Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Kortrijk, Wervik and the Return to France June 19-24

In our previous visit to Kortrijk (Odysseus blog 2008) work had just been completed on the north side of town with the skateboard park and the three bridge complex uniting the main part of Kortrijk with Buda Island and the other side of the river. Work then continued on the center section of the main canal through town and barge traffic was restricted to one way. We found a pleasant spot to stay on the arm of the river that cuts around Buda Island. We found the halte again this year. The temperature was supposed to get into the mid 90’s for the next few days and we needed to find some shade.

A nice shady spot during the hot weather. That’s us off to the left.

Work on the main canal has been completed but all that heavy equipment has now moved onto the arm of the river that creates the island and the jackhammers were starting very early in the morning; like before 6. Luckily we were just far enough away that it wasn’t completely annoying but it must be hell for the residents who live nearby.

The poster below the ancient gate tower shows what the waterfront will look like when the work is done.

But this is what it looks like now looking from the watchtower bridge back into town..

Besides the construction along the river front, massive amounts of work were going on in town. One technique, which we saw many times, was to preserve just the facade of a building, propping it up while an entirely new building is built attached to it.

Really, there is so much construction happening all over Belgium that we have decided this is a picture of the state bird, the Belgian crane.

This view was from our mooring in Ghent.

and it’s mating call is the banging of the jackhammer.

The heat was supposed to break on Thursday so in the morning we left the shade and headed off toward Wervik. We’d chosen that spot because it supposedly had a good place to tie up and was an easy bike ride to Ypres (Ieper in Flemish). We had visited the town by bicycle from the north on our last Belgian trip. This time we wanted to bike though the major part of the Ypres Salient, which is south of town and one of the most important battle sites of WW I.

We found a very nice wall to tie up at the Wervik Yacht Club and Friday morning, into the teeth of some pretty strong winds, biked the 20 K through the battlefield sites to Ypres. Along with the wind came something we haven’t experienced much in our Flanders bike rides, elevation. We had some hills to climb!

Unfortunately, when we arrived in Ypres we discovered the entire center and much of the outskirts taken over by the Flanders road rally that was taking place Saturday and Sunday. The entire main square was filled with tents covering the mechanics workshops and hospitality rooms for the major race car manufacturers. The less high dollar teams were scattered throughout town so we had a sausage and frites lunch and headed back to Wervick. Luckily heading back was with the wind at our backs, mostly following the route of the unfortunate Ieper-Komen Canal. Four times, beginning in the 1860’s, attempts was made to join the Ieper and Lys Rivers only to be defeated by the complicated geology and the one big hill in the way. By the early 1900’s many of the locks, lock houses and pumping stations were in place but then WW I intervened and, because of damage (the canal ran right through the middle of the Salient), the canal was never used. What’s left of the waterway now runs though the Provinciedomein Palingbeek, which contains some of the most iconic battle sites, among them The Bluff, Hill 60 and Caterpillar Crater. 

Back in Wervik, after a beer at the bar next to the brick windmill (molen) and the Tobacco Museum (this area was/is the center of Belgium’s tobacco farming) we returned to the boat for a rest.

Tomorrow we would be underway to reenter France!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Down the Leie and Deinze June 17-19

We set of down the River Leie once again on Saturday morning. It was going to be a beautiful day so we figured we’d better get and early start to avoid the major part of the crazy afternoon small boat traffic. First we had to wind through the outskirts of Ghent.

and then pass through the marina we stayed in on our first visit a month ago.

This time, like in 2008, the days trip would end in the town of Deinze where the river meets the Afleidingskanaal van de Leie, the large commercial canal that joins the lower, more commercial section of the river with the Ghent-Oostend canal. Small, with little current and very winding, the upper part of the river takes 26 k to cover the straight line distance of about 15 k. It's is also lined with some of the most expensive real estate in Belgium, with the architecture and grounds to match.

We found the free mooring in Deinze just before the Tollpoortbrug and got ourselves secured just after noon. The weather forecast had things heating up starting Sunday afternoon and we wanted to do some cycling before that.
Deinze’s church with the bridge in the foreground. We were tied up on the other side of the bridge. 
The church tower contains an amazing 23 bell carillon the plays a little tune before it strikes the hour and half-hour. 
Luckily it doesn’t start playing until 8 in the morning and shuts off after 8 at night. We were only a couple hundred yards away so we could hear it very clearly!

