2016 Barging Belgium

Beer and Bloggers on the way back to Namur:10/8 – 12/8

Dinant and Beer

And so it was back to Dinant, where Ian made another smooth turn across the river to moor up against the current, snug between two boats fore and aft, and we said goodbye to Don and Maureen, who were on their way back to Brussels by train.

Off on our last cruise with Maureen and Don.

After they had left, we walked over the bridge of saxophones and up the steep hills on the other side of the river to find Maison Leffe – the museum of Leffe beer.

Steep climb – a way to build up a thirst.

Leffe is one of our favourite Belgian beers (well, we haven’t sampled them all yet, but we are working on it) and while Leffe is not actually made in this old convent, a wonderful museum has been set up to show how the various Leffe beers are made, complete with sight and sound and smell examples to heighten the experience. Leffe beer was originally brewed in the nearby village, now a suburb of Dinant called, naturally enough, Leffe. The monks began brewing the beer in 1240 – getting on 900 years ago! While beer brewing stopped in 1740 along with the depredations of the French, not to restart (in another location) until 1952, Leffe was the first of the Abbey Beers, now famous across Belgium and beyond, distinguished by the fact that royalties are paid to the abbey after which the beer is named.

The converted chapel houses part of the museum.

Highly recommended and not least because of the value for money. Our €7 entrance fee was more than returned to us. After the museum visit, which was self-guided and therefore self-paced, in English, we were invited to sample the beer in a lovely old bar, complete with unmatched, old, cracked leather chairs.

Three samples and one big drink.

Lisette can get quite ‘dizzy’ after a drink without food, so we agreed to have lunch in the lovely restaurant before risking the steep walk back down the hill and across the river. Although Ian thought Lisette didn’t need any more alcohol, what is a good lunch without a drink?

A pretty, quiet restaurant. Good service and food – in contrast to the place across the river!

We were reminded to stop by the registration desk on our way out, where we were given two Leffe beer glasses as a further thank you (for our €7 contribution). As we had intended buying some anyway, we topped them up with another two (we wouldn’t want our guests to mix up their choice of beer and available glass, would we?) Of course, every Belgian beer has it’s own glass and so serious are they that the staff were at pains to let us know that these were the ‘New Design’ – released earlier in the year after 18 months development.

The 2016 Leffe glass. Note the “new glass stem has been redesigned to feature a three-dimensional engraving of Leffe Abbey, reaffirming the brand’s rich heritage, but with a contemporary twist. Aesthetic as well as functional, the upgrade allows the glass to be held easily without warming the beer, ensuring it remains at the perfect temperature to be savoured.”

Well satisfied, we tottered back down the hill and back over the saxophone bridge in downtown Dinant.

When we had been in Dinant a few days ago, Ian had found a mechanic and ordered a filter we had been unable to find so far, so we picked that up as we strolled back through this very pretty town.

But it was time to head back to Namur.

Namur and Folks on Barges

We had arranged for Pierre the Deutz diesel mechanic who was to try and fix the generator to meet us in Namur on Friday, so we started off back down the river. It is true what we have been told, that cruising along a river/canal in one direction and then returning at a later date, does indeed present the surroundings from a very different perspective.

So many pretty houses along the Meuse.

We’ve found that it is interesting travelling a route that you have cruised before, knowing just what the potential mooring spots look like and the villages you will pass – the small sense of familiarity is very comforting. But equally, there is much pleasure to be had travelling a stretch of water for the first time.

One of our great pleasures while cruising is to see other old barges cruising with or past us. We’ll try to identify the type, enjoy the colour and decoration; see features we’d copy and some we definitely would not; but one of our greatest pleasures is to see another Katwijker barge – the same type as Catharina.

‘Rosa’ – another katwijker. Characteristics are a sharp and vertical bow, slim lines, thick ‘rubbing strake’ around the hull, no passenger rooms at the stern.

We’re biased, but we think these are truly the most beautiful of the Dutch Barge types. We were treated on this run by a short, shared cruise with the recently repainted Rosa, a Dutch-owned barge on its way from its last winter in Roanne in France to somewhere in the Netherlands. We only got to chat briefly while we waited for the lock to cycle. As Rosa has been recently repainted, her skipper refused to moor up and risk scratching her and held her just of the pontoon on springs and careful use of the prop.

