contentedsouls

Join us on our travels around Europe aboard our Dutch Tjalk Francoise

  • Jill Budd

    After 6 years aboard our Narrowboat Matilda Rose in the UK, we took the plunge and shipped her across to Europe. After 2 years in Europe we knew we didn't want to return to the UK so took the plunge and purchased a 1902 20 mtr Dutch Tjalk called Francoise and are now continuing our travels of the waterways of Europe in a buxom wench

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Bree into Holland, mooring at Weert

Posted by contentedsouls on 26/06/2017

There you go – we’ve caught up a bit now and you have joined me in the Netherlands.

Leaving Bree we had two more locks to clear in Flanders before crossing the border into Holland. At the first of the two, the lockie came and took our details and then disappeared into his control box. After some time he came back again and asked for our licence – G pointed to the wheelhouse window where it was displayed (as per our instructions). Mr Grumpy lockie said it should be displayed on our stern and we weren’t on the system; fed up I replied that they had taken our money. He stomped off and down we went. I think the following lock, just down river, was controlled by him remotely. The boat wasn’t even through the gates when they started to close and I jumped off to get a rope on as quickly as possible but he was emptying the lock so fast that I only just managed to get back on the boat – no time to get a rope on let alone use the rubbish skip there as I had hoped. Not a pleasant end to our short visit, but no harm done other than to my mood.

The sidestream coming out of the lock was heavy – that’ll make for an interesting lock entry going up

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Very undramatically, G changed the flag, and we crossed into Holland – the only indication being a barely glimpsed road sign

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Our first two observations were that there was bankside fuel available and that the fuel price had dropped again to 1.14 euros. No idea what the signs say and this is a considerable problem. Guillotine lock didn’t chop Francoise in half so that all went well.

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Moored on a concrete car park opposite a car sales yard (with car boot sale going on) which turned into a lorry park at night; the drivers were as good as gold and we never even heard them leave in the wee small hours.

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Now you may think this is not your idea of a first night’s mooring in Holland (not a windmill in sight) but it had many pluses. The biggest of which was this dirty great Nature Park and we we were joined the next day by Janita so Lisa, Bilbo, Muttley and I had a ball. Bilbo is gorgeous but very strong and he walks her several times a day – here they could play happily off the lead together with any canine additions we collected along the way. Even the deer were up for playtime had there not been a fence in the way.

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In fact it was here that Lisa trained Bilbo to be a speedboat so that she could water ski behind him – here she is perfecting a beached landing.

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Rekem to Bree

Posted by contentedsouls on 25/06/2017

We had decided that we would probably stop at the first nice mooring we saw and we did see several – the peace and quiet was astounding after recent days – but all of the landing stages consisted of that metal gridwork which the animals hate and we only have so many mats to cover it with. We did stop for an hour or so at one of them when G noticed a huge retail outlet called Maasmechelen Village. Very designer village and very ‘pruned’. I was rubbish and didn’t see anything I fancied despite there being a Desigual shop. The place was pretty much deserted.

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Continuing on to Bree we had to moor on the metal grids as the mooring on a proper low concrete bank was marked as being for commercials only. We were, however, thrilled to discover Mr & Mrs Coot with baby Coot in their nest alongside and also Mr & Mrs Grebe busily hatching; they were right next to us and only 5 feet from each other.

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We cycled into Bree on a wet and miserable day and I was staggered that cars parted like the Red Sea if we even looked like we might want to cross. Bree sported a brilliant Lidl and another supermarket but it was quite a way out on foot, so we lunched and then shopped using the trolley on the back of G’s bike. Not a clue what was on the menu so I just picked something under the picture of a fish! It was very nice, but criminal that there was no bread to mop up the sauce with – I wonder if they’d be offended if I took my own bread next time? The local harbourmaster turned up and said we could move onto the quay (although we discovered later that Muttley had already hurt his paw on the grid).

I don’t seem to have found anything much to take photos of although we were there a couple of extra days waiting for Jantina arrive so that we could share Lisa’s birthday with her on Saturday. She nobly offered to cook and we took around a cake – I was so busy watching that I didn’t lose the cake (the candles made the lid precarious) that I didn’t see the step off of their gunwale and crashed dramatically into their boat, taking their metal chair with me. Fortunately I landed on my right hand side; not the left which I recently damaged and I saved the cake! Talk about a dramatic entry. Those of you of a nervous disposition look away now!!!!!!!!!! Too late Ethel!

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Yep. That lady is walking into town with a parrot on her shoulder.

