Sunday, September 23, 2012

A surprise called Ghent

We arrived in Ghent on Tuesday 28th August. After coming up the Bovenschelde and turning left into the Ringvaart we entered the canalised Leie River and left the commercial waterways. We were now in an area of canals that were built for vessels of Matilda’s size.

We wandered along finding ourselves deeper and deeper into the old town.. A sharp right turn off the Leie and we were in the Ketelvaart where we were told we would be able to stop. A vacant quay side loomed and we pulled up. We were in the middle of the old town. Behind us was the old Courthouse – still in use and beside us was the rear of the City Opera House as well as the Concert Hall.

In this picture, the bridge at the back is a main entry with trams, the building on the corner is the “Justitiepaleis”. The bridge in the middle is stage door entry to the Opera House while the bridge above us is to the Concert Hall. It turned out that the Concert Hall had free WIFI during normal hours – the fastest internet we have ever used!

Ghent is a university town with many students traveling in from surrounding areas to attend the various colleges. The scene below is outside the Ghent main railway station. The students come in by train, unlock their bike and have cheap and fast access to everywhere.

The railway station was a work of art internally. Beautiful artistry everywhere

This architectural style abounded in town, brickwork with the stepped facades is very typical of a lot of Flemish towns we have seen.

This one can only be described as being interesting.

The town was protected by this fortification. Known as The Castle of the Counts it is now a museum. It was built in 1180 and is remarkably well preserved, complete with dungeons equipped for torture and a guillotine which was last used in 1861.

We found these figures to be quite dramatic.

We were not too sure about the Kangaroo icecream, haven’t tasted it yet. This is the second outlet we have seen in Belgium so must try some soon.

Ghent was a surprising town. We took a tram trip out into the more modern surrounding suburbs and were quite impressed with the friendliness of the people and their pride in their town. It was clean and tidy and attracted a good flow of tourists. We were pleased we came.

Now we are off to Boom as we are taking Matilda out of the water for a few mechanical repairs. We have a date with a dry dock.

All very exciting, so - keep in touch.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

And on to Ghent (or is it Gent, or Gand?)

We departed Paris and travelled up the Oise, into the Canal du Nord in the general direction of Lille. The scenery was once again rural but with the river banks often showing ancient fortifications.

This beautiful old chateau – a renovator’s dream – appeared to be getting the love and attention of the young couple in the garden.

We stopped for a few days at Compiegne. In the early days this was a village that the French kings came to hunt. Marie Antoinette lived here in the Chateau of Charles V, as did Napoleon I and III.

All of you who have followed French history through the ages will know that this is the city where Joan of Arc (the maid of Orleans) was captured. She was leading a battle against the British and Burgundian troops attacking the city.  One of the churches has windows and statues dedicated to her.

Joan was tried by the Church and found guilty of heresy and consequently burned at the stake at Rouen.

From its hunting history, Compiegne has become the home of ”les Haras nationaux” the centre where French horse breeding records are kept. We saw some beautiful horses being groomed and exercised at their stables.

Further on we entered the Canal du Nord and after passing through a relatively short tunnel, only 1058 metres, we green-banked at a spot where the canal water was so clean and the weather was so warm, Marg could not resist the urge!

That evening we dined with a beautiful sunset.

We were now travelling through country famous for its first world war battles. We stopped at Peronne and visited this museum, dedicated to the missing from all sides. The Australian flag flying proudly over a very moving display.

Somewhere in this blog we have told of our travelling through the longest tunnel in the French canal system. Well there is one almost as long but with a difference. It is north of Peronne and we found it in front of us. The Ruyalcourt Tunnel is 4352 metres long but the difference is this one takes barges from both ends at the same time and they pass in the middle!

Sure enough when we got to the middle we had to pass a barge that was 70 metres long, 8 metres wide, weighing probably 1000 tonnes and travelling at 10 kilometres an hour. Just what we needed. But we live to tell the tale.

The tunnel is widened in the middle by just enough to pass.

It was nice to see this though!

We continued on and through Douai and Lille. We were headed for a recently re-opened canal. The canal, called Canal du Roubaix in France and l’Espierres in Belgium. Completed in 1877 to carry the products of the region - fabric, lace, coal and metal ores it was never a success.

Only 28 kilometres long with fifteen locks and eleven opening bridges it would take at least two days to travel its length.

It was closed about 1970 but pressure from user groups, fishermen and mainly locals have preserved and re-opened it. Matilda was the one hundred and first vessel to enter since its re-opening last year.

We stayed in the town of Roubaix for a few days, the town had quite a history, Marg visited an old swimming pool, la Piscine, now a museum and art gallery featuring regional artists and exhibits from the town’s textile history as well as preserving features of the Art Deco original.

A day trip to Lille showed us the Flemish influence in its architecture.

Our next stop was Belgium. Just over the border. We spent the evening at Leers-Nord and visited the Maison du Canal. It was Sunday afternoon and the place was rocking with live music and family groups.

We had a surprisingly pleasant afternoon and evening with good food and company.  We had been told that it was a good place to stay – and it was.

Next day, out on to the Escaut river and  on our way to Ghent.

There will be more to tell then so, keep in touch.