In rapid succession, we have said goodbye to the Netherlands, to Germany and even to Belgium and the horrible time is upon us that we need to look again upon the septic brexit divided isle and worry about how to fit in to the putrid place that we are ashamed to call home.
In the Netherlands we had trouble finding anyone that did not speak English. In fact, most people spoke English so well that it was nearly impossible to tell that they are Dutch. Awesome. We found out that one reason for this may be that the Dutch don’t overdub any imported movies and TV, but rely on subtitles. This may explain why most English speaking dutch people people seem to have an American accent! 90% of Dutch people claim to have conversation level English.
So if you are considering camper vanning abroad for the first time and find the potential language barrier a bit daunting, try the Netherlands first to ease yourself in! There are some Netherlands downsides – it has been the dearest place for food, drink, diesel, and camping stops, but they also rate pretty high on the world happiness index (6th in the world!)
Belgium is great for languages too – they are laid back enough to not have their own, but use Dutch and French. Many Belgians speak English too.
Contrast with Germany – which made us feel a little better about our lack of languages in blighty. We encountered very few people that spoke anything except German, so you need to get your bitte and danke sorted out!
A great stop-off and only a couple of hundred km from the channel now and we visited the Strépy-Thieu boat lift. Doesn’t sound that exciting, right? Wrong! This enormous twin lift, completed in the 1980’s raises huge canal boats (and we are talking up to 100 m long and 12 m wide) 70 meters between the upper and lower canals. For a decade or so it held the world record for the highest boat lift. It’s bloody huge.
We’ve seen many of the big canal boats around europe – the standard dates back to the 1950s when a new 1350 ton standard was devised. It’s extended from there right up to 280 m long by 35 m wide. So if you ever wondered why Europe can still make canals commercially viable and in the UK it’s cheaper to move boats by road, never mind bulk goods, there’s your answer: infrastructure investment and scale!
The lift replaced a series of four lifts built in the 1900’s. The old lifts are still in situ and are a UNESCO world heritage site.
Anyway, it was a wonderful 25 km cycle around the old and new lifts. Parking here is pretty idyllic – it’s free as in speech and beer and is on the banks of the canal. It would have been an awesome drone shot of the mothership, the canal and the lift, but in Belgium, unless you have taken and exam and have a registered drone, you have a 10 m height limit and must be over private ground. So it was not to be…
We turned into the campsite only to find that we had managed to take a wrong turning and had ended up in a static caravan park. The chap came out and greeted us with a great welcome and we even managed some French. We didn’t bother leaving to go find the proper campsite and stayed for a couple of nights on an empty static caravan pitch.
Cerfontaine was a quick stop-off on the journey back west and it was attractive because it had a couple of big lakes to go explore. There’s an upper and lower lakes and a hydroelectric plant sitting in the middle. It ended up a 50 km cycle over the day, with a lovely Croque Madame and Croque Monsieur for lunch with a Chimay Trappist beer. Nom, nom.
Towards the end of the day, we discovered the European jet-ski championships on one part of the lake, so we watched that for a while too. The lakes have a great amphibus tour, but it was a little beyond our dwindling budget at 25€ each, so we contented ourselves with watching it!