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Wallonie into Flanders

Posted by contentedsouls on 23/06/2017

We had planned on staying on the Meuse into Holland but, the previous night, we changed our plans (again) and hung a left onto the Albert canal which took us into Flanders and cost us an hour in paperwork and 80 euros for a waterways licence. Immediately, everybody spoke a foreign language and I had no idea what anyone was saying; I couldn’t read any menus or signposts. The self same bottle of dry white cooking wine which cost me 1.18 euros in France now cost 3.79 and asparagus rose in price from 5 euros a kilo to 8. Encouragingly I dropped a dress size but, strangely, my feet dropped a shoe size. Lunch no longer came with bread and the standard 3 courses for around 14 euros, rose to one course for 18 euros. No boulangeries anymore and no-one says, ‘bonjour madame’ (except me; who automatically continues in French for lack of anything else to speak). A shock to the system – you bet!!!!!

The Albert Canal was guarded by Albert and very, very choppy – I went and had a lay down! Jantina ploughed through the swell behind us before we entered the lock and life calmed down. Quite an impressive cill on that lock and, no, we’re not on fire!

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We moored at Rekem overnight (on adequate moorings) where I was delighted to find good walking for Muttley. Muttley doesn’t like ‘choppy’ and after a choppy day he needs to get off the boat for a good while, eat lots of grass and be sick before he will settle down again – perhaps I should feed him ginger biscuits. A small example of the words I was confronted with on signs

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We set off towards Bree the next morning, leaving Jantina taking a day off.

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I’m back–I think himself has sorted the internet problems

Posted by contentedsouls on 23/06/2017

A lot of catching up to do. We are now happily ensconced in Holland and actually very glad because many friends are stuck in Belgium and Northern France due to low water levels and, subsequent, restricted lock movements; a problem for boaters in Ireland too apparently. Being below sea level we are not having a problem; just a matter of keeping the snorkel and periscopes clear and clean. I’ll publish quite a lot of blogs in a row now now to catch up

Liege was to be our last stop before crossing into ‘foreign’ Belgium (i.e. Flanders), although we didn’t know it at the time.

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Big, big, River Meuse means big, big, ships and big, big locks which means quite a lot of concentration and, I find, quite tiring. Very grateful for the communication that the hands free, Bluetooth, headsets provide – certainly reduces my stress levels.

Arriving at Liege, we moored in front of Jantina to get away from the fountain that frequently showered you and your boat (whether you wanted it to or not) when the wind was in a certain direction. The quay led straight into acres of parkland with it’s own stately home providing Muttley with a vast private paddling pool – probably wasn’t allowed, but there were no signs telling you to keep out and  nobody seemed to care.

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I was feeling ridiculously tired and was more than happy playing with Muttley on our island parkland and, probably, for the first time ever since I became a continuous cruiser, I couldn’t summon the energy to drag my way into the city of Liege to explore. Maybe another time. So this is all I saw. Amazing watching the crane arm come out and swing around a cradle to allow window cleaners access – a bit like the exterminator arm on a giant Dalek.

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That evening we had a discussion with Lisa and Geoff regarding continuing down the Meuse and the scarcity of moorings and a change of plan was hatched. We decided to turn off The Meuse and cruise through Flanders.

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YESTERDAY, a real time blog and a taste of Holland

Posted by contentedsouls on 06/06/2017

5th June. Race track out of Arkel to Vianen

18 kms, 0 locks, 6 lift bridges, 3 hours

I thought you might be wondering about how things are going in Holland – so here’s an account of yesterday’s cruise.

Arkel itself may have been dull, but our departure certainly wasn’t! With no boats behind or in front of us G hovered the boat in the stop lock whilst I clambered up the steep steps to reach the rubbish skip – the first we’d seen in Holland – and jump back on (the bin is up here and Francoise was down there).

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By the time we reached the first lift bridge we had been caught up by a large cruiser and we hovered together outside the pretty canalside gardens while we waited for the bridge to lift after a request on the radio for passage.

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The next obstacle was a rail bridge and we, unusually, weren’t answered on the radio. The cruiser behind came passed us and said something I couldn’t catch followed by “……. in 20 minutes” before tying up in front of us. Later we found out this bridge was controlled by the rail company and they had to be called on an intercom on the waiting mooring, marked by a tiny sign; how we were meant to know this I don’t know. I took this on zoom and then enlarged it! If they hadn’t been there I don’t know how we would have found out, because it was so close to the bridge we would have been unlikely to pull up alongside.

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By the time this train crossed over (only about 10 minutes) our two boats had become 15; by the time the second train crossed and the bridge lifted I counted up to 21 before losing count. All cruisers, bar one, and they were milling about all over the place like horses at the starting line.

