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August was a write off weather wise but in September, summer returned with a vengeance as we sailed sedately down the glorious River Meuse. The first place of note was the stunning 17C town of Charleville Mezieres. We moored on a pontoon on the river right in the centre of the town, walked over a pedestrian suspension bridge and after a few hundred metres, found ourselves in the Place Ducale. This is compared to the Place Vosges in Paris but in our opinion is far better. The scale is smaller but more harmonious and there are no trees in the centre to obstruct the view. The pavements extend into the square beyond the covered arcades and the various cafes use this space to advantage. In Paris there are no pavements. It is a place where the local populace stop for a drink on their way home from work or come out to enjoy late on a summer evening.
Charleville Mezieres is actually two towns, each situated on a double meander of the river and connected by bridges. Mezieres became the administrative end of the two towns and boasts the most spectacular gothic hotel de ville we have yet seen in France. The cathedral is in a poor state of repair but work had started. It is worth a visit for its very modern stained glass windows.
The scenery really starts to impress north of Charleville where the river cuts through the Ardennes with steep valley sides and limestone cliffs.
At Chateau Regnault you pass by Rocher des Quatre Fils Aymon, four rocky outcrops supposed to represent a legend of the four Aymon brothers astride their giant horse Bayard escaping from Charlemagne's men.
We moored for the night at Monthermé and walked up to Roche à Sept Heures and Longue Roche, both of which afforded spectacular views of the big meander of the river around Monthermé.
The forest was full of locals collecting wild mushrooms so we joined in the hunt. Back on Harmonie we consulted our mushroom book to identify our collection and decided they were all non edible and one was deadly poisonous!
Our next stop was Revin where we found a splendid Port de Plaisance beautifully landscaped with modern secure quays.
We climbed up out of the town to the Monument des Manises. This commemorates 106 members of the Maquis des Manises resistance group who were killed by the Germans in June 1944. We continued up to Monte Maigré at an altitude of 400 metres where we had a birds eye view of Revin. We had to beat a hasty retreat from here due to a swarm of flies which Australia could have been proud of!
The quayside at VireuxWallerand was to be our last night in France as the next day we sailed past the huge plumes of steam from the cooling towers of a nuclear power station, through Givet and down the final lock into Belgium, mooring on the quay next to a fuelling point which displayed a notice saying they were on holiday until the next day.
We noticed the "Mooi Ark" moored up in Givet so cycled back into France to visit Chris and Sheila for a swift beer and to replenish our larder. The next day we managed to take on 1000 litres of Diesel by about 10-30am at the outrageous price of 73 cents per litre. The Dutchman moored behind us managed only 50 litres as we had emptied their tanks.
Just below Waulsort you pass the magnificent Château de Freÿr opposite a huge rock face rising some 200 metres sheer out of the river. This is the domain of the Belgian Alpine Club who were busily festooned on various ropes above us.
We moored first at Anseremme lock and cycled into Dinant to look at the moorings. There was plenty of room at the pontoon right in the centre of town so we returned to Harmonie and moved onto what must be one of the most picturesque moorings in Belgium.
We decided to stay here for three nights as we needed to visit the Chinese Embassy in Brussels to deposit our Passports prior to obtaining a visa for our forthcoming trip. I took advantage of the senior citizens rate of 4 Euros return to anywhere on Belgian Railways but for my sins was rewarded with a 40 Euro bill for the taxi ride from the station to the Chinese Embassy located out in the sticks!
Back at Dinant we just sat out on deck in the glorious sunshine and soaked up the atmosphere. We had been here before by car many years ago and said then how nice it would be to have a boat to visit this place. Here we were living the dream.
The citadel is built on a high cliff rising vertically above the town which you can visit by cable car and the quays are lined with trees and pavement cafes.
It was therefore with some reluctance that we eventually set sail on the final leg of our journey back to our winter moorings.
The river between Dinant and Namur is delightfully scenic and full of interest on account of the rather splendid and sometimes eccentric houses and Château that adorn its banks. There is an awful lot of wealth around here! From a swimming pool built like a ship complete with a stone statue of the skipper on the wheelhouse roof, to stately mansions set in beautiful gardens to a huge pink Château with fairy tale turrets and spires.
Our arrival at Namur completed a circuit we began almost 4 months previously. We moored on the left bank beside the bridge and climbed up the citadel. It was blistering hot and we felt for the marathon runners who ran around the city streets then up to the top of the citadel, finishing back in the city centre. The view from the top made the climb worthwhile for us but I doubt the runners really appreciated it!
As we had heard nothing from the Dutch shipyard we had visited earlier in the year, the next day we visited the Sambre and Meuse Shipyard and spent a few hours discussing the work we want to do next year. As a result we booked Harmonie in for the last week in April for a good bottom scrubbing and tarring!
A brief stop at Huy was terminated when a peniche passed at speed and the violent wash decided us we would get little sleep if we stayed there so we moved off further down river where we found a wider, quieter spot. The following day we motored for 10 hours to get off the river and the rough old Albert Canal to the relative peace and quiet of the Zuid Willemsvaart Canal where we spent the night on a brand new pontoon next to the Maasmechalen Outlet Centre, thoughtfully provided by the EU at a cost of 150,000 Euros, or so the poster said. Sue did some shopping at the outlet centre and we then continued to Bree.
A Dutch couple on a barge moored along from us said they were waiting for a fuel delivery so we contacted the supplier and arranged to stay until the next day. When the tanker arrived the smallest hose nozzle he had would not fit inside our fill pipe so we didn't get fuel. Touché to the Dutch!
Down two locks into Holland and Jet Oil. You moor six inches inside Belgium and he comes across the border with a tanker and fills you up with Red Diesel at 59 cents a litre. Luvverly.
Back up the two locks and along the canal to Neerpelt where we shopped for food and ate out in a nice bar called the Studio Taverne which served us with excellent pasta and a good bottle of house wine for a very reasonable price. The next morning was the weekly market which Sue ignored in favour of some rather expensive underwear in a lingerie shop while I topped up the phone in the Proximus shop where they queried how our Australian trip was. We have obviously spent too much money there! On along the canal to Blauwe Kei where we were hailed on the VHF by Eddie and Rosie in "Alcyone" who were on their way to Hasselt. They welcomed us back to our "home port". Turning into the Beverlo canal I called Paul Leten from the Blauwe Reiger Yacht Club (BRYC) who had volunteered to assist us in lifting our car onto a quay a short distance up the canal.
Harmonie was positioned right in the corner of the basin and the lift went very smoothly. Another BRYC member had arrived with Paul so he was commandeered to drive the car back to Kerkhoven. When we tried to leave the quay we went immediately aground. After many unsuccessful attempts to leave the quay we came astern back into the corner and dragged the ship stern first along the opposite quay for about 200 metres where we hoped there was deeper water. This proved to be the case and we proceeded up the canal following another boat. At the lift up bridge the operator did not notice we were two boats and proceeded to drop the bridge as we approached. Hard astern and an indignant hoot later he reversed the procedure and we sailed uneventfully into Kerkhoven where Paul and Hugo Harbourmaster were waiting to help us moor.
Now we have a couple of weeks to organise things before leaving on our world trip on October 2nd. I will try and update the web site with our news and pictures as we travel but it may be infrequent. We return to Harmonie in early April next year and plan to cruise down to the Loire valley via Paris for a Barge Association get together in June. There is also the prospect of the Rugby World Cup in October so we plan to winter somewhere down there.