Paris and Belgium 2016

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The following are notes from our trip to Europe, Summer of 2016. Zack and his girlfriend Eryn joined us in an apartment in Paris for the first week. Then Martha & I left for Belgium, and the kids moved to a hotel in Paris. Martha & I stayed in Brussels for 4 days, then went to the North of Belgium to pick up our self-pilot canal boat.

Paris & Belgium 2016 Pictures only
Arrived 1 1/2 hours late jet lagged and weary after the 11 hour flight. We got some Euros from the airport ATM then tried to get an Uber ride to our apartment. We had looked it up in advance and a Uber Van (to hold 4 plus baggage) would be 70 Euros. Somehow we ended up waiting at a location not accessable to cars, so we finally gave up and got a taxi. It was 50 Euros.

At the apartment I tried to call the guy for the key and was still fooling around with the phone and the dialing mysteries when he pulled up on his motorcycle (two wheels in front). The apartment was up one flight of twisty stairs, looked out on a small street, and had plenty of space for the four of us. It was not as fancy as it appeared in the web pics.

We trudged up to the Sacre Coeur area and ate outdoors at an attractive cafe. Hordes of tourists kept arriving and going in the door. We were amazed that the place could accommodate so many. After dinner We bought breakfast materials from a small market near our apartment. It was the day after Bastille Day, so the large grocery stores were closed. And that was enough of a day for me.


On Tuesday we walked down and found the hop-on hop-off bus and got tickets for two days and also opted for the hop-on boat on the Seine (Bateau-Bus). It turns out the boat is not that great since from the river, you can't see much past the high banks. Also the plastic windows of the boat let the sunlight in but kept out any cooling breezes, and it was HOT.

The bus was cool though and we sat up top for good views of the Paris landmarks. Martha & I have done these hop-on bus tours before and we remain convinced they're a good way to get the layout of a big city and see (at least in passing) all the major attractions.

The plan was that with the second day option, we could go back and see anything we chose. Turns out that using the bus as transportation is not a great use of time, since one sees the same stuff as the day before, and it takes a LONG TIME in the sun to get where you're going. Bottom line: Skip the boat and get a one day pass.

After the bus tour, we stopped at the MonoPrix and loaded up on groceries, including a bottle of rose wine. We drank most of the bottle, had a little nap, then found a great little cafe for dinner. We visited with other tourists and drank another bottle of rose.


Took a look at the sewers of Paris today. The excitement started when I went to pay for the tickets and saw my main credit card was missing. Hmmm. Used the other credit card but began worrying. What had I done with the damned thing??? I didn't use it at dinner last night since Zack paid (very nice cafe where we met a Polish mother and daughter. The mother was celebrating her 70th and bonded with Martha immediately. The daughter did the translating.)

The sewers are pretty interesting. Trying to keep a city the size of Paris in drinking water and getting rid of all the waste is a big deal.

When we got back to the apartment I checked all my pockets, etc for the credit card but had no luck. The last time we remembered me using it was a the MonoPrix supermarket the day before. In fact paying and bagging were somewhat confused so this was a likely place for it to have disappeared.

Zack and I hoofed it back to the MonoPrix and initially had no luck finding a worker who spoke English. A helpful customer translated our wishes for us and we were led to the credit card lost and found area and a manager lady. She sifted through an impressive collection of cards and found MINE! Checked my ID, gave it back, and the issue was resolved. Folks are pretty honest and helpful!


Martha had for weeks been looking forward to shopping for fabrics in Paris. There is an area in walking distance of our apartment with about 30 fabric stores. So she went off on her own, and the three others of us went to the Musée d'Orsay.

This time we used taxis, which get you right there tout de suite for €10. The Musee D'Orsay is huge, and has a grand collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, which we three favored. I can get saturated pretty quickly looking at artwork, but we did spend many hours looking at grand and famous works of Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Gaugain, Pisarro, all the heavy hitters. We had a nice lunch at the museum restaurant, looked more at the Impressionists, then walked over to the Musée del'Orangerie across the river and included in our tickets. On our way it rained a little but Zack bought two umbrellas at €4 each from vendor dudes.

At the Musée del'Orangerie two large rooms are devoted to wrap-around murals painted by Rodin copying the style of Monet. Impressive! And in another area, an amazing collection of Monets, Renoirs, and the other big guys of art. Caught a taxi home and had a glass of rosé. Martha and I chilled while the kids went off to hike up Sacré-Cœur.

