Monday, February 28, 2022

High Water fun and games

It's hard not to feel that what happens in our lives right now is insignificant when compared to what's going on in Ukraine. Indeed, our own ups and downs seem very minor and hardly worth a mention, but even so, the last week has been one of 'firsts'.

For instance it's the first time ever the Netherlands (and probably all Europe) has experienced three severe storms in succession. Added to that, it's the first time I can remember that even when the storms passed, we've still had gales and heavy rain showers for the rest of the week.

Another first is that apparently the river on which the Vereeniging is now moored has never overflowed the bank before, an event that had us in a state of alarm on Monday while storm three was raging. 

The photo below was sent to Koos by a kind neighbour who lives in the flats opposite the mooring. We'd only been at the crumbly cottage for a day, having sat out storms Dudley and Eunice on the barge, but to be honest, we weren't expecting Franklin. When we left my lovely barge, all was well apart from the loss of my steering wheel cover (which has since been retrieved from the water). By Sunday evening, though, the wind was howling again and Franklin had arrived. 

However, he had a sting in his tail, and brought torrential rain and hail in his wake, the result being the river rose and overflowed for the first time anyone can remember. The consequence of such an unexpected overstrooming as the Dutch call it, was that the ropes were too tight and the Vereeniging was listing. There was also a risk of damage to the hull because the fenders were no longer protecting her from the concrete sides of the quay. Lastly, we were both worried that if it rose any higher, there was a chance she might tip too far over, allowing water to enter our wastewater outlet pipe

The photo taken from our neighbour's balcony. 

The photo above was the one the neighbour took. As you can see, the path along which we normally walk was under water, but the interesting angle at which the Vereeniging was lying was not so apparent then. It's a pity I didn't take a photo when we arrived but it was getting dark and we had other priorities. 

Fortunately, the water hadn’t risen too high above the quayside, and we could paddle to the barge. Anyway, we released the ropes and she righted herself with a sigh of relief. A neighbour helped us out with old car tires to protect the hull (they fill with water so they sink below the surface, rather than float, which is what the fenders do), and we weighted another large fender to keep us from the wall. Our electricity cable had also got submerged. Of course, we had no power and by this time, it was completely dark.

But, as always, we have torches. I also have a good supply of LED lights and with the oil stove, we could cook, but the main problem was water. No power, no pump! Fortunately, we had a bottle of water in the car, so could at least make coffee. And the next day, I bought more from the local supermarket. Climbing on and off the boat was more of a task, though. I must say I’m glad we both still have our hips and knees and could haul ourselves up and down the extra height! Even so, the following day we put a step in place to make it easier, which we've now left in place – after all, we're not so young that we don't enjoy a bit of help.

As for the high water, it lasted the whole of the next day before it started to drop. By the time we left last Saturday, we were completely back to normal although it continued to blow hard and rain for most of the week. To our relief, we had the power back again on Tuesday afternoon, thanks to the harbour master’s timely arrival. The poor man doesn’t have good knees so negotiating the bank was impossible for him. He didn't have Wellies either and he had to pick his way along the flooded path very carefully. 

For us, this has been a lesson. Despite the locks at each end of the river, the water level can’t be relied on. We have, you might say, taken note. Another thing we’ve been reminded of is that good neighbours are gold. I am so very grateful to them for their help, so Serge and Marcel, if you see this heel hartelijk bedankt!

Saturday morning and back to normal, but the tyres and fat fender remain
just in case!

Just a nice view from the town end of the harbour about 500 metres on 
from the Vereeniging

So that was our excitement for the week. As I said, it seems paltry in comparison to what is happening in eastern Europe now, but it was quite a challenge for us and we felt it wise to stay on board until the weather had stabilised completely. It is now bright, sunny and very cold, but at least it's not blowing a hoolie, as we say.

Have a good week, allemaal!

