A winter visit

6th – 10th December 2021

We had kept enough off our Schengen 90 days to visit Calliope at least once during the winter, and despite Covid rules both sides of the chan new requiring several tests each we decided to go. So with the ‘leaving UK’ PCR test accomplished and negative results received we were off into a beautiful winter sunrise.

Driving through to Kent the skies greyed. The journey was quicker than normal, and the roads leading to Dover Port were early quiet!

It was relatively deserted waiting in the short queue to board the ferry too. Even the seagulls were fewer in number! But just as insistently hungry.

The car deck was emptier than we have ever seen, though there were plenty off lorries to keep DFDS in business and to make sure the kitchens were fired up to cook our lunch.

Presumably the winter season and Covid had kept most travellers tucked up at home, putting up the Christmas decorations and wrapping presents. – tasks that we would undertake on our return.

Two DFDS Christmas dinners and a trip to the duty free shop later we were heading into Dunkirk ready for our 80 minute drive down to Kortrijk.

It’s a good straightforward drive from Dunkirk to Kortrijk – one of the many reasons that we like wintering there. We enjoy seeing Ypres as we go round it, going over the Ypres canal that we cruised down a couple of years ago. And we enjoy coming into Kortrijk, driving through roads that are now familiar as we approach the mooring.

And relax! It is always so lovely to be back aboard and it never takes long to warm Calliope up, unpack and settle down to our first December evening in Kortrijk. The combination of central heating and the Refleks stove lifts the temperature to a gentle cosiness – cheers Calliope!

Luckily the Belgian Covid rules had changed just before we left, meaning we did not need an ‘entering Belgium’ test and could get on with enjoying the few days of our stay. We had some things to achieve while we were there – some on the maintenance front, plus some catching up with friends and some shopping.

Of course the first thing to do is to make sure that Calliope is trim and safe. Our neighbour had been kindly clearing leaves off the boat through the autumn, so she was looking cleaner than we usually find her at this time of year. Nonetheless there is always cleaning to do.

Also we had booked an engine service with a local marine engineering company. They arrived as expected and worked through the maintenance schedule; all done in a morning.

We both had things to do – I collected our new hull ID sign and Stewart screwed it in place, we swept up the last of the autumnal debris, we bought additional anti freeze for the cooling system (just to be sure!), checked the bilges, put away the new ropes and fenders we had brought with us, and generally tidied up.

An important task was to re-instal the PV panels onto the wheelhouse roof, covering up our smart new wheelhouse cover! That allowed us to fully clean the cabin roof and be ready for solar power come Spring.

The evenings were special times, catching up with our barging friends Sally and Martin, going for walks with their dog Tin Tin and enjoying food and wine together.

Evenings were also times to walk round Kortrijk taking in the Christmas lights – one of my main reasons for wanting to come back to the boat in December! There is such a lovely atmosphere in Belgian cities at this time of year.

In the daytime I went supermarket shopping for some of our favourite Belgian foods and drinks to take home, both for us and as presents – some cheese, paté, Ganda ham, Abbey and Kriek beer – and the inevitable Belgian chocolate!

I had to go to the chocolatier twice – back at Calliope after the first visit I found that the carefully selected gluten free chocolates for our daughter had not been put in my bag!

But the benefit of an extra walk out in the rain was finding these beautiful yellow leaves on the pavement.

As next day was expected to be our last in Kortrijk. Covid regulations demanded that we have a negative PCR test within 48 hours of leaving the EU so we went to a very friendly pharmacist who did the necessary swabbing. Within a few hours we had our negative results; hooray.

Then we discovered that ‘Christmas in Kortrijk’, their outdoor winter food, drink and entertainment event, started on our planned last evening there!

Together with Martin and Sally we ent exploring. We were allowed in with our Covid vaccination certificates, and negative test results. And then found that the first beer was free, with good gluwein to follow.

And that a very good jazz band from Gent was playing!

We had struck it just right.

We moved on to the ‘food court’ area, with its wooden cabins, Christmas trees and ‘snow’. Tin Tin, encouraged by the smell of our Bratworst, and perhaps with cold paws, decided that Stewart’s lap was the best place to be.

It was the start of our festive season, in style; Sally and I danced back to the port!

Luckily we had had dry weather for our evening out, but next day, when we were planning to go home, was somewhat on the wild, wet and windy side. A decision was made to delay our return by a day and have a calmer channel crossing.

The wet weather allowed some thinking and planning for 2022 cruising. The idea is to go back to France, at least for the summer. It is a big country and there are areas we have not touched.

So we looked through our French waterway guides and worked out the extra ones we would need to take us down to the Strasbourg area; an addition to our UK shopping list.

The re-scheduled travel day arrived sufficiently blue and calm. We packed up our bags and said goodbye to our lovely second home once more. See you in March Calliope!

Then headed off to Dunkirk, where we arrived with just two hours to spare on our negative Covid tests! They were a little surprised that w were so close to the cut off, but all was OK and we boarded our ferry.

About 5 hours later we were home, driving past all the Christmas lights that had sprung up while we were away.

Now time to do ours. Happy Christmas everyone.

Published by lesley-jane

Wife of Stewart, mother of 3, Granny of 6 (yes, I am happy to define myself by my family; I value them more than anything), and living abroad Calliope, our replica Dutch Barge, currently cruising the inland waterways of France, Belgium and The Netherlands. Retired from a couple of enjoyable careers, and now being closer to the real, outdoor me. Love water, fascinated by animals, enjoy music, support Pompey and try to find fun in all parts of my life.

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