Netherlands – Day Eight – Reflections and more Medieval Stuff than you can imagine

Netherlands – Day Eight – Reflections and more Medieval Stuff than you can imagine

e’re currently docked this morning in an industrial town outside of Ghent. Kinda bleak and, well, industrial. Just off the fantail, there is a very utilitarian “barracks”, a three-story floating block of flats, tied semi-permanently to the dock. Notices of this and that taped to three stories of end-side entryways (off something that looks like a fire escape). It is nothing but a big square box where presumably workers reside (for the industrial yard itself, or some nearby project?). On the shore, there are a hundred bikes drawn up, hinting at the numbers inside.

It rather puts me to mind of our own crew. It seems that most of the topside public facing crew (the ship’s officers, waiters and staff) are eastern European. The room cleaners (who seem to double as food-servers) are a mix of eastern European and Indonesian. Those are the ones who suffered worst when the boat’s AC crapped out. I know that some of the “single” passengers we ate with suffered, holed up in rooms whose windows won’t open. But these workers have got to be jammed in two or more to a room. I don’t know. The lower decks are not part of any tour which lets the imagination race.

If one is reflective (which I can be in the morning), it makes one thankful for one’s place in life and the world. To tell you the truth, I was nothing but totally ridiculously fucking lucky to end my life and career so successfully (outside of a new prostate, I lack for nothing). A lot of people in the world want and desire and just wish for a spot in the sun. Misery abounds.

And this is what comes from waking up in a bleak industrial anchorage.

I will also mention that this series is being written (as it occurs) on my old HP 110 tinytop. See, ten or more years ago, before phones because everyone’s palm-of-the-hand best friends, the computer industry was trying to figure where tech would go. There was an idea that people would like to have “mini computers”, small computers that weighed nothing and could be transported easily. And that’s what I have, a small computer with a very small screen and a keyboard 90% normal size. It’s the same computer I used to write novels (and erotica (which I sold)) on the cafe patio at work for a decade or more. Also, it would fit in my bike’s panier and if it got smashed in a wreck, it wouldn’t be the heartache of losing a “true” laptop would be. The thing is, I’ve used it on and off for various writing tasks. I thought I’d use it for this trip and found out it wouldn’t power up – dead as a doornail. Suspected (because it charged and booted one time when I had the cord a “specific” way) that the power cord was shot. Ordered one on rush from Amazon and guess what – it lives! So this blog comes to you directly from my ancient tinytop!

So today was Ghent. Not much to say other than there sure are a lot of old buildings, guild halls and churches from the medieval periods. We had to ride a bus in (since we are parked out in the industrial dockage – across from us, a freighter was getting unloaded of its load of phosphates (or whatever). The crane guy was going to town in the aft hold and the entire stern was riding high. Anyway, we dropped off a bus in Ghent at a specific place. After the tour we’d come back there for a 2pm pickup. As for the tour, how many old buildings can a place have? Where I am from, the oldest building was built in 1880. Yet most of these were from the 1600s, and even older. Jane and I walked around and just checked out the town.

I could have watched this crane unload this freighter all day. Notice how pulling from the aft compartment, the ship is riding high on the stern. It would be corrected by nightfall.

One issue was that, two hours before pickup, JB needed to use the head. Finding a sign indicating that there was a WC one elevator floor up, we hoped on it and found ourselves in a fashion store. One floor down placed us in a major shopping chain store – but no indication of the WC. Confused, I asked a young girl sorting bananas if the WC was around there. She actually took us back into the back areas of the supermarket (where the kids took their breaks) and let us use their toilets. I was totally surprised. While waiting for JB to finish (of course), I chatted with the girl and laughingly told her that if she was ever in Florida and needed a bathroom, she could come see us.

Think about it – these buildings were 200 years old at the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

After all that, we found a waffle house that was just opening up. Had a waffle with ice cream and chocolate sauce which really went well with the Irish coffee that accompanied it. Then I sat low in my seat, just relaxing and watching everyone stroll past. Just a nice time passage.