We headed back up the river toward Ghent on the bikes, enjoying the beautiful countryside and using one of the free bicycle ferries to get across the river at one point.

And get hot it did. Into the lower 30’s (the mid 90’s F). It stayed that way for about four days. In fact, the weather has been very pleasant in Belgium this year. A little too pleasant. There’s been no significant rain for several months and things are a little crispy. We found out a couple of days after our Ghent departure that the government has instituted several measures to conserve water, something we Southern Californians are familiar with: among them no washing cars, cutting back on lawn watering and, in some cases, preventing farmers from irrigating their crops. More importantly for us, there’s not enough water to operate the locks so navigation on the tourist-only canals that we traveled earlier has been completely shut down. One boat we’ve been corresponding with was prevented from making the transit from Oudenburg to Veurne, which we did just 2 weeks ago, and will have to return to Ghent before they can head south to France. The larger canals will only operate for the big commercial barges so we have to wait for one to show up before the lock will operate. Luckily there’s been just enough commercial traffic and our waiting has been kept to a minimum. 
And we remember sitting in Nevers last year in the pouring rain wondering if it would ever stop!

But for now it was on to Kortrijk where we knew there was a mooring with some shade!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ghent June 10-17

Ghent is a very lively city, helped along by the 70,000 college students that inhabit the place during school time, which this is. It’s also the very end of the term. We arrived on a beautiful Saturday afternoon just after the final exams and the place was, as you might expect, jumpin! It didn’t hurt that the mooring we had reserved was right in the middle of town and right around the corner from the place that rents the small motor boats. We enjoyed sitting on the back deck with something cold to drink watching the action.

Cathy Jo’s brother and sister in law would be paying us a visit starting Tuesday but just for a couple of days. Brandt had a work related conference in Edinborough, Scotland and so he and Susie caught a flight to Brussels, spent the night there and then took the train to meet us in Ghent. Their return to the US was Friday afternoon so they would take the train back to Brussels Friday morning. Since they wouldn’t arrive until Tuesday, we had plenty of time to get the boat shipshape and then return to some of the places we visited during our two trips to Ghent in 2008.


One of the most popular selfie spots in Ghent, the Sint-Michiels Bridge

The happy couple arrived about 4 pm on Tuesday and after a quick beer or three at a local cafe we retired to the boat for a barbecue dinner.
Wednesday was another train trip for the newlyweds. They wanted to see Brugges so off to the train station they went. We made the tour of the three sites associated with “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”, the world famous altar piece by the Van Eyck brothers, created in 1432 for a chapel at St-Baafskathedraal.  (more here and here) One of the earliest works with oil paints, it is also claimed to be the most stolen art ever. Pieces of the 20 panel masterpiece have at various time been in Paris, Brussels, Berlin and and Austrian salt mine. Two panels were stolen in the 1930’s and only one recovered. “The Just Judges” is currently a replica. After World War II the Monuments Men recovered the work and returned it to Ghent.
In 2012 it was decided to restore the work and the effort has proceeded, one panel at a time, for the last 6 years. It is supposed to be completed next year. In the meantime, the panels being restored are replaced by replicas in the church but, besides the actual retable in the cathedral, there is a fascinating description of the restoration process at the Caermersklooster, with detailed descriptions of all the techniques used, and a special room in the city’s Fine Arts Museum, the MSK, where a large glass wall allows visitors to watch the actual job being done.

The kids still wanted a boat ride! Thursday morning we set off out of town on the Leie River. After crossing the Ringvaart, the big commercial canal that surrounds the city, we entered the very small and twisty Leie River. We traveled for about an hour to the very quaint village of Saint Martens Latem where we tied up for lunch. Cathy Jo, Brandt and Susie headed into town to look for something good to eat while I stayed with the boat. The only available spot was on the tour boat mooring and if they showed up, the boat would have to move. Shortly after their departure, a small boat pulled up in front of us and out climbed a gentleman with a couple of barbecues. He was met by a couple of people on the beach. When it looked like they might need some help lighting the barbecue, I offered to help. It turned out the man in the boat was Sam D’Huyvetter, owner and chef of the Boulevard Bistro in Saint Martens and he was cooking lunch for a local journalist, Tine Bral and her photographer, Marc-Pieter Devos, for a restaurant review. We offered a cork screw as they didn’t have one handy and in return we got some delicious chicken wings in peanut sauce to have with our dinner that night.

