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We arrived back in Belgium down the Zuid Willemsvaart Kanaal and moored in Bree. Here they have built an excellent steel quay out into the canal with a water point. The only problem was the big commercial ships arrive at all times of the day and night and moor up with you. Bree itself is a pleasant enough town with everything a bargemaster requires to sustain him or her. We stayed a few days here and then cruised back to our mooring at Blauwe Kei where we had left the car. It was still there (who would want such an old banger) and started first turn of the key, much to Sues relief!
That night we feasted on the local Tavernes BBQ spare ribs and the next day sailed on up the Kanaal van Beverlo to our winter mooring at Kerkhoven, cycling back down to Blauwe Kei to collect the car. A few days after we arrived we entertained Paul Leten and Hugo Harbourmaster from the Bleuwe Reiger Yacht Club (effectively our landlords) who explained their rules where they affect us. If we care to do a bit of maintenance while we are here they will deduct €7 per hour from our mooring fee of €125 per month. I calculate 18 hours work a month and we stay here for nothing!! Paul invited us to join club members in Hasselt on 14/15th October for the annual Genever Festival.
In the intervening period we booked out the local Lommel Broek hotel for our barge warming and 30th wedding anniversary, discovered a 5 screen cinema in nearby Lommel where most films screened are in Engels, drove to Turnhout and discovered a wonderful old Beguinage (a place where a 16th century religous order lived), visited Antwerp in an hour from our local station and cycled for miles through spectacular Autumn colours as the Indian Summer seemed to go on for ever.
On Friday 14th October were up early to sail up to Leopoldsberg to turn Harmonie round for the trip to the Hasselt Genever Festival. Back at Kerkhoven for 10am and five boats set out down the canal. We travel with Hugo and Monica in their steel cruiser Moby Dick down through the three local locks then down the Kanaal Dessel-Kwaadmechelen to the dreaded Albert Kanaal, so called because it is very easy to get seasick on this canal. It lived up to its reputation and we rocked and rolled our way up to Hasselt. Jean Paul from the Sirius called us up on the VHF as we approached Hasselt and informed us where we should berth and 7 hours after leaving Kerkhoven we tied up next to the ugliest boat in the harbour. Beauty and the Beast! We stayed here until Monday in the city centre harbour as guests of the local yacht club with an electricty connection provided completely free of charge.
A free guided tour of Hasselt was advertised. The English have obviously not discovered this event as we were the only two English speakers who turned up so we had our own private guide, a charming lady dressed in period costume who introduced us to the delights of Hasselt and many of her friends who plied us with genever. The city is the centre of Belgian genever production and the festival is a celebration where the whole population gets completely rat arsed for 2 days. There are people all over town selling you different kinds of genever, giving you it, a fountain previously spouting water starts to spout it, the genever museum is free for the weekend, discos, bands and street theatre abound.
On Sunday morning we walked off our hangovers with a trip to the Japanese Garden. It is the largest garden of its kind in Europe and the Acers were resplendent in their autumn colours. The pools and streams in the garden were full of huge Carp. We returned to Kerkhoven on Monday, leaving Moby Dick in Lummen to be hauled out for a survey and repairs.
On 21st October the Indian Summer came to an abrupt end with torrential rain as we collected daughter Becky and three grandchildren from Brussels airport. In the atrocious conditions, with no cats eyes and poor sign lighting, I missed the way coming back and the grandchildren learnt some new words.
Number 3 grandchild Henry is approaching 1 year old and can crawl at 90 mph! It was a full time job making Harmonie Henry proof. We cast off at 10am the next day and cruised down to Bocholt, stopping at Neerpelt on the way to provision and spend some time with Proximus to try, unsuccesfully, to get the mobile phone to work with the laptop. No 1 grandchild Eliza and No 2 William proved natural helmsmen until boredom set in and we started zig-zagging along the canal.
After returning to Kerkhoven, an outing to Antwerp Zoo ended in disaster with Becky falling foul of some bug, being violently sick, followed by William and Eliza. Our local chemist became richer overnight. They recovered in time to travel with us by car back to Cornwall. It seemed to rain continuously most days until they arrived back home! We returned a week later with our remaining posessions.
After that episode, summer returned to Belgium and we continued to cycle around the countryside. We discovered, by accident, a few miles away, the largest German war cemetery in Europe. We came across it while cycling along a path through the forest and some 40,000 soldiers are buried there.
Our barge warming and 30th wedding anniversary takes place over the weekend of the 26th November and we plan to take our guests on a little trip down the canal to a taverne for lunch after which, Harmonie will stay tied up for the winter.
I sold a treasured posession when we left the UK. My Challon baby grand piano has gone to a loving home and I needed a replacement. A Yamaha Grand is on order but it is an electronic one that will fit into the limited space. It has 76 keys, has adjustable action, soft, medium and heavy, has a sustaining pedal and has the ability to sound like over 400 different instruments. Should keep me occupied.