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As soon as the bridge was swinging they straightened up and were off as the green light came on – they started over taking us within a minute (G likened it to the start of a Grand Prix). They were right across the Kanaal. In the 2nd pic these 2 roared up to us whilst we were already being overtaken and, in the 3rd pic, the boat on the far side was overtaking the boat that was overtaking us, whilst the nearside boat undercut him to overtake all of us up through the middle. Crazy.

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The inevitable then happened …. a commercial came round the corner towards us. They scuttled back like ants to the right hand side, cutting each other up in the process. This gave the back runners a gap and an opportunity to make up some lost ground.

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Of course, all this jostling and posturing didn’t get them very far as they all piled up in a heap at the next lift bridge on a red light. We continued sedately behind them as if we were following the safety car (to use the Grand Prix analogy again); no such thing as forming an orderly queue. We were first to the train bridge; at the lift bridge 1.5 kms on we were 16th – within minutes of leaving that one, another 10 overtook us. At this point G had a chronic attack of cramp which gave me a chance to play dodgems – terrific fun. So now we’re last (because any newcomers from behind would be detained waiting for the next opening of the train bridge) and all we need to do is trundle along at our old girl’s sensible speed in time to sail straight under the bridges without any delays or mucking about. The knack, of course, is not to let them get so far ahead of you that they close the bridge again. I have no idea, yet, if this is normal behaviour or if it’s just a bank holiday thing, but it was the most pure fun and excitement I’ve had in ages.

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Once they’d all gone by, we had a chance to enjoy the scenery and, in particular, a towpath tractor parade – there must have been at least 30, plus the (by now) obligatory windmill and thatched cottage (sometimes 2 out of 3 in the same pic).

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The icing on the cake in all this madness was the beautiful little fully rigged Tjalk waiting to come the other way through the bridge as the race pack charged out passing him at high speed on both sides and very close. He tried to flag them down but they took no notice and we exchanged polite faces of agreed despair as we slowly passed him whilst admiring each other’s boats. Look at this beauty.

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Seilles lock and Huy

Posted by contentedsouls on 04/06/2017

Travelling on to moor at Seilles lock (the previous blog pics were taken at and around the lock) then Huy, we encountered a number of different locks and weirs and had been caught up with by Lisa and Geoff on tjalk Jantina; we travelled together to Huy, but they didn’t fancy the moorings so carried on and we managed to moor with a means of getting the dogs off onto the quay and a TV signal on our 3rd attempt  (finals of a TV series we were following was on that night, so we wanted a sat signal). I liked Huy a lot although was disappointed that the aerial cable car to the old fortifications has been closed down. My understanding is that it was closed in 2015 after a fatality but then re-opened. It’s not open now, so maybe they killed someone else and closed it again – who knows, perhaps one of my esteemed followers could find out and let me know; although I guess it will be awhile before you get to read this!

Jantina’s crew also consists of a massive (and I mean massive) gorgeous Welsh Foxhound – or is it a Foxterrier – called Bilbao and their sloppy three legged cat called Matilda so, they too, have specific mooring requirements. Belgium is living up to my memories of ‘difficult’ moorings for low level boats – particularly those with four legged crews but, other than that, we were still (much to my relief) well within our comfort zones. If you are only a baby size boat you are expected to move to the front of the locks so that they can raise a lock gate up from below water behind you and, rightly, save reservoirs full of water. I don’t know how you are meant to know this though – you just sort of do

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Round and about town I did a bit of food shopping, a bit of dog walking and even managed to drag G away from his maps and get him out for a beer to see the old town square.

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Namur to Seilles lock

Posted by contentedsouls on 03/06/2017

Lots of engineering pictures and commercials. The idea of blogging off line and then posting when I have Wifi is not working out overly well; particularly when I fall behind!!!! My elderly brain can’t hang onto these weird names and this batch of photos went missing and I can’t remember which photos I’ve used, which events I’ve written up and which I’ve posted.

Photo 1 depicts a two car family. No 2 is our friend’s tjalk. No 3 shows where we are and where we’re heading for.

This is a highly engineered lock and weir management system. Another of those locks where they can shorten it to save water by sliding a gate across half way along if they only have small fry in as per photo 12. No. 17 shows where it pops in and out of. I’m hoping one of you lot can tell me what that last photo is about because I don’t have a clue and I am intrigued!

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Dinant and Namur

Posted by contentedsouls on 30/05/2017

It was three years since we had been this way and I was really looking forward to coming back. We found free mooring and free wi-fi outside the local Casino at Dinant, so that was all good, but what a mess they have made along the waterfront for the entire length of the town – they appear to be removing nearly all the pleasure boat moorings.