Saint Martens Latem on the Leie River

All set up for the meal.

The chef gives his approval!

We were back at the dock around 2:30 and Brandt and Susie treated us to dinner at a nice Turkish restaurant that evening. The city has gone to great efforts to light up their monumental buildings, winning several awards in the process, but, unfortunately, since it doesn’t get dark until after 11 pm, even strolling back to the boat after dinner we weren’t able to see the full effect.

Awwww. Newlyweds.

Friday morning Brandt and Susie caught the tram to the train station. The direct train from St. Pieters Station to Brussels Airport left a little after 9 am and took a hour to reach it’s destination. They made it in plenty of time for their flight.
We spent Friday reprovisioning and taking one final stroll around town. Saturday morning we were off back down the Leie, this time to where it connects with the big commercial canal headed south in Deinze.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Veurne, Brugges and on to Ghent, June 5-10

We’d been watching the weather forecasts and it looked like Tuesday was going to be rainy and very windy so we planned to spent the day dockside in Veurne. We did find the remaining free mooring just before the Ieperbrug and were tied up about 1 pm, plenty of time to make it into town for the Bloomenmarkt. We pictured something more grand in the main market square but it was mostly just stalls selling plants, although there was a raptor show with hawks and falcons, and and accordion band performance that was surprisingly bland. 

After strolling though the stalls we stopped at one of the cafes on the square for a beer. First we saw the Champion Belleman Joris Goens, who we met when we stopped here in 2008. He remembered us and commented on the picture of him we had posted on the Odysseus blog. We also decided that there must be some city functionary whose responsibility it is to find the “unusual” attractions for the city events. In 2008 it was the Kamelot Super de Lukse. This time it was the Goose Parade.

‘Round the Market Square they marched.

Tuesday morning the forecast came true. We woke to howling wind and spitting rain. Luckily we had a secure mooring because the wind was gusting into the 40 mph range. We managed to get out for an hour or so in the afternoon to do a little shopping but mostly it was a good day to huddle inside and get some reading done.
Wednesday morning the rain had stopped but it was overcast and the wind was still up; maybe not quite as strong as Tuesday but still pretty fierce. We set off through the bridges on the Nieuwpoort-Dunkirk Canal, many of which have good waiting places nearby. We were making good progress until the Veurnesluice (the lock in Nieuwpoort) when there was a problem. It’s a tidal lock so there are two sets of doors on each end so the lock can either go up or down depending on the state of the tide. There’s also an opening bridge on one end. The whole thing needs to work in sequence for safety’s sake. They had a little bit of trouble getting the bridge open but finally got it up and we entered the lock with another boat. Unfortunately, the bridge wouldn’t lower all the way so the waiting began. They tried “bouncing” the bridge (all of this happens from a central control station that handles the three sea locks in the Nieuwpoort complex) but had no luck. Finally, the lockkeeper came down and told us the technical people had been called and we’d just have to wait. Luckily we were in the lock and out of the wind. About 1 pm things got straightened out and we were on our way.
About 3:30 we grabbed a pontoon mooring in the village of Snaaskerke and held on, watching the whitecaps roll down the canal.

