Sunday, August 30, 2009

Clearing out my phone

I was just browsing through the photos I had on my phone today and realised there were some interesting pictures on it. So, since every picture tells a story (to quote the wonderfully husky Mr Stewart), I thought I'd share a few of them with you.

Ollie of the Wandering Snail took this for me when we were having supper with them at their mooring by the great Terneuzen to Ghent sea canal. It really shows how huge the big transporters are that pass us in Westdorpe on their way to the big docks. There's something slightly surreal about this photo too, which is why I've kept it on my phone so long.

I'm not sure if anyone can read this, but if you enlarge it, you might make it out. It's a list of situations that fall under 'Murphy's Law' and I found it in the IT manager's office at the university. I can especially relate to the law that says 'no matter how long and hard you shop for an item, it will always be on sale somewhere cheaper'. So horribly true. There are many others with a quirky irony I like too. Enjoy!

The two photos above show the traditional game of Krulbollen played exclusively in Flemish and Zeeuws Flemish villages during the summer, mostly in the Ghent area. It is the sport of the real locals and as such tends to be supported by rather elderly gents (no women, I'm afraid). Koos and I came across this game in the village of Boekhoute, not far over the border in Flemish Flanders and we were intrigued by the degree of accuracy required for throwing these very heavy discs of wood. The idea is that they either have to hit the small post, or hit another disc that is already against the post, so as to be as close to it as possible. I think that's how it works anyway. The 'court' is simply beaten dirt, and so it can only be played when the sun shines. I like that.

I took this one today. It's a memorial that stands in the market square in Sas van Gent and commemorates the Canadian soldiers who died in the area during the 39-45 war. I thought I'd post this for our friends over there in Ontario and BC. I don't suppose anyone ever really sees how widely the sacrifices of their countrymen are valued and remembered.

I've still got a few more of these random phone camera pics, which will do for my next post, but for now, I'll leave you with these to ponder.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A grand new experience

Yesterday we went down to one of my favourite places in Belgium. It was a very hot day and the sun was fairly hammering at the car roof, so energy was flagging a little when we arrived at the first of the old boat lifts at Thieu just outside La Louvière. Koos and Sindy collapsed in the shade while I went walk about (As I don't wear a black fur coat nor am I bald, I'm not as prone as either of them to heat strikes).

I walked down to the house of my dreams, which is the old lock keepers residence next to the now disused part of the old Canal du centre. The lock itself is being used as a hang out for the local young bloods. I often wish I could own this house as it fulfils every requirement either Koos or I have of a dream home. It's beautiful and it's in the country (me); it's next to a canal and lock, albeit disused (both) and you can definitely throw a stone to the working railway on the other side of the canal (Koos). Lastly, it's in a French speaking area not far from the border with France itself and is definitely influenced by French culture (me, and probably Koos too). Still, I know it's not to be and would be totally impractical given the current state of our life and commitments.

When I got back I walked round the small marina there and noticed some additions to the permanent moorings. We tried to get a mooring here ourselves a year or so ago, but obviously didn't try hard enough as someone else has succeeded. They were clearly more actively persistent than we who faded at the first signs of apathy from the harbour master.

By now, Koos and Sindy had revived, thanks to liberal quantities of water and zeez's. We walked round to see a barge entering the lock from the new canal, which would take it up to the basin in front of the first of the old boat lifts. During the summer months, the first three are in use, and many holiday travellers go up and down them just for the experience of using these historically important, and rather impressive, pieces of machinery. The last one was broken about seven years ago and the barge that caused the breakage still lies sadly in the canal next to it.

The poeple in the barge were Dutch and Koos was busy taking photos when they called out to him and asked if he wanted to go up with them. Now Koos has done the lifts a few times, but I never have, so he sweetly asked them if I could go too while he held on to Sindy. Her only aim in life was to go back to the car (normal compulsive obsessive behaviour for Sindy), so she wouldn't have taken kindly to coming too. I agreed with alacrity!

