2015 France & Belgium

France, Toul battlements

Leaving Toul through the city walls that were built around 1700 to form a star shaped fort.  The fort was designed by Vauban for Louis XIV.

During the 1870 Franco Prussian War the town was under siege for nine hours before surrendering after more than 2400 shells were fired into the fortress.

 

We sailed on what is known as the “Sauerkraut Route”, down the Moselle to Trier, up the Saar and back to Toul on the Marne au Rhin canal.

Interestingly, in 1955 the people of the Saar voted to become part of West Germany and in compensation the French wanted an upgrade of the river navigation.  Saarland had been a French Protectorate from 1947 – 1956.

This resulted in a series of large locks, 28 in all, and dredging.  Hydro electricity is generated and the locks have fish weirs.

Le Capitaine important France
Schengen, Luxembourg

Through Luxembourg. cheap bunkers, and past Schengen that has become famous for the Agreement of 1985, signed by five of the ten members of the EEC.  At first, the Agreement was separate from the EEC due to disagreements between members and it was incorporated into the EEC 1999 by the Treaty of Amsterdam.

Some of the less famous vineyards of the Mosel where the left bank is Luxembourg and the right bank is Germany.  These German wines are Moseltor and Obermosel and then becomes Saar, around the corner on the river of the same name. Some of the Saar wines are the very finest and expensive Rieslings.

Moselle vineyards
Cimarron in Kunz, Germany

At the junction of the Mosel and Saar is the harbour of Konz. This is just South of Trier which has been a major town in the area since Roman times.

From Trier downriver to Koblenz is the famous Mosel wine area and this will feature in a future voyage!  Some of the better known parts are Bernkastel and Piesport, but at Konz we turned up the Saar.

Travelling up the Saar, Wiltingen cut off by canalisation, boasts the largest number of Grosse Lage producers, equating to Grand Cru, some selling for thousands of Euro a bottle.

Saarbrucken, once a major part of the steel industry of the Saar. The whole area has become green and pretty except for a little re-cycling.  Famed for iron and steel the area contributed much to the German economy, it also caused it to be exchanged between France and Germany a little like Alsace Lorraine. 

Between the Wars it was jointly governed by UK and France and after WWII it was governed by France as a protectorate until 1956.

Saarbrucken scrap recycling, Germany
Saarbrucken graffiti, Germany

Saarbrucken has the most artistic graffiti that we have seen and this one, unusually, is monochrome.

The origins of the name of the town is mysterious as Brucken being the plural of bridge would seem to have something to do with the many bridges here.  But the town name dates back more than 500 years before the first bridge.

Heavy bomb damage in WWII has brought many new buildings though many older buildings remain.

 

The centre of the town is traditional but with modern shopping streets as well.  We had the best Mexican meal imaginable here!

 

Saarbrucken, Germany
Sarreguemines, France

Back in France at Sarreguemines, a delightful port with the Capitainerie in a spectacular barge.

Wittring is a fine little rural port with bars and a restaurant, it is quite difficult to tell whether you are in France or Germany.

Wittring, France
Lagarde PK209, France

Restaurant PK209 in Lagarde we found to have great food and excellent service.  Moored a little way out of town we were very kindly given a lift to and fro by one of the waiters.

Nancy has the spectacular Place Stanislaus, dating from the 1750s and built for Stanislaus I, King of Poland and Duke of Lorraine. It is so beautiful that it has deservedly been given UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Stanislaus was made King of Poland after the Swedes deposed Augustus II in 1704.  The continuing turmoil in the area saw him deposed in 1709 by Czar Peter after the battle of Poltava.  In 1733 when Augustus II died Stanislaus was overwhelmingly elected as King once more only to be dethroned by the Russians again.  He retired to Lorraine keeping his titles and was an enlightened ruler, founding the Academy of Science and a military college.  He also published a book “Free Voice to Make Freedom Safe”.

The city is also home to the Opera National de Lorraine.