Martha did buy some fabric, but her most interesing account was that of using one of the free bathroom kiosks. She puzzled over the French instructions but was helped nicely by some African chaps hanging about. Apparently the little room washes itself thoroughly with water after every use, but takes about two minutes to complete its cycle, lights changing from yellow to green. Very modern and French.


We saw two wonderful things today: The Catacombes, and Sainte Chapelle church. The Catacombes I doubt have anything like them in the world!

We arrived by taxi at the entrance at 10:30, a half hour after opening, but the line was already halfway around the block. It took us a good two hours to get in, but we amused ourselves watching people (some known to us) play Pokemon Go.

The Catacombs house the bones of 6 Million people. We descended about 150 steps to the Catacomb level, below subway and sewer levels. There are long narrow limestone galleries (walkways) before reaching the area with the bones. Then one's mind is blown by the endless hallways stacked to the ceiling with bones. Each skull once a person who walked the earth and thought their life was important. Yikes. The bones are stacked neatly in the labyrinthe of caverns, stacked so the skulls form the base of a layerand the tibias neatly arranged to form a wall up to the next layer. Other bones are tossed in behind the tibias I suppose. 6 million is just a big number until you see all this with your own eyes.

Then we ascended 80-something stairs and exited into a normal street, normal except for the Catacombs gift shop across the street. Ghoulish humor of all kinds.

Next stop was Sainte Chapelle church, famous for its large elgant stained glass windows, recently cleaned and restored. The church is nestled in the middle of a city block housing the police departments and ministry of justice - lotsa cops - which seems a bit odd. (Most places we went the ladies had to open their purses to show the private security folks there was nothi8ng dangerous inside.)

On the lower level, the windows are impressive, but after climbing to the upper level, another set of windows reach to the sky (arched ceiling). The pics won't do it justice but one tries.

Afterward we stopped at an Italian restaurant and packed in a few carbs before heading home.


The kids went to Versailles today and won't be back until late. Apparently on Saturdays the run the fountains and have a fireworks display at night.

Martha & I bought a little package of tickets and took the Metro a few stops to a large market place (Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen). Near the Metro exit we found streets lined with new souvenir stuff, T-shirts, jeans, and leather goods and a square with more of the same. Martha bought a small Eiffel Tower (surprise) and I was talked into buying a new belt.

After crossing under a highway and plowing through the crowds we found that the alleys off the main street had the antique markets. One alley was all fancy antiques, quite wide and pleasant, with classical music throughout. We took our time in there, though most of the furniture was heavy with gold leaf and ornimentation, large crystal chandeliers and the like. So we saw our own version of Versailles. After lunch in a nice sidewalk café we saw a couple of more artsy antique places, then headed back.

The Paris Metro is just the best! You can get within a few blocks of anywhere in this giant metropolis within minutes, all for €1.45. We never waited more than 2 or 3 minutes for a train. The stairways did at times smell like BART stairs, but for the most part it was clean and efficient.


We leave tomorrow AM, so today we did laundry at the convenient laundromat down the street. The signs are in inscrutable French but there was a kind helpful woman who pointed to the washers, soap machine, and control box in mime for us. It was a busy place but enough machines for everyone who came.

Our only plan for touring was a walk next to canal Saint Martin, where Martha's book said that on Sundays they close the streets to cars to promote strolling. On the way to the Metro we had lunch in a fast food joint. We took the Metro to a station I thought looked to be close to one end of the canal, the Stalingrad station.

There we discovered the sketchy side of Paris. Litter in the streets, homeless encampments, and the smell of urine. (The homeless in France have full sized mattresses layed on on the street. Where do they come from? The govt?) We found the canal and proceeded forward, ever optimistic. The first part of the canal we saw was wide, littered on the banks with construction debris, man peeing on the wall, and with an occasional camping tent. Pressing onward, we finally came to the Paris we came to see.

The canal narrowed and the pedestrian street began and I felt less like I was intruding on peoples misery. There was a set of double locks and we waited and watched as a canal tour boat arrived from upstream and the lock did its magic, all by remote control from somewhere. We walked through a little garden, and went back via the Metro in Gare d'l Est.

Then we sat around reading. Pretty nice.


Had breakfast, packed up, and read until the guy came at 11 to "check us out". Then Zack & I went down to Place Blanche and got two taxis, ours took Martha & me to Gare de Nord WAY to early. So we sat uncomfortably on a barrier fence and read until we thought we could justify lunch. We then occupied a lunch table until 2PM when we caught the Thalys high speed train to Brussels.