After window shopping in the central area of town, we went back to the pickup point and got there too early – forty minutes. So we window shopped the pick-up location and the adjoining square. Finally, the bus came and picked us up. Very happy to see it since I realized I had no idea where in the extensive industrial docks the boat was docked. What would you tell a taxi driver?

Chatted with young Max, the driver, on our ride back to the boat, all about cycling and programming and various other things. We hung out in the bus for a bit longer, still chatting about computer games and operating systems. He was a really nice guy. Anyway, we eventually came back inside the boat. Not sure if the AC is fixed yet. Still, the freighter across the channel from us is now high and level, mostly unloaded (it seems that they can shift the load back with some sort of moving bulkhead to unload it from the stern, so neither the ship nor crane need to be moved. Anyway, it was interesting to note.

Nap time now. I think tomorrow we finally see tulips.

Post Script: As we found out, the AC is still not fixed. Mutiny lays just under the surface. It sounds like the issue are a couple of fuses that blew. So how the hell can two technicians sent to fix a problem with a dodgy AC not bring a full set of fuses? We’ve heard all this boasting about how we are only forty-five minutes from Amsterdam – put someone on a train with fuses in his pockets and come to Ghent, catching a final cab to the dock. Seems like a black eye for Gate One.

I’ll mention that I’m writing this from the stern where JB and I are sitting, watching anther river boat follow us down-canal towards tomorrow’s stop. It was nice up on the high deck – we drank coffee and hung out. We have three boats in our convoy (a freighter in front, then us, then the second river boat. Our plucky fleet passed under the world’s most frustrating drawbridge just now. I’d looked down river and saw it propped open twenty minutes before we got there. When we passed by just now, I could see skeletons in the cars and on the bikes, waiting for us. As we cleared, I looked back to see the bridge still up. And another boat passed us, coming up river, heading for the Bridge of Despair. Never saw the drawbridge close. Those poor, helpless slobs. And there are no other bridges on this river.

Found out just now that yesterday’s train station slog and today’s church-search march netted over five miles of walking each. Pretty good.

Even more Post Script: We noticed while on deck a flickering in the clouds off our port stern. Gradually over the next hour the lightning become clearer, the thunder overtaking us. We had moved down to the fantail and were sitting there when the rain started. At first it was gentle but as the minutes moved past, the winds became a howling gale. Our ship had tucked against a starboard jetty of a lock approach, the wind and rain hammering us. That boat behind us – he overtook us and went on ahead. Now we are watching other ships come upriver from the locks ahead, sweeping past us in the gale. At its height, the ship actually shuddered and the flag on the stern stood straight out. One of the crew told me this lock is always a delay – lots of traffic both ways. We seem to be low priority – everyone seemed to have urgency but us. Maybe more upbounds? Yup, there goes a barge plying upriver through the vertical rain, lights all but lost in the maelstrom. Eventually the rain tapered off but I gotta feel sorry for the deckwatch – we’ve seen those guys out at night and can only assume that this near to the lock, he’s walking his windy, soggy beat.

Finally we edged up, passing under a wet drawbridge without (thankfully) waiting cars. Immediately after that, we passed the massive lock doors which closed ponderously behind us, the bridge dropping and allowing a few thankful midnight cars to pass. The deckwatch came down in his slicker and watched the entire operation of the doors closing, radioing up and all clear. My wife noticed that jammed against our starboard side was the River Aria, the boat that had passed us earlier. Slowly we both dropped about seven feet (seen from the open stern door through black midnight rain.

During all this time, twenty long minutes passed. Not only is my laptop power draining away but by own energy is too. As with massive objects moving through massive machinery, everything happens slowly.

Closing in present tense, I saw the Aria slowly slide away. I think at this point, it’s safe to assume that we’ve dropped as far as needed and we’ll follow our sister ship out. The rain is still falling gently, the deckhands quietly cursing, Going back to our starboard-side state room, I opened the window and leaned out – the other vessel was clear and away and the rain-slick lock sides are scrolling past, our rate increasing. And that’s it – moving through a small lock below Ghent in the middle of a heavy storm. My own sea-story. And you read it here.



>>>NEXT DAY<<<


Downtown Ghent (or Gent, as it is locally spelled).