We had only just arrived in Hasselt, when the harbour master came down to suggest how we could tests the broken gear box – unfortunately we had already made those tests, which had made it clear that the problem was inside the gear box. Which sucked. Because it’s not easy getting it out, and we were gonna need some professional help. Luckily, the harbour master, our new best friend, knew exactly the guy we needed. Jan, the mechanic, showed up the next morning, and spent a couple of hours sweating in the tiny engine compartment of Chip-Chip. Which essentially means, he laid with his head and arms down by the engine and his legs sticking out into the cabin, because that’s the only way you can access the gear box. By that same evening we had learned that the whole gear box looked great, except for the one peace that was worn. And guess what? Our engine is almost 50 years old, so the broken piece can not be bought. Jan, Esben and I all tried to figure out how to get the part, and by the next morning, we had contact to a guy in Svendborg, a specialist in old gear boxes, who had several of our type lying around and was willing to take them apart and find the best of the missing piece we needed. Amazing what some nice people and facebook can do, only two days after arriving, we knew how to get our broken gear box fixed. It did, however, end up taking quiet some days before our package arrived and the fixed gear box could go back in the boat, so we had some days in Hasselt, and since it was very, very warm (up to 38 degrees some days) we spent a lot of time in the local pool. Mattis could not swim when we left Germany, but after two days of swimming, he suddenly knew how to dive – swimming with his butt sticking out of the water and his head below the water, desperately coming up for air every now and then. But he was swimming, and felt very cool.
When Jan came back with the repaired gear box ready to go back in the boat I took the kids to the local market with the intention to do some grocery shopping. But instead we spent 1,5 hours looking at the rabbits that were for sale. We promised them that they can have a rabbit each when we come home, so we had long discussions about the color the rabbit should be, how they will be fed and whether we can take them for a walk. As the market was closing down I told the kids that we would have to leave the rabbits now if they wanted to buy strawberries, but it didn’t matter, we stayed by the rabbits as long as possible and had to do our shopping in the supermarket afterwards.
Everybody were so nice in Hasselt, but we were very relieved when we were finally ready to leave. We knew we had a long day ahead on the Albert Canal – the highway of the Belgian canals, so Esben and I got up at 5.30, ready for the first lock right next to the harbour. These early mornings are some of our best times for us. Motoring slowly along, watching the sunrise while drinking coffee. Esben usually bakes bread for us, and slowly the kids wake up.
This day we knew we would sail through a more variable landscape. So far it’s been flat and very industrialized, but after being raised 10 meters in three locks each, the bank became steeper, and soon we turned right, towards Maastricht. We saw caves dug into the bank, which our guidebook told us were used for ammunition by the Germans during the war, and are now used for champagne and mushrooms. Not sure if it’s true, they looked very closed, and not really safe. And our guidebook is 15 years old…
The Albert Canal became La Meuse in Liege, and we continued towards Huy, a beautiful little town with old bridges and a Citadel towering over the city. We moored in the little marina, where we quickly realized that having arrived in the French part of Belgium now, life would be much easier if we started practicing our French – something that happens naturally since hardly anybody spoke english suddenly. We took a walk in Huy that evening, but already the next morning we were ready to leave again to go to Namur, the capital of the french-speaking part of Belgium.
We now had cliffs all around us, and it was a beautiful sail. Only problem was the locks, which were still quiet industrial, and where nobody spoke any english. But we followed our tactics from yesterday, when we had followed a french motorboat, and followed a dutch boat into the locks, while making sure we were not in the way of the large and powerful river barges. And it worked fine. We arrived in Namur by noon, and got a space on the marina side of the river (the one with the toilets), with a beautiful view to the citadel, which was towering above the city. People were bathing in the river, and we were quick to follow – so wonderful after the log time in the dirty Albert Canal. Later, a quick google search showed us the way to the citadel. We would have liked to have a tour through the underground passages, but we were too late for that, so instead we took a little bus tour around the citadel with a guide, teaching us about the military history of the place. We could easily have spent a couple of more days in Namur, but we were getting to the point where I needed to go back to Bremerhaven for a month, and we wanted to be in Dinant when I left. So on we went.
The trip from Namur to Dinant is probably the most beautiful so far. Beautiful old houses, old bridges and wonderful nature. And when we arrived in Dinant, we moored right below the citadel one more time. Only here it was even more impressive. We had a day to enjoy the town before I left, and to the kids delight, the cable car to the citadel was the same price as the stairs (yes, the already learned that we always hope for a cheap option), so up we went, trying not to think about what would happen if the cable broke.
In the citadel, we were only allowed entrance to the main parts in the company of a guide – who did the tour in dutch and french. So yes, definitely have to practice that french. Before we left on this trip, we hadn’t really given much thought to the role of the Germans in the world wars, but as we slowly travel through Europe, we repeatedly learn about the wars, and Dinant was the scariest place yet. Here, almost 700 civilians were killed by German soldiers in WWI, and the exhibition in the citadel was very well made, including pictures of the water front from 1914, before and after the attack. This was exactly the place we were moored today, and the whole exhibition made a great impression on us all, and made Runa look at us with big confused eyes: “The Germans did that?”. So we had some talks about war and fear and desperation. We ended the trip by walking down the 408 steps that used to be the only entrance to the citadel. And after the exhibition in the citadel, it was not difficult to imagine how young men had fallen to their death on those stairs while fighting to control the citadel and the river.
When we came down, it was time to shift focus, and we went to get pizza on the water front, celebrating our last full day together before I had to go back to Bremerhaven for a month. And later we decided to move to the other side of the river – because the evening shade comes there about one hour earlier, and yes, it matters!