The little film at this YouTube link will give you an idea of what it was like. I loved it although the film doesn't show more than just a fragment, but the two Dutch couples were lovely, kind folk, chatting to me and giving me a cup of tea. I can't remember all their names now, but there was Steef and his wife, Janette, who stood with me in the bows. I was particularly impressed that these four, whose average age was probably the wrong side of 65, had travelled so far on this barge without apparently having that much experience - although this can be misleading I know.

The trip was worth it just for this, but our journey home was also lovely as we went off the beaten track and explored some magical countryside at a perfect time of day. The sun was setting and the hills took on a lovely mysterious remoteness. What a country of contradictions! So many people find it dreary, messy and ugly, but as I've said before, you have to go off the main roads to find the real Belgium. People who do will find a treasure trove of stunning scenery and memorable images.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunny summer days in coastal Flanders

We have escaped from Rotterdam for a whole wonderful week. That sounds as if I don't like the city, which isn't true, but bearing in mind every second weekend of the summer, there is some kind of event that closes streets, creates major cacophony and results in heaps of litter that take until the next event to clean up, it's not always the nicest place to be. This weekend, there's been F1 motor racing demos. I quite like this event, but the above complaints still hold, so it's been bliss to come down to Zeeuws Vlaanderen with the prospect of spending the next week here.

Although it is officially the Netherlands, it is really much more Flemish in style and atmosphere here, and is more truly described as coastal Flanders. I like the fact that it feels like a different country and that we have to go through Belgium to get here. There's also a toll gate on the approach road from Antwerp, which in its way, is like going through a border control. It gives me a special sense of belonging to Flanders that we have our own pass card for this toll. Silly, I know, but good too.

Sindy and I went for a run early this morning while the mists were still hanging over the fields. The sun was shining through the haze and it was peacefully lovely. Everywhere I looked the countryside was rich with green and gold, and when I got home, the view from the windows was breathtaking. The sun was burning off the mist, the sky was steely blue and the poplar trees for which this region is so famous, stood tall in their rich green line on the horizon. I realised how lucky I am to have this cottage in this place.

For the rest of the day, I have been enjoying the warm, sunny weather by working on the Hennie H. Koos has gone exploring on his scooter, so it's been a 'me time' day and I've just been doing small jobs as the fancy has taken me. The Hennie H is beginning to look more loved again and the good news is we have found a yard just across the canal that has a crane that can lift it out of the water easily. It's right at the end of the village and is a private place we thought had closed down. We'd both been thinking what a perfect place it would be to put it, so took the plunge to investigate, and are very excited to find that it's not just possible - we will probably be making the arrangements to move it over there this week.

I so hope it can be sorted out soon. The Hennie H was intended to be our fun boat, and that's about the last thing it's been. No doubt I'll keep you all posted on these developments, but for now, enjoy this lovely August....

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Not forgetting the Hennie H

We've just arrived back from an extended weekend in Zeeland. This was partly because I am officially on holiday at the moment, but we also wanted to spend some time working on the Hennie H. It still hasn't been to the slipway as we haven't found one yet that can lift it out of the water, but that aside, the little barge needed some TLC and it was time to get down to it - you can see some of this from the photo here, i.e the patchy paintwork on the hull

While Koos re-blacked the sides, I sanded and re-varnished the koekoeks and the entrance hatch, and then touched up the cream paint on the roof. Then yesterday, I went back again and sanded down the bench that runs round the stern of the boat. It was cracked and flaking and in really bad repair, so it took me a while, but after varnishing it, it looked a whole heap better. Not great - it can never be that - but at least no one would mind parking their behinds on it now. Previous reactions had been 'mind if I sit on the deck?' or 'the roof looks a nice place to stretch out'.

Today, then, I jumped on my little Vespa and went down there again to put a second coat of varnish on. It felt good using my scooter for something useful, especially as I went for a good spin afterwards.

Depsite being my holiday, I really enjoyed the work, It's a great spot in the harbour there in Sas van Gent and there's always a good breeze blowing. It really felt like being somewhere exotic with the sun shining down and yachts all around.

