Come with us as we travel round Europe in our floating home

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Lille towards the Somme

Hi, nice to see you again.

We enjoyed Lille so much that we returned for another 3 nights. It's a good mooring, although the water level goes up and down by as much as 2 feet every time a commercial barge goes past the end of the arm.  There's not enough bollards but there are rings set into the wall that you can tie up to.

Monday was gloriously sunny so not long after we arrived and moored up we headed off across the canal to the zoo.  It's only small compared to others we've visited and was an absolute bargain at only 4 euros each.

We could see these birds from the boat

so we had to go for a closer view. They were Pink Ibis

Every morning and evening you can hear the monkeys screaming, presumably at feeding time. They are gibbons and live on this island

I felt sorry for the Barn Owls

The Meerkats were charming as always

The White Rhinos were impressive

but my favourite creatures were the armadillos which scurried around their enclosure so fast it was difficult to get a decent photo.

After walking miles around Lille taking in the sights, and indulging in a few more delicious meals out, David finally left us on Thursday morning to catch the Eurostar back to the UK.   We left Lille for pastures new and moored on the Canal de Lens at the Halte Nautique de Carrieres.

It was raining when we arrived and we were disappointed to see a British boat moored right in the centre of the 40m pontoon. As soon as he saw us he came out waving his arms to tell us that it wasn't a Halte Nautique but a landing stage for kayaks and was unsuitable for barges ???  B*****s.... it was just a floating pontoon similar to several we've moored on previously and he wasn't tied up properly.  Anyway, as we pulled onto the end of the pontoon with the intention of overhanging as he hadn't left any room for another boat he decided he wasn't sharing the pontoon and cast off. That was fine by us. Shortly afterwards a 20m Dutch barge arrived and moored behind us and we had absolutely no problems all night.

Just across the road was a beautiful park and I dragged Chico out for a walk next morning.  It was raining and he hates getting wet so I did literally have to drag him 😃

Do you like my new wellies?  They're Crocs and totally slip-proof. It's the first time I've needed them since we arrived in Europe but it's been dry for so long I didn't mind having to dig them out.

Several of the locks have had guillotine gates and at first I thought this barge wasn't going to fit underneath, but the wheelhouse is hydraulic and dropped down at the last minute. Clever eh?

This was the first time we've encountered rising bollards. They are wonderful and float up with you as the lock fills.  If only every lock had them 😃

On Friday night we moored just inside the Scarpe Superieure canal, in between 2 commercial barges. The rain was long gone and we spent the evening sitting out on the top deck soaking up the rays.

On that note I'll say "Cheers, see you soon"

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Weekend in Wambrechies

Hi, I hope your weekend has been as good as ours.

When we arrived in Wambrechies late on Saturday morning the main Port de Plaisance was full, but we found a really good spot just through the bridge. For 18E a night inclusive of water and electric it was perfect for us.  We were so low on water that it took 2 hours to refill the tank and while we had unlimited water & electric I caught up on the laundry, washing everything in sight and getting it all dried outside in the sunshine.

Wambrechies is a lovely town with 6 restaurants, 3 bakeries, 2 bars and 3 supermarkets.  Roger and David walked to the Match Supermarket and bought gas but I'll tell you more about that in a separate post.

This is the "Tram Touristique" which runs on the opposite bank and was really busy all Sunday afternoon.

Just beside where we're moored there is a distillery with this beautiful fountain made from a still.  The distillery was closed for the weekend but we're hoping to visit on Monday.

We went out for dinner last night to the restaurant La Guinguette beside the Port just expecting a basic meal and then an early night but we were wrong on both counts.  The food was wonderful with HUGE portions.  Roger and I both had confit de canard with roast potatoes and David had half a cow

It would have been enough for both of us but he managed to pick the bone clean AND eat all the frites  and salad 😲 No doggy bag for Chico there then.........