Sunday, February 20, 2022

A foray into France

 I'm late posting again. I should have written this blog last week, but life and then interruptions in the form of Dudley and Eunice (storms of note) got in the way. The last few days have been spent anxiously tying things down and watching the stormy conditions from the Vereeniging's windows. Luckily, the worst we suffered personally was when we saw my handmade steering wheel cover, which I thought would be almost impossible to remove, lift off and take flight across the water. 

Others were not so fortunate, sadly. The cost in damage and life has been high and the news has been sobering. We have lost one of our own community to Eunice in a tragic accident, and our hearts go out to his family.

But before Eunice came to disrupt and destroy, Koos and I took a trip down to Chauny in the Aisne department of northern France last Sunday. The reason for our trip was to chase a dream, which proved to be just that, but we had a lovely day anyway, which justified the journey.

One of my hobbies is looking at houses for sale in places I love. I have apps for France, Portugal and South African property sites and whenever I feel glum about Dutch weather, I start browsing. It keeps my dreams of travel and moving alive and I can spend happy hours looking at houses, finding their locations and following Google street-view to see what the area is like. 

The week before last, I was immersed in the French app when I came across what looked at first to be an unprepossessing bungalow. What caught my attention, though, was the waterway in front of it. Where was that? I asked myself. So clicking on the image, I checked the details of the ad. It claimed the bungalow was near Chauny on the Canal de St Quentin. 

Immediately interested, I checked the rest of the details, which mentioned the bungalow had two bedrooms and a large garden. I showed Koos, who was instantly captivated by the idea, and he set about finding its location based on the photos shown of the bungalow's environs. He’s quite a wizard on Google Earth, so with the clues provided, it wasn’t too much of a challenge.

I should mention that we both love Chauny, we adore the canal and we particularly like the scenery in the area. This little house had all the hallmarks of 'the dream', added to which it was incredibly cheap. Well, Koos's sleuthing found it and we became even more excited as it was very close to the junction with the Canal de l'Oise à l'Aisne where there is not only a lock, but an aqueduct too. We’d stopped below the lock in 2017 and had fallen in love with the tranquillity of the area.

Long story shorter, we decided not to wait for the estate agents to respond (they never did), and last Sunday we made a day out of travelling down to see what the bungalow was really like. In reality, it was a disappointment, confirmed when a delightful old lady living in one of the other houses said it was no longer for sale; the owner had withdrawn it from the market.

Not to be denied our day out, though, we took our picnic lunch to the lock and then went for a walk along the aqueduct. The photos below tell a better story than I can of the magical scene. The Oise river over which the aqueduct is built was in flood and water inundated many of the fields along its route. To me, it looked as if this often happens as the houses were built on rises and there seemed to be plenty of room for the water to spread out.

The Canal de St Quentin (looking north)
with an flooded field to the right
The entrance to the lock is behind me

The Canal de St Quentin
looking south

The lock into the Canal de l'Oise à l'Aisne

Looking across the aqueduct to the river below

The aqueduct over the Oise river

Mistletoe in the trees against a dramatic sky

I liked the aqueduct, as you might have realised

Looking back to the lock from the top

Canals always call me. I just want to go!

As you might have noticed from my snaps, the weather deteriorated, but not enough to spoil our day. Still, it was getting cold and blustery, so we retreated to the car and took a drive to another bridge across the Oise/Aisne canal, by which time the weather improved again, which made for another nice canal photo or two.

What was interesting here was the sign showing this to be the area in which Robert Louis Stevenson made a journey along the Oise river with a friend as part of a longer trip starting in Antwerp. The river here is popular with canoeists who are encouraged to follow in Stephenson's...erm...paddle strokes? (well, they can't be footsteps, can they?). 

What I liked most is that the Oise also runs parallel to the Canal de la Sambre à l'Oise, and goes through some of our absolute favourite places. It's special to know that RLS loved it here too and must have seen or known of all these charming villages, like Tupigny and Vadencourt. He wrote a book about this particular journey, which I have and have read parts of but still need to finish. Koos also paddled along the Oise in this area with his sons many years ago although he didn't know of Stevenson's journey at the time.

