8. Wintering in Bruges (Part 2)

The New Year jollies continued when some of us took to the ice on the temporary rink in the Markt- much more festive in the evening when illuminated, than in the cruel light of day. We enjoyed ourselves and promised to do more next winter.

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The brave ice skaters.

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Nicci trying to look innocent after bowling over a poor child who was going too slow!

And team ‘Riccall’ (Alex ‘Dean’ and Louise ‘Torvill’!!)

Laura treated Lynn (‘Matariki’) and I to the ‘Best Hot Chocolate’ in town at the quaint ‘Old Chocolate House’. A chocolate case containing your chosen flavour of chocolate pieces, a huge bowl of hot milk and a whisk produced a rich drink of chocolate heaven and about a zillion calories. Having missed breakfast, I over dosed on sugar as I also had a house waffle with butterscotch sauce!

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In goes the chocolate, cup as well.

One day Lynn drove Jo (‘Maria’) and I over to Sluis in Holland, a sort of retail outlet town in a pretty setting. Despite the winter sales, it wasn’t too busy and we enjoyed window shopping and actual shopping as well as lunch and afternoon tea.

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Lovely old windmill in Sluis.

President’s day at Flandria Jachthaven, was a splendid event which began with Cava and ‘amuse bouches’ at 11 am and went on well into the night. We also enjoyed Steak and Frites and dancing.

Mid January, Laura and I headed back to England as she was due back at work the following week and I had finally decided to have the veins done on my right leg. In the boot were two steering rams which I hoped to get repaired while I was away.

Unfortunately, the timing of the various check-ups, scans and operation meant that I was away for our 30th wedding anniversary. This plus the fact that we had not managed to spend Christmas in Bruges, was the main reason for our decision to book into Flandria for another winter. It has also been an absolute blast with so much going on.

Disappointed as I was, I made the most of things and caught up with some of the friends I had missed before Christmas and visited Tower Bridge in London which houses an interesting exhibition.

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Interesting walkway on Tower Bridge.

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Now that’s an engine room!

While I was away, Peter gamely continued with the various maintenance tasks necessary when you live and travel on a barge. These included shaping a new spar for the mast, producing a new aluminium Blue Board, stripping the water pump down, replacing the steering ram, installing the AIS, putting a restraining chain on our rudder………………..

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Framing out the new aluminium Blue Boards, one for us and one for ‘Matariki’

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Done and painted.

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New mast spar shaped…

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…And fitted.

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Engine water pump cleaned up and a chain fitted to the rudder.

My op went well and I was soon sporting a rather attractive surgical stocking and itching to get back to Bruges after my enforced absence.

Shocked at the cost of replacing the seals on the steering rams, we had decided to only have the newer of the two repaired. It was ready the day before I was due to return to Bruges, so I was able to take it back with me, plus the other one in pieces.

Back onboard, our central heating failed…again and Alex (‘Riccall’) and Peter spent hours trying to find the fault. That is one of the great things about this way of life. Everyone is genuinely helpful and generous with their time, skills and equipment. Having narrowed the problem down to the fuel pump, Tim (‘Maria’) spotted that the solenoid wasn’t working and Marnix (‘Liberty’) was able to take Peter to a place that supplies the pumps.

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The offending boiler and pump, featuring a special glass pressure relief valve!

So our central heating was repaired for a fraction of the cost of getting a heating engineer in to do the job, and Peter can now add that title to his CV. Just in time too for our friends Chris and Erf were coming to stay the following day.

Despite the chilly weather, Bruges was getting busy with lots of tourists. We enjoyed showing them the sights (which featured several bars!) and on my birthday we drove to Knokke-Heist on the coast and enjoyed a bracing walk on the beach towards the Dutch border. That evening we all went to the clubhouse for a meal and were able to enjoy Patrick’s (the Haven Master) birthday party.

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Spring not yet sprung.

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A pleasant walk on Nicci’s birthday.

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And a lively evening at the yacht club.

In spite of our late night, the next day we visited the oldest bar in town and had a soup lunch and some beers. Chris and I then did some shopping while the chaps settled in at the Half Moon Brewery for a ‘Zot’ or two. My stocking could now come off and the bruising was rather colourful.

Peter hitched a lift back to England with Tim and Jo to pick up the motorcycle from our flat and I enjoyed some more lovely walks with Lynn in and around Bruges.

With less than a month to go before the start of cruising, we still had a lot to do. I had promised myself to visit a museum each week and had failed miserably, so over the final weeks I managed to visit several, plus the famous Belfry with its 360 steps. A temporary Van Brueghel Witch Exhibition in Sint-Janshospital even gave me the chance to ‘fly’ around Bruges on a broomstick! (No pictures of that sadly!)

We enjoyed several more birthday celebrations, meals and drinks in the clubhouse and on board various barges. Bruges had certainly been a sociable winter mooring. Peter and Stew (‘Matariki’) played snooker in a club in the centre, meeting Chris Henry an ex professional who is now a mind coach for various top players and sportsmen.

A second girls’ cycle ride to Damme with some of the ladies from Coupure was a fun day out, even though our return was via a somewhat circuitous route leaving us saddle sore.SAM_0002

We had another SEG reunion in the middle of March. Paul Adams stayed on board but the rest of the group (35 in total!) were in the Ibis Hotel in the centre of town.

Group Bruges Retired members of the Group and one former SEG bike!

On the Saturday some of us rode and drove out to Waterloo to the new visitor’s centre for an interesting if tiring day out and in the evening we all met up in the clubhouse for a lovely meal. This coincided with the start of season dinner for the club members, so the place was packed with over 100 people. Once again dancing continued until the early hours and we rolled back to the barge at 2.30!

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The new visitor’s centre and restored Panorama building.

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Hougoumont Farm, the famous gates in the background, well worth a visit.

Sunday was a busy day too as we invited the Group on board for a rolling lunch of cheese and wine. As with the last reunion in Dinant, everyone had brought cheddar and crackers as a ‘kind’ joke! Later, we enjoyed another great meal in the clubhouse (Paul generously treated us). This finished off what was a fabulous weekend of laughter and reminiscing.

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More cheese Gromit?

Paul and I headed off to England early the next day as I was due to have a leg scan late in the afternoon. With that ‘all clear’, I had one day to rest before driving back on the Wednesday.

Our final week in Bruges was a bit of a whirlwind. Peter’s engine maintenance had highlighted a couple of problems which needed an expert’s help and Marnix came up trumps again, introducing us to Daniel a local marine mechanic who was able to solve them.

Peter’s brother Paul arrived as the port buzzed with pre-season activity and socialising. A tasty barbecue on ‘La Tulipe’ at Coupure defied the weather forecast and it was good to get together with lots of our new friends. This theme continued when we all met again in the Flandria clubhouse for a last drink at the end of the month.

Peter and I bought a canoe from Chris and Diana (‘Esme’) and look forward to exploring in it this summer. Peter and Paul were able to stow it on our front deck the day before we left port.

We decided to depart on the 1stApril and left in a blaze of sunshine with lots of good wishes from the rest of our barging friends who assembled to wave us off.

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First stop after Bruges (Schipdonk) with the canoe on deck.

Meanwhile, our son Adam had finished his Ski Patrol Course in Canada and our daughter Laura had just booked her ticket and working visa to New Zealand.

Lynn and I had booked our flight to Bilbao in October, with the intention of walking the Camino trail for a couple of weeks. And so it goes on…

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