The weather became increasingly overcast as we travelled back from Dinant to Namur, with some delays at a couple of the locks, and the clouds closing in. By the time we reached the last lock, just south of the town of Namur, it was raining steadily. The lock keeper was gabbling away in French, and Lisette was doing her best to follow the rapid-fire conversation. It seemed we were being asked to wait and not enter the lock as some police operation was holding up traffic the upstream side of the Pont de Jambes across the Meuse, at Namur. But when the lock gates opened, we figured we were allowed in, so we took our place and waited while the lock keeper came out of his box and walked down to Catharina. He approached the wheelhouse chatting away, but Ian pointed him towards the bow, where Lisette was waiting patiently in the rain, saying something along the lines of “my wife speaks better French”.

Anyway, Lisette was able to follow the guy’s intent, which was to tell us we could not pass under the next bridge (because the police would not let any traffic through). Lisette was able to assure him that we were going to tie up along the stone quay before the bridge, and had no plans to continue on today (it later turned out there had been a serious gas leak near the river, and no land or water traffic was allowed to pass until it was fixed). Lisette was somewhat concerned however when Ian took what seemed, to the deck hand, an inordinately long time to do a “u-ey” across the river itself, to moor against the current, as is sensible practice. Ian’s nautical finesse had the unfortunate side effect of increasing the exposure of Lisette to the rain. No problem, just the deck hand was quite wet by the time we tied up.

And this time, we were determined to get hold of some jetons (discs) so that we could feed the electricity pole and get shore power on board so, once the rain had stopped, Ian bravely cycled over the bridge to the yacht club to pick them up so Lisette could prepare dinner. Ian meanwhile set to and made sure the new Leffe glasses were working.

Friday dawned brighter, the rain blew off, and it turned out to be a warm and sunny day. We spent most of it doing chores, with Lisette getting started on adding layers of varnish to the wooden trim of the herft (deck box), and ducking under and around the sheets and towels being washed ready for the next round of visitors. Ian took a call from the Deutz guys who said, unfortunately, they wouldn’t be able to make it that day as arranged but would look at the generator again later. However, with Monday being a Belgian public holiday, the earliest we could expect them to come would be Tuesday. So we agreed on where they might find us, as we would no longer be in Namur because we were moving on to welcome Rebecca, Michel and Panache on board. But it is what it is. Seasoned cruisers such and Rebecca and Michel know that repairs need to be done when and where they can.

We were happy, however, to remain another night in Namur, as we had been in touch with Harvey Schwartz and Sandra on Hoop doet Leven for the last few days as they were following behind us down the Meuse and we were keen to meet them. We follow numerous blogs about barging – at last count Ian was closely following about 40. But perhaps our favourite blog was Harvey’s ‘On a Barge in France‘. The timing was just right to manage a meet-up if all went well before we went our separate ways.

Sure enough, the sound of a horn announced Harvey and Sandra’s arrival at Namur, as they passed by making their way just under the bridge to tie up further along the stone quay. Shortly after, Harvey strolled by, to say hello and invite us over for drinks on later in the afternoon. We spent a very pleasant time talking barges, life in general and admiring Sandra’s paintings of the waterways. We then insisted that Harvey sign our copy of his book ‘On a Barge in France‘. We have both a paper and Kindle copy and there is a rumour that a new edition may be published with Sandra’s paintings as illustrations – we’ll be getting that too!

As we wandered back to Catharina, we were overtaken by Mark, an Englishman whose barge was Ariane, with his companions, laden with pizzas. They fairly begged us to go over and help them eat the vast amount they had ordered. So off we wobbled, taking some beers with us and had a lovely evening making more friends. Mark’s Kiwi pal (who owns a sheep farm in Queensland) was crewing with Mark to get Ariane to Brugge where he stays on board in the winter. More serious wobbling back to Catharina, now lugging the most enormous pizza we had ever seen, to go off to bed. We had to be ready to cast off in the morning and retrace our route back along the Sambre towards Marchienne-au-Pont, where we had arranged to meet our great Dutch friends from ‘t Majeur in two days’ time.

It had been a spectacular and memorable ten days on this part of the Meuse – celebrated amongst cruisers as one of the finest waterway trips that you can make – and justifiably so. We could have spent much more time exploring the other towns and mooring spots along the way but then – what would be left for our next visit?

Back down the Meuse and onwards to our next guests.

Here’s to hoping we return in the not too distant future.

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    2 Responses

  1. I now I know that I should have visited the Leffe museum during opening times. Another one for the future return trip.

    1. The main thing is to keep on enjoying the beer!

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