Friday, 3 August 2018

2018 travels

It’s been a while since we were last on our narrowboat.   2017 is a best forgotten year as I was diagnosed with bowel cancer just 2 weeks before we were due to depart for the UK in May.   Radiation and chemo treatment followed by a huge operation in September cancelled out any UK visit.  More chemo followed with some serious side effects and this year’s trip wasn’t looking good.  But after spending most of April and May in the Epworth Hospital with another two operations I was given the OK to travel.   

So....we arrived 28 June, a month later than usual.   We had planned on a very quiet trip on the boat this year and decided to buy a little campervan from ebay in the UK so we could travel around in that without doing any hard locks.  We had a lovely welcome from the girls who got up at 6 am to finish the signs which were in the front window.

When we arrived I stayed with Sooz in London while Terry caught the train up to Sunderland, near Newcastle, to pick up the campervan.   He drove it back to the marina, getting new upholstery and a service on the motor along the way.   He said it drove ‘like a dream’ and was immaculate despite being 30 years old and classed as a ‘classic car’.  However, we ran into a problem when we tried to get insurance which also includes 3rd party insurance here so is compulsory.  All the insurance companies we contacted said we were either .....over 70 so too old!....not living in the UK for at least 6 months every year .....or driving with an Aussie licence.  So reluctantly the campervan is back on ebay waiting for the next buyer.

Because of the long hot spell the countryside looks more like Oz than green England.  Even the London parks are brown.  

We spent a week on the boat - which was back on the water in the marina.  Me doing not much at all and Terry touching up the odd spot of painting and general handyman stuff.   The boat was in remarkably good condition seeing it hadn’t been touched for nearly 2 years.  (I always dread that it might be covered in green slime inside especially as the last winter was so cold but the heaters must have kept it dry and warm.)

We went back to London by train (2 trains and a bus) all a bit exhausting so spent time just watching the Wimbledon tennis on TV.  All of England was in mourning after it was unexpectedly knocked out of the World Cup semifinal by Croatia.  

We have just returned from our trip to Europe.  Sooz and Ten had given us tickets to an Andre Rieu concert to be held in his home town of Maastricht in the Netherlands.  We left London on the Eurostar (which travels at 300 miles an hour) to Brussels then caught another train to Maastricht.  Very old town with lots of cobbled streets - which make for hard walking.   

The concert was fabulous (even though most of it’s predictable).  Sooz had arranged for a dinner/show package so we caught a taxi out to the hotel where we had the most amazing smorgasbord dinner.  There we were presented with our Andre Rieu cushions to use at the show.  1000s there but we had really good seats near the front so didn’t miss anything. 

Dutch clog dance     

Russian medley

Stayed 3 nights at a beautiful B&B which was the whole ground floor of a old terrace house with a lovely walled garden.

Courtyard at Maastricht B&B

Front of B&B building
Then caught a train to Amsterdam for a 3 night stay.  When we arrived we had to catch a free ferry outside the station to go across the River Eye (a 3 minute trip dodging the huge tankers/cargo/cruise ships) to where our B&B was.   Got lost somehow so walked miles trying to find it - turned out to be back very close to the ferry terminal .  

The 3 ferries working there are amazing.  We never had to wait more than a few minutes then just walked on with a couple of hundred people - most riding bikes or motor scooters.  

Bikes on the ferry
We have never seen so many bikes anywhere - huge bike parks at the stations, bus stops or outside any shopping areas each with 1000s of bikes.  All roads have a red lane just for bikes and everyone, from youngsters to the really old, pedal around.  It’s left hand driving in Europe so we found it very confusing when crossing any roads to dodge the bikes and scooters as well as the cars, which were always seeming to be coming from the wrong direction.

3 storey bike park at Central Amsterdam Station
We decided to go on the Hop On/Hop Off Bus and Boat trips so we could see the city which is made up of dozens of canals and waterways with lots of tourist boats darting around.  Incredibly clean city and no rubbish to be seen anywhere on the waterways.    We hopped off the bus to go on the Diamond Tour where we visited a huge diamond workshop to learn how diamonds are cut to show off their brilliance.  It was fascinating.  Of course we had to pass through the retail shop before we could get out but managed to do that without breaking the bank.  Then went to a very large Museum which had lots of the Old Masters paintings on show.    Got told off for taking a photo with a flash of one of Rembrant’s paintings.

Finished off on the boat for a 2 hour cruise around the city.  Remarkable lack of any safety directions or life jackets visible on any of the boats.  

Another day we went to a market where most stalls were selling cannabis.  We could have bought lolly pops, biscuits, seeds and even cannabis icecream.  Apparently you can get ‘high’ at most coffee shops as well even though the law is that you have to be an Amsterdam resident.

Caught a train down to Brussels where we spent 5 nights with Sooz, Ten, his mum Rita and the girls.   

We stayed in a very large modern house which was in the huge garden of an old house which looked like an old bank from out in the street.

Brussels B&B

Front of Building

Walked into town - more cobblestone streets - and saw the famous statue of a little boy.  Story is that many years ago the 4 year old was lost and when he was found he was peeing in the street so his dad gave the statue to Brussels in gratitude.  It's a very small statue!

It was still very hot so one day we caught the train to the Belgium seaside which is totally different to our beaches.  All along the beach are fenced off areas with deck chairs and umbrellas which you hire for an hour or more and then food and drinks are brought around so you can buy whatever you require.   Also some areas had rows and rows of small beach sheds like Brighton beach bathing boxes where you could store your stuff.    We hired an 8 seater bike and rode along the beach almost reaching the Netherlands border but it was pretty hard going for the pedallers as the temp was in the mid thirties.   The girls had great fun going up and down huge slides at a water park which was very well supervised with 3 lifeguards keeping control. 

Lunch at The Beach

On our last day we went to the Atomium which was built for a trade fair in 1958.  It’s in the shape of an iron crystal.  Ten and the girls went up the escalators and stairs to some of the lower spheres but we caught the lift to the top one (335 feet up in the air) where there was a viewing deck as well as a 5 star restaurant where we had lunch.   Although most people can speak English they mainly use French, Flemish or the Dutch language.  Most menus did not have English anywhere so that made it hard too and we had to rely on Rita to translate for us.

We caught the Eurostar back to London on Wednesday afternoon and then caught a train up to Market Harborough near the marina.   Sharyn, Terry’s daughter, arrived last Friday for a two week stay on the boat.  Yesterday we showed Sharyn around Market Harborough then cruised for a couple of hours to Foxton Locks (a flight of ten locks rising 75 feet).  Sharyn had her first swing bridge to negotiate - a really tough one that takes a lot of muscle - and then there was a thunderstorm just as we were tying up so we all got soaked.  Today we had to wait until lunch time because it was raining heavily but it cleared up so we set out up the locks.  Even though it was a cool overcast day there were heaps of people watching the boats go through.  Sharyn was a quick learner so I got back on the boat  after 5 locks.   First time I have been a passenger on the boat going through the locks - great.  When we reached the top we decided to return down Foxton.  We took on board a few groups of onlookers for a lock or two so there were some very excited people, especially a group of visiting South Koreans.  

We plan on going up to Nottingham in the next couple of weeks so there are quite a few locks along the way for Sharyn to work on.  The warm weather is predicted to return next week.

Sooz etc are off to Italy for a couple of weeks because it is the ‘big holidays’ so we have booked a campervan (strange system here as we can be aged up to 99 and no worries about us being Aussies).  We will catch a train up to Glasgow where we will stay for a couple of days then have the van for 2 weeks to discover Scotland.