The Thalys train was clean, quiet, comfortable and FAST. I had the map app on my phone going and followed our progress. We averaged about 175 MPH, getting up to 185 at times. In 1 hour 20 minutes we were there and checked into our nice hotel.

We took a little walk near the hotel and immediately saw a stree with outdoor dining, always an attraction. We followed our noses and soon came to a large square that was an amazing sight. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it. Large classical or neo-gothic buildings all around, most dressed up with gold leaf. There were more outdoor restaurants, and hundreds of people milling around, snapping selfies. There were news vans there too but we never found out why. We finally settled down and ordered beers.


Today was hop-on hop-off bus day, so we had the grand drive-around of Brussels. I don't think Brussels lends it self as well to this type of tour since you really can't see much of interest without getting off the bus - which we didn't do. We did get the overall layout and flavor of the city though and a few pics perhaps worth posting.

The Grand Place remains the main nearby attraction and we made a point of going there for drinks and a small lunch.

Dinner was back at an Italian place of the nearby street with many restaurants. Nice pizza and risotto. Walked arount the Grand Place afterward. We heard some young chaps strumming their guitars and playing drums. Amazing how much flamenco sound you can get with four chords. Makes me want to pick up my guitar again.

We also saw a cool moneymaking hustle. Someone has added a small sofa to his bike and charges people to pose is a living room setting in the middle of the square. The contraption is steered by a giant lever that pivots the sofa. We had small cherry beers for dessert.


Got a slow start, had lunch looking out on the Grand Place, then did one of the "free" walking tours. It was quite good, giving us a closer look at much of the stuff we zoomed by on the bus. It was quite warm and I regretted not bringing shorts.

We walked through the park and saw a lot of people playing Pokemon Go. An amazing phenomenon! Sociologist will study this, analyze it, write doctoral disertations about it. It has certainly struck a responsive chord in people - a pretty wide demographic. There is obviously a need being fulfilled. Am I full of s&*t, or do others amaze also at its popularity?


For breakfast we stopped at a little sandwich shop just across from our hotel. This place is the real deal, a one man operation, where all the bread is baked on premises, each sandwich is freshly prepared, even the orange juice is squeezed before your eyes. The owner is generous with advice on what what goes well together, and is meticulous in contructing the sandwiches. He obviously loves what he does. Delicious!

Today we took the train to Ghent. We thought that later in our little canal boat, even if we get as far as Ghent, we won't have much time there to check out the city. So we caught the intercity train and were there in 38 minutes (€36 round trip total). We found the taxi queue and caught one to the city center. It was quite hot so instead of the walking tour we took a boat tour. It lasted almost and hour and was quite nice. Beautiful buildings and sights from the canals.

For shade in the open boat they distributed black umbrellas. It looked kind of gothic. We got tremendously thirsty so with our quiche lunch we had 1 1/2 liters of water. We then walked around a bit stopping in shops with AC. When it was time to leave we looked for taxis but had no luck. We found the place where taxis would be if there were any, but still no luck. So we w eventually caught the tram back to the train station, consulting with other lost Americans also trying to figure it out. We even had a short struggle back in Brussels figuring out which way to walk back to our hotel. I blame the heat.


This was a travel day where we needed to get from Brussels to our canal boat near Nieupoort, in the North of Belgium. First we went back to the excellent sandwich shop, ate well, and got bag lunches for later. The train schedule showed a direct connection between the Brussels Midi station (a bit to the south) and Ostend (closest we could get by train to our destination). But the Midi station is a 20 minute taxi ride from our hotel. The hotel guys suggested walking to the Brussels Central station and taking one of the many trains going to Ostend. We had walked there before, and we didn't relish the idea of dragging our luggage over the cobblestone street and through the crowds. So we opted for the taxi approach and asked them to call one for us.

When the time came, plan C emerged, wherein one of their young men volunteered to haul our luggage to the station for us. So we followed the chap to a much closer door to the station, avoiding climbing up to the main entrance, then going down flights of stairs. It was kind of embarrassing to see how close and easy it really was. But it worked well ahd he got a small tip.

We caught a train that was leaving right away. It stopped in Midi, Ghent, Brugges, then Ostend. But it was a pretty quick trip and we got seats where we could keep an eye on our luggage in the vestibule, ever the cautious tourists.

Arriving at Ostend was rather a circus. It seems lots of folks were starting their seaside holiday weekends and the poured out of the train and spilled onto the streets. We found a taxi and go the the boat marina (over 50 Euro, yikes. But no alternative I knew of). We were early so we ate our sandwiches and had a complimentary beer at the marina cafe, chatting with a German couple who had also just arrived and were planning the same route. It was much cooler here and very pleasant (mid 70sF I'd guess). Here they get afternoon breezes from the North Sea - just like home.