Thursday the sun was out and the wind had dropped a little further. The opening bridges were all waiting for us as we approached and it looked like we might get into Brugges in time for lunch until the Dammeportsluis when, again, there was a problem. This time they couldn’t get a door open so we had to tie up and wait. There was a commercial barge waiting too so we knew there wouldn’t be an unnecessary delay. A little over an hour later they got the door opened so we entered the lock. A little after 2 we were snug again in Brugges’ Coupure mooring. We heard later that afternoon that they had more trouble with the lock and as we were bicycling past after a visit to the grocery they had divers in the water trying to fix the problem. Friday morning commercial barges were speeding past the Coupure entrance so all was well.
We spent Friday in Brugges, just because we could. Cathy Jo’s brother and sister-in-law wife were due in Ghent on Tuesday for a visit and that left us plenty of time to enjoy one last day in this beautiful city.
We left the Coupure at 9 on Saturday morning with 8 other boats. Unfortunately, we were the only boat headed east so we had to wait the obligatory 1 hour before they would open the first bridge as there was no other traffic. 10 o’clock we were through the first of the 4 bridges out of Brugges, the Ghentpoortbrug and by 4 pm we were tied up in the spot we had reserved in the Lindenlei moorings in the center of Ghent. We made a deal with the havenmeester for a weeks stay and relaxed with a glass of our favorite beverage.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Bergues, France, June 3 and 4

Three opening bridges, one lock and about 30 k after leaving Veurne, Begium we were tied up under the city walls of Bergues, France. The walls, begun in the 9th century and greatly improved until the ubiquitous Vauban finished them in the 19th century, are still almost completely intact, complete with guard towers and gates. The Google Earth picture gives you a great overview of the town.

You can see a couple of boats in the halte in the upper left.

We pulled in Friday and, as usual made out way to the tourist office. Informed there would be a big brocante sale on Sunday, we made plans to stay. It would all sork out just fine because we could then travel back to Veurne on Monday to arrive in time for the flower market there.

The halte is very picturesque. There is a pontoon with room for about three boats but it was full when we arrived. Luckily, there are a couple of smaller stone quays, one of which fit us perfectly.

Bergues has a pretty big resident population of geese. During the daytime they hang out just outside the city walls at one end of the halte, occasionally deciding to cross the road to get at the grass on the 
other side and causing monumental traffic jams.

In the evening, they parade down the canal to wherever it is they go at night; around the corner and out of sight.

We spent Friday and Saturday just wandering around the town, taking the Ramparts Walk and the Guided City Walk.

And of course, climbing the belfort for a view of the city from above.

Sunday was the big sale. Usually the brocante sales are semi-professional antiques dealers with all manner of interesting things spread out on tables along the streets. This turned out to be more of a vide grenier, with everybody in town emptying out their closets and storage spaces trying to sell it all off. We spent a couple of hours wandering about but didn’t find anything to buy. We did find a good frites stand, though. Their version of the American (baguette with a sausage and frites stuffed inside) didn’t have the frites inside the baguette, just on the side as it should be. We’ve never been able to figure out why piling the fries inside the baguette is considered American.

We wanted to be back in Veurne early enough to take in the flower market so we shoved off a little before 9 in the morning. Luckily the lock and two lifting bridges on the French side were a model of efficiency (!) and we were tied up on a free mooring we found in Veurne, just before the Ieperbrug about 1 pm, plenty of time to walk into town and enjoy the market.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Trip to the Beach, June 1

Our plan was to spend a couple of days in Veurne, then head down through Dunkirk to the town of Bergues in France. We’d heard it was a beautifully preserved medieval town and just a days travel away. After the visit there, we’d head back to Veurne on Monday for the Bloomenmarkt, a big garden show in the main plaza, then head back to Brugges for a couple of days. Then it would be on to Ghent where we’d receive our first guests of the year, Cathy Jo’s brother Brandt and his new wife, Susie.

Thursday was a beautiful day for a bike ride so we set off from Veurne for the beachside town of Nieuwpoort. On the way, we passed Plopsaland, a giant amusement park with rollercoasters and the usual accouterments. In the high summer months it must be packed but for now not many people were around despite the perfect weather. We thought maybe we were back in southern California; sunny, warm, dry and just a little wind from the northwest. Nothing like we imagined a North Sea beach should be.
This is really not your Southern California beach, though. Lined with high rise apartment buildings and the sand divided up into privately controlled bathing areas, our Coastal Commission would have a heart attack.

Pretty quiet on a Thursday morning in early June.