Place Stanislaus,, Nancy, France
Musee des Beaux-Arts de Nancy, France

The Musee des Beaux-Arts de Nancy contains many fine paintings and drawings, from the 15th to 20th centuries. The collection of Daum crystal represents the best of the local industry.  The crystal is housed in a basement formed by the foundations of the old castle battlements.

And back to Toul for a short rest before sailing down the Meuse through Belgium to Holland.

The beautiful cathedral of Saint Étienne is a magnificent Gothic landmark viewed from the Meuse.  The Canal de la Marne au Rhin (Ouest) and the Canal de la Meuse enter from the North end of the town.

Toul Cathedral, France
Cimarron Voyage 2015, France

Toul, Pont a Mousson, Ecluse de Thionville, Drielandereck, Trier Monaise, Kunz, Saarbrucken, Sarreguemines, Wittring, Mittersheim, Port Sainte Marie, Parray, Nancy St Georges, Toul.

Sampigny Town Hall, that is so typical of many small hamlets in France.

The Canal de l’Est Branche Nord runs beside the town and has been renamed Canal de la Meuse as indeed it runs alongside the Meuse and traffic rejoins that river further North.

Sampigny, France
Verdun, France

Verdun looking upstream and moored in the city centre.  Very famous for its remarkable siege in WW1 and the origin of General Nivelle’s rallying cry, “They shall not pass”. 

Captured by the Prussians in 1792 and again in 1870.

The attack on Verdun caused the downfall of General Joffre and General Petain was made famous for his success in holding the attackers at bay.  Only one road, from Bar-Le-Duc, remained open as the Germans held the Meuse towns of Saint Mihiel, upstream, and Bethancourt downstream.

It would be easy to miss the port of Stenay as it is on a small tributary and hidden by a bridge. The very rural town is only a short walk.

Quite unfounded rumours tell the story that the name comes from “The town of Satan” but this may have been an early tourist gimmick or urban myth.

Cimarron in the distance at Stenay, France
Cimarron at Haybes, France

After an abortive mooring at Fumay, a one horse town where the horse had died, Fumay was known as the city of slate due to the prosperity slate quarrying brought to the town until closure in the 1970s.

We found the opposite in Haybes just around the corner.

 

Approaching Givet, the last port in France descending the Meuse and before entering Belgium. Plenty of berths and plenty of refreshments here.

Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire built a large fortress called Charlemont in 1555.  This overlooks the Meuse from a commanding height but has failed to secure the border on a number of occasions.

 

Cimarron approaching Givet, last port in France before entering Belgium
Cimarron at Houx, Belgium

Cimarron’s first breakdown in six years of cruising. The Morse throttle cable parted in the middle and we spent the night at Houx lock.

Great kindness was shown to us by the lock keeper and a local resident who insisted on driving us to a local supermarket, refusing payment until we forced a bottle of wine into his hands.

The next morning two South African boats rescued us. Tony in Dreamflower towed us alongside and Rory scouted ahead, down to Namur.

Cimarron under tow
Namur, Belgium

A wonderful mooring in Namur, just below the citadel enabled us to explore Belgium, just to make sure it wasn’t only beer, chocolate and frites.

Namur is the capital of its own province as well as the capital of Wallonia.  Just downstream from the photograph is the junction of the Meuse and Sambre.

Although it is possible to travel a distance up the Sambre it is no longer a through route to the Canal de la Sambre a L’Oise due to a bridge failure in 2006 and still unrepaired.

This sculpture was created by the Belgian artist Suzanne Godard based on the cartoon characters, the inseparable friends Francwes et Djoseph, popularized in the local newspaper “Vers l’Avenir” in the mid 1900’s by the painter and caricaturist Jean Legrand.

We never got to bottom of the stilt fighting in Namur, it has its “Fight for the Golden Stilt” festival in September.  Equally they have a prediliction for snails, not restricted to France.

Francwes et Djoseph Namur, Belgium
Chemin de Fer du Bocq, Belgium

Chemin de Fer du Bocq runs between Ciney and Purnode, just up river from Namur. Steam and diesel hauled and run by enthusiasts.

Chemin de Fer des 3 Vallees from Treignes to Mariembourg is run by diesel trains with steam at weekends. The museum at Treignes has a fine collection of steam and diesel locomotives.

