|Different Takes on Familiar Wakes|
2: Cruising at a leisurely 7 knots
By Jeanine Detz — October 2001
Following breakfast the next morning, we headed north on the River Schelde toward our first lock. The canal system surrounding Ghent, our destination, is one of the most complex in Western Europe. There is a bypass canal, or ringvaart, that circles two-thirds of the city and connects the upper and lower parts of the River Schelde, the River Leie, the Leie Canal, the Brugge Canal, and the Terneuzen Canal. During the days that followed, we would travel many of these waterways as we headed north to Ghent, west to Brugge, and southeast to Deinze.
Powered by a single 140-hp diesel, Vaargetijden cruises at a leisurely 7 knots. Combine that pace with the tranquil landscape–rich, green hues of the trees lining the river, interrupted only occasionally by a bicyclist or two–and it’s nearly impossible not to relax. Within minutes Holland, three guests of the Karremans, and I were all silent–either reading or snoozing or just enjoying a cup of coffee and the view.
About four hours later, we passed through the ringvaart and entered the River Leie, where local limits forced us to cut our speed to a crawl–2 knots. The landscape also changed. No longer lone travelers on the river, we shared the brackish waterway with many pleasureboats tied up along the banks. As we made our way to the Ghent Centrum Yacht Club, buildings seemed to pop up out of nowhere. We were suddenly in a city, and I was anxious to explore.
I crossed St. Michael’s Bridge to enter the town, and my senses were bombarded by the strong earthy smell of the fairly stagnant river, sights of the centuries-old architecture, and the temptation of chocolate (available at nearly every crossroad). I walked the city’s central streets, window shopping along the way, until I arrived at the impressive St. Bov’s Cathedral.
Home of Jan van Eyck’s masterpiece Adoration of the Lamb, the cathedral also houses a museum of church artifacts in a crypt-like space below. After I left the serenity of the space, I continued on my self-guided tour of the area’s 14th-century architecture. My outing included a stop at the 300-foot-tall clock tower, a stroll past the castle’s Graventeen, and a chat with a chocolatier in one of the city’s many homemade confection shops.
Walking back to the boat, I could not resist the temptation of the many outdoor cafes along the river. I slipped into a chair, ordered a beer–a Leife blond–and passed an hour watching cyclists speed by. When I arrived back onboard, Olga was getting ready to serve dinner.
Meals onboard Vaargetijden are a filling and entertaining affair. Olga spends each afternoon preparing a three-course meal, which on our trip includied many Belgian specialties such as cauliflower soup and an endive entree. The Karremans dine with their guests, a practice which often results in chats lasting well into the evening. After we watched the sunset (at 10 p.m.!) on the deck, I headed below. Brugge was on the next day’s itinerary, and it would be a 30-mile (about six-hour) trip.
A friend who recently visited Belgium had told me to skip Brussels in favor of a visit to this, the capital of West Flanders, instead. And after setting foot on my first cobblestone street, I could see why. The facades of 13th- and 14th-century buildings, combined with the click-clock of horses and buggies carrying passengers around the city’s center, made me feel like I had been transported into a Vermeer painting. Holland and I explored the city’s late medieval and early Renaissance treasures for several hours. Stops in the center square as well the courtyard of a convent founded in 1245 highlighted an afternoon topped off by several chocolate truffles and a couple of pints.
On our last day onboard Vaargetijden, we spent a few hours in the city of Deinze, where the Museum van Deinze en Leistreek houses the work of many renowned artists of the Flanders area. I had the paintings of Emiel Claus, Devant La Glace, and Gustav Van de Woestyne almost to myself. (A group of schoolchildren were the small museum’s only other visitors.) After the brief stopover, we cruised the River Leie for about 2 1š2 hours, until we arrived at the small town of St. Martens Latem.
St. Martens is a quaint, upscale place where art galleries and brasseries dominate the main streets. I can think of no other place where you can pass by a windmill, farm, and four-star restaurant all during a 10-minute bike ride. The town was a fitting last stop for a trip that had been characterized by a slow pace, pastoral scenery, and French-inspired Belgian cuisine.
I took a stronger appreciation for European architecture (and Belgian beer) back with me to New York, and about two weeks after I had arrived home–just when the memories of the cities I had visited started to fade–a coworker told me of the Vermeer exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A Saturday perusing the Dutch master’s paintings transported me back to northern Belgium and the streets I had strolled in. For a few hours, I was in 17th-century Belgium instead of 21st-century New York City. How’s that for looking at your hometown differently?
De 4 Vaargetijden charters yearlong. A midweek trip is approximately $300; full week is approximately $497. Prices are per person based on eight-person occupancy and include food, fuel, and dockage.
De 4 Vaargetijden Phone: (32) 477 69 63 62. Fax: (32) 477 69 64 62. www.de4vaargetijden.com.
U.S. Office: Forever Young Travel Phone: (954) 989-0156. Fax: (954) 989-0163.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.