Yesterday we went down to one of my favourite places in Belgium. It was a very hot day and the sun was fairly hammering at the car roof, so energy was flagging a little when we arrived at the first of the old boat lifts at Thieu just outside La Louvière. Koos and Sindy collapsed in the shade while I went walk about (As I don't wear a black fur coat nor am I bald, I'm not as prone as either of them to heat strikes).
I walked down to the house of my dreams, which is the old lock keepers residence next to the now disused part of the old Canal du centre. The lock itself is being used as a hang out for the local young bloods. I often wish I could own this house as it fulfils every requirement either Koos or I have of a dream home. It's beautiful and it's in the country (me); it's next to a canal and lock, albeit disused (both) and you can definitely throw a stone to the working railway on the other side of the canal (Koos). Lastly, it's in a French speaking area not far from the border with France itself and is definitely influenced by French culture (me, and probably Koos too). Still, I know it's not to be and would be totally impractical given the current state of our life and commitments.
When I got back I walked round the small marina there and noticed some additions to the permanent moorings. We tried to get a mooring here ourselves a year or so ago, but obviously didn't try hard enough as someone else has succeeded. They were clearly more actively persistent than we who faded at the first signs of apathy from the harbour master.
By now, Koos and Sindy had revived, thanks to liberal quantities of water and zeez's. We walked round to see a barge entering the lock from the new canal, which would take it up to the basin in front of the first of the old boat lifts. During the summer months, the first three are in use, and many holiday travellers go up and down them just for the experience of using these historically important, and rather impressive, pieces of machinery. The last one was broken about seven years ago and the barge that caused the breakage still lies sadly in the canal next to it.
The poeple in the barge were Dutch and Koos was busy taking photos when they called out to him and asked if he wanted to go up with them. Now Koos has done the lifts a few times, but I never have, so he sweetly asked them if I could go too while he held on to Sindy. Her only aim in life was to go back to the car (normal compulsive obsessive behaviour for Sindy), so she wouldn't have taken kindly to coming too. I agreed with alacrity!
The little film at this YouTube link will give you an idea of what it was like. I loved it although the film doesn't show more than just a fragment, but the two Dutch couples were lovely, kind folk, chatting to me and giving me a cup of tea. I can't remember all their names now, but there was Steef and his wife, Janette, who stood with me in the bows. I was particularly impressed that these four, whose average age was probably the wrong side of 65, had travelled so far on this barge without apparently having that much experience - although this can be misleading I know.
The trip was worth it just for this, but our journey home was also lovely as we went off the beaten track and explored some magical countryside at a perfect time of day. The sun was setting and the hills took on a lovely mysterious remoteness. What a country of contradictions! So many people find it dreary, messy and ugly, but as I've said before, you have to go off the main roads to find the real Belgium. People who do will find a treasure trove of stunning scenery and memorable images.