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Vancouverite67

Belgium or Holland?

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Hi all,
New to this forum (decided Trip Advisor wasn't going to help this time) and hope to find recommendations for a week of canal/river boating next summer (2018). We have a rough itinerary (nothing is booked) flying into Amsterdam and out of Paris with around 14 to 16 days in the middle. I'd like to spend 5-7 days in the middle on a canal boat. We are 2 adults, 2 teens. Can you advise me on:
-- location that will give us a good taste of villages and European culture and life (looking at Flanders/Bruges?)
-- companies to go with
-- itineraries/distances that are reasonable for first-timers in that time span
-- destinations that won't be completely overrun in school holidays? I know, its a bit of a dream, and we'll take what we get, but I think we'd take something less populous even if it means missing the best villages or the most famous destinations.
-- resources I should read about this sort of travel (although I will do that later, right now I just need to choose an itinerary so that I can get flights booked when they open up).

How far is too far in a week? We tend to linger and dawdle a bit, and I do want to get off the boat and sight-see along the way, but I also don't want to feel like we've gone twice around the duck pond at the end of the week. A journey that actually takes us from A to B (and back again if we have to, although I'd love to find a one-way option) would be a more satisfying experience.

Have limited sailing and canoeing experience, so this would be all new to us. We do camp though, so I'm expecting it to be similar to that. Thanks so much for advice and pointers.
V67

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welcome to the forum, it's a bit late in the day but do check back in the morning as I'm sure plenty advice will present itself 

Phil 

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OK, here's one quick idea.

Le Boat have a base in Nieuwpoort, Flanders, an interesting town in itself. There is a ring you can do. Go up the River Ijzer via Diksmuide, Ypres, Veurne and back to Nieuwpoort. All are interesting places with Diksmuide and Ypres particularly influenced by military memorials. Ypres is down a branch canal and an evening visit to The Menin Gate is memorable in addition to the main square in the town which houses the incredible Cloth Hall.

If you want to take in Bruges too, doing that on a boat within the week could be a push unless you choose it as an exclusive trip, and a 'there and back' journey from near Nieuwpoort. But there is a railway station in Diksmuide (about 1 km walk / taxi from the well-run and friendly port). Trains run regularly to Bruges (about 40 mins I think) and not expensive. You could get a full day there without much problem.

We saw Le Boat boats pass by fairly regularly when we moored at Diksmuide so inexperience really shouldn't be a problem. If it's rained excessively the river may flow somewhat but normally in summer it's benign with barely any flow. So if it's been wet you could take the Bruges only option - interesting in itself.

Regarding Holland, we have more experience of the more northerly regions and probably our favourite boating area was Friesland with it's myriad of lakes, canals and towns BUT, from memory, during holiday season it can get very busy with a tsunami of private boats. Out of season it's a joy.

There's a link here which includes a map of Flanders....

http://www.leboat.co.uk/holidays/destinations/belgium

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You could easily nip over from europe to the UK and hire a narrowboat on some of our fantastic waterways and do what is called a ring in your time frame.

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Thanks to Boaty Jo for that detailed suggestion. That's exactly what I was looking for. I have been looking at Le Boat, so its good to have that endorsement.
Thanks MrSmelly - I tried really hard to fit in a Yorkshire narrow boat trip into our summer trip last year, but in the end it was going to be too much of a rush and it got cut. :( I'm determined not to let that happen this time and am prioritizing it. I'm sure we'll be back to do the UK in the future if we enjoy this form of travel (in my research, I found the swing bridge and the aquaduct canals and now I really want to do those).
I've heard elsewhere that Friesland is the place to go, but its off the route we have roughed out, so I'm inclined to stick with something in Flanders. Taking the train into Bruges for the day makes sense, although we could also just visit Bruges prior to getting on the boat. Ypres is the location of one of the famous Canadian war battles, so that is somewhere I'm hoping to go on this trip, as well as Vimy Ridge, so that fits nicely. I'd like to stuff Dieppe in there too, but now I'm running out of time (75th anniversary of the Dieppe raid yesterday).

Too many wonderful places to go... never enough time. These days I'm very conscious of the fact that my children will be soon getting on with their independent lives and I'm running out of time to do those trips and see those places that I've been planning to take them since they were infants. Where does the time go? Going to have to save the rest of it for the grandchildren.

I'm still open to other suggestions, or even modifications on the " Go up the River Ijzer via Diksmuide, Ypres, Veurne and back to Nieuwpoort." but right now, that's the one I'm going to look at more closely.

Also, should I stick with Le Boat? They seem to be the 'big' operator in this, which has its pros and cons. Usually these sorts of things it means you get a slick, well-run operation, you get looked after, but you pay a little more (which doesn't bother me too much provided they meet the expectations.)

Thank you for the warm welcome. I'm sure I'll be hanging around more to try and learn what I can about boating trips. I'm imagining we will be doing more of this sort of thing as a couple as the kids move on. Cheers!

