Namur is the administrative centre of Wallonia, thoroughly French, set in the impressive and strategic junction of the Sambre and Meuse rivers. The city is dominated by the citadel built on an escarpment overlooking the two rivers.
Our first order of business was to get out of town.
As children, adults, parents and now cruising in Belgium we have always enjoyed the Tintin comics of Hergé. It was an obvious choice to name this year’s cruise ‘Hergé’s Adventures of Catharina Elisabeth”. There is a well-respected and architecturally stunning museum dedicated to him and his works. Unfortunately, it is not near a waterway and so we had to travel there by alternate means. We had researched this earlier, using our go-to travel planning service Rome2Rio – available as an app and web service, highly recommended.
We had discovered that the easiest route was out of Namur as it did not involve trains going through Brussels. Just one train to the town of Ottignies and then a short hop along a spur that only had the one stop at the university town of Louvain-la-Neuve where the museum is located at address ‘Rue Labrador 26’ – Tintin’s first home in the books.
A quick, cheap trip (after a very expensive bucket and mop!) had us at the Musée Hergé and we spent several fascinating hours poring over the exhibits and information that was presented in English and using a headset with extra commentary. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos and we could see lots of security cameras about, so we couldn’t take many pictures inside. Still, managed to sneak in a couple.
Obviously, we saw too much to cover here but some of the highlights were the detailed backgrounds that they had on each character, when they were first created and how they featured in the comics; the Christmas cards that Hergé and his studio produced each year featuring all the characters
– and most importantly, how to tell the bowler-hatted detectives, Thomson and Thompson, apart.
An easy trip back had us back on Catharina in plenty of time for relaxing on the aft deck before dinner. Our next order of business was to welcome our second set of guests for the season the following morning.
Donald, a primary and high school friend of Ian’s and his wife Maureen arrived from the UK by train.
We were all keen to tour the Namur Citadel which towered over Catharina at our mooring, entry was free so, after a light lunch in the sun on the aft deck, the only effort required was to climb up the steep path to the fort. And it was steep – many stone steps and the obligatory cobblestones. This provided some breathtaking views of both the Sambre and Meuse as we climbed higher and higher. We could see just where we had cruised as we arrived in Namur a few days earlier. We didn’t take any of the hosted tours but simply wandered around. There was an interesting museum at the entrance to the citadel which provided a very thorough history of the region and the various uses to which the citadel had been put over the centuries.
Rather typically it has been built, changed, burnt, torn down, rebuilt – several times. Of course, like pretty much every significant fortification in France and Belgium it was given a significant workover by the greatest military architect that ever lived – Vauban. We did buy and thoroughly read an English book on the citadel, so we do have a reasonable appreciation of what we saw there, but next time we need to spend more time there and perhaps take a guided tour.
A rally of old Bugatti cars and the now mandatory relaxing Belgian beer (and a glass of wine) rounded out the tour in the warm sunshine. Choosing a glass of wine was a hoot! There was a small choice of wines, which you could pour for yourself by using an automatic dispenser. We just had to try this out.
Back then to Catharina and dinner prepared with the luxury of shore-power.
No, not a language lesson but a culture lesson.
Ian cycled off in the morning to buy some fresh baguettes, just before we were to leave for our next cruise up the Meuse. The nearby patisserie was busy as it was a weekend. Two madames were serving. Ian asked for “deux baguettes” and then indicated a tarte aux fraises (strawberry tart) that looked too delicious to leave. While this was being collected he noticed a quiche Lorraine in a display nearby and picked up a delectable example and took it to the counter. The other madame behind the counter was most offended, “Non, non, non” she exclaimed with a furious look. A helpful customer also shook her head and pointed back to the display. Clearly, he was not allowed to ‘self-serve’ no matter how convenient it appeared to be to do so. Shamefacedly, the tart was returned and in due course, the madame who had now finished the packaging of the tarte aux fraises retrieved the quiche that Ian pointed to and added it to the order. After paying the strict madame, who took the money while glaring darkly at him, Ian beat an older but wiser retreat to the bike outside.
Lisette has struck the same furious response in French shoe shops after picking up a shoe to examine, as you would in most Australian shoe shops. Clearly, the French people who work in shops are not happy at all to have their role of handling their goods usurped by mere customers. Beware.
With quiche, tarte aux fraises, baguettes and a better understanding of Gallic culture, we were ready to begin the next stage of our cruise – up the Meuse to the border with France.