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We didn’t do any climbing, as we had done it before and my legs were still getting over the shock of doing Montherme twice. You can probably guess, from the amount there are about, that this was where the guy who invented the saxophone was born. No different from France really – still the same attention to detail about precision parking of cars, lorries, coaches, etc.

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French is still spoken and the only differences really are that wine and food are a lot dearer, there is a lot less dog poo on the pavements and everything is a lot tidier and more affluent.

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Having remembered where he left the car, G headed off to the train to go and collect it. Everytime he does this task I ask him if he has money (for train ticket), phone (for sat nav), glasses (to read aforementioned sat nav) and car keys (well…). I know that it would annoy the hell out of me if the roles were reversed so this time I said nothing, trying to be a more agreeable wife. Outcome; he left to collect the car without taking the car keys.

The boat was rocking and rolling from river swell until way past midnight as the commercials were still roaring passed at 11pm – goodness knows what time the locks shut. Perhaps they don’t. Without Wi-Fi, other than a tiny limited amount on our phone account that we need to reserve for e-mails and money transfers, we can’t Google the stuff we don’t know and life becomes even more of a mystery and rather fun – clichés are clichés because they’re true and, “ignorance is bliss”. The rocking started again in the wee small hours and we decided to move on having had very little sleep. It’s amazing how quickly you learn to walk around the boat with flexed knees; to turn them into shock absorbers.

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Anseremme and my bad decision

Posted by contentedsouls on 25/05/2017

It was clear that we wouldn’t reach Dinant until late in the afternoon and so, rather than pay for an expensive mooring that we wouldn’t get any use out of that day, I suggested that we moor short at Anseremme and then move into Dinant first thing in the morning so that we could get our money’s worth. At 8 pm there was a knock on the boat with someone calling for 24 euros of overnight mooring fees – the locks were closed by this time of day so we had no choice in the matter – it didn’t even include leccy or water (ironically, when we arrived at Dinant the next day, we not only found free mooring but also free Wi-Fi – I’m still not sure if that made it better or worse!). Wisely (for once) G managed not to make any comment.

On my usual walkabouts I found loads of men pulling up their trousers in the car park – this made me even more cross because, not only had I been fleeced over the mooring, I had also arrived too late for the orgy. The sight of two beautiful police horses being polished up for their role in the funeral of a local dignitary cheered me up a little.

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The whole area turned out to be a massive cycling, canoeing, climbing centre which explained why men were putting clothes on having pulled off wet suits (my original thoughts on the subject were much more fun).

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Leaving Anseremme in the morning, we were somewhat amazed to be joined in the first lock by another tjalk – not only that, it was owned by another Facebook friend of mine. Apart from the commercials which routinely trudge up and down on relatively short haul jobs, we have only seen one other boat heading North and that was a little sailboat – the phrase, ‘rats leaving the sinking Holland’ is one that has come to  mind quite a lot recently. The hooligans roared passed us as we pulled into Dinant, so it was to be a day or three before we were to meet up in person.

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Into Belgium and moored at Hastiere

Posted by contentedsouls on 24/05/2017

I was deeply disappointed to miss out on Givet again. We can’t be the only boaters who are discouraged from stopping there and boosting the town’s coffers but, with elderly crew, it was not for us. As France ends and Belgium begins there is no train between Givet in France and Dinant in Belgium – I find it extraordinary that there is no ‘through country’ train link – so it’ll be a bus to recover the car. There is a railway line but it’s freight only.

Paperwork and new flag at the ready, we left France through the last lock and headed through the first lock into Belgium. Despite it being listed as a mandatory check-in point and douane, no one paid us the slightest bit of attention.

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This might seem a bit strange for a Brit abroad; but I could feel quite a big lump in my throat. I entered France just over three years ago and have never left. I love France with all it’s foibles and I understand, basically, how it works – I am heading now for new and unknown territories, languages, customs and waterway operations and feeling very unprepared.

Southern Belgium, or Wallonie isn’t a great deal different as they still speak French and eat their main meal at 12 with lots of bread. The border crossing, therefore, was a bit of a non event but these holiday chalets are able to play ‘hop the border’, as some are in France and some in Belgium. Yet again our intended mooring at Hastiere had enormously tall quays.

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All was not lost as we found this little pontoon at the opposite end of the town, with the added benefit of a small friterie less than 20 metres away and quite a nice view from our windows across the river. The town was pleasant enough (once you had diced with death to get across it’s busy by-pass), but I’m not sure what this dirty great hole in the middle of the town was about – the photo gives no idea of scale but it must be 40 feet across and sat there a bit randomly.

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Following a change to our route, following advice from my friend Veronica, we now have 640 kms to go.

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