We have been looking forward for some time to this trip out on “Jess” the van, it’s been a busy few months so we are looking forward to a break away from everything, home, work and of course the UK politics. Jess has been cleaned inside and out and stocked up ready for the off.

Here is our first 5 days of our journey. See the maps for more details.

Friday 20th Sept 2019

What we have been doing is using the local campsite behind our house, Waverley Park in east Cowes, to finish the prep which involves loading the last of the provisions on, which this time includes all the bedding, towels and loading the bikes on the back. We look at a long-range weather forecast and guess what…? It’s not looking great. Rain is forecast for most of Europe for the next 10 days. Great. No matter we press on and have the local fish and chip shop deliver us on-site fish and chips. Very nice indeed with a glass of white and a view of the sun setting over the Solent. Not bad.

Saturday 21st Sept 2019

Today is the real starting day for the holiday, we will do the drive to Dover, firstly with a short jump from Fishbourne to Portsmouth. As we hoped, an uneventful day. We check into a very pleasant site called Little Satmar. Guess what? The sun is out. It’s a lovely afternoon and evening, so much so that we have dinner outside in the setting sun. Maybe, just maybe, they have got the weather wrong…

Sunday 22nd Sept 2019

The good weather didn’t last. We woke up to a broken blue sky of grey heavy clouds. After a long breakfast, we set off early for Dover as we have been told that there are demonstrations by Extinction Rebellion on the A20 and at the port so we best get there sharpish. Just a quick note on these van breakfasts, we love them. The best part of the day. It goes on for ages, probably an hour and a half of preparing, eating and wittering. A great way to start the day. This never happens at home. We set off, there’s no demonstrations, the port is empty and we get straight in and directed to our lane for the ferry with bags of time to spare. Typical. With all this time on our hands, we can now discuss where we plan to go. Champagne region, bit more of France, Maybe into Germany then Switzerland? Maybe. Don’t know. We will stay in Belgium tonight. Well, why not? We decide to stay in a campsite that we have been to before.

As it’s Belgium we get into the spirit of it all quite quick on the ferry and enjoy a hot coffee with a Stoopwafel, or is it a Dutch thing? Who knows, who cares really, it’s delicious…

We are staying at the Stal t’ Bardehof We have stayed here before and we love it. Being in Belgium we thought that we should get into some of this Trappist beer carry on, as it’s so famous. By all accounts, 6 Trappists beers come from Belgium. Even though there are hundreds of Belgian beers only 6 are brewed by Trappist monks, the rest are ‘non‘ Trappist. Clear? Good. We start of with a couple of non Trappist beers at 10% strengh. Having not had much to eat since the ferry it was a bit of a hit as we felt the legs go numb. Best have some more. As we did…

Non trappist beer

Dinner was a bit of a disaster as we discovered, to our disappointment, that a restaurant that we enjoyed on our last visit was closed despite google saying they were open. Best stagger back to the van and eat there…

Monday 23rd September

After our usual leisurely breakfast, we discuss where to go today. It transpires that Belgium has a fine collection of boat lifts. Interesting. These are not a simple or copied versions of the Anderton lift in the UK oh no these are BIG, massive and quite something to see when you get close to them. We find three that we can go and look at. So off we go to Thieu to a free aire and found what they call lift No.4, which is basically a hydraulic set of scales. You drive your boat into a box, you get sealed in with the water and it gets lowered or raised to the next level of the canal. on 2m wide, 30m high hydraulic rams. We were watching this from a distance as the area looked closed to the public but one of the local staff saw us and invited us down to have a look. No hi-vis vests, no steel toes boot or hard hats. No long speeches about the obvious dangers. He was fabulous and gave a full show and tell of the whole structure while a boat was being lowered to the canal below. Fantastic.

Happy with our little adventure in Belgian boat lifts we felt that it was time to sample more Belgian beer. After walking for what seemed ages and miles we found a bar/restaurant on a roundabout and entered. Yes, they had 2 of the 6 Trappist beers here, Rochefort and Orval. We get one of each and once again becuase we hadn’t eaten much our legs suddenely aquired an extra 60 pounds of weight and our faces took on a semi permamnet grin.

Tuesday 24th September

Time to take a look at the next one. This is the second tallest boat lift in the world but only recently, the Chinese have now built and opened the tallest. This one can haul a boat in a box of water up to 70m. In the town of Strepy the structure is quite imposing but the land around it has been sculptured. It does all look quite impressive.

There is one more to see to finish off the boat lift tour. The Incide Plain at Ronquieres. This one is madder than the other two… A 5,200T counterweight is set against a box of water with… yes a boat inside only this time its pulled up an incline of about 1.5km over a height of 68m. Crazy but to watch is just amazing that people come up with these ideas and make them work. Who want’s to go to the moon…?

All in all an interesting day. We loved it anyway. If you want to know more about the canals in Belgium and the 4 boat lifts then check out this site. Great stuff…

It’s a Sunday night in the middle of the Black Forest, Germany and we have just finished recalling the first part of week 1. We’ll get the rest done tomorrow and we’ll be upto date.