Travelling the Inland Waterways of Europe from The Netherlands to France – Part 8

Travelling the Inland Waterways of Europe from The Netherlands to France – Part 8

Read about this trip from the start – here.

Marina in Antwerp

Antwerp marina can accommodate some seriously big boats. Fancy shiny boats. The kind of boat an oligarch would have. We walked past them on the way to havenkantoor (harbour office). These are floating holiday homes. They have satellite TV, fresh flowers, pampered pets and designer interiors. Well heeled folk sit on their back deck sipping chilled prosecco or champagne and gaze down on the rest of us. We also walked past teeny tiny little yachts where no more than two people can squeeze in. All-weather gear is mandatory as they spend most of their time on deck. And they brush their teeth over the side of their boats – with a bottle of water. The variety in boats never ceases to amaze us. We love seeing old ex-working boats like tugs and trawlers lovingly restored by enthusiasts. Often a group of them will arrive together. And you get house-boats lurking on the waterways and in the marinas. There are people who live all year round on their boats. And sometimes take their homes on holiday. Handy that. We’ve met families who home-school their children and travel the world.

View of Antwerp from the Mas Museum

Sundays not a lot happens. So we treated ourselves to a lie in. Even the supermarkets only open for a few hours. We took the day out to catch up on chores – laundry, boat washing, grocery shopping, e-mails, paying bills, etc. The weather was still hot. Europe had been having one of it’s hottest summers with consistent highs and record breaking temperatures. We waited until early evening and then went to see the panoramic view of Antwerp from the top of the Mas Museum right next to the marina. It’s free to go to the top which is the 10th floor. There is a fee to visit the rest of the museum.

Although boating is hardly arduous, it does requires concentration and planning. There’s always a lock or a bridge or something that has to opened. You need to keep a watch for other waterway traffic – and humans. People do stand-up paddling, canoeing, swimming in the harbours and near the boats. And of course finding a space for the night can be a challenge. A day doing something different is a pleasant change. We took the next day out to travel by train to Ghent. My other half wanted a day there and for me to see Ghent as he’s been there by ship a few times. We would have needed at least week to incorporate Ghent by boat. However it was a mere one hour train ride from Antwerp.

Belgium has nearly 400 different beers

Our day got going fairly early and we hotfooted it up to Antwerp Cenraal train station. A fair walk from the marina. Antwerp Centraal station is a beautiful building. It has a wide domed ceiling with lots of curvy ornate bits. And gold coloured decorations. Very, very elaborate. There is a refurbished cafe where you can have a bite or a drink and soak up the opulence. We decided to do that when we got back. A few minutes later we were on our way to Ghent.

Antwerp Station

Pity there wasn’t much tourist info signage in Ghent. MapsMe to the rescue again. We sort of aimed for the centre of Ghent. Once in Ghent, the Tourist Information signs pointed in totally differing directions. Someone must have played a prank. Needless to say we got lost. Thankfully helpful locals guided us in the right direction and we found the Info Centre. Ghent is a cute olde world city with loads of cathedrals and historical buildings. Unfortunately we only had half a day to spare. How to choose what to do? My husband and I decided to do a canal boat tour and wander the streets. Have a meal somewhere. Have a Belgian beer somewhere else. And walk slowly back to the station. We found a fabulous veggie place called Greenways. We also tried a local sweet called a cuberdon or a “nose”. It’s a soft gooey cross between a wine gum and Turkish Delight. Made from Gum Arabic they’re fine for vegans. Noses have a hint of violet but are fruit flavoured. One or two is enough as they are very, very sweet.


On the way back we stopped at the fancy cafe at Antwerp Centraal station to have a Belgian beer. I decided to try a Gauloise berry beer and my husband had a Gauloise dark beer. He loves these dark honey flavoured Trappist beers. I didn’t think berries and beer would work. I was wrong. They are unbelievably nice. Refreshing. And pack an 8.2% alcohol content.

It was time to get going again. We were heading through the Kempen region toward Turnhout. As we left Antwerp harbour my husband called up the havenbestuurder (harbour manager) to Afmeld (de-register). New aerial, new cable, things should be fine. Unfortunately not. The mariphone was still working intermittently. Fortunately we had the Imray Inland Waterways of Belgium book. And fortunately they provide phone numbers and mobile numbers for bridges, locks, marinas and harbours. Although the book was printed in 2005, the numbers still work. My husband had also made sure his mobile phone was topped up – just in case. We used his phone a good few times on our trip.