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If you don't find what you want with Le boat do take up Joe's suggestion and look in at the DBA (www.barges.org). DBA members mostly cruise continental canals rather than those in the UK, so will have a much wider knowledge of the area you are looking at.

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Ahhhhh... but their forum is for members only, and membership is not free. But I can read them at least. Not sure if we're committed enough to it all to join up at this point. Want to try it out first and see how we go.

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Just a bit more......I only saw Le Boats in the area though there may be alternative companies.

What you should get, as you say, is a well-run company with a wide variety of boat to choose from. Don't know how many of you there will be but my advise wold be to choose something comfortably big enough for you all if funds allow.

The battlefields and memorials are incredibly moving whether or not you have relatives who were involved. It will give you and your children the chance to begin to understand the scale of the war and number of nationalities involved, including your country men and women. My wife's uncle died on the Somme fighting along side the Newfoundland Regiment. He's buried in Hawthorne Ridge cemetery located in the Newfoundland Memorial Park. When we visited a few years ago the visitors centre was staffed (respectfully) by Canadian college students, and presumably still is.

Don't go to Flanders for the scenery, stay where you are for that! But the towns are interesting and you'll have chance to reflect while cruising the small river and canals in between. And there are a couple of locks (there aren't many because it's so flat) including one of the oldest in Belgium (I believe) at the junction of the Ijzer and Lo Canal at Fintele where there is a locally renowned fish restaurant where you can sample paling (eel) in a variety of disguises (if that takes your fancy).

If I can help any further feel free to PM me rather than boring everyone else.

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Ok, one more question for you all on this particular topic. Nieuwpoort, Belgium or Vinkeveen, Netherlands? From what I can tell, Nieuwpoort is fairly close to the nearest train station, but Vinkeveen would be more difficult to get to without a car. Given there will be luggage (although we are good at packing light and always use wheely bags so that we can walk with our bags), I think it will be a taxi either way, but my preliminary research suggests Nieuwpoort will be easier. However, as there's been quite a bit of negativity (both here and on Trip Advisor) about Flanders, Vinkeveen (Amsterdam) would also work. I'm not going to consider Friesland this time. That's another trip for us.

If I stick with Le Boat (and I will just shop around for other companies), then these would be the two options I think:

http://www.leboat.ca/en/vacations/destinations/belgium/cruises/the-peace-cruise

We would only have 7 days, so I don't think we'd include Bruges, but do that before getting on the boat.

http://www.leboat.ca/en/vacations/destinations/holland/cruises/the-dutch-capitals-cruise/itinerary-and-activities

Although I'm not entirely sure, as I haven't spent as much time looking at the Dutch itineraries yet.

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Having visited the Netherlands many times and Belgium on a fair number my view has always been that the Netherlands is more affluent, friendlier, cleaner and greener than Belgium. The exception is the city of Brugge. I take the point about crowded waterways in the Netherlands but I don't agree on the point about scenery. There are many beautiful well kept villages that make the most of being in the flat lands. I have never boated there but have cycled along some of the canals and they have a certain charm.

You will also struggle to find a place called Ypres. Being in Dutch speaking Vlaanderen it's Ieper (that's a capital i just in case you think I wrote Leper) pronounced ee-per with the accent heavily on the first syllable.

JP

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On ‎20‎/‎08‎/‎2017 at 06:03, Boaty Jo said:

OK, here's one quick idea.

Le Boat have a base in Nieuwpoort, Flanders, an interesting town in itself. There is a ring you can do. Go up the River Ijzer via Diksmuide, Ypres, Veurne and back to Nieuwpoort. All are interesting places with Diksmuide and Ypres particularly influenced by military memorials. Ypres is down a branch canal and an evening visit to The Menin Gate is memorable in addition to the main square in the town which houses the incredible Cloth Hall.

If you want to take in Bruges too, doing that on a boat within the week could be a push unless you choose it as an exclusive trip, and a 'there and back' journey from near Nieuwpoort. But there is a railway station in Diksmuide (about 1 km walk / taxi from the well-run and friendly port). Trains run regularly to Bruges (about 40 mins I think) and not expensive. You could get a full day there without much problem.

We saw Le Boat boats pass by fairly regularly when we moored at Diksmuide so inexperience really shouldn't be a problem. If it's rained excessively the river may flow somewhat but normally in summer it's benign with barely any flow. So if it's been wet you could take the Bruges only option - interesting in itself.

Regarding Holland, we have more experience of the more northerly regions and probably our favourite boating area was Friesland with it's myriad of lakes, canals and towns BUT, from memory, during holiday season it can get very busy with a tsunami of private boats. Out of season it's a joy.

There's a link here which includes a map of Flanders....

http://www.leboat.co.uk/holidays/destinations/belgium

We hired from le boat a few years ago and had a great week. We did the route described and included a full day and two nights in Brugge. Itinery was Diksmuide. Ypres. Veurne, Middelkerke, two nights in Brugge and back to Nieuwpoort.

