2016 Barging Belgium

Back to Ghent: 9/09 – 11/09

Kortrijk – Deinze – Ghent

To Deinze

While our next guests finished their holiday in dry, sandy Egypt, prior to joining us for a watery break – we cast off into the canalised Lei for an easy one lock, no bridges, wide commercial waterway trip to Deinze.

We pulled into Deinze very pleased to see Unique with Heidi and Tony (who had helped us so much at the start of this season in Veurne) on board, moored on the quay.

We slid Catharina Elisabeth in right next to them for a bit of tight mooring practice. They had spent most of the time we had been cruising in giving Unique some serious above and below the waterline painting and maintenance. She looked shiny as a new penny – beautiful.

We caught up with the jocular Tony and irrepressible Heidi several times over the evening and next day and in between socialising we used the time for catching up with blogs, minor maintenance and simply relaxing while listening to the carillon as it alternated between its on-the-hour and on-the-half-hour tunes.

To Ghent

One of the beautifully maintained vessels we passed on the Lei.

Our next cruise was a reverse of one we had done last season, down the very pretty, winding river Lei. It passes through rural countryside dotted with some of the most expensive properties in Belgium.

We took it slowly, watching the palatial residences pass by, often with sculptures adorning the lawns leading down to the river edge.

It’s one of the most spectacular waterways in Belgium and fun to cruise in moderate sized boats with lots of curves and the occasional hairpin bend to keep you interested.

At the end of the Lei, we crossed over the wide Ghent-Bruges canal and headed up towards the centre of Ghent past the suburbs and boats of all shapes and sizes, and conditions, to moor in the wide part of the harbour this time, on the very end of the quay. After a brief walk to enjoy the charming ambience of the centre of the old city, we settled down for the night.

How sad someone must feel. The floating tubes prevent oil polluting the river.

Bands and Bells

With our guests arriving mid-afternoon, we set out to revisit Ghent and check out some of the attractions we had not visited last time we were here. We soon came across a small market and a bandstand that was hosting a very competent Bavarian-style band that we sat and listened to for an enjoyable twenty minutes or so.

Not far away, on one of the community pianos that dot the city, a chap was playing a Coldplay tune. Stopping and listening to the music that pops up is one of the pure joys of being in the towns and the slower you are moving (life in general) the more delicious it is to just pause in whatever you are doing and just settle back and listen for as little or as long as you care to do so.

The big item on this jaunt was a visit to the Cloth Hall and Belfry. Construction of the tower began in 1313 and the cloth hall was added in the 15th century. The cloth hall represents an era when Ghent was one of the richest cities in Northern Europe on the basis of the trade in wool and the manufacture of cloth. The room was used for inspecting and selling the textiles.

Like other belfries in Belgium and France, the tower served a multitude of functions over time. One of its major functions was as a watchtower to give warning of approaching enemies and outbreaks of fire in the city. The bells served civic (wake up), religious and celebratory functions. Inside the tower, important documents were stored and, at certain times, prisoners were also incarcerated in the lower levels. And to cap it off, there was the distinctive, copper plate-coated dragon weathervane that was first placed there in 1380.

A century in the elements takes its toll of a metal dragon.

A replacement was made in the 1850’s and this, in turn, was replaced by the current vane in 1979. The old dragon is displayed in the tower, along with a replica of the current one.

The dragon weather vane looks small from the kerbside but is actually very large – a full size replica of the current dragon.

The lowest level of the tower contains four watchmen – the “Men of Ghent”. Originally, four stone statues of watchmen were placed around the tower in 1442. By 1869, only one remained and it was brought down and used to help fashion four replacements which now adorn the tower. Replicas of the other three that were replaced and the remaining original, stand duty in this lower level room.

Getting up the tower is a mixture of walking and, optionally, a lift. Having climbed enough belfries recently, we took it easy and used the lift. Towards the top of the tower are, of course, the clock mechanism and the bells.

Some of the older clock mechanisms were on display as were those that have been removed due to wear and tear or damage. Currently, the largest bell “Rolan$$ ” weighs *** and there are 54 bells in the carillon. These are played every quarter of an hour with the chimes being driven by a huge drum much like that in a music box. The first of these was installed as early as 1377 and the current copper drum, in 1659. It drives 40 bells and has 17,600 holes for the pins. The four pieces of music that are played are changed every two years, just before Easter Sunday.

The views of the city are, of course, extensive. What is striking, however, is that in whatever direction you look, the terrain is entirely flat.

Looking over Saint Nicholas’ Church.

Visitors from Egypt

Lisette’s sister, Gill and partner Graham arrived in the mid-afternoon from a holiday in Egypt to celebrate Graham’s 60th birthday. They were our sixth and penultimate set of visitors. They had cruised with us quite extensively last year, so they settled in quickly and we took off for a quick walking tour around town as the long evening began.

The Saint Nicholas’ Church with the Belfry just behind.

Stopped and chatted over a couple of beers next to the Gravensteen Castle and then walked back along the canal past St Michael’s Church to Catharina.

It was only a brief visit to Ghent for Gill and Graham, as in the short time they had available, they wanted to spend the longer time in Bruges. Wanting an early start, to get there as early as possible, we cooked and ate on board, and kept the partying at a low pitch.

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