The Hennie H is such a sweet little barge and I have hopelessly impossible dreams for it. I really don't like the windows and we've wanted to change them for some time. A week ago or so I saw this picture of a trekschuit, which was almost the original Dutch bus. They were passenger boats pulled mostly by horses, but sometimes by people (hence the word trek), so they really did have lots of windows..totally legitimate and historic.

I think the Henni H would look fabulous with windows and doorways like this. We will really have to make a plan, won't we.....

Friday, August 07, 2009

This screw isn't loose!

As of today, I have a new propeller on the Vereeniging, although now I am more used to the Dutch word Schroef or just screw. When the ship was on the slipway on May we had the old screw adjusted in the hopes of improving its almost nonexistent reversing capabilities.

It didn't help at all as was evidenced by our getting grounded on the slipway when we were supposed to be leaving it (I don't think I mentioned that incident before, did I? Ah well, it was a bit embarrassing). So, after doing some calculations, I decided to bite the bullet and order a new propeller. We've had it a while but this week has been the first opportunity to put it on, as due to a mix up, no one was occupying the helling.

This morning, Koos, with Craig's willing help, fitted it, so voila! Below and above are photos of both the old and the new. The one with Momo is the old propeller. I'll update this later when I know how it has performed. Keep your fingers crossed, though. It was quite an investment!

This is the old one after it had been remounted following adjustment.

And this is the new one! It seems these bigger blades will make all the difference...I do hope so.


Well our trip back to the mooring was not really a good test, but I have to say I was a bit disappointed. I really really hope that when we get a chance to test it again, it will prove to be more effective. If not, well, that will be quite a heap of euros sunk into harbour...

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Oooooh nooooooo! Another barge in the family

Meet the Marion Aagje (pronounced Aah-hya). She is an 18 metre Dutch tjalk of slightly uncertain origin, but of good sound iron belly. And she is going to be Mo and Craig's very first own home. The only thing we know for sure is that she was built in 1890.

Mo is one after my own heart, it seems. She needs a project, and..well..there's nothing like a bit of conditioning to persuade you to a certain way of life, is there? Mo and Craig have been living here in the harbour since they arrived in the Netherlands and have now realised that normal life on terra firma is not for them....enter the Marion Aagje.

Today, we went to Amsterdam where the little tjalk had been towed for its insurance other parlance, to have its bottom checked. It was a nerve wracking hour or so, and we were glad we'd arrived after Rob the inspector (whom we happen to know as his ship lies here in the Oude Haven). He's known for his strength and power with the hammer, so we were happy we didn't have to witness him pounding on the tjalk's hull before he started measuring. Much to everyone's joy (the seller's most of all, but he was too cool to admit it) nearly everything was just fine, and only a few rivets need filling and a patch along the keel on the bottom. These can be done later.

So, after a visit to the Notaris when everything will be transferred to their names, Mo and Craig will start their new lives as bargees...and a few months down the line, I'll get my ship back.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Roof mania

The last couple of weeks have been dominated by roof work. First there was the skylight on the Vereeniging. Then last week, Koos and I stripped the roof of the Luxor, cleaned and de-rusted the old steel, painted it and applied self adhesive roofing felt (that bitumen-backed stuff they put on sheds and outhouses) across the entire length before covering it again with its 'authentic' tarpaulin. All this was in an effort to finally kill all the leaks that have been popping up since the weather got so hot. Now we are down in Westdorpe where the little house is also having a new roof put on....and no, ladies and gentlemen, I am not doing this job myself! For once I have conceded to greater knowledge and much greater professional skill. Erik the builder is doing it for me. I haven't taken any pics as yet, but will before I leave in the morning.It's going to look amazing, I'm sure. Unfortunately, the changeable weather has delayed things a tad, but not too much, so hopefully all will be finished in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, Koos and I went on a beautiful walk today. We found a previously unexplored (by us) arm of the Leopold Canal just over the border in Belgium. The afternoon was perfect, the canal was total and utter peace with not another soul in sight and the colours of the surrounding summer countryside were warm and vivid. Food for my soul to sustain me during the week in the city.