Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Looking back - Our Belgium Experience 2003-2006

As I like to remember my old barge,

My more recent blogging friends won't know of my foray into Belgium some years ago. I call it that because rather sadly, we did not receive a very hospitable welcome and it felt as if we were invaders at the time, but even so, I miss it.  Shall I explain? Oh go on then…

It was like this. In 2003, I was a bit tired of full-time Rotterdam. Living in the centre of a city can be quite stressful if you are more of a country girl, and while my life and friends in the Oude Haven were still very much to my liking, the activities in all the bars and cafés overnight and every weekend were getting too much to handle full time. So when a good friend told me about a barge with a garden up for sale at a bargain price, and on the outskirts of Brussels, I jumped at it. The plan was to live there and just work in Rotterdam, The barge was the one in the photo above. 

Lovely riot of flowers in the garden

And this was its garden. I must say I loved it - the barge and the garden that is. What was not so pleasant was the reception we received from the other bargees in the community. They were all Wallonians and possibly saw us intruders trying to take over their space. I think it is well-known that the only factor that keeps the Flemish and Wallonians united is their common dislike of their neighbours. Unfortunately for us, we happened to come from one of those neighbours.

There was also a great deal of work to do on the barge to make it habitable and although we succeeded in some part, a medical emergency in the family ultimately meant that the work would be too much to truly achieve proper living standards on the barge.

Beautiful morning light on a lovely summer's day.

Nevertheless, we were there for three years and still have very fond memories of the Ténacité. It was a lovely peaceful spot to have as a mooring and combined my absolute ideals of a barge with a long stretch of bankside garden.

I wish I knew what these shrubs were called, but they were glorious.
I had a riot of lovely flowering shrubs and plenty of clematis and other naturally growing flowers. But, mowing the grass was a bit of a challenge. I felt like the proverbial Haggis (if there is such a proverbial creature) - needing one leg shorter than the other to scale the hillside effectively.

Looking up the canal towards Brussels
The canal at that spot was also exciting and busy. Barges ploughed past constantly, making us rock quite violently at times. Sindy hated it, of course, and spent most of the time in the garden until they stopped at seven o'clock every evening. On one occasion, something went wrong at one of the locks and our stretch of the canal emptied completely. It was a very curious feeling to be resting on the mud and tilting over to one side for several hours.

Still, it was wonderful to be there and it was also a handy launching pad for other forays deeper into Belgium by boat.

I sold the Ténacité in 2006 with many regrets and much sadness. We don't go back there often, but I have my photos and some very happy memories too. Belgium is very beautiful when you get off the beaten track and whenever we get the urge, it is not far to go to re-visit our favourite haunts. I'll show you all a few more of them in the coming weeks.

And if you're interested in dipping into any of my books, why not have a look at my author page on 


  1. For those of us who have come to blogging only recently, it's very interesting to see this past experience potted up! A pity about the neighbours! I'm not surprised that you liked the situation, so it's a shame that the reception was so disappointing.

  2. Christina, we were never totally sure what we had done to incur the frosty reception, but I do know that on one occasion we were referred to as the Rotterdam Mafia! Interesting nomenclature considering I am not even Dutch :-) The friend who introduced me to the barge was also Dutch, so it's possible they felt we were trying to take over. Brussels is an uneasy place when it comes to the language issue, so there were all sorts of possible reasons for the rumbling undercurrents. That aside, we both suffer from spells of nostalgia over the Ténacité.

  3. Oh the perfect combination barge and garden, I would go for that! Shame about the neighbours, especially since boating communities are normally so lovely and friendly xxx

  4. I wonder what it is about Belgium's history that makes its people so cold to visitors? it's interesting how some people have what appears as 'national characteristics' that makes sense only when you are allowed to delve beneath the instantly obvious.

    But I'm glad there was enough wonderfulness to entice you to go back, Val.

  5. Hello Val,
    I am no gardener and was only able to identify Buddleia aka the butterfly plant.
    As to the bigots well - disappointing behaviour. Here in Ireland there is a saying
    'That you can take a man out of the bog, but you cannot take the bog out of the man, may be something similar applies to them ?

  6. Hi Val .. extraordinary that after two wars - the communities still do not mix ...

    The barge looks quite large, while the gardens are beautiful ..

    Lovely place to visit - and your canal trips sound so wonderful .. cheers Hilary

  7. Mel, thank you. Yes, it was disappointing and not much fun to live with, but sometimes you just have to let things go (says she with a gallic shrug). The irony is that I am part French too, so it's probably just as well they didn't know that!

    Hilary, yes, but Belgium is an interesting country. It's the home of surrealism, so maybe that explains something.


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