Wednesday, 26 October 2016

“A Tale of Two Cities”

Our canal / river trip from Brussels to the lovely little city of Mechelen, with our hosts Frances and Andrew, allowed for an overnight stay plus much of the following day.


We used the next day to continue to enjoy Mechelen and to visit their wonderful cathedral. As with most ecclesiastical buildings wherever you are in the world this too was pretty stunning inside. Poking your head inside places like these occasionally reveals something rather amazing and in this case ………..


……… it was a carved wooden pulpit dating from the 1600’s which really had to seen to be believed. It’s basically represents a tree trunk with animals and birds carved into the structure and steps, made to look as if they were hewn from solid rock, leading up to the pulpit. What a joy it was to look at.


While we were inside the choir and organist were practicing and treated us to an impromptu concert. The organ has more than 6000 pipes – and it sounded like it too!


We left Mechelen at 1700 hrs to catch the tide on the River Rupel and we enjoyed a lovely evening cruise, retracing our steps from the previous day. Approaching Boon, on the right hand side of the river, the evening sky and calmness of the water gave an ethereal feel to things.


James was allowed to do most of the steering but, of course, the ‘Captain’ needs to take over for delicate operations such as entering and leaving locks.


We moored up for the night at Sluis Klien Willebroek and enjoyed an extremely good meal at the only hostelry open that night!


The next morning (Thursday) we cruised the last leg of the journey back ‘home’ to the Brussels Royal Yacht Club. The very large cargo vessels “own” the canals (and why shouldn’t they – we’re not going to argue!) and this one lived up to it’s name ……..


………. of “Hellboy”! Frances, at the helm on this occasion thank goodness, held a steady and well executed course while this leviathan passed by!


The captain of “Hellboy” certainly didn’t go short of big boy’s toys – car, speedboat and jet ski and a crane to get them off and on.


Not sure here whether James is grinning because he’s at the helm or that he’s got a piece of Frances’ delicious cake in hand ready to eat!


One last (enormous) lock before the last stretch home. These locks are gigantic. The two carriers nearest to us are in excess of 5000 tons and the one at the front of the lock is over 8000 tons. We were about 10 tons and very respectful!


This a bit of an ‘artistic’ pic of “Hafren” trying to keep up with the big boys in order to get through the next (raised) bridge with them rather than cause the bridge to lifted just for our little selves.


On the last few kilometres Doug took over the steering just to say he’d done it. He’d normally been quietly busying himself with the background support – making the ever important teas and coffees and other essentials.


On the day of departure we had a few hours to look around Brussels before getting Eurostar back to London. The centre of the city has some stunning buildings.


This one was in process of having the gold embellishments restored.


This is the city museum. Notice all the tourists taking pictures of the gold restoration on the adjacent building!


Of course, we had to visit the famous Maniken Pix which, for certain special days, is dressed in various costumes. Famous it might be but we were warned that it was rather smaller than everyone imagines.


But we didn’t quite realise just how small it actually is!

Frances and Andrew, in the true style of their superb hospitality and care, brought our luggage to us at the Gare de Midi where we were to catch Eurostar at 3 o’ clock on Friday afternoon. It was a wonderful few days we had with them. The whole adventure very new to us. Thank you so much both of you for everything – it was terrific to catch up with you both and a pleasure as always.


Although we were able to see a bit of London between alighting Eurostar and the late train back to Chichester we were to return two later on the Sunday. For part of the day we spent enjoying this, our favourite city of all, in glorious sunshine. The foliage (of which there is plenty in London) was still quite green and autumn seemed yet to have arrive.


There’s no doubt why London is the most famous and visited city in the world as there’s an iconic, and spectacular, building or landmark just about everywhere you look. This is Westminster Abbey – the Queen’s own church and known as a “Royal Peculiar”.


Iconic landmarks aside, there are other intriguing, and rather surprising things of interest to be enjoyed in London. The pelicans in St James’ Park are very tame. We look at them and they look at us!


Not the normal and hugely expensive property you expect to see in central London – this is Duck Island Cottage in St James’ Park. It was built in 1841 as the home of the bird-keeper and it was also at that time the meeting point for the Ornithological Society of London.


We never pass a war memorial or cenotaph with saying “thank you” to all those who fought for the freedom we enjoy today – this one is opposite Horse Guards Parade next to St James’ Park …….


…….. and Horse Guards itself looked very spick and span in the Sunday sunshine.


A quick bus ride down Oxford Street reminded us that Christmas is not very far away!


On Tuesday and Wednesday this week we had the joy of Doug’s parents, Vilma and Derek visiting from their home in Devon. We popped down to our local, The Seal, in Selsey for an evening meal together on the Tuesday. Although we haven’t been there for a year (!) the food and the welcome are just as good as ever.

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