We got checked in with our boat and the young chap took us out on a trial drive, having me do a couple of tight turns. I wasn't expecting it but out little boat has BOW THRUSTERS. Such luxury. We had opted for the starter grocery package, reasonably comprehensive but nothing we wanted for dinner. We walked to a restaurant filled with retirees and had very nice steaks and fries.


We started out at 8:30 along with two other boats. They use the convoy method, opening the bridges for groups of boats starting at 9AM at the first bridge, then opening them in succession based on when they see you on TV monitors arrive a the next bridge. We progressed splendidly expecting to arrive early afternoon in Bruges.

However, a bit before the lift bridge leading into Bruges, the engine warning beeper went off. It appeared that the engine oil pressure was low. We tied up more securely to the little dock before the bridge, called the boat place and were told they'd send someone. While waiting I used the primitive boat shower, then we cooked lunch from left-overs from yesterdays steaks.

The guy came, put in a liter of oil, and suggested that we should run the boat more slowly (1800 RPM). We did a test drive, he departed, and we resumed our progress. Pausing briefly for each of many more bridges and one lock, we arrived at Coupere yacht harbor, tucked into the heart of old Bruges. We docked next to our German buddies, hooked up to shore power and opened the white wine. Now Martha is after me to walk into town. Martha says to write that a lot of other things happened too.

After a bit we walked further on the canal and into town. It was a freakin mob scene, hot and crowded. They have some nice buildings of course, but yikes - so many tourists! The manager at the Le Boat place had told us that he prefers Ghent because there are fewer tourists. We left all the boat windows wide open, trying to get it cooled off for sleeping. We're here for two nights, so maybe tomorrow we can have a fresh look with more room for appreciation.


Much easier day today. It cooled off nicely during the night, and it was cloudy off and on during the day staying wonderfully cool. We had breakfast on board, then walked into town to see the sights. There were still plenty of tourists, but they seemed more acceptable after a good night's sleep. In line for the canal boat tour we ran into a group of girls from the UK who recognized us from our walking tour in Brussels. We swapped stories and took each others pictures.

The canal boat tour was great. The boats go under the low bridges that connect the city and where boats such as ours are not allowed. Lots of beautiful old buildings, including famous Belfort tower from the movie.


It started raining this morning just before 6AM. I was a little worried that further motoring would be soggy at best. But our luck held and it stopped about 8. After consultation with the port Captain, we changed our plan and decided to make our next night in Dienze. We started and were soon joined by a couple of other boats. The canal folks like to have the boats grouped so we can go through the swing and lift bridges and locks all at the same time, so they don't have to stop auto traffic as often.

We plowed along nicely at about 10km/h under cloudy skies, sometimes with dark clouds, and sometimes sun blazing through making it hot. My jacket kept going on and off. We got to Dienze about 1:30, ready for lunch and a break. It was unclear where we should park the boat, but we pulled into what appeared to be the last spot and were greeted by the port Captain's wife. She collected the fee and gave us all the required info (pass code for showers, wifi code, etc.).

After lunch on board we walked into town. It's a smallish nice little town with no remarkable architecture we could see, except maybe the church. There were a lot a resturants though and it looked like all the retirees from around were there for their afternoon beers. We stopped at the supermarket, bought a few items (chips and sox and strawberries, oh yes).

Came back and showered in the yacht club facilities. Much nicer than on the boat. Plus our hose won't reach the spigot to refill our water tank, so it's better to conserve. We'll walk back to town for dinner after Martha's hair dries. No hurry - I've got chips.


After breakfast on board I swung the boat around so our hose could reach for refilling the water. It took a lot more water than I would have guessed - running the spigot for about 15 minutes. I have no idea how much had been left. I really like gauges on things.

We started out about 9:45AM and caught up right away with another boat and a giant barge. So we didn't have to call anyone to get the one bridge opened. The route was to motor North on the river Leie, cross the RingVaalt (the canal that goes around Ghent), and park in Ghent for the night.

We had heard this route on the twisty river Leie called the Beverly Hills of Belgium. Sounds corny, but wow - the giant houses with expansive lawns fronting the river were totally impressive. I noticed how immaculately groomed were the lawns, then noticed two examples of how it was done. The have little robot lawnmowers (maybe twice the diameter of a Roomba) wandering over the grass constantly - and randomly from the patterns. Pretty cool. I tried to get pictures of this all but the river was so twisty I couldn't neglect the steering for long. The pics I got might be OK, but are not good enough.

