7. Wintering in Bruges (Part 1)

Our reversal into the mooring at Flandria was inch perfect, for despite our problems steering forward, Peter was able to centre the wheel and use the bow thruster as necessary to correct our course. With several barging friends and locals watching, we were pleased it went without a hitch. There was a hidden shelf to contend with on the mooring, so we had to adjust our position and while doing so I managed to trip over a small metal bollard, grazing my hand in several places. Fortunately, Lynn (‘Matariki’) was on hand to administer first aid and even a chap jogging by came over to help, while Peter ignored my plight!

 

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Rudder centred tick over reverse and steer with the joystick.

We had arrived safely, and the sun was shining in beautiful Bruges. What could go wrong?

Unfortunately, as soon as we plugged into the shore power, we blew the electrics on our side of the port. There followed ten days of irritation as Patrick (the Haven-master) and our new friend Marnix tried to discover the cause of the problem. We plugged back in and everything was fine until Mike and Sally arrived on ‘Chouette’ when the electrics blew again. As we seemed to be the initial catalyst for the problem, Marnix, Patrick and Peter patiently tested all our plugs and sockets and narrowed it down to our washing machine. More expense we thought and decided to stay on ship’s power until we could sort it out.

With Channel 77 acting as communication between the barges, we were surprised and not a little pleased when it started to rain one evening and the airwaves were soon buzzing with people complaining that the electrics had blown yet again. Not our fault this time and concerns were mounting. We were still awaiting the arrival of Louise and Alex on ‘Riccall’ and it seemed as if the port’s electrics weren’t up to the job.

While moving barges around to accommodate ‘Riccall’, someone discovered rainwater in ‘Grizzled Skipper’s’ electrical socket and we thought we had found the cause of the problem, but alas it continued… and we remained on ship’s power. In fact, on ‘Riccall’s’ rather dramatic arrival, (which involved hitting something under the water while manoeuvring,) they moored up and the electrics stayed on??

Fortunately, the club hired an electrician who spent the whole day methodically testing every electrical socket. On another barge he discovered more rainwater in a socket and with some simple improvements and upgrading our problems were over.

We could finally relax and settle into our fabulous winter mooring, with a great group of friends and an excellent clubhouse.

As well as enjoying walks with Lynn both in and around Bruges, plus some cycling, there was a reasonable flow of friends and family staying on board and lots of sightseeing.

Our daughter Laura had planned to visit for a few days early in October, but the Belgian railway workers chose to strike on the day of her arrival. Fortunately, she was able to transfer onto a train to Lille and Peter and I drove over to collect her one afternoon, taking the opportunity to visit an HSBC bank in France to withdraw cash for a large diesel delivery we had arranged.

We had a lovely few days showing Laura the sights, including the hotel where we had honeymooned thirty years ago, the Wednesday and Friday markets, shopping, waffles and a boat trip on the inner canals.

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The classic photo spot in Bruges.

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The thing to do…

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…The thing for me to do while they’re doing the thing to do!

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Beautiful Bruges.

A second ‘Mama Mia’ singalong session for the girls in Flandria, fuelled by Prosecco and nibbles went down well, while the chaps escaped over to the clubhouse out of earshot for the evening!

Lorna, Lawrence and Tilly (‘Waterdog’) came for a weekend but sadly I spent the whole time in bed with a bad cold – the type that drags on for several days. Peter’s brother Paul and his wife Jean arrived for a few days and enjoyed a visit to a micro Brewery in Deinze, the Half Moon Brewery in Bruges and Tim’s (‘Maria’) birthday meal in the nearby ‘de Stoep’ restaurant.

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Micro Brewery ‘tour’.

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The Half Moon Brewery in the centre of Bruges.

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On the roof of the brewery Nicci gets snapped doing her Blue Badge tour…

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Nicci realising she’s been snapped by the paparazzi !!

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The beer tasting session after the tour!

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Some cope better than others! 

Tim’s birthday bash at a local restaurant.

As Paul and Jean left, my friend Karen arrived from England and after more sightseeing, shopping and walking, we were getting to know the town and the bars very well. We had been in Bruges less than a month!

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What’s not to like!

Keen to see some of the surrounding area, Lynn, Jo, Louise and I gamely set out one day for the 6km cycle to Damme, once an important town on the old canal which linked Bruges to the coast. Despite the promised unsettled weather we enjoyed a pleasant ride followed by afternoon tea in a quaint if rather expensive tea room. On the way back, our luck ran out and we were soon drenched to the skin as the wind howled and the rain fell. Had we left half an hour earlier …or later we would have remained dry.

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The fearless awesome foursome!

Before heading back to England for my annual ‘catch up’, I visited the Body Worlds Exhibition in Bruges. Not everyone’s cup of tea and I did think long and hard before going, but the whole thing was done well and the human exhibits had volunteered for the position(s) after all. One in particular is one hell of a way to be remembered!

After three weeks in England catching up with friends and family, I returned to Bruges with our son Adam who was keen to see the sights. Being only a few days after the Isis terror attacks in Paris, we were delayed at the French/Belgian border on the way out.

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Adam quickly gets to grips with the local culture.

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Best beer in Bruges, ‘Garre’.

More sights and ‘The Beer wall’

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So overwhelmed by all this beer Adam succumbs to a ‘Nicci Haircut’!

As well as the inevitable sightseeing, we enjoyed Chris Grant’s birthday on board ‘Esme’ and the Christmas lighting up of the boats and barges in Coupure and Flandria. Bruges by night in the weeks before Christmas was even better than usual. Beers at the two oldest bars in town and a meal at the clubhouse went down well with everyone.

Back in England I enjoyed more socialising and was pleased to be there when Laura returned from her holiday in Japan and had her back operation. Peter meanwhile had returned to England briefly to get the motorcycle’s MOT, before travelling to Alderney to see his Mum.

We all enjoyed our Christmas in Shepperton, despite the somewhat cramped sleeping conditions. The important thing was that the family was together, something that happens rarely these days.

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Enough chocolate Grandad?

The day after Boxing day, Adam flew out to Fernie in Canada to begin his long awaited 3 month Ski Patrol Course, and the next day Peter, Laura and I drove in the long suffering Micra across to Bruges. Laura needed several weeks convalescence after her op and where better than Bruges?

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Adam departs to Canada for a three month Ski Patrol Course.

Our little car had amazed us by passing its MOT first time back in November, even though it still sounds like a battling bone shaker.

New Year’s Eve came and went in a blast of stunning fireworks just a short walk from the barge. On New Year’s Day, the annual paper boat race took place in Coupure. There were many entrants, and our ‘F’landerer’ started well but then failed to finish. Alex’s ‘Konstiki’ brought the honours to Flandria for the first time since it began seven years earlier.

The Flandria entrants, F’landerer and Konstiki with their builders.

The other entries, and the winner following a Stewards enquiry!

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