Our last destination of the day had us circling back to a bridge we could see from the aqueduct, but before we reached it, we found another piece of interesting history. The photos below tell the story of why this particular section of bridge is mounted on blocks next to the Oise river.

In brief, and as I understand it, the real bridge over the Oise at Manicamp was destroyed at the end of May, 1940. As the information says, it was brand new but was never reconstructed during the war. Instead, this section of a 'floating road bridge' (designed by English engineer, Allan Beckett and used as temporary ports in Normandy) was installed so that locals could at least cross the river and use their normal route. However, as it was only put in place in 1947, the poor souls had to wait nearly seven years to regain access to the villages and towns on the other side.

Now replaced by a real bridge, the 'passerelle' as it was called was put to rest here as a historical war monument in 2016. I may have got some of the details wrong, and I've just tried to glean the main points from the boards without going into too much detail. But all you French experts out there, feel free to correct me! I'm just translating what I think it means.

So, a fascinating and highly enjoyable day was had by the two of us. We haven't been on such an excursion for ages and despite the distance (a round trip of 500kms which Koos nobly drove single-handed), it did us both a power of good. We might not have found our dream cottage, but with trips like these, we're quite happy to keep on seeking.

Enjoy your week, allemaal. Take care. It's stormy out again tonight, so keep out of harm's way!

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Seeking out stories in Belgium

I'm a bit late with my blog again this week, for which I apologise. I'm finding it difficult to keep up with everything I want to do alongside my work and my own writing has been suffering as a result. I've got so many DIY jobs to sort out I'm having to keep a list. Yes, me. I never keep lists, but this one's on the fridge so I can't lose it. There are admin jobs to do as well, which I've been putting off, but won't be able to do so for much longer. Mr Taxman waits for no man, or in my case, woman.

But having said that, we did make a brief escape last weekend. For just one lovely day on Saturday, the sun shone for most of the day albeit with a biting cold wind. I think you can even see the clouds moving in my photo below. It was very chilly, but lovely to get out. We did a brief incursion across the border into Belgium where we found a lovely walk along an old railway line. These were the views we saw.

Once the wind got too cold, we escaped back into the car and went for a drive ending up in the border town of Assenede. I was about to say it's a village, but I'm not sure that would be correct. It's actually quite large and seems to go on forever, but right near the centre, we found this fascinating corner.

The photo above shows the sign marking what used to be an old harbour. There's nothing there now and the waterway has long gone, but Assenede used to have a small but busy port on a waterway called the Braakmanbaai. The sign below tells us that the harbour allowed flat-bottomed boats almost into the centre of Assenede where they could load and offload. However, it was already out of use in the 16th century due to silting. I think it's remarkable that the sign and information are still kept here. A nice piece of history that captured my imagination. Apparently there's a stream running through the middle of the old harbour channel, but we didn't see any sign of it.

Another interesting snippet from Assenede, and this time a more quirky one, is told by these two photos below. The odd sculpture of a man eating a stone derives from the story in the sign, which tells us that several centuries ago, the people of Assenede spent what was considered to be a wasteful amount of money on having their village street paved with stone. This expense came back to bite them when during a crisis (probably a famine) in the 19th century, the residents of the village were starving and had no money to buy food. The story goes that the people of the surrounding villages mocked the good folk of Assenede by saying they'd have to eat stones instead; hence the rather alarming looking sculpture. It seems a bit unfair on them really given that it was probably their forebears who committed the costly folly.

It's amazing what we find in these out of the way places, isn't it? Incidentally, just behind our stone-eating man is a bollen pitch, which is a kind of bowles. At the moment it's covered in a protective tarpaulin, but when the warmer weather comes, we'll be able to see the older folk of the village playing their traditional game here too.

This last photo is of the track that runs along the edge of the old harbour. It's private property, but I rather liked the collection of red brick buildings at the back there.

Altogether, it was a lovely uitje as the Dutch might call it, and it did us good to do something different for a change. Hopefully, there'll be more of these excursions in the weeks to come, weather permitting.

Enjoy the rest of your week allemaal, and I'll be back to catch up with you all soon.