For lunch we stopped at a small town with a park fronting the river with room for 4 or 5 boats to tie up. We had left over steak from the night before. We walked around town a bit and found we had just missed a giant festival of some kind. Next to the river was a building that smelled to us like a winery. We found that it was police headquarters. Hmmm. No wonder the police are so polite.

We resumed our travels, made one wrong turn, and got into Ghent about 2:30. The mooring place is odd. It's a canal close to the center of town, but one ties up to metal benches along the side. We did this with the help of some Italians who preceeded us, paid the port Captain his 9 Euros, plugged into shore power (one more Euro), and relaxed. Occasionally a tour boat would come by, filled with gawking tourists, exactly the tour we took a few days ago.


Time to start heading back to return the boat. We left Ghent about 9:30 and motored for a few hours before encountering any bridges that needed opening, etc. Our German friends Hans and Monica (whom we had met at Le Boat place at Nieupoort) appeared behind us. At the first "red light", we waited for a bit, heard some unknown French words from the other Germans ahead of us, then called the number published for the bridge. The man said it would be 20 minutes, so Martha made lunch while I tied up to a tree at the side.

We had just eaten when the bell rang (to warn motorists), they added a green light to the red one, and finally the bridge lifted and the red light went out. We repeated this process about 5 more times before reaching the harbor at Bruges (same place as before). I called the port Captain (harbor master) and he came running (literally) to put down the little barriers and lift the pedestrian bridge that closes off the harbor.

My next challenge is to get the wifi working. The harbormaster gave me a password, but it works only if you walk very close to his boat.

After resting a bit we walked into town for dinner. This time we went into the main square and found it delightful. It was much cooler than when we were here a few days ago, and for some reason there were a lot fewer people. On the walk back after dinner we came across country western music at a pub (see video).


Not an exciting day. We left Bruges at 9AM and pretty quickly came to a halt. A couple of massive barges were going the same way we were and we ended up waiting at least an hour for them to get though the a lock with two bridges. The barge we shared the lock with was so long they hade to keep both bridges open. It barely fit between the lock gates. The horizontal blue thing in the pic and video is the large barge.

After that we chugged along going through a total of 14 bridges the had to move out of our way (swing or lift), and two locks. It was a long drive into the wind getting back to the marina. Most of the way we followed another LeBoat guy who was squirreling all over the place in his boat (maybe twice the length of ours). He did NOT have the luxury of bow thrusters, as we did.

We plan on dinner tonight at the same place we found a week ago. Tomorrow will be a travelling day, with a lot of moving parts. The plan is to take a taxi form the marina to the Ostend train station, take the intercity train to Brussels Midi station, take the high speed TGV traion to Paris Airport station, then a taxi to our hotel. If nothing goes wrong, it whould work fine.


All our travelling went per schedule. In fact the hotel we'd booked near CGD airport was so close it only required a ride on the free airport shuttle (that transfers between terminals).

We caught the high speed train (TGV) at Bursells Midi station. Just as it was leaving I saw the conductor walking by with what appeared to be Martha's carry-on daypack. It had been on the rack just above me.

I stopped him, said it was ours, and he explained (with the translating help of the woman behind us) that a thief was seen looking into the pack. The thief was now gone off the train, but there had been another victim also 3 cars down. Martha checked and the only thing she could think was missing was her Belgian chocolate and a Harbor Freight free flashlight. The conductor asked us to report it to the Paris police. But the large inconvenience to us far outweighed the train company's desire to gather statistics.

Later Martha found the chocolate and flashlight in her other bag. But it served as a warning - there are thieves out there and one must keep an eye on ones bag.


Our XL Airways flight was to leave from Terminal 2C. We walked to the airport (which also contains the train station) took the shuttle trolley thing to Terminal 2, then proceeded walking toward 2C. Terminal 2 it turns out is the size of San Francisco, but instead of hills, there are frantic people with luggage. XL Airways was at the most extreme reaches of Terminal 2. The airline says to check in 3 hours in advance. We were there perhaps 2 hours in advance but much of the time was spent hauling our luggage across the vast reaches of Terminal 2.

XL Airways is Air France's budget offshoot. It only flies in the summer and there is only one flight a week between CDG and SFO. But the plane was fine, the flight attendants were young and pretty and all had the little French twist hairdo. But also they seemed to speak English with difficulty and were completely inattentive.

We arrived only a bit late and were met by brother in law Tom. Thanks Tom!. ..

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