We hadn't booked a table and were extremely lucky to get the only one that hadn't been reserved as there was entertainment on. We groaned a bit when a woman started setting up her accordion and backing equipment and then went round all the tables distributing song books. What on earth had we let ourselves in for and could we finish our meal and escape before she started?  There was no need to worry though as we had a fantastic evening.  When she realised we were English she started her set dedicating the first 2 songs to us - "Dirty Old Town" and "Roll Out The Barrel" which of course we knew all the words to and which went down a bomb with the French.  After that we joined in with all the French songs and although we could follow the words, we didn't have a clue about any of the tunes, but after a few glasses of wine and with the general volume of everyone else singing it didn't matter.  We really enjoyed ourselves as the photos show


After the singalong there was dancing and we joined in again.  I didn't have any choice as I was dragged onto the floor by a Frenchman who then proceeded to twirl me round and round. I'm not much of a dancer but it was great fun.

Today has been glorious sunshine and there's been a craft market on all day, right beside our mooring. The french certainly know how to spend their weekend.  From 8am there was a constant queue at the Boulangerie and the cakes were flying out the door. By 12 o'clock they had sold out of bread and cakes and were turning people (me included) away.

A rotisserie van had set up beside the church and did a roaring trade. I bought a spit-roast chicken and a tray of cooked potatoes for a nice easy lunch. There was also a fish stall and another selling local honey and apple juice.

The craft market went on until gone 6 o'clock and all the bars and restaurants have been busy all day. It's been a real holiday atmosphere and we've been sat out on deck for most of the afternoon soaking up both the atmosphere and the sunshine.

As tempting as it is to stay here for another few days we're heading back to Lille tomorrow. There's still plenty to see and do there before David has to return to the UK.

Bye for now 😃

Friday, 4 August 2017

Haubourdin to Lille

Wow, another week's just flown by.

We stayed on the mooring at Haubourdin safely tucked in between the two commercial barges for the weekend as we had good satellite TV reception and Roger wanted to watch the last Grand Prix before the Summer break.

On Monday morning we carried on towards Lille, passing lots of industry and barge loading wharfs.

The Port de Lille is amazingly busy with a couple of these huge cranes in constant use.

Luckily for us there was plenty of room on the moorings at the Citadelle and we've been here ever since. It's a lovely place to moor, perfect for exploring the city.  The zoo is on the opposite bank and we can hear the monkeys screeching at their morning and evening feeding times. We're planning a visit but just haven't foung the time as yet.

 It's a very busy recreational area and we've had lots of passers-by stop for a chat, with the occasional request to come on board to take photos!  Just across the pavement is the Jardin du Vaudin park which is quite stunning and very popular with the locals. There's also a childrens puppet theatre in the park inside this thatched cottage.

Cyclists are very well catered for here in Lille and there are ranks of hire bikes all over the city.  The first 30 minutes are free or you can rent for a full day for 1.60E or 7E for a week. At that price it's hardly worth owning your own bike if you lived in Lille.

Lilleois architecture is quite amazing and everywhere you go the buildings are spectacular. This is the 104m high belfry attached to the town hall.

The Grande Place, main town square, is always bustling with tourists but also has many child beggars and families of immigrants sitting around the fountains with nowhere to go. It's quite sad really.

This is the Porte de Paris which was built in 1692 as a monument to Louis XVI

It doesn't actually lead anywhere but was built simply to boost the ego of the king

The gardens in the moat are rather impressive too.

A totally different style of architecture is the old Market Hall which has been saved from demolition by having had a Match supermarket built inside it!

We've had a few really good meals out while we've been here in Lille. We tend to eat out at lunchtime and take advantage of the Plat du Jour which is literally Dish of the Day. If you look for a place that's full of locals you know you're onto a winner.

Moules Frites were twice the size and half the price than when we'd had them in Belgium

and today's lunch of Couscous with chicken or meatballs included wine and mint tea for only 12.50E

At the opposite end of the culinary scale, we found this pizza vending machine when we were wandering around the student quarter.  I suppose it gets plenty of business during term time.

We've now been joined by our friend David who's come to stay for a few days. We need water and gas so we're going to take him for a little cruise tomorrow and introduce him to the delights of the commercial barges and big locks. There's still plenty to see and do so we'll be back in Lille in a couple of days.

That's all for now, see you soon 😃

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Saint Venant to Haubourdin

Hi, Welcome back.

