Travelling the Inland Waterways of Europe from The Netherlands to France – Part 9

Travelling the Inland Waterways of Europe from The Netherlands to France – Part 9

Read about this trip from the start – here.  

Turnhout marina at night

I still struggled to understand Flemish. But I was starting to see a Gallic influence in Belgium. Local supermarkets had four times the space allocation for wine. We stared and stared at the range of beers on sale. Never in my life have I seen anything like it. Their pastries looked sublime. And you could buy hand-made chocolates – at the supermarket! We avoid cheeses but the cheese selection was looking a lot more French. And of course, although we were in Flanders, we heard a bit of French spoken around us. I could see a bit of southern Europe in the appearance of locals. I also noticed holy Mary statues on the corners of buildings.

Turnhout is the heart of the brick industry

The shift from super industrial Antwerp to sleepy rural St Job – which was our next stop – was dramatic. From the frenetically busy Albert Kanaal we turned off into the Schoten-Dessel-Turnhout Canal and it was instantly rural. The little marina in St Job was an absolute pleasure. No more sharing Internet with hundreds of humans. It worked. The showers and toilets were immcaulate. Havenmeester came out to meet us and we got a parking space right next to the facilities. There were only a few more boats to arrive after us and that was it! Even the barges tied up along the banks of the river for the night.

Schoten-Dessel-Turnhout Canal

Speciality foods to try in Belgium? As aspirant vegans most people would think we don’t have many options. But we do. Belgian frites are available on nearly every corner. We skip the mayo and have salt. We found dark Belgian chocolates which are milk free with nut and fruit fillings. Don’t know how they do it but Belgian chocolate is good. And Belgian beers are the business. There are around 400 different beers in Belgium. A person could drink a new beer a day for a year and still not get through all of them. Brewing is an art in Belgium and the Trappist monks seem to have been blessed with a knack of making what we think are the best beers on earth. I was told by the vegan I met in Antwerp that all the Trappist beers are filtered with a reusable sediment and contain no animal products.

After one night in St Job we set off for Turnhout. Four locks and 10 bridges that needed to be opened. The Imray book said the waterway operators keep in contact with each other and open the bridges for you. But we found that you had to call them up on Channel 20 on the VHF radio. A bit of a problem as ours wasn’t working. We had yet to find someone who could fix it. Fortunately we were in convoy with a family who lived on their barge. They spoke a little Dutch and got us through. There wasn’t a lot of space to moor but a sweet elderly chap motioned us to a space next to his boat. And helped us with our ropes. I love that people pitch in and help out with ropes. We’ve met some lovely people on our travels. By 7.30pm the havenmeester (harbour master) still hadn’t come to collect his mooring fee so my other half went looking for him. The havenmeester came past later to let us all know that there was a public holiday that weekend which would affect bridge and lock opening times. We were grateful for that info. He looked just like Father Christmas. A most unlikely looking havenmeester. His English wasn’t great but we managed to get by with a mix of English and Afrikaans.

Playing card museum in Turnhout

Turnhout, capital of the Kempen region in Flanders is the main shopping area. Expect to find the usual retailers represented. Turnhout is where bricks are made. If you look at their houses, but also the local castle, you can see fancy brickwork with different coloured bricks. It’s also an agricultural region. The Dessel Turnhout canal winds through farms and the region is distinctly pastural. It’s flat and the canal is surrounded by a mix of tall trees from Oaks to Copper Beeches. We were expecting more boat traffic in such a pretty area but it was surprisingly quiet. Which is a pleasure on a wide canal. So I’ve mentioned it’s been hot. Europe had experienced 8 consecutive weeks of high temperatures which had caused a water shortage on the canals. The lock-keepers were being judicious with openings and closings. We had to wait for a boat to lock down before we could lock up.

Card playing museum Turnhout

This area is distinctly reminescent of the northern French canals with a tow path and tall shady trees on either side. Except you encounter the odd small working barge. Knowing there was a public holiday disrupting bridge and lock times, we thought it best to go as far as we could along the Kanaal-van-Dessel-over-Turnhout-naar-Schoten Kanaal. Yes we were on schedule, but a person never knows what can happen en-route. Bridges break, boats give trouble, public holidays all conspire against a proper plan. We both prefer to have a day or three in hand with our travel plans. And on that note, we think that boat hire companies are far too ambitious with their recommendations. Yes, a person does want to see as much as possible. But part of being on a boat is relaxing. And enjoying your trip, your meals as well as exploring local villages and markets. A hectic boating schedule puts paid to that.

We took a day out in Turnhout and popped into the Tourism Info office to find out what to do. Belgium is not really geared for English visitors. It seems they expect obviously Belgians, possibly Dutch and maybe German tourists. So unfortunately not all information is available in English. They rotate open days at the various museums in Turnhout. The card making museum had free access that day so we made a turn there. There was a young guy who spoke perfect English but he was at the reception desk. The lady giving the tour said her English wasn’t good enough. We wandered around on our own or tried to listen in and make sense of the talks in Flemish. Turnhout was the place where playing cards were printed. Fortunately many of the the exhibits had English information. The youngster popped away from his station to check on us (so nice of him) and asked if we had questions which he answered. We each got a complimentary deck of cards from them which was a lovely gesture.

The story continues – here.

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