After a quick lunch and a beer, we cycled the 10.5 kilometers back to the boat down the Nieuwpoort-Dunkirk Canal. We would travel it our way back up the coast after the quick run down to France. Friday morning off we went.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Canal and River, The Ijzer Loop, May 27-31

We managed the 3 bridges and 1 lock out of Brugges without too much complication. Three of the boats in our convoy left to head north toward Zeebrugge and that left us and two other boats, Dutch cruiser types, headed for the coast at Oostende. As usual, we were the slowest of the group but the last two bridges on the canal waited for us to catch up and we entered the Plassendale-Nieuwpoort canal a little after noon. Constructed in the mid 17th century, the canal, along with the connected Nieuwpoort-Dunkirk canal, provided an inland waterway connecting the two sea ports of Oostende and Dunkirk (Plassendale is just east of Oostende). Since neither canal has been upgraded to current commercial standards, only pleasure boats use it now. And use it they do. Last time we were here we even made a note in the log asking where all the boats were. This time there’s no question. Not too many headed in our direction but bridge openings had produced long lines of boats (15-20) headed in the other direction. There’s a busy hireboat base in Nieuwpoort that contributes to the traffic.

The EU has made a major commitment to encouraging water recreation in the area, supplying funds for several small free haltes along the waterway, much used by the hireboat fleet. Just 15 minutes after entering the canal we were tied up at the pontoon in Oudenburg. Room for several boats with free water and electricity and the town (with a supermarket!) just a 5 minute bike ride away.
We did a small shopping and then settled in the the night, chatting with an English family just setting off on their week-long charter vacation and enjoying a spectacular sunset.

After our usual 10 am departure (that’s when the bridges start operating on Sundays) we headed down the canal to the junction with the Ijzer River in Neiuwpoort. As we did in 2008, we planned to make the loop up the Ijzer then north on the Lo canal to Veurne, although this time we’d skip the bike ride to Ypres and concentrate on the mooring at Fintele with a bike trip to the St. Sixtus Abbey brewery (best beer in the world!) and dinner at Heberg de Hooipiete, which was closed the day we were here before. 

Sunday night saw us tied to the bank next to De Dodengang, the Trench of Death, one of the many memorials to the tragedy that was World War I, many of the bloodiest battles being fought in this area.
We just pulled over to a curb along the canal and looped our mooring lines around the posts holding the guardrail along the small road beside the canal. After dinner, a gentleman was looking over the guard rail telling us we had a “mooi boten,” a nice looking boat. When we told him we were better at English than Flemish (!), the conversation began. He ended up inviting us and Bruce and Jeanine, a Canadian couple we’ve been tag teaming with since Brugges and who had pulled in a little after us, up to his house just across the road to sample some local beers. He said we were “neighbors for one night.” Just being neighborly!
Tom and Vera (I’m sure I’m mangling their names but oh, well…) had restored an old farmhouse, raising the roof and adding a second story so the huge picture window in the back looked out over the fields, resulting in a view that changes with the seasons. Vera said they wanted to sleep downstairs but live upstairs. And we tasted more great Belgian beers.

The walkway to the front door crosses a koi pond “moat”.
You can see our stern line in the grass.

Monday morning we set off up the river through Diksmiude to our ultimate destination, Fintele. The marina in Diksmuide was still packed from the holiday weekend with several big ocean-type yachts. There was barely room for us to squeeze by to continue on. It was just a couple of hours, though, to Fintele and there was plenty of room on the pontoon, just one other boat, a 1913 restored tug boat that we’d seen in Gerardsbergen, where it lives.

Since the restaurant was open Monday night and closed Tuesday and Wednesday, we took advantage of the opportunity to try their specialty, river eel. We weren’t sure what to expect, thinking of eel as something slimy and ropy, but this turned out to be delicious. Lots of bones, but the meat is very firm and white and it came with a plate full of frites. We even had seconds!

This is a picture of the restaurant from 2008. It looks just the same.

Thursday is was pretty windy but beer was calling. We set out for Westvleteren to score more of the famous St. Sixtus Abbey beer. This time we had the very fine Belgian cycling map instead of the road atlas for navigation. That made the trip much less stressful. We bought some beer (duh!), this time all that was available was the 12 per cent, which is delicious, not sweet like some of the other really strong beers, and some abbey cheese. We had lunch at the cafe and headed back to the boat.

Wednesday morning we were off through the Fintele sluis and the 5 opening bridges on the Lo Canal. Just a little after 1:30 we were tied up in Veurne.