After spending a really good weekend at Saint Venant catching up on all the laundry and doing a few other little jobs, we eventually left on Tuesday. The final stretch of the River Lys was really beautiful and very "French". Fields of potatoes, maize and wheat lined both banks

We'd booked our passage through the next two locks but had to wait on the dolphins for about 20 minutes for the lock-keeper to arrive in his little van.

When he arrived he was extremely apologetic and as he didn't speak any English it was a good excuse for us to practice our French.  He raced on ahead of us to open the road bridge

By this time it was 12.30, lock-keepers lunchtime, but he told us to continue and had the final lock set for us as we arrived at 12.45.  He said that as it he'd been late for our rendez-vous he'd lock us up and then told us where to moor for our lunch before we carried on to our over-night mooring. Lunchtime is a really big deal over here.  I gave him an ice-cream for his help and wished him "bon appetit".

The mooring in Aire-sur-la-Lys was down an inlet off the main Canal d'Aire and was just a rickety pontoon beside the grain silos.  An elderly Dutchman in a little cruiser was already moored on the pontoon and despite not being very good on his feet he came out to help us moor up behind him. Everyone we've met so far has been amazingly friendly and helpful, whether they speak English or not (he didn't). We overhang the pontoon by about 5m but it wasn't a problem.  Every time a commercial barge went past on the mainline canal a wave came rushing down the inlet and the pontoon moved a few metres in each direction. It wasn't the best mooring we've stayed on so far but it was only 20 minutes walk to the town which had some beautiful architecture and the added bonus of a Mr Bricolage, a Leclerc supermarket and a Lidl so we could stock up on wine. The shopping trolleys are getting plenty of use here 😃

On Thursday we rejoined the Canal d'Aire with the BIG boats but it was only a short 3 hour cruise without any locks to Bethune where we moored on another Halte Nautique floating pontoon at the end of another inlet. It was quite a long walk into town, past the prison and the Eglise St Baast which we popped into as I'd read on Google that it had spectacular stained windows. It was beautiful inside and unusually built from small bricks rather than stone.

It also had a spectacular huge organ

We only stayed in Bethune for one night, continuing our journey on the big canal on Friday.
A huge engine-less container pan being driven by a "pusher" barge overtook us going so fast that we ended up going backwards as his bow and stern waves sucked the water from under us.  Almost at the same time an unladen barge went past us in the opposite direction and we heard him on the VHF radio reporting the "pusher" for speeding dangerously. We were really happy that he was travelling so fast that he'd already passed through Cuinchy lock by the time we arrived.  It was our first really big French lock and we assumed that we'd have to wait to share with a commercial boat the same as we'd had to do in Belgium.  We had lunch on the waiting moorings and then walked up to the lock to check it out and chat to the lock-keeper.  He was quite shocked when I asked if we had to wait for a barge and told us to come in straight away. We had the huge lock to ourselves and felt a bit guilty for using so much water!

Once again, last night's Halt Nautique was another floating pontoon down an off-shoot away from the mainline canal. Once again we were the only ones there although a French cruiser arrived this morning just before we left which gave us a good chance to practice our French 😃

This was at the little town of La Bassee which seemed to be mostly closed for the annual holidays, although the Intermarche supermarket was open so Roger could stock up on beer.

Today was the first time we've descended a lock and I'll admit I was quite nervous. We had to wait on a dolphin while boats came up the lock

The gates opened and this monster came out!  It was a HUGE hotel boat, the first we've seen. There didn't seem to be many passengers on board though.

They were followed out by our friends Dave and Grace who we'd met in Bruges. Unfortunately it was "ships that pass in the night" and we had to make do with frantic waves as we'd been given the green light to go into the lock. Once again we were all alone in this huge lock and it was nowhere near as scary as I'd expected.  It had a guillotine bottom gate which lifted high into the air and dripped all over us as we left

Tonight's mooring isn't at a Halte Nautique for a change. We're actually moored up on the mainline tucked in between a couple of commercial barges.  It was a spot marked by the DBA (Dutch Barge Association) and despite the many big working boats going past it's actually quite calm.

Don't we look tiny? 😃

That's all for now, see you again soon