Late summer in Belgium part 1

July 28 to August 5th 2021

If you have been following the Calliope blog you will know that we were stuck in the UK well past our normal April return to the boat, and when the usual cruising season begins. At first we more concerned about the Brexit effect than anything Covid related, wondering how we could spend 6 months in Belgium and/or the Netherlands when neither country was offering a visa other than the 90 day Schengen one.

In the end it became immaterial because the spread of Covid-19 in the UK and in the EU meant that borders kept closing, requirements for tests and quarantine both sides of the channel kept changing, and overall we took several months to find a gap in the pandemic that fitted with other (UK) demands on our time.

So it was not until July 28th that we excitedly set forth for Dover and the ferry to Calais. The journey there was most remarkable for its speed and ease – it seems that many potential holiday makers were still being prudent and taking ‘stay-cations’ in 2021.

Our double vaccination certificates, passports and ferry ticket got us past all the possible hold ups at the Port of Dover. We didn’t even have to empty the car and prove we had no meat or dairy products with us. Good law abiding us; we had only brought what was permitted food wise, plus a few spare parts for the boat and a new toaster.

Coming into Calais

The crossing was in a force 5 to 6 south westerly and could have been a little rough, but the ferry ploughed through it nobly and quickly. It was sufficiently smooth to enjoy the complementary meal that DFDS were giving to the few non-freight passengers. And we were reminded of one of the benefits of Brexit (of which we are not great fans overall) – duty free shop! We were so amazed at the prices that we bought Kraken rum, Zubrowka vodka, gin and Bacardi, plus some wine. That should keep me going until Christmas – unless we have visitors aboard, which would be very nice.

The run from Calais to Kortrijk was also uneventful, apart from the joy of coming back into Kortrijk, recognising familiar places, and before too long looking down at our boat from the footbridge over the river.

Hooray! Back where we belong!!!!

Now we just have to find pleasant ways to get through the 10 days of quarantine and the two necessary PCR Covid tests before we are free to cruise on our merry way.

(I didn’t mean that ➡️ kind of ‘merry’! That was just evening one relaxation)

One of the main tasks is to give Calliope a good clean – just outside because inside was as sweet smelling, clean and dry as when we left her the previous October. But the outside was somewhat grubby after an autumn/winter/spring of leaves, blossom, dust and birds. And the geraniums and herbs left on board in the lee of the wheelhouse had definitely succumbed to the weeds!

Plenty to do!!

And so quarantine begins with the chimney skyline opposite, down to Broel towers -a view that I have come to love.

Day 2 – walk two miles to get tested and take opportunity to ‘escape’ quarantine a bit longer by having a baguette by the river on the way back both tested negative – phew! Later there was food shopping to do (yes, it is allowed). This meant passing the bridge at the end of the port that we must revers under soon, and the first lock of the Kortrijk-Bossuit canal that we will go through soon.

The Captain turned shipwright, plumber and electrician later, fixing a new sensor to the freshwater tank (so that the guage reads correctly to show how much we have left) and replacing the electrical connector that was broken during the fallen tree episode last winter.

Despite having bought enough food earlier to make several meals, we collapsed into our first ever experience of Deliveroo, ordering pizza and salad from our favourite Pizza Cotti restaurant in Kortrijk, and being slightly amazed when it actually turned up – albeit on the bank opposite!

Luckily there is a footbridge within 25m, in the centre of which I met the delivery man with arms outstretched, at a quarantine distance!

Day 3 – the start of the clean up, with the aim of getting rid of all the main dirt and then we can do a second ‘shiny’ clean later. Made a good start – just look at the difference, mainly from the Captain taking mop and bucket to the cabin roof and deck.

I made a start on the canvas wheelhouse roof and dog box covers, and cleaned up the PV panels for maximum electricity generation – when the sun shines!

There are various things apart from cleaning Calliope to keep us amused. One of the most endearing is watching the various birds and their antics. We feed them occasionally so they come looking for food every day – not the grebes of course. We don’t have any fish for them!

The rain came to wash off more of the dust and dirt as I had hoped, and left us with an evening of gleaming roofs on the Broel towers and St Michael’s church towers in the background.

