On lonely river, stands a village with no name, surrounding a bar run by an octogenarian, Gina. Yes, I know this sounds like a newly discovered Bob Dylan song, but it’s true. Well almost true – the village is called Ladeuze and is towards the southern end of the Dender, Blaton-Ath Canal which on which we had been travelling pretty much since leaving Gent nearly two weeks ago.
Chez Gina is a substantial looking building a minutes walk from our mooring, it has been a bar since the war, and probably a drinking house long before that. It is legendary amongst boating folk, not for it’s architecture, and not really for a fine selection of bottled beer, but for its eponymous host, Gina. Sat in a chair next to an electric heater in a bar full of curios, memories and memorials, Gina nodded as we came in, easing her back in the chair to get a better view of our dogs. We surveyed the menu and ordered 4 different beers, at which point she sprang into life, dressed all in black, apparently still in mourning for a husband who died ten years ago, and produced beer matching glasses and a smile. For the next hour we sat there, drinking, chatting in pigeon Franglaise, wishing we had a greater command of French as we quizzed her on the walls and ceilings full of memorabilia. Many have been there before us and I hope many will still visit and revel in the memories at Chez Gina.
Trigger and I at Chez Gina
After Gina’s we untied our lines and headed south, towards our ultimate destination of Auxerre, France in a few months, but more immediately towards an area containing a selection of engineering masterpieces, and a UNESCO world heritage site to-boot. Strepy-Thieu (pronounced Strepy two – which caused confusion for me as I scoured maps looking for Strepy one) is a boat lift build over the course of a decade to replace the historic ascenciour lifts nearby. In case you missed the significance of that, this is basically a tub of water, into which you can drive a 1350 ton, 85m long fully laden barge, and a couple of pleasure barges such as ours, press a button and open a valve or two and the whole lot is lifted, in 7 minutes a height of 73 metres (240 ft). Phenomenal! There was even the nest of a bird of prey, complete with three chicks in one of the pillars.