Sunday, July 18, 2010

Riding the Albert Canal

Route

Sunday we rode around the Albert Canal, following the blue loop south of Maastricht outlined on the map above.  We passed locks and had lunch in the little town of Kanne.  It was a lovely afternoon.

But the brief version ‘doesn’t really do justice  to the day.  Accurate enough, but needs some colour and narrative…one more try.

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DSC01064 This is what Sunday afternoon looks like from south of Maastricht, looking north along the canals paralleling the meandering Maas river.  The Albert Canal curves through the cut to the left, while the Sluis van Lanaya flows right beneath the broad grey building marking the locks.

The Sluis is a simple ship canal arrowing straight into the center of Maastricht.  It starts with a lock that drops the river barges down 35 feet to the level of the Maas River, then an 11-meter deep channel into the main river.  The locks are a popular family picnic destination: people bike out just to spend an afternoon watching the boats go up and down.  Nobody seems to go fishing.

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The Albert Canal was built in the 1930s to connect Antwerp and Liege, and drills northwest through a ridge before circling around the Belgian side of Maastricht.  The grooves left by blasting and scraping the rock faces are visible all along the face of the gorge, and there are remains of a fort along the south bank.

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There’s a nice footpath along the waters edge, technically closed because of frequent rockslides. Practically, the locals have created paths around the gates and the trails are full of risk-skeptical walkers and bikers.

Albert Canal Loop 09The route turns north at the village of Kannes, where there are some small fietscafe’s with excellent ice cream and beer.  It’s surprising to see so much French being spoken so close to the border (and so many prominent Catholic icons).

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The bike route back to Maastricht follows a road past the Castle of Neercanne (of course), with it’s strange little sculpture garden.  The red steeple of the Vrijthof is visible over the trees, yet there are cows and sheep and fields of corn. It’s amazing to find things are this rural within 10 minutes of the city center.

Albert Canal Loop 17Albert Canal Loop 19

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Okay, so that was‘better, but still fails to capture the simple warmth of the day or the cooling wind, the smells of the water and the countryside.  Or how couples and families filled the paths, enjoying the clear blue skies and laughing together in the restaurants.

Or the attitude: there wasn’t any reason to be anywhere particularly, so our ride lingered along the shorelines and cornfields, with time to stop and talk, opportunities to take a hill twice if the breeze felt right

It was, indeed, one of those days when I re-discover the lure of Europe, still accessible within just a half hour of home.

  It was a lovely afternoon.

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More pix on flickr or facebook.

And a ‘graph for the day that illustrates the language differences in Flanders and Wallonia (credit: Vacature.com)Language Skills in Belgium

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