Day 4 – we needed for milk and bread and it was Sunday. The only local supermarket open on a Sunday is the Carrefour across the main river so we set off for essential supplies.

Here we are mid stream.

The rest of the day we spent dodging rain showers, cleaning windows, adding a neat white stripe along the hull, playing patience and learning Dutch.

Always plenty to do!

Overnight there was more rain; always a comforting soothing sound to be tucked warm and dry up on your Piper with the rain drumming on the cabin roof! But we did want to do more outside work on the boat next day so …..

…. Day 5 – pleased to see this through the kitchen hatch when I got up in the morning!

The boat cleaning and maintenance continued . It’s surprising all the nooks and crannies that collect dirt, sycamore seeds, algae and spider webs during the winter. And the movement of the boat always takes its toll on the paintwork. Luckily we gave everything a good clean before we left last October so inside and out it is all manageable. And keeps us occupied during quarantine!

Day 6 – we had been warned that we would need to move Calliope before 0830 so that we were not splattered when the pontoon was jet washed.

I was still in bed drinking tea when I heard the early rising Captain out starting to untie ropes, so I thought I’d better get up, dressed. and on duty on deck.

I was just in time! You can see in the photo the difference between the new section of pontoon, and the section waiting to be cleaned up.

Then onto a wonderful moment – casting off and feeling Calliope move beneath us again!

Here we go – all of 300 yards astern down the Leie! We were aiming for the mooring belonging to Pavot and our friends Martin and Sally – they were away cruising in France. And it wasn’t long before we were tied up there.

We have temporarily borrowed Pavot’s mooring before – it’s nice to be among the trees.

And we get a different view from this mooring – we can see the big Commercial barges go past the end of this arm of the Leie, and prepare for the bow wave to move down the channel towards us.

One sees many aspects of nature from the barge – all of it interesting even if commonplace.

This, I think, a Speckled Wood butterfly that came to visit on the wheelhouse.

The bow waves cause wonderful distortions of the reflections in the water – a mixture of Dali and Monet!!

We could se the pressure washing procedure taking place back where we had been moored, and by mid afternoon all was clean and clear for us to return – our second cruise of the day!!

And still officially in quarantine!

That was enough excitement for one day, apart from the phone calls from Brussels Covid quarantine checkers to ensure we were on track for our second PCR test the next day – after which, I was told, my case would be closed!

But still plenty of time to continue with the maintenance tasks, and removing some more spiders.

Day 7 – a day of hope! We went and collected the car to drive to the Laboratory for our second test, and were met again by friendly staff who helped us with form filling and soon had us back out in the fresh air. We used the car to collect a few things from the Brico (DIY store) and a stock up on food and wine before back to the boat for lunch and to await our results.

It isn’t long after that another Piper boat chugged into view and to moor behind us. We had been expecting Happy Chance and although we had not met her crew before we were delighted too say hello and arrange for a meeting over beer that evening.

The plan was to go to our favourite bar in the park (as long as our negative results came through) but just as we were about to set forth the rain came down so we all settled down on Calliope instead.

After some beer, wine and nibbles we all knew each other quite well! But Stu and I had planned supper out so it was time for a temporary parting of the ways.

We set off to one of our favourite Kortrijk casual dining experiences – Pitta Pyramid – Egyptian food from a lovely friendly little restaurant where the owner always amazes us by remembering us! We definitely filled ourselves up here and waddled back to the boat. Our last night in town for a while passed very pleasantly.

Day 8 – We had initially hoped to leaver Kortrijk on the 10am lock up from the river Leie into the Bossuit – Kortrijk canal. But it was already booked, so we slipped down to the 2pm lock. This meant we had a few extra hours before we left.

Kortrijk has a summer of art installations across the city and we managed to see a few as we sped round the centre (on foot) buying a new Ships Log, beer replacements, and looking for a new chopping board (failed on that last one!). Then time for a coffee with new friends on Happy Chance before lunch and …. we are off!!!!

First lock of the 2021 voyage – Sluis 11 Bossuit – Kortrijk canal. Photo credit to Happy Chance crew.

5 thoughts on “Late summer in Belgium part 1

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