Chemin de Fer des 3 Vallees, Belgium
Bois du Cazier, Belgium

Bois du Cazier coal mine in Marcinelle, Charleroi. It is preserved in memory of the 263 men who lost their lives in the disastrous fire of August 1956. There is an industrial museum with machinery and glass exhibits with particular emphasis on Ernest Solvay famous for inventing the efficient manufacture of soda ash.

The beautiful historic city of Ghent is not far away. Boat tours are always possible if you want to see the bits of the city you cannot reach in your own boat.

Bruges, Belgium
Ronquières Inclined Plane Top Level, Belgium

Ronquieres incline, between Charleroi and Brussels, lowers barges and boats 220 feet. Opened in 1968 it had taken six years to build and it replaces the 14 locks that ran from Seneffe to Ronquieres village.

There are two caissons which can move independently as they each have a 5,200 tonne counterweight that travels on rails lower than the caissons.

Each caisson can carry a 1,350 ton barge or combinations of smaller vessels, Euro Class IV.  The classification system for commercial waterways runs from Class 1, 250-400 tonnes, Peniche size, to Class VII, 27,000 tonnes, for which there are no words, just 285m x 33m drawing up to 4.5m. 

The view astern about halfway down the twenty two minute voyage.  The complete transit takes just over three quarters of an hour.

The outer rails carry the caissons in which the vessels float and the inner, lower rails guide the counterweights.

Ronquières Inclined Plane, Belgium
Brussels, Belgium

Near the Royal Brussels Yacht Club the graffiti is artistic and decorative!  A great fuss has been made of Banksy but the banks of the canals of Europe are well decorated with very artistic graffiti.

The EU has a permanent exhibition in Brussels, showing the member states, the MEPs and where some of the budget is spent.

The House of European History is the most politically skewed exhibition it has ever been my misfortune to visit.  Britain has been credited with importing pyjamas from Asia and abolishing slavery, while defending Europe twice, at great expense in human terms, against tyrannical nations is ignored.  Churchill, for example is in one photograph of Yalta without a caption and the devastation wreaked by the Nazis has been conveniently airbrushed out.

It seems that Britain’s role in Europe will vanish completely after Brexit.  During most of my life Britain has been paying for defeating the forces of evil and this appears to be unthanked and unmentioned. 

EU Self Glorification, Brussels, Belgium
Klein Willebroek, Belgium

A timely reminder that size does matter.  Giese, Gibraltar (99m 4299 dwt) followed by Matrico, Netherlands (125m) and Adriana, also Netherlands (75m) and Cimarron, GB (14m) feeling very small.

The Zimmer tower, housing the Jubilee clock and astronomical museum in Lier.

The Zimmer Tower was built before 1425 and in 1928 the clockmaker Louis Zimmer presented the town with twelve clocks encircled by 57 dials.  These various faces show time on all the continents, tides, moon phases and other phenomena.  The Wonder Clock, adjacent, was Zimmer’s true masterpiece and even contains the slowest moving dial in the world, which represent the precession of the earth’s axis, rotating every 25,800 years. This, of course, illustrates the Milankovitch cycle of precession.  With the eccentricity, obliquity, orbital inclination and apsidal precession it makes up the total Milankovitch cycles that are ignored by the IPCC and AGW believers.

Lier was also the home of Saint Gummarius, patron saint of childless couples, cowherds, hernia sufferers, separated spouses and other interesting groups of people.

Zimmer Clock, Lier, Belgium
Cimarron in Maastricht, Netherlands

Back to Maastricht Marina for the winter. Formerly known as Pietersplas Marina and well run under new management.

Toul, Sampigny, Verdun, Dun-sur-Meuse, Stenay, Mouzon, Sedan, Bogny-sur-Meuse, Haybes, Givet, Houx, Namur, Monceau-sur-Sambre, Gosselies, Halle, Little Willebroek, Lier, Zilvermeer, Lanklaar, Pietersplas Maastricht.

Cimarron Voyage 2015, France, Belgium