2016 Barging Belgium

Highs and Lows in Dinant: 7/8

Up the Meuse

Heading south, upstream, on the Meuse.

As we did not have far to travel to get to Dinant, we had time for a stroll through the Namur Sunday market that was set up across the river from our mooring. It is always interesting to see what bric-a-brac is being offered for sale – everything from secondhand clothing and shoes, to kitchen tools, books and music. Interesting, but nothing tempting enough to buy on this occasion.

And so we set off, on what we had been assured was a splendid stretch of river. And we were not disappointed.

The Meuse winds through gorges, past cliffs dotted with houses.

On either side of the Meuse, green hills climb up, punctuated by delightful houses, with striking and varied architecture – many with high turrets and glorious gardens.

Spectacular houses along the Meuse.

And on past ruined fortresses perched above the river in commanding positions.

The ruins of the medieval castle of Poilvache

Down on the river itself, we were weaving our way through Sunday traffic – canoes and ski boats dotting the water along the way – but no commercial traffic.

Our first stop was to be Dinant, a little town built into the high cliffs that appear frequently along the Meuse. We knew that there would be limited mooring, as there was some work being done right in the centre of the town that had removed a good portion of the moorings. So we had a plan, that if we could not find a suitable place in town, we would turn back to the lock that led us into Dinant and cycle or walk in from there. The scene that met us as we arrived, early in the afternoon, with the sun shining on the bridge in front of the famed Collegiate Church with its onion dome and the Citadel above, was simply stunning.

First, stunning views of Dinant

But first – where would we moor?

We cruised slowly under the bridge, the Pont Charles de Gaulle (the reason for the name is explained below) and spotted what looked like a suitable gap between other boats moored on the pontoon (which was full) and the stone quay (also full) but, as we approached, a woman walking along the shore, called out that it was quite shallow there, and we might get into trouble. She asked us to follow her along the river a little way and offered to let us raft up against her. Due to the shortage of moorings, there were already several sets of double moored vessels. Perfect. She and her husband were English and spent six months of each year cruising on their converted oyster fishing boat, Johanna, and the other six months of each year in Florida. Obviously, they like the sun and the relaxed retired life they have chosen for themselves.

Snugged up against the friendly ‘Johanna’.

Once we were firmly tied up, and extra fenders placed between the two boats, we took off to explore Dinant. Our first stop was the citadel, which could only be reached by 409 steps up the steep hillside, or a funicular. Although Don and Ian were quite prepared to climb, we all took the latter option in the interests of time.

The easy way up and down on the funicular.

Again, there was a really interesting museum that told the horrific tale of the massacre at the town of Dinant (Battle of Dinant) in 1914 when the townspeople were rounded up by the Germans during the 23rd August and serially slaughtered, partly under the misapprehension that the townsfolk had taken up arms against them. In the poor light of that fateful day, many innocent citizens of Dinant were killed and over 1,200 houses burned by the soldiers. Some 674 men, women and children were slaughtered in that battle, the youngest only three weeks old. Tragic.

Gloster Meteor flying low next to the Citadel.

As a sideline to the horror, early in the battle for the town, when the French were defending the bridge across the Meuse, a young lieutenant by the name of Charles de Gaulle was wounded in the knee, hence the name of the bridge.

Charles de Gaulle next to the bridge he helped defend in The Great War.

We toured the citadel by ourselves but on reflection, a guided tour would probably have taken us to more places and provided a bit more information about the actual history of the citadel. However, the views were splendid and highlighted how the town is squeezed in between the river and the cliffs.

Dinant squeezed between the cliffs and the river.

Dinant was high on Ian’s list of places to visit because of its links with his current work as a professional in the field of the protection of intellectual property. One example cited of the contrast between patenting an invention and keeping it secret is the development of the saxophone and the violin. The invention of the saxophone by Adolpe Sax (born in Dinant) was followed by serial improvements because the invention was fully described in the patent and others could improve upon it.

A stylistic representation of the ‘brevet’ or patent for the saxophone.

Hence, a wide variety of saxophones developed rapidly in the late 19th century. In contrast, the inventor of the Stradivarius violin and his family, kept the techniques of manufacture secret. Never divulged publicly, it was lost with the family and no one can improve or reproduce these instruments. This underscores the public good served by the patent system in incentivising inventors to divulge their inventions, for a period where they get a monopoly but which then allows others to reproduce and improve on their advance.

Poor Adolpe Sax is not a good example of someone who made buckets of money from his patent because more powerful rivals challenged his patent and the cost and distraction sent Adolphe into bankruptcy on several occasions. He died in poverty. Spare a thought for him when you listen to the world’s greatest saxophone riff (in Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”) and the countless other musical pieces enriched by his invention.

The man himself, with a chronicle of his successes and woes.

As his birthplace, and in the interests of tourism, Dinant is festooned with saxophone related icons, sculptures, events (sadly we had just missed a sax festival) and one unprepossessing museum.

Saxophone sculptures, decorated by different countries, festooning the Charles de Gaulle bridge. The one close by was sent by Malta.

The little house where he was born has been converted into a museum, which, although quite small, does justice to his memory. It chronicles his life and several other inventions, some of which brought him more fame and fortune during his lifetime than the saxophone. There are examples of the saxophone you can play and, to Ian’s delight, a display featuring the patent. Outside the museum is a bronze statue of Adolphe seated in a chair – a much-photographed location – and we all took turns sitting with him.

Ian with a couple of interesting characters in front of the museum.

Travelling, of course, has its highlights and its lowlights. Both are memorable and while, at the time, it’s not enjoyable to be involved in a dining catastrophe, on reflection it can make a good story. When we meet we’ll be happy to give you it in rich detail but a brief summary will have to suffice here.

Late in the afternoon, we went to the Restaurant La Citadelle next to the Collegiate Church anticipating a special meal as a thank you from Don and Maureen. We ordered for the four of us using Lisette’s more than adequate French and chatted with the amiable waitress (we had a surly greeting from the other). Unfortunately, a rapidly advancing migraine forced Maureen to leave and return to Catharina moored nearby – Donald went with her to make sure she was comfortable. We notified the waitress politely and assured them the Monsieur would return, but “Madame est malade”. She noted the meal that madame had ordered and that was taken off the order. Don returned as three entrees were delivered which we ate which chatting.

One to avoid, the restaurant with the red awnings.

When the main course arrived, servings were delivered for Ian and Lisette only, without any comment. After a while, Lisette politely enquired (in French) about Don’s meal and after being brushed off by the now uncommunicative and uncooperative waitress, she was told that Don could come back tomorrow for his main course or have some frites because the chef had now left. At no stage did they have the courtesy to even inform Don that there was no meal for him. Needless to say, we were unimpressed, told them so and both of us have left poor reviews for the restaurant on Trip Advisor where, we note, it is only 40th out of 59 restaurants in Dinant.

Memorable – yes, but we won’t be going back there.

Somewhat deflated, we returned to Catharina where Maureen was recovering slowly and told her our story and prepared for leaving next day for the next part of our cruise up the river Meuse towards the French border.

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    2 Responses

  1. Great photos! Pity about the restaurant – obviously there is good reason for its low Trip Advisor rating. If it is a special outing we often first consult Trip Advisor but have also been caught out by ‘bad’ establishments with good ratings.

    1. Yeah, that’s always a chance. I don’t hold that against TA, individual experiences can vary a lot. Sometimes something just goes wrong, other times it clicks. Somewhere in the middle is the average but I’m always cognisant of large standard deviation in these kinds of surveys.

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