which was just a stone’s throw from a mini-supermarket and a fabulous butcher, who took a shine to Emma and added some slices of sausage to my order for her lunch – the advantages to being blonde, blue-eyed and cute, I guess.
Dinant's BathTub Race
Sadly for Emma, no water-taxis at our next mooring point – right outside the Chateau Freyr. It was, without doubt, the most beautiful mooring place we have stayed at, and made even better by the fact we had it all to ourselves and it was free!

We visited the Chateau as soon as it opened the next morning and had the house to ourselves for a while. If you are in the area, it is well worth a visit as the house is very interesting and each room has descriptions in English as well as Dutch, German and French. The gardens were less interesting to us, but still worth walking around.
Chateau Freyr
Our beautiful mooring - this photo doesn't really do it justice
On again, and the next part of the journey involved going through the infamous Ham Tunnel. It’s just over half a kilometre long and pretty low. We weren’t certain we would fit, but thought we should. However, the roof is very rough rock, so the height does vary in places. Stephen did a great job of protecting all the high protruding bits of the boat with fenders and rubber pipe and we’d been told that the lock-keeper just before the tunnel would be able to tell if you would fit or not.

Arriving at the lock he waived us through without comment, so we went for it and, thank goodness, it was fine – it would have been a long slow trip re-tracing our steps back to Namur to take an alternative route.
Ham Tunnel
So, we are now back into France proper and heading toward Paris, where we hope to be at the end of the month. We are passing through some wonderful countryside and I saw my first live, wild red squirrel a couple of days ago (my great-grandmother had a stuffed one, hence my adding “live”, as I don’t think that really counts) and we’ve also seen kingfishers, sand martins and marsh harriers – a bit different from the wildlife I see in the garden in Godalming!


  1. Consider yourselves lucky! The last time I rafted up to the Swiss they brought out the accordion and began yodeling at midnight.

  2. Did Stephen sort out the other blockage?