We enjoyed a couple of days in Koln, arriving on 2nd August and leaving on 4th, but it is fair to say it’s not the most attractive or vibrant town. The harbour is large and very close to the centre with walls about 8 meters high. When we first arrived we considered getting to scooter off but quickly realised that although getting it off the boat would be simple, getting it out of the marina would be impossible. The steps up the wall are steep and numerous – and the walk from one end of the pontoon to the other is a workout in itself!
We stuck to using Shanks’s Pony for the duration of our stay, which wasn’t difficult – the only sight worth seeing is the Cathedral, about 10 minute walk – the supermarkets were a similar distance in the other direction and the marina bar/restaurant (before the long climb up the steps) was perfect for a nightcap or meal.
Having left Koln we planned on stopping in Dusseldorf, but there really wasn’t anywhere we could stay, so we continued on to a small but comfortable marina at Krefeld, it was late so this was just a stopover and apart from a walk the dogs we didn’t go anywhere else.
We left Krefeld and continued the helter skelter down the Rhein – averaging 13kms but sometimes hitting 14.5kms! There are times on the Rhein when you feel like you’re on the M25 but everyone is using whichever lane suits then, on either side of the carriageway! The blue-boarding sometimes makes sense and others none at all. One minute the board is up, then it comes down and the barge swings back to his own side of the river. We have been overtaken by 2 barges side by side and at the same time had 3 barges coming in the opposite direction, overtaking side by side, with a random one that has decided to just take whatever gap he can regardless of whether he is blue-boarding or on the right side of the river – so long as he didn’t have to slow down he was happy! I have to admit, when it was like this I was glad Frank was at the wheel rather than me!!
That night we found a gem of a mooring at a tiny place called Rees. You turn into an entrance channel, that is about 200 meters long and then arrive in a large lagoon, where several power boats were at anchor, the occupants swimming from the boats. The yacht harbour itself was at the far end of the lagoon and through the binoculars I could see a long, empty pontoon with a large sign announcing “GASTE”, or guest. Perfect!!
As we approached the visitor pontoon it became obvious it had been taped off. Nothing too substantial but a strip of hazard tape was strung from one end of the pontoon to the other. Sometimes when you are travelling and you have had a long day, the last thing you need is to find you have nowhere to stop when you’re tired. We ignored the tape and fixed our lines, waiting for someone to chase us away, but no one came. We always report our arrival to the harbour master but when we went to the club house it was completely shut with signs about no entry due to COVID19. We figured the tape on the pontoon was to discourage visitors but as there was no one around then we would be ok to stop here……..for free, as it turned out!
As I said, it was a tiny place in the middle of nowhere but perfect for the dogs to get a few swims and good walks. It was to be our last stop in Germany and on the Rhein. The following day we entered the Netherlands quickly followed by the Pannderdens Kanaal heading towards Arnhem.
We had intended to stop at Arnhem but there are very limited places to moor, those that are available are along a very high quay, meaning getting the dogs off would be tricky, and quite honestly, the town didn’t look like it had a lot to offer, so we continued on to the first lock at Driel.
A quick call on the VHF confirmed that we are indeed now in Holland and everyone not only speaks perfect English, they are more than happy to do so…….what a relief!! As soon as we got through the lock we spotted a 40 meter pontoon inviting visitors to moor up. It was, again, in the middle of nowhere, adjoining a cow field, but obviously somewhere for the locals to bring a picnic and have a swim. The boys loved it! By nightfall the few remaining locals headed off home and we had a wonderfully peaceful night.
7th August we were up early and after the boys had a walk and another swim we left for the next lock. The locks on this canal are HUGE! When we arrived there were 2 large commercial vessels waiting to go in and numerous smaller boats, including speed boats, sailing boats, a couple of cruisers and us. We figured we’d have to wait until the next lock but a quick call on the VHF and the lockkeeper confirmed that once the commercials were in we could follow them. We all got in, with plenty of room to spare!! Amazing.