Greenie on the Turnhout Kanal

The other big thing we had to do was get a vignet. It’s a licence disc you buy at one of the locks. You’re supposed to stick it to the rear port side of your boat. The first lock keeper was on the ball and we didn’t even have to ask for one. My other half  keeps a file with all the boat details so it was all ready and waiting. You only need a vignet in Flanders, not in Wallonia. Begium is almost two countries. The Flemish speaking top half of Flanders and the French speaking bottom half of Wallonia. Brussels is an area in the middle that is both Flemish and French. It’s almost a neat line dividing the country in half. Signs and notices are in Flemish up north and in French down south. Having said that, place names have a French AND a Flemish name. So if a French person talks about Liege (pronounced lee age) and a Flemish person is talking about Luik (pronounced lake) it’s actually the same place. Belgians knows this. The rest of us don’t. Mostly there is some semblance of similarity in the place names but not always. How about Lille and Rijsel? Or Haut Escaut and Bovenschelde?

The story continues – here.

Travelling the Inland Waterways of Europe from The Netherlands to France – Part 7

Travelling the Inland Waterways of Europe from The Netherlands to France – Part 7

Read about this trip from the start – here.

Arriving in Anterwerp via the waterways

I don’t know why, but I was expecting a bit of something when we crossed the border from the Netherlands into Belgium. At least a sign saying you’re leaving one country and passing into another. There was nothing. We had to check the map to see where we were and discovered we had popped into Belgium. Without even knowing it.

Heading toward Antwerp it was becoming decidedly industrialized. We also started wearing our lifejackets in the locks as they are deeper – and it’s a Belgian recommendation. And then we got to Antwerp harbour. The second biggest harbour in the world – after Rotterdam – before Hamburg. We motored over 16 kilometres straight through the harbour and everywhere you looked there was another branch or arm leading off – full of barges and ships. Antwerp has 13 057 hectares of harbour. Some stats from 2010 show that Antwerp harbour turns over 40 ships, 156 barges and 250 train loads of goods per day. No wonder barges were going past Tholen all night long.

Antwerp harbour

And again I was expecting to go through immigration, have my passport checked. My husband specifically asked the havenmeester (harbour master) about this. We didn’t want a problem as a result of not being stamped in. The havenmeester phoned his local authority and was told we needn’t worry. Certainly the opposite of how it works at airports – but there you go. This havenmeester has his very own dinghy and he races out to meet the incoming boats as the bridge opens and guides them into free spaces in Willemdok marina. Very helpful that. He was a friendly guy with a John Wayne accent when he spoke English. He probably honed his pronouciations listening to American movies.

Havenmeester coming to meet the boats

Have I mentioned how much we loved being in the Netherlands? It’s organised, everything works. The people are the country’s biggest asset. Direct but friendly. And now after three summers we were in Belgium. We went for a quick walkabout in Antwerp and stopped for a drink. A Belgian beer of course. And it hit us – Belgium is different. I would expect a contrast between Sweden/Norway and Italy/Spain. But Belgium is right next door to Holland. They speak almost the same language. Yet the people are different in manner and even appearance. The architecture and style was not the same. I had gotten used to bending my brain to understand Dutch and now I couldn’t undertand Flemish. We went back to the boat and sat on the deck, glass of wine in hand chatting and listening to the sound of laughter and water lapping on the boats tied up. It was one place we could get some relief from the sticky heat.

Antwerp harbour

Our first priority in Antwerp was to get the mariphone fixed. On our way into Antwerp my other half had tried to radio the bridge operator on his mariphone and there was no reply. We figured s/he wasn’t interested in us. Luckily as we got to the bridge he motioned us over and said the protocol was to call him on the VHF. Which we had done. A few times. My husband had eventually phoned. Turned out our mariphone wasn’t working.  The following day, I left my husband to find a marine supplies shop and do his best while I went exploring. Access in and out the marina was via a card. We arranged that I would text him to let me back in. Fortunately my husband was able to figure out the mariphone problem. The wiring in the boat is 21 years old and the cable had disintegrated. He replaced the aerial and wiring. He also managed to get the float on the fuel gauge going. Boating is more than just cruising the canals.

Meanwhile I met a bunch of vegans at an animal anti-cruelty outreach in Antwerp and they had suggested some vegan eateries for us to try.  That evening I treated my other half to a meal and a glass of wine. We were both tired and went back to the boat early. There was a sprinkle of rain which cooled the air.


