In Paris we are joined by Dan’s grand niece (several times removed) Gabby and her friend Olivia visiting us from Massachusetts. We spent four days exploring Paris with light shows on the Invalidies, Napolean’s tomb, champagne at the Criillion Hotel, Museum d’Orsay, a side trip to Monet’s garden in Giverney, cruising True East up the Seine and a day of shopping to boot.
We left Paris on Canal St Martin and travel a mile and half in a tunnel under the city before entering the Canal St Denis with its 17 locks on route to Cergy. Gabby and Olivia leave us here and head back to Paris for a few more days on their own.
At Cergy we enter the Oise River and work our way north, stopping first at Compiegne where we pick up some fuel from the barge. Another wonderful small french city with it’s palace and fortress and even a light show at night. Our friend Bernd from Coconut Grove joins us here for a few days of canal cruising.
It’s now about 7 locks a day as be head thru Peronne and enter the 3 mile long Rayoulcourt tunnel. This tunnel is wider, taller and better lit than the one at Mauvages on the Rhine-Marne Canal, it even has a passing zone in the middle. At Douai, we are tied to the quay wall for the night before moving on to Lille.
Dan and Marcia visited Lille briefly a couple of years ago and looked forward to returning. Unfortunately, the facilities for recreational boats are minimal. We ended up tied to the dock of a canoe school that graciously allowed us to stay for a few days. Once again, we visited the citadel, the very old cathedral with a wooden roof and a couple of museums….did I mention the food? Bernd leaves us here and head into the Canal de Nor just in time to miss the world largest flea market with over 2 million attendees – yikes!
We are now headed for Dunkirk and the North Sea, a couple of days cruising. At Armentiers, we leave the canal and head into a marina with a huge regional park. After dredging our way in, we tied up and enjoyed a quiet night after a walk thru town.
Dunkirk is a seaport on the North Sea and the site of major evacuation of British troop in WWII. The recreational boaters here are 99% sailers who would never think of going inland. As a result we learned the hard way there is only one small lock for recreational boats to get to the sea, and it was closed for four days on our arrival. We tried a number of other alternatives but found canals closed or open only to commercial vessels. So, we enjoyed four days of Dunkirk and its wonderful ‘evacuation’ museum. By boat or train we visited the surrounding Valbon walled cities of Berges and Graveline and even had a night in Bourbourg with half it’s cathedral converted to an art musuem. This is something we would see again several times in Flanders.
Completing our ‘evacuation’ of Dunkirk, we head to Belgium on the Canal de Frunes and up to Nieuwpoort on the North Sea. On route, we stopped at Veurne to buy our canal permits for Belgium. For the first time all summer, the dockmaster answered our radio call and in English to boot….love the Belgiums. At Nieuwpoort, we left the rivers and canals and headed into the North Sea. True East got her first taste of salt water since the Mediterranean and a chance to get the engines out of idle mode, nice 25 mile run up to Zeebruges.
We had planned to visit our friends the De Langhe’s in Bruges; however, they left for holiday the day we arrived. No matter, we loved Bruges and ended up spending a week there. Wrapping up their European trip, Glenn and Gail Patron joined us in Bruges and cruised with us to Ghent. While very experienced boaters (Glenn’s published a wonderful book “The Accidental Captain”) this was their first canal experience. Ghent is larger than Bruges but equally charming and served as our base for several days. By train we retuned to Bruges for a visit and dinner with the De Langes at their wonderful restaurant Cafe du Phare. Another train ride took us to Brussels for another visit with Glenn and Gail wandering the city and its museums.
It was then on to Antwerp, about 45 miles, for the last leg of our summer cruise. Tom Janssens, Sabre dealer for Europe, came out in a tender to lead us into our slip at the Royal Yacht Club of Belgium where we are now members. This makes our third yacht club membership, Antwerp, Hull, MA and Barcelona….who would have guessed. Cocktails on the boat followed by dinner with Tom, Veronique and family to fill out the day. A couple of days of wrapping up the boat for the winter and wandering around Antwerp as this adventures came to an end.