Our next stop was the lovely little town of Culemborg. We needed to find a bank and, not so importantly, a supermarket and our search took us right through the middle of the town through the market square. There were one or two nice looking restaurants and bars but no sign of a bank and as the temperature was heading skywards the dogs were beginning to flag. I asked a couple of young waitresses at a brasserie if they knew where the bank was and they said it was a few minutes walk away so while Frank headed back to one of the nicer looking restaurants I got into my “get there quick” stride and found the bank in no time. As I turned away from the ATM having withdrawn enough cash for the next week or so, I saw a large supermarket on the other side of the street.
It was too hot to shop, I was dying of thirst and now I knew where it was, it would be easy enough to find tomorrow on the bike with a rucksack. I headed back to the square and spotted Frank still wandering around. It turned out that the nice restaurant was full – in a very uncharacteristic Dutch way the guy said something like “can’t you see I have no tables, we are fully booked”. A bit rude.
We decided to go the brasserie where the young waitresses had been so helpful and had a superb meal of filet steak, pepper sauce, seasonal veg and chips (with mayo, of course – this is Holland!).
We were so happy with our final choice of eatery that we couldn’t resist thanking the rude man in the “nice” restaurant for making us go somewhere else.
The following morning I headed off to the supermarket while Frank did his engine checks and topped up the water tanks before we headed back our onto the River Lek. The weather had turned incredibly hot and humid and the wheelhouse was reaching temperatures of 34oC whilst inside the boat it was hitting 30oC. It is hard to do anything in that heat but I have a job to do and between meetings and emails I am kept busy most days. It can be funny sometimes when I have been out in the heat doing locks with a big sunhat on then I go straight into a TEAMS meeting for work with the same hat on, but I think most of my colleagues are getting used to the unusual with me!
Later we pulled into the lovely marina of Schoonhoven where we decided to stay a couple of nights. It is one of these places that has a campsite and marina as part of the same complex and the people running it were really lovely. When we first arrived and went to see if we could stay for two nights the lady in the reception had just got back from the beach with a towel wrapped around her apologising for the “unusual wear” for a harbour master!
We decided this was the place to get the dinghy out of the bag, inflated and rigged with the outboard. There are a few small beaches dotted along each bank of this part of the river and the boys love the dinghy, knowing a dinghy ride is a precursor to a swimming session. It was nice arriving here on a Saturday because it meant I could completely switch off from boating and working…..bliss!
Monday morning (10th August) post dog walk, I got a few bits from the nearby supermarket and we made the short journey to Krimpen aan de Lek for our final night on this lovely river. We received a really nice welcome from the boat next to where we moored and spent much of the afternoon swimming and playing in the dingy with the dogs, trying to avoid the worst of the heat.
Tuesday we started the last leg of this part of the journey from Krimpen to Maasluis, via the fuel barge on the junction of the Lek and the Hollandse Ijssel. That was an experience. It is the only fuel barge for many miles around and when you walk through the interior to get to the chandlery at the upstream end of the barge you pass through huge stocks of paint, oil, antifreeze and many many other essentials for the big commercials – so it was all supersized 20 litre containers. The chandlery itself was a REAL chandlery, with useful things rather than just a few bits and pieces, as so many these days are.
We had intended to stop in Rotterdam but the City Marina is on the opposite bank to the town – although there is a bridge nearby, and really, the only thing we wanted to see was the Maritime Museum in Leuvehaven. We didn’t know if we could get moored near to the museum so entered the haven and slowly drove through the docks, lined with historic barges, tugs, pilot boats and all sorts of other wonderful boats of different shapes and sizes, all beautifully restored and maintained.
There was nowhere for visitors to moor but we had seen enough to know we wanted to come back and see it properly so decided to make the final 18kms to Maassluis where we have some very good friends and knew we could get the scooter off. We have been to Maassluis on 3 other occasions by boat (and several others without). The first 2 occasions were with our first love, Armanda. A beautiful Dutch steel cruiser made by the renowned maker Altena, she took us backwards and forward across the channel many times, visiting France, Belgium and Holland.
The last time we were here was with Thirza, having done the deal to purchase her and getting her lifted for a survey near Amsterdam. We brought her as far as Maassluis where we left her for a few weeks before Frank could get back with some friends to bring her to the UK in 2017. Coming back into the harbour now, having completed our trip of a lifetime, we both felt a bit emotional. Our hope is to get Thirza lifted here to have the undersides prepared ready for life back in the salt water on the East Coast of England.