We got the tram which runs along the seafront from Zeebrugge to the French border, and stops in Ostend so it is easy from the Ferry. so we didn't have to take a car to the hire base, and hired bikes off them which we used to get around when we tied up in the evening.

 

The boat was very good and the pick up and drop off was very smooth. We had no problems. All the locks and bridges are worked for you and once you get to the first one the keeper will phone ahead so the next one knows you are on the way. Just watch out for the local beers some are quite strong.

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Thanks so much Capt Birdseye! That's a reassuring endorsement. I do think that's the way we are going to go. I like the idea of doing the loop first and just seeing how long it takes us and then deciding if we have time for Bruges as well.

Canadian beer is also stronger than most UK brews at 5%. The Belgian beers can run up to 7%. Oh, hey, what's the legal drinking age? The kids might sleep well!!

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Hi, I agree with Boaty Jo about the battlefields in Belgium, very moving and you do get a real sense of what it must have been like. The Menin Gate ceremony which is every night of the week all year round is particularly moving. Ypres is a very pleasant place to visit as is all the parts of Belgium i have been to (which is quite a bit), it is very clean and friendly. Top it all, it's not that far either.

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On 8/25/2017 at 22:12, Vancouverite67 said:

Thanks so much Capt Birdseye! That's a reassuring endorsement. I do think that's the way we are going to go. I like the idea of doing the loop first and just seeing how long it takes us and then deciding if we have time for Bruges as well.

Canadian beer is also stronger than most UK brews at 5%. The Belgian beers can run up to 7%. Oh, hey, what's the legal drinking age? The kids might sleep well!!

Funny that this thread has been revived today as I have been at a meeting in Brussels and amongst the goodies I have brought back is a 10.5% beer. I also have an 8% one for the lightweights.

JP

 

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The Belgians are so friendly. As soon as they hear you speaking English they will want to welcome you, buy you a beer and practice their English on you! We loved Belgium and spent a lot of time there with our boat. Le Boat have very suitable hire boats. I've written a book about our first year in Belgium with our narrowboat which might help give you more of a flavour - A Cigar in Belgium. Amazon, Kindle and the publisher Troubador all stock it. You'll have a lovely and memorable time with that Ieper itinery!

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HI again! Ok, so I've booked our flights and I have dates nailed down. Now I go to look at the Le Boat availability for my dates and the only boat they seem to have for the week we want to do our trip is over $6k for the week! Yikes! I was hoping to keep it under $4. There are boats on that itinerary for that price, but not on our dates.

I thought I would see if there are other providers and it looks like Blue Water Holidays does them, but the photos and listings suggests BWH is a broker and while I didn't find much in the way of reviews for BWH, what I did find doesn't inspire confidence.

I have emailed Le Boat and I have my fingers crossed that the options provided online can be adjusted so that we can get a slightly less expensive boat on the dates I want from Nieuwpoort. I guess now I need to go and look at the options in Holland as well, just in case that's what we have to do, and then we'll just have to fit in the Belgium stops in our final week on our way to Paris for the flights out...if it comes to that.

SO! My question for you lovely people is this: is there another reputable hire company other than Le Boat I can look at? A friend uses another company in France (Nelson? Something like that), but they don't have boats in Belgium.

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2 hours ago, Vancouverite67 said:

 

I thought I would see if there are other providers and it looks like Blue Water Holidays does them, but the photos and listings suggests BWH is a broker and while I didn't find much in the way of reviews for BWH, what I did find doesn't inspire confidence.

 

Blue Water Holidays is an excellent company. We have booked with them for holidays on the French waterways for the last three years. They are friendly, helpful and efficient (though their web site does spell Ieper as Leper!). In France they're linked with Locaboat; in Belgium I am not sure whose boats they book, but I think it's Le Boat. Their base is at Niewpoort.

 

What have you heard or read which doesn't inspire confidence?

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11 hours ago, Athy said:

Blue Water Holidays is an excellent company. We have booked with them for holidays on the French waterways for the last three years. They are friendly, helpful and efficient (though their web site does spell Ieper as Leper!). In France they're linked with Locaboat; in Belgium I am not sure whose boats they book, but I think it's Le Boat. Their base is at Niewpoort.

 

What have you heard or read which doesn't inspire confidence?

Great to know, thanks. I just did a search for online reviews of BWH. I found very little (usually a good sign - bad companies have LOTS of online reviews) but I didn't find any reviews saying exactly what you've said above. I did some more playing around with everything last night and I can make it work with Le Boat. I just needed to adjust my dates a little. I wonder what the advantage would be of going with BWH vs booking with Le Boat directly. I think you are correct that BWH is acting at a broker for Le Boat holidays, but I have to wonder if the support in case of problems would be better if booking directly with Le Boat? We've never done this before, so I'm inclined to play it very safe this time. All the Le Boat reviews seem to suggest that, when there are problems, they deal with them as promptly as possible.

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