The havenmeester had given us a map and a booklet of what was happening in Antwerp. We liked the idea of a city walk which takes place at 14.00pm from the Tourist Info office – Tue to Sat  in high season – and lasts 3 hours. The information office said it was €7 per person if you pre-booked. Or €9 per person if you pitched up on the day. Only thing was they do the tours – in two languages per tour. They also had a guide book for €5 which lets you to do your own thing. Luckily they had an English book. We opted for the book which allowed us to explore at our own pace. In English only. And at 1/3 of the price. We somehow managed to drag the walk out to 5 hours by which time we were exhausted, so raced through the last few pages. There’s a LOT of information to take in. Each museum or historical place expects an entrance fee. We poked our nose in those places but didn’t venture in.


The nice thing about following a proper guide versus just wandering about is you get to see places you would never have known about. And find out about their role in history and modern times. The bad thing about this guide is the directions were not clear. Not sure if it was due to a poor translation from Flemmish to English? Or if the writer assumed the visitor would have a detailed map as well as the guide? Thank goodness my other half has a MapsMe app on his smart-phone. It doesn’t need data. You load up maps of your intended destination and then refer to them when you need them. You can delete them when you’re done with that part of the workd. Without that app we would never have been able to do the walk. He also uses MapsMe on the waterways when he’s not sure about something on the nautical map. I use it to find a long straight road to go for the odd run so I don’t get lost. That app has been immensely valuable to us.

Part of Antwerp Pride drive by

While we were doing our city walk, Antwerp was having a Pride festival. There was a Gay Vintage Car Club and members had decked their cars out in flags, flowers, feather boas, you name it. The drivers and passengers dressed up in bright colours. A pink satin suit with a pink feather hat to match was one of the colourful outfits we saw. There were lots of pop-up venues for eating, drinking and partying all over Antwerp.
The story continues – here.



Travel in Belgium in 2012

Eurostar train times ex London

This was a whistle stop trip as we only had two nights and three days in Belgium. The point of the visit to Belgium was essentially for my husband to look at boats. Fortunately Belgium is a small country making it possible to squeeze in a fair amount of sightseeing around the boat viewing. It’s the ideal place for a long weekend or city break.

The Eurostar

We arrived at London Heathrow early Friday morning and took the tube to St Pancras Station. That cost around £5. From there we took the Eurostar, which traveled south through the UK, into the underground tunnel, back up and on to Lille in France, ending up in Brussels. The train takes 2 hours from London to Brussels and cost £69 each. There is a one hour time difference between the UK and Belgium so bear that in mind if you make any travel connections.

Ibis Ste Catherine

Turns out the Eurostar is a great way to get around much of Europe. There are trains to Holland, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium. See more here – Eurostar.

Tin Tin fresco

The Belgian weather is a lot like Holland and Britain. It’s a sequence – the sun comes out and then it rains – all day long. We arrived at Gare du Midi/Zuid Station to a chilly, drizzly Brussels. We usually stay at Ibis Hotels since we always look for bargains. The cheapest Ibis was Centre Ste Catherine which was in the heart of the city. It wasn’t the most upmarket area but their rooms were of the same standard we have come to expect from Ibis Hotels. Affordable, comfortable, clean and decidedly compact. Most services are usually extra at Ibis, however in this particular Ibis, wi-fi was free.

More frescoes

Read more about Ibis here – Ibis Hotels.

Ibis do a buffet style breakfast, for a fee, with emphasis on local cuisine. We always eat breakfast out.
One reason is because we usually find cheaper food elsewhere and the second reason is that it gives us a chance to explore the place we are visiting.

Breakfast on our first day wasn’t great. We were in a helluva hurry and ate at McDonald’s. No need to explain. But on the second day we found a gorgeous place where they served pastries and quiches with coffee.

Waffles and ice cream vendor
Art at one of the underground stations

There were plenty fancy restaurants in and around the Grand Place/Grote Markt which was walking distance from our hotel. Since I don’t eat meat and Belgian food is similar to French fare, we opted to eat at the one of the Mediterranean places that we found. They are cheaper and healthier with lots of fresh salads. But not before we tried a Belgian beer, or two, in a pub. And we ate Belgian chocolate. After all that is what Belgium is famous for. Be warned. Belgian beers are surprisingly tasty and some of them pack a punch. The chocolate is divine. You can buy assorted individual hand-made chocolates and we tried loads of different ones. Good thing we only had a few days in Belgium.

Read Part 2 of our Belgium city break – here – or go back to the – Travel Archive – page to read about other destinations.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

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