Starting the trip on the inland waterways; Antwerp and the Albert Canal

We arrived in Antwerp Sunday night, and had high hopes for an exciting Monday. But it turned out that almost everything is closed in Antwerp on Mondays. We took a walk through the old town anyways, and Mattis soon started asking questions about Jesus. At first we were puzzled about his newfound religiousness, but soon realized that it was due to the many statues of virgin Mary and baby Jesus. Coming direct from Holland, Antwerp really somehow had a very different feel, like we had arrived in southern Europe. And the weather was playing along – soon it was much too warm to walk around, and after a quick chat with google, we decided to spend the afternoon in a bar with a water playground. It turned out to be a very good decision, Esben and I were lucky to find a place in the shade with a drink, and the kids spent a couple running between the water and their ice teas.

Since we really wanted to see the Plantin-Moretus museum, we decided to stay in Antwerp at least until the afternoon the next day. Mattis wasn’t feeling well, so he and Esben stayed home while Runa and I went for some serious home schooling. The museum is located in the home of the Plantin-Moretus family, which also had the book shop and the printing business in it. The living room was decorated with portrait of the different family members painted by their family friend, Ruebens, and we learned how important knowledge was for the inhabitants of Antwerp, who traded with large parts of the world. Interactive exhibitions showed how the church used to control the spreading of knowledge, as it was the munks who wrote the books, and we learned how the invention of printing completely changed that. Runa got to dress up as a printer, and saw how each page that needed to be printed had to be set up, letter for letter, by hand. Somehow, it was not obvious to her how this was supposed to be a great leap forward in efficiency for printing… On the second floor, we saw the family’s large library  and examples of books that were printed. We spent a long time looking at the maps, and later learned how the printers actually took part in shaping the bible, as they took part in choosing which parts were printed, and which were not. And we saw the family’s  second Gutenberg bible. Pretty cool.

When we got back to Chip-Chip, Mattis was feeling better and insisted that we should go and see the Antwerp sewers. It turned out that we arrived at the sewers 45 minutes before the small boat tour we wanted to take, so we had time for some Belgian waffles at a nearby cafe while waiting. When the time was up we went down in the smelly sewers to the little boat that was waiting for us. While we slowly sailed along, a guide told us how the sewage system had been developed as Antwerp grew, and the waste water became very unpleasant in the city. I guess this is a part of city development that most people, including us, do not really contemplate when thinking of the history of a city. The sewers were lighted with blue and green lights, and Runa managed to find some stalactites developing from the roof. So despite of the smell, it was a cool little tour to do.

We really liked Antwerp, and could easily have spent some more time there, but Esben and I were eager to move on, and the next morning we left the marina with the first opening of the bridge at 6.00, making our way into the Albert Canal. We were the only pleasure boat on the canal, but we saw many river boats transporting goods along the canal. We went through three large locks that day, each raising us 10 meters upwards. In the first we were a bit apprehensive as they are made to ships much larger than Chip-Chip, but soon we learned how to handle it okay. Only problem was that our reverse gear became less and less reliable as the day went on. This is bad, because it’s essentially how we can stop the boat. So when we arrived in Hasselt after a long sunny day, the reverse gear failed completely, and Esben had to stop Chip-Chip’s 4,5 tons by hand. Not great. But we were lucky that the harbor master new exactly the mechanic we needed, and he showed up already the next day, removed the gear box, and told us which part was broken. And thanks to Facebook, we even managed to find a guy who would sell us the part – the making of which has been discontinued years ago. So we have had a much longer than planned stop in Hasselt, but hopefully we can soon move on!

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