The Netherlands approached, arrived, disappeared then suddenly we were back again!
Since our last blog we have cruised 220 kilometres further north, now at Weesp, just south of Amsterdam. This took us from Wallonia (French-speaking) Belgium (at Liege) into the Netherlands (at Maastricht) and then back into Flanders (Dutch-speaking) Belgium on the Zuid-Willemsvaart before it entered the Netherlands again. All a bit confusing.. you can see this area online here.
At the beginning of July as we entered the city of Liege in Belgium we encountered some major accessibility challenges. Mooring was in fact a breeze as we immediately found our ‘reserved’ spot just inside the harbour walls where there was a big sign with our name ‘MACLEENAN’ (almost right) written on it.
Here we found we had a very nice wide floating pontoon at a perfect height to get off the boat. But as we went along this pontoon we found it ended after 100 meters or so with three steps up to a fixed stone jetty (we were eight metres or more below road level). Accessing this section was a very tricky challenge but wasn’t the biggest issue as another 150 meters along the stone jetty we arrived at the harbourmasters office (Capitanerie) and street level but they were at least 16 steps above us.
Determined to assist, the harbour master found two five/six meter long heavy metal gangway tracks and with the help of several of our very kind fellow boaters lugged these into position at the far end of the other side of the harbour, where there were only six steps, to build the port’s first-ever wheelchair ramp. A steep and scary tack, now about half a kilometre from our boat (being on the other side of the long narrow harbour), but it worked..for a once only exit at this port.
Way too difficult to attempt twice!
Once on land it was off to the Tourist Information Office which boasts about all the facilities the city offers for travellers with disabilities; tours for the deaf and for people with visual impairments etc, etc. However there’s a big step at their door and worse still, they didn’t seem to think they should make it wheelchair-friendly, “impossible, impossible!”, we were told when suggesting a short portable ramp would easily solve the problem. Undaunted we set out to explore the city, starting with a look inside the Liege Cathedral and its cloisters – there we saw and learnt far more than we had ever expected.
A sign on the cloisters announced the entrance to the treasury. We had no idea what a cathedral “Treasury” was, so asked one of the wardens to give us an idea of what we were about to see.
In perfect English, he explained we would be able to inspect the cathedral’s collection of priceless relics.
Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, who along with his “Good”, “Silent” and other family members, we’d already learnt of in Kortrijk, Belgium and Dijon, France, had presented an early bishop of Liege with a solid gold reliquary (circa 1470) depicting the Duke kneeling before St George holding a relic of St Lambert’s finger (apparently)! There was ivory, parchments, tapestries and on the top floor at the end of a long red tunnel, a life-size silver St Lambert, completely covered in jewels.
Under all the silver we were informed, was the actual skull of poor old Lambert. Grim image or not it was all very impressive.
And all was totally accessible, ramps and even a lift to the top floor! If a medieval cathedral can do it, why not the Tourist Office?
Due to all kinds of battles and political intrigues over hundreds of years, there’s a bulge at the bottom of the Netherlands where it intrudes into Belgium and is squeezed up against Germany and not so far from Luxemburg – and here lies Maastricht. The marina we moored at here had in years gone by been a thriving commercial barging port.
There days it’s strictly for pleasure boats. The warehouses of old are now restaurants and
trendy office space. There were few locals about, but nearby the scene was very different.
Maastricht turned out to be one of the most interesting and enjoyable cities we have visited since Paris. Probably the best. Central streets without cars, lots of people walking, cycling and ‘scooting’ around – we were amazed at how many lightweight
scooters and wheelchairs buzz about particularly on the huge network of cycleways giving users heaps of freedom.
There were masses of great shops – though we weren’t there to buy – and wide courtyards everywhere full of outdoor dining tables all packed with people enjoying lunch, dinner, a coffee, a drink or unfortunately, occasionally a cigar. Along the narrow streets flying from the ancient buildings there were banners featuring what looked like the head of a bishop but we didn’t give them a second thought – until on the Sunday afternoon we detected that something “big” was about to commence.
Having a drink at a table which, it turned out, was right beside the big event, we learnt that a once in seven years procession of all the relics and treasures in five or more of the biggest and oldest cathedrals, basilicas, abbeys and churches in town was about to begin. Had we not stumbled on the Treasury in Liege this would have made little sense to us.
With a fanfare from historically dressed trumpeters the procession commenced right beside us.
Men in ancient robes paraded relics. Brass bands marched. Actors performed sections of relevant old plays. Bishops, other church dignitaries, horses (each followed by its personal street sweeper), carts and carriages all marched along while we and hundreds of others applauded.
For at least two hours they streamed past us. It ended with a huge 100 kilogram gold cask held aloft apparently carrying the relics of a local saint – this we
learnt from a running commentary in Stewart’s ear from a helpful local. What a day that turned out to be.
Still in Maastricht, someone, somewhere had mentioned that the remains of a Roman road, temple and well, and perhaps even more relics, were preserved and on view downstairs in a trendy little hotel in the centre of town. It was easy to find the hotel, The Derlon, but no mention anywhere outside of what might be found in its basement – anyway large pot-plants blocked wheelchair entrance at the front door. Just to make sure we hadn’t misread the article, Lesley bounced in and inquired at reception if they knew anything about Roman ruins.
“Yes of course!” said the lady behind the desk, “there’s a lift to the breakfast room and you’re welcome to go down and take a look.” The receptionist pushed the pots out of the way and soon we were down in Maastricht 100BC!
The Roman ruins were all beautifully preserved and cabinets behind the tables and chairs featured a collection of much of what had been unearthed during excavations. It was all so good we went back again for brunch a couple of days later – even better! As we
often do, we went back to the Tourist Information Office to tell them of our wonderful find and suggested they add it to their list of what wheelchair users can see in this great city.
We will write more soon as we are finding that the Netherlands with its rich and contrasting towns, friendly people is an adventure a day – sometimes several! Although we have great difficulty finding an internet connection so blogs, emailing and making
our Skype calls is its own challenge!